It’s Officially Been a Year & a Half of Camper Life!

A year and a half? Whoa. Pop some champagne, because this sounds like a reason to celebrate!

Eighteen months ago, we hit the open road and never looked back. Well okay, that’s a lie. We’ve actually been back to where we started twice since then due to nomad logistics. In fact, that fact ties into the theme for month #18 of camper life.

It was a milestone month, but also a weird month thanks to the holidays. On the first day of it, we stuck Dragoon the RV into a storage lot in Arizona and headed out on a cross-country Jeep road trip to Georgia and Illinois.

From there, there were lots of cheap motel stays (fortunately no bedbugs, but unfortunately with plenty of neighbor noise), visits with family and friends, and a few fun national park/monument stops to break up excruciatingly long drives.

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


Christmas Road Trip: The Eastbound Journey

  • Highlights: A chill, dog-friendly driving break at Sierra Blanca Brewing in Moriarty, New Mexico; Gorging on our favorite Torchy’s Tacos in Amarillo, Texas, not getting sick from $4 Chinese takeout in Texarkana, Arkansas; digging for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park (sadly, we didn’t strike it rich though); checking out the historic bathhouses at Hot Springs National Park
  • Lowlights: 8-10-hour days in the car; very boring stretches of road (I’m looking at you, Central Texas), the annoyance of every stranger hassling us to meet Monkey in Hot Springs, Arkansas; not uncovering any sparkling diamonds while digging in the dirt, eating too much and exercising too little

A Few Days in Atlanta 

  • Highlights: Hanging out with my best gal pal and her kiddos for the day; dinner at a great Japanese restaurant with another old friend; boba tea and Asian grocery stores; finally going for a run (in the rain, however); the expansive salad bar at Fogo de Chao which made up for my distaste for all things meat on a business partner + family dinner
  • Lowlights: Lots of rain (totally forgot what rain was after being in the desert for so long); the loudest and most annoying hotel stay ever at Studio 6 in Chamblee (seriously, who does crossfit and sings every night between 11pm and 5am?); terrible hotel pillows

Celebrating Christmas with Family 

  • Highlights: Feeling like a kid again in my parents’ house; Monkey got to stay with us!; seeing real reindeer at a reindeer ranch; some well-timed snow that looked nice but didn’t get in the way of our travel plans; card games with Mom and Dad; running on my parents’ treadmill 5 days in a row to fight the fatness; hanging out with my 94-year-old grandma; meals out with friends in the area; not having to work much at all; ummm….presents!
  • Lowlights: Blisteringly cold and below-zero temps that will never make me miss Illinois; that day when Monkey ate half a box of animal crackers left behind in my parents’ SUV

Christmas Road Trip: The Westbound Journey

  • Highlights: Drinking beer and gnoming out at Hopping Gnome Brewing in Wichita, Kansas; motel hot tubs and free breakfasts; breweries and food trucks in Albuquerque; taking a day off driving to check out El Malpais National Monument and El Morrow National Monument in New Mexico; final stops at Petrified Forest National Monument back in Arizona
  • Lowlights: Also very boring roads (This time, I’m looking at you, Kansas); all the money spent on gas

And with that, we were reunited with our home on wheels and set to dive back into camper life. The road trip (versus flying) plan went off without a hitch, but this may not have worked out so well if the weather turned crappy or the Jeep broke down. However, none of that happened, so it was great to be able to spend additional time with family and friends for the holidays and also make some random stops in Arkansas, Kansas, and New Mexico to break up the monotony of driving. And the best bonus was that Monkey could come along for it all, rather than being boarded back in Arizona like last year!

After picking up the RV from storage and crashing for one night in Black Canyon City, Arizona, we moved on to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to ring in the new year.

Organ Pipe National Monument, Ajo, Arizona: Home on the Road #58

  • Highlights: Awesome campground that actually had internet coverage so we could extend our stay from two days to seven; backcountry and off-road hikes where dogs are allowed; starting the year off with a slow pace; making it up ’til midnight on NYE (barely) by listening to podcasts and playing board games; managing to use the four hours of daily allowed generator time to charge laptops enough for working; an awesome day trip to Puerto Peñasco, Mexico for a day of eating good food and being beach bums
  • Lowlights: Only 2 dog-friendly designated trails; old people who stick their noses in others’ business; the ordeal of driving over to fresh water and dump stations every few days

Yuma, Arizona: Home on the Road #59

  • Highlights: Swapping out stuff in our tiny storage unit here (tent camping gear now in tow!); taking care of Monkey’s annual vet appointment and dental cleaning; revisiting the one and only brewery in town; getting a lot of work done and continuing a slower pace of life; finding a campground that allows in people under 55 and that doesn’t enforce its pitbull ban
  • Lowlights: Surrounded by snowbirds everywhere you go; the insane cost of Monkey’s vet bill (but she’s worth it)


This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • Time passes by differently in different places. For example, it always seems to move so slowly in Central Illinois where I grew up. It also moves slowly in places like Organ Pipe where there’s really not that much to do or be in a hurry for. The slower pace is refreshing to me right now, after always feeling in a frantic hurry to get to everything all at once for the sake of checking things off a list.
  • I brought my 1984 cabbage patch, Isabelle, out of storage and she is now an active member of this camper life journey! This little lady went to college with me and survived the 120+ degree heat in a non-climate-cooled storage unit in Yuma. I think that deserves a medal and a shot of something strong. She is 33 years old, after all. She’s a little worn and dirty, but then again, aren’t we all?

  • Also, having Georgia license plates is exhausting. At this point, I’ve lived longer on the road than ever in the state of Georgia. But everyone has to have license plates, and that’s what ours say. In the west/southwest, it’s a constant barrage “Georgia?! Well aren’t you a looooooong way from home? Whataya doin’ out here?!?” If I had a nickel for every time I had to endure this exhausting conversation, I’d have a couple bucks by now.
  • We’ve been redecorating and personalizing the RV! These are the cupboards above our bed, and we printed out panorama photos to display on the otherwise-boring surfaces. I love the way they turned out!

