Adventures Off the Grid: Month #27 of Camper Life

As my last post hinted at, month #27 was a bit of a unique one. Somewhat suddenly, it seems that we have entered a new phase of full-time camper life – a phase that’s more off-the-grid, more self-sufficient, and a whole lot eco-friendlier.

It all started with a solar panel system investment while we were staying in Bend, Oregon for a couple weeks. The research, ordering, and setup got off to a rocky start thanks to components that didn’t work together as expected. After some irritating returns and Plan Bs, we emerged with a battery and inverter that look like this and are connected to cables running out the RV window to connect to the solar panel.

Initial Off-the-Grid Observations from week #1:

  • We are moving the solar panel for a more optimal sun position more than once an hour
  • To save energy, I’m wearing a headlamp to do dishes, brush teeth, eat dinner
  • Usable electronics with solar power: laptops, phones, watches, essential oil diffuser, electric toothbrush
  • Non usable electronics with solar power: electric blanket, space heater, dog heating pad, hair dryer, TV
  • Sleeping in hats, sweatshirts, gloves
  • Allowable generator use hours are exciting! Charge everything all at once!
  • Filling up water with an outside spigot in a jug to save tank usage
  • Watching TV shows on laptops/iPhones instead of RV television
  • My new laptop has a really long-lasting battery – yay!
  • No distractions out here = crazy work productive
  • It’s pretty hilarious to watch my husband use his dental Waterpik over the kitchen sink and plugged into an extension cord connected to the inverter after warming up water in the tea kettle
  • 1 solar panel is enough to keep our devices for the week charged but our RV batteries are running low…something we didn’t anticipate
  • Using public showers again just like in the old pop-up camper days
  • Don’t flush just for pee
  • Made it 7 days without dumping tanks – success!
  • ABC: Always Be Charging
  • ABS: Always Be Strategizing (about how to keep this going for as many days as possible)
  • Only enough propane to heat up the RV for less than an hour each morning to get out of bed in the cold….oops rain touched the circuit board and now the heater is broken
  • Man, this is cheap living
  • Washing dishes with cold water
  • Using decorative Halloween pumpkins as lights – ’tis the season
  • How is there internet out here?! Hooray!

But backing up a few steps, here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.

Bend, Oregon: Home on the Road #84

I’m torn about Bend because yes, it’s a bit crowded, trafficy, and becoming overdeveloped, but it’s also still an outdoor lover’s dream with every type of recreation you could ever want. This is also where I checked off a long-time bucket list item: riding in a hot air balloon!

  • Highlights: Super peaceful hot air balloon ride over beautiful landscapes, hiking Smith Rock State Park, best indoor climbing gym I’ve been to in a while, breweries galore, decent campground laundry facility, got a yearly doctor checkup taken care of, nearby visit to Newberry National Volcanic Monument, seeing a local play at 2nd Street Theater
  • Lowlights: Not having time to climb at Smith Rock State Park or go mountain biking in the area, traffic, more (un-monitored, dog-groping) kids at breweries than adults, catching up on shopping and spending way too much money, crowded shantytown-like campground

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon: Home on the Road #85

I’d never been to Crater Lake before, and now seemed like the perfect time to check it out: late enough in the year to avoid the worst crowds but not yet too cold and snowy to close campgrounds.

  • Highlights: The stunning blue color of this crazy lake, surprisingly few crowds on hiking trails, hiking a new section of the PCT with Monkey, playing our current favorite board game (Ticket to Ride) outside at the campground with the new India expansion location
  • Lowlights: Having to move to 3 different campsites to escape partying teenagers and lack of shade to leave Monkey behind in this dog-unfriendly park, nightly lows in the 30s

Keno, Oregon: Home on the Road #86

Staying in southern Oregon was our first foray into what I like to call goondocking. Boondocking has more of a connotation of free and pulled off the side of the road in a random place. We can’t necessarily do that because we work full-time. So goondocking is our compromise between that and crowded RV parks, inclusive of a good internet connection but not really anything else. Also, “Goon” is one of the many nicknames we call Monkey. This random spot we goondocked in a couple miles outside Keno, Oregon felt more like a magical piece of property than any campsite we’ve been to.

  • Highlights: So much room to spread out, playing guitar and working outside, trails for running and dog walks, no distractions and great work productivity, surprisingly awesome public showers nearby, nice Monkey trailer-friendly bike trail in nearby Klamath Falls, decent beers at the one brewery in Klamath Falls, sunrises and moonrises over the Klamath River from our campsite, super peaceful afternoon of kayaking and SUPing on the river
  • Lowlights: Failing at our first goondocking attempt at the Topsy Campground because of crappy internet, the craziest dust that permeated everything

Lava Beds National Monument, California: Home on the Road #87

About four years ago, we did a quick visit to Lava Beds on a late-summer vacation. It’s one of the coolest national monuments I’ve been to because you can explore lots of caves on your own without a guide and without lots of tourists everywhere.

We originally didn’t intend to camp overnight at all here, but then we discovered that the area had surprisingly good AT&T and Verizon internet. Yes, I realize that this post makes me sound like I’m obsessed with internet, but oddly it’s really the driving force of where we go these days. With national monument campsites at $10/night, we first booked two nights, then a third, and finally a fourth. This extra time allowed us to check out nearly every cave in the park after work days!

  • Highlights: Taking headlamps and bike helmets into caves to explore the underworld on our own, reasonable generator use hours to get all our stuff charged, good but not great internet, peaceful, lots of space, making up our own “cave loop 5K race” even though I came in last place out of the three of us, getting better at conserving water/electric
  • Lowlights: Painfully bumping heads and backs on sharp cave roofs, some rain and cold but not too bad, no public showers equals more days of grossness

Lassen Volcanic National Park: Home on the Road #88

Although national parks and monuments certainly aren’t off-the-grid, they are places we never used to be able to camp due to lack of hookups and our 24/7 reliance upon campground amenities. We originally planned to spend three nights at Lassen, but cut that short to just two. The campground walk-in reservation system was confusing, and the temperatures were downright frigid up in the mountains. Regardless, I’m glad we finally made it here to check out the sights.

  • Highlights: Interesting geological features from the eruptions 100+ years ago, waterfall hike, bubbling mud, campfire
  • Lowlights: Confusing campground check-in situation with no staff onsite to help, morning temperatures in the 30s with no heat, trying to shower in a freezing RV, nothing is dog-friendly

Oroville, California: Home on the Road #89

We’d never been in the Oroville area of California, and honestly it was a bit of a disappointment throughout the week. The state park we stayed at had some crazy rules, most of the trails were closed and all are dog-unfriendly, the area was filled with shady characters, the park conducted a series of controlled fires leaving us smoky and worried what might happen if they got out of hand. Things got even more interesting when another camper set a car on fire and was threatening suicide while being pursued by rangers with big guns. At least it was warm, and my oh my how life is better when I’m warm.

