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The Phases of our Time on the Road

Updated: Mar 9, 2023

Many of our blog posts have been less about the travel and places we’ve been, and more about the overall experience and inner transformation we’ve noticing. This post switches that up, offering a bigger picture of where we’ve been over these past ten months. 

The Preparation Phase

Today (June 6th) marks the one year anniversary since I resigned my position at First Universalist Church, since I said goodbye to that beloved community and talented staff. It was powerful good goodbye, and opened up space to pivot toward the “RV life/preparation to hit the road” chapter that we entered last summer. In this “preparation phase,” I was up on the roof of the RV, adding vent covers and applying sealant to prevent potential leaks. With the help of a good friend, I installed our Blue Ox towing system for our Honda Fit, and did the wiring so the brake lights of the RV and the Fit would be sync’d up.

During this preparation phase, I attempted to figured out how all the systems worked in our RV, which included taking two weekend trips so that we had the experience of actually living in the RV` for a few nights; this helped us realize we didn’t quite understand how everything worked, so Google “how to” searches became a frequent source of additional learning.

In late July, we parked the rig in front of our house to load it up, and turned it into an impromptu open house, as we had a dozen neighbors come through and tour our rig.

A week before our departure date, I blew out the brakes on our Honda Fit, because I accidently towed it with the handbrake on. Oops. This was an embarrassing and expensive lesson and as a result of this, we created a multi-page, laminated check-list to help us navigate the leveling jacks, the two slides, the towing system, and more.

During this preparation phase, Juliana made elaborate spreadsheets of packing lists and itineraries. We rented out our home, downsized, gave stuff away, and packed up our house. Our youngest and I made massive batches of granola for our travels; we’re a family that loves granola and buying that stuff ain’t cheap! Even though we ultimately gave away several batches of our sweet and crunchy goodness, our granola supply lasted until December! Finally, on the first of August, we officially launched ourselves into full time traveling life.

Words that describe this phase: anxious, curious, lists, piles-of-stuff-by-the-front-door-to-go-into-the-RV., “yes,” what-in-the-world-are-we-doing?, child resistance, and brave.

Hooking up the tow vehicle

Phase One (August 1 through August 15)

During phase one, we hustled ourselves out to the West Coast, giving ourselves two weeks to get to Chelan, Washington, fruit capital of the U.S. Chelan was also the location of the ferry that would take us half way up Lake Chelan to Holden Village , where we would spend three weeks working in the kitchen.

On the way to Washington, we visited a magnificent and surreal sculpture garden in Montrose, South Dakota, spent time in Badlands, Spearfish, Missolua, and Bozeman.

Intially, we had a no screen time policy for our kids, but somewhere in the first hours of that first day, we jettisoned that plan, our will broken by our eldest (truthfully, we realized it wasn’t a battle we wanted to fight, or a plan that would work well if we were going to stay on the road for a while.) Wild fire smoke marked many of the days of this phase, and it the haze and smoke that was particularly pronounced when we were in Chelan, the smell of wildfire surrounding us, the hundred degree plus heat bearing down on us.

Every afternoon, we found relief and respite in the chilly waters of Lake Chelan. During Phase One, we learned two things: 1) We needed to travel at a slower pace, and 2) the kindness of strangers would be a key ingredient in our travels. Specifically, Jill and Kene, of the Summer Hill Farm RV Park, in Chelan, were extraordinarily kind to us, driving us to the Chelan Ferry (and then picking us up three weeks later), and letting us keep our rig on their property, as a wildfire surrounding the ferry parking lot we had planned to park at.

Words that describe this phase: Learning, slowing down, kindness, adjusting.

Porter Sculpture Park in Montrose, South Dakota

Phase Two (August 16 through September 4)

We spent three weeks in the remote, old mining town of Holden Village, high in the Cascade Mountains. A number of years ago, after it ceased functioning as a copper mining village, Holden Village was gifted to the Lutherans, and is now a site of retreat, learning, and education.

For years, we had talked about spending time at Holden, and this seemed like the right time to do it. Juliana and I volunteered in the kitchen to cover the costs of spending three weeks there. Outside of kitchen duty, meal preparation and serving, and doing dishes, we enjoyed gorgeous hikes, including a seven and nine mile hike into the mountains with our youngest.

