Archives For Airstream

July was it. Our last full month to travel as our renters were due out at the end of the month. We raced up to Alaska in June so we could get at least of one month of exploring before heading back. We estimated two weeks of heavy driving to get all the way through Alaska, Canada much of the US and back to Texas. This left us with approximately ten days to further explore Alaska. We decided to spend it in some of the biggest Alaskan highlights – Denali and Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks. Then, it was back towards the real world (maybe)*.

Total June Cost: $4,316
Total days in the camper: 30
Total days out of camper: 0
Cost per day: $139
States Visited: Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma
Total Miles: Approx 6,100

Summary

There were a lot of “Wow’s” in July. From one of our new favorite National Parks (Denali), to the huge amount of miles covered (over 6,000) and one of the highest spending months since we started traveling. It was a purposeful stalling in Alaska while the weather was good that caused most of it, but the inevitable can only be delayed so long, and we had to head back south. Emotions were conflicted as nowhere had held us voluntarily captive as long as Alaska and we knew it would be hard to make it back, but money can’t last forever and no more renters meant no more supplemented travel and covered house payment. The real world was calling, and we couldn’t send it to voicemail again.

Spending Details

The Good

We spent most of the month of June exploring the coast of Alaska and only darted inland to avoid the expensive ferries to get to the next coastal  town. As we approached our last few weeks in Alaska, we wanted to make sure and hit one of the most exciting places – Denali National Park. Joining us on our journey to Denali were two familiar faces to the Airstream – Jocelyn’s mom and her dog, Bueno, after they flew into Anchorage.

We scored three nights at the Teklanika Campground in Denali, which is another one of those campgrounds like Yosemite that book up months in advance. However, just like Yosemite, if you’re persistent and flexible enough, you can usually find a few days that work. Teklanika is 30 miles into the park and 15 miles past the turnaround where most cars have to stop, but with the reservation they let you drive into it. Once you’re in the site, you’re not allowed to drive any farther into the park and if you leave towards the entrance, you can’t come back!

They do it for a great reason – to keep Denali wild (with animals and not tourists). The only way to tour the park is on a school bus-like Denali bus that drives the entire road. There are a couple of different types of buses and tours, but with our reservation we were able to buy one pass and ride the buses every day we were there.

Our first day started with a challenging pick up time at 8:15am (hey, that’s early for us) on a bus scheduled to drive all the way through the park (50 miles beyond us) with an estimated total trip time of 8 hours. Even crazier, for the people who started from the entrance of the park, their total trip time is 11 hours!

“STOP!!” we heard screamed from the back of the bus. It was quite startling and we wondered what sort of emergency we were about to experience. Instead, the bus driver simply complied and the lumbering bus slowly came to a stop. The passenger then yelled, “caribou, 3 o’clock”. Apparently, they were previously briefed that when they saw an animal to yell stop, and then the whole bus could have a look.

The bus stopped every 30-45 minutes at various points where you could enjoy an overlook, ranger station with some exhibits or simply a bathroom. It was the random stops that were more enjoyable as they often included caribou, moose or the infamous grizzly bear. It must be the closest thing outside of Africa to a true safari experience. It was a long day, but the beautiful mountain sites of Denali along with the wildlife made it worth it.

But we didn’t see Denali (formerly known as Mt. McKinley) the first day**. The mountain is so tall that it creates its own weather… and apparently it really likes to hide behind clouds. In the summer, you’re lucky to see it one out of three days. We had three days total, so we hoped the law of averages worked.

On the second day, we hopped back on the bus but instead of simply going for a ride,  we strapped on our hiking boots and set out to explore the park. They don’t actually mark trails in the park besides simple nature walks, but instead encourage visitors to find their own way… you know, in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness that’s full of grizzlies! We had already seen five grizzlies the previous day, including the most dangerous – a momma with cubs, so this was a little scary!

However, the Alaskan wilderness is mostly tundra, so it was a smaller possibility of getting lost since you can see pretty far, and you could also see any bears that were coming to eat you! We ended up only going a few miles as it was a little disturbing, but it was beautiful.

Denali National Park quickly jumped to one of our favorites, and we’ll definitely return someday. The road within the park is a combination of dirt and gravel with single lanes passing through incredibly steep mountain passes with drop offs, but it’s done this way perfectly to preserve the ruggedness of the land and give you the true outback experience. It worked.

But we didn’t see Denali on the second day either. As we packed up our campsite and anxiously awaited our next adventure, we wondered if Denali would reveal herself (or himself). We started driving back towards the entrance when we looked back and there she was, a towering mountain that had lurked just outside of our site behind the clouds for three days. It was huge, dwarfing everything around it.

