Thinking About the Future and Looking Back on the Past

It is that time of year again. When everyone looks back over the previous year, decides what went well and what didn’t, and sets new goals to accomplish over the upcoming year. Matthew and I have never been big on setting “resolutions” per-say, but we do spend some time each new year reminiscing about the previous year and outlining goals to strive toward in this one. We’ve noticed that doing this helps to keep us motivated and prevents us from sliding in to a rut. Continue reading

You Slept Where?!

We assume that most of you reading along with our adventures do not live in an RV and that many of you have not spent time in them. So we wanted to explain some of the basics of our new life.

One of the most apparent differences from our stationary life is where we spend our nights. On the one hand, no matter where we go, we are home and are sleeping in our bed. On the other hand, we never know where we’ll be parked in a couple of days (or even that night!) Here are a few of the places we’ve stayed over the last 14 months.

Walmart parking lots

Prevalent and convenient, Walmart provides a dual offering of both a place to spend the night and a chance to pick up whatever we might need (and bring it right back to our front door). Occasionally they won’t allow (or the city ordinances forbid) overnighting in their parking lot but you can quickly tell if it’s allowed when pulling in, based on the other RV’s already gathered. The lights are constant, as are the traffic sounds – Walmarts seem to be generally located on one of the busiest roads in the area. As a place to stop while en route, they’re hard to beat, though.

Apparently Sam’s has a similar appreciation of RVers, but we have yet to stay at one. They’re on our radar as options when needed, however.

Truck Stops (yes, the big gas stations)

Another good place to stay en route, these are conveniently located near the interstate. They often provide numerous services including showers, laundry, fast food, and more (other than bathrooms, coffee, and gas we haven’t yet utilized any others). As you might expect, they’re pretty well lit and earplugs are handy as you’ll be listening to big rigs moving around all night long.

Rest Stops (picnic areas on the interstates)

We’ve only stayed at a few of these so far – so many of the smaller parking areas don’t allow for over-night stays and some states have limits on how long you can park (ranging from 15 minutes to 12 hours). They can be far enough back from the road to mute the traffic noise but are often close and thus have a constant background noise. They do make great places to stop and stretch or prepare a meal (just as when traveling in a car) and we generally try to find one as we enter a new state so that we can grab the official state map.

Cabela’s

The outdoor retailer has parking areas for over-sized vehicles and often provides stations to empty and fill tanks. We stayed at one while slowly making our way to the Bad Lands (pausing due to Sturgis). It was far enough back from the interstate to be quiet, but we were staying in a big parking lot, so it’s not the kind of place you’d want to spend a lot of time at. Very convenient while traveling, though.

Cracker Barrel

Apparently, CB has an overnighters-are-welcome policy. We have yet to stay at one (they are few and far between up here in the north west) but they are on our to-try list. A chance to peruse the knick-knacks in the store and grab a hot breakfast sounds good to us. Plus, they close at night, so we’re hoping they would provide security with the lights in the parking lot but a good rest with little background traffic noise.

The Wild

We’ve spent a lot of time staying out in the wilds in National Forests, deserts, and wilderness areas. Free camping with beautiful views – it’s a hard combination to beat. This is commonly called “boondocking” or “wild camping”, though the forest service calls it “Dispersed Camping”. With no utility hook-ups, we have to be self-containing and rely on our storage tanks, generator, and batteries for our needs. So far we’ve been able to stretch our 37 gallons of fresh water to 10 days. Especially here in the west, there are a lot of national forests and a lot of places we can stay, so we have greatly enjoyed exploring a lot of wilderness from within.

Campgrounds

Oh yes, there are also plenty of campgrounds scattered around the country thus far. We are members of Passport America, a discount organization that gets us half off for at least a couple of nights at grounds that are members – so we use their guidebook regularly. Sites have ranged from new to old, shiny to worn-out, working to questionable. Not everywhere has a Passport America campground, so we have a collection of apps and directories that we use to find sites. Many cities and counties seem to have a small campground for travelers, as do National Parks and Forests. Campgrounds generally have the advantage of electricity and access to water and dump tanks for our waste.

Other options

Who knows where we’ll stay next! We have spent time parked in family’s driveways or the street nearby and left the RV in a church parking lot while staying in a delightful cottage on the lake. So far we have felt safe in our home, no matter where we’ve been parked. Occasionally we use our ear plugs to help provide a better night’s sleep but those nights are more than made up for when we get to wake up and appreciate a grand view of nature’s wonder during our morning’s beverages.

Exploring the world doesn’t mean we’re always staying in grand locations. It does mean that we’re happy in our home, though, wherever it might be parked at.

RV Options

While writing “A Few Thoughts on (RV) Size” I briefly touched on different RV options and mentioned how we are curious about the different rigs that people are using. Of course, we don’t know who is full-timing, on a 6-month walk-about, using a week’s vacation to travel or just out for a relaxing weekend. And to some extent, it all depends on the person. Some people would be happy in a teardrop for a year while others need a fully decked-out Class A to be comfortable for a weekend.

