RV-ing up to hit the road: Newlyweds escape city grind with motor home renovation

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  • Micki Kahn and Martin Jutres of Sunderland are renovating their 1987 Toyota Odyssey motorhome to travel the country. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A photo of the Toyota Odyssey motor home as it was when Micki Kahn and Martin Jutres bought it. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Micki Kahn and Martin Jutres of Sunderland ponder a question about renovating their 1987 Toyota Odyssey Class C motorhome and their plans to travel the country. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Micki Kahn and Martin Jutres traveled to Seattle to buy their 1987 Toyota Odyssey motor home. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The truck cab of the RV is under renovation. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The 1987 truck cab of the Odyssey class C motorhome under renovation in Sunderland on Friday, Aug. 16, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • At left, Micki Kahn and Martin Jutres are renovating their 1987 Toyota Odyssey class C motorhome at the Sunderland home of Jutres’ father, Larry Jutres, right. Above, the RV’s removed sides, which they intend to use as templates to cut new ones.

  • Lots of wiring to be reinstalled after Micki Kahn and Martin Jutres of Sunderland complete the renovation of their 1987 Toyota Odyssey Class C motorhome. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The removed sides of the 1987 Toyota Odyssey motor home will be used as templates to cut new ones. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Martin Jutres and Micki Kahn are renovating their 1987 Toyota Odyssey RV to travel the country. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The removed sides of the 1987 Toyota Odyssey Class C motorhome will be used as templates to cut new ones. Photographed on Aug. 16. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 9/3/2019 8:04:31 AM

Newlyweds Martin Jutres and Micki Kahn had lived in New York City for several years, but about a year ago, they wanted a change. City life had them burned-out, they said.

There were several options the young couple considered. Among them were moving someplace with a slower pace of life, moving back near one of their hometowns in Western Massachusetts, or moving to New Jersey and moving into a larger apartment and commuting to the city.

Then, they decided to throw conventionality to the wayside and go for something they have always dreamed of: purchasing a recreational vehicle to call home and roaming the United States.

“It’s a big risk and a lot of people meet us with wide eyes,” said Jutres, whose friends call him Marty. “They’re like, ‘What are you doing? You quit your good career in New York City and you bought an RV that you have to take down to the frame?’”

The idea of trading in on a traditional nine-to-five job for a nomadic lifestyle at the wheel of a mobile home has become something of a movement. Often called “van life,” it has grown noticeably on social media in recent years as people, young and old, began documenting their abandonment of apartments and houses for a life on the road.

“We both did the typical go to college, get your job and grind out, focus-on-your-career type of thing,” Jutres said. “And we were really spinning our wheels.”

The couple married this month after dating for three years. Jutres graduated from Frontier Regional School in 2009, and Kahn from Amherst Regional High School the year after, and they even dated for a time in high school before reconnecting in New York City a few years later.

This past May, Jutres and Kahn left their apartment in Brooklyn to purchase an RV in Seattle, Washington. It took “a leap of faith,” Kahn said, to send a check in the mail before flying out to see the RV in person for the first time, and then driving the nearly 3,000 miles back to Massachusetts.

The transition to calling a RV home might seem difficult for some, but Kahn said living in a 500-square-foot Brooklyn apartment — with steep rent — won’t be that much different to their new living quarters. The cost of a couple of months’ rent alone covered the cost of the RV.

The couple also said that leaving on an indefinite road trip feels right at this time in their lives. Jutres has left his job as a project manager for a construction company building high-rises in Manhattan, and Kahn will continue working remotely for Indeed.com, a job search site.

“We don’t have a mortgage, we don’t have kids,” Jutres said.

“We are lucky enough to have student loans taken care of,” Kahn said.

“You do well for yourself in New York, but it costs a lot of money so you don’t have a lot to show for yourself afterward,” Jutres said. “And we’d take these nice vacations to national parks and come back all happy and cheerful, and four weeks down the line —”

“Or one,” Kahn chimed in.

“That nature bug kind of wears off,” Jutres said.

Finding ‘Martha’

It took eight months of dedicated searching to find the “right” RV. The one they ended up buying, a 1987 Toyota Odyssey, is one of the tallest and widest motor homes available, but also incredibly rare. Most are only found on the West Coast. An important feature, Kahn said, is a large window in the back of the motor home.

“The living room technically is in the back with the rear window,” Jutres said. He is looking forward to driving out to Yosemite Park and watching meteor showers from the back of his RV.

The vehicle has 70,000 miles on it and with its 22RE engine, Jutres said it is one of the most reliable engines for a cross country trip. He expects the vehicle to rack up to 400,000 miles.

“I was looking religiously for seven or eight months,” Kahn said of the RV search, constantly refreshing Craigslist ads and setting up Google alerts for the specific model.

A Massachusetts woman named Martha living in Seattle decided to sell the young couple the RV, and they decided to “lovingly name (the RV) after her,” Kahn said.

The long road home

The journey back east in a vehicle they had never driven went smoothly, for the most part, they said.

Driving through South Dakota on the Friday night before Memorial Day weekend, the couple was pulled over for speeding on the interstate highway.

They had crossed Washington, Idaho and Montana, but the Odyssey broke down on the side of the highway and wouldn’t start up again after being stopped by police.

All nearby mechanic shops were closed, but the tow truck driver that arrived happened to have a car shop at his house, and he hauled the RV to his garage.

While working on the motor home, it became clear they needed to replace a part in the vehicle, and even though it was midnight by then, the tow truck driver called up a friend who owned a car part store. His friend opened the store, they found the right part, and they finished repairing the RV by 3 a.m.

By 8 a.m., they were on the road to get back to work on the following Tuesday.

“They went above and beyond for us,” Jutres said. “It is heartwarming for us to see that this is going to be our future — people will come out and help out.”

A home on wheels

Jutres and Kahn hope to hit the road in early 2020 after the holiday season.

“That’s the draw to this type of lifestyle,” Kahn said. “To escape bad weather and travel around.” Right now, the walls from the RV, the stovetop oven and other appliances lay scattered in the backyard of Jutres’ childhood home in Sunderland. In the shed, the RV’s windows, mattress and ladder are stored away for when the renovation is complete.

“This is something miraculous as far as we are concerned,” Jutres’ father, Larry, said. “It’s something we always wanted to do but never had the chance to.”

Reinforcing the frame and making the vehicle waterproof are the next steps for the project, Jutras said. The home will be furnished with a bathroom, shower and cooking appliances once completed.

They are basing their remodeling off of other 1987 Toyota Odyssey’s that have undergone similar improvements, many of them found on the social media sites Instagram and Facebook.

Although “the plan is to have no plan” once the RV gets rolling, Kahn said, the couple might just find their next city or town to call home after the indefinite road trip finally comes to a stop.

“Now we will be able to immerse ourselves a little more and stay (somewhere) for a couple more weeks,” Jutres said. “I always told Micki I was going to build our first home for us, I just didn’t imagine it was going to have wheels.”

Follow Jutres’ and Kahn’s adventure through their Instagram account, @mickiandmarty.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com




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