My Summer 2015 Travel & How to Plan For It

This si my tentative summer travel plans. You're welcome to join me for all or part of the trip. It begin and ends in Flagstaff, AZ where I will leave the trailer in storage and just travel in the van.

This is my tentative summer travel plans. You’re welcome to join me for all or part of the trip. It begin and ends in Flagstaff, AZ where I will leave the trailer in storage and just travel in the van.

While being a vandweller isn’t always easy or pleasant, I believe it is more than makes up for all that with all the wonderfully new and exciting things it brings into our lives. A perfect example of that is winter, when bad weather can occasionally make our lives uncomfortable, sometimes even miserable! But then comes glorious spring!  While there are low moments in winter, the highs of spring, summer and fall tremendously more than make up for them! That’s the advantage of being fully, deeply alive, the brief lows make the intense highs all the sweeter!

In Arizona, the coming of Spring brings the first of summer’s heat and since I don’t like heat that means I have to move to a cooler location. But I don’t want to move haphazardly, I want it to be in the general direction of wherever I intend to spend my summer. Otherwise, I would waste time and money back-tracking. That raises the question of where am I going to spend my summer? So for the last few weeks I’ve been pondering a travel schedule for the coming year. Fortunately that’s one of the most pleasurable tasks of being a vandweller. The whole country lies open to me to go and do and see anything at all I want! My life is such a blank slate that I can do almost anything and go nearly anywhere I want.

Living Each Year as if it’s My Last

One thing I’ve decided to do is live each year as if it will be my last. When the year ends, I want to be able to look back on it and say, “That was a year Well-Lived!”  As I thought of this coming year like it might be my last, I wondered where I would go on my last year on this earth? What would I do with each precious moment and day? The answer to that question will be different for everybody, but for me there is no doubt what it is; I’ll be going to the most beautiful places I know and seeing them through a camera viewfinder.  Without doubt, I am most alive and happiest during the act of capturing stunning beauty and creating art as I understand it. In the past that’s meant moving fast and far to see and capture as much as possible. But at this point in my life I’ve gotten over that and want to spend more time in each place “being” with it and not just “buzzing through.”

Not only that, but I’m still on a budget so I can’t waste money when I travel, I need to budget it and get the most bang for my buck. I’m living like this may be my last year on earth, but I’m planning like I may be here for awhile so I  have to stretch my money to last more than  just this year. It’s a hard balance to strike, but one I think we all must come to grips with in our own way.

Dunheger Travel Quotes

Stretching Your Travel Budget

For most of us, the main limiting factor is our budget. Right now gas is still relatively cheap so I’m planning to take advantage of that and travel more than usual. But even with cheap gas I still need to stay within my budget and keep it lean and mean. The main way I can do that is to slow down and not travel much per month. That way, no one month has to pay for all the gas, instead, it gets stretched out over multiple months. The more months the better! Fortunately, like I said, that’s how I prefer to travel.

Gas-for-Wash-trip-001I’ve been planning on spending this summer in Washington and Oregon with my main emphasis on Mt. Rainer National Park. I want to spend at least a month in that area. The more I study my possible route it looks like I’ll be driving about 5000 miles round-trip. It could be more or less, depending on how ambitious I am. I have an app on my Smart Phone called Road Trip Calculator, and according to it if I drive 5000 miles at 12 mpg and average $3.50 a gallon the trip will cost me about $1500 dollars in gas. That’s way over my budget for one month so I’ve got to spread it out. If I spread it out over 6 months, it’ll only cost $250 per month, that’s doable for me so I’m planning at least a 6 month trip moving slowly between places I love and want to spend time in. I’m looking for places that can be a basecamp and take short trips to nearby places. That gives me the most bang for my buck!

 

Whenever I go to a new place, I always find the very best guide books I can. This series is by far the best I've ever found. I don't leave home without them!

Whenever I go to a new place, I always find the very best photography guide books I can. This series is by far the best I’ve ever found. I don’t leave home without them!

Using Guide Books to Plan the Route and For the Best Weather

One thing I always do when I travel is to plan for the best weather. I don’t want to be someplace where Cody and I will be miserable from the heat, nor do I want to be where there is a known rainy season and I’m constantly stuck inside all the time. Because Nature Photography is my main hobby, one thing I do is buy guide books that tell me when and where to go to get the best photographs of an area. Fortunately there is a really excellent guide to both Oregon and Washington called “Photographing Washington” and “Photographing Oregon” both by Greg Vaughn. They are part of a series of Photography Guide books either written or published by Laurent Martres. The first three in the series are on the Southwest covering Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and some of Texas. I’ve been using them for years and I consider them totally essential to anybody who is exploring the Southwest. Don’t go without them! You can buy them from Amazon here:

Photographing Washington–Highly Recommended!
Photographing Oregon Guide Book
Photographing California – Vol. 1: North
Photographing the Southwest: Volume 1–Southern Utah
Photographing the Southwest: Volume 2–Arizona
Photographing the Southwest: Volume 3–Colorado/New Mexico

One of the best things about these guide books  is the index at the back that lists every site and ranks it from 1 to 5 stars and includes  road a trail difficulty. You can see I went through and highlighted all the places that got 4 or 5 stars for their photographic rating. That is such a time saver because I only want to go to the very best places.

One of the best things about these guide books is the index at the back that lists every site and ranks it from 1 to 5 stars and includes road and trail difficulty. You can see I went through and highlighted all the places that got 4 or 5 stars for their photographic rating. That is such a huge time saver because I only want to go to the very best places. and the rating system lets me avoid wasting time and gas.