Here are a few of my thoughts about the different options – how and what I would use them for, personally.

Class-A Motorhome
These buses are just bigger than I have a desire for. The space would certainly be convenient (especially moving up from something smaller) as I could throw everything that I own in one an still have room left over. They seem like they’re ideal for families who use their RV as long-term home-base for adventures, driving to a new destination and staying there for at least a few weeks. Plenty of room to spread out.

Conversion Buses
While these can be the same size as a Class-A, I am a lot more intrigued by them. It’s the DIY nature that appeals to me. I like the idea of buying a bus, ripping out the interior, and getting to build up from a blank slate to match my desires. However, I know that this can be a challenging and expensive process (though it doesn’t have to be).

If I were to do this, I think it would work best as a quick way to build a permanent structure on a plot of land. Install wood floors, some hammocks across the back, cabinets and counters down one wall and a window seat on the other for easy furnishings. A black-hose solar water heater on the roof with a water cistern underneath hooked into the sinks, combined with a composting toilet and a wood stove would be fairly easy to put together for basic utilities. A solar panel kit on the roof with batteries stored underneath for lights and some power. It would be a metallic rustic cabin, with lots of natural light from all of the windows.

Class-C Motorhome
Obviously, I’m happy with one of these. It’s a great mix of a self-contained vehicle and living space. The Ford chassis that ours is built on provides plenty of pulling power and we have ample space inside. We really like the ability to move directly from our living quarters into our vehicle without having to go outside – not only convenient but very handy when it’s cold, raining, or we otherwise don’t want to go outside but are ready to start moving. Plus, it can’t be overstated how much we like being able to see what is happening inside our home while we are on the road. If we forget to take something off the counter and it slides onto the floor we can quickly stash it away, though on a trailer we wouldn’t know until we arrived and went back to find it.

Class-B Motorhome
The RoadTreks keep drawing my attention. Though I’ve seen video and photo walk-throughs online I have not yet been inside of one and am curious. They seem large enough to make a dandy full-time space for two while traveling but I’m not sure that they would feel large enough to live in while stationary for any period of time. If anyone happens to have one that I could test out, however, I’m certainly happy to experiment!

Fifth-wheel
Though these seem to be popular and provide plenty of space along with, I assume, quite a good turning ability, they don’t appeal to us. Of course, we haven’t spent any time in one so we can’t give an informed decision. I know that they can be the largest of trailers, as the tongue doubles as an additional room without adding additional length out the back and they are popular choices because of that. For aesthetic and storage reasons we are more interested in a traditional trailer than a fifth-wheel.

Trailer
Trailers provide the convenience of separating your house and your vehicle, something our motorhome cannot do. We are towing along a secondary vehicle (commonly called a “toad”, in our case the motorcycle on our trailer) to make up for that fact. With a trailer we could park, unhook, and drive our towing vehicle as a daily driver. That vehicle would also provide additional storage – perhaps tools, grill, and bicycles could live in a truck bed, replacing a trailer of some sort.

We are drawn to the Airstream trailers, though I expect it would have to be either a new one or remodeled to look how we would like inside – and the price of a new one rather dampens our interest. Our vision includes wood floors, a tiled shower in the bathroom, sleek modern lines on furniture, and brightly colored blinds to liven up a space.

Conversion Van
The project nature of a van appeals to me – the fun of planning it out is probably greater than actually building it. There are three things that really intrigue me about these: the satisfaction of living in something you made, the portable nature allowing one to get far back into nature, and the stealthy ability to overnight parked along the street in towns.

I think that one of these would be a fabulously affordable way to venture out on an extended road trip or to save money while traveling along with a mobile job of some sort. The building process would just start the adventure early, before the travel is actually undertaken.

Tear-drop Trailer
Again, the DIY nature of these appeals to me. There are abundant plans available online. Small and streamlined, they can be pulled by efficient vehicles, not requiring a large truck. Providing basically a comfortable bed and efficient kitchen, they look like highly-upgraded camping kits to me. I expect to build and utilize one of these once we decide to settle down somewhere. It will help push us to go and spend time in nature or travel, camping in luxury in a mobile vacation home of our own.

So many options…

I know that I’ve left a lot of other options out (like a converted box truck) and that many of the DIY projects overlap (wooden floors and solar) but I just wanted to share some of the different methods of travel that I’ve seen and thought about while on the road.

There’s something for everyone out there, customizable to your specific desires and circumstances. It just takes a bit of time and effort to seek it out and then make it your own.