The only thing better than seeing it from far away would be seeing it up close… which we were scheduled to do! Jocelyn’s mom decided to treat us with a Denali flightseeing tour! It was scheduled as a two hour flight with a glacier landing. We had never done one of these before even though we really wanted to in places like New Zealand, so this was a real treat. We boarded our flightseeing plane with five other people, and I was lucky enough to sit in the co-pilot seat to get a bird’s eye view of the action***.

The clouds cooperated as what seemed like one tall mountain instead proved to be a large complex of mountains, glaciers and sheer cliffs. If you ever want to feel small in life, this is a good place to do it. The small mountains are 15,000 feet tall and are dwarfed by the tall one, Denali. The ice fields and glaciers drape the mountains and valleys with new snow and old ice.

After flying around the mountains, we headed to our landing strip… an ice and snow field on the top of the glacier. The plane was equipped with snow skids and the pilot brought it down beautifully. We hung out on the glacier for a while and stood in awe of the mountains around us.

After our flight we headed back to Anchorage before Martha flew out the next day. Denali was a fitting climax to the trip. We’d spend the next few weeks driving back to Texas and back to reality.

Our spending report was pretty bad, but we were okay with it. We had a great previous six months where we kept our spending under control, and the number of miles driven guaranteed we’d pay the petrol piper. The one bright spot was our camp site spending as it’s pretty easy to find free or under $15/night spots in Alaska.

As we headed back to the “lower 49”, we passed through British Columbia and down through the Yukon and Alberta. Our driving safari continued and one day we saw 19 bears as we drove! In the beginning we were excited and stopped to take pictures, but by the end we treated them like deer as we had to watch to make sure they weren’t in the road. We stopped in the Canadian Rockies and Glacier National Park for some great hiking and views.

The Bad

We drove a whole lot, but we knew it was coming. We delayed as much as we could, but the time had come. We typically try not to drive more than 4-5 hours per day, but there were probably 7-8 days in July when we drove over 8 hours. We also paid for it in the gas category with $1,300 for the month… so lucky gas is half the price of what it’s been at times in the last decade!

I mentioned it last post, but it’s also scary to see how quickly climate change is impacting Alaska. The glaciers are receding and the animals are feeling the impacts. The most observable for the animals is the caribou impact in Denali. The guides told us that with the warmer temperatures, mosquitoes are hatching two weeks earlier than normal. It doesn’t sound like a big deal until you see how impacted the caribou can be by them. We passed by one caribou with its head shoved into the ground. The driver told us the reason was to keep the mosquitoes out of its ears and nose. We came back four hours later and it was still there.

We also saw a caribou shaking like a wet dog and another running through the rivers. All three of these actions were attempts to get away from the mosquitoes. With the pests hatching two weeks earlier, the caribou have less time to fatten up before they have to start running from bugs, and this seriously jeopardizes their chances of surviving a harsh Alaskan winter. Their main source of food, lichen, is also getting driven further up in altitude which makes it harder for them to eat.

But hey, let’s keep debating what’s causing it and not take any action****.

The Ugly

As we made it down to Canada and close to the US border, we still hadn’t heard from our renters if they were moving out at the end of the month. The contract said they’d have to give us one month notice, but they were working through a home renovation, so we gave them two extra weeks. It was mid-month and they asked if they could stay another month! We were okay with it since it would allow us to explore in August, but we wished we knew earlier so we could stay in Alaska.

+1 month. We made it back down to family in Oklahoma and hung out there and Boulder before heading out on our next adventure. The August spending report will now be more than normal spending on a house, it’ll be continued travel spending, and we couldn’t be happier!

 

*If you made it all the way down here before reading the asterisk, you know why it was “maybe” back to the real world. If you skipped down here… well, then read the rest of the post and you’ll know why 🙂
**I stick with the native Intuit name of the mountain rather than the name given later after a president who had nothing to do with and never visited the area. 
***OK, luck wasn’t the simple reason I was sitting in the front seat. The pilot asked our group and I waited at least a few seconds before I claimed it 🙂
****The irony is not lost on me that in the same section I talk about driving 6,000 miles and then complain about no actions to stop global warming… I guess I embody the problem!

These are probably two of Jocelyn’s best pictures from the trip, just incredible. All three were taken in Denali National Park while on the bus during the tour! If you’re not too grossed out, check out the fox… it appears to have a bird and rabbit!

Pictures from the drive home through Canada… bear cubs playing, moose twins and a grizzly crossing the Alaska Highway with a motorcycle!