Using those guide books I saw that the very best weather for photographing wildflowers in Mt Rainer NP was in mid-July and August and for shooting Olympic NP and the Washington coast was in September. That works perfectly because it spreads out my travel time nicely. All I needed was to find places to spend May, June and early July along the route to Mt Rainer NP.

I love the Tetons in June!

I love the Grand Tetons in June!

June and Early July in Jackson, Wyoming

That’s an easy choice for me! Last year I fell totally in love with Jackson, Wyoming as a basecamp to explore both the Grand Tetons NP and Yellowstone NP. June is the perfect time to be there to photograph not only the beautiful snow-capped mountains but also wildlife. The Tetons and Yellowstone have the very best concentration of wildlife viewing and photography of anywhere in the lower 48 states and they are at their best in June. The high country is still snowed in but the valleys are clear and have spring growth for them to eat. That brings the very hungry bears, moose and elk right down into the valley, and the wolves to follow them. I really want to be there in June!! So that’s where I will spend June and part of July, but that leaves the question of where will I be in May that’s along that path?

Close encounters with bears are common in June at the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Jackson , WY is a great base camp for both.

Moab in May

No doubt about where I want to spend May; Moab! It’s directly in line from Flagstaff Arizona to Jackson, Wyoming and it is one of my very most favorite places in the country. Like Jackson it’s very close to two amazing National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands. I’ve been to both numerous times but I just can’t get enough of them! Their main appeal to me right now is star-photography which I have just started into. It’s not enough to get a nice shot of the Milky Way or star trails, you have to have an interesting foreground. There is nothing as good for that as the arches and beautiful red rock landscape of that country! While I’m there I might do some white-water rafting and do at least one rappel.

So as of now I am limiting myself to just a few places. The ones that I’m fairly certain of are:

  • Moab, Utah in May
  • Jackson, Wyoming in June
  • Mount Rainer NP, WA in mid-July to mid-August for wildflowers
  • Olympic National Park, WA in September
  • Smith Rock State, Oregon depending on the weather

Those I feel strongly about and are almost certain, but along that path there are some other truly wonderful places I want to see and so I’ll fit them in as time, money and energy allow. Because they often mean lots of driving to get to them or they conflict with another schedule none of them are certain. I don’t have a return path planned so some of these might be on the return in the fall. But often by then I’m tired or running out of money so I just skip them and head straight back home. That’s one of the drawbacks of getting older! Here are those ideas:

  • Alabama Hills near Lone Pine California
  • Monument Valley
  • Oregon Coast
  • Ouray or Crested Butte, Colorado in July for wildflowers
  • Cody and Pinedale, Wyoming for their museums
  • BearTooth Highway, Montana
  • Glacier Bay NP
  • Canadian Rockies.

So those are my basic ideas for this summer. If you are interested in traveling part or all of it with me, let me know, or if you are in the area of my travels let me know and feel free to drop by, my camp is always open to my readers! If you know those areas I’d love to have your suggestions about places to see along the path! All too often we drive right past amazing things but don’t know about them. That’s the advantage and power of being part of a tribal community, combining our knowledge and experience! And of course, I’ll take lots of photos and overwhelm you with them!

May we all live this summer like it’s our last, and at the end of the year be able to honestly say, “That was a year well-lived!”

(My friend Steve is selling his Honda EX 650 generator and it’s such a good deal I thought I would tell you about it. This is the generation before the current inverter generators so it isn’t as quiet and doesn’t have the eco-throttle but what it does have is the same legendary quality and reliability. Because of that they’ve held their value and are still highly sought after. Steve has the 650 watt model and with a good battery charger you can keep your batteries  charged up and run small appliances. It’s in very good shape, including a new carburetor and he’s asking $300 or best offer. We are camped just north of Prescott, AZ where you can pick it up or he will mail it but you have to pay for shipping and packing. If you are interested you can e-mail me and I’ll put you in contact with Steve. akrvbob@gmail.com )

Honda-651

honda-650-side

 

adventure-poster

Posted in Adventure, My Daily Life, Travel

Spring! Recovering Your Child-Like Sense of Wander

 

Be true to your heart!!

Be true to your heart!!

I’m writing this on March 21st and the calendar says it’s Spring, my favorite time of the year! It’s a time of new birth and new beginnings–the old is dead and gone and a bright new future lies in front of us with unlimited possibilities. Most of my life Spring didn’t mean that to me it all; in fact it meant almost nothing because I was so disconnected from the earth and my true human nature that Spring was just another day on the calendar. Very little would actually change in my life because of it; I’d just get up and go to work like I had every day before. But today, as a Snowbird, it means a great deal to me

Usually the weather and calendar don’t align, but this year in the Arizona desert they matched exactly. In fact, we bypassed spring and went straight to summer; the desert got so hot I had to move camp! It was up into the mid-90s nearly every day and I just can’t cope with that much heat, so it was time to get out of Dodge and move north to a higher elevation.

It wasn’t a bother for me because I was doing what the great majority of humans who had ever lived before me had been doing for millions of years; following the seasons and the game in order to survive and thrive. Instead of cursing the weather, I embraced it as a welcome change in my life because I knew it meant I was fully human, alive and invested in nature.

Best of all, I know that it meant big, exciting changes were coming and something new and wonderful lay just ahead; and I can’t wait to see what they are!!

What separates humans from all other animals is our imagination and sense of wonder, curiosity and adventure. That’s what has taken humans from the African Savanah to the furthest reaches of the planet and into a great variety of terrain, weather and conditions. From the Sahara to the Arctic, from the Himalayas to the South American Rain Forest, the drive to see what is around the next corner has compelled humans to move and along the way to endure and thrive in whatever was waiting for us, even when it seemed to be very disagreeable or even hostile.

