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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One Month on the Road: A Full-Time Camper Life Update

As you can hear from the crickets chirping in my blog (*chirp chirp, chirp chirp*), I haven’t had much time for personal writing lately. But today marks one month of living the nomad life, so I thought it was high time for an update. This certainly isn’t the longest we’ve been on the road – the trips to Mondakoming (Montana-South Dakota-Wyoming), the Northeast, and New Mexico have all been longer.

Yet this one feels a bit different because it has no end date, there’s nowhere to go home to, and the journey is just getting started.

From July 14th: Final Days in Atlanta…Next Up: Full-Time Camper Life!

We’ve been a lot of places and done a lot of things so far, but I’ve often struggled to keep my head above water with the constant planning, excess of work projects, and little hassles along the way. Clearly, I haven’t been blogging, but I have been updating my friends and family weekly home-on-the-road posts via Facebook and using an app called Track My Tour to waypoint the places we’ve been with photos and quick captions.

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It’s hard to lump a month’s worth of happenings into one little page, but here’s an attempt of sorts. I’m not feeling particularly witty or insightful right now, but I just need to take a moment to reflect and get a few things out on the page.

So to simplify matters, in text and in my own head, I’ll kick this blog post off with a few lists.

Places We’ve Been So Far: Month #1

  • Asheville, NC: Home on the road #1
    • Favorite parts = hiking, scenery, breweries, catching up with old friends, kayaking
  • Richmond, VA: Home on the road #2
    • Favorite parts = Best campground fitness center and free breakfast EVER, historic stuff
  • Alexandria, VA: Home on the road #3
    • Favorite parts = Waterfront walks, switching it up with a hotel stay during a work conference
  • Washington, DC: Day trips
    • Favorite parts = Monuments at night tour, Natural History Museum, catching up with old friends
  • Annapolis, MD: Day trip
    • Favorite parts = Waterfront area, ice cream, dressing Monkey up in cooling gear
  • Milton, Delaware: Home on the road #4
    • Favorite parts = Secluded beach 10 minutes away, learning that Monkey can swim, every brewery except Dogfish Head, SUP in the ocean
  • Lancaster, PA: Home on the road #5
    • Favorite parts = Gnome-themed campground, Gnome Countryside tour with Rich Humphreys, Amish déjà vu
  • Hershey, PA: Day trip
    • Favorite parts = Free chocolate tour, milkshakes
  • Coopers Rock, WV: Home on the road #6
    • Favorite parts = Hiking every day, playing guitar outside at the campsite, Rattlesnake trail at Coopers Rock, Lakeside crab restaurant
  • Seneca Rocks, WV: Home on the road #7
    • Favorite parts = Totally unplugging due to no phone or internet, bouldering the peaks

Biggest Challenges So Far: Month #1

However, it’s not all been fun and games. If you’re my Facebook friends, those are the photos you’ve been seeing. But there’s a darker side to live on the road that doesn’t get shared.

  • Ant infestation in the camper
  • Nowhere close by/secluded to pee in the middle of the night after too many beers
  • Constantly bothered by annoying strangers wanting to meet Monkey (more on this to follow)
  • 100+ degree temperatures
  • Campgrounds next to landfills
  • Flying insects of all kinds
  • Dirty, public laundry facilities
  • Finding dog-friendly restaurants and attractions
  • Feeling overloaded with work
  • Listening to Christian music in campground bathrooms
  • Infection that landed me in urgent care
  • Too rainy, hot, rocky, etc. to start my days with yoga
  • General crankiness due to all of the above

Realizations Thus Far: Month #1

Admittedly, I haven’t taken much time until now to reflect on my situation and how it’s been impacting me personally. Now it’s all coming at once and hard to take in. Yet taking myself out of my comfort zone and adopting a nomadic life has definitely made me realize a few things about myself.

  • I can tolerate and enjoy high heat much more than most people
  • I can totally maintain a full-time freelance writing job on the road. Business is great!
  • Having people around makes me feel exhausted, annoyed, and drained.
  • The strangers obsessed with Monkey are really wearing me down
  • My feet smell awful, especially after wearing hiking sandals
  • Having my favorite jewelry and toiletries in campgrounds makes me feel normal
  • I will never have a good hair day with all this humidity
  • Figuring out how to play new guitar songs is really hard

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Ramblings: Month #1

One thing that is really getting to me one month in is my annoyance with strangers on the road so far. I was introverted as a kid, went through an extroverted phase in college and my 20s, and have more or less returned to my introverted roots. I’m okay with that. I can “turn it on” and be social pretty darn well when I need to. But I rarely want to, and after it’s over, I feel like I’ve figuratively checked a box for the day and am happy it’s all over.

