Half a Year on the Road! A Six-Month Camper Life Update

It’s a new year in a new state, but the journey continues in 2017!

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Month #6 has been a weird month. It was holiday month, which means that everything was thrown off a bit – but in a good way. It’s also been the longest we’ve stayed put in one place so far.

Places We’ve Been: Month #6

Month #6 started finished up our stay in Tuscon and then we moved up to Phoenix. A while back, we had booked flights to travel from Phoenix to Champaign, Illinois to visit my family for Christmas. So everything leading up to this moment had to work around the flight schedule.

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Since Monkey’s too big to fly, we had to board her, but did so at the best pet resort we could find in Phoenix called Tailwinds. For Christmas, we spent a few days in my hometown or Arthur, seeing family and friends and doing little-to no work. We had a Monkey to get back to in Phoenix, but our flight was cancelled due to FOG of all things. We’d packed extra food for Monkey in case of emergency, but were still anxious to collect her. So my parents graciously drove us the complete opposite direction to Indianapolis to catch the next flight out in the morning.

The Indy flight went as planned and we made it back to Phoenix, then drove to Las Vegas the same day. So in a 24-hour period, we lived in four time zones: Central, Eastern, Mountain, and Pacific. Totally exhausting, but we got Monkey back and got rave reviews about her behavior (and even a report card!).

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Phoenix, Arizona: Home on the Road #27

  • Highlights: Having dinner with my old co-worker, Maria, for her husband’s birthday bash, hot tub at the fanciest Motel 6 I’ve ever seen, short hikes around town

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  • Lowlights: Getting a traffic cone stuck under the Jeep and nearly starting a fire on the highway because of it, having to leave Monkey behind at a “pet resort” while we got on a plane

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Arthur, Illinois : Home on the Road #28

  • Highlights: Hanging out with my parents, grandma & extended family, seeing a couple of my favorite people from high school, meeting our mutual friends’ new baby, seeing “Moana” with my parents, eating at a really good Mexican restaurant that popped up in my hometown since I left, impromptu trip to Indianapolis

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  • Lowlights: Having our flight out of Champaign cancelled at the last minute, having to ask my parents to drive us to Indianapolis

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Las Vegas, Nevada: Home on the Road #29

  • Highlights: Fun pre-NYE day on The Strip, Cirque Du Soleil show that was impressive but made me feel fat and lazy, first NYE celebration with Monkey in the camper to ring in 2017, Valley of Fire State Park hiking

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  • Lowlights: Flat camper tire and cracked windshield on the drive to Vegas, Homeless people lurking around our campground and the staff doesn’t care, dental visit, crowded parking lot-style campground, no Wi-Fi

Random Ramblings: Month #6

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #6 on the road.

  • I’m obsessed with podcasts. I listen to them while walking the dog, doing dishes, washing up in the bathroom, etc. They really get me through the day. Ones I’ve been listening to lately: This American Life, Snap Judgement, Undone, Stranglers, The RV Entrepreneur with Heath Padgett, Lore, The Moth, Radio Lab, Hidden Brain. New podcast suggestions welcome…hit me up!
  • Motel stays make me feel really appreciative of the little things in life. Like not having to walk across a campground to pee in the middle of the night when I’ve had 3+ beers. They’re even better when they have a hot tub, especially after a long day of hiking. Campgrounds with hot tubs are awesome too.

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  • I really have no desire to live in a place with frigid winter temperatures ever again. These snowbirds have the right idea, but stealing the idea shouldn’t require Medicare eligibility.
  • I’m super appreciative of my parents. Understandably, they were skeptical about this whole camper life thing at first. But I’ve never really been a daughter to follow all the rules. Them driving us to Indy on Christmas day night was a lifesaver. I’m seriously lucky to have them. Too bad it too me so long to realize it.
  • I can’t stand being around other campers. The second I walk outside to use the bathroom in the morning, there are people all around me. I’m feeling claustrophobic by the close proximity of campers and drained by the constant sight of human beings. (1) Old retirees with nothing better to do than chat, (2) families with kids that have no regard for anyone but themselves, and (3) homeless riff-raff lurking around campgrounds when the staff doesn’t care are really getting to me. Friends always ask me about cool people I’ve met on the trip. The honest answer is none. Admittedly, I’m in an introverted phase of life and not putting myself out there. But honestly, that’s not what travel is about for me right now and I have no regrets.

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  • This month was a BIG time for repairs. The camper needed a new tire, the Jeep needed a sensor repair and a new windshield, the husband needed hardcore dental surgery, and the dog needed yearly shots at the vet, and I needed a routine dental cleaning. Somehow this all snuck up on us at once. But it just goes to show that you don’t need to be grounded in a place to get all the practical things in life taken care of.
  • Cities are making me feel claustrophobic. Most strangers seem like an entirely different species, I’m becoming a worse driver, and stupid things make me anxious. I’m hoping to find some quiet coastal towns in California.
  • Vegas is the longest we’ve stayed anywhere so far on this trip – 19 days! Not because we are in love with Vegas, but due to so many appointments and practical things piling up all at once. At least there were plenty of distractions to take our minds off them at the end of the day.

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  • I don’t like the format of these blog posts I’ve been doing, but I can’t think of a better way to structure them.
  • We looked into upgrading the camper and would seriously love to, but I don’t think it’s going to work right now. Mostly because a two-door jeep has embarrassingly low towing capacity, so a camper upgrade would mean a vehicle upgrade too. Looked at A-Liners, which were nice (especially ones with an in-camper toilet and solid walls!), but they’re not enough of an upgrade to justify the investment right now.
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  • This is my dream house.
  • It was nice to be able to take holiday time off like the rest of the traditional working world this year. This is always an awkward time as a freelancer, but things finally slowed down for me and I finally got some much-needed chill time.
  • Also as a freelancer, I have to keep track of every invoice and pay quarterly taxes, which is a huge pain in the ass. However, I made more this year than ever in life. So many full time travelers hate on freelance writing as a way to make money but clearly they aren’t doing it right. This is something I feel really proud of since 2017 is my 4th year of freelancing!
  • I am obsessed with self-serve frozen yogurt.