I believe that’s still true today, every human has that drive for travel and adventure no matter how buried it seems. Why do I say that? Because every child has it to some degree! It’s born into us and literally written into every humans DNA. With every stage of development children want to move and go and find new things and explore no matter the danger or pain. First we crawl, then we walk—then we run! Every mother can tell you that once we stand upright, away we go, the race is on! Eventually we discover animal or mechanical movement and we set out to go further and faster. It didn’t even matter where, just somewhere else. That’s the story of every human being that was ever born on the face of the Earth. That’s what it means to be human.

We know from the pre-history of humanity that adults are not supposed to “outgrow” that; if we had we would all be living in the African Savanah right now! Instead we live everywhere because until civilization came along in the last 8000 years, all adults had those child-like qualities; that’s what made them human. They fully embraced the danger and discomfort that are an inherent part of travel and adventure—and away they went!

So what happened, why have those qualities disappeared from so many adults? Civilization happened! People who wander around can’t build cities, states, governments or corporations so they need to be made to conform and become “good productive citizens”. And so we have traditions, customs and schools that beat the sense of curiosity and adventure out of us and instead makes us drone-like ants in lock-step following the “American Dream”. Everything “childlike” has been demonized. Each of us found that out when we told family and friends we were going to become Nomads and live in a car, van or RV. We were told it was too dangerous and we had “responsibilities” we couldn’t run away from: “What if everybody just did what they wanted to?” My answer is, “They’d all be happy! Isn’t that a good thing!”

If you want to be creative, stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society.  ~Jean Piaget

Compare how our ancestors lived with how we “civilized” people live today, there is virtually no adventure in our lives. We travel very little and avoid danger and discomfort like they were death incarnate ready to kill us. Instead we huddle in our houses in terror of being in the least bit uncomfortable or facing any danger. And we have succeeded, we are the safest people who have ever lived and we never experience the discomfort of nature or the weather because our homes are totally climate-controlled. We have total control of our weather with just the turn of a knob.

  • Want it hotter, we turn the thermostat up.
  • Want it cooler, we turn up the Air Conditioner.
  • Want it drier, we turn on the de-humidifier.
  • Find the rain unpleasant, just close the blinds so you can’t see it.
  • Miss the sun? We turn on full-spectrum lights that mimic the sun.

Before long, we never need to go outside except to get in our cars (which is also climate-controller) and go to another climate-controlled building. We’ve arranged our lives so that we never have to be bothered with that pesky nature! After, all, what’s it good for any way! We’re better off without it.

Living in a van, is just the opposite! When it gets hot you get hot and sweaty, when it gets cold you can feel the cold seeping into the van like a wild animal stalking you, When the wind blows the van shakes and when it rains you hear the clatter on the roof and feel the humidity taking over.  Living in a van makes us intimately connected to nature just like humans have been for millions of years. Some people consider that a negative, but I find it a return to our wild and primitive roots that makes us fully human and alive. Without it we are like machines or drone insects that are just going through the motions of living. Only the dead are never uncomfortable, and by arranging our lives to eliminate any discomfort, we’ve turned out homes into mausoleums for the walking dead.

He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead; his eyes are closed. ~Albert Einstein

DSCN7562

That’s the difference between a vandweller and a house dweller; there is no room for a sense of wonder, curiosity and adventure in their lives. Every day is just like yesterday and every week is just like last week. Month after month … year after year … decade after decade, their lives pass before them with just more of the same. Work … eat … sleep … and repeat… endlessly. From the house … to the car … to work and repeat. Then you rush around on your days off and your infrequent vacations and try to cram a lifetime of awe, wonder and adventure into them, and that just makes you more tired and miserable. “Only thirty years till I can retire … only twenty years till I can retire …only ten years until I can retire … only two years till I can retire … if only I weren’t dying from cancer.”

I am so extremely grateful that I’ve found a way out of that misery!!

As it was getting hotter in Ehrenberg I knew it was time to move with the season and so I did what millions of fully alive humans have been doing for millions of year, planed my next move to find something better. I’ve given my imagination and child-like sense of curiosity, awe and adventure full reign over my life and been formulating my plans for this coming summer.

But, that’s a story for another day! This one has gotten long, so in my next post I’ll tell you about my new camp and plans for this summer.

Isn’t it getting to be time for you to join us in following the path of all authentic humans and learn to play again? Perhaps you should buy a van, make it your fort and head off to slay some dragons!

The playing adult steps sideward into another reality;
the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery.                                     ~Erik H. Erikson

The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression.
                                                ~Brian Sutton-Smith

childlike-quote

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Posted in Adventure, Inspiration-Spirituality, Vandwelling Philosophy

Brian’s Van Conversion: “Why am I Not Enjoying Life?”

Brian's new Van home!

Brian’s new Van home!

(Today we have a guest post from Brian, a fellow vandweller, I hope you enjoy his van conversion, but more than that, I hope you hear his heart’s cry for more out of life and his insistence on getting it!)

Hi, my name is Brian and I’m a Southern California native.  One year ago I made the decision to move into van in order to live a simple, adventure filled life.  There were a few things that led me to that decision:

  • The demands of living in an expensive city were beginning to wear on me physically and emotionally.
  • I felt very disconnected with nature and my surroundings.
  • My possessions seemed useless.

With the help of a great online community I took the steps to move into a van full time.  It has been quite an adventure so far and the best decision I’ve ever made!

A little more about me; I’m 38 years old, and a native of San Diego, CA.  Like many of you, I’ve been working full time since age 18 and started renting at the same age.  About 2 years ago I had an emotional breakdown that led to me giving up my career, new car, and nice 2 bedroom apartment.  While the rest of the U.S. was complaining of no jobs or work, I simply resigned from my secure career.  Why would I do such a thing?