 

Pictures from our flightseeing tour around Mt. Denali!

Denali National Park

 

We also spent a few days in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and did some great hikes

Pictures of the Denali landscapes… and a view of Penny Lane and Denali!

Bears all around Denali National Park…. see why we were scared to go hiking on our own?!

Eight months of circuitous travel around the United States delivered us to our most challenging journey yet: driving to Alaska. Most of the stories we heard from other travelers were of fairly successful trips with the occasional speed bumps, but it still didn’t quell the fear that comes with a such a journey. But the time was here and curiosity could not be tamed.

As we headed up from Seattle, our point of entry to Canada was Vancouver. We found two major routes – straight up the Alaska Highway (sometimes called the Alcan) or a “kinda” shortcut on the Stewart-Cassiar highway that would meet back up with the Alaska Highway in the Yukon. Stewart-Cassiar was even more remote with increased wildlife sightings but decreased reception and service stations, but as we were ready for adventure, we chose the latter.

We left Vancouver and stocked up on supplies before the trip. We filled up with groceries in Washington before crossing the border which was a good idea because Canada was more expensive. I was pretty sure our monthly expenses were going to double when factoring in the more expensive groceries and gas, so this was okay.

We made the difficult decision to skip Vancouver island and head north as fast as we could. The 40-50 hours of driving was already daunting enough, but when combined with questionable road conditions and infrastructure, the anxiety could only be answered by charging north as fast as we could. We drove around 16 hours in two days with a quick rest stop in between before slowing down for a day.

As we headed north, the road conditions were better than we expected, but we weren’t on the Stewart-Cassiar yet. The drive up Hwy 97 to Prince George was pretty, but it could’ve been the same drive found in many places throughout the US with pine forests covering small mountains. However, when we left Prince George to head west and saw a bear grazing on the side of the road, our expectations began to change. We entered the mountainous town of Houston and we knew we were in for a treat as snow-capped mountains sprang up in the distance.

We were now on to the legendary Stewart-Cassiar Highway. It didn’t seem much different than any two lane road we had been on previously. It wasn’t exactly a highway and there wasn’t much of a shoulder, but it was easy to drive. We continued up the Stewart-Cassiar highway, past small First Nations towns, and spent the night in a free pull off next to a lake – or was it a marsh. The views were incredible and we had the place to ourselves… along with two million mosquitoes!! It was shocking and expected at the same time, but we feared what it meant for the rest of the trip. We sealed up the Airstream as tightly as we could and cringed as the swatted mosquitoes splattered bright red blood across the clean aluminum.

We hurried out the next day and drove to Merizda Junction to drop the camper before heading west and getting our first steps into Alaska: Hyder. If you’re looking for the easiest way to say, “I drove to Alaska”, Hyder is the town to visit because it’s so far south it’s not even connected to any other Alaskan land.

The drive was one of the most incredible we’ve seen anywhere in the world. It was like New Zealand and Iceland, or maybe Nepal. Incredible mountains on both sides with glaciers hanging over the tops and coming down the sides. If this was what we were in for during the rest of the trip, it was going to be a good one!

We stopped by Fish Creek Observation Area where you can watch grizzlies feed on salmon, but we were about two months early since the salmon wouldn’t run until the end of July. We did meet two interesting guys who worked for the national forest. They looked like the Alaskans you’d expect to see – long grizzly beards, tough faces and mountain man dress, but as soon as we started chatting, they were as nice and friendly as could be.

I asked him if there was “color” – gold – in the streams (because what else would you ask an Alaskan?) and he said an old timer told him there was, but that it takes two weeks of work to get an hour’s worth of pay! I guess we won’t fund our trip by panning. The towns were very small, but exactly what you’d think if you thought of a small Alaskan now.

We also had some pleasant surprises along the way. I expected to pay an egregious amount on gasoline, but in most places throughout British Columbia, it ranged between .99 to 1.37 per liter. This is equivalent to $4 to $5.48 per gallon, but when considered against the exchange rate, this comes down to around $2.70-$3.75, which was similar to many parts of California. It might not be as killer of an expense as we thought!

The drive continued through the vast distances of the Cassiar highway where it feels like a combination of an outdoor safari and a scenic byway. The beautiful vistas in all directions of snow covered mountains can only be interrupted by the occasional animal sighting. “BEAR” – one of us would yell as the other quickly darts our eyes to find it. If Jocelyn saw it first, she went for the camera, and if I saw it first, I’d see if I could stop fast enough or need to look for a turnaround spot so we can come back and get some pictures. Most of the time the bear would take off if we had to loop back around, but occasionally, they’ll continue on grazing as if no human was bugging them.