  • We also finished our replacement DIY curtains in the living room and office. These ones actually reach down to the windowsill and block out some light.

  • Another project (that was all S and no me) was building a second workstation for the RV. It’s bolted into the dash board and slides out like a drawer. Now we don’t have to sit next to each other all day and kick each other trying to scoot out…amazing!

  • There’s still something very appealing to me about New Mexico – something rugged, mysterious, and alas….uncrowded.
  • I love campground and hotel fitness centers, no matter how outdated or tiny. There’s never anyone in these mysterious places and I can finally lift something besides resistance bands and my own body weight.
  • While in Yuma, we went to a wood carving expo and I bought this necklace – totally obsessed. It’s a carving from mesquite wood from the desert and turquoise chips with copper and a leather chain. It reminds me of the mountains I’ve been hiking in, southwest landscapes, independence, and enduring strength despite getting a little worn and rough around the edges over time. One day, when I uncover magical free time, I’d love to make jewelry, and for it to be something like this.

  • A fellow full-time RV friend of mine recently commented how non-retired/full-time working RVers have very little in common with snowbirds, and I couldn’t agree more. Living in snowbird country is pretty much like living on Groundhog Day and having the same awkward interactions and forced conversations every day. Yet we are terribly outnumbered.
  • I’d 2018 to be my year of slowing down and being more spontaneous. Living a life on the road might sound inherently spontaneous, but it’s really not. All of our homes on the road are very planned out in advance, largely to accommodate our work schedules and find some normalcy while constantly moving. However, starting the year off at Organ Pipe reminded me of a few things. #1: Slow down and stop rushing because no one else cares what I do, where I go, or how many things I check off a list. And #2: Build in time for spontaneous time. In a rare wine-fueled moment, we decided to take a day trip to Mexico the night before crossing the border atLukeville, Arizona. It was probably the best decision we’ve made all year. With a super-easy border crossing, cheaply priced everything, and perfect weather for sand and sunshine, I need more Puerto Peñasco-style days in my life.

Looking Ahead to Next Month

From Yuma, we got back into California, but this time with goals to only stop by a few key areas in order to reach Oregon by early March. Rather than spending eight or so months in California like last year, we’re blowing through a bit faster this time so we can spend spring and summer in Oregon, Washington, Canada, Idaho, and Montana.

Our first Cali stop was a quick overnight at Pyramid Lake to break up the drive to San Luis Obispo, where we’ll spend a couple weeks revisiting an area that we really enjoyed last spring. SLO has made it on our short list of possible future plop-down spots, so I’m looking forward to getting to know the area better. From here, we’re northward bound with two-week stays being standard protocol.

Thanks for sifting through my rambles for the past year and a half! I’ll close with our fortunes for the new year, courtesy of $4 Chinese entrees from Texarkana, Arkansas.


Catch up with the journey:

Southern Utah & Northern Arizona: How We Spent Month #17 on the Road

It’s looking a lot more festive in this little home on wheels! And yes, those ARE crazy-colored gnomes hanging from the ceiling.

It’s now been a year and five months of life on the road, and the wheels keep on turning. The past month was based in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. The weather’s been pretty great, and the scenery has been spectacular. There’s been a lot of work to do to prepare for upcoming holiday travel, but still some fun times for exploration in the wilderness and nearby towns.

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


Cedar City, Utah: Home on the Road #53 (continued from last month)

  • Highlights: Exploring ultra-peaceful and remote canyons. discovering crazy rock formation arches in a different part of the state, finishing more awesome handmade bedroom curtains, bike trails around town, a little snow that was still easy to hike in, surprising discovery of an Indian grocery store
  • Lowlights: Having to leave…this has been one of my favorite places to live in a very long time, minus the crappy internet and total lack of breweries (damn Utah beer laws)

Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah: Home on the Road #54

  • Highlights: Being off the grid with no internet reception, secluded and super-scenic hikes at Kodachrome, day trip to Bryce Canyon National Park with a solo hike, picked up a sweet new sweatshirt, enjoying a non-traditional Thanksgiving, awesome weather
  • Lowlights: Not being able to stay here longer due to no internet for working

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Utah: Home on the Road #55

  • Highlights: Also having no phone reception for the holiday, soft sand that Monkey absolutely loves, peaceful state park, packing breakfast (bagels and a thermos of tea) to watch the sunrise out on the dunes
  • Lowlights: Again, couldn’t stay any longer than we did because it wasn’t feasible with work

Flagstaff, Arizona: Home on the Road #56

  • Highlights: Checking out 7 breweries (six different ones) in 5 days, food trucks, visiting Native American pueblo ruins, Black Barts’ surprisingly entertaining dinner theater show next to our campground
  • Lowlights: Cutting our stay here short because of faulty weather forecasting of 10 inches of snow that didn’t happen, not getting to hike as much as we would have liked, no campground WiFi (as typical)

Camp Verde, Arizona: Home on the Road #57

  • Highlights: Somehow getting the best campsite in the park with a great views and short trails behind us, taking advantage of “resort” amenities like a weight room and hot tub, more affordable than Sedona and less restrictive (age and dogs) than Phoenix, cliff dwellings, browsing crystal shops, working outside a bit
  • Lowlights: Crappy WiFi once again (See a pattern for this month? Data overage hell!), finding Sedona to be more overpopulated and slightly less impressive than I remembered it from about 11 years ago, calling way too many local places to try to find RV storage for our upcoming Christmas trip


This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • We bought a new tent! No, I’m not on-board with full-timing in a tent like we did back in 2013 (Montana/Wyoming/South Dakota) and 2014 (Maine/Vermont/New Hampshire). But it’ll be fun to leave the RV behind and take this out for some backcountry adventures soon.

  • I’m starting to think I’ll never be satisfied living in just one place long-term.
  • I need more solo outings.
  • We finally finished all 4 bedroom curtains! Love them!

  • I really enjoy lap swimming and want to look for more community pools in future homes on the road.
  • Coffee shops sound like a fun place to work, but they’re usually not. I keep trying them when I have a lot of data-heavy work to do. But the disappointing Wi-Fi, screaming children, cackling conversations, sun glare, and wind gusts from the door tend to suck the joy out of working in weird places.