It’s Not Always Sunshine and Rainbows

We feel it is only right to share the good, the bad and the ugly of our journey. Not everyday is perfect, we have set-backs, hiccups and frustrations too. In a world full of perfection, fake perceptions, and carefully polished FaceBook lives, we want to be transparent about the reality of our life on the road. We love our life and feel incredibly lucky to be undertaking our current adventure. Most days are pretty great, but there are also days that make us want to scream, pull out our hair (or make Matthew wish he had enough to pull out), or occasionally explode in tears. Continue reading

A Few Thoughts on (RV) Size

At this point we have been traveling for 14 months, living in our RV full-time while on the road. Some of you have asked how the RV feels and if it’s becoming cramped. Here are a few of our thoughts on the subject – if you’re in the market for an RV of your own, perhaps they may be of some help.

Where we live

We have a 2002 29′ Class-C motorhome that we remodeled. It definitely feels like home and we love it more the longer we live here. We can see ourselves living here for many years, even if we decide to stop traveling. It’s more than big enough to be comfortable – we feel neither cramped nor is anything too far away if we have to go and get something we forgot.

Physically, the length from bumper to bumper is 29’10” and is externally 8′ wide. So, at most, we have under 240 sq ft of room. Though we will need a workshop or storage shed for storage once we settle down (there are tools and such in storage now), we don’t currently want anything bigger. If we were to build a house of the same size and add a loft above it this would feel absolutely luxurious as we’d have a whole extra room to use for something.

If anything, for traveling, we need something smaller.

We have stayed in a variety of locations – from WalMart parking lots to gravel campgrounds to spots in the woods miles off of a gravel road. Especially with the trailer added in, we are just under the common length limit for a number of campgrounds. While that hasn’t affected us it would be nice to be smaller and a bit more nimble, mostly for our times out in the wilderness. Our entire bedroom sticks out past the rear axle, so we have to be extra careful crossing pot-holes and dips, otherwise we can scrape with the rear bumper and trailer-hitch.

We have had to pass up on some splendid-looking sites because we couldn’t cross the drainage ditch at the entrance. A truck-bed camper in a 4-wheel drive truck or a 4×4 conversion van would suit perfectly for access to the back-country sites that we are drawn to. It would be small for long-term living (or so we imagine) but perfect for our time spent traveling.

A shorter version of what we have now would also allow us to be a bit more flexible, though we’d have to jettison some more stuff to shrink down somewhere smaller. Perhaps having a conversion space – a fold-down (murphy) bed of some sort – would be a good compromise.

Myriad Options

Along the way we have seen quite a few different RV’s of all shapes and sizes. I am intrigued by all of them and interested in trying everything out, at least for a bit. The teardrop trailers look like they’d be perfect for vacationing – small, light, cheap and nimble. The Class-B’s look rather agile and relatively fuel efficient, I’m especially drawn to the RoadTreks. We both think that the classic Airstreams look like a lot of fun and could have very interesting interiors (though I wouldn’t want to polish the outside of one). Always a fan of DIY projects, I love the idea of building a motorhome out of a work van of some sort.

There are so many different variables to consider, it can be hard to choose. We didn’t have, or want to purchase, a vehicle to pull a trailer, so those were out. The Class A’s (look like greyhound busses) were bigger than we wanted, narrowing the field further. Class B’s (that look like a big van) often didn’t have a dry shower (separate shower and toilet space) or permanent sleeping area and we didn’t want to convert our eating booth into a bed and back every day or have a wet toilet seat in our long-term home.

Our decision was relatively easy, as we lucked into a good platform that was readily available at a price we liked. Would we make the same decision today? Absolutely.

While a smaller RV of some sort would open camping options and we would be perfectly comfortable in one, we weren’t just buying for a road trip, we were purchasing a long-term house. We are comfortable inside, with enough space for our things and projects and to individually spread out and also comfortable driving (as long as we aren’t downtown somewhere or on a curvy, slippery road up in the mountain top). A larger RV would give us even more space but we don’t feel that we need it – though we might if we were stationary for longer periods of time.

Eventually, I expect that we’ll try out something different – maybe we’ll have a travel trailer of some sort for vacationing or build a conversion van so that we can spend more time in cities. Until then, we’re happy with our RV, love our home, and really can’t imagine anything better.

Our RV Is Our Home

We moved from a 1,200 sq ft apartment (with attached garage) into a less-than 240 sq ft motorhome (with pull-behind utility trailer).

Yet we don’t feel cramped. It hasn’t been a sacrifice. This is not a temporary situation required for our current adventure.

Our RV is our home. It feels homey to us, comfortable. We feel safe and cozy here.

When inside, we are surrounded by things that we love, that remind us of good times and fond memories.

Outside, we are proud of our house, glad to call it ours, and are comforted by its presence.

While running errands or off hiking on a trail somewhere we say things like, “ready to go home?” and mean it. They aren’t just a turn of phrase.

How much space do we need?

We paid attention to how much space we actually used in our apartment, and how much of it was little more than storage. Our usage patterns were the same in everywhere we had lived.