Most of my turnarounds were simply a quick u turn in the middle of the road – that should show you how lightly traveled it is!

After five days of heavy driving, we were successfully through the Stewart Cassiar and onto the Alaska Highway. Right away there was more traffic and things felt more “developed”, but that’s just because we had spent so much time in remote country. The Alaska Highway threads through British Columbia and the Yukon territories and includes spurs where you can drive south to additional Alaska towns of Skagway and Haines.

It was a pretty mean thing the US did – let the Canadians keep the interior, but take the valuable ports – or maybe it was the Russians who did it and we inherited it after the Alaska purchase.

The drive into Skagway was even more beautiful than the first trip into Hyder. We also had an experience that reminded me of when we when we traveled the world in 2013, and on the second to last night before our trip ended, we were finishing our driving tour around Iceland. Almost ending poetically, we had an incredibly beautiful display of the Northern Lights. Fast forward to our current trip. We were already enjoying the scenery as we drove to Skagway, Alaska when alongside the road I saw a furry hump… sure enough it was a bear – and even better, a grizzly bear! It wasn’t until we pulled over we learned the gravity of the situation.

As if lined up to reveal themselves one after the other, we saw a second grizzly, then a third grizzly, then a fourth grizzly! If the trip would have ended right then, we would’ve been happy as it was that powerful (as long as it didn’t end with us getting eaten!). We were within 20-30 feet of them as they grazed along side the road on dandelion flowers. A few times they thrust their noses in the air to get our scent, but they weren’t too worried about us. We didn’t know if it was because they were simply unaware of any threat, or because they knew they could deal with any threat we could present! We think it was a momma grizzly and her three adolescents. We stuck around for probably ten minutes as we took some fantastic photos and just sat in awe. Sitting in awe was easy to do as we were safe in our cars, but we couldn’t imagine how scary it would’ve been if we were hiking and ran into them.

Skagway seemed like a great little Alaskan town until you drove into it. The “frontier” buildings were connected by boardwalks that were nothing more than an amusement park for visiting cruise ship passengers. A visitor center volunteer told us in one day they could be flooded with over 10,000 tourists looking to get the “true Alaska experience”. Their thirst was quenched by the dozens of shops offering beaver skin hats, gold nuggets and authentic Alaska tourist gear. Walking through the town reminded us of many foreign cities where shop hosts do anything they can to get you to visit their shop.

We continued out of town, back to our camper we had left halfway up the road. The drives from the Alaska Highway into Skagway and Haines take between 3-4 hours, so we usually found a spot to camp somewhere at the top. And the campsites were quite easy to find. British Columbia has free government campgrounds along the way and the Yukon has $12/night sites that offer free fire wood. Our expenses were continuing to be much mellower than I expected.

As we headed out of Haines and back to the Alaska Highway, we drove along the northern border of the Canadian Kluane National Park and shortly after the US Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. The views were incredible as massive mountains hovered to our south with rivers of ice hanging off of them. Wrangell-St. Elias contains nine of the sixteen tallest mountains in the United States, with the tallest (Mt. St. Elias) measuring just over 18,000 feet. It was an easy distraction for the long distances of travel, until we experienced true arctic frost heaves.

The twenty remaining miles as we crossed out of the Yukon and back into the US were some of the roughest roads we had ever experienced. At times, we couldn’t go over 20 mph because the heaves would first swallow our car and camper until we emerged out of the other side like a bike over a ramp. These were some seriously bad roads! It continued as we crossed into the US and felt like there was a standoff to see who could have the worst roads going into the other country. They were brutal, and we actually got excited when we saw gravel stretches of the highway because it usually meant smoother roads – even if it meant 30 miles of gravel, or under construction, roads.

It didn’t matter though because we officially made it into the Alaskan mainland. All of the fear and anxiety before to the trip was worth it because it encouraged us to be prepared – both from a supplies standpoint and a mental capacity to endure the long stretches of highway. We saw many vehicles with spare tires and extra gas cans strapped all over, but we were lucky enough to get through without needing either.

We’re glad we made the drive and I jokingly told Jocelyn we could drive it next time in a Prius. Okay, that’s probably a little too far as the frost heaves could swallow one, but the drive was pretty doable with sufficient service stations, decent enough roads and the safari-like experience.


From the beginning, March was lining up to expensive as we traveled California and experienced its high-priced gas, food and camping, but we were prepared to deal with it as we explored the amazing state with the most National Parks (9). Then what do you know, I just finished our expense report, and it’s the cheapest we’ve had while fully on the road! Not only that, but the sites are some of the best we’ve visited. Let’s get into it.

