A Year on the Road, Distilled

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Last May, we left Alaska and ventured out on a year-long (give or take) RV trip.  It has been a unique year in our lives—no work, no house, no obligations, no agenda, lots of change.  IMG_1941Some parts of the trip were expected, other parts were a surprise.  We did not have any epiphanies and I don’t think we changed much.  In fact, we knew ourselves pretty well in planning this as a year-long trip.  The length was just right for us.  Road fatigue is starting to set in and we are eager to settle into a community again, get our hands in some soil, dive into some creative projects, and do some serious cooking.  So, in another week or so we will park our trailer and move into a sweet little hillside house with an expansive view.  Our no-longer-new truck will start hauling lumber, compost, and tools for building projects and gardens.

Our truck one year later in Belfast, Maine.  It's enjoying a gorgeous oceanfront site and waits patiently while we eat fresh steamers and fried clams at the campground's restaurant.

Our truck, one year later, in Belfast, Maine. It’s enjoying a gorgeous oceanfront site and stands by while we eat fresh steamers and fried clams at the campground’s restaurant.

We covered a lot of territory this past year.  Our truck logged over 31,000 miles and we traveled through 23 states with the trailer (26 with the truck) and 2 Canadian provinces.

Alaska's Glenn Highway

Alaska’s Glenn Highway

A typical Zoe pose on this trip, nose high, sniffing for info.

A typical Zoe pose at every part of this trip, nose high, sniffing for info.

We saw a staggering amount of beauty out our truck’s windows, at our campgrounds, and on day trips.

Cassiar Highway, Yukon Territory

Cassiar Highway, Yukon Territory

Lovely Dubois, Wyoming campground view

Lovely Dubois, Wyoming campground view

Boston

Boston

We gawked at and photographed mountains, ocean, farmland, and city architecture.

Oregon's Painted Hills

Oregon’s Painted Hills

Idaho's amazing Sawtooth Mountains

Idaho’s Sawtooths (such a good name)

The Tetons

The Tetons

Zoe enjoying Cape Cod

Zoe enjoying Cape Cod

Hunting Island, South Carolina.

Hunting Island, South Carolina.

Hills above Oroville, Washington

Hills above Oroville, Washington

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Pennsylvania

Charleston

Charleston

We hunkered down through an extended bout of cold weather, forcing us to spend hours inside our tiny home, mostly reading and watching some really addictive (and mostly excellent) TV series (Orange is The New Black, The Vikings, Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, House of Cards, Luther, The Walking Dead, Fargo FX, The Black Mirror (yes, we have eclectic taste and spent many evening hours in really cold, wet nasty weather, confined in a small trailer in remote campgrounds when it’s too cold to be outside)).

We met a variety of people—but not a wide variety—most were white and middle aged or retired.  Some were interesting and engaging, others … not so much.  We stayed in state and provincial parks, national forests, private RV parks, RV “resorts,” beach cottages (during George’s shoulder surgery rehab) and relatives’ driveways.

A slice of paradise, Lake Meziadin Provincial Park. British Columbia

A slice of paradise, Lake Meziadin Provincial Park. British Columbia

Horse at Dubois, Wyoming private campground

Horse at Dubois, Wyoming private campground

Neighborhood at Pennsylvania campground in Amish country

Neighborhood at Pennsylvania campground in Amish country

St. Simons

St. Simons

We knew the road trip/camping routine pretty well, having driven to Alaska and back from the Lower 48 several times over the years and having traveled around Alaska with an RV and a trailer.  But, it had been about twenty years since we had camped outside of Alaska and we were not entirely prepared for the sheer number of people RVing these days.  The roads and campgrounds were crowded, sometimes oppressively so (I know, we’ve lived in Alaska too long).