Our bedroom is for sleep and clothing storage. The bulk of our time is spent in the living room. Our kitchen and dining area see the rest. When the weather is nice we head outside, enjoying a patio or deck. A garage space is handy for working on occasional projects and storing tools.

The RV came with all of those spaces, just in smaller, more condensed packages. A bedroom with built-in clothing storage, a couch (living room) and booth (dining area) plus kitchen. We also have bonus room above the “car” cab with an extra sleep space, more storage and shelves (library). A pass-through storage compartment outside replaced the garage’s storage and our parking places combined with our utility trailer serve as a work-space.

Paring Down

A packrat, I had to get rid of a lot of things – paring down a collection that took me, literally, a lifetime to build. Some items (tools and books) took up residence in family’s storage areas (thank you!). They will come in handy for future projects, like building our next home, but aren’t necessary on this journey. Much was donated, sold or thrown away.

Collections of items that were kept as mementos were winnowed down to a single item to prompt the memory or captured in photographs. One thing reminds as well as a dozen. Seeing a picture of the reminder brings the memory back as well as the item itself did.

My life is not lessened for those things I am no longer holding on to. It was hard to let go, and I could not have done it without Ashley’s support, a tight time-frame, and a space limitation. Most of them I don’t miss, or even realize are gone – they are out of recollection already. The few things that I do miss have been tools or materials for a specific project (and are generally things that I have saved in storage). In fact, I still have too much stuff. More than a year into our adventure and we are carrying around items that have not been used yet.

Ashley is not a compulsive saver. If anything, she discards too easily. Occasionally she has been glad that I saved something. Between us we strike a good balance – I see the potential in items while she tries to ensure I don’t save too much.

The Remodel

When we bought it our RV looked just like everyone else’s from the same timeframe. After debating we decided to remodel and make it our own. How glad we are!

Our RV feels like home because it is ours. While we visually updated the inside and made some changes to make it more functional we were ultimately molding it to our tastes. New flooring, painted walls and cabinets, reupholstering the seating, swapping out blinds for curtains, and replacing the couch with a window-seat. All of these changed the feel of the inside and let us add our personal touch.

We are familiar with the systems and bones of our home because we’ve worked with them all, in some fashion. I learned the floorplan by crawling all over it and copying it with wood flooring. Ashley knows the cabinets from applying 3 coats of paint over all of them. While there is still plenty to learn we are more than familiar with our home, inside and out.

Home Sweet Home

A friend recently asked if we were still comfortable, if it was a home and not just a vehicle. Resoundingly yes!

We love our RV! It is definitely our home. We would live here even if we couldn’t travel around. What more could we ask for?

10 Days on the Wonderland Trail – Part 2: The Itinerary and Trail Report

Our last post explained the logistics and preparation of our Wonderland journey, so now on to the good stuff, the actual trip and daily notes we took along the way.

Day 0
From Bremerton to White River Entrance
Ranger Jonathan at the White River Backcountry Information Center got us a permit on the 1st try at 2pm. Matthew motorcycled to Longmire to drop off our food cache and got there just before closing time at 4:59 pm. We overnighted at White River Campground which was super convienient because we start the trail tomorrow at the White River trailhead a few hundred feet away.

Day 1
White River Campground Trailhead to Granite Creek Camp (8 mi)
It was a short day and we arrived in camp at about 12:30 pm. It was a good way to start out, an uphill climb most of the day so a good way to break in and get our legs used to climbing. We were assigned to the group site and had a pit toilet and bear pole all to ourselves. We heard from another group that tonight was accidentally overbooked (apparently the permit admission system had been glitchy) so we might end up having to share sites. We took a nap and woke up to some neighbors in our camp site, which was fine with us, there was plenty of space and we were just happy to be on the trail. Clear skies today gave us some views of Rainier from the Sunset area of the Park.2016-08-09 09.51.01

Day 2
Granite Creek to Cataract Valley on Spray Park Trail (10.5 mi)
Passed Mystic Lake today around our mid-way point and soaked our feet in the cool water for a while. Passed trail crews working along the way. Also picked and snacked on cloudberries growing alongside the trail, what a delicious treat! We are taking the Spray Park trail as an alternative to the official Wonderland trail for this section as it is supposed to be more scenic. Cataract Valley camp was overbooked and pretty crowded (there were like 3 groups that had to share the group site) but we arrived early enough that we had a spot all to ourselves. It was very damp in the evening, I think we hiked into and camped right in the middle of a fog layer.2016-08-10 12.13.352016-08-10 13.44.472016-08-10 14.35.05