  • Highlights: Amazing weather in the 70s and 80s, sitting outside to work, going bowling by the casino, making do with our solar energy and generator with no hookups once again, decorating for Halloween, surprisingly great casino buffet and brewery, a nice day trip to Chico to check out Bidwell Park and the brewery scene, dog-friendly 8+ mile waterfall hike to Feather Falls
  • Lowlights: The reminder that much of California hates dogs, smoke and haze, weirdos everywhere, businesses/boat ramps/trails closed unexpectedly, so much laundry to do at a really dirty laundromat, too much work to squeeze in personal time and fun, being on lockdown at the campground while cops investigated a madman on the loose


This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • Saturday morning pancakes are my culinary specialty.

  • I’m trying to draw better landscapes in my sketchbook, starting with trees. This little workbook is helping.

  • We’ve missed playing tennis since living in our posh old apartment complex in Atlanta. Our old rackets got lost in the move, but we’ve picked up a couple new ones and have played twice at local parks in places we visit. Spoiler alert: I always win 🙂

  • Holy shopping spree! We pretty much cleared out the clearance section of the Columbia Outlet store in Bend. But when all you pretty much wear is hiking clothes, it’s justifiable!

  • My favorite new place to work: patch of dirt with a view of the Klamath River and a steady internet connection.

  • We’ve been coloring pages in our national park coloring book as we visit new ones. Just finished up with Lassen!


Looking Ahead to Next Month

Now back in California for a while, Month #28 will feel oddly familiar. While Month #27 was all about getting off the grid, Month #28 will be all about going to places we’ve already been. We’ll actually be staying in a couple of the same campgrounds as last year and different ones in familiar cities in order to visit the in-laws and celebrate Halloween and Diwali.

The days ahead should be pretty warm, which is good news since our heater still doesn’t work and this aging body of mine is having serious trouble heating itself up. Our needs for solar energy may be a bit less as we get back into the civilization of Northern California life for a little while, but hopefully I can still find some peaceful places (like this one below) to take a deep breath in and think about what lies ahead for this camper journey.

We’re looking to narrow down and reevaluate our wall of post-it notes identifying potential plop-down places to start planning ahead for our next phase. It’s something I’ve been personally procrastinating for a long time because committing always makes me feel a bit sick to my stomach. There are some things that make me feel really excited for whatever our next phase is, and other things that make me nervous as heck because this has been my “normal” for two years and three months now. Change is never easy, even when you change your home every week or two. Right now, I’m only able to narrow down my list of plop-down places to about six or seven. So, it seems I have some soul searching and real estate research ahead of me in the month ahead.

Until next month…


Catch up with the journey:

A Very Idaho Birthday & Back on the Oregon Trail: Nomad Life Month #26

Mountains, wide-open spaces, and plenty of sunshine…just how this time of year should be.

Idaho was the last of the lower 48 states that I have visited, and I’m really not sure why it took me so long to get here. Before spending a month in Idaho, I really didn’t know what to expect from the state. Even now, I’ve only scratched the surface of exploring Idaho, but some things surprised me in a good way, so I’ll be back.

Idaho was where I had the pleasure of ringing in a new year of old age, where I got to hang out with some folks that truly understand full-time camper life, and where I discovered my new favorite city. Then as month #26 came to a close, we hopped back on the Oregon trail to check out Eastern and Central Oregon, which much to my relief are much drier and warmer than the six weeks of spring we spent in the state.

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

Bellevue, Idaho: Home on the Road #81

We delayed our arrival to Bellevue due to wildfires, but everything was looking and fire-free by the time we arrived. Camper life and spending way more time by myself over the past two+ years has made me more introverted, so social settings leave me feeling more drained than they used to. Regardless, it was fun to step out of normal routines and schedule in some fun social plans with awesome people.

  • Highlights: Hanging out with locals/full-time campers Sara, Mike, Phoebe, and Aaron; free outdoor concerts galore, cheap campground right in town, great bike trail, forest road hikes with no one else on them
  • Lowlights: Crowded shantytown campground conditions, injuring my knee on a trail run which put me out of the active game for several days, negligent dog owners who have clearly never heard of leashes

Boise, Idaho: Home on the Road #82

Boise kind of took me by surprise. I’ve been pretty anti-city lately because they stress me out with all those people hovering about and traffic on the roads for no good reason. I’ve put in my city time dues while living in Chicago and Atlanta. Yet Boise was a refreshingly small city with just enough to do but not too much, and just enough people to see from a distance but not get too close.

  • Highlights: Nice-sized city with parks/breweries/downtown area; birthday weekend road trip to Malad Gorge State Park/Hagerman Fossil Beds/kayaking the Snake River, Banbury Hot Springs, camping and hiking at Brueau Sand Dunes State Park/low key concert in Eagle/Western Idaho State Fair; great city bike trail; chill breweries; responsible dog owners who know what leashes are; my first-ever waterpark
  • Lowlights: Not booking enough time here to hike very much or do a bunch of city things that we wanted to

John Day, Oregon: Home on the Road #83

Have you ever been somewhere
Where time slows down
The pace isn’t hasty
You’re not rushing around

There’s a river nearby
It’s small but it flows
I have it all to myself
A place nobody knows

Water over rocks
Enveloped by trees
Last hours of sunlight
Barely a breeze

Today feels endless
In a wonderful way
Didn’t expect to find peace
In the town of John Day

  • Highlights: Super chill and uncrowded Labor Day, boating on Lake Magone, painting on the side of the lake, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument’s Painted Hills and Blue Basin; feeling strangely relaxed and peaceful; solo hike to Strawberry Lake and Falls; able to walk to everything in the small town of 1,700+; cheap campground
  • Lowlights: Nothing really coming to mind



Ramblings from the Road

  • Semi-sewing project: No, I can’t claim to have made this purse – I wish! I actually won it at a paddling film festival raffle in Revelstoke. But it didn’t come with a strap, rendering it pretty dang unusable. So, I bought some webbing, made it into a strap, and BAM! Sadly, I found no time for crafting otherwise this month. But my favorite holiday of Halloween is coming up, so homemade costumes may be in our future.

  • I’m a big fan of boba tea. Small towns fall short in this regard, but Boise had a great spot downtown.

  • 35 years and not a single cavity! Thanks for the cleaning and checkup, random dentist in Boise that I’ll probably never see again.