We loved the old pool hall and bowling alley at Holden, and played a number of games with our children there. The pins for the bowling alley had to be reset by hand, and Juliana and I spent a good bit of time reseting them for our bowling fanatic children. We also loved the Holden Village Ice Cream and Snack Bar, which served $1 scoops of ice cream! We were all screen free for the first week we were there, but then some of the volunteers at Holden got Starlink up and working. The computer in the Holden library became lightning quick and our oldest rejoiced.

While we were at Holden, we held the question: Could this be our place? Was this a community we could see ourselves being a part of for a longer period of time? We loved our time there, the wonderful people, and the small school house for the half dozen children that were part of a more permanent community at Holden; though we loved our time there, the community was quite small, and if we were to stay, our eldest wouldn’t have any peers.

After three weeks, we boarded the bus to take us down to the Ferry to return to Chelan and our parked rig. As we left, the Holden departure ritual (singing “We Shall Be Known”) surrounded us and brought tears to our eyes. This song became a kind of anthem for us, and would show up again in Mexico, months later, as we prepared to say goodbye to our Baja friends.

Words that describe phase two: Beauty,glaciers, kitchen, remote, intentional community, hikes, and ice cream

Hiking at Holden Village

Phase Three (September 6 through mid-November)

After Holden, our “West Coast” phase began. We spent a week on Bainbridge Island, visiting a dear friend of mine. We picked gallons and gallons of wild blackberries and froze ziplock bags full of them (these did not last as long as the granola!). We discovered pickleball (it turns out pickleball was invented on Bainbridge Island) and delighted in this hybrid pingpong/tennis like game. Phase three marked the implementation of our “go slower” learning and we spent more time at each campsite we visited.

Phase three also marked the beginning of a more fluid travel plan. While we were at Holden Village, we had numerous people tell us that we would be crazy to not spend time in the Olympic Peninsula. While the Peninsula was not in our original itenery, we followed this encouragement and spent nearly three weeks there, loving our time in Salt Creek, Port Angeles, Olympic National Park, and La Push.

We particularly enjoyed the rugged beauty of La Push. We arrived there, on the Pacific side of the Peninsula, during a fierce and windy rain storm, and after setting up the rig, we put on our rain gear and danced and ran around on the beach, sand and rain whipping against our rain gear, our hearts warm with being alive on this beautiful and empty beach, covered with massive redwoods that had blown ashore years ago, even as our bodies were chilled by the cold.

After the Olympic Peninsula, we travelled down the Oregon Coast, utilizing our new Thousand Trails RV Park membership, staying at parks down the coast. In Florence, Oregon, we found an old flying saucer sled near some sand dunes, and duct taped it together and spent hours sledding down the dunes.

In Northern California, near Crescent City, we discovered an incredible county park, nestled among the redwood forest. In Crescent City, Tucker and regularly bike 15-20 miles a day, exploring the city and the coast line. Phase Three could be described as the “Hard Phase,” or the “Phase Where We Nearly Bailed on the Whole Trip.” We struggled in this phase and we knew we needed community and other people, or else we might have to call it quits. The West Coast phase concluded at Rancho Oso, outside of Santa Barbara. Here we met other fulltime traveling families and they invited us to a Fulltime Families Rally in Arizona in the middle of November. At Rancho Oso, we finally dried out, as well. Turns out that living in a RV in a wet climate (which much of the West Coast was, including the atmospheric river storm we survived while just outside of San Francisco), doesn’t work well without a serious dehumidifying plan. Thankfully, we dried out before any serious mold moved in.

Words that describe phase three: Wet, sand dunes, beach, coastline, Big Sur, redwoods, struggle.

Washed up redwood tree in La Push, WA

Phase Four (Mid-Novmeber through mid-January)

Phase four could be summed up by two words: Arizona and boondocking (free camping). The Fulltime Families rally in Waddell, Arizona was “boondocking” light, i.e., we didn’t have sewer, electrical, or water, but we did have showers and water nearby. At this rally, we met a number of families we bonded with, and ended up celebrating Thanksgiving with two of them, at Verde Valley, in North Central Arizona. While at Verde Valley, we unhooked our Honda Fit and drove up through Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon. We spent two nights at the Yavapai Lodge located within the park itself. Juliana and I left the boys in the hotel room and watched the sun rise over the Canyon. We hiked the rim trail, and halfway down into the canyon, learning about the rocks and geological history of the canyon, and marveling at the equations of time + water and all that that could create.