Day 3
Cataract Valley to South Mowich River Camp (10.2 mi + 0.6 mi detour to Mowich Lake = 10.8 mi)
The meadows of Spray Park were amazing and filled with tons of mulitcolored wildflowers! Rainier was towering above us, overlooking the beautiful meadows. We crossed some snowfields here and climbed along talus slopes but nothing troublesome. The flies and mosquitoes were out with a vengeance today though! We made a detour up to Mowich Lake for water and extra toilet paper (the one thing I should have packed more of for this leg! – we have a roll waiting in our resupply cache). Made our way down to South Mowich River and got a great sandy camp site right on the river with lots of sunshine. We were able to dry out all of our damp stuff from camping in the cloud at Cataract Valley. South Mowich River camp has a neat little shelter, but the weather was so incredible no one had to use it. We scooped up some river water in a gallon ziplock and took our first ziplock bath of the trip, washed our sweaty socks, dried out in the sun, and enjoyed the rushing sounds of the river 🙂2016-08-11 10.31.03 2016-08-11 10.13.222016-08-11 19.13.402016-08-11 15.40.12

Day 4
South Mowich River Camp to North Puyallup River Camp (11 mi)
It was a long but gradual uphill hike to Golden Lakes where we stopped for water and lunch. Got to camp around 2 pm and headed 0.1 miles down the trail to the bridge overlook on the North Puyallup River. What an amazing view! Stunning ridges and cascading waterfalls. We ate dinner on the rocks, admiring the view, and chatted with a group of 4 from Seattle we had been leap-frogging with the last few days. We also found more cloudberries and wild mountain strawberries to snack on! Our favorite camp area thus far!2016-08-12 12.50.592016-08-12 15.34.29

Day 5
North Puyallup River to Devils Dream Camp (13.5 mi)
Killer day but some of the most outstanding views! After our morning climb to Klapatche Park (where we snacked on berries the whole way up) we took a pit stop and much needed swim at St. Andrews Lake. We didn’t bring swim suits, but trail traffic was pretty slow so we took turns being the lookout while the other went for a quick skinny-dip. We felt like whole new, fresh people afterward. The amount of sweat that has poured out of our bodies each day is baffling. It was a roller coaster of ups and downs today, and I was out of energy by the end of the day, but it was so worth it. Our favorite view was at the top of Emerald Ridge, where we finally got a sense of just how spectacularly massive and imposing Mt Rainier is. We could also really see the stunning blue tinge of color in the crevasses of the glaciers. Indian Henry’s was also really beautiful with meadows full of flowers – only wish we had admired it a bit longer, but it was nearing the end of our day and I was itching to be done. We arrived to camp pretty late for us, around 6 pm, and ate our much earned Chili Mac while swatting away at the mosquitoes. Devils Dream was a very buggy area.2016-08-13 11.25.122016-08-13 14.55.572016-08-13 16.04.42

Day 6
Devils Dream to Pyramid Creek Camp (2 mi)
Now this day almost broke us 🙂 Just kidding. To make our permit work, we had to do a short 2 mile day to Pyramid Creek. This actually worked out really well since we had a strenuous day yesterday, thus a short day proved to be a welcome break. It gave us a chance to rest and just enjoy our time admiring the view of Rainier from Pyramid Creek. Considering it was a whopping 2 mile day downhill, it would have been easy to do the Wonderland in 9 days instead of 10, but because of campsite availability, this is what we ended up with. We arrived in camp at 9:30 am (and that was after a leisurely breakfast at Devils Dream), hung our stinky clothes to air out (they needed it badly after 6 days of sweat accumulation), took another ziplock bath, ate lunch on the creek bank enjoying the view of Rainier, ate some wild black raspberries for dessert, took a nap, and played a few rounds of cards. It was a great, relaxing day!2016-08-15 07.48.22

Day 7
Pyramid Creek to Paradise River Camp (6.5 mi)
We were well rested and got an early start. Arrived at Longmire to pick up our food cache around 10 am – just in time that the Longmire National Park Inn Restaurant was still serving breakfast and we were craving some eggs! So we treated ourselves to omelette breakfasts (technically it was 2nd breakfast, but we were still starving), which were delightful, and headed on our way. Hiked past Carter Falls which we visited on on our last trip to Rainier except this time we could actually see the mountain from the trail! We were the first to camp again, so we nabbed our spot and then went to play in the river. We had a celebratory “food cache day” dinner of pesto tortellini topped with tilapia in a marinara sauce. It was amazing! Some of the other hikers put cans of beer in their caches as celebratory treats 🙂2016-08-15 12.05.47 2016-08-15 13.48.10

Day 8
Paradise River to Olallie Creek Camp (14.7 mi)
Olallie Creek Camp is actually located 1.3 miles off the Wonderland Trail on the Cowlitz Divide Trail, but all the campsites on the Wonderland near this area were filled up when we got our permit, so this was a great alternative. The scenery today was not that spectacular, mostly just hiking along river beds and forests, but the trail-side berries were abundant and we finally felt confident in our identification of huckleberries after talking to other hikers yesterday, so we started enjoying them too! We hiked past Reflection Lakes in the early morning and got some great pictures of Rainier mirrored in the still water. Olallie Creek camp was fabulous. It was literally right on the creek with a deep swimming hole just below our camp site. There were no other campers in the campground that night and we were surrounded by huckleberry bushes!2016-08-16 08.11.102016-08-16 09.30.55