Looking Ahead to Next Month

From John Day, we’ve recently moved onto Bend, Oregon, which I’ll save for month #27. Somehow, this is my first time to this outdoorsy destination, and we have some big adventures coming up here. First impressions:

  • Bend campgrounds are insanely crowded or insanely expensive.
  • This has prompted us to invest in our first solar panel system! It isn’t cheap, but it feels like our key to getting more off-the-grid and staying sane.
  • Our practical shopping errands have really piled up and I’m pretty tired of buying things and then finding places to stash them in our tiny home.
  • There are more kids than adults at Bend breweries (kids that love groping strange dogs without asking and then cry when you send them back to mommy and daddy).
  • Best rock climbing gym I’ve been to in ages here.
  • The traffic red lights are brutal.

But thus far, Eastern and Central Oregon have been much kinder to us than Portland, Salem, and the Oregon Coast. Unlike our six weeks of Oregon springtime, it’s not raining, it’s not cold, and the camper isn’t filled with mold and mud.

Right now, my #1 dislike about camper life is being surrounded by people all of the time. That’s why I’m putting a lot of muted faith in this solar panel system that is a work in progress. If all goes as planned, we might be able to stay off the grid more often and avoid these dreaded RV parks that are the sheer definitions of claustrophobia and annoyance. Either way, my next month’s blog could be substantially more interesting…


Catch up with the journey:

RV-Free Road Trip to the Midwest & Back: A Nonstandard Month #25 of Camper Life

It’s been a long, weird month. Most of month #25 on the road was actually spent outside of the RV and in other people’s houses, a tent, and on long drives in the Jeep instead.

What do I have to show for it? Lots fun times with family and friends, a crazy number of photos (brace yourself, readers), way more miles on the odometer, and a whopping seven more state stickers* added onto our camper life map.* The West: conquered.

*Note: we only add a state sticker if we have camped overnight in a state (hotels and people’s houses don’t count, nor does just driving through) since full-time camper life began on 7/14/16.

To attend a friend’s wedding in Chicago, visit buddies in our old stomping grounds, and put in my annual summer family trip to Illinois, we decided to make a tent camping adventure out of this journey. On the way from Montana to Chicago, we camped for one night each in Wyoming, South Dakota, and Iowa. Then on the way back from Arthur to Montana, we pitched the tent in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Sure, checking states off a list is a bit arbitrary, but having silly little goals helped make the long driving days more bearable and it was fun to see parts of the country that we probably wouldn’t be visiting otherwise anytime soon.

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

Bozeman, Montana: Home on the Road #78

Back in April 2013, we stopped by the Bozeman Hot Springs for a much-needed warm-up and shower after tenting in Yellowstone National Park with no facilities and 19-degree temperatures. With fond memories of the place, we brought our RV here for two nights to treat ourselves before heading out on the cross-country road trip.

  • Highlights: Refreshing hot spring pools with live music, lovely sunsets, the chill and semi-dog-friendly Outlaw Brewing nearby, free campground breakfasts
  • Lowlights: Insanely expensive to camp here, crowded and traffic-y in town

After ditching our RV at a storage facility just outside of Bozeman, we headed east and made overnight stops in each of these places.

Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming

Monkey wasn’t a fan of braving a thunderstorm in a tent, but the storms resulted in an epic double rainbow and a peaceful hike around this crazy rock formation the next morning.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

This was our second time to both Devil’s Tower and the Badlands, both areas I really get a kick out of. In between these stops, we also checked out Custer State Park, Mt. Rushmore Brewing, and Mount Rushmore.

We rarely get to camp in national parks and national monuments due to the lack of RV hookups for workweek convenience and internet reception for actually getting work done. But on these road trip days, we were getting in half days at best and most of that was done in the Jeep’s passenger seat between driving shifts.

Nations Bridge Park, Stuart, Iowa

Tenting here was a bit rough due to ruthless mosquitoes and no showers yet again. Iowa: check.

Chicago, Illinois

The main reason for this whole road trip was going to my awesome friend from college’s wedding in Chicago. A couple amazing friends in town let us stay over for a couple nights and soak up the luxury of a real bed, shower, and even a couple games of shuffleboard. Monkey particularly loved this part of the trip because she got to hang out with her new best friend, Moki, and coexisted with another dog quite nicely to my surprise.

In addition to two nights of wedding stuff, we managed to squeeze in a brewery outing with a bunch of friends, brunch with gal pals, and a visit to my favorite family in the ‘burbs. It was a whirlwind of visits and conversations that reminded me that I haven’t entirely lost my social skills just yet. This was also a great opportunity to show off our four- minute and 20-second “RV Life Film Festival” trailer that my crazy-talented husband finished on the way here. If you haven’t seen this epic video and would like to, send me a quick note!

Arthur, Illinois

After the wedding bliss came to an end, it was time for a family visit a few hours further south. My parents were cool enough to celebrate my birthday a month early and planned lots of things for us to do together, including an Amish buggy ride, lunch out with Grandma, a sightseeing tour of over-sized roadside attractions in Casey, Illinois, yard games, and a backyard spa day for my Jeep.

NOT GEORGIA!

When we set out for this trip, there a reluctant side trip to Georgia hanging over our heads. Last December, we made a special trip back to Atlanta to get an emissions test so that we could renew the Jeep’s license plate sticker and continue driving legally as nomads. Long story short, some idiot typed the VIN number wrong on the report, the DMV wouldn’t accept it, and no one would help us resolve the issue. However, that silly sticker was expiring at the end of August, so we had to take care of it ASAP.

After starting the eastbound journey, I had this strange feeling that I should make one final attempt to get out of driving all the way back to Georgia for the sole purpose of doing the test all over again. I got a different person on the phone who was strangely willing to help this time. We completed some forms, provided proof of campground stays and recent auto repairs, waited a few days, and magically, we were granted an exemption literally on the day before we would have begun the Georgia journey! What a relief not to have to waste 20 more hours on the road with two more back-to-back driving days!

Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin

With Georgia off of our itinerary, we spent a few more days in Arthur and then headed north to Lake Wissota State Park in Wisconsin. Spending that extra time at my parents’ house was exactly what I needed to recharge and do nothing. Wissota was a spacious and wooded park that felt nice to call home and be back on the road again.

Fergus Falls, Minnesota

I’ve been wanting to visit Minnesota really for just one reason lately: the Happy Gnome restaurant in St. Paul. This was an amazing spot all around: dog-friendly outdoor patio, 90+ beers and lots of Belgian ones, mutually agreeable food menu, and gnomes all over the freaking place. From there, we kept heading west to the tiny town of Fergus Falls to set up camp for the night at Delagoon Park.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Prior to this month, there were two states in the lower 48 that I had never been to: North Dakota and Idaho. After crossing into North Dakota for the first time ever, we stopped at in Jamestown to see the world’s largest buffalo and check out the roadside tourist shops.

From there, it was a Panera lunch and a brewery stop in Bismarck and then on to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. By the time we rolled into the park, it was 100 degrees outside and since national parks hate dogs, so we took turns going on hot hikes and making sure Monkey didn’t melt back at the campsite.

