Since my family is all located back in Illinois and I use that as my “home base,” I like to classify each trip leaving Illinois and then returning as a loop. The first loop we did lasted about 6 months, from April 2019 until the end of September 2019.
Loop 2 ended up being quite a bit longer at about 8 months. We left in mid October 2019 and got back in mid June 2020. Here are some quick stats from Loop 2:
|Total Towing Miles||7,116|
|States Camped In||15|
For loop 2 I decided to head east to North Carolina, and from there head south and spend most of the winter traveling across the south from East to West. My hope was to be in Southern California in the Spring and then head all the way up the coast to Washington through the summer. I had really anticipated being on the road for solid year on this loop.
Our travels across the south actually went really well. I realized that when it was all said and done, aside from the last few miles to LA, I had driven the entire length of I-10, which I thought was pretty cool. I enjoyed my time in the Southeast and especially loved all the food and culture down there, however, I was always eager to get back out West. I missed the wide open spaces, the mountains, the hiking, and all the public land and free camping. Eating and drinking and paying for camping everywhere in the Southeast got expensive fast, and in general I just didn’t feel like there was as much for me to do as there is out West. I was still really glad to see and experience the South and had a lot of great times down there. I especially enjoyed Asheville, North Carolina where I got to spend over a week with my good friend Adam. Surprisingly I also found that I had a really good time in the couple days I was in New Orleans. My biggest regret from my time in the South is that I never saw a single gator…
I spent all of the holidays on the road this year, which was definitely different. I spent Thanksgiving in Mobile, Alabama and had Thanksgiving dinner at a Cracker Barrel after touring the USS Alabama battleship. I then spent Christmas and New Years outside of Austin, Texas with one of my oldest and closest friends, Patrick. My mom mailed me a box of gifts so Booker and I wore Santa hats and opened presents on Christmas morning.
Once I got to Western Texas I felt like I had officially gotten back to the West. I ended up absolutely loving the Big Bend area and stayed for a full month in the tiny border town of Presidio, Texas. Here I took a day trip across the border into Ojinaga, Mexico, which was the first time I had ever crossed a US border by car. It was almost kind of hard to leave that area because I had gotten to know everyone at the park really well and loved everything there was to do there. However, once I set out again the spirit of adventure really came back to me as I started hitting the national parks, boondocking, and doing tons of hiking again. I also came to realize that the Southwest is probably my favorite part of the country. I think the most memorable campsite I had here would have to be my spot at the base of the Dragoon Mountains, just outside Tombstone, AZ.
After leaving that site in Tombstone, I had another memorable experience, which was meeting back up with my friends Matt and Kelsey in Tucson. I had met Matt and Kelsey in South Dakota back in September of 2019 and we stayed in touch and managed to meet up again in Tucson.
While loop 2 was great for the most part, we also suffered our share of bad luck on this trip. I had my first tire blowout on the trailer just outside of Austin. I then went on to find nails in my truck tires on two separate occasions. Needless to say, I got really good at changing tires on this trip. I also had my first experience with mice getting in the rig in Alamosa, CO, which was not fun.
The biggest disappointment happened in March when I finally made it to Southern California and Covid-19 hit the US. During that time there was a lot of fear in the country, and I was honestly worried myself. I was always much more afraid of the government reaction to the virus than the virus itself, so I realized quickly that California was about the last place I wanted to be. I decided to cancel the rest of my plans to head up the West Coast and instead turn back around to states that I felt were less likely to take drastic measures, like Arizona and New Mexico.
Cancelling the west coast leg of the trip was disappointing, but it ended up being a blessing in disguise. Going back through Arizona I was able to pick up some solar panels, and then met back up with Matt and Kelsey in Las Cruces, NM, as they were also trying to lay low during the lockdowns. Matt and I spent a week on the roof of my rig installing the solar panels, which was a huge upgrade for me. I then spent the next 5 weeks camping with Matt and Kelsey. We ended up moving from Las Cruces to Alamogordo, and finally to Capitan, NM where we ended up parting ways.
Even before installing the solar panels on my roof I had begun to do a lot more boondocking, but once I had a fully capable solar setup it became about the only way I camped. I went from February 23rd until June 5th without ever having hookups (except one night passing through Phoenix), and only paid for camping twice. You can see in the stats above that about half my nights were boondocking, which I think was most of my time out West, as there really aren’t many places to boondock in the East.
I often get asked if I’m saving money by living this way and before I couldn’t really say I was. When you added up the cost of camping (usually $20-$30/night) and the cost of gas (when I was traveling heavily I was paying easily $500-$600/month in gas) it really wasn’t any cheaper. However, now that I can camp for free off-grid for weeks at a time I’m definitely saving a ton of money. I typically only move about every two weeks now and almost never pay for a campsite. Now my camping expenses are basically none, and my gas expenses are much lower since I’m not moving as often. The solar has already paid itself off several times over.
While loop 1 felt like more of an adventure, mostly due to the newness of everything and all the different places I went, loop 2 felt like I was really getting settled into the nomadic lifestyle. Since it was during the winter, and also largely during Covid-19, I had a lot of down time and didn’t get to do quite as much exploring as I did on loop 1. However, from flat tires to mice to DIY upgrades on my rig, I faced a lot of challenges on this loop and came out on the other side feeling like I learned something. At this point I feel completely comfortable not knowing where I’m going to be next week, not knowing where I’ll find water or dump stations or places to throw away trash. I’ve learned to just roll with the punches and figure it out as I go.
After loop 2 I took a full two months to visit my family in Illinois. The visit was much needed as I had basically been away for 14 months. This visit gave me a lot of time to catch up with everyone and take care of some repairs and maintenance on the rig. From there I’m setting out west again for Loop 3 (with a new truck I might add!) this time hoping to further explore some of the places that I skipped over on loop 1. I really don’t have much of a plan this time, and that’s just fine with me.