Total March Cost: $2,977
Total days in the camper: 31
Total days out of camper: 0
Cost per day: $96
States Visited: California
Total Miles: 3,140

Summary

March was all about California, and for once, it wasn’t about the unexpected expenses that shot up our previous monthly totals. Our per day spending of only $96 was the second lowest month since January, but the lowest month while fully on the road. We’ve experienced four national parks so far, along with some other California dreamin’ locations. Overall, we’re really happy with our costs and hope to continue the momentum through Oregon and Washington!

Spending Details

The Good

We started our California journey the first week of March in Joshua Tree National Park. It’s one of those places I’ve heard about, but usually only from TV shows or movies where people go to eat mushrooms and “find” themselves. I can see why. It’s pretty trippy coming from the Los Angeles landscape of concrete and metal to one of the desert, with Joshua trees throwing their limbs in crazy directions and large boulders thrown around in piles like a giant little kid left them. It wasn’t as astonishing for us since we’d spent the previous two months in the desert and seen some similar sites, but it was still cool. Our favorite part was probably our neighbors who we ended up sharing our separate sites with. They had two kids, four and six who loved Lucy and loved playing. It was fun hanging out and sharing stories over s’mores.

After Joshua Tree, it was on to Death Valley National Park. It was only $1/day more than Joshua Tree, but still very cheap at only $16/day. Death Valley was like nothing I previously imagined – which my simple imagination had pictured only two small mountains with a sandy valley running through the middle.. and some rusted, broke down cars. Instead, the vastness of the landscape was hard to even take in as everything seemed larger than life. The weather was beautiful with highs in the 60’s-70’s, so we didn’t get the full desolate desert feeling the park presents in the summer.

We did get some major winds though, with dust blowing through the air and gusts over 70 mph refinishing our windshield. It happened while we were driving out to “Racetrack”, which is one of those places I always thought would be neat to see, but never knew where it was. Turns out, it’s in Death Valley! It’s a nasty 27 mile one way drive over sharp rocks that sometimes pile together to make it feel like a gravel road. It took over 2 hours, but the damage to the 4Runner will last much longer, mostly because the wind gust that showered the windshield with rocks that left many tiny pits! The Racetrack was really neat, with rocks seemingly sliding across the desert floors over years, leaving a small path behind them. Scientists figured out why a couple of years ago, but it’s more fun to imagine they are pet rocks who have been set free, as my brother hilariously commented.

We also met some cool people in Death Valley; maybe the person I want to be when I grow up! Steve owns a 1957 Airstream which he meticulously renovated over three years while providing hospice care for his wife who had early onset dementia and has now passed on. Okay, that parts really sad, but you needed to hear it to fully appreciate Steve. His new partner, Julia,  was a nurse her entire life before her husband passed, and she also helped with end of life patients and said she thought it was an absolute privilege to provide the final company and care for someone as they passed. So yes, they’re both saints. Steve and his previous wife also lived on a sailboat traveling the world for seven years, and before that, he was a pilot. He’s like Sir Richard Branson, but not as rich monetarily.

Steve and Julia told us about their favorite spot in California which we had to visit, Alabama Hills, just outside of Lone Pine. We decided to visit and it just happened they were there at the same time, so they made us enchiladas (Steve hand makes his own tortillas and bread, as you’d expect). Alabama Hills ranks as one of our favorite free camping site as it sits at the base of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental US, and provides a stunning vista. If you’ve ever watched a western movie made before the 1970’s, it was probably filmed here as the location has doubled for sets in Texas, Nevada, Wyoming and even India and Pakistan! It’s beautiful and one we’ll always remember thanks to Steve and Julia.

After Alabama Hills, it was on to more National Parks, Sequoia and King’s Canyon. They’re right next to each other, so it’s appropriate to talk about them together. We weren’t as lucky with the weather as we were in Death Valley because it’s pretty early in the season and much of the parks are still covered in snow. In fact, most of King’s Canyon is closed until the end of April because of mud slides and ice on the road. We still experienced some beautiful hikes and got to see the thickest tree in the world (General Grant) and the largest tree by volume in the world (General Sherman). I love trees so it was amazing to walk through the Sequoia groves and think about how they’ve see the world change the last millenniums.

After the parks, we headed to the coast to get some warmer temperatures and beach time… but I’ve gone on long enough, so I’ll cover that below.

We kept our spending low thanks to lower mileage, longer stays and we controlled food expenses really well. Like I mentioned earlier, it was nice to finally have a month where we didn’t have an unexpected large expense.

