Friday, June 10, 2016

10,000 miles; A Journey Across America

So I was asked to put together some advice or observations for my fellow truck campers. I have thought long and hard on what to say. Hopefully this will be of some help and/or at least be somewhat entertaining.
Over the last two months I traveled over 10,000 miles and drove across 25 states. I did this trip solo and am glad I did. So many times along this journey I had some deeply moving experiences that would not have occurred had I been traveling with others. So, and this is just personal preference, if it strikes you, travel alone. You’ll find you’ll have a richer more personal experience if you do.

 Top 5 items I could not do without
Gros Ventre at the Grand Tetons

In no particular order. My beach chair. Whether I was chillin' at camp, sitting by the Smith River or drinking a beer over looking the Grand Canyon, my beach chair was my constant companion. My Atlas. Yes, Google map was also my constant companion but, planning my trip and seeing things on a larger scale while out on the road was invaluable. Not to mention, when you are out there in the middle of nowhere you don’t always have cell service. My Lug-A-Loo. Man oh man, this was one purchase that was well worth the 15 bucks I paid. A Lug-a-loo is basically a 5 gallon bucket with a toilet seat for a lid. When it was below freezing and too cold to leave the truck, when I was in bear country, or when I was “camping” in an overnight location such as the parking garage in San Francisco, my lug-a-loo was my best friend. My headlamp. Hands free lighting; a no brainer. Loved that thing. I used for cooking at night, gathering firewood and most of all for reading, which was one of my main sources of relaxation and entertainment. My IPod. When driving 10,000 miles, there is a lot of down time behind the wheel. Music was the one constant that kept me company on those long stretches of road. And finally, my shoes. Sounds crazy, but when I wasn’t in my hikers I was in my favorite sneakers. There are a lot of things about doing this kind of trip that are not comfortable. As a matter of fact, I have often said that the words adventure and comfort should never appear in the same sentence. So, might as well make sure your feet are happy because other than your truck, your feet are the most important thing you need to look after.

Truck set up.
Upon my return home I was asked how it was living out of the back of my truck for two months. I told my friend “I could easily live out of the back of my truck, but that living out of the back of my truck ain’t always easy.” And that is the truth. My “Build” was incredibly simplistic but
My Bunk
worked really, really well. Being short I was able to build my bunk along the back of the cab. It was made of plywood and a few two by fours. I bought a 3 inch thick foam pad to sleep on. I had a wool blanket, fuzzy blanket, and a feather duvet to keep me warm. Even in below freezing temps and no heater I was toasty. I had some storage space beneath my bunk and the rest of my gear I kept in labeled totes. I was lucky enough to have a truck that had a crew cab so storage was never an issue. I also used a small piece of plywood that stretched across two of my totes for a table. So when I was in my bunk I had a place to set my book, my drink, a lantern or my heater if and when I had electricity. I had a tote for my camp kitchen, a catch all, one for food and of course a cooler. Ice was a constant expense but less so in the colder states. I also had my back pack for day use and a suitcase in which I kept my clothes, and my toiletries. And that’s pretty much it. It was simple, effective and comfortable. It felt so much like home that I am thinking of giving up my apt and living in my truck full time by the beginning of the year.

Traveling solo (as a woman) 
I know our group has a lot of women who are, or will be, traveling solo so I definitely have some advice for you (and anyone else who may be doing this alone). Just do it. I think what you will find is that 99.9 percent of the people that you meet are just doing the same thing you are. I have found that campgrounds are filled with people, well…camping. They are not filled with rapists, murders, and thieves. I never, not in all the years I’ve been camping, have ever had anything stolen from my campsite, nor have I run into any unsavory characters. Is it always possible? Yes. However, the possibilities that you will run into someone who wants to do you harm at your local mall, grocery store or gas station are exactly the same. So my advice and behavior is the same whether Im walking out of my local Walmart or one in some far away state that I am unfamiliar with; be aware of your surroundings. And when you are out of what you think is your element, just act as if you own the place, like you belong there; like this is your turf. Confidence and body language goes a very, very long way in projecting who you are and where you belong.

 Nothing ever goes exactly as planned 
I think if I could say one thing about dirt bagging or just traveling in general, it would be that nothing goes right all of the time. Expect the unexpected, enjoy the process, and enjoy the journey. Embrace the things that go wrong as you do the things that go right. Improvise, smile, greet each new day with a confidence and a determination which projetcs a love of life. That in and of itself will take you a long way.

A note about driving
Listen, no one had more romantic visions and ideals of crossing America than me. And yes, driving out across the desert with the sun setting to the west, or through the mountains of Colorado with the snow drifting gently across your windshield, or feeling the freedom of the winding roads of the hills of Tennessee is absolutely amazing. The freedom of the open road, that crazy Jack Kerouac vibe, and the American dream is out there, but those moments are intermingled with the reality of distance, time and money. My original idea was to stay off the freeway and hit the back roads of America. That was quickly dashed by the reality of time. I did often stay off the major highways, but traveling on only back roads is next to impossible, costly, and would have taken forever! So unless you have unlimited resources, get used to the fact that the highway is your friend and even though it may be crowded; it is effective.