  • I started writing a couple more short stories, but I haven’t finished anything.
  • Time moves so much slower without the internet, and it’s wonderful.

  • I’ve been keeping up with meditating at least a few days per week, the only form of spirituality that makes any sense to me.
  • Every service-oriented interaction lately has been mind-numbing, exhausting, and disappointing. It’s pretty ridiculous how archaic the campground industry is and that everything from reservations to storage requires an excruciating phone call with no efficient online alternative. My intolerance for humans is at an all-time high. If I have to spell our names one more time….

  • I had to finish some Christmas craft presents this month, but looking to pick back up with guitar in January.
  • With the exception of Flagstaff (oopsie daisy), I’ve been cutting back on beer and dessert in favor of wine and nonfat yogurt with mix-ins. But now with a 16-day road trip and Christmas on the horizon, making healthier choices will be a bit rougher.

Looking Ahead to Next Month

I’m posting this a day early because tomorrow we hit the road (Jeep only) and head east! With long days of driving ahead, we’re looking to make quick and overnight stops in eastern New Mexico, eastern Oklahoma, some day-trip fun in Arkansas (Crater of Diamonds State Park and Hot Springs National Park), and then finally onto Atlanta.

We’re still officially Georgia residents for tax purposes, and there’s no way around the emissions test requirement for the Jeep to renew the registration. The camper is exempt because it’s less than three years old…whew! It’s all pretty silly, but at least we’re using this inconvenience as an excuse to see friends and business partners in town. From there, it’s on to southern and central Illinois to do Christmas up right with my family.

It’s gonna be a weird month ahead of working on laptops in the passenger seat, staying in hotels while our gas-guzzler home sits back in Arizona, and being out of our usual routine. Daily routines are something I’ve clung to while moving from place to place to maintain a sense of normalcy and stay organized with everything I need to do.

But this is a crazy time of year for everyone, so no complaining here to close out a solid 2017! Okay, enough babbling…back to work and packing with perhaps a little hot tub time in there too.

Happy holidays, and thanks for keeping up with my journey!


Catch up with the journey:

A Month Split Between the West & the Midwest (#15)

Howdy! Month #15 on the road has been a bit of a weird one. That’s because right in the middle of it, we booked a flight to Chicago to attend a friend’s wedding, celebrate my belated birthday with family, and drink beer with our favorite friends.

After getting back into Reno, we relocated to the Eastern Sierras near the ski slopes of Mammoth Lakes, California. It’s not ski season yet (which is absolutely killing my other half), but this place is seriously an outdoor lover’s paradise for all seasons.

New inflatable kayak! Our old one got a puncture that couldn’t be repaired. Monkey’s in there too, lying down like a good boat dog.

Fortunately, we’re nowhere near the wildfires in California right now…separated by about six hours and a huge mountain range. However, it has made me think more about the possibility of evacuation in case of an emergency. If it ever came to that, I think we’d be better off than most people because with just a little notice, we could drive our home and all our possessions as far away as possible. Hopefully we never have to put that to the test though.

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


Reno, Nevada: Home on the Road #48 (continued)

  • Highlights: Winning $11 in a slot machine, bike routes are improving in town, a positive dog boarding and RV storage experience while we flew out, easy airport, switching things up with a short hotel stay after flying back
  • Lowlights: Losing at all other casino games, Limited hiking nearby due to over-development and suburban sprawl, the red lights here take forever to turn green when you’re driving

And now…a few scenes from our last few days in Reno!


Side Trip to the Midwest: Chicago, Lake Geneva, Arthur

  • Highlights: So many of our favorite friends managed to come out to see us during just 36 hours in Chicago and even let us crash overnight, hiking and playing games with my retired parents on weekdays made all that working ahead worth it, visiting the pumpkin patch in my hometown, eating Mexican food with my nearly-94-year-old grandma, actually taking a couple days off work, birthday cake
  • Lowlights: The pitfalls of air travel in general, renting a car from Budget, driving in Chicago – definitely don’t miss that!

Here’s what the side trip looked like in photo form…


June Lake, California: Home on the Road #49

  • Highlights: Epic views absolutely everywhere, surviving my longest summit day hike in life (15 miles), first snow of the season, natural and free outdoor hot springs, mountain town festivals, lakes everywhere to break in the new inflatable kayak – even around tufas, colorful fall leaves, ridiculous rock formations
  • Lowlights: Temperatures in the teens at night with limited propane and only being able to run one space heater at a time, RV pipes freezing, fat swollen toes from hiking so much

It’s hard to choose my favorite June Lake photos because they’re all so beautiful and I’ve taken so damn many of them. Here’s a sampling…


This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • My biggest professional setback this month has been a broken laptop keyboard. On a rainy night in Reno, our RV had a single leak that strategically fell onto my keyboard and destroyed the “k” and “w” keys. Ironically, I couldn’t even type the word “work,” let alone get any of it done. Here’s a pic of me pissed off and trying to dry it out with a hair dryer in vain. Rather than hastily invest in a new laptop without doing enough research, I opted for a wireless external keyboard to place over the broken one. Surprisingly, I’m making it work with our very small shared desk in here, and it’s more ergonomic too, which I’m hoping will help reduce my thumb and pinky pain from typing insane amounts of words every day.

  • I’ve stopped closely following the full-time RV-related Facebook groups that I initially joined when starting this lifestyle. The focus of some of these groups involve trying to figure out how to make money as a nomad and get more work (I’ve got that figured out and I actually want to work LESS!) or being retired and a know-it-all about everything (bring on the trolls!). I thought I’d be able to relate to people in a similar living situation, but the truth is I’ll always relate better to people from my past who actually know me, regardless of how different our lives are. Aside from the occasional question about RV maintenance or a campground reservation, I’m way more connected with my best friend who’s a stay-at-home mom and my old Chicago friends that are so easy to talk to about more than just catch-up chatter.
  • It’s almost my favorite holiday of the year…Halloween! I decked the campsite out with zombie gnomes and got Monkey a pumpkin costume to get in the festive spirit.