The Bad

As we headed across California to the coast, we got excited to finally get some beach time and warmer weather, rather than the lower 60’s for highs and lower 40’s for lows we’ve experienced most of the trip. We packed a lot of summer clothes but hadn’t really used any yet!

We started in a small county park outside of Los Olivos, which was apparently the town “Sideways” was filmed. It was a rugged drive up into the mountains, but gave us some nice scenic views with wildflowers. However, it also gave us our first exposure to Calitrash, as I non-political correctly call them. We were woken up a 4:30am by a young man screaming at the girl who he was with, while she switched between yelling back and trying to get him to calm down. He continued until about 5:30am when she left, and then proceeded to yell at a national forest worker trying to collect payment the next morning. Luckily, he left later that day but we were still on edge the next night.

We hiked around the area and enjoyed the views of the central valley. The next few days I realized I took a little something home with me (in addition to the tick that bit me on the neck and left a nasty mark during the day)… poison oak. It was probably from a combination of Lucy running through it along with me brushing into it, but I probably compounded the issue while pulling numerous ticks off of Lucy as we we were hiking. I got it on my arms, legs and feet and it lasted over the next week. Yuck.

After the mountains, we stopped in Los Olivos for a delicious tri trip sandwich, before heading to Hobson Country Park on the beach which gave us quick access to Santa Barbara. As we pulled in, we identified more Calitrash and tried to get a spot away from them. They were three surfer dudes who were bleached out by the sun and burned out by the drugs. We were still too close as they kept us awake all night burning their piles of construction wood they probably stole from a wood shop… pieces of plywood, 2×4’s, etc. Luckily, they left… and then we got a new neighbor… a young couple whose quietness in the evening gave way to drinking all night, playing music and then getting sick outside their tent (in our view) the next morning. It was pretty amazing.

It wasn’t all bad though, as we enjoyed Santa Barbara, Ojai, San Simion and some other sites up the coast. We toured the Hearst Castle which was pretty amazing, but we weren’t able to go much farther up Highway 1 because of major washouts, including a bridge that had to be torn down. We’ll save that for next time.

The Ugly

Maybe I should factor in some additional expenses into the March report, as we suffered a heartbreaking accident. We try to keep our driving under four hours per day because it gets pretty exhausting pulling the camper. As we left the coast, we had the option to split the drive to Yosemite into two days, or drive hard and do it in one. The light at the end of the tunnel (Yosemite) shined so brightly that we went for it.

It was a lot of driving through some tough conditions as the area has experienced some major landslides, but we made it through. It wasn’t until the next morning that we realized at what price… I woke up and went outside to discover a major gash down the side of our precious Penny Lane. We’ll probably have to get the whole panel replaced along with some work on the door, but luckily it’s still functional. I guess some damage can be expected when driving a camper 30k+ miles in one year in some major rugged terrain, but I sure hoped it wasn’t.

Just so I don’t leave this report with so much negativity, I did want to share some wins. We pulled into Yosemite without any reservations (not advised) and scored a spot for six nights! The reservation system opens up five months in advance with most spots reserved out within a few minutes, so we got incredibly lucky to get our spot. The weather was also beautiful… but I’ll save that for next time. Let’s see if we can keep the spending low, keep finding amazingly beautiful sites and also limit any further damage to Penny Lane!

Hiking through Sequoia National Park where you can see the big trees everywhere. The picture of Jocelyn on the top isn’t even a named tree!


We were treated to some fantastic sunsets in Death Valley. The bottom left picture is “Racetrack” where rocks slide across the desert floor. Bottom right is the Saltwater Basin in Death Valley, but gives you a view of the vastness of the area.


To the coast! The top picture is from one of our favorite beach campgrounds, Jalama Beach. The bottom right is from Hobson County beach, where we met most of our Calitrash.


Various shots from King Canyon National Park – that’s Jocelyn in a tree! The bottom right picture shows how much snow still remained in Sequoia National Park… piled up very dangerously on this bridge.


The Alabama Hills on the eastern side of the Sierras and one of our favorite campgrounds! It’s BLM land so it’s free, and the sites are unbelievable.


Joshua Tree National Park, with some of Jocelyn’s finer pictures. Bottom right you can see me standing with one of our neighbors, four year old Lucy (and our dog, Lucy!).


More incredible pics from Death Valley. We didn’t see full super blooms as we always seemed to be a few weeks ahead of them, but we still saw some beautiful flowers.

Just when we nearly gave up hope on making it to Alaska because we’re spending too much, we met our $100/day goal in January! It was thanks to family who let us stick around longer than originally planned and let us “mooch-dock”, but as you’ll see below, they got a new bathroom out of it! January was a relaxing month with minimal exploring but lots of great family time, but we’re now headed west!

