Today marks the one year anniversary of our epic road trip across the United States. We gave up our apartment in Durham, NC, put our stuff in storage, and on June 3rd, 2017, we hit the road in our 2004 Jeep Liberty. The plan was to travel for a year, explore the country and find a new place to call home. It is hard to believe the year is up already. It has been an incredible adventure! We started the trip in beautiful Smoky Mountains National Park in our home state of North Carolina, made our way up the east coast to Maine, then headed west for the summer. We spent autumn exploring Washington, Oregon, and California. For the last six months, we have been in New Mexico enjoying its amazing state parks and beginning to make plans to settle here.
We have driven a whopping 23,727 miles and driven through or visited 26 different states. We like some states more than others of course, but we experienced something positive in every place we visited. I was surprised to fall in love with New Hampshire when we camped there in mid-June. It was one of those places that were just never really on my radar but it was surprisingly beautiful and ended up being a wonderful experience. We were thrilled to finally make it to Washington and Oregon for the first time and to see so much more of California.
We have had the opportunity to visit many national parks and monuments for the first time and revisit some old favorites. We had a chance to see both the Giant Redwoods and the Giant Sequoias in California, and to kayak in the astonishing turquoise water at North Cascades National Park in Washington just to name a few. Crater Lake was a breathtaking sight as was Acadia National Park in Maine. We made return visits to Rocky Mountain National Park and Yellowstone ( the first 2 parks we visited together back in 2014), Yosemite and to Francis’s favorite, Glacier National Park. We saw bison, bear, elk, moose, and many other wild creatures along the way. Nothing makes Francis happier than wildlife sightings.
We have camped in countless forests, campgrounds, and state parks. We have also stayed in some lovely Airbnbs and hotels and some not so lovely cheap motels. We have spent the night in casino parking lots, rest stops, and by the side of the road a few times. Some of our temporary “homes” have been more enjoyable than others but they were all part of the adventure so I would not trade any of them. Well, except maybe that one in California where the shower looked like something out of a horror movie!
We celebrated our first wedding anniversary on August 19th on a mountain in Wyoming right outside Jackson Hole. We grilled a delicious dinner and enjoyed the sunset at our lovely private campsite. Since camping is something we fell in love with together, it was the perfect way for us to celebrate our first year of marriage. Two days later, we got to experience the totality of the solar eclipse on that same mountain. What an amazing experience!
We have enjoyed so many local coffee shops and public libraries throughout our journey as we combined work with our travels and needed wifi and access to a printer or scanner. Coffee shops are great places to meet people and learn more about the area. Some of the best places we have visited came from suggestions we got from folks we encountered over coffee. I have been so impressed with the quality of the public libraries we have visited. Some have been large and very modern ( Santa Fe’s comes to mind) while others have been quite small and basic but they all offer vital services to their community. We were surprised and a bit saddened to see used needle receptacles in the restrooms in a library in Washington but they were there to address a serious problem and help keep people safe. This trip has really reminded me what an incredible resource these libraries truly are.
We have eaten some great food along the way from lobster and seafood chowder in Maine, to authentic Korean food in San Francisco, and green chile burgers and amazing breakfast burritos in New Mexico. We have also eaten more gas station and fast food value menu offerings then I care to admit on long travel days. Turns out you can get a pretty good fish taco meal including a side, drink, and dessert for 5 bucks at Long John Silvers. Who knew? With our portable grill, propane stove, and ARB freezer, we have definitely been able to eat very well while camping.
We have met so many amazing people and made some great new friends along the way. I would need an entire post to mention all of the many people from camp hosts and Airbnb hosts to fellow travelers and lots of random strangers who added something special to our journey so I will just mention a few. Herb and Diann invited us to Christmas brunch at Pancho Villa campground in Columbus, NM along with Mike and Ann, a lovely couple from Maine. We enjoyed so many great conversations with Ron and Dede, our camp neighbors at Cabello State Park. Joy, our friend from Alaska, scoped out campgrounds for us and shared so many fascinating stories with us. We met the wonderful Stauder family at Cabello State Park and shared numerous meals, evenings around the campfire, and a day of kayaking with them as we traveled around New Mexico together. We have been blessed to have been the recipients of a wealth of genuine human kindness in every place we have visited. Thank goodness for today’s technology which gives us the ability to stay in touch from long distances.
A couple of months ago, the adventure took a bit of an unexpected turn. The Jeep was getting a little small for our needs especially on the windy late winter/early spring days in New Mexico. We needed better shelter from the elements, a way to cook inside, and a more comfortable place to work. We had started looking for homes in some of the areas we liked but had not found what we were looking for. That was an adventure in itself which I will save for another post! We started looking for a camper that would suit our needs and budget. We prayed about it and before we knew it, we were the proud owners of a 1988 Winnebago. We were driving back to our campground from a grocery shopping trip, and we saw the RV for sale near our campground. The couple sold it to us at a great price. For us, it feels like a mansion after living in the Jeep for most of the trip. I really knew things had changed the first time we sat on the couch to watch a movie on our TV with a bowl of microwave popcorn. We certainly never did that in our Jeep!
Our upgraded living arrangement came at the perfect time because shortly after we got the RV, Francis was offered a full-time job with a company he had been doing contract work with, and I got a job teaching online classes. Our life on the road is very different now from how it started. We are not so fancy-free, and we can not venture far from civilization. We have to stick to a more regular schedule and save traveling for the weekends. Fortunately, New Mexico has an amazing state park system, so every two weeks we move to a new campground. With our yearly pass, we can get a site with water and electric hookup for only $4 a day. That lets us continue to enjoy visiting new places while still meeting our work obligations. When work is done for the day, we explore the campground, surrounding area, and nearby towns. We have no commute, don’t have to dress up for work, and we still get to spend the day together while earning a living. Not a bad deal!
As I looked through our photos to put together a picture gallery for this post, even I was amazed to see all the beautiful places we have been and experiences we have had over the course of our year on the road. Of course, nothing is perfect and there have been challenges along the way. We have had days where it was very late before we found a “home” for the night, days and nights where the weather was not ideal, times when the Jeep felt way too small, or car repairs put us over our budget, and times when we went too many days between showers. The funny thing is that those challenges are part of the fun and they make the many many wonderful days even sweeter. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Due to the number of pictures with this blog post, we had to separate the pictures into 5 different galleries. Click the links below to view the individual galleries.