Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Road Trip: The Plan and How It Worked

Our circumnavigation of continent (in pink).

We departed North Carolina on July 13 and traveled across 19 states and two Canadian Provinces to add more than 13,000 miles to the truck’s odometer in 69 days (returned September 19th). Other than the days we stayed with family and friends and three nights in motels (forced by either fire-closed roads, or rain), we camped in a tent in National Parks, National Forests, State Parks, State Forests, Commercial Campgrounds, National Recreational Areas, State Recreational Areas, Canadian Provincial Parks, and Canadian National Parks.  

What was the plan?

We were on a voyage - this time on the road. Central to the plan was the rare opportunity to travel without a fixed schedule and itinerary. This road trip was not a vacation, but an adventure, and as everyone knows, adventure embodies discovery and discovery cannot be planned.

Bud and his Uncle Jim outside of his uncle's bookstore in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Our philosophy and our reckless behavior were issues for some of those with interests in our travel, particularly those we said we might visit. Some found it exasperating to ask the question, “When will you be here?” and get our answer, “Well, probably sometime before September.” Of course in the world that most people live, schedules are a necessity of everyday life and our imprecise responses were aggravating. We imagined that some might think we were indecisive, obtuse, and aimless. We imagined they might be calling us gypsies, nomads, vagrants, wanderers, or worse. We weren’t trying to be difficult, of course, but if we were to put a priority on maintaining rigid schedules, we reasoned we would be less likely to change our plans, or make new plans, and in the process, we would lose some of the freedom offered so abundantly by the open road. We did, however, try to be good guests and, at the very least, inform our gracious hosts when we might leave.  

Cooking breakfast with family in the Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona.

We made a general plan before we left North Carolina, but understand it was GENERAL. We would head west, stop along the way, and continue until we reached the west coast where we would turn around and head back east. We would probably take some northerly or southerly direction out there somewhere, but we had not decided when and where that might happen. Along the way, there were a few people we very much wanted to see, and fortunately, the big highways took us to see them. Other than that, we were often making decisions where to go on that particular day. We tried as best we could to travel in one direction without backtracking, which did not seem to be a rule that would hinder us too much. We also tried to find the smaller roads if possible, and to keep the gas tank above half full to be sure we had the greatest flexibility to change our minds on the fly.

Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

So how did all that work for us?

In the most general of terms- It was the best trip ever. We made at least one discovery nearly every day and the voyage was beyond all of our expectations.  

Devil's Tower National Monument in northeastern Wyoming.

To summarize the ~13,000 mile trek, we departed North Carolina to visit friends in Louisville, Kentucky, and family in Chicago, Illinois, Green Bay, Wisconsin and St. Cloud, Minnesota (don’t miss “Books Revisited” bookstore). We headed west through South Dakota (stopping at Richard’s birthplace, Pierre) through the Badlands, the Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore, and Crazy Horse. From there we went into Wyoming, past Devil’s Tower, through the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, and traveled on to Montana and Glacier National Park. Continuing northwest, we headed into the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada to Banff, Lake Louis and the Icefields Parkway. Through part of British Columbia we turned south across the border through central Washington via Wenatchee and Yakima. We were plagued by fire and smoke over much of this route and decided to jog over to the dunes of the Oregon coast. From there we entered northern California, visited the Redwoods, then turned east to Lassen Volcanic National Park, and traveled along the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Yosemite, and Sequoia National Parks. We headed south to Bakersfield, east through the Mohave Desert and on to Tucson to see friends and family, Mount Lemmon, and Saguaro National Park. We back tracked north through Phoenix and Flagstaff, and then explored the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We continued to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in southern Utah. Epic rain and floods in the area shortened our stay. (Separate floods swept away hikers in Zion and a family in a small Utah community). We followed the Colorado River through canyon country and Moab, Utah. We headed east to Boulder and Denver, Colorado to mark the end of our camping and short travel days. We drove nearly non-stop to home via Kansas, Missouri, southern Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Geothermal pool at Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. 

Bowman Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana.

Wildflowers at Logan Pass, Glacier National Park, Montana.

In the National Parks (or “International Parks” as we think they should be called) we met and talked with people from around the world (Germany, France, England, Japan, China, South Africa, Mexico, Canada, and India). International travelers and Americans alike were ecstatic about the parks and eager to share their adventures.

Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Canada.

Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Canada.

Among the more memorable travelers, we met two young men from South Africa who flew to the US, bought motorcycles in Charlotte, NC, and, with a bucket list of must see stops, embarked on a tour of the country from coast to coast to end finally in Miami. Among their observations- saw a Red Sox baseball game (boring), saw a NASCAR race (won’t do that again), and saw various National Parks (loved them and eager to see more). San Francisco, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, and New Orleans were among their next stops. We imagine with their good humor and boundless energy these intrepid travelers made it back to South Africa with a lifetime of stories.

North Dome and Half Dome,Yosemite National Park, California.

In awe of the giants in Sequoia National Park, California.

We met a French couple with two children also on a tour of the US. Five years prior they shipped a custom-built Mercedes RV to Halifax, Nova Scotia and spent an entire year traveling across the US, Mexico, Costa Rica and back. They were so enthralled with the adventure that they come back each summer for more travel in the US.  

Looking out from Cape Royal at the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

We had a lively conversation with a Canadian border agent as we crossed into Canada. “So, what are you doing in Canada?” he asked. “We are making a circle tour of parks and camping along the way”, I replied. “What do you do in North Carolina - are you retired?” he asked further. Since quitting our jobs, I have had a difficult time with knowing how I want to answer this question, and halted in my reply “I guess you could say we are retired, but I don’t like that word.” “Oh, so you are voluntarily unemployed?” I laughed, “I like that. I am going to use that if you don’t mind.” He said it was all mine to use and then looked directly at me and asked, “Do you have any guns?” I replied, “No”. He smiled, laughed and, as if he had waited all day to say it, replied “You must be the only one. What are you going to do when you get back in the states?” He waved us on and wished us well on our travels.

Hoodoos, Bryce Amphitheater in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Natural arch formed by erosion in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Update: We dodged Hurricane Joaquin. We re-secured Layla in the boat yard and, once again, we were obsessed with watching the weather reports as hurricane threatened the coast. Although Joaquin’s path did not come close to North Carolina, heavy and non-stop rain has become very tiresome. It is not a surprise that after more than a couple of FEET of rain over the past week and a half that we have several leaks in the house. After we replaced our tent we never had another leak on the road. Maybe we should just pitch the tent in the backyard?   

Next blog: Camping Lessons


  1. You have a real knack for these blogs. I went on the journey with you and I think I got relaxed just reading it. I want to thank you for giving me a rough outline for the type of trip I want to take as soon as I'm voluntarily unemployed.

    1. Thank you. We I've hearing from you. Stay tuned.

    2. Challenging to use keypad. Meant to say we LOVE hearing from you.


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