The biggest surprise—and disappointment—for me on this trip was how difficult it now is to camp without reservations.  It’s all about reservations these days.  Some state parks take them a year in advance and people hover online waiting to pull the trigger at a minute past midnight for their favorite campsites for the year.  And, once school gets out in the summer, forget it—if you don’t make reservations for the weekend, you likely will be searching for a Walmart parking lot or staying in some decrepit RV park next to hollow-eyed, meth-ridden neighbors in a rusty trailer that looks as if it hasn’t seen a highway in twenty years.  The necessity of planning out routes and destinations far in advance has sucked much of the spontaneity and freedom out of Rving—at least during the summer.  It’s a shame.  Moving when you want, where you want, at ANY TIME you want, is at the heart of a good road trip.

The Sawtooths

The Sawtooths before the summer rush.

Idaho's Redfish lake--this was an unplanned visit, and it worked because it was in May.  Later in the season, it would have been packed.

Idaho’s Redfish lake–this was an unplanned visit, and it worked because it was in May. Later in the season, it would have been packed.

Another thing we didn’t expect was the abysmal state of so many roads, bridges, and highways.  Some states were worse than others (Pennsylvania and South Carolina come to mind), taking a pounding from heavy truck traffic, which makes it even more stressful to drive.  There’s nothing like hitting a long series of crater-like potholes while travelling 65 miles an hour towing a trailer, while a massive truck barrels and sways along beside, sucking you into its turbulence.  Sweet.

Crowds and crappy roads aside, some things are a vast improvement from two decades ago.  I felt almost a personal bond with the modern joys of back up cameras (with a microphone no less, I didn’t have to appear as a screeching harridan giving back up directions into a tight site), tire pressure monitors, and RV GPS.  It’s a harsh world for Luddites these days (oops, your RV won’t fit through this 1910 tunnel, try turning around, sucker!).  I proudly embrace any stress-reducing technology out there, including phone apps for weather alerts and radar so that you will know when a killer tornado is heading your way.  Not that there’s much of anything you can do about it in a trailer.

Lobstah.

Lobstah.

I’m fatter and happier than I was a year ago.  As a warning to anyone contemplating a long road trip—it’s hard to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly when you are traveling.  We’re looking forward to some good eats and being less slug-like when we get into our house.  We will take many more road trips, but none quite like this.  This one was essentially a year-long celebration of retirement.  It was a sweet, fascinating interlude.

Dubois, Wyoming.  Loved it.

Dubois, Wyoming. Loved it.

Petroglyphs in Dubois hills

Petroglyphs in Dubois hills

Devil's Tower

Devil’s Tower

Hiking in the Black Hills, South Dakota

Hiking in the Black Hills, South Dakota

One of my favorite places on the trip--the Badlands

One of my favorite places on the trip–the Badlands

Small town Pennsylvania

Small town Pennsylvania

Florida Anhinga

Florida Anhinga

I don’t know if I will continue blogging.  I expect to be immersed in setting up our new life in a new place and don’t know if I will have the time or desire to blog.  If I do, obviously, it won’t be a road trip blog anymore, but will focus on exploring Maine, gardening, building stuff, and—of course—Zoe.  In any case, I will be taking a blogging break while we settle into our house and then I will see how I feel.

Our next-to-the-last campground in Belfast, Maine.  A fittingly beautiful, and chilly campsite

Our next-to-the-last campground in Belfast, Maine. A fittingly beautiful, and chilly campsite

I’ve enjoyed blogging immensely on this trip.  Thanks for coming along.IMG_0288

35 thoughts on “A Year on the Road, Distilled

  1. Brenda — I have missed you greatly since you retired, but have thoroughly enjoyed making this road trip (in spirit) with you, George, & Zoe through this blog. You have set the bar very high for anyone who does a travel blog in the future! Incredible photos and expressive, clever captions. Take care and thank you so much for this great adventure via the internet! Stay in touch. Margie

    • I’ve missed you too, Margie–I’d love to have a good sit down chat. You should be contemplating retirement some day soon, yes? You will have to come for a visit–you’d like where we’re settling. I’m glad that the blog filled it’s purpose and that you enjoyed (and kept reading) it. Please tell my former workmates that I hope they’re doing well. Enjoy your Juneau summer. I will stay in touch.

    • Thanks Derrick. It has been a good year and I’m grateful to have the blog as a record of the trip. Oh yes, there are many, many more photos. I had photo overload trying to put together this post and finally gave up!