I was working very hard for things that weren’t making me happy at all! Even worse, the future I saw for myself was just more of the same.

Now he has everything he needs for a good life--and nothing extra.

Now he has everything he needs for a good life–and nothing extra.

I’m not married nor do I have any children, so I moved in with my parents to regroup and establish some emotional balance.  I began researching alternate lifestyles and discovered cheaprvliving.com which spoke to me because I grew up camping, fishing, backpacking, and off-roading with my family.  Those adventures growing up are truly the happiest times of my life.  Finding Bob’s blog brought all of those memories back.  I had to ask myself…“Why am I not enjoying life?”

Because it’s very expensive to live in San Diego I had to work a lot which meant  I could never get things together enough to be able to plan and actually take time off for adventures and spending time in nature.   I made a decision 7 months ago that I was ready for some real adventure; not just taking a trip, but to actually live it.  I’ve had a part time job working 25 -30 hours a week at a good wage for the last year.  It provides me more than enough to cover my food, gas, and other expenses.  I can even put some money away for savings every month.  That is…without paying rent.  Living with my parents is great but not as a long term goal (love you Mom and Dad!).  RV living and van life have always been attractive to me and the more I researched them, the more hopeful I became about my future.   Because I was truly seeking freedom from the material life I had become accustom to, my possessions slowly started to lose their value to me.

The view from the back door. Notice the storage under the bed and that the futon is now set-up so he can sit on it and look out the back. Perfect for feeding your soul!

The view from the back door. Notice the storage under the bed and that the futon is now set-up so he can sit on it and look out the back. Perfect for feeding your soul!

I started selling, donating, and giving all my stuff that wasn’t directly related to my survival.  Wow! Did I have a lot of stuff!!  It felt good deconstructing the museum that had become my life.  I saved up enough to buy a van in October of 2013.  My awesome parents had gifted me their old SUV so I sold that when I got the van and used the money to convert it.  So begins the story of the van.

He's created a simple, elegant home to thrive in.

He’s created a simple, elegant home to thrive in. Notice the Futon is upright so he can sit facing into the van.

I found a 1997 Dodge Ram 25000 short cargo van with a V6.  I really wanted the best MPG, so for me the smaller the better.  I knew the small space would be a challenge, but I was up for it.  The van was an old AT&T service van.  It had 84,000 original miles on it and was well maintained.  I paid $1,500 cash.  The van had roof racks and racks inside for work.  I was able to remove them and sell them on craigslist.  I found all the information I needed to convert it and got most of my ideas from cheaprvliving.com.  The first thing I did was insulate the cargo area by  putting Reflectix against the bare metal.  Next came 2 layers of foam insulating board and covered the insulation with a nice paneling.  I laid Relflectix on the floor then put down 3/4″ plywood on top on that.

brian-stryro

brian-insulation

The van came with a cargo divider so I have a nice doorway from that cab to the back of the van.  After measuring out my space, and drawing up a few different floor plans,  I decided on the bed/couch in back and built the bed frame with storage under it.  I designed it so the couch can be used facing front or facing back. That way, with the back doors open, I can back in at the beach and watch the sunset!  Next, I built a little table for my sink, which I also use for cooking with my propane stove.  It’s not bolted down, I like to be able to move it around when I set up camp.

The sink unit is movable so it can go in different places in the van or even outside. Here he's cooking in the sink.

The sink unit is movable so it can go in different places in the van or even outside. Here he’s cooking in the sink.

I knew I wanted a solar panel so I planned on having a space for my battery bank and inverter.  To keep my wire runs as short as possible, I put the battery bank behind the drivers seat.  I made a funky cabinet thing to house the batteries.  I have storage space on top of the batteries, I found a plastic storage drawer that fits in that space.  I went with a 100 watt solar panel and a Morning Star controller feeding two 6 volt golf cart batteries. That gives me plenty of power to run my small Dometic 12 volt fridge 24/7 and can also charge my laptop and other gadgets off the inverter.  The fridge and inverter are wired directly to the batteries.  I installed a fuse panel for adding other things like fans, lights, or other accessories.  I’m currently using little battery powered LED lights, but I will probably wire in some in the future.  Overall, I’m very happy with the conversion.  I left some things unfinished so I have something to do when I get bored.  I started out by spending most of my time in the van and doing over-nighters a few nights a week to get a feel for what I might need or have forgotten.

All of the electrical is very close together behind the divider wall which means the wire runs are very short.

All of the electrical is very close together behind the divider wall which means the wire runs are very short.

The solar panel is mounted on a ladder rack and can be tilted for maximum power output.

The solar panel is mounted on a ladder rack and can be tilted for maximum power.

My total cost for the van and the materials for the conversion(including the solar setup and the fridge) was around $2,800.  I knew I could do it under for $3,000!  I will be mostly stealth camping around my job and spending my days at our beautiful parks and beaches.  I’m taking up surfing which I haven’t done since my high school years, and will continue to hike, mountain bike and take little roads trips as needed.  My dreams of living more on less are becoming a reality!  

I’m so grateful to Bob and all the other bloggers and member of this community.  I am most grateful for my amazing parents and brother whose unconditional love and acceptance has carried me through some of the toughest times of my life.  I plan on starting my own blog by next month to share this experience with others.  Hopefully Bob will let me ‘plug’ it here so y’all can check it out.

Find Brian’s YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/TrueBypassTheory

See Brian’s Blog here: https://adventurevanman.wordpress.com/

With the bed laid flat, it's very wide. You can see the sink and fridge up front and Reflectix on all the windows.

