Mark Christy and Nives Riddle had just moved into a Philadelphia high rise when they decided something had to change.
Christy, a Niskayuna native who moved to Philadelphia to attend Drexel University and then settled there, had a job directing commercials for the NFL. Riddle was a makeup artist for high-fashion clients. They were a portrait of successful, 30-something creative types against an urban backdrop.
They spent days off camping and hiking. On an early trip together, they hiked the Grand Canyon and began to daydream about a different lifestyle.
That was two years ago. Since then, the couple got engaged, sold nearly all of their possessions, bought a military-grade trailer bed and converted it into a tiny, mobile living space. They’ve made plans to travel the country while using their professional backgrounds in art and media to inspire others to join them.
“We got burnt out on the city life,” Christy said.
The two have spent weeks constructing the tiny living space on wheels in his parents’ driveway on Hempstead Road. They plan to live, work, and sleep in a solar-powered, self-sustaining bunk they built themselves through trial and error.
“I don’t know where Nive and I got the nerve to build something,” Christy said. “We’re both artists.”
For some, construction would be the least of their worries. Money would be right up near the top of the list. Christy estimates they made between $10,000 and $12,000 selling most of their possessions, then spent about $5,000 on the trailer, including solar panels, a refrigerator, a small outdoor kitchen setup, and a water filtration system.
But a can-do attitude is part of the project. Christy and Riddle believe there’s a movement brewing as young professionals flock to urban centers; that young people have a growing desire to touch base with nature, even as they lose the practical knowledge of how to do so.
“When you stay in a city, you start drawing such a huge line between you and what nature is,” Riddle said.
Sensing a revolution, they started a website, camptrend.com, that helps connect those dreaming of an outdoor getaway with the perfect spot. Christy says it “celebrates the art of camping.” For those looking for a longer-term adventure, they’ll also post their stories of trial and error on campbycamp.tumblr.com.
For example, they discovered the best place to establish residency while going mobile is South Dakota, where they have to spend just one night every five years to keep their post office box. A mail forwarding service will look after their correspondence, sending mail to the nearest post office wherever the pair happens to be.
Not an escape
Although it may sound like infinite vacation, the two aren’t looking to escape responsibility — just some of the monotony and expense that usually comes with it. They plan to produce films about their travels and hope to eventually parlay camptrend.com into a source of income.
“I was in the kitchen every day, looking at the exact same wall,” Riddle said. “I’ve never dreaded going to work, but I just felt it was time for something else.
“I know you have to work; of course you do,” she continued. “You have to make your life fit in with your work.”
“We can kind of do our jobs from anywhere,” Christy said.
In early August, Christy and Riddle will begin with a visit to an outdoor convention in Salt Lake City. They then plan to “chase the summer,” visiting warm places and exploring natural areas around the country in their tiny trailer pulled by a Toyota FJ Cruiser.
Joining them on the trip will be Riddle’s chihuahua, Hector, whose size and disposition fit the couple’s adventure plans perfectly, even though he occasionally needs a lift. “Sometimes he has to go in a backpack when it’s rough terrain,” Riddle said.
The trip does not have an expiration date.
“I hope it’s the new American dream,” Christy said. “We’re trading civility for freedom and adventure. Everyone should do it.”
This story originally appeared in Your Niskayuna.