  2. What a year you’ve had. 🙂 This is our first summer of not camping – the trailer is sitting in a consignment lot. We have some wonderful memories but many of the sites are so close you can offer a ‘God Bless You’ when your neighbor sneezes, and I spent many hours sitting with a watch and my hand on the keyboard trying to get reservations for eleven months in advance to then find out I’d won the privilege of camping in the cold and rain. LOL You’re settling in about 150 miles northeast of us in a beautiful part of Maine. To blog or not to blog is something one has to decide for themselves, but if you choose to continue you have a wealth of new topics and I’d love to hear all about your new adventures. Either way, I wish you all the best in your community. It’s been a pleasure. 🙂

    • Thanks so much. Once I let the blog lie fallow for awhile, I will have a good sense as to whether I want to continue with it. As you know, it can be pretty time consuming and there are so many other things that I want to be doing! But, you’re right, there’s no lack of topics here.

      Have you given up camping for good, or just taking a different approach? We’re looking forward to staying in one place for awhile. Now that we’re neighbors of a sort, let me know if you are up this way.

  3. Distilled indeed! As you probably know Union is the home of Sweetgrass Farm where the top-notch Back River Gin is produced so I enjoyed that choice of words along with your post. We’re happy to have met you at the tail end of your trip and perhaps have added a dite of validation to your Maine-as-home decision. Look forward to seeing the three of you.

    • Ha. We think alike, Sara. How many people have local distillers? Lucky us. We haven’t tried it yet, but are looking forward to savoring some Back River Gin after a sunny afternoon gardening. Maine is wonderful! And you and Maggie definitely helped to seal the Maine decision. Thanks again. We hope to close on the house next week and should be getting our furniture shipment in early June. Can’t wait. We likewise are looking forward to seeing you again.

  4. What a wonderful wrap up! You had an amazing year and visited some beautiful places. You are so right about the number of RV’ers out there these days. There seem to be many, many more than there were when we first started out nine years ago.

    Enjoy your new home!

    • It’s crowded out there isn’t it? I can already feel the summer season gearing up and am glad to be getting off the road!
      Thanks for following along and commenting on the blog. I have enjoyed getting to know you! Have you been to Maine, yet? If not, you should give it some thought, it has some of our favorite campgrounds.

  5. It’s been fun following your journey. I know I’d enjoy it if you’d continue to blog, but it is time consuming. I’ve never been to Maine. Happy nesting 🙂

    • Thanks Ingrid. It’s always exciting to move to a completely different place for a little nesting! I think you’d love Maine. It’s a unique part of the country, packed with beauty, history, amazing local food, and wonderful people. There’s not much boondocking, but some truly exquisite campgrounds. Although it gets crowded on summer weekends, early and late season are very open. If you come East, be sure not to miss Maine. We feel very fortunate to have found it as a place to settle in. Happy travels.

  6. What an interesting way to wrap up your 1 year journey. I have enjoyed following along with you. Amazing places you have seen and the comment about having to book in advance, it would take the spontaneity out of the trip. We are lucky over here in Australia, in the year we were on the road we never booked and always managed to get in some where. There are also many free camping spots that you can stay in for 2-3 days ( though some people in these places looked as though they had been there much longer). Though there are many Grey Nomads and back packers on the road it never seemed crowded.
    How exciting to be settling into your new home. I, selfishly, hope you do send out the occasional post, I would love to learn more about Maine and hear how you get on…But I acknowledge they are very time consuming…

    • Thanks for following along, Pauline. I have really enjoyed your comments. We are excied to get into our new home and I may keep blogging, who knows. I will keep following along to see what you and Jack are up to. Will you make a trip to the States some time, do you think? Believe it or not, I am about to meet a penpal from Australia (she lives in Canberra now) for the first time. We started writing to each other more than 45 year ago and she is on a four month trip over here. She married one of her other penpals. Crazy, no? If you ever get this way, let me know. Maine is pretty sweet.

