Traveling Couples: Chris Dunphy & Cherie Ve Ard

Almost constantly since May 2007, Chris Dunphy and Cherie ve Ard have been roaming the country in an SUV and 17′ custom trailer; together with their tabby kitten, Kiki, they are Technomadia.

Brought together by chance, kept together by love and shared ideals, they committed to one another at the 2007 Burning Man and plan to stay on the road until they one day take to the water…or the air.

I had a chance to visit with them last week when they pulled up in front of my house and stayed awhile.  I’ve missed them ever since they left, but then, that’s the story of their life.In 2006, Chris, then single, was preparing to set out on the road alone. He was inspired by his friend Steve Roberts of Nomadness, who himself left his life behind in the 1980s, setting off on a bike outfitted with heavy computers.  When Chris was (happily) laid off from his technology job in San Francisco, he bought a small T@B Clamshell trailer and geared up for an open-ended journey.

Having grown up a nomad of sorts, Chris had long before fallen in love with moving.  His father worked for Texaco, taking the family to oil camps as far away as Sumatra, Indonesia.  Traveling their way back to America, through Illinois, New Jersey, and finally St. Louis, Chris was always happy being the new guy in town.

Meanwhile, Cherie, as head of a software development company, was splitting her time between her home in Melbourne, Florida and a community of friends and colleagues in the Silicon Valley.  No stranger to moving herself, she’d attended five schools in five years in and around Austin, Texas, and was bitten by the travel bug early on; between the ages of 12 and 16, she traveled alone to San Francisco, London, and even Russia.

Also in 2006, after toying with the idea of setting out on the road in search of adventure and love, Cherie planned to simply move from Florida to California to start a new life. But after hurricanes and insurance snafus, her house in Melbourne wouldn’t sell.

Chris and Cherie met online that year — in a Prius forum. Chris realized that his Prius wouldn’t be heavy enough to tow his trailer; after a friend agreed to swap her Jeep Liberty for it, he climbed on the forum to post a farewell to his loyal Toyota.  Cherie was seeking ways to hack into the computer software of own Prius.  She recognized Chris’ photo in the forum as the friend of a friend, and they formed an instant connection.

Shortly afterward, she came to San Francisco, where Chris was now living in his T@B full-time, but hadn’t yet left town for good.   Their first date, a local journey in the trailer, lasted 27 hours.  Every woman’s dream…going off the grid for hours on end in a little camper with a guy she barely knows.

In the midst of this epic, while picnicking on a roadside, a lesbian couple approached Chris and asked:

“Does she live with you?”

Chris sheepishly said, “Well, not yet…”

The couple turned to Cherie and said, “You totally should!”

This assertion proved prophetic.  Early in 2007, her house still unsold, Cherie decided to swallow her mortgage and follow her bliss (with Chris) out on the road.

That first year, they criss-crossed the country and learned what they didn’t want from a trailer for two.  After much research, they chose to order a custom Oliver Travel Trailer from a family-run operation outside of Nashville.  Their resulting fiberglass, single axel, 3500 pound Legacy Elite Trailer, which they’ve named Orion, features solar panels, plush red upholstery, a full bed, dining for four, a working kitchen, full bath, and a flat-screen computer monitor that doubles as a TV.

In a triumph of kismet, the day that Orion was completed, Cherie’s house in Florida finally sold. They’ve been on the road, almost continuously, ever since.

They’ve formally declared themselves South Dakota residents in order to have a permanent address. SD has no state income tax and only a 3% tax on new vehicles.  Their state laws require only one initial trip to the DMV and no jury duty; mail is forwarded every two weeks.  The Technomadia vehicles now sport SD license plates.

They started a business, Two Steps Beyond, to pool their technology and marketing expertise and fund their nomadic lifestyle. Their solar trailer is fully wireless, and they use a cellular data card for internet access.  With two power-efficient MacBook Pros and a Mac Mini, they can serve their clientele from just about anywhere.  Their command center, combined with their journey, gives them the name Technomadia.