Dog owners, serious question here: how do you walk down the street in peace?

We literally can’t walk down a street/trail for five minutes without someone exclaiming “PUPPPPYYYYYY!” (she’s about 2 ½, by the way) and rushing over to maul her. Sure, she’s cute, but there’s tons of cute dogs out and about.

I want to get her a t-shirt that says, “I’m social 24/7, but my parents aren’t. Please admire me from afar.” But a t-shirt would only attract more attention, and Monkey LOVES attention and petting from anyone and everyone.

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However, I can’t be social all the time, and these constant conversations are draining. So seriously, guys. Does anyone else have this problem? Do you enjoy and embrace the random interactions? If not, how do you cope with them? It’s basically impossible to avoid them while living in public places. I’m working on a separate blog post all about this rant, so stay tuned.

So many travelers go on and on about how meeting people on the road is the best part about traveling, but I disagree. Extroverted travel is just one way to travel, and not necessarily the best way for everyone. I loved catching up with my old friend and his wife and baby in Asheville and my old coworker and her husband in DC. Not to mention meeting Rich “The Gnomeman” Humphreys at Gnome Countryside was definitely a highlight of my trip so far. But beyond these low-key, pre-planned social get-togethers, I crave time to myself more than anything else.

For the past month, my days have been jam-packed with work projects, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. Sure, this is always a “good problem” to have as a freelancer, but sometimes it’s exhausting and just becomes too much.

Besides the workload, we are in a constant state of planning, which also becomes exhausting after a while – always looking for the next campground, the next dog-friendly brewery, and the next museum to take turns going into while the other one hikes around with Monkey. To solve this, we set aside some time to book our next several campgrounds so that piece of the puzzle is taken care of for a while.

Looking Ahead to Month #2

We’re spending a bit more time in West Virginia and then heading into Kentucky next. My birthday, the big 33, is coming right around the corner and we’re meeting up with my parents for a little on-the-road celebration. My birthday’s on a Wednesday, so I’m hoping to take the day off work and do some climbing at the Red River Gorge.

From there, the plan is to head to the coast of Virginia and start traveling south. I’m not entirely sure where we’ll land at the close of month #2, but despite my rare divulgence of frustrations and rants, I’m still definitely excited to see what the next 30 days bring.

An 83-Mile Biking/Camping Adventure in Michigan

Up until a few weeks ago, the longest bicycle journey I’d competed was about 50 miles, which isn’t all that impressive. The idea of biking with camping gear and pitching a tent after a long ride always appealed to me, but the logistics and mileage intimidated me equally.

But the opportunity finally presented itself. And every journey begins a little bit easier with a dose of liquid courage.

Founders Brewery

My 83-mile biking/camping adventure began at Founders Brewery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sure, I’ve been to my fair share of breweries before, but this one impressed me nonetheless. Founders takes up an entire block of the street across from a train station, and both the indoor and the outdoor spaces are enormous. There were tons of servers floating around, with multiple servers working patrons’ tables.

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After a slight sandwich mix-up, I began feasting on my Stella Bleu, one many deli offerings. One sympathetic server even brought out a sample of porter to ease a nearby burning tongue. As typical, I ordered a beer flight to sample the local goods, including tiny pours of All Day IPA, Oatmeal Stout, Mosaic Promise, BA Sprite, and Curmudgeon. BA Sprite was my ultimate favorite – a pale ale aged in a bourbon barrel, buttery, but not overly rich.

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 But I didn’t linger because lots of pedaling was ahead of me.

White Pines State Park Trail

The journey began on White Pines State Park Trail, Michigan’s longest rail-trail – connecting five counties along 93.5 miles. Along this trail, you find open farmland, forests, swamps, and lots of little towns along the way.

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From the city streets of Grand Rapids, I picked the trail up in Walker, where it was paved, wide, and uncrowded. The trail is a mix of ballast and blacktop, so my hybrid tires did just fine for most of it – “most” being the key word. More to come on that later.

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After passing by Rockford Brewing Company, the trail becomes wooded, but fortunately not riddled with mosquitoes.

turtleKeep an eye out for crossing turtles!