  • The logistics of keeping up with annual doctors appointments while moving so frequently and having to transfer records is a huge pain that I forgot about. Thank goodness I don’t have lots of health issues or this lifestyle totally wouldn’t work.
  • After 8 months in this RV, the newness/perfection has worn off and we’ve been getting more into personalizing it. For example, we printed out a fun photo of Monkey and some rocks along the Mendocino shore as a metal print and hung it by our work desk. Another idea is to print out landscape photos of our trip so far to display on the front of interior storage cupboards…more to come on that soon.

  • Typical priorities when looking for a next campground: internet access, cool things to do nearby, spacious sites, reasonable cost, dog-friendly, full hookups.
  • I’m obsessed with Hawaiian poke bowls…anyone else? Found a pretty good one at this food truck next to June Lake Brewing Company, which is right by our current campground and we’ve already been to 3 times!

  • Right now we’re having the coldest temperatures so far in the RV. There aren’t readily accessible propane fill spots nearby, so we’re making the best of it with tiny electric space heaters, an electric blanket, and hand warmers. We’re learning a lot though about keeping the water regulator and awning from freezing and how we can’t run two appliances at once. One space heater + an iron or hair dryer = bad. Two space heaters = super bad. I do miss the days of just sliding on flip flops to go walk the dog. Now it’s a 10-minute process of gearing up for the cold, not to mention an hour-long process just to get out of bed in the morning.
  • You know how I was whining last month about how I can never find time for creative projects and how that side of my brain is slowly dying? Well…I started a new sewing endeavor! It took longer than it should have, but I’m happy with how it turned out and going to give this handbag to my mom as a Christmas gift. Shhhh! Next up, I want to get back to the camper curtain project and replace the 3 bedroom blinds with something more functional and fun.

Before…

After!

  • I’m the only blogger I know who doesn’t try to make money off their blog. This old WordPress site I started in 2012 has no ads, I don’t do affiliate marketing, I’m not trying to get more readers, and I steer clear of guest posts most of the time. Monetizing my day-to-day life on the road would ruin the experience for me, make it less authentic. I’m slammed with work projects that are all about SEO and keywords, so I get enough of that in my full-time job. This is my personal space to share things with people who care about me as a person without all that bullshit in the way.
  • Off-leash dogs in on-leash places continues to be my #1 pet peeve. It’s simply not responsible or safe for anyone. Locals in the June Lake area seem to be notoriously bad about this.

  • Mountain people seriously love their plaid flannel shirts. I only have one, and I’m feeling totally left out.
  • It took a lot of years, but I really like hanging out with my parents these days. I’m so happy they’re taking more little trips and spending more time out in nature in their retirement. Just a couple months and we’ll be back for Christmas, but this time driving and not flying.

Looking Ahead to Next Month

Planning the logistics of Month #16 has been a bit of a pain, but we finally have it sorted out. From here at June Lake, we’ll be heading to Lone Pine to climb Mount Whitney, then to boondock in Death Valley, and then on to Vegas to take care of a bunch of things that cities are good for. If all goes as planned, we’ll be spending Halloween in Vegas and looking for something fun to do. Maybe wearing something like this???


Catch up with the journey:

7 Months in the Pop-Up, Now 7 months in the RV

It’s been a year and a couple months on the road, and something occurred to me during month #14. We’ve now spent just as much time living in the new RV as we spent in the old pop-up camper…7 months in each!

However, pretty much all of our RV life has been in California. We started in San Diego in early-March and have been here ever since! It’s not like we’re obsessed with the state or anything. It’s expensive, but it has the most diverse landscapes of anywhere I’ve ever seen. That’s a trade-off we’ve been willing to take, so it’s been a whole lot of zig-zagging from the coast to the mountains and back again.

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


Sacramento, California: Home on the Road #46

  • Highlights: Living right next to the American River bike trail, nice downtown area with parks and labeled trees, tons of breweries, best campground Wi-Fi ever, whitewater rafting birthday trip to Coloma (an awesome way to turn 34!), visited the president of the International Gnome Club in Auburn, dim sum is amazing, seeing 79 percent of a solar eclipse, climbing at one of our favorite gyms
  • Lowlights: Crazy hot all the time, campground was a glorified parking lot for RVs, disappointing dog boarding experience due to pit bull discrimination, yet another flat tire on the jeep – on the way to go bowling (not off-roading) of all things

Clio, California: Home on the Road #47

  • Highlights: Unlimited scenic and dog-friendly hiking trails, peace and quiet, spacious campsite, photography from mountain summits, mutually agreeable weather, the best outdoor space ever for a brewery (The Brewing Lair, Blairsden), nice laundry facilities, seeing snow, local fire station pancake breakfast, picking hops on a farm, meeting a soapmaker who gave me a free lesson
  • Lowlights: Not a ton to do in towns with populations of 66 and 737, overpriced groceries and hard to get supplies, almost toppling the jeep off a ridiculous cliff and dying, unreliable campground electricity made us too nervous to ever leave Monkey behind in the RV on hot days with no A/C

Reno, Nevada: Home on the Road #48

We’ve only been in Reno a couple days, and I’ll be honest…it’s been a rough couple days. The biggest issue is due to these crazy thunderstorms that we’re having every afternoon/evening. After checking out the Midtown neighborhood yesterday, I came back to find a leak in the camper. A single leak coming from a recessed LED light, but guess where the rainwater was directly dripping down onto? MY LAPTOP’S KEYBOARD.

And now, it’s fried. Several keys don’t work at all, which is tragic when you consider that typing letters is how I make a living. Right now, I’m using an old external keyboard for our media center, but it’s awkward and killing my work productivity. The only reason we’re actually in Reno at all is to catch a flight to Chicago in a week. I’ve been frantically trying to work ahead to take a week off for a wedding/friends/family visit trip, and the sheer volume of things to do in advance is killing me.

“But Alyssa, don’t you work for yourself? Can’t you take time off whenever you want.”