With the bed laid flat, it’s very wide. You can see the sink and fridge up front and Reflectix on all the windows.

Building the battery box.

Building the battery box.

Posted in Conversion Details, Inspiration-Spirituality, Vandwelling Philosophy

East Versus West Coast: Where should you be a Snowbird?

This map gives you a very visual idea of the amount of Public land on the East and West Coasts. The yellow areas are BLM land and he dark green is National Forest. Obviously there is much, much more out West. Why is that important? Because you can camp for free on BLM or NF land. Which looks preferable to you?

This map gives you a very visual idea of the amount of Public land on the East and West Coasts. The yellow areas are BLM land and the green is National Forest. Obviously there is much, much more out West. Why is that important? Because you can camp for free on BLM or NF land. Which looks preferable to you?

I just got back to Arizona after visiting my mom for three weeks in Florida and while I was there I went to a small gathering of East coast vandwellers that are all on the cheaprvliving.com forums. (If you aren’t on the forums, you should be!!) http://www.cheaprvliving.com/forums/ I was delighted for the chance to meet them and see how East coast vandwellers lived in the winter because a topic that comes up fairly often on the forum is which is better for vandwellers the East or West coast? I was curious to see how they did it with very little Public Land to camp on. It turns out that in Florida a few of the utilities company will let you camp on their land for free if you ask permission. For more info about that, click here: http://www.cheaprvliving.com/blog/free-winter-camping-and-boondocking-in-florida-for-vans-and-rvs/

That’s especially on my mind because of the terrible winter most of the country has had this year. While many of you were setting records for cold and snow, here in the Southwest we were setting records for warmth and comfort. This has been one of the nicest winters I’ve experienced in the last seven years of spending my winters here. In fact, as I’m writing this, it’s been in the high 80’s all week and today it will hit 90 for the first time and then stay in the low 90’s the rest of the week. That’s much too hot for me, so being a good Snowbird, it’s time to move! The question is, “Move to where?”

This is today's weather forecat for Ehrenberg, AZ; it's hot!! So it's time to move, but where?

This is today’s weather forecast for Ehrenberg, AZ; it’s hot!! So it’s time to move, but where?

As I think about the ridiculous numbers of great places I could move to I feel really bad for those of you who’ve been enduring that terrible weather and I have to wonder if you are aware you have better choices. Because we live on wheels, we can move to avoid bad weather and find good weather. I think being a Snowbird is the best!

The Prescott National Forest is the perfect place! It's 20 degrees cooler!!

The Prescott National Forest is the perfect place! It’s 20 degrees cooler!!

The problem is people generally tend to stay where they grow up, so if their family is back East, that’s what they know and think is best, or if you grow up out West you think its best. I have the advantage that I didn’t grow up in either place, I lived in Alaska for 45 years so I don’t have family or roots on either coast.  But I have traveled a fair amount around the East; enough to form an opinion of which I think is best.

The great thing about the West is you can get such dramatic differences in weather in very short distances.  In this case, by moving a mere 250 miles, it's 20 degrees cooler. In 6 weeks it'll be too hot there, but I can move another 60 miles to Flagstaff and it'll drop another 10 degrees.

The great thing about the West is you can get such dramatic differences in weather in very short distances. In this case, by moving a mere 250 miles, it’s 20 degrees cooler. In 6 weeks it’ll be too hot there, but I can move another 60 miles to Flagstaff and it’ll drop another 10 degrees.

When I retired and left Alaska in December of 2006 I moved to just outside of Asheville, North Carolina which I think is one of the very nicest places to live west of the Mississippi River. I lived there for 16 months until March of 2008 when I left to live on Public Land out West. While I was there I took several road trips and explored the East Coast. I managed to camp at least one night in each of the Eastern states except Delaware, it was too hard to get to. This is where I explored:

  • In the spring I went to a gathering of vandwellers in Ohio where we camped for a week on electric utility company campgrounds that were free.
  • I spent a week in Washington DC and surrounding areas in April for the Cherry Blossom Festival and explored the Atlantic coast all the way down to Kitty Hawk, NC.
  • In June I explored Roan Mountain on the Tennessee and North Carolina border during the peak Rhododendron bloom, and fell deeply in love with it!
  • In the fall I spent 6 weeks as a “Leaf-Pepper” exploring fall colors in New England. I traveled from Niagara Falls to Adirondacks State Park in New York, into Vermont and quite a bit of time in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. From there I explored Maine and then followed the fall colors south over the Blue Ridge Highway.
  • Because my mom lives in Florida, I took numerous trips to visit her and explored Florida in the winter.
  • I spent a little time on the Natchez Trace.

I found very little free camping in my travels, so I spent most nights in the parking lots of Wal-Mart stores and other black-top boondocking. That’s okay for short trips, but it isn’t how I want to live my life. In March of 2008 I left North Carolina and have been living the life of a Snowbird on Public Land on the West coast for the last seven years.  With very few exceptions, I’ve camped for free on National Forest or BLM land in a beautiful setting without crowds,  little noise and without asking permission. For the most part, that simply is not possible back East.

Because I’m from Alaska I don’t have a vested interest in preferring one over the other and yet I’ve lived and traveled in both places. I’m in a unique position to directly compare the two Coasts and form a reasonably fair assessment of which is objectively better. That’s what I’m doing in today’s post.

First, let me say that I’m well aware that circumstances often conspire to limit us to one place and keep us from traveling—that exact thing happened to me. After my divorce my kids went with their mom and lived in Alaska so I had no choice but be a vandweller in Alaska. No matter how much better it would have been somewhere else, I had to stay there. If you are in that situation, I’m hoping this information will be helpful to you in the future, even if right now your finances, family or friends confine you to one place.

