Okan and I wanted to visit our families before heading off on our big adventure. We thought staying at national parks on the way to the east coast would be the best route to take, then we’d fly to Turkey to see Okan’s parents, then see more parks on the drive west to San Francisco, before heading South to Mexico.
Because of our late start leaving Vancouver, we realized quickly that we would need to pick up the pace if we were to make our flight to Turkey. Our drive west to San Francisco was also rushed because we added more stops to see friends, and had lots of projects to finish before leaving the States. This meant goodbye to short driving days and meandering through national parks! But we did manage to have a good time none-the-less, and most importantly we got to live in our camper and figure out what does and doesn’t work, although that continues to be a work in progress.
Some highlights of our travels through the USA…
Fish Lake, Washington State
We were full of emotions at this first campsite, as we recently came from a rather stressful departure from our rental house. (Blog Post: See You Later Vancouver). It was dark when we arrived which I heard was the number one thing not to do when traveling with children. I was quite worried how Indigo would handle the abrupt change to our living arrangements. To my delight, Indigo was excited about walking into the “cave” of light made by the flashlight in the dark, and seemed to not recall walking away from our completely empty house in Vancouver just that afternoon. He loved everything about the campsite, and in the morning set about organizing the forest floor. Who knew that pine cones, sticks, and rocks needed to be grouped together in separate fire pits?
We again arrived at night, were hardly able to see the camping areas, and hoped we were in a good spot. We awoke to a drizzly foggy day and a big surprise…lots of moose wandering about our campsite. Definitely a good spot! They are very intimidating beasts when they stare right at you, with or without antlers!
We didn’t have time to stay in the area long, and continued on our way past the Grand Tetons. They were amazing to see, even though we were only getting glimpses between the clouds. We stayed on the side of the road for some time simply staring.
Small Towns and Flat Land, Wyoming
In Wyoming we had our first experience in an RV Campground. Unfortunately it was not very inviting, or scenic, or really anything. It was a gravel parking lot, not a tree in site, next to a busy highway, and rail lines. We were parked among massive RVs with satellite dishes, extended sides, and big screen TVs glowing through RV picture windows onto little RV yards strung with christmas lights. We couldn’t understand why anyone would choose staying here long term. But, after being on the road longer now, I can say that access to hot showers, clean bathrooms, water & electricity, and Internet has made me a believer that RV Parks, even those on gravel lots in the middle of no where, definitely have an upside.
When traveling through the flat lands, you begin to wonder if they will ever end. We chanced a few exits, crossing our fingers we wouldn’t drive for endless more miles to find a bite to eat or a gas station. On one such stop, we found a nice little western “town” with one restaurant, one school house, and one gas station. I believe the population posted was 120 people.
Indigo as sheriff of a small midwestern town, October 2017
Louisville, KY and Family
As we drove through the midwest, we saw sign after sign for Trump/Pence, and magazine covers in stores that made Clinton look evil, and Trump look ordinary. It was very bizarre for us Californians/Canadians. Okan was growing concerned as we neared my sister Beth’s house, about how conversations may unfold about the upcoming election. But true to form, my sister who signs every letter with “Love, Peace, and Happiness” and her family, welcomed us into a lovely bluegrass bubble inside a sea of Kentucky red.
Indigo and Olivia, November 2016
It was great seeing family together, and it was especially nice for Indigo since he finally met a cousin his own age.
Washington DC Area
I wanted to see as many family members as possible, almost as if we were about to walk off the end of the earth and never see anyone again. Staying at my sister Audrey’s house in Manassas, allowed us to get much needed downtime, a place to store the truck/camper while in Turkey, and the ability to visit with lots of family and do lots of catching up. As an added bonus, Indigo got his first taste of Autumn, complete with jumping into his first pile of leaves.
Indigo, Manassas Virginia, November 2016
Maryland and Old Friends
A trip back east for me is never complete with visiting “the farm”, that is, my college roommate Suzanne’s home in Hampstead Maryland. I always feel grounded when at the farm, and being in the company of my dearest friends.