Day 9
Olallie Creek to Summerland (10.4 mi)
The surrounding huckleberries made a great addition to our morning oatmeal. We saw a black bear in a tree across the creek as we left camp in the early morning. He was enjoying some huckleberries too! 🙂 It was a day of continual climbing, but the views were so spectacular we hardly noticed the climb (well, that might not be entirely true, but this is my rosey retrospect). It was definitely some of the best scenery of the entire route. Working our way along a ridge for most of the day, we saw incredible views of Mt Adams and Mt Hood in the distance. We took a break at Indian Bar, which is the camp located in a huge bowl shaped basin with the Ohanapecosh River running through it. Some of the most stunning wildflower displays of the trip were here as well. I used the pit toilet at Indian Bar which had the best view of any backcountry pit toilet yet! It had views of the wildflower meadows, the cascades tumbling down the cliffs at the head of the basin, and the crown of Mount Rainier above it all. A “throne” indeed! From Indian Bar and working toward Summerland we rested atop the Panhandle Gap (the highest point on the trail at 6,901′). Summerland camp was stunning and we had views of Rainier out our tent as well as a marmot and ptarmegan for neighbors. A spectacular place to spend our last night and an amazing finale to the trip!2016-08-17 10.08.29 2016-08-17 10.56.50 2016-08-17 13.04.56 2016-08-17 12.02.22 2016-08-17 13.21.29

Day 10
Summerland to White River Campground (6.7 mi)
And incredibly easy day of working our way down. We were back to the RV by 10:30 am. The trail was amazing and definitely full of wonders! Drove down to Longmire to pick up our empty cache bucket before heading out of the park.2016-08-18 06.10.26 2016-08-18 10.37.30 2016-08-18 10.41.07

So there you have it! The trail was amazing and definitely recommended. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe what you see and pictures fail miserably at capturing just how captivating and mesmerizing this landscape is, so you’ll just have to go see for yourself :).  If you do have plans to hike the Wonderland yourself here are some of our top recommendations:

Most Scenic Camp Sites:

  • South Mowich River
  • North Puyallup
  • Klapatche
  • Indian Bar
  • Summerland

Favorite Views:

  • Skyscraper Pass
  • Spray Park
  • Klapatche Park
  • St Andrews Park
  • Emerald Ridge
  • Indian Henrys
  • Indian Bar Area
  • Panhandle Gap
  • Summerland Area

10 Days on the Wonderland Trail – Part 1: The Logistics

I was immediately intrigued by the idea of backpacking the Wonderland Trail when I started researching trails to hike in Mount Rainier National Park back in April. It sounded like an amazing undertaking, but I figured, what with having to get an advanced permit and all, that this would be another trail added to our future to-do list (which only seems to grow after visiting places). Then, after spending 4 captivating days in Mount Rainier at the beginning of July, my desire only grew and I began looking in to the venture further. There is just something about Mt Rainier and its massive, majestic beauty, that pulls you in and calls to your spirit of adventure.

For those of you who don’t know anything about the Wonderland Trail, here’s a little background. The Wonderland is a giant 93 mile loop trail that goes all the way around Mt Rainier. The many glaciers coming off the mountain have carved deep valleys and ridges, making the trail notorious for its tremendous elevation gains and losses. Due to these huge elevation changes, by the end of the journey you have cumulatively climbed 22,786 feet (and descended another 22,786′) and hiked the equivalent of 126 flat miles. That means that Wonderland Trail hikers do enough climbing to have climbed Mt Rainier 2-1/2 times (which stands at 14,410′ at it’s summit and climbers start at 5,359′). Now that’s a lot of climbing…Challenge accepted!

Normally, you have to apply for an advanced reservation to hike the Wonderland Trail, and these are getting increasingly harder to come by as the number of people who want to hike the trail grows each year. This year, however, the reservation system crashed and all permits are being given on a first-come-first-serve basis. This was perfect for us. We had the time and the flexibility to try and make it work! I had spent a good amount of time researching and planning, and most of my sources recommended doing the trip anywhere in 8-14 days, though 8 is pretty tough with long days and 14 is super leisurely with rest days included. We decided on a 10 day itinerary and it worked out great.