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  • The best reason that has come up so far for calling it quits on camper life is international travel. I feel like I’ve seen so much (but obviously not all) of this country, but so little of the rest of the world. Simply flying to Illinois for Christmas taught us how difficult the logistics are of finding a dog sitter, Jeep parking, camper parking, transportation, etc. After six months, I’m feeling the itch for international travel. This makes me amendable to finding a place to rent (somewhere) for a year so we can plop down and get slightly established so we can catch a flight to bust of America soon. This will likely be the one thing that makes me call it quits on camper life, at least for a while.
  • Valley of Fire State Park renewed my faith in Nevada hiking trails after several disappointments…what an incredible place with something different to see on every trail!img_3014
  • Everywhere I turn these days, I seem to come across a #vanlife post or some other young couple’s Instagram-perfect photos of full-time travel. I am mildly obsessed with creepily stalking other full-time campers to see what they’re up to and judging myself against my better judgment. It feels like this movement is gaining momentum, but perhaps I’m just seeking it out. But unlike so many of these other couples essentially doing what we’re doing, I’m not into going full publicity over it or trying to make money from it. That’s not my style, and I’m already stretched too thin. Also, my husband is a private person and I respect his wishes to not include his photo or name on my blog. I also have no desire to reinvent the wheel here or project an image that everything about this lifestyle is perfect. It’s not, and it pisses me off from time to time just like any lifestyle would. I’m being me, being real, and sharing my experiences as creative outlet rather than a means of self-promotion. Thanks for being along for the ride.

Looking Ahead to Month #7

TOMORROW, we’re celebrating our 6th month “full-time camper life anniversary” by crossing over the California state line and dry camping in Mojave National Preserve. This means no reservations, no electric, no internet, and only backup tank water…but hopefully some amazing scenery and hikes.

After that, we’re heading to the Palm Springs area of California, which will be totally new to me. But I will say though that California campgrounds are looking pretty expensive so far. I’m a newbie at pretty much all things Southern California, so I’m definitely excited to spend a good amount of time here. Please send any SoCal recommendations my way!

Cheers!

Catch Up on the Journey:

Alyssavnature named in Top Southwest Adventure Blogs of 2016!

Happy 2017 and cheers to a brand new year of adventures!

Ain't no party like a camper party.

Ain’t no party like a camper party.

Traveling in the southwest has been an amazing adventure so far. And clearly, my growing obsession for the region must shine through in my writing.

Alyssavnature just made the list for Top Southwest Adventure Blogs of 2016!

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So while it’s not yet the 14th of the month for my usual update, I wanted to thank Southwest Discoveries for the mention and share some of the other great writing happening over here. The folks behind these other 49 blogs are also sharing their experiences and posting photos about enjoying the outdoors in the Southwest. And they’re great resources for anyone looking to get outside for an adventure of your own.

On a quick personal note, we’ve hunkered down in Vegas for a little while to catch up on all the practical things in life that catch up with you while traveling and celebrating the holidays. This means balancing out the fun and debauchery of Vegas with a series of mundane visits to the dentist, optometrist, veterinarian, and multiple auto repair shops. But we’re camped out in the middle of the city, so that’s all pretty accessible and convenient. And we’re still managing to escape here and there to explore the outdoorsy side of Vegas too. It’s out there, if only you can maneuver the street trash, skip the cocktails, and see past the glitz and glamour.

Until next time…

5 Months on the Road: Wait No More, Your Full-Time Camper Life Update Is Here

December greetings from warm and sunny Tucson, Arizona!

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Month #5 has been a continuation of our journey in the West and Southwest, and I’m definitely still loving the region. We finished up our stay in Salt Lake City, spent a couple weeks in Moab, and a couple days at the Grand Canyon before showing up here.

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We had to adjust our plans a bit due to cold and single-digit temperatures. Being in Tucson right now wasn’t the original plan, but I’m loving the 70-80-degrees and sunshine, so the switch-up was a success. These “snowbirds” really know how to live life right.

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Another interesting development is that we bought a GoPro as a holiday gift to ourselves. So we’ve been experimenting with the different mounts and putting it on our heads, chests, windshield, and even the dog to capture videos of our adventures. I even wore it on a horse!

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Places We’ve Been: Month #5

Here’s a quick rundown of how those places played out.

Moab, Utah: Home on the Road #24

  • Highlights: The otherworldly arches at Arches National Park and canyons at Canyonlands, horseback riding on Sassy (and she was!), mountain biking on the Bar M trails, slacklining festival on Thanksgiving, great campground Wi-Fi and scenery, nice community rec center in town to lift weights and swim laps, scenic winery next to a western film museum, Corona Arch as an uncrowded alternative to Delicate Arch, small-town Christmas festival

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  • Lowlights: Restaurants are way too busy, and un-fun, mediocre local brewery, consistently cold nights in the 20s, hilly bike trails too hard to bike with Monkey’s trailer, getting a flat jeep tire on the side of the road

Grand Canyon, Arizona: Home on the Road #25

  • Highlights: Dog-friendly hiking trails around the rim, shopping for family Christmas gifts and finally finding some, a weekend that didn’t up feeling as cold as we expected, beautiful art gallery at Kolb Studio

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  • Lowlights: Very icy sidewalks and trails that made hiking with Monkey really hard, being underwhelmed by the Grand Canyon (who’da thought that was possible?!) because of all the other amazing canyons we’ve been seeing

Tucson, Arizona: Home on the Road #26

  • Highlights: The amazing Saguaro cactus(!!!), Arizona Sonora Desert Museum that we could have spent several days at, private campground bathrooms (no sharing!), salsa dancing class for a different kind of Friday night out even though it was HARD, great bike trail right behind our campground, bringing home a little cactus to decorate the camper, discovering Govinda’s Vegetarian Restaurant, days warm enough to do yoga and work outside (or until my laptop overheats and powers down)

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  • Lowlights: Many parks (including Saguaro National Park) not being dog-friendly for hikes, crowded campground with sketchy WiFi, Monkey getting cacti stuck in her paws on trails

Random Ramblings: Month #5

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #5 on the road.

  • Moab was the first place that really made me question why we keep moving on and don’t just stay put for a while. It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise in every sense of the word, and we would have been perfectly happy there for a while. In the end, the only reason we left after two weeks was because of the cold temperatures rolling in that would have made outdoor activities pretty miserable going forward.

