I was talking with two fellow solo women full-timers recently and the conversation turned to how we all got started RVing, and one of the gals brought up a point that really stuck with me.
She said she had been struggling with downsizing out of her house, and how overwhelmed she was feeling at the thought of having to sell all of her possessions. So she asked for advice on a Facebook group she was in. Her spirits were bolstered by all the positive responses she received but one stood out above the others. That man’s recommendation was just to sell the big ticket items, and then give away everything else in whatever way was easiest for her, she could always make more money later in other ways.
She said she felt freed by this advice, which goes against the conventional wisdom of recouping every dime you can while transitioning to full-timing. It took away a lot of the stress of moving into her RV and just made the experience so much more positive, not having to worry about how to sell every little thing she had.
It’s okay if you’re stationary part or all of the year
It’s okay to full-time in whatever type of rig works best for you
It’s okay to switch rigs at anytime
It’s okay to travel alone
It’s okay to travel with family
It’s okay to travel with pets
It’s okay to travel with friends
It’s okay if you’re not rich
It’s okay if you are rich
It’s okay to commit to RVing for a certain period of time
It’s okay to keep a storage locker
It’s okay to like to keep to yourself
It’s okay to be a social butterfly
It’s okay to have a home port
It’s okay if you think RV parks are best
It’s okay if you think boondocking is best
It’s okay if you carry superfluous items in your RV
It’s okay to decide you need to get off the road for a while
It’s okay to travel slow
It’s okay to travel fast
It’s okay to have a simple camp
It’s okay to be a glamper
You get the point. What’s not okay is when your decisions on how to live your life negatively impact other people. You love music? Great! Listen to it at your campsite. But respect that your neighbors don’t want to be hearing it at midnight when they’re trying to sleep. You have dogs? Great! They’ll probably love camping with you. But respect that not everyone loves dogs and don’t let them roam off-leash in populated areas.
In general, RVers are some of the kindest, most helpful, most accepting people I’ve ever met. I feel that most who choose this lifestyle hold a similar philosophy of live and let live. But sometimes, especially online where that screen offers a sense of anonymity, I see cases of people pushing their own opinions about full-timing onto others. And that’s not okay.
Live your best RVing life. Be kind to yourself and do what works for you. And be considerate and let others do what works for them. We’re all human, after all.
Last travelogue left off with me arriving back in Fresno, CA by plane after a two week family road trip by car. After picking truck and trailer back up, I spent a night in a Walmart parking lot nearby, then set my sights north to Oregon.
It might seem strange to head back up to Oregon and Washington with the Casita having just gotten back from there with my family. I’d looked into traveling alongside my family with truck and trailer, but that would have been more work than I wanted on vacation. I also looked into taking Bertha and Cas up to Portland before the trip and storing them there, then flying to Fresno to meet my family and ending the trip back at my rig, but that would have meant missing the Grand Canyon.
So in the end, I made the trip north through California twice in one season. By default, my brain first thought of this as a waste of time, likely due to societal programming that places so much value on speed and efficiency. But, when your life is one long trip, speed and efficiency become much less important. It’s only a waste of time if you let it be a waste of time. Instead, I took a different route, saw different things, made a more leisurely trip of it, and all together had a nice few weeks.
June 9 – 16
From Fresno, I first took 99 up to the bay area and stayed at Delta Bay park in Isleton, CA, which is owned by a friend of mine. It’s a pretty place located right on the Delta Loop with all the amenities of a modern RV park, if you need a place to stay in that area I highly recommend it.
I mostly spent this week catching up on work and sleep after the two-week vacation, but I enjoyed the big shade trees, friendly atmosphere, and walks along the levee while here.
I left Delta Bay on the 16th and did two big driving days to make it to Oregon. On the night of the 16th I stayed overnight at a surprisingly scenic Walmart just outside of Yreka, CA where I enjoyed this view. Not the typical Walmart view for sure!
June 17 and 18
Oregon! I’ve been talking on the blog for years about my dreams of visiting the Pacific Northwest with my RV, it’s just so far out of the way from most places in the US that it’s taken longer than I originally anticipated to get out here. Boy, was it worth the wait though. On the morning of the 17th I continued up I5 to Medford, OR, where I left the interstate behind (phew) and took 62 and then 230 north into Umpqua National Forest, then 138 west towards Clearwater.
When I think Oregon I think evergreen forests, and there’s certainly plenty of that up here. What I wasn’t expecting was how different the forest can be. As I drive along 62 the national forest quickly becomes plentiful with thick and towering fir and pine trees, this is what I was expecting.
But up near Mt Bailey and Mt Thielson on 138, the trees remind me more of the scraggly lodgepole pine in Yellowstone, although I imagine these aren’t lodgepole exactly. The peaks still have some snow and the temperature is cooler up here, and snow accumulates in the winter.
My destination is Clearwater No 2 Viewpoint, a little camping area of five sites made possible by Pacific Power and Light Company, who own this little hydroelectric operation. When I arrive two of the spots are taken, but one of the three that is available is my top choice, open on one side to afternoon sun so that I’ll be able to charge my Casita’s battery. One of the big challenges I’ll be dealing with up here in the Pacific Northwest is solar charging, but I’m going to see if it’s possible to camp up here without a generator.
The little reservoir the campsites are situated along apparently has good fishing, a couple families are fishing when I arrive and on other days during my stay I see people out here on occasion, but overall it’s remote and quiet. The campground is on the side of a hill up a gravel road, and some interesting topography means I get full bars of Verizon LTE up here, even when most of 138 has no signal at all. There are a lot of power lines around, but they’re all on the other side of the water and not directly over the camp sites which is good, because the lines hum and are quite noisy.
Yep, that’s Cas and Bertha across the way
This spot quickly becomes a favorite of mine. Almost every evening I take a walk around the pond and enjoy the plentiful birdcalls. It’s also the season of wildflowers, and several kinds are blooming near the water.
At the end of the reservoir, you get a great view and it becomes obvious this place is located on the side of a hill.
On other days I explore further down the forest roads near the campground. The mosquitoes aren’t so bad at camp, with the wind blowing over the water keeping them away. But in the forest they’re thick which encourages fast walking. One route I do enjoy and take multiple times is the one along the canal that feeds into the reservoir, there are a couple spots along it where the trees thin and you can see out over the forest.
The two occupied spots on the other end of the pond, with the outhouse for day visitors beyond it
June 18 – 20
Have you gotten tired of me talking about clouds and how much I love gazing up at the sky? I hope not, because these three days were full of sky gazing. Sitting outside and watching the clouds is one of those things I never had time for in my old life, and something I’ve really immensely enjoyed since hitting the road.
But it’s funny, the time for seemingly trivial pursuits such as this still doesn’t happen automatically when one becomes a nomad. We all still have only 24 hours in a day whether we’re living in an RV or not, and if you’re not careful, that time can still become consumed with busywork just as it did when you lived in a house.
The best solution I’ve found is to learn to prioritize differently. Lean to see your seemingly meaningless hobby such as sky gazing through a different lens.
I’ve come to value the time I spend sitting outside in my comfy chair watching the clouds, because it gives me the opportunity to clear my head from the hustle and bustle of every day life and reflect upon where I am and where I’m going. When viewed in this light, taking time out of my sometimes busy schedule for intentional stillness and contemplation stops being trivial, it’s actually quite important.
Fun fact, the third-tallest waterfall in Oregon is located less than ten minutes from this boondock, today I go check it out. The hike to Watson Falls is short but moderately difficult with some elevation gain and uneven footing. The trail follows the stream up, so you get small rapids views and lovely water sounds the whole way up.
What I enjoy most about this falls is the flat rock face, and just how green everything is at the bottom. Definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area. Because the falls faces north, it’s pretty much always going to be shadowed and backlit by the sun, which can make for difficult photograph conditions, but I feel I did pretty good. I sit up at the top until there’s a lull between groups of people, then get my photos.
June 27 – July 4
On the 27th I left Umpqua NF, and headed into Corvallis to meet up with RV friend and fellow Xscaper Joni, who was housesitting at her friend’s place. I moochdocked in her friends’ driveway until the 2nd, splitting work time on the computer with short day trips to see downtown and visit the incredible weekend market in Eugene. It was a much different experience from spending a week alone in the middle of the forest, but still very enjoyable in a different way.
On July 2nd, her friends got back and Joni and I decided to hit the road together, but first, to find a quiet place to spend the 4th of July. We ended up on the undeveloped property of another friend of hers out in the country. The “road” out there is, uh, interesting, but Bertha and Cas made it and I was rewarded for my efforts with a private boondocking spot among tall grasses next to a beautiful oak forest on a creek. On the night of the 4th, Joni and I, along with the property owner and three other people, have a campfire in the woods complete with deep conversation. A perfect way to spend a holiday!
The companion travelogue video to this post can be found here.
First off: Yes, I am still getting the teardrop and I can’t wait to have it! But, as I’ve been saying since the original announcement, it won’t be ready until this fall.
So in the meantime, I’m continuing to enjoy my Casita and today I have an answer to a question I get asked often: what is it really like to live in one? Having lived in mine since April of 2012, and having traveled in it full-time since September of 2012, I’d say I’m pretty well qualified to answer this question. But as with all things RVing, what’s true for me is not true for everyone, so if you’re in the throes of deciding which RV will be best for you, I suggest doingsomefurtherreading.
Truthfully, it feels strange to write about this at all, because for me living in a Casita is just so easy.
Being of the mindset that less is more, I have no problems with storage space in Cas, everything I own fits between him and my truck quite readily, aside from a few things that don’t travel well (like a painting my grandpa made) that I store at my parent’s house.
In fact I’ve never lacked for space at all when traveling solo, even living space. I make a point these days to follow the good weather, so I use my outdoor living space at the places I camp to good advantage, and even on days without hiking adventures I usually take a walk to avoid that antsy feeling that can crop up from being sedentary too long. In the places I camp, prolonged rain just isn’t a thing.
I lived in Cas on two separate occasions with my best friend (four months that first summer I owned him, and again late 2014 and early 2015 for an epic road trip), and that did get hard for me as a Casita is basically one big room with no privacy. You’d have to be very close to anyone you traveled with to make it work long-term – most people who full-time in Casitas and other small trailers of that size are singles. Not to say that it can’t be done as a couple, it just requires a very close and understanding relationship.
What about amenities?
The shower is a pain. It’s small and cramped, and the 6-gallon water heater is not enough for what I would consider a “real” shower with how thick my hair is. Plus, my Casita has the smaller fresh-water tank. So, I simply don’t use it. I stay in campgrounds and parks that have a shower I can use, and when I’m boondocking (which is most of the time right now) I use wet wipes and sponge-bathe to keep clean enough in between visits to town.
The toilet however, is great. It might gross you out a little to talk about this (get use to it, it’s a part of RVing), but on a Casita the black tank is directly below the toilet which is super handy, because then you always know how full it’s getting. No worrying about if those fancy tank sensors some RVs have are working properly (they so often don’t), and guessing how much time you have left before it’s time to go dump. One quick peek down the hole when flushing, and you know. It also makes it easy to check that when you dump, things are emptying properly.
The fridge is also great. The 17′ deluxe models come with a 4.6 cubic foot fridge, which is surprisingly large for a camper of this size. That size is great for full-time living and stocking up for long trips without access to a grocery store, but it can make it a pain to change the fridge if it dies in an older model, where the fridge is literally too big to fit out the door in one piece.
Let’s see, what else. My older Casita comes with an apartment window style A/C mounted in the front which is super effective in a space this size. The stove is adequate, two burners but really unless you’re using small pots and pans only one can be used at a time. The flip-out stove cover that was added after market offers a nice bit of extra counter space… not that I’m really a cook. I love how many windows the Casita has, it just makes the space feel so much bigger and more open.
Maintenance and upkeep. Casitas are pretty simple without a lot of bells and whistles, and there’s little maintenance that needs to be done to keep them in good shape which is a huge plus in my book as someone who doesn’t like playing handywoman. The fridge and A/C should be serviced occasionally, the anode rod in the water heater should be checked twice a year or so (maybe more depending on the water composition of the places you camp), the wheel bearings should be replaced every so many miles (differs depending on who you ask, I go with about 20,000 miles). Best of all – not having seams means there are fewer entry points for water to get in, and even a leak does develop around a window or rivet, there’s no wood in the ceiling or walls to rot. This is why they last so long.
Casitas are also easy to tow. They’re pretty lightweight, not very wide, and come with electric breaks. With a max weight of 3,500 lbs they’re towable by a wide variety of vehicles. (Always check your tow vehicle’s Owners Manual to see what it’s capable of towing!) The hardest part of my travel days is not the towing so much as the preparing to move and unpacking once I arrive at my next destination.
Overall, a positive experience
I really don’t know what else to say. Six years of living in my Casita and I’m still happy with the decision 28-year-old-me made. There’s no such thing as the perfect RV, but Casitas make good little homes for people who can handle their small size. I’ll be moving on to a teardrop later this year because I’m ready to explore other styles of travel, but I do not regret the time I’ve had in my Casita and I still recommend them and other molded fiberglass trailers as a solid choice for full-timers on a budget who want something small, simple, and easy.
Want to learn more about my Casita? Visit the About Page for more info and links to several Casita posts I’ve written over the years, as well as a video walkthrough of Cas.
Interested in purchasing Cas once I’ve switched to the teardrop? I’m waiting to put him up for sale until I hear from Hiker Trailer the date that my teardrop will be ready, it wouldn’t do for me to sell too early and be homeless! I can say that as I’ll be picking up my teardrop in Denver Colorado, that’s likely where I’ll be selling Cas from. I’ll make an announcement here and on my YT channel when it’s time, to give everyone a fair chance.
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To those of you in the US, happy 4th of July!
You probably haven’t noticed much of a change on your end, but IO has been moved to a higher quality, faster hosting company! For a while yesterday (Tuesday) evening readers were reporting security errors as I was moving the hosting over and getting security measures set up again, but now everything should be good, so if anyone is still seeing security messages, please let me know so I can look into it!
All the big images on this new site meant that my old budget hosting option wasn’t loading pages as fast and it was time for an upgrade. It’ll take me a while to get all the optimization work done, but I’m confident that this will lead to a faster and better experience for you once it’s all keyed in.
And on a related note, I’m aware that the form to subscribe to the IO e-mail list has been down for about two weeks, and I’m working to get it back up. There’s always gotta be something. Onward and upward!
This is part 4 of my two week, no RV, family road trip, travelogue. If you’ve missed any of the previous parts (part 1, part 2, part 3),you’ll want to read those first!
June 5, Tuesday
Yesterday was spent visiting relatives here in Oregon. But today my parents, brother, and I are up early to makes some miles, and mid-afternoon we check into our new hotel in Portland. Then we take a drive up the Columbia River.
It’s pretty, but doesn’t offer the ‘wow’ factor of some of our stops, likely another instance of wonder fatigue. If we’d seen it earlier in the trip we likely would have been more impressed. We cross into Washington then head east on 14. For much of the way trees block the view, but there are a few nice overlooks.
We have no specific destinations in mind, but stop when we feel like. One place we stop at is a fishing area with a good view of Bonneville dam. As the power lines in the below picture below suggests, it’s a hydroelectric dam. The combined rated capacity electrical output of the two power houses at Bonneville is 1.2 gigawatts. I’m not an electrical expert, but that sounds quite impressive to me!
We cross over the Dalles Bridge which does not have a toll, back to the Oregon side and take 84 west back to Portland. Along the way we stop at Bonneville Lock, and our timing is perfect. As we get out of the vehicle a volunteer informs us that a barge is currently coming through the lock, cool! There is no schedule for when ships come through, boat captains just inform the lock when they’re getting close.
The average lift for Bonneville lock is 60 feet, and it only takes 9 – 13 minutes to fill or empty, truly impressive to watch. There’s also a 60 foot fish ladder at Bonneville, and in June a person can expect to see Lamprey, American Shad, and Sockeye Salmon climbing the ladder.
Again we head north into Washington, this time continuing up I5 just past Castle Rock, then turning east onto 504. Today’s destination? Mt St. Helens.
There had been talk of seeing Mt Hood, but there’s still a lot of snow on the mountains this far north and we didn’t figure on being able to drive too far up them. But for Mt St. Helens, the visitor center is on a ridge to the north, viewing it from a distance. Before we even get that close though we find the Mt St. Helens Forest Learning center, managed by one of the local logging companies, that goes into how the Mt St. Helens area was reforested after the eruption. It’s a very educational and well-done place and worth a stop.
Trees were planted by hand in areas outside of the National Monument borders (which were left undisturbed for researchers and scientists to record how an area recovers naturally from such an event). Workers and volunteers had to dig holes below the ash level to plant the seedlings in actual dirt for the little trees to grow, it took years to complete the project and to this day there is still talk about if it was the right thing to do – the logging companies of course wanted to reforest their lands as soon as possible because their livelihoods depended on it.
There are several view points along 504 on the way up to the visitor center. The road starts west of the volcano, and ends up curving to the north of it, where the crater from the explosive 1980 eruption is most visible.
I’m sure older readers remember hearing about the eruption of Mt St. Helens in the news, but for younger people like me who might not know the full story, here are the basics:
At 8:32 am on May 18, 1980, an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale struck the region, causing a massive rock and ice avalanche on the north side of Mt St. Helens that plowed into Spirit Lake and continued down the Toutle river. The disturbance rapidly released pressurized gases that had built up in the volcano, resulting in a tremendous lateral explosion that swept out over the avalanche in a mighty gust of wind, carrying stone and debris before it and flattening or killing almost 150 square miles of forest.
Simultaneously a mushroom-shaped column of ash rose thousands of feet into the air and drifted downwind over eastern Washington and beyond, turning day into night. Wet, cement-like slurries of rock and mud scoured all sides of the volcano. Searing flows of pumice poured from the crater. The eruption lasted 9 hours.
Normally I can give or take the informational videos displayed at park visitor centers, but it’s hard not to be awed by the power of mother nature watching footage of the 1980 eruption and hearing first-hand accounts from survivors. Very potent stuff.
Today the volcano slumbers, the last eruption having occurred in 1986. Scars from the 1980 eruption still mar the landscape, but the vegetation is coming back as the land slowly heals itself. All in all, a very interesting and informative day.
The last day of vacation! Today is a more chill day, we drive up towards Mt St. Helens again, but this time turn off of I5 one road sooner, onto 503.
We’ve had amazing good luck with weather on this trip, a couple scattered sprinkles in Sequoia and Yosemite, and mostly sunny skies the rest of the time. Today though the sky is overcast and the clouds are low, we won’t be seeing much of the mountain. The two highlights of today are our lunch picnic spot beside a lake:
And our visit to Ape Cave. Ape Cave is a lava tube cave, similar to the one I toured in Mojave National Preserve earlier this year. Unlike the one at Mojave, there are no holes in the ceiling here for light to come though. But, the entrance to Ape Cave is very lush with moss growing on the rocks at the entrance, and it makes for a great photo.
Also near Ape Cave is a neat little walk on a boardwalk highlighting other volcanic rock features in the area. While Mt St. Helens tends towards volcanic ash and gas eruptions, it did in the past have a more traditional lava eruption, which is where all these features comes from. Along this trail are deep holes in the lava where it once flowed around the base of ancient trees. When the tree trunks rotted away, the holes remained, making the landscape quite eerie. There’s also a tiny tube on this trail that a person can crawl through, but given the wet and cooler conditions, I decided against it.
Thank you all for following along on my vacation, and I hope you enjoyed the stories and pictures! On the 8th, I flew out of the Portland airport back to Fresno, CA, where I picked up Cas and Bertha and started back on the road.
Going full-time RVing. It’s a scary goal, paved with a lot of hard work and uncertainty. Deciding what RV to buy (and then actually buying it), downsizing out of a house, getting the logistics of mail, banking, and insurance sorted, not to mention the question of how to earn a living on the road, it all takes a lot of effort. For many, it can be the hardest thing they’ve ever done in their life.
If you want to make it easier on yourself, learn to love the challenge.
Yes, it will be hard work. Yes, you will have to sacrifice in other areas of your life to make it happen. Yes, you won’t always know what you’re doing and Yes, things won’t always go according to plan.
But if you resist the process, if you want the reward without the effort, you only make it harder on yourself. Spending time thinking you need to get X done instead of actually sitting down and getting X done only drags the pain out.
A lot of people see being a full-time traveler as a growth experience, learning more about yourself and the world through the places you visit. This is true.
But you know what’s also true? The growth starts long before your first night in your RV. It starts when you decide you’re the kind of person who can achieve a hard goal. It starts the moment you make a commitment to yourself to make this dream happen.
That feeling of self-empowerment will carry you a ways into all the work that needs to happen to hit the road, but at some point it will likely falter. And when it does, there’s another opportunity for growth ahead of you.
Find a way to appreciate the process, to accept the hard work leading up to that magnificent first night on the road. Find a way to release that resistance, that fear that it won’t all go the way you expect.
Become the kind of person who enjoys the grind, who enjoys the challenge. We grow more through adversity than when everything is going right.
Not only will this help make your journey to full-time RVing easier, it’ll make every other big dream you strive for in life easier, as well.
This is part 3 of my two week, no RV, family road trip, travelogue. If you haven’t readpart 1andpart 2yet, you’ll want to do that first!
June 1, Friday
The drive from our hotel at Fort Bragg, CA to Redwood National and State Parks isn’t terribly long, and we get more pretty Pacific coast views along the way. Eventually, highway 1 ends and meets up with 101.
Not knowing where to start upon arrival, we take a short drive up Bald Hills Road and have lunch in the parking lot of the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trailhead. Then walk the trail. It’s 1.4 miles and relatively level, with a self-guided tour component. All in all a nice stroll.
My parents – smiling this time – and I, taken by my brother
Coast redwoods and giant sequoias are related, but they look quite different. These redwoods have bark that is more brown, and they aren’t quite as big around at the base, but grow much taller. In fact, the tallest living trees on Earth are coast redwoods. They also frequently grow in clusters as shown in the photo above – when the trunk of a mature redwood dies, little ones may sprout up from the same root system around the old trunk. Like the giant sequoias they live a long time (1,800 years or more), and are an endangered species: naturally occurring only along the coast of California (excluding southern CA) and the southwest corner of coastal Oregon.
After the short walk, we stop at the visitor center, and get some advice from the rangers about what to see. California and the National Park Service work together for the redwoods, and there are individual park units spread out over an area of northern California, but they’re managed together – some officially part of the national park, some state parks. Having a national park pass gets you into everything, including the state parks.
Per their directions, we drive north along 101 to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and take Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, a pretty two-lane road surrounded by mature redwoods. Off of this road is a tiny dirt track called Cal-Barrel Road (RVs and trailers not allowed), an old logging road that twists its way uphill. It’s one lane out-and-back, with pullouts on either side to pass and a turnaround at the end. Luckily traffic is very light today. Here the trees come right up the road and it’s impressive to drive through them. My dad has pointed out of both sequoias and redwoods that they seem to have no problem growing on steep hillsides.
After that, we stop to see the Big Tree. Not as tall as some of its kind, but quite wide at the base, and the sign next to it makes me smile.
Early in the morning we leave our hotel room in Crescent City to drive back south to the visitor center to get a permit for Tall Trees Grove.
The tallest tree in the park (and the world) is an unmarked specimen nearing 380 feet along Tall Trees Grove Trail, a 3.5-4 mile trail that switchbacks 800 feet down a steep hillside, runs a loop through the grove, and then you retrace your route back up. The access road to the parking lot is blocked by a gate, and you need a code from the visitor center to open it. Only 50 cars are allowed daily, permits are first-come-first-served.
My parents stay up at the car, while my brother and I take the trail in. The farther down we go, the more damp the air gets and the more mature redwoods there are. Alas, we don’t make it all the way down before needing to turn back, we agreed on a certain amount of time and don’t want to be late. So I probably didn’t see the tallest tree, but it was still a beautiful hike and nice to get some physical activity in.
We have lunch at High Bluff Overlook Picnic Area, off of 101 on Coastal Drive (labeled D7 in Google) near where the Klamath River empties into the sea. When we arrive the ocean is mired in fog, hampering visibility. But as we eat the sun burns it off, and by the time we’re done the view is revealed in all its glory.
Coastal Drive is a one way loop, and another point of interest along it is Radar Station B-71, a WWII era radar station disguised as a farm house. Along this road it’s also possible to see seals and during the right time of year, whales. We do see the seals playing just beyond the surf, but the whales remain at large.
After that we take one more narrow dirt road through the woods, this one the 7 mile Howland Hill Road that winds through Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Being a Saturday there’s more traffic on the roads today, but this road is wider than Cal-Barrel and passing is a bit easier.
As we roll between the massive trees, I spot something from the window. “Stop! Stop the car!” I get out and get a photograph of a banana slug, with my finger for size. I’d learned about these at the visitor center, and was hoping to see one. The Pacific banana slug is the second-largest species of terrestrial slug in the world, growing up to 9.8 inches long. This guy is smaller than that, he’s still got some growing to do.
The drive from Crescent City, CA to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon takes a few hours: up 199 to a brief stretch on I5, then 62 the rest of the way to the park.
At Sequoia and Yosemite, we’d arrived at the start of the busy season. At Redwood we’d arrived in that sweet spot all full-time travelers love to hit: after everything is open for the season, but before the crowds arrive. Farther north here at Crater Lake, we’re too early. The eastern half of the rim road is still closed due to snow, in fact, getting into the visitor center requires walking over a slushy snow drift. Likewise most of the picnic areas and trails are still buried under snow.
I’ll say though, that snow hanging around makes the lake look even better. It’s hard to describe the color of Crater Lake, “blue” seems entirely inadequate. I’ve seen blue lakes before, but nothing like this.
Crater Lake is the ninth-deepest lake in the world (and the deepest in the US), at 1,949 feet. And as the name suggests, it’s in a crater. What is not immediately obvious is that it’s at the top of a volcanic mountain. It was a strange feeling driving up a mountain for miles and miles, and then reaching the top and seeing, not a summit, but this huge lake.
You’ll notice that the water does not come up entirely to the rim of the crater. There is no outlet, but layers of permeable rock exist on the lake bed that water seeps out of. Where does the water go? No one is really sure. Scientists have tested the mineral composition of Crater Lake compared to nearby springs and not found a match, it remains a mystery. Based on how old growth fir trees can be found right near the water’s edge, it’s been concluded that the surface level of Crater Lake has remained relatively stable for quite some time.
Within Crater Lake sits Wizard Island, a miniature volcanic cone inside of the older, larger one. The peak of Wizard Island has its own little crater. There are paid tours you can take out to the island, and you can even walk around on it.
And yes, you can swim in Crater Lake, but it’s only allowed in one part of the park. I would imagine the water remains cold year-round.
We stop at pretty much every overlook that is open over the course of a couple hours and then have lunch at another trailhead parking lot, this one for the Pacific Crest Trail. After that, we take 138 west to I5 to continue north to Eugene to spend the night.
This is part 2 of my two week, no RV, family road trip, travelogue. If you haven’t read part 1 yet, you’ll want to do that first!
May 28, Monday
The drive from Merced, CA to Yosemite National Park on 140 is a bit long, but the scenery is nice. Being Memorial Day, the park is rather busy and we end up using the same strategy we did yesterday at Sequoia NP of hunting down a spot to park our rental SUV near a bus stop and then riding the bus to get to other areas.
Yosemite is pretty big and varied, but the most popular part of the park is Yosemite Valley. Most of the pictures you see of the park are from this valley, it’s very dramatic with lush greenery and clear flowing rivers sandwiched between very tall and steep rocky walls.
And in my opinion the best time to come visit Yosemite is early in the season like this, when the snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada feeds numerous waterfalls that cascade down into the valley. The most well known of these is Yosemite Falls, which has an upper and lower falls. The upper falls can be seen from the road through the valley:
And a short hike from one of the bus stops allows an up-close look at the lower falls. This is my second time visiting Yosemite, the first was October of 2014 when I was traveling with Julie and we camped with the Casita high up in the mountains. That trip was also fun, but Yosemite Falls was completely dried up then. Today it’s flowing strong, and I get sprayed with mist when capturing this photo:
Another memorable stop along the bus route in the valley is El Capitan, an immense rock face that is very popular among serious rock climbers. Today there are two park service volunteers with strong telescopes set up near El Capitan, pointing out climbers currently attempting to summit it. It takes 3-5 days, yes DAYS, for people to make it to the top, and is an impressive achievement.
My mom has her binoculars with her, and besides the two groups the park service people have pointed out, she finds three other groups of tiny colorful specs on the side of the mountain. I can’t even imagine trying to sleep strapped to the side of a mountain in a little cot, and what do you do if it starts to storm? It is dangerous to attempt and people get injured and die every year. I can see why people have to pay and enter a lottery for a permit to climb El Capitan, that probably weeds out most of the amateurs that would hurt themselves.
Half Dome is another famous rock formation in Yosemite, and it boasts a “day hiking trail” that goes up to the top. I say day hiking trail in quotations because it’s 14-16 miles roundtrip with 4,800 feet of elevation gain, the last 400 feet along two steel cables that require you to pull yourself up with your arms as much as push yourself up with your legs. It’s like a more strenuous version of the Angel’s Landing hike in Zion National Park. And yes, it’s on my list. But not today!
Yosemite Valley also has a visitor center which is worth checking out, a little historical museum which sadly wasn’t open when we were there, several picnic areas and trailheads (I’m not doing much for hiking this trip because my parents aren’t as physically capable and we’re focusing on things we can all do together), and two different villages (Yosemite Village and Half Dome Village) that have visitor services like food, gifts, and lodging.
The historical museum
Yosemite Valley is a neat place and I’m glad we went and saw it, but it’s a bit too busy and commercial for my tastes. I prefer the more remote areas of Yosemite, which is tomorrow’s adventure!
Tioga Road (120), runs through the mountains end to end, bypassing Yosemite Valley and taking a more northerly route through the park up and over the mighty Sierra range down to Lee Vining and Mono Lake in the east. It’s where I camped in the park in 2014, and where I had my memorable snowy hike around Saddlebag Lake in 2016 that was immediately followed by a wildfire.
According to Google Maps, Tioga Road is still closed for the season. For people like me who grew up far, far away from mountains, it can be hard to imagine that a road might be closed due to snow in late May. But at these kind of elevations, snow accumulates heavily in the winter, and then it takes a long time in the spring and summer for warmer weather to move in and melt it all.
When my family pulls up to the entrance station into Yosemite today I ask about the state of Tioga Road knowing sometimes GPS apps get it wrong, and learn that it is, in fact, open. Yay!
There’s no bus route for Tioga Road, you drive it in your own vehicle and as I alluded to above, you can take an RV on it as it has multiple campgrounds along it – the more westerly ones open to all RV sizes (some with full hookups) and the primitive ones at higher altitude further east being for smaller rigs. Note that if you take an RV along the entirety of Tioga Road, the east side coming out of the mountains into Lee Vining has a section of 8% grade for six miles that runs along a steep drop off. I’d call it the second scariest mountain road section I’ve ever towed on, after 190 on the western side of Death Valley.
But it’s not nearly as scary with just a regular vehicle, and we don’t go that far today anyway. We see Half Dome from the other side where it looks significantly different from yesterday’s viewing:
And visit perhaps my favorite sub-alpine lake, Lake Tenaya, where we stop for a picnic lunch. This is my third time walking the shore of this lake (I even went swimming in it in 2016), and this time is no less impressive. The strong breeze today means we need to take care not to have our plates and food blow away, but the sun breaking through the clouds is warm and the jays make me laugh with their food-begging antics.
Yesterday was a travel day, we left our hotel in Merced early to scoot across the central valley over towards the coast. This morning I wake up in Watsonville, CA, and we travel up Highway 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway) into San Francisco.
Traffic in San Francisco isn’t horrible all things considered, and because we’re going south to north, we don’t have to pay a toll crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. On the other side, we stop at the H Dana Bower Rest Area where I snap this photo.
Why is it called Golden Gate Bridge when it’s red?
Highway 1 is just, cool. There are frequent amazing views of the coast, which in general is much rockier and steeper with a very different flavor for the east coast.
In many places along its length it’s very twisty with a low speed limit and without many pullouts, which doesn’t make it a great road to take an RV on. In fact in sections there are 35 feet length vehicle limits. Camping is also very expensive along the coast with few if any legit, free boondocking options. There are a couple spots that people sneak under the radar, but it’s not something you could do for a long stay. For these reasons, I’ve only taken my Casita along two short, little stretches of Highway 1 and I had no desire to do the whole thing with Cas, but hearing the itinerary my parents planned out for this trip and learning we’d be traveling along Highway 1 for a good stretch made me happy.
We stop for the night at a hotel in the small town of Fort Bragg, right on the coast. And yes our room does have an ocean view, if you stand in the perfect spot at the window and squint your eyes a little, hah.
Up next: Redwood National Park and Crater Lake!
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Also up today is the video travelogue for Grand Canyon, Keyesville, and Yosemite. Yes, the YouTube channel is finally caught up with the blog!
After the Grand Canyon, I point Bertha’s nose back west and quickly retrace my route earlier this spring along I40 to Keyesville Rec Area in Lake Isabella, CA. There I spend six days working hard so that I can have my two weeks of vacation relatively work-free.
“Wait, vacation? Isn’t your whole life like a vacation?”
An evening at Keyesville Rec Area. Yes, my toenails need to be repainted.
This is a common misconception among people who haven’t learned much about full-time RVing yet. For those who are wealthy enough it could be treated as a perpetual vacation, but for those of us who still need to make a living the answer is no. My life has a better balance between work and play than the average nine-to-fiver and I love that about what I’ve built, but treating full-time RVing as a perpetual vacation is a recipe for disaster if you’re pre-retirement. If you’re spending more than you’re earning, you won’t be on the road for long.
I like to say I’ve built a life that I don’t need a vacation from because of the better work/play balance. I don’t experience burnout at the same level as I did back when I worked a more traditional job. But that doesn’t mean full-time RVers don’t benefit from taking vacations, and I’m greatly looking forward to mine!
May 26, Saturday
Early in the morning, I roll into Fresno, CA, where this new adventure is going to start. My first order of business is getting the Casita stored away, since my parents, brother and I will be road tripping with a rental SUV big enough to fit all of us and staying in hotels.
It surprised me that I couldn’t reserve a spot in the storage lot ahead of time. The planning side of my nature wanted to have a spot locked down months in advance just to be absolutely sure it was taken care of, but none of the places I called allowed me to do that. Instead I call my first choice bright and early to see if they have room, and I’m there by 10 am, signing the paperwork, paying for two weeks (around $20), and then parking, unhitching, and generally getting everything squared away. Naturally I’d emptied my tanks before arriving (although it turns out this storage lot has a dump station on site) and had planned my food situation so that I’d run out of perishables before today.
Leaving Keyesville on the 25th, on 178 west to Bakersfield
I’d be lying if I said I feel perfectly comfortable with leaving my home with most of my possessions behind in a storage lot. It bothers me more than leaving Cas unattended for the day while boondocking. But I take care in choosing a gated lot with security cameras, and really the chances of someone breaking into it or stealing it are quite slim. I do what I can to make it secure, excuse myself from worrying about that which I cannot control, and then I move on.
My family is flying into the Fresno airport. Since I’m in town before them, I go stock up on groceries and other essentials we’ll need for our road trip. As their arrival time approaches, I drive to the long-term parking area at the airport, where I’ll be leaving Bertha behind (at considerably more than $20). I have a one-way ticket from Portland back to Fresno at the end of this vacation, and I’ve packed so that all I have with me fits in a carry-on.
The plane arrives on time. There are hugs and greetings. We pick up the rental without issue and drive a little ways south out of town on 99 to Visalia for the night.
May 27, Sunday
198 heading into Sequoia National Park is a beautiful road.
99 runs north and south along California through a large, flat, grass-covered valley with a lot of agriculture. As you take 198 headed east, the land gets hillier as you approach the Sierra Nevada range. Grasslands morph into savannah with dotted oak trees. Streams flow out of the mountains and are dammed to make reservoirs surrounded by pretty parks. Eventually the savannah becomes a true woodland as the hills get higher and become true mountains. The transformation is dramatic.
It being the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, I’m a bit concerned about crowds, but there’s no wait to get into the park. It’s not until we reach the popular area of the park near the Giant Forest Museum that the crowds increase and parking becomes impossible to find.
Fortunately, Sequoia has a free bus system. We park at Wolverton picnic area off the main road for an early lunch, then catch the bus to see the sights.
Meet the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world by volume. It stands 275 feet tall, and is over 36 feet in diameter at the base.
General Sherman is the one farther back on the left, see the tiny people at it’s base?
Have I mentioned lately that I love big trees? Well, my dad does too. This is the first time he’s seen giant sequoias and he points out how strange they look, that they don’t seem to have enough foliage up top to support their massive size. But somehow they must, because here they are.
When I tell my parents I want a nice picture of them. Now you know where I get my penchant for ridiculous faces from! My brother is pretending he’s not related.
Fun facts learned later at the visitor center: Scientists have not been able to determine the maximum lifespan of the giant sequoia. They seem to keep growing until they die from other causes and the oldest known is about 3,500 years old by ring count, making them among the oldest known living things on Earth. They require fire to reproduce and their thick bark is very fire resistant.
How do you take a photo of something this big? I haven’t mastered the knack yet
Giant sequoias were once a widely distributed and common species in prehistoric times, but their range was greatly reduced at the last ice age. Today they are listed as endangered, growing naturally only in a small region in California on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada range at 4,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation.
Their bark is also oddly spongy when damp. I know this because I poked one.
A more “average” giant sequoia. If any of these trees can be considered average.
After a fun afternoon of short walks among really big trees, we get back to our rental car around 4 pm. From there we continue north on 196 until it becomes 180 at Kings Canyon National Park. From there we turn back west to Fresno, and then take 99 north to the town of Merced, the staging point for the next leg of our trip, Yosemite National Park!
I get a lot of wistful comments and e-mails from people who would love to do what I do, but there are very solid reasons why they can’t at this point in their life. These reasons aren’t just excuses because they don’t want to put in the effort. I get plenty of answers like that too but no, this group of people have family members they need to care for, other goals that are taking priority in their lives, and a dozen other equally valid reasons.
This article is for you, and here’s my advice on the matter.
Do what traveling you can.
It’s easy to see full-time RVing as an all-or-nothing endeavor, the very title implies it. But there is still a lot of fun and adventure to be found in traveling part time.
If you’re reading my blog you’re probably like me and on a budget. It can be harder to justify the purchase price of an RV if it’s just for recreation and not your home but think of it like this: it’s an investment into your happiness and well being and a promise to yourself that one day you will go full-timing in it once circumstances change.
Go with something inexpensive and simple as your first rig, something that lets you maximize the amount of time enjoying it and minimize the amount of time maintaining it since your time is limited.
Think of this phase as training. The experience you gain from weekends away is going to cut your learning time significantly when you finally get to hit the road permanently.
Can’t get an RV for whatever reason right now? Find other ways to introduce more travel into your life. Go tent or car camping, or take a road trip and stay in hotels. If even that’s hard to swing right now, look up attractions within a day’s drive of where you live. Chances are there are probably plenty of places nearby that you’ve never been to before.
Prioritize travel. It’s really easy to get caught up in lesser tasks that waste time or money with little reward. We don’t usually choose these things deliberately, we fall into them by default. Now that you have this dream though, you have something better to be doing with your time and money. If you really want more travel in your life, find ways to weed out these distractions to make more room for it.
Keep your eye on the goal.
Set a date to go full-timing, even if it’s years out. It’s amazing how powerful setting intention like this can be. If it’s years out your date might not end up being accurate but that’s okay. The real reason to do this is it gives you a sense of control over your destiny that a lot of people in this situation seem to struggle with since many times it’s because of someone else that they can’t go full-timing. If you can’t put a date on it, put a date down to review your situation and try to set a date at that point. This keeps the dream fresh in your mind and makes it seem more real and attainable.
Find ways to keep your full-timing dream prominent in your everyday life. Even little things can make a big difference in keeping the dream feeling achievable in the future. Place a trip jar somewhere highly visible in your house, and put your change into it. Label it “RVing fund” and save this money for the future to buy your RV, or if you have your RV, for travel money.
Spend an evening compiling a list of places you want to visit once you’re on the road. Print this list or even better, print pictures of these places and keep them around your home and work to remind you what you’re working toward.
Get involved in the RVing community. Keep an eye out for RVing events near you and participate when you can – even if you’re staying in your vehicle at the campground. Connect with other RVers and RVing hopefuls online in forums or groups and exchange advice and dreams.
More than anything else, I’d say connecting with others interested in living this way does the most to bolster you and keep the dream feeling real. When you’re in a vacuum by yourself, surrounded by people who just don’t understand, constant contact with them and their uncertainty makes you feel hesitant and makes the dream feel impossible. But hanging out with people who are full-time RVing already and those who are on their way there? That makes the dream feel not just possible but normal. Like it’s not such a big deal. And when you switch to that way of thinking, you remove a lot of your mental blocks around achieving it and suddenly it becomes easier.
Improve other parts of your life.
Why do we love to travel so much? Reasons include seeing new sights and meeting new people, but often there are internal reasons too. We want to travel to have more freedom, to pursue other interests we have, to get out of the rut of daily living we fall into when things remained unchanged for too long, and to grow as a person. Basically, because we want to be happier.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that while full-timing will help with some of these reasons, you don’t have to go full-timing to achieve them. In fact, believing that hitting the road will be ‘happily ever after’ is setting yourself up for failure.
You can have a more fulfilling life without ever stepping foot in a camper.
Enjoy freedom? Cut undesired obligations and time-wasters out of your life, and then you’ll find you have the energy and time to pursue other interests.
Need to get out of a rut? Switch up your daily routine and make a pact with yourself to try new things regularly.
Want to grow as a person? Read a book or watch a video on a personal development topic that interests you, and push yourself outside to act outside your comfort zone.
I know these bullet points are over-simplifying things but that’s my whole point. Expecting that going full-time RVing by itself will hand you your best life on a silver platter is over-simplifying things. In the end, it’s only one facet of the equation. If you start working on improving other areas of your life right now, you’re be ahead of the game by the time you go RVing.
Don’t lose hope.
With a long-term goal that won’t be achievable for a while, it’s all too easy to lose sight of it and let it fade away. But while you might not be able to travel full-time right now, there is still plenty you can do to invite more travel into your life, keep the dream alive, and improve other areas of your life in the meantime. Don’t lose hope, your time is coming.
Deliberate Living – If you’re into personal development and philosophical type stuff, here’s a list of all my articles that have been tagged as such.
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From May 26th to June 9th, I’m away on vacation with my family. During this time I won’t be on the internet much, so do not expect responses to e-mails, comments or messages until I get back. Don’t fear though, I have blog posts scheduled to go up in my absence and my Patreon page will be updated as usual. I’ll upload the occasional photo to Instagram and Facebook as time permits. Thanks and I’ll catch you on the other side with more fun travelogues!
Ahh, health insurance as a pre-medicare full-time traveler. To me, this is the #1 hardest thing about this lifestyle, even harder than the question of how to earn money on the road. And spoiler alert: I don’t have a perfect solution. But as with the question of internet on the road, I’ve done enough research to find what works best for me, and write periodic updates on it because it’s an important facet of hitting the road. But first:
Disclaimer: I am not by any stretch of the imagination qualified to offer official or legal advice on health insurance. Seek a professional to advise you if you’re at all unsure what you should do.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, on to the article!
Talking about health insurance is sure to make a person’s eyes glaze over, it’s not a very fun subject. So instead of saving the best for last, I’m sharing the best right here at the beginning, before I lose you.
Pretty much everything I know about health insurance as a nomad I learned from Kyle and his team over at http://www.rverinsurance.com/. He’s a full-time RVer himself and his website is a wonderful source of information on health insurance (plus other types of insurance) for RVers. I can’t answer what type of health insurance will work best for you, but this website can – there are more options than just the Marketplace out there. This page is a great place to start for what’s up with health insurance in 2018: http://www.rverinsurance.com/health-insurance-2018/.
And seriously. Check the page out and contact them if you’re going to be hitting the road and the thought of health insurance is threatening to send you into a panic attack. They can help.
Now on to what I, personally, do as a South Dakota resident.
Being more or less self-employed, pre-retirement age, in general good health but wanting to cover myself in case of an emergency, and wanting to stay compliant with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), I have a plan through https://www.healthcare.gov/ – commonly called the Marketplace. Let me state here that things are much different for medicare age RVers, and that this article is aimed at younger pre-medicare RVers such as myself.
Every state’s Marketplace offerings are different, and some are definitely better than others. Of the three big full-timing residency states (Florida, South Dakota, and Texas), only Florida has Marketplace plans that provide nation-wide coverage (Florida Blue), which is something worth thinking about for those of you hitting the road in the near future who are debating what residency state to choose.
If I had health issues and required regular medical care, I’d probably “move” to Florida for this reason, but as I am still, thankfully, in good health, I can’t justify the cost it would take to switch residency states at this time.
With my plan based out of South Dakota I’m covered for an emergency out-of-state, but if I needed recurring care, I’d need to go back to South Dakota to get it. Likewise if I want any preventative care, checkups, etc., I need to go back to South Dakota, which for me isn’t a huge deal as most of my family is in Wisconsin so I tend to pass through South Dakota pretty regularly on the way to and from there.
My plan is through Avera Health Plans, called Avera 5000, and this is the third year I’ve had it.
The yearly cost would be in the neighborhood of $450 (it went up about 22% again over last year), but because of my lower income level, I qualify for a subsidy that makes this plan similar in cost to what my high deductible private plan use to be before the ACA went into effect in 2015.
For people who earn above the subsidy level ($48,000/annual for individuals), Marketplace plans can get quite pricey and may not be your best solution. 2017 opened up the possibility of joining a medical cost sharing group as a viable option as it’s now ACA exempt, but it’s important to realize that this isn’t actual insurance, there is no guarantee of payout. Kyle’s site that I mentioned above goes more into this so do check it out.
Whatever route you choose, you do want to sign up for an ACA compliant plan instead of going without, even if you’re in great health.
Since 2016, the penalty for not being insured has been $695 per adult or 2.5% of your annual income, whichever is higher. For my income level, it’s cheaper to pay for the insurance, and it’s more responsible too. There are certain exemptions where you might not need to have an ACA complaint plan, but if you fall under the umbrella of one of those exemptions you likely already know it.
Lastly, the health insurance field is very turbulent and tends to change dramatically from year to year.
It’s no secret that President Trump is not fond of the ACA and has been pushing for changes. This article will probably hold up well for for the rest of 2018, but 2019 is a whole ‘nother story. Start visiting RVerInsurance.com come mid-November to catch up on what changes are in the works for the new year, so that you can continue to make an informed decision when it comes time to renew your insurance.
* Comments have been turned off on this post. Health insurance is a hot button issue with several different camps of belief and a lot of strong feelings. In past editions of this post I’ve had to police comments rigorously for political arguments and I just don’t want to deal with that anymore, especially while I’m on vacation. If you have a question or comment about health insurance on the road, you’re welcome to contact me privately using my contact form and I’ll respond when I’m back from vacation. Thank you for understanding.
Want to learn more about my health insurance history on the road? Here’s my 2017 article, from which you can go back and see all of them.
From May 26th to June 9th, I’m away on vacation with my family. During this time I won’t be on the internet much, so do not expect responses to e-mails, comments or messages until I get back. Don’t fear though, I have blog posts scheduled to go up in my absence and my Patreon page will be updated as usual. I’ll upload the occasional photo to Instagram and Facebook as time permits. Thanks and I’ll catch you on the other side with more fun travelogues!