Walnut Springs, Hampstead Maryland, November 2016
Okan enjoyed all the high-tech gadgets of Suzanne’s husband and kids, including drones and virtual reality remote control cars racing about the farm. My high school friend Tammy lives close by (well…close only by the standards of people who live in rural areas) and we got to spend the day along the Potomac river, while her youngest son also demonstrated drone flying skills. All these drone exhibitions prompted Okan to revisit the question of whether we needed a drone for our trip. Since Amazon couldn’t deliver the drone Okan wanted within our time frame I’m afraid, or perhaps relieved, we are currently traveling without a drone.
Nashville, TN and CrepeAttack
We drove to Nashville and visited the family known as CrepeAttack (http://crepeattack.com). Katie and Greg had conquered more than a year of road travel on their way to Argentina, and we were excited to hear some of their stories first hand. We met up with Katie and little Thibault at Katie’s parent’s house and discovered that Katie’s Dad taught one of my professors at Virginia Commonwealth University. Strange to have had an unknown connection so many years prior to meeting. The warmth and adventurous spirit that permeated the entire family was refreshing to be around during our visit. After discussing old connections, current events, and of course politics, we grilled Katie for several hours with our travel questions. We slept a little more soundly that night with the new information about check points, border crossings, and life on the road.
Katie, Thibault, Indigo, Okan, and Donna, Nashville TN, December 2016
Katie’s travel advice was used sooner than later, as we skipped the interstate on our way to New Orleans and took her recommendation to drive the Natchez Trace Parkway.
It was so beautiful I was snapping photos of the road, yes of the road, throughout the drive. We were so sad to exit and return to pot-holed industry lined interstates after what was the most scenic and pleasant drive of our entire trip. An eagle even swooped down and flew above our truck for a mile or so. That has to be a good omen, right? Thank you Katie!
Natchez Trace Parkway, Nashville, TN, December 2017
The Bible Belt: Richmond, Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans
Having lived in Richmond Virginia for many many years, I was comforted by seeing tree-lined streets with house after house of brick homes with wide inviting porches. Porches that, in my mind, were designed for drinking lemonade on hot summer days. I took Okan and Indigo to one of the best breakfast places in Richmond, Joe’s Inn, and marched them up and down my favorite streets, showing them the monuments to the confederacy, and trying to remember if the horse’s leg up or down meant the general died or lived in the civil war.
The same tree-lined urban streets were echoed in Charlstown, NC, Savannah, GA, and New Orleans, LA, but each with it’s own distinctive flare. We still found cobblestone streets, quaint coffee shops and cafes, and enjoyed walks in each town. But what we really enjoyed was the countryside just out of town, where we found the nicest campsites and nature.
Campsite Outside Charleston, NC, December 2017
Farm Outside Charleston, NC, December 2017
New Orleans, December 2017
On the way to Austin we stopped in Biloxi to visit a small zoo I found in a tourist brochure. I started second-guessing this decision while stuck in work-traffic trying to get there, and again when we arrived in an empty zoo parking lot. There was only one other car in the lot. One thing nice about an empty zoo, no worries about losing Indigo, no crowds or competing with others for good viewing spots. I was thankful it was a small zoo, so we needn’t worry about “getting it all in” before we had to leave. We still left too late however to make our next campsite by sunset.
We visited my old coworker and friend Kelly in Austin. Kelly was witness to the immediate weeks after my first date with Okan, and is able to embarrass us with our love at first site and starry eyed swooning stories. I can’t imagine now how she stood to be around us back then! We are much more normal now!
She graciously spared us recounts of any embarrassing tales, and instead introduced us to the best BBQ in perhaps all of Texas at Coopers. As a bonus, we even met Willy Nelson… kind of.
Austin, Texas, December 2017
Arizona: Antelope Canyon
The drive to Antelope Canyon was very stressful for me. Bad weather continued to chase us, and I’d read that seeing the canyon in anything other than sunlight would not do it justice. And we had no cell or internet connection to find out what camping was available so I was beside myself with worry. We again arrived at night, and found a gravel parking lot to stay overnight, otherwise known as an RV Park. We headed into town and stopped at the first storefront that offered tours, and signed up….with 70 other people!