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  • I have a t-shirt that’s probably a decade old with Grover from Sesame Street on it that says, “Anywhere I am is here. Anywhere I’m not is there. I still wear this shirt occasionally and it reminds me of the old saying that wherever you go, there you are. No matter how what city or state we’re in or how long we’ve traveled, the same things still make me happy, annoyed, anxious, excited, frustrated, etc. Many years ago, I saw a shrink (hey, Tony Soprano did it, so why can’t I?). At that time in my life, all I wanted to do was move far away and start over. I wanted to get out of my rut, leave everything behind, and find out if the grass was greener somewhere else. I remember said shrink telling me some version of “wherever you go, there you are.” He suggested that I’d still have the same personality/issues when I woke up to different scenery. It all sounds pretty obvious when I think of it now, but it was a novel idea that had never occurred to me back then. And it still rings true today.

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  • Division of labor makes camper chores manageable, and yes there are camper chores! Fortunately, we are both reasonable people who understand what sharing responsibilities means. For example, I take care of putting together (i.e. not cooking) breakfast and lunch, while my husband cooks dinner. He does the grocery shopping, and I do the laundry. And we take turns with doing dishes and dog walks. This goes for travel research too. He’s better at big-picture planning, and I’m better at figuring out daily details. So we tend to stick to what we’re each good at to avoid duplicating efforts and getting at each other’s throats. Been working pretty well for 5 months!

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  • Constantly looking for things to do is exhausting, but it does keep us on our toes. Ultimately, I keep coming down to the same research topics no matter where we are, which reiterates the point that wherever you go, there you are. Here are some of the things on that never-ending research list: hiking trails, yoga, comedy shows, local theater, bar trivia, breweries/wineries/distilleries, community rec center, dance classes, festivals, dog parks, cafes to work at, driving range, bike trails, fun neighborhoods, concerts.

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  • I really thought I’d have more free time while traveling like this but I really don’t. Between 50+ hour work weeks and squeezing in time to explore new places, there’s really nothing left. At the end of the day, I’m exhausted and just want to zone out watch The Sopranos in bed. Times that I draw in my sketchbook, do personal writing (like this) that’s not for money, and play guitar are few and far between. I thought I’d be trying to learn more new songs on guitar by now, but I’m stuck on the same old ones and not getting any better.

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  • I prefer non-standard holidays to tradition. We celebrated Thanksgiving by going to a slacklining festival across a canyon in Moab. Admittedly, it would have been nice to see my parents and grandma back in Illinois. But doing the same thing every year out of nostalgia or sentimentality doesn’t appeal to me, and unfortunately, that’s what traditional holidays are all about for most people.

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  • Monkey did great in a totally free-range, open-play environment the last time we “practice boarded” her in Moab. I think she’ll do great at the pet resort in Phoenix while we’re back in Illinois for Christmas. It’ll be weird without her, but I’m feeling much more confident about leaving her for five days.

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  • We’ve run into a few more campgrounds with breed restrictions. I’m looking at you, Las Vegas. I won’t get on a soapbox for very long, but these pit bull bans are absolutely ridiculous and unfounded. I wouldn’t want to give my money to these types of discriminatory business owners even if they’d take it.
  • The dry weather of the west makes my hair so much more manageable and easy to take care of. No more Midwest/East Coast-style frizzy tangles!

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  • I had to repair a button on a shirt the other day and it made me how much I miss sewing and crafting in general. My sewing machine is sadly sitting in a storage unit in Atlanta collecting dust 🙁
  • I also realized I miss swimming laps. I’m not a great swimmer by any means, but it’s great exercise and really helps relax my muscles and clear my head. I found community rec centers in both Salt Lake City and Moab with public lap swim hours and only a $6-7 daily fee. Also a great way to lift weights and work these noodle arms. I’ll be looking for cheap rec centers like this in future places we go too.

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Looking Ahead to Month #6

Month #6 will be an interesting one because it’s smack dab in the middle of holiday season. This will be a nice taste of what’s it’s like to be traveling full-time during a very busy and traditional time of year.

We’ll be relocating to Phoenix soon for a short stay before flying out to Central Illinois to celebrate Christmas with my family. The plan for New Year’s Eve is Las Vegas, so that should be a fun way to kick off 2017. And after that, on to California!

If you made it this far, congrats and thanks for reading! Although I’ve still only been getting around to it once a month, it’s still nice for me to take a moment to reflect upon where we’ve been and where I’m at personally in relation to that. Cheers!

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Related:

Month #4 on the Road: Camper Life Update from Colorado & Utah!

Well I’ve officially been living on the road longer than I’ve been able to endure some jobs…four months! And it’s supermoon day!

Mid-October through mid-November has been a whirlwind for me in terms of work, and I’ve been so swamped that I haven’t even glanced at my blog since the 14th of last month. My workload has made it a bit more challenging to find balance day to day and not feel stressed out while making time to explore new places. I felt so scatterbrained just trying to put this post together that these photos are totally not in sequential order at all. But they’re all from month #4, so there ya go.

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Yet Colorado and Utah have been awesome and solidified my perception that I feel more at home in the West than the East. To start blending in with the locals, I’ve also begun to assume a new identity as well. I found this name tag on a hiking trail and am ready to pull it out whenever necessary for Mormon perks.

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Places We’ve Been: Month #4

Month #4 began in Cortez, Colorado and then began moving north and west. We’ve been taking our time and spending a couple weeks in places when they seem cool enough to warrant it.

The only exception was Grand Junction. Every private campground in the area had ridiculous dog breed restrictions that forbid pit bulls, rottweilers, and dobermans. Campground reviews shared that many campground owners would scrutinize dogs and hassle owners, and we just couldn’t justify giving money to close-minded and discriminatory people like that. However, we had friends driving in to GJ from Denver and already established social plans. So the solution here was to stay at an all-breed-friendly hotel in GJ just for the weekend and take advantage of a hot tub and hot breakfast. It ended up being pretty sweet actually and really fun to hang out with the Colorado gals.