Total December Cost: $2,261
Total days in the camper: 7
Total days out of camper: 24
Cost per day: $73
States Visited: Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana
Total Miles: 2,152

Summary

We kept our January expenses down by staying close to home, or in my case, at my parents’ house! We planned to spend a few weeks in Oklahoma anyway, but we added another week to help them remodel and to cut down our costs. We’ve been spending way too much dang money and even though the stock market keeps going up and offsetting our extra spending, we can’t count on it forever. Here’s the breakdown:

january-spending-report

The Good

When you get a month under $100, there’s lots of good… when you get all the way down to $73/day, it’s even better! I can almost guarantee this will be our lowest monthly spending and when we account for our rental income, we won’t have to dip into our savings much at all to cover January.

The only reason we kept our spending so low is because we stayed with family for over three weeks. We didn’t plan to, but when we talked my parents into renovating their bathroom, we had to stick around to finish the job! I figured it would take 7-10 days, but it took two weeks thanks to some major plumbing work and lots of tiling. In return for our labor, my parents wouldn’t let us spend any money, so it really paid off! Here’s the final outcome, and I’ll add some more renovation pictures below:

Here's the mostly completed renovation! Jocelyn and my mom did the designing which turned out great.

Here’s the mostly completed renovation! Jocelyn and my mom did the designing which turned out great.

We also spent time with Jocelyn’s family around Oklahoma and they took care of us. I think everyone was afraid that if we spent too much money before our house lease was up in August, we might move back in with them later!

We made it back on the road for the last week in January and drove all the way down to Big Bend National Park in Texas. It’s the perfect time to visit because we avoided the 115 degree summers and instead enjoy 70 degree days and chilly desert nights. Bend National Park only costs $14/day in the campsites and $12 total for a back country permit that’s good for two weeks! We won’t stay that long, but we will get four cheap days out of it.

The Bad

As we head west, gas prices are already increasing. It’s still around $2/gallon in most of Texas, but we paid $2.75/gallon for one fill-up in Big Bend since it’s so remote. We talked to another camper who visited Canada and Alaska last summer and he said to expect a 75% budget increase for food and gas. Yikes! We’ll have to keep managing our budget closely the next few months by minimizing our miles, food costs and maximizing our cheap campground stays. It should be pretty easy through New Mexico and Arizona as they’re full of free Bureau of Land Management sites, but as we arrive in California by mid-March, we don’t expect to find the same.

The Ugly

Even with all of the support of family, our spending still felt higher than what it could’ve been. A big part of it is the regular bills which continue to stay quite high, but at this point, we’ll just have to adjust our monthly budget accordingly. I use the category as a catch all, but when you have things like cell phone bills, health insurance and other insurances, the total jumps up pretty quickly.

As if it wasn’t obvious enough, we’re excited to get back on the road and finally explore the west. Our last week in Big Bend has been everything we’ve hoped for – long hikes in beautiful desert landscapes, temperatures in the 70s, incredible night skies and cheaper accommodations. We even had an impromptu Airstream rally in Big Bend when 8 Airstreams just happened to park next to each other! Penny Lane was the oldest as the rest were all post-2005, so we had fun showing it off and dreaming over the newer and much more expensive Airstreams. Actually, I didn’t dream over it at all, I love the vintage look :).

I’ll probably write a dedicated Big Bend post with some of Jocelyn’s great pics, but here are a few I took:

A view of Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park, Texas

A view of Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park is full of beautiful desert landscapes.

Big Bend National Park is full of beautiful desert landscapes.

 

We had to fully gut the bathroom! It took a lot of work from my dad and I, but with help from my mom and Jocelyn, we knocked it out!

We had to fully gut the bathroom! It took a lot of work from my dad and I, but with help from my mom and Jocelyn, we knocked it out!

As the time ticks down in 2016, we find ourselves saying goodbye to the east coast. It was the beginning of our great American road trip full of unknowns but with an ambitious schedule of visiting every state on the east coast in a little over 2.5 months. It was complicated by a break down and a sick dog, but it was rewarded with visits to places we’d never been, time spent with friends who had grown distant and surprises of the great outdoors offered on the east coast.

After D.C., we headed through Shenandoah National Park to Kentucky and Oklahoma for Thanksgiving, and then headed back east through Nashville, the Great Smokies, Charleston, Savannah, Grayton Beach in Florida and then back through New Orleans and Dallas to spend some quality time with friends. We’ll spend some time in Oklahoma and Texas before continuing our journey west. If you follow my Facebook page, you saw most of the highlights through pictures, so I’ll leave it there until the December spending report where I’ll add some more on the trip. Instead, I want to do some self-analysis.