West-nps-best

While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the simple fact is that the great majority of our scenic National Parks are in the 12 Western state. California alone has more than all the states East of the Mississippi combined.

Why I believe the West Coast is the best place for every vandweller.

Much better camping. There is dramatically more public land available for dispersed camping out West compared to the East Coast. The sheer number of acres of National Forests (NF) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is so much greater that it’s very easy to find a free camping site in all the Western States. The BLM is a prime example. It administers more public land – over 245 million surface acres – than any other Federal agency in the United States. Most of this land is located in the 12 Western states, there is almost none in the Eastern states. The map at the top of this page illustrates that dramatically.

Much easier to be a snowbird. Out West it’s easy and cheap to move with the seasons and find comfortable weather year around. In both California and Arizona you can be a snowbird without leaving the state. You can be warm at sea level in the winter and cool at 9000 feet in the summer by only driving 300 miles. No matter how tight your budget, you can probably afford that. If you can afford to travel, the three big mountain ranges (Rockies, Cascades and Sierras) offer camping up to 12,000 feet that is cool all summer and are also incredibly beautiful.

The weather generally is better. Most of the West has very low humidity so even if it gets hot or cold, it’s much more bearable than the very high humidity that blankets most of the East.

The scenery is spectacular! Because nature photography is my primary hobby, wherever I go I look for not just pretty places, but the places that make you stop dead in your tracks, your jaw to drop, and involuntarily say “Wow!” Those places are common out West, and rare back East. Don’t get me wrong, there are many pretty places back East and I’ve tried to visit them all. But very few of them take your breath away, bring a tear to your eye and make you say “Wow!” Of course that’s just my subjective opinion but solid evidence can be found in the sheer number of National Parks out West and the very few back East. Then, when you visit the ones out West the first thing you’ll notice is the giant number of tour buses filled with tourists from foreign countries. When you walk around you’ll hear much more German, Japanese, Italian and Spanish than you will English. People fly in from all over the world to see the scenery out West, very few do to see the scenery back East.

Cities tend to be much more stealth parking friendly. There are many exceptions to that but for the most part there is generally a much greater “Live and let live” attitude in the West.

The weather is much less dangerous. The East is plagued with Tornadoes, Floods and Hurricanes all of which are fairly rare in the West. No one out here lives in fear of them. You’ll probably respond that the East doesn’t have earthquakes. That’s true, but deadly earthquakes are rare here; there certainly is not an earthquake season every year when you grit your teeth and hope you aren’t hit by one. Plus, if you get inland away from the Pacific coast, they simply stop. Out West, they are a non-issue everywhere except the “Ring of Fire” which is California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

The East is too crowded. This one is totally subjective, but there are just simply too many people packed into too small a space in the East for me to be comfortable. Often, that makes them irritable and unpleasant–but not always, the mountain people in North Carolina were among the nicest I’ve ever met.

Less Noise, Air, Light and People Pollution. I’m looking for peace and quiet in pristine nature. There is very little of that back East but it’s common out West.

The West is wild and untamed. Growing up in Alaska did leave me with one very strong prejudice, I only want to live in a beautiful place full of wild mountains, rivers and animals. I need to live in a place with an edge to it! I’m addicted to wild, raw nature and that means it must have an element of risk and danger to it. As far as I’m concerned, tamed nature is a ridiculous oxymoron and is not nature at all, it’s a zoo or a park. Those are okay to visit, but I don’t want to live in one! The East coast is tamed nature; it was destroyed and then rebuilt at man’s whim. To me, I don’t feel awe and wonder or get in touch with the part of my heart that beats with wild, raw, primitive nature; no, I mainly feel sorrow for the humans that are so cut off from nature that they did these terrible things and pity for their victims.

It’s close to Mexico with its very cheap dental work, glasses and prescription medications. The cost of all those things are skyrocketing and health insurance often doesn’t cover them, so being able to get them for pennies on the dollar is a huge plus for the West coast.

As always, there is no one way that works best for everyone. Just because the West is best for me, doesn’t mean it will be best for you. We are all so different and distinct that we must each find our own way through the maze that is our lives. My only goal here was to lay out some information and give you my reasoning. What you do with it is entirely your decision. My only wish for you, is a wonderful, free, happy life, wherever and however it unfolds.

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Posted in Boondocking, Camping Locations, Travel

Runaway Mini-Camper Review: Part 2

Would you rather live here, or check to check in some low-income housing in a city. For me it's a very easy choice.

Would you rather live here, or just barely check-to-check in an apartment or low-income housing in a city. For me it’s a very easy choice.

In my last post I introduced you to the Runaway Mini-Camper but I couldn’t give you all the details I wanted so I’m going to finish it up in this post. If you haven’t read that post, you should go back and read it before this one. First, let me say I know they aren’t perfect and aren’t for everybody, they have a couple of big disadvantages:

  1. They’re small and offer the minimum of comfort. Most vans and minivans offer more interior room and especially height. We’d all like our vehicle home to be bigger and tall enough to stand up in.
  2. Towing a trailer is less than ideal, in fact it’s kind of a pain in the butt. They are hard to drive in traffic, to back up and they reduce your fuel economy. Setting up and tearing down camp is harder and takes longer which means you will probably travel less.
You can customize them exactly how you want them.

You can customize them exactly how you want them, and still tow them with your car. You can get the ladder racks and rear hitch as options from the factory.