      • That will be an exciting meeting with your pen pal Brenda. I think of WP as a modern day equivalent of pen pals. I would love to visit USA again and who knows were this life takes me, but at the moment it is not on the agenda…
        Best wishes for your coming move into your home I would love to see some photos if and when you have the time

      • I also see WP as a pen pal equivalent. That’s one of the things I like best about it. Thanks Pauline. I will be inheriting a lovely perennial garden at my new home. I probably won’t be able to resist posting pics.

  7. Oh, I so hope you can continue a post or two on occasion, I always enjoy reading your written word. I’m guessing you are at Moorings in Belfast…we were offered a camp volunteer job there last summer but we unable to take it at that time. Still in my back pocket for maybe one day getting to apply again. I knew it the minute I saw your site and you said they had a restaurant. Best of luck home shopping…I’ll miss you!

    • Thanks for the kind words! You nailed it on the Moorings. We had the sweetest spot in the campground (which was almost empty this time of year). Zoe usually had the beach to herself and we really enjoyed the fried clams, fresh steamers, and wine at Papa J’s. I would think that volunteering there would be a pretty sweet deal, although I imagine it gets pretty crowded in full season.

      I was unable to access your blog for awhile–glad that I can now get on it!

  8. What a joy it’s been following your journey. Your photos always said a thousand words, thanks! Good luck with your building projects and I hope you continue your blogging 🙂

  9. A well deserved rest (in a few senses of the word). And thank you for all the posts showing me/us this country; I’ve traveled a bit overseas, but have seen little of the US. This post alone has caught my traveler feet’s attention. Badlands, you say…and good lord: Alaska!

    Welcome home!

    • There’s no doubt that US travel does not provide the kind of immersion into a different culture and visual landscape that you get when traveling overseas. But there are some truly spectacular places in this country and it’s good to meet people from different regions and backgrounds here. Maybe when you get older and slow down a bit, you will feel inclined for some more mellow travel in this country! Thanks for your thoughtful comments on the blog. I have very much enjoyed them.

  10. G’day Brenda, nice to see you popped in for a look-see. We are enjoying the down time from travel and I am LOVING the garden, I have planted spring annuals, first time for years, and may be around to see them flower!!! But I can feel the travel bug starting to bite… Jack is more than happy to be in the home routine at the moment. Hope all is going well in your new slice of paradise.

    • Thanks Pauline. We are ridiculously happy with our new place. Our vegetable and flower gardens are thriving, we are planning an orchard, and we are having a nice stream of visitors. The grandkids are here now enjoying a little Maine country life. So, for now, our travel bug is in hibernation! Where will you be headed to next?

      • We also are enjoying being home for a while. It is 5 years since we had a winter and spring at home and I have redesigned part of the garden and planted annuals and vegetables and hope to be around to see them flowering. I would like to see the red centre of Australia this year. The thought of seeing Uluru lures me back on the road…

  11. I don’t know how I missed this! We must have been on a trip ourselves. You write so evocatively and I love your photography. I truly hope we meet some day, cousin!

    • We are planning to get out your way next winter (2016-17), so hope to see you then. In the meantime, I hope you get some torrential rains to douse those California fires. And I’m starting to think of blogging again–we’ll see!

      • You inspire me with your blogging. I am hoping to take our first cruise this coming summer…around all the Hawaiian islands, for our 45th. As far as driving the RV long distances, Bill has his first cataract surgery Tuesday and I am not comfortable driving the RV as I am only 5 feet tall. But I really want to get back east soon. Perhaps we will resort to plane travel (yuk) and rent a car. But you are more than welcome here…especially as we have a little guest cottage now.

      • I really didn’t expect to continue the blog when we settled down and was surprised to find that I missed it. It is such an incentive to notice and document the little things that otherwise become part of a great hazy past. And, I like my little blogging community. It’s like having penpals.
        Good luck to Bill with his surgery. You will enjoy the RV when you can and Hawaii … well, it’s one of my favorite places in the world. We may not get out west next winter. Right now, our focus and resources are on creating what we want here at home. But we will be out there soon. In the meantime, we’d love to have you for a visit any time. You’d like it here, I think!

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