During phase four, we began to plan for winter, thinking we’d spend time in Arizona and Southern California. During phase four, we boondocked on BLM land in the Arizona desert for weeks with new found friends. We learned new games, including Lucky Undies, Cover Your Assets, and Skull King. I learned how to change the oil in our RV and generator. Saint Nicolas somehow found our rig on December 6th in the Arizona desert and filled our stockings with small treats and gifts. We boondocked with other families in the Arizona desert over Christmas, and went for a Christmas day walk near Lake Pleasant.

Words that describe phase four: Boondocking, desert, new friends, finding a way forward.

Boondocking in the Arizona Desert

Phase Five

This was the Baja, Mexico, phase of our trip, and ran from January 15 through May 1. In mid-December, we learned that there were still spots available for a Fulltime Families two week get together in San Felipe, Mexico. When Juliana and I saw this announcement, our first response was a “yes.” Behind this yes was our hunger for more community.

Phase five was also the phase when we all got Covid, despite vaccinations and booster shots. We all had mild cases, but it knocked us out for a few days in San Felipe, and we quarantined. Toward the end of our time in San Felipe, we met with about 7 other families interested in going futher South into Baja. Though we had planned to spend winter in the Arizona area, we applied what we learned when we detoured up North to explore the Olympic Peninsula, and said “Ok, let’s do this. Yes.” Baja was about following the yes, following the joy, creating a travelling tribe, as you’ve probably already read about. Baja was about Grey Whales, Whale Sharks, street tacos, potluck taco nights, sun, warmth, boondocking, beaches, and snorkeling, something I’d never done before. Life could be like this?! Yes, please. Our kids played with their friends for hours and hours each day; we had other adults to spend time with, and I wrote for an hour or more every morning. I started running again, after more than a year off with a knee injury. This time in Baja was about unwinding, going with the flow, exploring natural beauty, and celebrating the community we helped create.

Words that describe phase five: magic, following the yes, going slow, and going even slower, underworld beauty, camping on the beach.

From a morning walk near Balandra Beach

Phase Six

This was the post Mexico phase. A few days after leaving Mexico, we were in Phoenix, staying with some friends. Then we flew out to visit family in North Carolina, returning in mid-May to Phoenix. We made our way North through Flagstaff, hiking in lava tubes, then on to Valley of the Gods in Southern Utah, and Moab (Canyonlands and Arches National Parks), Salt Lake City and Antelope Island, and then finally, Yellowstone. Yellowstone gifted us with a the winter we missed. The day before we arrived, 8 inches of snow fell, and our first morning there, our youngest and I played in the morning snow, big, wet flakes covering our RV and the ground. Yellowstone was a visceral reminder of the equation, water + time + rocks (and add in volcanic activity) = awesome. Yellowstone was a stunning reminder of the beauty that is everywhere, that unfolds and changes with time, that beckons, that takes our breathe away, that asks only for a witness, for a “Wow!”, for some quiet apprecation. With the exception of staying in an RV campground in Yellowstone, we boondocked the rest of the trip in Arizona, Utah, Montana, and North Dakota now completely comfortable with no hookups.

Words that describe phase six: rocks, canyons, grateful, geysers, lava tubes, hot springs.

Yes, of course, you need a boogie board when there is snow in Yellowstone

Phase Seven

Phase seven was/is the transition phase. We are now heading toward home, where we will spend the summer. We’re filled with joy to be returning home, though home now feels like a hundred places we’ve been. We’re filled with grief that this chapter of our lives is coming to end, and we don’t know exactly what is next. Will we stay in Minneapolis? Move somewhere? Hit the road again in the fall? If our youngest had his way, we’d “stay in the RV fo-weva.” More than anything, I’m curious: what will it be like to be home? How will we integrate what we’ve learned from this time on the road into our Minneapolis lives? We’ve started heading East, with Minneapolis getting closer every day. It’s day 312 on the road, but soon that count will come to an end, and we’ll open the front door of our “home not on wheels,” and settle into that space, perhaps experiencing it and ourselves in entirely different ways, thanks to this time away.

Words that describe this phase: returning, appreciation, spring time, paying attention.`

Free camping at a sweet spot in North Dakota

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