Even with those disadvantages, there simply isn’t anything that works as well if you’re on a tight budget and aren’t mechanical–and that describes a lot of people! The single biggest danger we all face when we become Nomads is the risk of break-downs. Our car or van isn’t just transportation, it’s our home. So for that reason we need two things, 1) the most reliable vehicle possible and 2) an emergency fund to cover repairs on the road. If the vehicle you own now has proven to be reliable and gets good MPG, it’s best to keep it if at all possible. Because the Runaway is so lite and aerodynamic it lets you keep your car while nearly everything else forces you to sell it. Unless you have a fairly large savings you won’t be able to buy a newer vehicle that will be certain to be reliable and that could leave you without an emergency fund.

Would you rather have a life of adventure and travel or sit in a rocking chair enduring the tedium and monotony of work until you're old and die?

Would you rather have a life of adventure and travel or sit in a rocking chair enduring the tedium and monotony of work until you’re old and die?

Being able to tow this with your current car might let you comfortably hit the road much sooner than if you have to save up for a van or RV and still have an emergency fund. So your decision is whether to wait until you can have all the comfort you want or compromise with one of these to be able to go now. It’s a tough decision that each of us will have to make for ourselves. For me it’s easy, I’d a thousand times rather be on the road in a Runaway than at home barely surviving.

ruway-frame-wide

This is the 6×8 RangeRunner being built. Notice it has doors on both sides.

runway-frame

A close-up of their construction.

Let’s compare the Runaway to your other choices; for the purposes of this comparison I’m assuming you are on a small, tight budget and have limited mechanical skills. If you have more money or are more mechanical, then one of these might be a better choice.

Van or Mini-van: I believe a van is a better choice in nearly every way but there are reasons why it might not be best for you 1) It might not be reliable. If you’re on a tight budget you’re going to have to buy an older, high  mileage van and if you can’t do your own repairs you’ll never know if you’ll be left stranded by it. I’ve heard from many people who put their last $2000 into a used van and hit the road only to blow an engine or transmission and be forced to abandon their new life. 2) Compared to a car it will get poor fuel economy so you won’t be able to travel nearly as much.

Truck with Shell: Trucks do have advantages but most shells are so low I wouldn’t even consider one and trucks get poor MPG compared to cars. However, the compromise of towing a Runaway with a small truck gives you the best advantages of both; lots of carrying capacity and half way decent MPG along with the comfort of the trailer.

Pop-up Trailers: These are also surprisingly expensive new and a used one in this price range may very well have hidden problems. I’ve never recommend pop-ups for these reasons: 1) They are very cold in the winter, 2) They offer no safety from predators, 3) The are a pain to set-up and take-down, 4) Eventually they will rot, mold or mildew.

Cargo Trailers: A 5×7 cargo trailer may actually cost less than a Runaway, but it’s extra height and weight will probably keep your car from being able to tow it. Worse, it probably isn’t move-in-ready; it won’t have any windows and may not have an entrance door. By the time you add those, it will cost more than a Runaway and still be more difficult or impossible to tow.

Tear Drop trailers: I’ve never understood the fascination with these; they have very little room inside and they force you to cook outside. Worse, they are incredibly expensive, I searched for one that cast less than $6000 and only found one tiny one that was $5000, the rest were $6000 or much more. For most of us they are not an option. All they have going for them is the “cool” factor, and I have to admit it, they are cool. But that’s a poor reason to choose one.

Build your own: One thing I’ve suggested is buying a very small and light trailer like the 4 x 8 Harbor Freight folding trailer, and then build  a small cabin on top of it.  They only weigh 250 pounds and you can get them on sale fairly often for $300 so it seems perfect; all you have to do is build a 4 x 8 foot plywood shell on top of it and you have a very cozy little home that any car can safely tow. The problem is most people don’t have the carpentry skills to build anything or if they did have the skills they don’t have the tools. Unless you are a very skilled carpenter, a home-built trailer will never be as nice as a Runaway and if it’s made as well with doors and windows it will probably cost you more. (http://www.harborfreight.com/1195-lb-capacity-48-inch-x-96-inch-heavy-duty-foldable-utility-trailer-with-12-inch-wheels-90154.html)

A Tent: If you are on a tight budget, a tent is the only real competition to a Runaway because it’s so small and cheap. However, in bad weather (especially desert wind-storms) or cold weather they can be very uncomfortable and hard to sleep in. Worse, they offer no protection or feeling of safety from predators. The Runaway takes care of both of those problems and in every way is better than a tent. I’ve known many people who came out to the desert and tried to live in a tent and none of it did it more than one year because the sun and wind destroyed their tents and they were just too uncomfortable. They all ended up in vans. I don’t recommend it long-term

The 6x8 RangeRunner let's you put a Queen mattress across the back and still gives you plenty of room up front.

The 6×8 RangeRunner let’s you put a Queen mattress across the back and still gives you plenty of room up front. They come with two doors so you don’t have to crawl over each other getting in and out.

Who it’s for:

This Runaway trailer isn’t right for everybody but it’s perfect for anybody on a tight budget but also hungers for more adventure and travel and isn’t willing to watch life pass them by. It’s perfect for people in these situations:

Retired, but not with enough money to live well on: If you enjoy nature and camping, wouldn’t you rather live for free on Public Land instead of low income housing in who knows where? With one of these you can be a Snowbird and travel with the seasons seeing new things and places and meeting new people. Instead of sitting in a rocking chair watching TV waiting to die, life will be at it’s very best. Isn’t that worth putting up with a tiny bedroom?

You want to keep your home and still take trips: These are the perfect compromise for part-time travelers. You can keep you economy car as your daily driver while you are home and still travel cheaply and comfortably in these trailers. If you have kids, the 6 x 8 RangeRunner will work very well for you. You can put a Queen size mattress across the back of the trailer and still have room for the kids in the front. It comes standard with two doors so you won’t be crawling all over each other.