Being solar and wireless means they don’t need traditional RV park hookups, and can stay anywhere that’s legal to park a trailer. Their view could be a river or ocean one day, a ranchland prairie or mountain the next.  During the winter, their metered electricity costs them $22 a month.  They can carry 38 gallons of water with them, and can make it last for two weeks.

Each time they head in a direction, new friends flag them down. Besides visits to family and old friends, fans of their blog are constantly inviting them to stay.  For instance:  Recently, I met them in San Francisco at the Lonely Planet Travel Blogger Awards; upon hearing they were headed to LA, I offered up my neighborhood as a trailer-friendly place to park.  Six days later, there they were, parked in front of our house, taking grateful showers, and joining me and Adam for meals and a neighborhood tour.  When they left, they headed straight for the ranch of another fan, in the San Jacinto Valley of Riverside County.

The nomadic couple committed to one another in a joyful ceremony at the 2007 Burning Man, a gathering of 48,000+ held the week before Labor Day every year in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.  This celebration of artistic freedom and mutual respect, which prides itself on meaning only what its attendees bring to the table, lasts eight days and culminates in the burned effigy of a man.  The cornerstone of Chris and Cherie’s community and life philosophy, it provided the perfect opportunity for them to celebrate each other.

Cherie had a wedding dress outfitted with tubes of blue neon so that it would spark against the desert night sky.  Chris donned the borrowed costume of a New Orleans Mardi Gras krewe captain.

They re-committed to one another in 2008, and plan to do it again in every prime-numbered year.

Recently, while in Oregon, they adopted an adorable kitten named Kiki.  She uses a litter box that stores in the trailer’s bathroom, walks outside on a leash, and creates a need for Chris and Cherie to seek out climate-friendly locations.  Her tendency towards early morning wakefulness isn’t their favorite part of having her along for the ride, but they do recognize she’s a very special cat.  And they’re not alone: Kiki has more followers on Twitter than Cherie.

Chris and Cherie have paused their travels for two significant projects in the past year: In the traditionally red state of Nevada, they founded an Obama field office and helped bring Democrats out of the closet.  In South San Francisco, they were recently docked for four months, helping to launch HearPlanet, the world’s first talking tour guide for cell phones.

In their travels so far, both of them remain in love with San Francisco for community and culture.  Cherie is fascinated by Utah’s national parks for their land-and-rock-scapes, and Austin, both because it’s where she grew up and where weirdness is officially encouraged.  Chris longs to return to New Orleans, which he hasn’t seen since before Katrina hit.  His parents live in St. Louis, so to him it’s home; he also loves that all its museums are free.

They’ve been lucky to find something they love about each new place, but are content in the knowledge that if they don’t like it…they can just keep going.

Their journey has no end date. Someday soon, they hope to drive to Baja, Mexico, and in the future, up to Canada.  But Chris is a licensed pilot who often travels with an ultralight paramotor, and both he and Cherie sail.  They fantasize about one day trading vehicles with sailing nomads and taking off for Antarctica, or maybe backpacking around the world.

But their dreams also remain on wheels: Chris would love to drive from London to Mongolia.  Once there, Cherie would love to explore the entire continent of Asia.

I have every reason to believe they’ll get there.

To see where Technomadia has been and is headed now, click here.


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Trackbacks

  1. […] We had intentions of staying in Los Angeles for several days to visit with friends and Chris’ cousins. However, options for parking a trailer in Los Angeles are quite limited. Until we met Melanie of TravelsWithTwo at the Lonely Planet awards. She invited us to park at her place in Studio City, gave us a tour of the neighborhood and did a fun interview with us! […]

  2. […] First Tweet Apr 8, 2009 travelswithtwo Melanie Waldman Influential Traveling Couple of the week: Chris Dunphy & Cherie Ve Ard @ Technomadia http://www.travelswithtwo.com/?p=2503 view retweet […]

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