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Not just a good band, also a solid fall day out in Grand Junction.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

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Colorado National Monument at sunrise

Montrose, Colorado: Home on the Road #20

  • Highlights: Challenging hike/climb to the bottom of Black Canyon, mini golf at our campground, bike paths & off-leash dog area at city park, clothing optional hot springs at Ridgway, exploring nearby Ouray, bowling alley next to our campground, art afternoon inspired by the canyon, Halloween shopping, finding creepy animal bones along a trail
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At the bottom of Black Canyon

  • Lowlights: No recreational shops for fun edibles like I’d pleasantly gotten used to in Cortez
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Disc golf course in Montrose

Grand Junction, Colorado: Home on the Road #21

  • Highlights: Meeting up with a good friend and getting to know two new ones, taking a camper break for a hotel stay, local pumpkin patch and corn maze, freaking people out with creepy Halloween masks, scenic winery after a day of hiking, Colorado National Monument at sunrise
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Corn maze shenanigans

  • Lowlights: Breed restrictive rules that banned pit bull mixes, treacherous jeep trail that led to a failed attempt at seeing arches
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Colorado wine country outside Grand Junction

Vernal, Utah: Home on the Road #22

  • Highlights: BLM land hikes to arches, finding a Mormon name tag on the trail, petroglyphs on private ranch, Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum, real bones at Dinosaur National Monument, crazy rock formations at Fantasy Canyon
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Real dinosaur bones at Dinosaur National Monument’s Quarry House

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Otherworldly rock formations at Fantasy Canyon on BLM land outside Vernal

  • Lowlights: Almost losing Monkey when we let her off-leash and couldn’t find her
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Creepy abandoned cabin 4 miles into a BLM land hiking trail near Grand Junction

Salt Lake City, Utah: Home on the Road #23

  • Highlights: Doing city stuff for a change, awesome campground with a hot tub and good WiFi, clean & reliable public transit, bike lanes everywhere, campsite yoga, seeing bison and the creepy scenery at Antelope State Park and the Great Salt Lake, checking out neighborhoods, learning that my ancestors date back to the 1500s at the Mormon Family Search Library
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The temple we couldn’t go into because we aren’t Mormon. But everywhere else here was fair game to check out.

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It’s great living right next to good bike trails

  • Lowlights: Failed comedy show attempt, trying to figure out Utah’s complicated brewery laws (some good beer though!)
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The masterpieces from art afternoon at the Black Canyon.

Observations & Random Ramblings: Month #4

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #4 on the road.

With the eerie fog and desolate landscape, the Great Salt Lake is super creepy

With the eerie fog and desolate landscape, the Great Salt Lake is super creepy

  • I hate sharing bathroom space with others. This is my personal time, not a time for small talk. RV parks tend to be better with this than state park campgrounds because RV people have their own bathrooms.
  • Having crappy campground internet makes me super cranky and stressed out for work. So far, campground internet in the West has been much better than on the East Coast.
  • I’m okay with heights, but not so much with steep drop-offs. The Lizard Head trail near Telluride was rough.

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  • Colorado is a great place to be if you enjoy the occasional edible. However, Western CO is super dry (I’m looking at you, Grand Junction), so stock up when you can.
  • Cheap $2 gloves are a lifesaver for typing on a laptop with cold hands, hiking without losing grip, etc.
Crappy gloves = love

Crappy gloves = love

  • Command strips are amazing for camper storage, especially for winter coats and towels. I have about 9 hanging right now and could use a few more.
  • Interactions with strangers continue to feel burdensome and exhausting no matter where I am, and I just can’t wait for them to end about 90% of the time.
  • It’s often been too cold to do yoga outside at campsites lately, so I’ve checked out a few more local yoga classes. Some good, some bad. Unseasonably warm weather has made this easier.
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Much more treacherous than it looks, using a chain for balance

  • It’s hard on us, but Monkey has been doing well with her “practice boarding” experiences to get ready for five days without us over Christmas. We’ve gotten a good report about her on two day-boarding days and one overnight boarding trial run.
  • I wrote a short story last month but have been trying to write some travel-related poems this month. I’ve written three so far that aren’t great, but they’re something. Hoping to pair these with some photos and maps to create a travel book later on.
  • We almost lost Monkey one day while letting her off-leash in BLM land, where it’s totally allowed but she scared us half to death. We called out for her and searched for her for what seemed like an eternity before she emerged on top of the tallest hill in the area, limping a little but otherwise fine. Apparently, some legit dog training may be necessary after all.
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Monkey totally uninterested in these ridiculous rock formations at Fantasy Canyon near Vernal

  • I witnessed the exciting Cubs win for the World Series and the disheartening result of the Presidential election from a camper, tracking updates over WiFi with no TV access. These experiences would have felt a bit isolating except for social media, and for that my Facebook friends, I thank you.
  • Getting used to brewery laws in new states is confusing and frustrating.
  • Unseasonably warm weather has been awesome for us but devastating for skiers out here. Yet working outside in mid-60-degree weather in November has been awesome.
  • Mormons are nice and helpful to a fault. While visiting Temple Square, I was never approached about God or Jesus…only whether I had questions, needed a tour, or wanted to talk about architecture. Yet these persistent and overly nice interactions were incredibly draining and completely unavoidable. Seriously, what are these people on?
  • Salt Lake City has made it onto our list of possible “move to someday” destinations. We scoped out neighborhoods and have positive thoughts about Sugar House, The Avenues, and Cottonwood Heights.

Looking Ahead to Month #5

Month #5 will continue in Utah as we make our way to Moab and spend a week or two there. Thanksgiving will be spent in that area probably gorging ourselves on something delicious. But we’re on a deadline, and that’s because of Christmas. So we’ve got to make it down to Phoenix a few days before Jesus/Santa day to catch a flight back to Central Illinois. But not without spending some time at the Grand Canyon on the way down.

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Sadly, Moonshine Arch had no moonshine at the top.

Overall, I’m loving the west and the unseasonably warm weather is a much-needed relief here. However, our first chance of snow is Thursday, and I’m not looking forward to that inside these canvas walls.

We’ve still got these masks in the back of the Jeep, so if you see some freak shows lurking around in the off-season, it’s probably us. After all, Halloween is my favorite holiday and I was happy to celebrate it in a fun place with good people. Cheers!