Um, no. I’m over-committed, over-extended, can’t say no, and losing my mind. But thanks for asking. I am also convinced that I’m developing arthritis/carpal tunnel/something-freaking-wrong with my spacebar-using thumb. Ouch.

Meanwhile, our campground here is reminiscent of a police state, but with more cramped conditions. There’s no reasonable place for dogs to pee, and I’m constantly getting the evil eye from an excessive number of staff members flying by in golf carts. There is a nice marina nearby for runs, and a pretty stellar clubhouse/pool area…if only there was more hours in the day to use them.

Sigh. Whine. Did I hear someone say wine? Or perhaps legal recreational weed?

Moving on…

Despite its desert reputation, Reno continues to be a land of rainbows. I’ve been here twice in life and seen rainbows both times. This one presented itself before a big storm in a Target parking lot, of all places.


More Random Ramblings from the Road

  • We really fell hard for the “Lost Sierras” area around Clio, CA. I love all the hiking, mountains, and peacefulness. But I’m not sure if I could be happy living in such tiny towns long-term.
  • I continue to be obsessed with boba tea. You can’t find it everywhere. But I get it every chance I get.

  • I’m pretty sick of getting flat tires in the jeep. It seems to happen all the freaking time. Here’s a shard of metal sticking out of one in Sacramento. At least it’s not happening with the RV yet…that’ll be a nightmare when it does.

  • My creativity is dead. I am not creating anything interesting these days due to a total lack of spare time and motivation. I have plenty of inspiration and ideas, but just can’t bring myself to actually do things like sewing, crocheting, learning new guitar songs, sketching crappy drawings, poetry, etc. Inspiration followed by guilt over not doing anything about it. I feel like that side of my brain is slowly dwindling away.

  • Monkey slept with us in a tent for the first time and did great! For my birthday trip to go whitewater rafting, we stayed in a rental tent at the campground affiliated with the rafting company. We wondered if she would eat our faces off being on the ground all together and at her level. A four-person tent was key to making this set-up comfortable, but it gives us hope now about doing multi-day backpacking trips with her once we pick up our tent from the storage unit in Yuma.


Looking Ahead to Next Month

After spending a little more time in Reno, things get interesting. We’re boarding Monkey, storing the camper, and flying to Chicago. This trip will include a very quick visit to meet up with friends, followed by a wedding in Lake Geneva, and then putting in a belated birthday visit with my family. The logistics of making this all work were rough, but they’re squared away now, so it’ll be nice to see some folks and switch things up for a change.

When we get back, the plan is to start heading south because as the characters of one of our favorite shows always say, “Winter is coming.”


Catch up with the journey:

ONE YEAR LATER: Nomadic Life, California Style

It’s July 14th, which means that we’ve now been doing this full-time camper life thing for a whopping 365 days!

To quickly recap, we’ve settled in something like 15 different states and made 43 new “homes on the road” over the past year. In some ways, it seems like the time has flown by. But in other ways, it feels like I’ve been living this life for way longer. Starting with the east coast, moving across the south, and finally up the west coast, we’ve been moving slow and staying in each place a couple weeks. Seven of these 12 months were spent in our little pop-up with canvas walls, and then the last five months have been in Dragoon, our upgraded Class-A RV.

On the day we left Atlanta last July, we really didn’t plan on being on the road for this long. Originally, the grand plan was to spend a few months traveling around and then pick a place to plop down “somewhere out west.” Well, we haven’t picked out that magical western place, but we sure have seen a lot by carrying on with this whole nomad thing for longer than expected.

We’ve never set a time limit or a goal for how long this adventure would last. But at this point, it feels the new normal, and it looks like camper life is here to stay for a while. In fact, we’ve already thrown out ideas for where to possibly end next spring and summer.

Camper life isn’t that glamorous stuff you see on Instagram (I still don’t understand Instagram). For someone like me with a restless spirit, living in a new place every few weeks makes me feel alive and satisfies my relentless curiosity. It’s easy to keep up with my work on the road, and I’m fortunate enough to have a husband and dog who are on-board with all of this as well.

But the lifestyle can also feel draining, lonely, claustrophobic, and even dull after a while. I don’t see the purpose of sugar-coating it, but I’m also not unappreciative of my opportunity to try this out for a while. But even with the ups and downs, it sure as hell beats arbitrarily plopping down somewhere just because “that’s what people do.” Twelve months later, I would still choose this lifestyle over something more stationary. After all, there’s plenty of time to do that later if nothing more interesting comes along. But I suspect that something will 🙂


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

Gilroy, California: Home on the Road #41 (continued from last month)

  • Highlights: Winery in walking distance of our campground where we met the owners and were invited to stay for a home-cooked dinner and basketball game viewing party, hiking through caves with flashlights at Pinnacles National Park, adult swim hours at the campground pool, finally found some light jackets for unpredictable Bay Area weather, seeing a Bollywood movie (thankfully with subtitles) in a theater
  • Lowlights: Sucking at golf pretty badly, missing out on visiting a friend before leaving Santa Cruz, quickly killing a mini rose plant, failed attempts at airing up the RV tires (have since bought our own portable air compressor to be self-sufficient)


Oakland, California: Home on the Road #42

  • Highlights: Trying a Hawaiian poke bowl for the first time and discovering it lives up to the hype, putting in a record number of friend and family visits, amazingly spacious campsite with eucalyptus trees and wild turkeys, some rare chill-out/do-nothing time, checking out the SF Pride Festival, seeing the places where my husband grew up, seeing the utility pole gnomes of Oakland still up and in-tact, a fun 4th of July with friends
  • Lowlights: Awfully long and twisty/turny drive to get anywhere from our campground, super challenging to find decent WiFi, trying to bike the insane hills of San Francisco, a bad dog boarding experience at Wag Hotels, two weeks of rib pain/ab soreness from flying on a trapeze


Napa, California: Home on the Road #43 (in progress)

  • Highlights: Decent campground at the expo center in town and in walking distance of downtown, Day trip to Calistoga with hot springs/massage/petrified forest, geyser, bike paths/lanes to get around, good doggie day care experience at Camp Rawhide
  • Lowlights: Traffic – everywhere and all the time, way too many wineries – how does anyone choose which one to go to???, not much hiking close by


“TOP 5” LISTS OF THINGS AND STUFF

To celebrate our one-year anniversary of living on the road, I’m doing something a bit different this month. Instead of my usual section of ramblings, I’m making a few “Top 5” lists. Limiting each list to 5 will really make me narrow things down and not get too annoyingly wordy like I tend to do. Besides, everybody likes lists, right?