We were incredibly lucky, walking in to the White River Wilderness Information Center at 2pm on a Monday and getting a permit right off the bat. The trail was super busy (lots of locals are taking advantage of this first-come-first-serve opportunity as well) but it had been relentlessly raining the last 2 days and a lot of people were bailing. So there were enough openings at the backcountry camp sites to make an itinerary work! We ended up with a 10 day itinerary, starting at White River Campground and going counter-clockwise, which according to some sources is harder, but Matthew and I have concluded that either way you go is pretty hard and it’s the same amount of up and down either way. Some sections may be easier going clockwise, but then again some sections were easier going counter-clockwise. We were ecstatic with how well our direction worked for us. We had a good warm-up first day but not too strenuous. Our last night on the trail was filled with some of the most magnificent scenery, and our last day was a very easy day of down for a good way to finish. So in our opinion, starting at the White River Campground trailhead and going counter-clockwise is the best way to go. 🙂

One of the the really cool things about the Wonderland Trail is that you can cache food at certain locations around the trail. With a 10 day itinerary, we decided to take advantage of only one cache location, and that was at Longmire. We arrived at Longmire during our 7th day on the trail, so we carried 6-1/2 days of food with us for the first leg, and then picked up our cache full of the remaining 3-1/2 days worth of food supplies. You can take advantage of more cache locations (Mowich Lake, White River, Sunset) and carry less food which means less pack weight, but it would have taken us forever to drive around to the multiple locations to drop off the caches, so we decided carrying more in our packs was a better option for us.

A few quick additional thoughts about the trail:
If you’re looking for complete solitude and seclusion, this isn’t the trail for you. It’s relatively busy and you’re not likely to have a campground to yourself. While caching food is readily available about the trail, this does mean you’ll be sharing the path with many day-hikers during these sections in addition to other backpackers.
However, since you have to stay in designated backcountry campsites, you don’t have to worry about trying to find somewhere to pitch your tent or hang your hammock each night. Additionally, each campground provides the convenience of a pit or composting toilet and a bear pole for nightly food storage. Quite nice for planning purposes!

Planning and preparation completed, check out the details of the hike itself here….

Grocery Shopping Convenience

We are loving our RV adventure, traveling around and exploring the United States. Along the way we have discovered a few things about the mobile lifestyle that we didn’t expect. Here’s one of them, a perk that we hadn’t anticipated.

There’s something wonderful about grocery shopping from your RV.

The process is almost the same as from a stationary home:

  • Get grocery list
  • Go to store
  • Buy groceries
  • Load groceries into vehicle
  • Drive home
  • Unload groceries from vehicle
  • Put them away

But those missing steps are truly a delight to skip over:

  • Drive to store – We just park our home there in the parking lot, it’s not a separate trip but a stop on our way.
  • Drive home – The shopping cart is wheeled right to our front door.
  • Transfer groceries from car to house – This was done when unloading the shopping cart..

It seems like such a simple thing but the ability to go directly from cart to cabinet is an unanticipated benefit that we are thoroughly enjoying.

Why Don’t More People Live Tiny?

We are proponents of the Tiny House movement. Fans of living small as the foundation of a large life.

For us, our goals, that means an RV. For others, probably for many, that means a fixed residence. Either way, Ashley and I frequently find ourselves amazed at our life and wondering why more people don’t utilize “alternative” housing to more intentionally build their lives.

Fourteen months into our adventure and we love it more as we go. It suits us perfectly. Maybe one day we won’t. Perhaps our needs will outgrow the RV, or we’ll need something with thicker walls. Or the RV will prove to be too large for us and we’ll want something smaller. But for now, we couldn’t ask for anything better.

One size definitely doesn’t fit all.

Technically speaking, I believe a Tiny House is defined as less than 1,000 sq ft. We are living in less than 240. The popular shows on TV seem to focus on very small, 250 or less (from the handful of episodes I’ve seen).

I don’t wonder why everyone doesn’t live in a 220 sq ft house. A couple with young children need more space. A couple with children at all need private spaces. That takes more room.

RV’s aren’t well insulated (at least ours isn’t). They aren’t built for 4 seasons. So those in cold or hot climates wouldn’t be super comfortable, at least not without high utility bills to offset the lack of insulation.

It isn’t traditional

This, I believe, is the real reason people don’t pursue alternative housing. Financial institutions aren’t equipped to deal with non-traditional housing situations. Living in an RV doesn’t fit into their spreadsheets of security. Nor does living out of a converted van. At first glance wheels don’t provide a permanent mailing address.

Tiny houses fit into a gray legal area that have to be dealt with or worked around. Utilities have to be searched out and found. Traditional houses fit in designated situations and utility companies will gladly allow you to pay them for the privilege of letting them provide you with their services.

Nontraditional means you have to do a lot of the work

You have to find a mailing address for yourself and search out your own utilities. It might mean you don’t have unlimited water and electricity like you’re accustomed to. Perhaps you’ll have some extra paperwork to do that others won’t.

The benefits are great

A smaller abode can mean smaller expenses. Less to heat and cool means lower utilities. Fewer square feet require less lights to see and less furniture to fill. It can mean a smaller purchase price and thus fewer payments.

Though it doesn’t have to be, your home can be portable. You can live right next to work when you need to. Vacations could be more relaxing because you simply move to an area, taking everything you own with you (including the kitchen sink!) You could move as often as you like, with far less trouble – and none of those pesky leases or utility hook-up fees.