KC’s Ice Cream

With about 20 miles left to go on the first 40-mile leg of this journey, a magical place appeared between the trees. So I plopped my bike along the trail and sifted through the wildflowers to investigate.

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KC’s ice cream shop is located along Main Street in Cedar Springs. They have a ton of unique flavors for cheap prices, and honestly, I probably won’t have made it any further without the generous helping I enjoyed atop a sugar cone.

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With the taste of cherry cheesecake still on my tongue, I didn’t exactly anticipate what would happen next. My nicely paved path came to an abrupt halt five miles later, leaving me with a mess of sand, gravel, and rocks to bike on. I longed for my old mountain bike, while slow, durable under such conditions.

My pace slowed, my right knee began to ache, and my bitching level increased dramatically. The town of Howard City provided a temporary path relief, which ended just as quickly as it came up.

Mecosta Campground – Morley, Michigan

Before hitting the four-hour mark, I arrived at the Mecosta Campground in Morley, Michigan, a tiny town with less than 500 people. Mecosta is awesome because it only charges $10/person if you arrive on a bike. Otherwise it’s $26 for a rustic site and $34 for a hookup site.

campThere’s just something “hardcore” about arriving at a faraway destination on two wheels. Site #24 looked as good as any, and despite the sizable ant population, the tent remained pleasantly bug-free.

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The campground had a decently-sized pool, but unfortunately no hot tub. That would have been quite lovely after 41.something miles. I took a quick dip, but was promptly joined by masses of screaming children. I abandoned my post and toweled off with a ringing in my ears.

poolNow here’s something you NEVER find at campgrounds…free mini golf! There were nine holes of mini golf located onsite, with free club and ball rentals. More campgrounds should really set this up!

Mecosta Campground was clean and easy to sleep in. It was unfortunate that there was only one bathroom for each gender onsite, however, the owners were in the process of building out a few more.

golf

Mecosta’s owner recommended checking out Moe-Z-Inn for dinner. This was a solid recommendation, within walking/biking distance of the campground and with really delicious food. I got the lobster lasagna and downed every last bite. There’s a nice patio out back along the river if you don’t mind sharing the space with mosquitoes.

There isn’t a whole lot else to do in Morley, but there is gas station convenience store if you need to pick up some snacks or a cigar. Expect to see bored teenagers loitering and riding around on motorized bikes on summer evenings.

restaurant

Satisfied with my brief stint in Morley, I hopped back on the trail the next morning to begin the return journey and complete this 83-mile adventure. The temperature was cooler and the sun was hiding, but rain was nowhere in sight.

As an alternative to 15-mile stretch of sand and gravel path, I opted to ride the first portion along the road for the way back. It was a two-lane road with a 55 MPH speed limit, but not too busy on a Sunday morning. That was definitely a good thing because there was essentially no shoulder, let alone a bike lane. Cars whizzed by, but were kind enough to move over the center line when passing.

sand lake

The wonderfully-paved trail that I initially took for granted picked back up in Sand Lake, another tiny town along the way. From here, the pace picked up and it was smooth sailing.

Rockford Brewing Company

For one final hurrah, I stopped at the Rockford Brewing Company, about ten miles away from the initial starting point at Founders. One tip: don’t park your bike along the outside patio because you’ll probably get yelled at like I did. There are bike racks on the other side of the trail.

You can get a sampler of Rockford’s five standard beers for $7 and additional samples are $2 each. Top picks were the Rogue River Brown, which wasn’t that unique but well done, and the Ain’t Jemima, a cleverly-named maple sap beer that’s sweet, but not sweet enough to rot your teeth out. The Rockford Country Ale is also pretty good and reminded me of Two Brother’s farmhouse ale.

Rockford

To refuel, I ordered a Stromboli with chips & salsa, but it appeared to have come pre-packaged from another eatery. Regardless, I was too starving to question its origin. The place has a great location along the trail, a chill vibe, and so-so service. A flyer informed me that they host live bands Thursday and Friday nights, but alas, the calendar and the stars did not align.

After the last leg of the journey, I arrived back at Founders Brewery to find Chief (my Jeep) safe and happily not towed. There are lots of other breweries in the downtown area of Grand Rapids to check out too if you’re still bent on soaking in a hot tub and willing to splurge for some well-deserved relaxation in a walking-distance hotel.