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Freaking families out, one cheap mask at a time.

Related:

Month #3 on the Road: A Full-Time Camper Life Update!

Today marks three months of life on the road…and finishing month #3 strong in this tiny camper home with the spouse and pup!

Unlike lots of other solo travelers and couples doing the full-time travel thing that I keep up with, my blog here is just a hobby and a personal outlet. Although a monthly update is about all I can manage with my work my schedule, it’s still something I’m holding myself accountable to on the 14th of each month. And BTW, work is going great…never a dull moment!

Places We’ve Been: Month #3

Month #3 marked a huge transition for this camper journey and a big move from the east to the west. After spending time just along the East Coast so far, we made a quick stop back where it all began (Atlanta) to swap out gear from the storage unit and put in some social visits. Now we’ve moved on to the West/Southwest and will be here for the foreseeable future!

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Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

  • Charlotte, North Carolina: Home on the Road #14
    • Highlights: Last kayaking & SUPing of the season at Lake Wylie, discovering Lucky Dog Bark & Brew (off-leash dog park + craft beer bar!), campfire storytelling
    • Lowlights: Police shooting riots downtown

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  • Atlanta, Georgia: Home on the Road #15
    • Highlights: Taco dinner & great conversation with my BFF, hiking up & camping at Stone Mountain, stocking up on Indian sweets for Navratri
    • Lowlights: Navigating all the excess stuff in our storage unit and wondering why we kept it

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  • Morrilton, Arkansas & Amarillo, Texas: “Passing Through” Homes on the Road #16 & 17
    • Highlights: Hotel stays to treat ourselves after 8+ hours of driving per day, nice trail behind the Amarillo hotel, soup on the side of the road, free Wi-Fi and breakfast!
    • Lowlights: Getting nauseous trying to work on a laptop in the passenger seat

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  • Albuquerque, New Mexico: Home on the Road #18
    • Highlights: Finally checked out the International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, new alpaca sweater and hats, scenic dog park, started biking again – feels great to be back on a bike!
    • Lowlights: Weather prevented the balloons from launching on the one and only morning we had in ABQ, no dogs allowed at the festival

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  • Cortez, Colorado: Home on the Road #19
    • Highlights: 2 weeks in one place, Mesa Verde, Canyons of the Ancients, Southwest hikes & landscapes, very comfortable town with pretty much everything I want, went to yoga and belly dancing (first ever!) classes, got a good haircut, fall festival in Dolores, boarded Monkey at doggie day care for the first time and that went ok
    • Lowlights: Low of 27-degrees at night with no good camper insulation, annoying locals, not many dog-friendly businesses

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Realizations & Ramblings: Month #3

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #3 on the road.

  • The East Coast was nice but isn’t long-term for me. I felt ready to leave it and head west.
  • Weather really affects my mood, motivation, and how I spend my days while living outdoors – Cortez has been full of sunshine 🙂
  • Clotheslines are incredibly useful in a campsite – especially if you’re by a beach or doing water sports and trying to avoid a mildew infestation.

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  • I love camping next to trails and have been trying to get into trail running, slowly but surely.
  • Despite all the new environments, I haven’t really gotten sick on this trip so far. Yay! But my immune system gets run down every once in a while with symptoms of a headache and a sore throat. Fortunately, it’s been going away within a day.
  • Bag salads with toppings and dressings are my favorite semi-healthy lunch.

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  • This lifestyle reinforces my lack of attachment to places.
  • The social interactions that every other travel blogger talks about being the “best part of travel” still mean very little to me. Random encounters bring me anxiety, annoyance, and disinterest. Perhaps it’s a phase. Or maybe just me getting older and working/living remotely for so long. Either way, I’m cool with it. And I feel like someone needs to share the perspective of how introverted long-term travel can be just as fulfilling, if not more.
  • Hotel stays are a fun occasional treat – especially after long driving days.

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  • We played a fun storytelling game one night that was really fun. It goes like this: Tear up pieces of paper and on each one, write (a) characters, (b) characters’ goals, and (c) an obstacle to characters’ goals. Randomly draw one piece from each category pile. Grab a small notebook and Person #1 writes one page to start the story. Person #2 only gets to read the very last sentence of what Person #1 wrote and then keeps the story going with one more page. Go back and forth 3 times and then read your story aloud at the campfire. Our story involved a park ranger who dreamed of making the best grilled cheese sandwich ever but had debilitating social anxiety.

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  • For the first time on this trip, we stayed somewhere more than a week: Cortez. We really need more than a week to get beyond the tourist highlights and get into a good work groove to discover local stuff. It’s nice to get to a point of comfort in a new place where I can do normal things like get a haircut, go to a yoga class, and try belly dancing for the first time (hip scarves are hot).
  • Small decorations for fall make the camper feel more festive for the season.

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  • I enjoy the hassle-free lifestyle of small towns but the anonymity of larger cities.
  • Playing disc golf with a dog is impossible – never again!
  • I have no idea how to dress for fall. Living most of my life in Illinois, hot summer basically turned into cold winter before I had a chance to think about fall clothes. I went shopping for some layered outdoor wear, but I still struggle with what to put on myself when it’s in the 60’s. I’m open to advice on this one!

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  • Desert landscapes make me feel peaceful.
  • Chief Surfs with Manatees, my Jeep, hit 88,888 miles (now over 91K) and is still going strong!

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Looking Ahead to Month #4

Month #4 will continue our exploration of the West in Colorado and Utah. We’re skipping the familiar parts of Colorado that we already know and sticking to the southwestern part of the state between Cortez and Grand Junction.

Other than an epic canyoneering trip in Zion a few years ago, Utah will be totally new to me. So I’m definitely looking forward to checking out Salt Lake City, Moab, Arches, and all the amazing landscapes here. I recently upgraded my iPhone to the 7+ so I’m also planning to snap some awesome photos to share!

A quick look at the calendar tells me that Halloween is also coming up, which is my favorite holiday of all time. So we’re planning to celebrate with a pumpkin patch visit, perhaps some cheap & easy costumes, and plenty of pumpkin-flavored desserts and beer!

Thanks for following our adventures and definitely looking forward to what month #4 brings!