The most common question we got when traveling the world in 2013 is the same question we most commonly receive now: What’s your favorite place? It’s a generous question because it allows us to feel like we’re an expert handing out advice. When you quit your job and question what your purpose has become, it offers some purpose – that we’re out exploring and bringing back our findings to friends and family. It also forces us to focus on our travels and really think about what we’ve enjoyed most.

Just like when answering the question in 2013 after the around the world trip, my answer usually starts with “it depends on what you’re looking for” and includes multiple answers. Maybe it’s because I don’t like giving my “favorite place” as an absolute answer – just like when I watch a great movie and will put it in my “top 5” – or it might be just because there are so many cools places out there! By the way, the world trip favorites usually include Nepal, Turkey and Iceland… but New Zealand, Croatia, Israel and Jordan were also amazing… along with other places too of course!

With all that being said, I do have some answers for our current trip. The Adirondacks were beautiful, the White Mountains in New Hampshire were very surprising because I hadn’t really heard of them before, and Washington, D.C. was incredible! It was so gratifying to visit our friends in various cities and see how they live and we also met some nice people along the way.

The second most frequent question is some combination of “have you found yourself” or “do you know what you want to do next”? The second question is usually from people who know I quit my job in the corporate world to possibly pursue some entrepreneurial stuff. Well, I haven’t found that thing I’d be able to throw all my time and passion behind yet, but the things I love doing and don’t love doing have definitely been reinforced. It’s tough sometimes because you think this magical idea will just appear, but often they don’t. I gained some good insight when talking to my entrepreneur friend on finding opportunities and he put it this way:

People think of ideas/opportunities as “bubbles” that float in the air and can be captured by simply grabbing the right one. But in reality, you should look for people instead of these magical bubbles because all ideas and opportunities are tied to people. You have to network and find the right people that will lead to the next opportunity.

He ended it by saying you don’t find your passion, you grow your passion. I appreciated his encouragement and his insistence to stay patient.

The final question we sometimes get is “has this changed your perspective on life”. Honestly, I didn’t expect much perspective change in this trip because we wouldn’t be exposed to as much cultural change like the world trip, but Jocelyn pointed out a great one.

This trip has pushed us out of our normal social circles and forced us to see other ways of living. We both had great jobs in Dallas and most of our friends did as well. We weren’t exposed to much poverty, only through stories on television or homeless people asking for spare change on the side of the road, both of which were easy to avoid. We weren’t arrogant or willfully ignorant of these issues, we were just isolated.

However, when traveling in a camper, you can’t avoid it. We first noticed it with a potential campsite in NYC which was pretty far from city and didn’t have showers. Jocelyn researched online how to shower in NYC, and the most readily information came from homeless people who gave tips on which bathrooms you could use to give yourself a sponge bath – as long as you were discrete and cleaned up after yourself, some stores wouldn’t notice. We found a closer campsite with showers, so in the end we didn’t have to worry about it.

We noticed it again in Washington, D.C. when we saw people living out of their cars at the campsite. There’s is an automatic distrust our society has developed in people living in these conditions – they must be dangerous if they’re homeless and living out of their car, so we usually avoided them.

It continued when we were staying in a state park outside of New Orleans and there were people leaving in the campsite – even though you weren’t supposed to be there longer than two weeks. The first night we were there, our towels were stolen from the dryer in the group laundry, and automatically our minds went to charging the long term guests as the thieves. The next day Jocelyn was talking to one of the suspects in the same laundry room when the older lady answered Jocelyn’s question of “How long are you staying” by explaining how sometimes people get down on their luck and don’t have many options. She was staying in a small camper with her two 40+ year old sons as they were trying to figure out how they were going to make their life stable again.

We never figured out who stole our towels, but they remained the main suspects, mostly due to the distrust they automatically received by the position they were in. There’s no way it could’ve been the nice older couple in the expensive Airstream, right?

We’re very lucky to be able to take time off and travel the U.S. We’re lucky to have money saved up and invested that we can live off of while we travel. We’re lucky to be able to afford an expensive car repair bill or medical bill that could easily send others into the same state as some of the people we’ve met along the way. Once you start moving down these downward spirals, it can be very hard to get out and soon you could be facing the same kind of assumptions of your character based on your financial position. It’s definitely provided perspective.

After the holidays, we’ll head west as our road trip continues. I’ll update you as we find more answers… and of course, ask me if you have more questions!

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