Dire financial need: If circumstances in your life have conspired to bring you to the edge of becoming homeless–sometimes its divorce, loss of work, health problems or changing relationships with family or friends and yet you have no money to buy a van, let alone an RV, this trailer is perfect for you! Maybe you already have a reliable car or small SUV but you don’t want to sell it to buy a van because of the bad MPG and risk of unknown reliability. All you have to do is sell enough of your things to buy a Runaway and you can move into it and never have to worry about being homeless again. By living on Public land you can live very well in natures beauty for free. Read about living on Public Land here: http://www.cheaprvliving.com/boondocking-stealth-parking/livingcamping-public-land/

You want to live full-time as a snowbird on the minimum of money: By towing this with an economy car you can live on Public Land and travel year-around for very little money. Speaking from experience, it’s a great life!!

They can be towed by a Smartar! Notice the options on this trailer: 1) front rack holding gas cans and propane bottle; 2) rockgaurd; 3) rear hitch with a Hitch Haul. With all that extra storage, even a tiny car can work.

They can be towed by a Smart Car! Notice the options on this trailer: 1) front rack holding gas cans and propane bottle; 2) rockgaurd; 3) rear hitch with a Hitch Haul. With all that extra storage, even a tiny car can work.

They have very strong, well-made frames. As light as they are you will never have a problem with them.

They have very strong, well-made frames. As light as they are you will never have a problem with them.

Models and Options.

BaseCamp–$2500: This is the base model and should work very well for you. They are all made from 3/4 inch birch plywood (1/2 inch on the roof) and clad with aluminum so they should last forever.

  • Insulated Door with Deadbolt.
  • Two screened windows with Safety Rated Glass.
  • One shelf across the front
  • Interior Measures 46.5″W (70 1/2″ for RangeRunners) x 46″H x 94.5″ L
  • Exterior Measures 70″H x 68″ W to outside of fenders (90″ for RangeRunners) x 12’4″ L (including tongue)
  • Tows with 2″ ball
  • Lighting connector is a standard Flat 4-prong trailer connector
  • No brake connection is necessary
  • Birch Plywood walls and vinyl floor
  • Axles rated at 2200 pound
  • Dual Rear Stabilizers

CoolCamp–$3000: This is their best selling model because it adds their four most popular options:

  • 5000 btu Air Conditioning and a power strip to plug it into
  • Front mounted cargo box
  • 13 inch Tires and wheels instead of the base 12 inch
  • Graphics Package
The Navigato is the model I would want, plus I'd order the roof racks to mount a solar panel to. I'd carry my Honda generator and a gas can on the front to power the Air Conditioner and I'd put the batteries at the back to balance the weight. Ater I add the solar panel and controller, it would be totally ready to live in.

The Navigator is the model I would want, plus I’d order the roof racks to mount a solar panel to. I’d carry my Honda generator and a gas can on the front to power the Air Conditioner and I’d put the batteries at the back to balance the weight. After I add the solar panel and controller, it would be totally ready to live in.

Navigator–$3100: This adds two options that I would consider very important:

  • It replaces the front cargo box with a large open rack (I think that gives you more cargo options like a generator, propane tank or batteries)
  • Adds a front front diamond-plate rock-guard to protect the trailer from rocks thrown from your car

6 x 8 RangeRunner–$5000: The largest Runaway camper is larger and has all the options listed above as well as two doors (one on each side), rear hitch and 15 inch wheels and tires:

  • 900lbs empty weight
  • 6×8 exterior platform on 11ga. steel frame
  • 3/4″ undercoated plywood floor
  • Dexter Easy-Lube axles with 3500lb. rating
  • 2″ Hitch
  • A-frame tongue
  • Dual Rear Stabilizers
  • Rear Accesory Hitch
  • 15″ White Spoke Wheels
  • LED Taillights
  • Front Diamond Plate Rockguard
  • Double Doors
  • 5000 btu Frigidaire Air Conditioning

You can also order them custom built with the exact features you want. They offer many add-on options that make the trailer much more comfortable to either live in or travel in. These are the most common, but you can always ask for something truly custom. Call for more details about all these options.

Rear 42 inch locking door: It allows much better ventilation and visibility plus lets you use the trailer at home as a cargo trailer.

Roof ladder rack or storage rack: These make it easy to add a solar panel to the roof

Rear receiver hitch: You can put either a bike rack or a Hitch Haul for more storage capacity.

Custom shelving: They’ve designed some custom shelf packages that you can select from.

They are only sold direct so you will have to pick it up from them at Ocala, Florida. Shipping is available and usually will run somewhere between  $500 and $1000 depending on where you are in the country.

You can check out their website and Facebook Page here:

http://www.runawaycampers.com/index.html

https://www.facebook.com/RunawayCampers

To contact them with any questions or find out how to purchase your Runaway:

PHONE: (352) 342-3454
EMAIL: 
LINK@cfaith.com

1338 N. Magnolia Ave.
Ocala, Florida USA 34475

Remember to tell them Bob from cheaprvliving sent you to get a $50 discount!

They are very capable off-road! The roof-rack is an option.

They are very capable off-road! The roof-rack is an option.

If you tow one with a SUV or mini-van, you'll have lots of room for storage and pretty decent MPG.

If you tow one with a SUV or mini-van, you’ll have lots of room for storage and pretty decent MPG.

The y will install a reat hitch for you giving you more storage room.

The y will install a reatrhitch for you giving you more storage room.

The jack swings away if you are in rough terrain. Notice e front cargo rack that gives you lots of outside storage.

The jack swings away if you are in rough terrain. Notice the front cargo rack that gives you lots of outside storage.

 

Posted in Adventure, Boondocking, Budget, Which Vehicle to Live In?

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