Lewis & Clark Caverns, Montana: Home on the Road #79

After another grueling day of driving, we finally got back to our RV in storage – safe and sound. To transition back to normal life, we spent the weekend at Lewis & Clark Caverns for our last Montana home. The caves were accessible by group tour only, which was a bit annoying but totally worth it. As an added bonus, the park provided free and shaded dog kennels onsite so we could do the two-hour tour together without having to worry about Monkey boiling in the heat.

  • Highlights: Felt so good to be back home and in the mountains specifically, awesome cave tour, great dog kennels, peaceful park
  • Lowlights: Super stinkin’ hot outside, still using public showers here

Arco, Idaho: Home on the Road #80

Our first-ever visit to Idaho began in the tiny town of Arco (population 995) to check out Craters of the Moon National Monument and the atomic energy historic stuff. This was a great place to fully transition back into standard camper life because there wasn’t much to do here, making it ideal for catching up with work and settling back into normal routines.

  • Highlights: Hiking at Craters of the Moon, pulling off the side of the road to take a dip in natural hot springs, learning about the disturbing world of nuclear testing and fatal meltdowns
  • Lowlights: Not being allowed to go in the caves at Craters of the Moon because of bat drama, most things are out of business and boarded up here


This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • Work, work, and more work – so much of it.

  • One out of three machines working isn’t too bad, right? Laundry on the road can be rough at times.

  • Monkey really gets a lot out of having a dog pal around. Having two goons in a camper sounds like a really bad idea, but she’ll get a dog sibling one day when camper life comes to a close. In the meantime, she’s literally the best road trip dog ever.


Looking Ahead to Next Month

We’re hanging out in Idaho a little while longer – Bellevue and Boise – before making our way into Eastern Oregon by Labor Day. Bellevue is a fun stop because we actually have a couple friends that live here – former full-time RVers that we met on the road last year. Then I’ll ring in the big 3-5 in the Boise area next week with apparently, some surprise shenanigans planned.

After that, we’ll try being Oregonians again in a different part of the state (the John Day and Bend areas) that promise to be much warmer and drier than our spring on the coast. Constant travel research and planning feel more tiring and burdensome to me than even before the road trip, which doesn’t bode well for keeping this lifestyle going for the long-term.

While tenting for a couple weeks was a fun adventure and reminiscent of the four- and six-week tenting trips we did back in 2013 and 2014, it feels damn good to be back in our comfy and cozy RV. The experience reminded me about all the things that make tent life harder: sharing a bathroom with strangers, walking outside to pee in the middle of the night after a few too many beers, trying to get work done, keeping devices charged, showering every three days at best, etc. It’s funny how the little creature comforts of this home on wheels make this lifestyle so pleasant and sustainable – little things like my amazing bed pillow, not having to say good morning to strangers on my way to release a morning pee, and not worrying how I’ll put in another long day of writing work. But while I’m not cut out for full-time tenting right now, I do still love it for a few days at a time so we can get off the grid in ways that RV life doesn’t allow.

On that note and before this rambling carries on any longer than it already has, I’m signing off. We have a lot more to see and do in this rugged wilderness of potatoes in month #26 and until Christmas before another RV-free road trip is in the cards.

Happy trails!


Catch up with the journey:

TWO YEARS on the Road?! Camper Life Celebrates a Big Milestone, Takes a Turn.

Two years ago today, on the morning of July 14, 2016, we pulled out of a cookie-cutter apartment complex in Atlanta, Georgia with a Jeep towing a tiny pop-up camper.

The long and winding road has taken us up the East Coast, across the Southwest, up the West Coast, and into Canada. Two years, 18 U.S. states, 2 Mexican states, and 2 Canadian provinces later, here I am still living in a camper – although a much larger and nicer one than what we started with and from the middle-of-nowhere, Montana.

It’s our two-year camper-life-aversary, which is pretty crazy when you think about it. At times, it feels like the blink of an eye. At others, it feels like I’ve been doing this forever. We didn’t plan to still be doing this, and in fact, our initial plan was to just travel for a few months and then plop down somewhere in Oregon. That didn’t happen, but a lot of other stuff did, and now it’s hard to imagine life any other way.

What I’m Still Loving About Camper Life After Two Years:

  • Getting to spend time outdoors in so many beautiful places
  • Being able to work on the road just as well as I could in any house
  • Not having to be committal and settle on just one place to live
  • Less stuff and living minimally
  • Never bored
  • Getting a good amount of exercise
  • Can follow good weather

What Makes Me Ready for a Post-Camper Lifestyle:

  • Living in close quarters to strangers 24/7
  • The exhaustion of non-stop travel planning
  • Wanting to travel internationally without so many logistical issues
  • Wanting to grow plants and my own food in a garden
  • Monkey needs a yard and a dog friend
  • Wanting more time and space for hobbies and volunteering

On a hike a few days ago, the topic of this two-year anniversary came up and lead to a bold and semi-arbitrary commitment that I’d like to stick to. Either we find a place to officially cease camper life by our three-year anniversary or we force ourselves to plop down wherever we are because we weren’t decisive enough to figure out something better.

The more places that I travel to, the more difficult I find it to pick just one to stop full-time camper life and just stay there. Yet I keep mentally coming back to a few places, such as New Mexico, Utah, and the Central Coast of California. Since we aren’t geographically restricted by jobs or other obligations, the big factors in play are cost of living, availability of open land to buy, access to outdoor recreation, weather, proximity to airports/highways, and the overall vibe of a place. It looks like we’ve got our work cut out for ourselves over the next 12 months.

I can definitely say that camper life has changed me over the past two years. I’m better at my full-time job of freelance writing, I work a lot more than I used to, I’m less into being social, and I’m more introspective overall. I’m better at research, still not making enough time for hobbies, still have no patience, and am way more reliant upon getting my daily dose of outdoor time.

More on all of this later, but for now, here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.


Month 24 kicked off with our last few days in Revelstoke, which was an awesome Canadian mountain town I will definitely visit again. On our last few days, we checked out a paddling film festival and hiked the Summit Trail at Mt. Revelstoke National Park.

Banff, Alberta, Canada: Home on the Road #74

For many people, Banff is the epitome of Canadian travel. For me? Not a fan. Sure, the Canadian Rockies are beautiful. But there are so many other parts of this region that aren’t riddled with selfie-stick wielding tourists on tour buses blocking the views and petting your dog without asking. Lake Louise and the town of Banff were both incredibly stressful, even on a Wednesday morning.

We spent a week in Bow Valley Provincial Park safely outside of Banff though that was actually very nice and chill along the river. I also wish I had gotten to spend a bit more time in the neighboring town of Canmore up here as well.