Things I Like About Camper Life

  1. Never being bored
  2. Exploring potential areas to move to one day
  3. Being about to do my job just like I would sitting in an apartment somewhere
  4. Choosing to be in places with nice weather
  5. Easy access to nature and adventure activities

Things I Dislike About Camper Life

  1. Paying for fuel in the gas-guzzling RV
  2. Close quarters and shantytown-like conditions next to campground neighborhoods
  3. High cost of campsites in ideal locations
  4. Lack of reliable internet, a deal-breaker for remote working
  5. The exhaustion of constantly doing travel research

Things I Miss About Stationary Life 

  1. Drinking drinks with good friends on the regular
  2. Consistent Wi-Fi access
  3. Easy travel for holidays with family
  4. All my gnomes (now tucked away in storage)
  5. Easily doing arts and crafts

Things That Set Us Apart from Other Full-Time Campers 

  1. We’re not old
  2. We work full-time jobs
  3. Half of us isn’t white
  4. Free camping isn’t a priority
  5. We’re not big fans of people

Common Research Topics in New Places (pardon me while I break the 5-limit rule)

  1. Hiking trails
  2. Biking trails
  3. Comedy shows
  4. Bar trivia
  5. Local theater
  6. Dog-friendly breweries
  7. Wineries/distilleries
  8. Community rec centers
  9. Concerts
  10. Dance classes
  11. Driving ranges/golf courses
  12. Disc golf courses
  13. Arcade bars
  14. Archery ranges
  15. Dog daycare facilities
  16. Cafes with Wi-Fi to work at
  17. Neighborhoods to check out
  18. Dog parks
  19. Festivals
  20. Climbing gyms

Most Frustrating Moments

  1. Not being able to get internet reception/Wi-Fi
  2. Unreasonable pit bull bans
  3. RV sewer leakages
  4. Ant, moth, and other insect infestations in the camper
  5. Learning to drive an RV towing a jeep on treacherous roads

Things that Have Surprised Me About Camper Life

  • How easily I’ve adjusted to the lifestyle and how normal it feels (i.e. daily routines, eating/drinking/exercising the same as I would in a stationary place, the same things stress me out/piss me off)
  • I have become more introverted
  • After seeing so many new things over the past year, I’m not as easily impressed
  • I have become exhausted with travel planning
  • Even with more “me time” than I’ve ever had before, I still struggle to find time to do hobbies, chill out, etc.

Plants I’ve Grown (decently) in a Camper

  1. Cactus
  2. Succulent
  3. Begonias
  4. Orchids
  5. Mint

Favorite Areas from the First Year 

  1. Moab, Utah
  2. Red River Gorge, Kentucky
  3. San Diego, California
  4. Asheville, North Carolina
  5. Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico

Regions I’d Consider Plopping Down at for a Bit

  1. Santa Barbara, California
  2. Albuquerque, New Mexico
  3. San Luis Obispo, California
  4. Tucson, Arizona
  5. Salt Lake City, Utah

Daily Routines 

  1. 4 Monkey walks per day, alternating 2 per person
  2. Morning yoga in the RV
  3. Texting with my best friend throughout the day about anything and everything
  4. 8+ hour work days
  5. Guitar practice (not exactly daily but working on it)

Biggest Life Changes Since the Camper Upgrade 

  1. Not having to walk across a campground to pee in the middle of the night after one too many beers
  2. Avoiding the nastiness and awkwardness of public bathrooms
  3. Driving shorter distances from one place to the next because driving an RV is exhausting
  4. An extra monthly payment to budget for
  5. Being able to withstand more extreme temperatures/storms

How Monkey Has Made Camper Life Interesting 

  1. We’re always looking for dog-friendly places and restricted as to where we can do with her
  2. Way too many unwanted social interactions because of her extreme friendliness
  3. Keeps us on a schedule of waking up early…ugh
  4. Gives us something to focus on besides each other, ideal for a 24/7 confined space
  5. A steady source of entertainment (twirling!) and frustration (pulling!)


Looking Ahead to Next Month

We’ll be in Napa for a little while more, and I’m excited to re-visit one of my gnome collector friends that lives in Santa Rosa. LOTS of gnome pics coming up soon, so gettttttttttt readyyyyyyyyyyyyy!

From here, we’re headed to the coast to check out Mendocino and Fort Bragg. It’s pretty hot out here in Cali, so we figured the coast is the place to be as long as the campgrounds aren’t insanely overpriced. Things are a little up in the air after that, but it’ll all be figured out in due time.

But for now, it’s time to go track down some wine and celebrate this random little anniversary of ours. Thanks for following along for the past year and keeping me accountable to continue putting together these monthly recaps!

 

Catch up with the journey:

9 Months Later…Yup, We’re Still on the Road!

Howdy, and thanks for keeping up with my journey over the last NINE MONTHS! Month #9 has been entirely spent in SoCal, and yes, there’s been plenty of sunshine and lovely weather.

I’ve been practicing driving our new RV because I’ll be damned if we’ll turn into that stereotypical old couple where the guy drives everywhere while his lady passively sits in the passenger seat. As a self-sufficient and stubborn feminist, I’m determined to learn every little thing about how this baby works.

Work has been going well – not overwhelmed, but certainly not underwhelmed either. Here’s a typical work day scene in the RV: back-to-back laptops in the dinette-turned-office, old college t-shirt, messy hair, cucumber & cheese snack plate.