Also, backtracking is never a good idea if you can avoid it; especially if you are traveling a super long distance as I did. At first it didn’t seem to matter. I was like “oh well, no worries.” But then the time wasted and the money spent unnecessarily on gas caught up with me. As a matter of fact by the time I got 5000 mile under my belt I was like “oh heck no, I am not back tracking or going out of my way one mile.” LOL By then I was tired. I’m not going to lie. So I became very efficient at planning my next move while still keeping the adventure rolling. In hind
sight I would have been more aware of that in the beginning as it may have opened up more opportunities for me later in the trip to see some things I missed due to a lack of funds and time which was spent traveling down roads I had already traveled. Lessons learned for sure. But all in all, aside from the exhaustion that eventually set in and a few traffic jams I loved being out there on my own, out on the road crossing this amazing country, and living the dream.

Favorite places
Although I didn’t often camp in national parks, I did visit many of them. Get your national park pass. It is a steal for 80 bucks. The pass gets you into all national parks and monuments.Gosh, there are so many things to see here in America but, it certainly isn’t difficult at all for me to pick my favorites.Of course it is also a matter of personal preference, but there are just some places you cannot pass up. My top ten list would be, starting with my top spot:
Crater Lake (honorable mention)

1.      The Redwoods at the Jedidiah Smith State Park in California. The campground was one of the most expensive I stayed at but my campsite along the Smith river was worth every penny. I loved it so much I stayed an extra night. The Redwoods are just an experience you cannot pass up. Each person will have an experience filled with wonder. But the differences in each individual tree is astonishing. Do not miss it. Truly my favorite place in all the USA.

2.      The Grand Tetons (Jackson Hole) WY. Just jaw dropping at every turn. I camped at Gros
Grand Tetons
Ventre in site no 2 which had a great view of the mountains themselves. If I had it to do all over again I would have left out my time in Yellowstone for more time at the Tetons. I cannot put my finger on why this place affected me the way it did but I just felt connected to those mountains. I could not get enough.
  3.  The Grand Canyon Hike below the rim if you have time.
The Grand Canyon
There is also a BLM site just 2 miles south of the south entrance. I also camped at Desert View in the Park itself. One thing about the Grand Canyon, it is very touristy and you can only stand and look for so long. I loved the GC but did, in the end, cut my time there short. Unless you are hiking all the way to the bottom two days should be plenty.
4.      Carlsbad NM. Two things: definitely go down into the caverns and definitely get up on a clear night and do some star gazing. The wide spectrum of my experience there was unparalleled; from gazing at the milky way, watching in awe as a plethora of shooting stars made their way across the sky, and staring at the brilliant planets such as Jupiter and Mars and then the next day, making the journey a mile beneath the earth’s surface was one of the most memorable and moving things I experienced on this sojourn. ( I camped at Brantley Lake. Which didn’t seem like much at first, but I ended up loving it there)
Mesa Verde
5.      Mesa Verde. The ancient Pueblo Villages were another deeply moving and spiritual experiences for me. I urge you to just go and check them out. Inspiring, really.
6.      The Badlands SD (I didn’t camp here as I was on a push eastward). Although my time here was brief, it was a soulful experience. I got to the Buffalo National Grasslands/ Badland National Park at sunrise. I literally didn’t see another living soul the entire time I was out there. Want to get a feeling for how thePlains Indians must have felt? Go in the early morning and stand and listen to the earth. Just the wind and the birds and the sky to keep you company. Moving.
7.     Monument Valley. Classic Americana at it’s best.
8.      Death Valley. Such a cool (not literally, lol) place. The geological formations were astounding. I sat and watched a lighting storm move in that evening at my camp ground. It felt like someone dropped me slap dab into the middle of an Eagle’s song.
9.      San Francisco. I don’t do cities but I had to stop and check this one out. So advice if you go. You have to pay to park so you might just as well pay for 24 hrs and stay overnight in the parking lot. That’s what I did and it was great. I was just blocks from Fisherman’s Wharf, it only coast me 36 bucks, and I was on the top tier of the garage with an amazing view of the city sky line. Win win. Get a Muni pass to get around. Best 20 bucks I ever spent as it will get you on all modes of public transportation for the whole day. Another win win.
10. Big Sur/Santa Cruz/Halfmoon Bay. If you are into surfing at all, this area is a must. I loved the drive, the surf and the vibe.  I stayed on the side of the road in Big Sur as the camp grounds were full and then I stayed at the Pillar Point Marina in Half Moon Bay. Man, it was iconic. The biggest waves in the continental United States breaks there. I was in heaven.

11. As an honorable mention hit Arches National Park if you can. really cool place.

So there you have it in a not so proverbial nut shell. I wish you safe travels my friends.

My home, my wheels, my best friend

1 comment:

  1. Great write up! ! I was curious about if you 'cooked' any meals over a flame and which method you used.
    Thanks again for the info! I am getting my camping stuff organized. .cant wait to get out of Dodge! :)