  • Highlights: Legacy bike trail, making some campground art, the surprisingly uncrowded Banff Upper Hot Springs (I guess people don’t soak in 104-degrees when it’s 85-degrees outside?), cooking outside over an open fire, watching Canadians be funny at the Canmore International Improv Festival
  • Lowlights: Crowds, people, traffic, anxiety 

Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada: Home on the Road #75

After all that chaos, I was ready for something a bit simpler…say, life on a farm? We crossed over from British Columbia to Alberta to stay at Elbas Farms near Lethbridge. Aside from the plethora of off-leash dogs that made you feel like you were living in a dog park at times, this spot was super chill.

The best part was visiting the farm’s alpacas, donkey, and sheep. This was also where we took care of an insane number of Jeep maintenance issues and also an RV oil change because the exchange rate made everything cheaper to do in Canada.

  • Highlights: Fun animal neighbors, doing art in the park, one great brewery, buying a new pair of (Canadian!) hiking boots to replace my 4-year-old ones falling apart, paying for lots of vehicle stuff
  • Lowlights: Pushing my bike towing a 45-pound Monkey in a 25-pound trailer up steep hills in the heat, one not-so-great brewery, driving an hour to Watertown National Park only to find that all the trails are still closed post-wildfire

Alberta: Wild Rose Country

Glacier National Park, Montana: Home on the Road #76

Unlike our drive into Canada, which prompted a border control search of our RV because of my pepper spray, we had no search getting back into the U.S. Instead, we had a 1.5 wait in line to get up to the agent.

From there and once safely into Montana, it was just a short drive to Glacier National Park. Unlike Banff, I absolutely loved GNP.

  • Highlights: The surprise of seeing actual icebergs in Iceberg Lake, insane wildflowers everywhere, success in having a dog sitter come in our RV to walk Monkey while we were on a long hike, driving Going to the Sun Road in the 46-degree rain and crazy storm clouds
  • Lowlights: The most expensive campground we’ve ever booked ($80/night cringe), crowded campground

Monkey’s only experience in Glacier National Park – no dogs allowed 🙁

Townsend/Helena, Montana: Home on the Road #77

Our tour of Montana continued with a stay in the middle of nowhere, Canyon Ferry, which is between Townsend and Helena. Out here, there hasn’t been a ton to actually do, which has been wonderful. Not having so many options of things to do has helped us spend time more simply outdoors and get ahead with some work in advance of a major cross-country Jeep road trip coming up.

  • Highlights: Being close to a lake to get the kayak out, finally hot weather that feels like summertime, good campground Wi-Fi, a chill day to check out Helena, National Forest trails with no one else on them, cheap brewery beer, fun cows, more gorgeous wildflowers, going to a rodeo for the first time since I was a kid – people-watching at its finest
  • Lowlights: Crowded shantytown-like campground conditions, not-so-great boating conditions with nasty lake water and unexpected waves, 90+ temps that Monkey hates

Huckleberry everything is delicious – Montana is onto something


Looking Ahead to Next Month

While we’re celebrating this two-year anniversary here in Montana, things are getting pretty nuts in month #25. We’re moving to Bozeman for a couple days and then stashing the camper in storage and heading east. We’re first on a mission to attend a wedding in Chicago and put in a family visit in SoIL.

THEN, because the emissions place in Georgia (that we made a special trip to go to last December from Arizona as a requirement to renew the Jeep’s license plate sticker) put the WRONG VIN NUMBER on the test form, we have to GO BACK.

On the day I found this out, I literally had a 24-hour panic attack. Last December’s trip to Georgia was apparently a complete waste of time, because after multiple calls and faxes to the DMV and emissions tester, the verdict is unanimous – we have to take the Jeep back to Georgia before the sticker expires in August to have another test that reflects the correct VIN number. Essentially some idiot’s simple mistake is costing us a huge hassle, wasted time, and more gas money. This is yet another reason I’m nearly ready to call it quits on camper life – the logistical nightmares of not being stationary.

But to make all of these endeavors a bit more fun, we’re packing our tent in the Jeep and planning to tent-camp in random states that we’d probably never RV in otherwise, like the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Iowa. We’ll actually be staying in a different state every day on the way there and back in the tent, so that should be interesting! Next month’s recap will be a little unorthodox and all over the place, but a summer adventure for sure.

Thanks, as always, for those of you still following along and making all of this typing worthwhile. Happy two years to us!


Catch up with the journey:

Life as Washingtonians: A Year & 10 Months of Camper Life from the Evergreen State

Greetings from the Pacific Northwest! Last month’s report from Oregon was a pretty dismal one….a downer, a real bummer of a blog post. But I’m happy to report that our time in Washington has been a serious morale boost. This is largely due to much less rain, much more sunshine, a manageable workload, and more time spent in the great outdoors.

This past month, I celebrated my sixth anniversary with my trusty 2010 Jeep Wrangler, a true adventuremobile in every sense of the word. After living the city life in Portland for a couple weeks, we were more than ready to get remote and venture off the grid. That’s why we started month #22 on the road in the town of Vantage, Washington – population 74.

From there, we moved on to the Seattle area for a week and then to those weird little islands off the coast of Washington. Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.

Vantage, Washington: Home on the Road #68

Vantage proved to be exactly what I needed to renew my faith in camper life. The wide-open spaces reminded me more of the southwest than the northwest, it was easy to spend time outdoors, and the weather was amazing. From the landscapes to the weather and every type of outdoor recreation you could hope for, Central Washington definitely took me by surprise.

  • Highlights: Lots of state parks, very few people, getting back to our camping roots with some tent camping, falling in love with the town of Wenatchee, day trip to Leavenworth, hiking to the waterfall at Frenchman Coulee, ginkgo petrified wood, affordable campsites, good internet connection for work, securing two raises with work clients, wildflowers, apple and cherry blossom trees in bloom
  • Lowlights: Crazy strong winds that all the campground reviews warned us about, 40 minutes to reach any services/non-expired groceries/etc.

Seattle/Bothell, Washington: Home on the Road #69

I missed Vantage the moment I left, but alas, Wanapum State Park had a 10-day limit and it was time to move on. Since cities aren’t really our “thing” lately, we planned to only spend one week in the Seattle area. Not surprisingly, there aren’t any good camping options in the city of Seattle, so we settled for the northeast suburb of Bothell. We’d been to the city before, so this stop was more about making some social visits to old friends and taking care of practical things, like package delivery and stocking up on supplies.

  • Highlights: Drinking beers with my old rock climbing classmate/kayak instructor, Bob, from my Chicago days, Thali dinner and neighborhood brews with my old DC buddy, Marisa, and her husband Krzystof, Decent campground for a private RV park with a little lake and trails around the perimeter, successful Amazon package delivery, awesome Seattle weather that defied stereotypes, revisiting the Fremont Troll, biking with Monkey on the Burke Gilman Trail
  • Lowlights: Suburban traffic, city traffic

Oak Harbor, Washington: Home on the Road #70

I’d never been to any of those little islands off the coast of Washington before but was always curious about these tiny, scattered land masses. We’re about halfway through our stay on Whidbey Island near Deception Pass State Park and totally into it so far. We thought this would be a fun place to celebrate the husband’s birthday and our wedding anniversary, because islands….right?