Live a Rich Life

In Ramit Sethi’s book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, he talks about the meaning of being rich. Rich doesn’t always equal great amounts of money. It is personal. Perhaps to you being rich means being able to eat out every single meal and taking flying lessons. Maybe it means that you can travel every month. Perhaps it means that you don’t have to work at jobs you don’t enjoy.

Ashley and I love to travel, to explore, to be out in nature. We are homebodies with wanderlust in our hearts. Our RV affords us this opportunity. It costs less to live in than our previous apartment so we can afford to travel. We get to take our home with us everywhere we go so we can comfortably experience new locations. And it is self-contained so we can spend a week or so out in nature without the convenience of utility hook-ups.

A traditional life is expensive. Keeping up with the Joneses can take all of your income. But it’s easy. Others understand it. Our culture guides you to that lifestyle.

But if it doesn’t provide you with a rich life, the cost might be too high.

A couple of examples

Whenever Ashley and I wonder why more people don’t live a non-traditional life we always think of people who we think would be happier with a few changes.

A single person (likely with college debt and maybe owing on some credit cards) who spends most of their time working, hanging out with friends, and perhaps engaged in some sort of hobby or second job to help pay the bills.

They could live in a conversion van that could be parked anywhere, provides a places to sleep and store clothes and food. A camping stove or little microwave could heat up meals. Wifi could be shared with a neighbor. A gym membership provides showers and exercise equipment.

This would allow them to live close to whatever job they have at the time, save most of their income (or use it to pay off the monies owed) and still functionally live their current life with no interruptions. They could go to work, pursue their hobbies, and hang out with friends.

If they have been moving regularly (new job, room-mate leaves, etc) this would allow them that opportunity without the annoyance of deposits and leases.

Too unconventional? Buy a travel trailer, pay for a long-term parking spot and live the same way, except with full utility hook-ups and a direct internet connection.

More than one

Of course, this isn’t limited to single individuals. Two people can be more than happy in a smaller house. Just look at us!

But you don’t have to travel to appreciate it. We were looking at a tiny house even if we hadn’t decided to hit the road. Less to clean, to decorate, and less room to fill with items.

By my rough estimates, we could have built a tiny house, paid it off with our then-incomes in about a year. Then, with some careful managment we could have continued saving and been almost financially independent (ie: retired) in around 10 years.

What about the children?

While I can’t speak personally, I have read about a number of families who are traveling even while having young children. One family of four set off to sail about the world with two boys who are not yet teenagers. Another family began a bicycling adventure, aiming to ride all the way across the continent, down to the tip of South America. Yet another, with three children, have flown around the world, visiting many countries with their family. The Tougas family have lived in five places in two countries, plus hiked the Appalachian Trail – including all three kids!

Children seem to be far more resiliant and flexible than adults. Especially if you can keep their routines/schedules the same. It will be an adventure for them as well. And just imagine how much they will learn! Geography will have meaning. Historic sites will help provide rich memories of the past instead of just being dates and names.

Of course, one doesn’t have to travel. There is something to be said about having a stable community. So maybe you don’t live in a tiny, mobile structure. But at least you don’t have to stretch your mortgage to buy the biggest thing you can. Purchase a modest house, work to make it yours, and revel in the joys of life instead of the joys of home-ownership.

No longer a spring chicken?

Travel and RV living runs in my family. My mom does it, who learned it from her parents. For at least 20 years they spent part of every year living in their RV. They traveled, visiting friends and family around the country. Eventually, they parked their travel trailer in a single location and lived half of the year there and half at their house.

If G-mom had gotten her way, however, they would have just lived in the travel trailer. She liked the town it was in so much more than where her house was. While I don’t remember her mentioning them specifically, there are additional perks to living in a smaller space – ones that might be of particular interest to someone who is older, or is living on a fixed income.

Everything is within easy reach. Forget something in the bedroom? It’s only 20′ away. Your favorite coffee mug is just across the aisle from the table. You can still clean every day, if that’s your habit, and finish the entire house with time and energy to spare. Not so steady on your feet? There is always something near-by to provide support if it is needed (a counter, wall, or piece of furniture) without requiring a walker or hand-rails inside your own home.

While my grandparents were able to keep their home and still travel, others might not be so fortunate. They could rent out or sell their home. Even if the sale results with them breaking even, their other retirement income (fixed amounts, I expect) would allow them to travel around. Even if the mortgage has been paid off this still saves on other recurring costs – taxes, insurance, utilities, and maintenance expenses. When funds run low, you slow down or stop traveling. If you need special medical equipment, it can be incorporated in your home.

Tiny isn’t for everyone

While we think that living tiny is a great way to build a foundation for a large life we know that it’s not for everyone. But we do think it’s for far more people than are currently doing it.

Incredible lives don’t just happen. They are intentionally designed and built.