During month #9, we wrapped up “home on the road #34” in San Diego. Before hitting the road again, we hit up a driving range…

…checked out Old Town San Diego with its historic park and festive nightlife scene…
…squeezed in some stand-up paddleboarding in Mission Bay in absolutely perfect wind/weather conditions……spent some time at the dog-friendly portion of the beach at Imperial Beach……and felt bummed to leave the San Diego area because it was pretty much ideal in every way.

As we transitioned from San Diego to our next destination, Banning, we also embarked on our first DIY project for the new RV. Now that I have my sewing machine with me in the RV, I’ve been dying to start a new craft project. I kinda missed doing projects since hitting the road, but with all this newfound space and storage, I figured that now’s the time to get back into it.

The curtains aren’t gorgeous by any means, and certainly not perfect. But they’re homemade and a hell of a lot easier to operate than those cheap and impossible blinds.

Read all about it: Our First DIY RV Project: Homemade Curtains


Places We Were in Month #8

After San Diego, we relocated to Banning, California. We originally tried (very hard) to stay at a campground in Palm Springs and found it impossible due to high nightly rates, pit bull bans, 55+ restrictions, and lack of internet reception. There really is nothing to do in Banning, but it provided a somewhat conveniently home base for the places we wanted to visit in the region: Joshua Tree National Park, Palm Springs, Salton Sea, Slab City, Idyllwild, etc.

Then came the Los Angeles area. We stayed near Simi Valley and hit up everywhere from Burbank to Malibu, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and so on. Most recently, we’ve plopped down in Santa Barbara and are just getting settled into this new area.


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

Banning, California: Home on the Road #35

  • Highlights: Chill campground, cable TV hookup that allowed us to binge on Forensic Files, local brewery called Brew Revolution with lightning fast Wi-Fi, hiking a tiny part of the PCT, seeing gnomes in Idyllwild, amazing wildflowers, hiking through an oasis, epic found art at Slab City, hitting up a local bouldering gym
  • Lowlights: Abysmal service at Gastronome (a gnome-themed restaurant in Idyllwild), crazy high winds like all the time, being discouraged by the Palm Springs visitors center that there is “nothing” to do in town with a dog

And now…a slew of photos to go with those words! I was lucky enough to access some lightning-fast Wi-Fi at a couple breweries and cafes, so photos are aplenty in this blog post.


Los Angeles Area (Tapo Canyon) California: Home on the Road #36

  • Highlights: My parents flying out to visit us for a long weekend, doing all the Hollywood touristy stuff for the first time, archery at our campground, meeting up with my longest client of 4+ years and founder of Inside Philanthropy in the hippie mountain town of Topanga.
  • Lowlights: Not much to do outdoors or otherwise near the tiny Tapo Canyon Regional Park, crazy flying insects started coming in our camper and continue to do so – I have no idea what they are

Cue the mass of Los Angeles photos! Tapo Canyon felt like a million miles away from Los Angeles, but it’s only actually about 45.

I loved giving my parents the “grand tour” of our new home. Anyone want to book a tour in advance with me – spots are (not actually at all) filling up fast.I’m learning all about movie sets and whatnot on the Warner Brothers film studio tour here.Oh Rodeo Drive…how I cannot afford thee! Archery randomly happened at our campground Saturday morning…why not?! It’s pretty fun actually, and I’d love to pick up a bow more often. Paramount Ranch was a pretty cool place to walk around to see where some western movies and shows were filmed. I’ve gotten more into westerns after living in the west. There was a wedding happening here the day we stopped by. Malibu was gorgeous, as expected. We took a tour of the Adamson House and saw the most intricate and beautiful tile decor all throughout the historic home…totally worth the $7.Here’s a panoramic scene of the goings-on at Venice Beach on a Sunday afternoon.
Hollywood was essential to visit, but alas, it was time to move on. But not before Monkey posed with her favorite Walk of Fame star. She has no idea who The Monkees are, but neither do any of the other young whipper-snappers walking by. So, she gets a pass.

I’m actually going to save Home on the Road #37 for next month since we’ve only been here a couple days and haven’t experience enough of the area to really write about it yet. So far, our regional park campground is pretty sweet and we’ve got lots of fun things planned around work for the next week and a half.


Realizations & Ramblings from Month #8

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #8 on the road.

  • Less wasted time walking back and forth to the bathroom and to do dishes has meant less time to listen to podcasts. I’ve had to find other times of day to satisfy my podcast obsession, like while doing push-ups and squats in the RV. I plowed through all the episodes of S-Town last month.
  • I love working outside. Bright sunshine makes my laptop die at times, but I will continue forcing it out into the outdoors whenever possible.

Trying to navigate super-sharp shells and dead fish parts to take a dip in Salton Sea. OUCH!

  • We’re still working on training strategies to get Monkey not to pull so badly on the leash. It really makes hiking miserable, and we’ve tried all sorts of leashes and tactics. We’re trying a Halti harness/easy-walk type thing right now. Lately, we’ve been using tiny pieces of cheese as training treats and walking in front of her to stop her from passing us. Anyone else have an obsessive leash puller on their hands?
  • Camping with (what we at least think is) a pit bull in California continues to be a huge challenge. This state has a stereotype of being full of liberal and inclusive hippies, but clearly that mindset doesn’t apply to dogs. My latest strategy for campground booking is to answer the question “What breed of dog are you bringing?” is “She’s a rescue dog, so a mix.” After all, we don’t honestly know what she is besides a “mix”, and everyone loves rescue dogs, right? This strategy has worked a couple times for me already actually for upcoming stays.

  • Staying in a small town with not much to do (like Banning) really takes the pressure off of daily travel planning. Sometimes it’s nice not having so many options so that you can just be lazy instead of feeling obligated to see and do everything you’re “supposed” to.
  • It’s totally possible to feel stuck in a rut even when you’re moving to a new place every two weeks. Finding joy in the little things is a challenge no matter where you are or what you’re living in.