To date, this is my longest biking journey, and it showed me that I’m totally capable to doing more…after at least a week of cursing my bike and nursing my knee back to health, of course.

My mind wanders and becomes restless while I ride, but that’s good for me and I could probably use more of that kind of quiet time. The occasional ache and pain creeps up, but I’m still (relatively) young and healthy, so I need to take advantage of that while I can. And there are still lots of places to explore on two wheels.

^ In case you wondered, that’s what I look like riding a bike with camping gear. ^

A Low-Maintenance Chick’s Guide to Long-Term Camping

I like to think of myself as a pretty low-maintenance kind of chick. I can put up with less-than-ideal road trip conditions, and I don’t mind skipping showers for a few days if I’m doing something cool.

Camping Amérique Montréal Campground

Camping Amérique Campground, Montreal, Canada

However like most women, I have a gazillion health and body products crammed on my bathroom shelves back home. When I reluctantly return to home base after a month of living on the road, I find myself using face creams and eyeliners I’d completely forgotten about.

While living out of a tent and the back of a Jeep for extended periods of time, I’ve learned a thing of two about what to bring along and what to leave behind in the medicine cabinet. Even low-maintenance chicks, like me, tend to over-pack, so here’s some miscellaneous advice to help you avoid repeating my mistakes.

Bring This Stuff

  1. Face wash & lotion – You might think you can get by with combined body/face wash, but once your eyes start stinging, you’ll thank me. Your skin condition will inevitably suffer in the outdoors over time, so stock up on mini hotel lotions when you can and shove a bunch in your bag.
  2. Dry shampoo – Showers can be hard to come by and this stuff can make you feel a bit less greasy.
  3. Makeup foundation – Your skin will likely break out and look like crap within a week. Although you’ll likely spend most your days makeup free, sometimes you just feel better glancing at an evener complexion in the mirror. Feel less silly about wearing it by bringing a foundation with SPF 15 or 30.
  4. Floss and mouthwash – You might think flossing and swishing are a hassle, but with infrequent brushing, your teeth will get really nasty really quick. Without the distractions of television and abundant social plans, you’ll have more time to floss in the evenings, whether it’s in the campground bathroom or your car’s rear view mirror.
  5. Prescription sunglasses – Contact lenses and living in the outdoors don’t mix very well. Your hands will often be dirty and your eyes will be stinging from blowing dust in the wind. Prescription sunglasses are expensive, but if your eyes suck and you spend a lot of time outdoors, they’re worth it.
  6. Bandanas – Just get used to it…your hair isn’t going to look very good very often. My hair is naturally wavy, meaning it’s always frizzy when I’m living outdoors. My advice is to start a bandana collection. Not only do bandanas keep the hair out of your face, they also make you look hardcore and they’re a fun souvenir to seek out, especially at national parks.
Champlain Adult Campground, South Hero, Vermont

Champlain Adult Campground, South Hero, Vermont

Leave This Stuff Behind

  1. All hair tools – As hard as it is to leave the blow dryer at home, trust me…you won’t use it. If you’re serious about outdoor activity, your hair will usually be pulled back or tucked inside a hat of some sort. Outlets can be a sparse commodity in campgrounds, and the other campers will silently judge you for being vain.
  2. Nail polish and remover –  Before leaving on a long road trip, remove all of your fingernail and toenail polish. It will soon chip away and bother the crap out of you. I’ve never seen a travel-size bottle of nail polish remover, so save room in your bag and avoid potential acetone-soaked spills.
  3. Eye makeup – It’s common knowledge that leaving eye makeup on when you sleep is a bad idea. You won’t have a nice sink to wash your face in if you’re backcountry camping, so skip the eye makeup and leave the remover at home too. Having long lashes on a hiking trail isn’t worth a nasty eye infection.

See, that’s not so bad! I even gave you twice as many things to take than things to leave behind just so you aren’t turned off by the idea of long-term camping!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut seriously, living in the outdoors for more than just a weekend here and there is a really rewarding experience that clues you in on things you didn’t even know about yourself (or your travel companion, for that matter). For example, I learned that I’m cool with camping until it hits twenty degrees. Once the mercury dips into the teens, I’m ready to check into a hotel. While my boyfriend is more okay with cold temperatures, he can’t stand a damp tent or temperatures over eighty-five degrees.

We all have our breaking points. But with the essential (not excessive) comforts of home, we can feel a little more prepared to tackle the challenges that bring us to closer to them.