  • Highlights: Coastal views from the Deception Pass trails, the Decent campground Wi-Fi, throwing a birthday party for the husband, excellent seafood, watching traditional Native American dancing and canoe races at the Penn Cove Water Festival, reading the story of the Maiden of Deception Pass
  • LowlightsStandard/non-scenic campground with crowds and annoying people, learning how expensive/logistically challenging it is island hop between ferries



This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

Creating art hasn’t been a top priority of camper life thus far, but I’d love it to inch it up the list a bit more going forward to break up the monotony of never-ending work. To that end, we recently stocked up on a small set of acrylic paints, mini-canvases, and sculpting clay. Here’s my first crappy abstract landscape creation.

The husband makes some seriously delicious stuff in this camper despite the challenges of cooking in a tin box on wheels. Here’s a recent example with fresh shrimp, rice, onions, peppers, and the insane amount of spices we’re gotten accustomed to scarfing down. Meanwhile, I mostly stick to making tofu, salads, and pancakes.

Work is still aplenty and totally overwhelming at times, but it’s settled into a more manageable level thanks to turning down some assignments and putting in extra hours on weekends when needed. Working outside in places like this on beautiful always makes me shut up about my work complaining and be thankful I do what I do.

We’re also experimenting with taking weekends on Sunday/Monday or Monday/Tuesday to avoid spring/summer crowds. I mean, we’re already living a non-traditional lifestyle and working non-traditional jobs, so why stick to everyone else’s definition of a weekend?


Looking Ahead to Next Month

TODAY begins our big anniversary ferry adventure! We’ll soon be driving on-board a ferry from Anacortes to Orcas Island for a few work-free, celebratory days of kayaking in the islands, tent camping, cabin camping, and island town exploring. I’ll be reporting back on this little island excursion to kick off next month’s post.

Upon our return to Whidbey Island, our time in Washington will soon come to a close, but I must say that this state has treated us considerably better than Oregon did. It’s probably our fault for arriving in Oregon too early in the season, or maybe it was the universe’s way of pushing us along. Either way, I really have enjoyed my last several weeks in the Evergreen State and will be back sometime, somehow.

From here, we’re taking this camper trip international! We’ll soon be heading up to British Columbia to spend some time in Vancouver and then start moving eastward towards Banff. We’ve confirmed that our internet/phone coverage will work up there and that no special dog certificate is needed to transport this Monkey over the border. Canada promises wild adventure, even though it’s kicking off with vision and dental appointments. With our crappy health insurance coverage, Canada is actually way cheaper for stuff like that.

Looks like we’ll be needing to get some Canadian stickers to add to our RV life map though!


Catch up with the journey:

Life as Oregonians: Month 21 on the Road

For the first time ever this month, I heard myself say aloud, “I think we need to come up with a camper life exit strategy.”

Uh oh. Is this adventure slowly coming to an end? Not quite yet, but the lifestyle has been wearing us down a lot lately. It’s not all Oregon’s fault, of course, but the constant rain certainly isn’t helping.

Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Trip research and planning for places to stay and things to do was fun for a good long while, but doing it every week for nearly two years has become exhausting and so time-consuming. And since the campground booking industry is so archaic, every new place involves an excruciating reservation phone call to some dimwit that involves spelling my “weird name” a dozen times.

  • Also exhausting is the social aspect of full-time RVing. It’s a very public lifestyle with close neighbors and no viable way to get away from strangers, especially with a dog in tow. Unfortunately, we can’t go off-the-grid like all those free-spirited #vanlifers because of our all-consuming jobs. Yet being a hermit in the middle of nowhere is sounding better and better every day.

  • Our RV is falling apart. You’d think buying brand-new would prevent this, but the truth is that most RVs aren’t designed for full-time living. We’ve been having issues with everything from plumbing to heating, leaks, and a nasty case of mold growing inside the windowsills from the never-ending rain.

  • Now that it’s spring and summer is just around the corner, everywhere we want to go is crowded, expensive, and all booked up.
  • So many campgrounds in pretty much every state out here have discriminatory pit bull bans, which continues to be infuriating. I’m so tired of conversations with ignorant baffoons judging my little Monkey when she’s done nothing wrong.

  • The excitement of seeing and living in new places is starting to wear off and we’ve become stuck in routine. I know, cry me a river, but routine feels stifling no matter what lifestyle you’re living.

With all that said, we aren’t pulling the plug on the lifestyle just yet because frankly, we have nowhere else to go and no current inspiration to plop down somewhere in particular. But as those musings continue to develop and fester, we’ve continued to check out Oregon stuff and even flew my parents out to visit and see some of the state for themselves.


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

Salem, Oregon: Home on the Road #65 (continued from last month)

This was our second home on the road in Oregon, a rainy one, but also one with some fun things to do and an welcome social visit.

  • Highlights: Rock climbing gym with its own bar (too bad it was too early in the day for it to be open though), more lap swimming at a community pool, great campground Wi-Fi, a fun St. Paddy’s day with live music and lots of beer, visiting my friend Kelli and meeting her adorable little twins, seeing Sherlock Gnomes on opening day, shooting a gun at a gun range for the first time and not shooting my foot off
  • Lowlights: Crappy city traffic, rain pretty much every day, a 5K tulip farm race that turned into a mud pit with hardly any tulips in bloom


Welches/Mt. Hood, Oregon: Home on the Road #66

We stayed in the Mt. Hood area for just a week and for really just one purpose: a last round of snow sports. I left my snowboard behind and took up cross-country skiing and snowshoeing this time around, while the husband mastered the downhill slopes.

  • Highlights: Good ski conditions on the second day, giving cross-country skiing another try and loving the peacefulness and stress-free vibe of it, snowshoeing in the backcountry with Monkey while listening to podcasts, nice pool/hot tub/fitness center at our campground
  • Lowlights: Crappy ski conditions on the first day, lots of rain, cold, loud families everywhere for spring break, expensive to camp here

Portland, Oregon: Home on the Road #67

Five or six years ago, we came to Portland on vacation and loved it…so much that we actually shopped around for apartments and scoped out neighborhoods. This time around, Portland didn’t charm my socks off like that. Instead, I mostly felt bogged down by the rain, traffic, and not-so-awesome campground. But we were near the airport, which made it easy to drive around my parents and play tour guide for them on their first trip to the state.