 

Related:

10 Amazing Tips for New Adventure in Utah (A Guest Post by Louise Brown of The Adventure Land)

As full-time camper life on the road month #2 comes to a close, we have traveled cross-country and settled in Southwest Colorado for a while. Southwest landscapes always make me feel peaceful and inspired, and aside from below-freezing overnight temperatures, this leg of the journey is off to a great start!

I recently connected with Louise Brown, the founder of The Adventure Land, an outdoor resource for travel tips, gear, and food. Since Utah is up next on our route, I asked Louise for any advice she might have to offer. This is her guest post that I hope you find useful!

10 Amazing Tips for New Adventure in Utah
(A Guest Post by Louise Brown of The Adventure Land)

Utah is one of those states that is perfect for outdoor lovers and adventure seekers. It has an alpine forest, deserts, canyons, and the Great Salt Lakes. That’s barely scratching the surface! Utah is perfect for all sorts of travelers including families, couples, friends, and solo backpackers.

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You could spend a whole year around Utah but still not scratch the surface.  Are you planning to go camping, river trekking or hiking? Maybe you want to go hiking, biking, or kayaking. Whatever it is you’re planning to do, the key for traveling Utah is to be prepared. Here are some tips for new adventure in Utah.

1. PLAN YOUR ITINERARY

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To make the most of your time and visit, an itinerary will get you a long way. You might want to plan your trip weeks or months in advance. For instance, if you plan on visiting all the National Parks, you might need at least 8 days. Each park is unique, so visiting every park is already an adventure.

You should also consider the time of the year you go. Winters are cold but serene. Spring and autumn are about the same in temperature. However, spring is a good time to see wildflowers. Summer is ideal for desserts and autumn for the foliage change. It’s all a matter of preference.

2. GAS UP

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You might go through long stretches of remote roads without any services available. Therefore, always gas up when you’re in town. Before starting the long drive, check your gas, engine, tires, etc. Bring spare tires just in case. Worst case is you’ll be stuck in the middle of nowhere and rescue won’t come as soon as you hope.

3. STORE UP ON WATER AND FOOD

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Adventuring in Utah is going to take some energy. Be good to your body by hydrating well and eating enough food. Lower your risk of getting dehydration or heatstroke. You’ll better enjoy your trip when you’re healthy and energetic.

When you’re in town, get your stock of water and food. Fortunately, some parks might have some water refill stations. You can also bring a water filter or chlorine dioxide tablets to purify water from streams, lakes, or other bodies of water.

For food, bring energy rich food like trail mix, granola bars, dried fruit, etc. For light meals, bring sandwiches, canned tuna or tuna pouches.

4. DRESS FOR THE OCCASION

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In the summer, temperatures are between 85-100 degrees Fahrenheit. Spring and Autumn are quite beautiful with temperatures between 75-85 degrees.

Wear comfortable clothes with good insulation. During summer, you can wear a shirt and pants. However, night times get chilly so bring some extra layers. You may also want to bring a rain poncho or jacket.

During the day, you might want to put on some sun protection. Sunblock, a hat, and sunglasses make a big difference.

Shoes will also greatly affect your adventure. Blisters and sores will dampen the fun. You will also want to protect your feet from thorns, animals, and hard rocks because Utah’s trails are full of surprises. Wear closed-toed, sturdy shoes with soles that can grip on rocks, mud, sand, gravel, etc. It’s also better if you test out the shoes for a few days before your adventure to see if they work for you.

At the end of the day, a pair of flip flops feels fantastic. It’s not necessary, but you can pack those if you want.

5. INFORM SOMEONE ABOUT YOUR ADVENTURE

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Whether you’re going solo, as a pair or with a group, telling someone might save you. Remember that guy from the movie, 127 hours? No one knew he was missing or where to find him. After that experience, he always left a note or told someone if he was going on an adventure.

6. CAMPING OR OVERNIGHT ADVENTURES

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Bring a light, preferably a headlamp, so your hands are free. Although the stars are so clear at night, it might not be enough to illuminate your way. That way, you’re also keeping yourself safe by not tripping on a rock or something.

Keep yourself warm. As we said earlier, nights can get chilly.

7. BRING A RESCUE AID

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You can bring along your cellphone, but be ready for it not to work in some areas. Save your battery by putting it in airplane mode. You might want to bring extra batteries or an external battery charger.

You can also bring signaling tools like a mirror and a whistle in case you need people to find you. A handy tool like a Swiss knife or a Leatherman-style tool kit to help you cut or repair things.

8. FIRST AID KIT

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This is something you wish you don’t have to use. However, having it might just save you from unnecessary infections from a small cut, or from losing blood. Let’s hope you won’t get insect bites. If you do, calamine lotion or antihistamines might do the trick to make it comfortable.

9. BRING A CAMERA
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Utah is so picturesque. Bring a camera to document your adventure and share with your friends or future visitors. After your adventure, people will ask you about it. Tell your story better with some photos.

10. PACK YOUR BACK WELL

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The way you pack can have an effect on your back, shoulders and your hike greatly. It’s best to pack light. Only bring what is necessary. That’s why it’s also important to plan your itinerary well.

Utah is one of the ultimate outdoors destinations. Rich in wildlife, geology, and scenic trails, it brings adventure to a whole new level. Follow these guidelines to help you enjoy it and to keep you safe. Your Utah adventures will be an unforgettable experience!

 

Author Bio

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Louise is the founder of TheAdventureLand, where she and her associates blog about outdoor experiences and tips & tricks that will help you have an exciting adventure. She is also a tour guide of a travel company where she learned many things about the wilderness. “Let’s pack our bags and explore the world!”

Lost Arrow Campground: A Spooky Short Fiction Story for the Campfire

Lost Arrow Campground

It was about 9:00 pm and both driver and passenger were starting to nod off. They were keeping an eye out for campground signs and pulled over at two different ones. But was a Saturday night and neither had any space left to set up, so they moved on.

Aura, Raoul, and their dog named Chicken had been moving from one campground to the next to see the country and explore the great outdoors. That sort of lifestyle would be spontaneous enough for most people, but these adventurous three had fallen into a comfortable routine after six months and needed to switch things up a bit.