  • Sweetwater Regional Park campground outside of San Diego was one of my all-time favorite campgrounds so far. I love the onsite trails for running, the green space between sites, and the chill atmosphere. Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara is right up there too, especially since it has disc golf and a place to kayak.
  • I am STILL struggling with how to dress myself in the west/in the desert. When I go out for the day, I always end up either sweating through my shirt with pit stains or shivering cold and miserable. To remedy this, I’ve started packing a tote bag with multiple outfit changes anytime I leave the RV. It’s overkill, but I’m determined to understand how people in this part of the world dress themselves.

Looking Ahead to Month #9

As the next month on the road begins, we’ll be in Santa Barbara for a little while longer. So I’ll have more updates about SB next month. After this, we’re heading to Kernville and then to San Luis Obispo – staying on the outskirts of both towns to explore the regions. Our pace has settled into at least two weeks per place, which seems to be working well right now.

Life feels comfortable, which is something that’s easy to take for granted but I keep reminding myself not to. Being able to get to know the various personalities of California continues to be fascinating, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of this massive state. Thanks for following along 🙂

Catch up with the journey:

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!***

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.

The Antique Gnomes of Rock City – Chattanooga, Tennessee

On a recent drive from Illinois to Georgia, I made a pit stop in Chattanooga, Tennessee and decided to check out the famous attraction advertised on all the highway billboards: Rock City. Much to my delight, the nature paths and caves here are filled with gnomes!

I knew I was in for something special when the road leading up to Rock City was called “Ochs Highway.” No joke. Clearly, this place was meant for me.

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History of the Rock City Gnomes

In the late 1920s, Garnet and Frieda Carter began developing a walkable garden on their private estate to share their love for the region’s rock formations and native plants with the public.

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The husband-wife team opened Rock City Gardens during the Great Depression and had over 800 barns painted to advertise and attract tourists to Chattanooga. They gave the attraction its name because the rocks on top of Lookout Mountain looked like city buildings and the natural pathways like streets.

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Frieda Carter loved European folklore and fairytales, and she was an avid gnome collector. So naturally, many of her gnomes made it into the local attraction.

Gnomes Along the Enchanted Trail

Your gnome journey begins at the new Gnome Valley installation, which is a growing collection of whimsical space at the beginning of the Enchanted Trail.

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As you walk along the beautiful and easily accessible trail, you’ll notice even more gnomes peeking behind rocks to greet you.

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Keep an eye out for little red hats as you navigate the trail to Lover’s Leap, the 180-foot suspension bridge, Mother Goose Village, and the summit where you can see seven states on a clear day.

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Another awesome part about Rock City is that the whole place is dog friendly!

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The Gnomes of Fairyland Caverns

But by far, the best place to see gnomes is inside Fairyland Caverns, as this is home to Frieda’s collection of antique, imported German gnomes.

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Inside this cave, gnomes are situated into scenes that are illuminated by black lights.

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You instantly feel a sense of magic as you pass by the Castle of the Gnomes, Carnival of the Gnomes, the Moonshine-Brewing Gnomes, and many other displays.

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Admittedly, some of the scenes were a bit on the creepy side. But isn’t that what fairy tales are really all about anyway?

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Antique Gnome Restoration

Since the Rock City gnomes date back to the 1920s and 1930s, many of them were in desperate need of repair. Rock City’s resident art specialist, Matt Dutton, created a “Gnome Infirmary” to restore the residents to their original splendor.

Matt consults old photos to keep the gnomes’ coloring consistent, painting and repairing them as needed. He uses urethane resin and a hardener to fills his handmade molds to restore each little one’s unique personality.

The Gnome Mascot & Gift Shops

A red-hatted, white-bearded gnome named Rocky is the mascot for Rock City, and you might meet him walking around in costume! Yet no roadside attraction would be complete without a gift shop, and the one at Rock City is stocked with lots of gnomes you can take home as souvenirs.

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My souvenir of choice? A purple t-shirt that reads, “I’m a rock climbing, trail trekkin’, gnome lovin’ nature kinda girl.” I couldn’t have come up with a more perfect motto for myself!

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*A version of this story is scheduled to be published in the next issue of the International Gnome Club newsletter! 

Who’s Behind All These Gnome Homes in Parks?

As a writer and hardcore gnome enthusiast, I keep up with gnome news on a daily basis. (Just create a Google alert for “gnomes”!)

One trend that I keep seeing is “gnome homes” popping up all over the country in public parks. As we all know, gnomes and nature go hand-in-hand, so it makes perfect sense that they’d be setting up habitats in our most beautiful and scenic parks. With the assistance of creative and devoted humans, gnomes are moving into parks and sparking the imaginations of kids and adults of all ages.

Tomahawk Creek Trail – Overland Park. Kansas

Gnome homes started appearing along this trail in 2013, and their creator was recently identified as a single mother named Robyn Frampton. An Overland Park filmmaker created a documentary about her project called “The Gnomist.” It’s a story of paying it forward (one gnome home at a time) getting through a painful divorce, and connecting with nature and other people.

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Little Buffalo State Park – Newport, Pennsylvania

Sadly, this is a story of gnome homes that haven’t been well-received. A local retired couple built 39 gnome homes to encourage kids and adults to interact with the park. For fear of harming the natural environment, park management has evicted the gnomes. However, the couple insists the trail has no damage, and the park has seen tremendous increases in visitors since the gnomes appeared. You can sign a petition to keep the gnomes keep their homes and the community enjoying the magic they bring.

Glen Park – San Francisco, California

Gnomes have also taken up residence in this park along the Creeks to Peaks Trail with a sign reading “Leave for all to enjoy.” Visitors are encouraged to check out the gnome home while walking through the park and leave their own mementos behind in the community’s knotty tree stump.

Lamignomes…The Next Big Gnome Movement?

My new website is definitely still a work in progress, but I’ll give you a sneak peek into my next gnome venture: Lamignomes (i.e. laminated gnomes). Armed with custom gnome printouts, popsicle sticks, a sharpie marker, and a laminating machine, I have been creating gnomes with “talk bubbles” who have lots to say about the places I travel to. Stay tuned for an update on the Lamignomes movement in a future post!

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Have you spotted a gnome habitat growing in a park near you? Share your story (and photos!) with us, and maybe we can visit them someday too!