  • Highlights: Bike/running trail nearby, checking out all of this with my parents on a fun 4-day weekend: Columbia Gorge, Multnomah Falls, fish hatcheries, hiking trails over the Washington border, Pfriem Brewery in Hood River, having my Portland-based cousin randomly visit our RV, International Test Rose Garden (with no roses though), Alberta Street, Vietnamese food, Oregon History Museum, Tillamook Cheese, Blue Heron Cheese, Seaside Aquarium, Hi Tide Oceanfront Inn in Seaside (a much-needed RV break with a fireplace and hot tub!), Fort Stevens State Park, Astoria boardwalk and column, and so on and so forth.
  • Lowlights: MORE RAIN EVERY DAY, crowded campground with nowhere for monkeys to pee


 

Looking Ahead to Next Month

Our time in Oregon hasn’t been all that pleasant, but we’re cutting out this weekend and heading up to Washington. Perhaps Washington is the land of endless warmth and sunshine? Ha!

We’re starting inland and hoping to dry out a bit. From there, it’s on to the Seattle area, all those weird little islands off the coast of Washington, and then up to Canada. We both got our renewed passports in the nick of time, so this journey is going international before we hit the 2-year mark.

Since this post was a bit of a downer, I’ll close with a happy photo of tulips and daffodils that I’ve managed to keep alive on the RV windowsill for the last couple weeks.

Oh, and maybe some alpacas…because who can’t resist smiling when there’s a fluffy and ridiculous alpaca next to you?

Over and out. Toot-a-loo.


Catch up with the journey:

Redwoods, Rain, and FINALLY in Oregon: 1 Year & 8 Months on the Road

Redwoods, rain, and retching….that’s how month #20 on the road started out. It was  a bit of a rough one, but then again, camper life is pretty much just like regular life but on wheels.

After dabbling in snow sports in the Tahoe area, we headed further north and to the coast to the town of Arcata, California. It’s a small town just north of Eureka, and it’s safe to say that it probably won’t be making it on our post-it note list of potential plop-down spots.

It was cold, it rained pretty much every day, both Monkey and I were sick, and my workload became downright insane. But of course, in true camper life fashion, we still managed to squeeze in more than our fair share of fun outings to the gigantic redwood trees and beyond. We also finally made it up to the promised land, Oregon, over a year later than we initially planned.

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

Arcata, California: Home on the Road #63

We stayed in Arcata for two weeks in a quiet, rainy campground. Interestingly, while staying here, I received a forwarded letter that I was summoned for jury duty…all the way on the other side of the country in DeKalb County, Georgia.

Well THAT’S something I’d never though of before! Long story short – being a full-time RVer actually IS legit grounds to be excused from jury duty. Thank god, because by the time the summons actually reached me via mail forwarding, the court date was literally two days away and I was starting to panic. The nice folks at the court had never gotten the excuse of full-time RVing before, but they were totally cool with letting me off the hook after I emailed over a letter and a few campground receipts as proof.

WHEW!

Jumping for joy about my one-year exception from Georgia jury duty.

  • Highlights: Hiking among the redwood trees, a few sweet breweries, driving through a tree, riding a gondola through the redwoods, views from the nearby beach, watching a roller derby match, finding some tasty Indian food, getting in some climbing at the local bouldering gym
  • Lowlights: Way too much damn rain, nasty muddy camper floors, many homeless people around and high theft risk, me being sick Monkey puking 4 times in one day (and subsequent gross laundry – not sure what was wrong, but I’m happy to report that she’s back to being healthy and her usual nutball self again), a nearby beach that was too cold and windy to hang out on

Paid $1 to walk through this “One Log House” that is almost exactly the same size as our RV!

Coos Bay, Oregon: Home on the Road #64

After two weeks in a cold, rainy place where there wasn’t even any snow to “do anything” with the winter weather, I was feeling a bit hesitant about proceeding further north to the magical promised land of the Pacific Northwest. But we had already booked a campsite in Coos Bay, and were determined to finally cross over into Oregon.

  • Highlights: Having a campsite with a deck overlooking the river, swimming a mile at the community pool, checking out a couple local free museums, my work finally feeling back under control, breaking out the bikes after a long while for a hilly ride around town, working outside once, some sunshine, reliable campground Wi-Fi for working
  • Lowlights: That day when 30+mph winds and sideways rain lasted all day, the never-ending saga of trying to get Amazon packages delivered to a campground, missing dry weather and frequent hikes


Salem, Oregon: Home on the Road # 65

We’ve only been here in Salem a couple days and have another week and a half to go, so I’ll pick back up with my Salem report next month. In the meantime, here’s the gist so far…

  • Highlights: Nice (Monkey trailer-friendly) paved bike paths behind Riverfront Park, spacious campsites and no next-door neighbors, drive-through coffee huts, reliable campground Wi-Fi for working, little campground fitness center for rainy days
  • Lowlights: Confusing bike paths blocked by homeless people and that require constant map checking to navigate, continued rain, failing at crocheting four times in a row


This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • Remember paper fortune tellers from like 4th grade? For some reason I did, which prompted me to make a couple and start playing psychic. I’ve been slacking on crafting since Christmas, so this is about it for homemade creations this month.

  • This isn’t to say that I haven’t attempted to create something. I failed three separate times at crocheting a pair of socks, went out and bought a loom to try that route, failed at the loom too, and finally accepted that the universe doesn’t want me to ever touch yarn again.

  • I signed up for a race! I’ll be doing a trail run at a tulip farm in about a week and a half with moderate preparation and Monkey in tow. I’ll be my first-ever race with a dog, so this should be interesting. I don’t typically like to pay somebody to go for run, but I’m in need of a few positive (and attainable) goals right now.
  • I recently got so overwhelmed with the fact that I could work 15 hours every day and still not get ahead that I pulled out my journal to make four lists and get my head straight: things that are making me miserable, things that are holding me back from making a change, ideas to make things better, and what I would do with magical free time. I haven’t done anything with these lists, but there they are.

  • I like coloring. It feels kind of creative without really putting much effort into it. My favorite coloring book is one with national park posters, and I only allow myself to color the pages of the parks that I’ve been too. I colored this page the day after we went to Redwoods National Park to hike in the cold rain.

  • Isn’t it ironic that not long after you stop dying your hair because of all the scary chemicals in hair dye that you start noticing grays?
  • Also, doing hair is hard when you’re trying to put on a dress and look less like a scumbag on a rare occasion out. I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to follow British bimbos’ up-do tutorials on YouTube last Friday. Mad props to ladies with hair skills.


Looking Ahead to Next Month

We’ll kick off month #21 here in Salem by celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with some  good ole’ fashioned debauchery and perhaps a cherry blossom festival at the capitol if the rain holds out. I’m also planning to meet up with a long-lost friend nearby who I used to work with in Chicago and then head up to the Mt. Hood area for the last round of snow sports for the season.

Got any questions about what nomadic life is like, for real? Fire away. Thanks for reading!