For all my worry, things turned out well. Not as glorious as seeing it on a sunny day, but glorious none-the-less. Our guide Rosie shared many stories that made the tour interesting as we wandered through the various sections of the canyon. She also had a lot of patience with Indigo, who wanted to recount each story she told. From that great experience, we rushed off to try to get to the campsite at the Grand Canyon before darkness fell.
Antelope Canyon, Arizona, December 2017
Grand Canyon and Hoover Damn
During most of our trip, the weather wasn’t cooperating for us and it was rather cold, wet, and gloomy for much of our days, and the Grand Canyon was no exception. Luckily on the drive to the campsite we snapped a couple photos at the Desert View vista.
Desert View Vista, Grand Canyon, Arizona, December 2017
As usual, we arrived at our campsite in the dark and it was already raining. We were surprised to find the campground almost full so we pulled in the first open spot we saw. Later that night we realized we were in a handicapped campsite, giving me the most restless night of thinking we’d wake to a $500 ticket! The storm that night was so fierce, by morning the entire campsite was a ghost town. All the campers, especially those in tents, packed up in the middle of the night before they were blown over the canyon’s edge.
I was rather upset that we drove out of our way to see the canyon and not get to see it, but then I saw the tourist busses drive in, with passengers dismounting to experience absolutely nothing but a white-out and hurricane strength winds. My sorrow transferred to them, and I left being thankful for one night of camping, and having a couple photos. And as a silver lining, we didn’t get a ticket for using the handicapped campsite.
Mather Campground, Grand Canyon, Arizona, December 2017
The skies cleared as we drove to the Hoover Damn, where I was reminded of Okan’s fear of heights. My distance from the edge of any wall, directly correlated to the degree of white that flashed across his face. I can’t imagine the stress he would have endured, should we had been able to peer over all the vistas at the Grand Canyon.
Hoover Dam, Nevada, December 2017
The Dam was an amazing site, and the few photos we took don’t do it any justice. It was worth the hassle of the security check we had to go through in order to approach it. Seems that would be the first of many times, that we get extra scrutiny by virtue of having the camper.
Hoover Dam, Nevada, December 2017
San Francisco Bay Area
Finally we made it home for Christmas…our second home that is. Our friends Julia and Luke travel east every year for the holidays and we set up camp at their house while they are away. This year we quite literally set up camp, as the camper stayed in the driveway, getting it’s last minute upgrades. We love being able to get a Christmas tree, see Okan’s kids, and relax for a while. We created more memories with friends and family all over the Bay Area before hitting the road “for real”.
Okan, Carmen, Brad, and Indigo, January 2017
We spent 3 days in San Diego camping, doing our last minute preparations for crossing the border, where Okan had the worst driving day of his life. He bumped into a brand new Audie R8 as we were following him out of a parking lot. The Audi sustained about $6,000 in damage in one small cracked panel. Ouch!
Audie R8 vs Dodge Ram 3500, January 2017
This was almost immediately followed by running head-long into a 2-foot high boulder when trying to park in our campsite, ripping off the front camera and license plate. We obviously didn’t have the front camera turned on, even though we had just installed just days before to see blind spots (such as boulders) in front of the truck. Double Ouch!
After tempers and bad moods subsided, we enjoyed our last camping in the USA. Indigo was playing with kids in the campsite next to us, and I found myself in conversation about their family’s recent trip to Baja California Mexico. When asked about our trip, I brought up an inspirational story we heard on Family Adventure Podcast, about how Craig and Bryanna (www.crazyfamilyadventures.com) sold their house and belongings to live and travel in an RV full time with their 4 kids. They further convinced Bryanna’s sister’s family (http://www.ourfreewheelinfamily.com) and their parents to do the same. You can imagine my surprise when I realized I was talking to that very same family! They were all gathered to celebrate the holidays together, and graciously answered as many travel questions as possible.
Camping in San Diego was the perfect send off for leaving the USA. Great first hand stories from families who are living on the road, all our documents in order, and a short drive to our first destination. Ensenada, Mexico here we come!