So on this particular day, they had decided to drive their Jeep and pop-up camper until they could drive no more and then look for campground signs along the highway. It was a hot, muggy day in late August, and they had made it as far as Oklahoma. This was a particularly long stretch of road that they were looking to get through as quickly as possible.

A few miles later, they saw a sign that read, “Lost Arrow Campground.” That sounded just fine, considering it was almost 11 pm and a thick fog was starting to roll in.

They pulled into Lost Arrow and saw a small shack at the front. Understandably, there was no one working at this time of night, so they decided to just set up and check in and pay in the morning. Camper set-up went quickly, and the couple divvied up the last tasks of the day. Aura took Chicken out for her last walk of the day, and Raoul went to a nearby utility sink to wash dishes from their on-the-road dinner.

As typical, Aura was distracted on her dog walk and texting her best friend, Michelle, about their exhausting journey to spontaneity.  She was looking down at her glowing iPhone when BAM! She walked into a towering beast of a man with a huge belly, bounced right off of it, and fell backwards into the gravel. Meanwhile, Chicken, who was always alert-to-a-fault and way too social, didn’t even respond to the fat man that was in their way. The pup had only been startled by Aura’s fall, nothing more.

Stunned and shaken up a bit, Aura brushed herself off and picked herself up off the ground, still holding on to Chicken’s leash. Feeling paranoid and a bit frantic, she rubbed her eyes and whipped her head in either direction. There was no one there. No one to apologize for being fat and in the way, no one to give her a helping hand out of the gravel, and no one to explain why she had bounced back so violently. Exhausted and unwilling to think about it anymore, Aura and Chicken made their way back to the camper to settle in for the night.

Meanwhile, Raoul was behind an old rickety shed hovering over a large sink with a few dirty bowls and spoons. He turned on the water without really looking at it and it instantly felt thicker than any water ever should – even campground water. It was pitch black outside, and his headlamp battery was becoming dim. The water coming out of the faucet was red, blood red. Instead of feeling alarmed, he was just angry. He had grown weary of life on the road and all the shitty accommodations along the way. For a brief second, the thought crossed Raoul’s mind that it could be blood, but he blamed his headlamp, his tiredness, and his color blindness and didn’t get it a second thought.

Back at the camper, Aura and Raoul were too tired and cranky to even get into their respective stories about what had happened on their separate outings. Instead they just crawled under the covers and tried to forget about what just happened.

That’s when they noticed that a smell was starting to creep in. It smelled rancid, pungent, and unlike anything they’d ever smelled before. Over the past six months, they had camped next to landfills, pig farms, and Appalachians with serious BO. Yet nothing compared to this smell. It was the smell of rotting flesh, yet they had no idea.

Still hoping to get at least a couple hours of sleep before the sun came up, they closed all the windows, lit a stick of incense, and covered their heads with a blanket. This seemed to work for a little while until the sounds started up.

Moaning sounds echoed through the trees and bounced off the flimsy canvas covering that separate the inside world from the outside one…and the familiar one from the hauntingly strange one on the other side.

Heavy duty earplugs helped to muffle the moaning sounds better than nothing, and before long, the birds were chirping and the first glimpses of sunlight peeked out onto the horizon. Aura, Raoul, and Chicken weren’t entirely sure where they were, but they just knew they wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible and get back on the road.

Still angry at having stumbled upon yet another disappointing campground, Raoul started packing up. In her usual stubborn way, Aura refused to help and insisted that they go check in at the front office to pay first. They already had an outstanding citation for failure to pay at a campground in Pennsylvania, and the last thing they needed to add to the mix was more legal trouble. The couple went back and forth in a passive-aggressive fashion until Raoul finally threw his hands in the air and gave in just to keep the peace.

The three of them stepped outside the camper and started making their way to the front office to pay for the night’s stay before packing up. There was a low-lying fog that blanketed the ground and hovered about three feet high in all directions. Chicken seemed to disappear in the fog as they walked towards the shack along the road. There were no other campers or tents in sight, which was a bit odd, but not entirely unheard of.

When they arrived, they found no one…only an abandoned, dilapidated shack with splintered wood and broken windows. There was no sign designating the business as Lost Arrow Campground and no pay box in sight. So they gladly accepted that this terrible night was at least a free night of camping and started walking back to the pop-up to take down and move out.

At that moment, the blanket of fog was just starting to lift. And what was under the fog began to reveal itself.

Tombstones. Gravesites. Corpses. Everywhere. And in all directions.

The real Lost Arrow Campground was up the road another half mile, and they just hadn’t gone far enough. Aura, Raoul, and Chicken had just camped overnight in a cemetery.

The residents were none too pleased about it, and they weren’t about to let them get away with a free night of camping for nothing. Mangled limbs began to claw their way out of mounds of dirt, and there was nowhere to run.

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Two Months on the Road! A Full-Time Camper Life Update

Two months down…??? to go!

Two months ago, we drove out of Atlanta with the Jeep and pop-up camper filled to capacity and have been touring the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic states ever since. On or around the 14th of each month, I’m aiming to write a quick update about where we’ve been, where we’re headed, and things I’m learning along the way.

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Related: 

Places We’ve Been: Month #2

We slowed down our pace a bit and have been spending a week in each place to better accommodate our work schedules and see more in each place.

  • New River Gorge, West Virginia: Home on the road #8
    • Favorite Parts: Hiking around the gorge and bridge with beautiful views, coal mine & ghost town hikes

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  • Red River Gorge, Kentucky: Home on the road #9
    • Favorite Parts: Turning 33, meeting up with my parents, rock climbing and lazy floating on my birthday

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  • Claytor Lake State Park, Dublin, Virginia: Home on the road #10
    • Favorite Parts: Easy access to kayaking & SUPing, playing horseshoes, decorating for fall

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  • Roanoke, Virginia: Home on the road #11
    • Favorite Parts: Staying in a hotel (Labor Day camping is for amateurs), solo museum outings, Black Dog Salvage

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  • Virginia Beach, Virginia: Home on the road #12
    • Favorite Parts: Camping right next to the beach, beach yoga/running/swimming, meeting up with my buddy Dwight

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  • Surf City, North Carolina: Home on the road #13:
    • Favorite Parts: Still here, but so far it’s been surviving a crazy storm with flooding (bit of a rough start)

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Biggest Challenges: Month #2

A lot of the challenges that were really getting to me in month #1 have mellowed out as I’ve settled into a better routine. Overall, the weather has been more pleasant in month #2 and our campgrounds have been pretty accommodating.

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The single biggest challenge I’ve felt this month is finding good internet for working. We’ve had to upgrade our data plans to make up for crappy service at campsites and have even had to move sites within campgrounds for better reception. These distractions cut into my productivity and make it more difficult to enjoy the other aspects of camping life.

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The other big challenge that comes to mind is mold/mildew. After some rainy days in West Virginia, it started growing on our camper canvas above the two beds. We didn’t discover it until we were in the Middle of Nowhere, Kentucky where cleaning supplies were very sparse. Vinegar ended up working pretty well until we got to a bigger store and picked up some mildew spray. Fortunately, no one got sick.

Realizations & Ramblings: Month #2

Over the course of the month, I jotted down random thoughts as they came to me. Here’s what my month #2 list looks like:

  • I’m getting better at doing yoga in weird places and feeling better physically and mentally because of it.
  • I’m getting more tolerant of bugs and getting better at ending their lives when necessary.
  • Monkey needs social time even when I don’t. We met her perfect playmate at Arrowhead Bike Farm in Fayetteville, WV – a hound named Hank.

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  • Keeping the inside of a camper clean is hard, especially when you’re camping in mud or sand. We are constantly sweeping the floor with a tiny broom and dust pan.
  • I really crave my end-of-the-day beer or mug of wine
  • I don’t necessary identify with West Virginia culture, but the uncrowded/outdoorsy vibe really resonated with me.

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  • Having our own downloaded TV shows to watch separately makes for easy and refreshing solo time. I’m currently watching Girls, Scandal, and Wentworth solo.
  • We did an “art in the park” day that involved drawing in sketchbooks and painting on watercolor postcards. I want more of these days.

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  • It’s possible to keep up many favorite hobbies even without an apartment.
  • When one person in your travel party isn’t coping well, the other needs to pick up the slack. Take turns with negativity.

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  • Inspired by scary campfire stories, I wrote a short fiction ghost story. Once I fix it up a bit, I’ll plan to share it here and perhaps write a few more too!
  • Once a month, it’s nice to treat ourselves to a hotel to switch up the routine. The Sleep in in Roanoke over Labor Day weekend to avoid crowds and the hurricane was really fun.
  • I love living by a beach.
  • Inspired by the beach I’m trying to start meditating again. I’m trying out guided meditations on this app, Meditation Studio by Gaiam.
  • I’m getting tired of wearing these same clothes and can’t wait to toss/donate them at the end of the season.
  • I have made more income so far this year than ever before in life!

Looking Ahead to Month #3

If you take a quick look at a map, you’ll see that we’ve made a big loop and seem to be circling back. But don’t be fooled because this trip is nowhere close to done!

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After stops in North Carolina and South Carolina, we are heading back to Atlanta for a few days. Here we’ll revisit that packed 10′ x 12′ storage unit and swap out water sports gear for biking gear, and summer clothes for fall and winter clothes. This will wrap up our tour of the Eastern U.S., and from here, we drive west!

For many years, we’ve wanted to go to the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, and this is the year we’re finally going to do it! So we’ll be putting in long hours in the car to breeze through Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas to get to the festival in time. Month #3 will be incredibly different from months #1 and #2 because it begins our journey of the west. I can’t wait, and as always thanks for reading and staying in touch!

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Spending a Day with Rich Humphreys of Gnome Countryside

One of my favorite things about being part of a community of gnome enthusiasts is getting the opportunity to meet other collectors and swap stories. As a writer with an insatiable spirit of wanderlust, my travels have led me to many amazing people who inspire me to keep collecting and spreading the joy of gnomes.

This summer, I had the opportunity to meet Rich “The Gnomeman” Humphreys at the one and only Gnome Countryside, tucked away in the peaceful rolling hills of Kirkwood Pennsylvania. For 35 years, Rich has been entertaining and educating kids and adults in his “Gnomery” and enchanted forest.

Rich, a long-time diabetic who nearly lost his sight to diabetic retinopathy, created Gnome Countryside after teaching school in Alaska for 12 years. He renovated this beautiful property and interwove the stories of gnomes into his nature tours. Rich first became enchanted by gnomes on a trip to Denmark, and he even dresses like a gnome in a wonderfully eccentric fashion!

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I first learned about Rich’s mission and Gnome Countryside in 2014 under tragic circumstances. Local news sources reported that a fire devastated his 220-year-old log home, destroying his possessions, but never his spirit. He has since rebuilt his home, and it’s just as beautiful as ever.

My tour of Gnome Countryside began in the Gnomery, a cozy room filled with wonderful gnomes where Rich shared stories, environmental facts, and songs with his captive audience. Then we followed The Gnomeman through the wooded trails, using our five senses to appreciate the rugged beauty that surrounded us. Small gnomes and gnome homes could be found along the trails (if you looked closely), and they were surely very happy here. Other highlights of the visit included listening to the waterfall sounds of Gnome Gniagra, participating in a drum circle, and building gnome homes and rock towers in the woods.

Gnomes and nature go hand-in-hand, and this is a place to embrace that relationship and celebrate stewardship of the environment and a sense of community in the outdoors. Through Gnome Countryside, Rich empowers visitors to return home with a renewed love for the environment and a commitment to protect nature. Gnome Countryside celebrates the legends of gnomes, teaches us about gnomes and nature, brings your senses to life. With a creative sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye, Rich’s dedication to nature and all its creatures is contagious.

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You too can visit Gnome Countryside if you only travel to the heart of Pennsylvania Amish country! Rich is an incredibly friendly and kindhearted man who loves to chat, so give him a call at 717-786-4928. Gnome Countryside is a favorite among school group tours, but he also leads individual two-hour tours at a rate of $10 per person. Morning and afternoon tours are typically available Monday through Saturday from April through October, rain or shine.

 

***A version of this story will be published in the upcoming edition of the International Gnome Club Newsletter!***