Catch up with the journey:

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:

Greetings from Utah! A Look Back at Month 16 of Camper Life.

Ahhh Utah…it feels good to be back.

Ironically, we spent last November in Utah as well, but further up north around Salt Lake City and Moab. This November, we’re exploring Southern Utah and soaking in all these red rock views. There’s always been something that appeals to me about this state – perhaps its ruggedness, dramatic landscapes, wide open spaces, or uncrowded places. Whatever it is, it just feels right.

Month #16 has been a month of moving a lot, and we’ve actually lived in three states over the past 30 days. It’s also been a month of big adventure and taking care of all the practical crap that piles up with nomad life. After wrapping up our longest stay ever in June Lake, we moved on to Lone Pine, Death Valley, Las Vegas, and now Cedar City.

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


June Lake, California: Home on the Road #49 (the final week)

  • Highlights: Going to the MountainFilm festival in Mammoth Lakes with awesome outdoor adventure films & winning the raffle, hiking my longest and highest elevation hike ever (White Mountain, 16ish miles, 14,252 feet), seeing ancient bristlecone pine trees that are thousands of years old, decorating a pumpkin for Halloween, more kayak/SUP time on Gull Lake, scenic bike ride along the highway, revisiting our favorite outdoor natural hot springs
  • Lowlights: The hangover that resulted from the abundance of free beer provided at the MountainFilm festival, continued freezing temperatures, puking from the Mexican food I gorged on after hiking my longest hike ever, nearly falling on every step on the snowy/icy hike in the Lakes Basin area

Lone Pine, California: Home on the Road #50

  • Highlights: FINALLY warm weather again, free coffee and muffins in our campground clubhouse, lower elevations that made it easier on my lungs to go on runs, campground pool & hot tub, mini arches and lots of wide open space in the Alabama Hills, checking out the Museum of Western Film, kayaking and SUPing on the totally empty Diaz Lake
  • Lowlights: Some regret of not joining the husband on his epic Mount Whitney climb (but it was his solo outing and I’ll do my own soon), disappointing restaurant scene in town

Death Valley, California: Home on the Road #51

  • Highlights: Coming back to one of my all-time favorite places 5+ years later, giving boondocking a try in this camper, surviving 104-degree temperatures with no A/C, exploring the backcountry roads on foot, chill tech-free time playing board games and spending lots of time outside, nighttime photo shoot under the stars at Badwater Basin, solo outing along Artist’s Drive, successfully using an RV dump station for the first time
  • Lowlights: Discovering that our generator leaks gasoline and can’t be used (it’s under a safety recall UGH), all the non-dog friendly places in the national park

Las Vegas, Nevada: Home on the Road #52

  • Highlights: Actually getting all of our practical matters and appointments taken care of in one week (dentists, RV oil change, all new Jeep tires, haircuts, bike repair, iPhone and Garmin watch upgrades, etc.), fro-yo, an amazing all-you-can-eat sushi experience at Sushi Hero, squeezing in one hike, revisiting Lovelady Brewery, Penn & Teller magic show (eh, really more of a midlight than a highlight or a lowlight)
  • LowlightsThe stress of cramming month’s worth of practical crap into one week, taking a free craps lesson at a casino and still not understanding how to play, not winning any money gambling (womp womp), not having time to make Halloween costumes or do much to celebrate my favorite holiday, crappy campground Wi-Fi, crowded campground spaces (but we knew that because this was the same Vegas campground we stayed at in January)

Cedar City, Utah: Home on the Road #53 (in progress)

  • Highlights: Awesomely sized town (28,000ish) with lots of stuff to do but non-stressful, paved Coal Creek Trail for running, picture-perfect views at Cedar Breaks National Monument, finally feeling like I have a good handle on my workload, not as cold at night as expected (usually only in the low 30s), swimming laps at the local aquatic center (been so long, feels so good!), buying a new cowgirl shirt at a western wear shop (maybe boots next?), watching a Mozart orchestra performance, delicious Indian food that hit the spot at Bombay Cafe (palak paneer and naan, please), attending a local parade, canyoneering at Red Caves, exploring a new area of Zion National Park
  • LowlightsCrappy campground Wi-Fi once again, this place is centrally located but all the cool stuff is still over an hour away, National Parks have become way too crowded (even on cold Monday mornings in November)


This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • Going back to my “age blindness” thing, the husband thinks he’s older than everyone in the bar when I think they’re the same age as me. Ironically, he’s younger than I am.

Sporting some new western wear

  • I love chill days at home in the camper. I always feel guilty staying at home and not being out and about because we’re only in each new place a couple weeks. But that starts to feel like just checking things off a list after a while. I think I’d be happier scheduling more chill time into my days.

Ticket to Ride board game

  • I have a bad habit of looking at my phone first thing in the morning. So, I’m trying this thing where I get up a bit earlier and before I check my email, scroll through Facebook, or read the news, I meditate for 5-10 minutes. I’m doing the guided meditations on an app simply called Meditation and on the Yoga Studio app too. I’ve stuck with this new routine for the last four days!
  • Things I’ve been watching/reading/listening to: Lore podcast and show, Thru Hiking Will Break Your Heart book, Stuff You Should Know podcast, Spooked podcast, Bates Motel show, Mozart in the Jungle show, This American Life podcast, Snap Judgement podcast, the Moth podcast, Orphan Black show, Boardwalk Empire show
  • SUPing really takes my mind to another place because all my energy is focused on not falling down and into the water. When I’m on a SUP, I don’t have the capacity to stress about work or how to cram all the stuff to do in our schedule. I actually look around me and notice things.

  • Things I WON’T miss about camper life when it’s over:
    1. Short showers with cold water
    2. Sharing a work desk with the husband, especially when he’s gabbing on the phone with his business partner
    3. Being around people all the time in close quarters
    4. Using and paying quarters for public laundry facilities
    5. Inconsistent internet connection for work
  • I’ve really been wanting to start writing creative fiction short stories again in addition to journaling and my day job’s writing work. It’s so hard to have the mental capacity and squeeze in the time, but I started (but haven’t yet finished) my first story in a very long time.

  • I absolutely hate going to salons for haircuts. Must be something to do with the awkward chit chat with no escape, guilt trips about how long it’s been since my last haircut, and being made to feel like crap about how I look by some degenerate “stylist.” How hard is it to cut your own hair? Or invest in wigs?


Looking Ahead to Next Month

We’ve extended our stay here in Cedar City already two times because there are so many awesome things to do in this area. From here, we’re headed to a couple state parks in Utah for brief boondocking stays: Kodachrome Basin and Coral Pink Sand Dunes. From here we’ll also be checking out Bryce Canyon National Park and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This is also where we’ll be spending Thanksgiving! I’m definitely thankful for getting to spend the holiday in all these fun places and finishing off the year with lots of new adventures.

Cheers!


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: