October 19, 2019
On the 27th of this month Melanie and I will have spent a year's time living and traveling the United States of America in our home on wheels, Miranda. As I type this, I'm in the mountains of north Georgia visiting with friends, Melanie is currently traveling out of country on a work-related trip. What a year it has been.
To give you some idea of the kind of year we've had, we have parked Miranda in 123 distinct places and traveled through 32 states. By the time October 2019 has expired, Miranda is likely to have close to 25,000 miles logged on the odometer.
Over the next few days leading up to our one year anniversary, I hope to type in some thoughts about our year in Miranda.
People ask periodically, what place(s) are favorite(s).
For me, the Grand Canyon, Big Bend and Acadia National Park are difficult to beat when it comes to scenic places to play. I also enjoyed my time in Santa Fe, New Mexico, San Antonio, Texas, Austin, Texas, Tucson, Arizona, and crazy middle-of-no-where, Marfa, Texas. No particular order.
My favorite camping spot was Overlook Campground, Chinle, New Mexico. Remote and beautiful. As with many things like a camping spot, timing is an essential element. I've read reviews of Overlook Campground campsite complaining of the locals, the noise and, if I remember correctly, some unsavory characters. There was one other camper at Overlook when we were there. He was a traveling artist and we bought a rock painted like a dog head from him. Al, named after the artist, is our pet rock dog who lies on the floor on Melanie's side of the van. He's a good boy. Really quiet too. No barking. I do imagine, however, he'd pack a vicious impact on someone's head, if such a thing ever became necessary. Guard dog rock.
He's been missing Melanie too. Jus' sayin'.
Melanie tells me that highlights for her include, in no particular order of preference, Lake Michigan (Monroe, Grand Haven, Ludington and Traverse City) shore towns, Big Bend National Park, Acadia National Park, Cleveland, Ohio, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Vermont. I can't disagree. It has been and continues to be difficult to choose which experience and where might be considered "the best."
A Checklist is Necessary
I'm sitting in a KOA campground in Natural Bridge, Virginia this morning having coffee and breakfast pondering our travels. In case you will wonder, no, I will not be taking in the actual Natural Bridge located nearby this time through. I may never take it in and, of course, will most likely be missing something extraordinary. The town is called Natural Bridge. It must be something. Such is life on the road. It's not just a vacation and sometimes one simply doesn't feel very touristy. Right now another cup of coffee sounds better.
Melanie is traveling in the Middle East for work and has been away since October 11. I miss her for many reasons but one of them is having her around to run through our RV pre-departure checklist before we move each time. It's a ritual, it's the mundane stuff of travel, but we've found that skipping it, skimming it or ignoring it will cost you.
Going through it without her makes me miss her all the more, especially since I'm generally the one reading out items as she checks to make sure they are done, except for items performed outside the vehicle like tire pressure. I have no one to blame except myself if something isn't right, at least for two more sleeps anyway.
Since I've been a backpacker all my adult life, having a checklist for this kind of camping was a natural thing. Backpacking often puts you miles away from a trailhead and miles away from some essential item you may need for survival. My brother (from another mother) and life-long backpacking friend, John, is the master of the backpacking checklist. He'd spreadsheet every item (weigh it too) and then we'd discuss who would bring and/or carry what items. The checklist was always one of the essentials when planning a backpacking trip. While we now know pretty much what items of clothing, kitchen wares, etc. we need and use, the following is maybe the most essential check list for van life.
Blue Jobs and Pink Jobs
We're back in Summit, New Jersey at our friend, Diana's home. Melanie is back from the Middle East.
Never was the concept of teamwork more apparent than recently when Melanie was away for a few weeks. Moving and operating the van became a much slower process with me checking the Pre-departure list twice at times.
Before we purchased Miranda, we traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to test drive a Leisure Travel Van. I was in touch with Don Klassen, Territory Sales Manager for Leisure Travel Vans, and he agreed to allow us to drive the van in which he was currently traveling.
He jokingly (sort of) told us that if we were to purchase a van we'd have to make a list of "blue and pink jobs." Melanie quickly picked up on the reference and replied all van jobs would be blue jobs. She was along for the ride.
While there are no gender-specific jobs, no list of Steven or Melanie jobs, each of us has things we perform to keep Miranda, and our lives, running smoothly. It's the proverbial well-oiled machine at this point.
Location, Location, Locations
Over the past year, Melanie, Miranda and I have spent days and weeks in a variety of locations from National Parks to driveways of friends (where we are now), State Parks, and locations using services to which we subscribe.
Because of Melanie's work, some of our best locations have been staying with people (and new friends) who are affiliated with the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. We've made new friends and chuckled about what people who haven't any idea about us or Miranda, but have offered a place for Miranda to park sight unseen, think before we actually show up. I mean, two people from Alabama traveling full-time in an RV coming to visit. Cousin Eddie and Christmas Vacation may come to mind.
We use Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Hosts, two services for which we pay a yearly fee and for which we can then stay a night or two without incurring a fee. Each service has something unique to offer and we generally utilize these services when we don't necessarily need to have power, water or sewer connections.
The driveways of friends are also places we like. They offer a chance to catch up with friends both new and old.
We've also stayed in the parking lots of Bass Pro Shops a few times. They don't offer anything with the exception of a security patrol because of the boats they have on site. While both Cracker Barrel and Walmart parking lots are available, we've never had to or chosen to stay with them.
Each location has something to offer and all of them are essential to our enjoyment of full-time travel.
The Year Ahead
We leave Summit Monday, October 28th, and after events in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island we'll drive south to North Carolina to visit friends, Tennessee, to visit our son, and then head towards the southwest for winter.
Our current plan is to move into Nevada, California and work our way up the west coast then come spring move across the top of the country. Watch this space.
Steven and Melanie