Okay, this’ll be a short one. It’s 2023 already, what the heck happened to 2022? A lot happened in 2022. At the same time, not much happened in 2022.
I tried to settle down here in northeast Tennessee. I rented an apartment. I bought some furniture. I traded in the AdventureMobile on a travel trailer. I tried to hike with the local hiking club, but didn’t really click with them. I took some short trips with the new trailer.
And it doesn’t work for me. Settling down; ugh.
In a couple of weeks I’ll be hooking up the trailer and making my way to West Texas, where I’ll be doing volunteer backcountry patrol at Big Bend National Park again, from February through April. That will put me back in Tennessee in early May. Come June, my brother Dana and I will be taking a motorcycle trip on the Mid-Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Route.
I have some nascent plans for after that, and if they work out the way I hope they will, I’ll be throwing a monkey wrench into my life once again, and starting over. Starting over is exciting. And scary. Stay tuned.
In my last post, back in September, I talked about my yearning to settle down. As it turns out, that wasn’t just idle talk. I’ve slowly come to realize my discontent with nomadic life comes from a pretty deep-seated loneliness. As a deeply introverted person, it takes me a very long time to make friends. The constant moving doesn’t allow for that. I think if I had a partner to travel with I would feel very differently about the nomad life, and would probably not give it up until I couldn’t see to drive anymore.
I’ve spent a lot of time since that last post researching options in my chosen area. I was really attracted to western North Carolina, but when push came to shove, rents there just proved too expensive for my modest income.
So I moved my search across the mountains to eastern Tennessee. As of a couple of days ago, I’ve committed to a small apartment, with a big garage for my motorcycle and my bicycle and all my outdoor gear, in Johnson City. It should be available for me to move in around April. There is tons of hiking in the area, and I’ll only be a half hour drive from the Appalachian Trail.
As always, big changes are both scary and exciting. My biggest fear is that my years of wandering have ruined me for being stationary, and it will turn out that I can’t be content with either life. I do plan to sell the AdventureMobile, but I also plan to buy a smaller RV, something I can tow with the pickup, so I can still travel when the urge strikes.
Now that I’ve settled on a course of action, I’m really anxious to execute it. I’ve never been good at patiently waiting. I’ve got another month here at Big Bend, then in February I’ll head back to East Texas to get the cracked windshield on the AdventureMobile replaced. I’ve got reservations to spend my birthday on the beach in far southeast Texas. Then I’ll slowly start moving east.
The basic theme of Monkeywrench Your Life is not being afraid to make big changes when you recognize the time has come to do so. That time may have come.
The AdventureMobile has been my only home for more than four years now. I’ve been all over the US, all over Mexico, and have explored a bit in Canada. And all the time, people have asked me questions like “What’s your favorite place” or “If you were to settle down, where would it be?” And I’ve always said that those questions miss the point entirely. I didn’t want to have one favorite place. I didn’t want to settle down. In fact, the whole idea used to make me shudder. Movement was the point.
But suddenly, I find myself yearning for exactly that. The idea of having a fixed address seems so simple and comforting. My mail wouldn’t have to chase me around the country. I could subscribe to a magazine or two. I wouldn’t have to plan doctor appointments a year in advance, for the next time I manage to be in the state. I could go backpacking for a week or a month, or load up some gear on the motorcycle and take off for a trip, and just lock the door and come back afterwards and everything would be just as I left it. The simplicity of it is very appealing.
Of course, the change didn’t actually happen suddenly. I’ve been struggling with discontent on several fronts for a good while. It’s the realization that this is what I want that was sudden.
But where? Where do I want to live, and perhaps more importantly, where can I afford to live? There are lots of affordable places all across the country, but I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life in most of them. I miss trees and green grass. I miss the mountains, easy access to lots of hiking, and hiking culture.
The obvious choice might be New England, as it has all of those things, and it’s where I spent most of my life. But I can’t afford to live in New England, and I can’t deal with the long, cold, dark winters there. The last decade or so that I lived there, I suffered terribly with SAD in the winter. I can’t do that again!
My first thought is the southern Appalachians. Eastern Tennessee or western North Carolina. Yes, they have winter there, but it’s relatively mild and short. But that’s just my first instinct. Someplace else might bring itself to my attention. In fact, if you have a suggestion I’d love to hear it.
Nothing is going to happen right away. I’ve got commitments for the next four months. I’ll be in Livingston tomorrow, and I’ve got doctor and ophthalmologist appointments lined up. I’ve got to get the truck inspected. The usual stuff I take care of every year while I’m there. Then in three weeks I’ll head west to Big Bend National Park, where I’ll be volunteering patrolling backcountry campsites for three months. When I leave there at the beginning of February, maybe I’ll head east and start checking out possible places to settle down. Or maybe I’ll change my mind entirely. Who knows? Only time will tell.
This time last year, when I was in Louisiana at Black Bayou Lake and looking ahead to the summer of 2019, my plan was to work and earn some money. In fact, my plan was to again work as a camphost for the same company I worked for last summer, but in a different location.
Then I saw something online about an upcoming WIN circuit that would travel across the country stopping to ride various bike trails, and that caught my imagination. I rather instantly decided that that was how I would spend the summer, and dropped my plan to work. This whole spontaneous plan making thing is new for me; it’s never been part of my personality, and I think is a facet of this mobile RV life that has most surprised me.
But even that simple plan didn’t work out quite as expected. I had to be back in East Texas in early February to see my doctor and my ophthalmologist, and then I was going to head west to Quartzsite to finish the electrical upgrades I had started the year before by having a larger inverter installed and the inside wiring modified. And while I was there I also made a quick detour south so I could cross the border into Los Algodones and see my dentist.
The plan after this was to start heading east and meet up with the WIN group in April at the start of the circuit down in the southeast. But instead I had to be back in Livingston at the beginning of April to deal with some more medical stuff, and then, happily, Aoife had a chance to fly in for a week and we decided to explore New Mexico, so when I left Livingston I headed for Albuquerque where Aoife was flying into. Long story short, I didn’t catch up to the WINS until May 1 in Jefferson City, Missouri.
But wait, there’s more! When Aoife and I arrived at Bandelier NM and I put the slides out, the full wall slide made some unpleasant noises. I think I put the slide out one or two more times after this, and the noise got worse and worse, so by the time I had arrived in Jefferson City I was leaving the full wall slide in. Living with it in got old really fast, and after a week or so with the WINS in Jefferson City, I left the group and headed up to the Winnebago Factory Service Center in Iowa to get the slide dealt with and to have them check out an issue I’d been having with the hydraulic leveling jacks.
It takes months to get a service appointment with Winnebago, so instead I showed up without an appointment and was a “walk in” service customer. This means they worked on my rig as time allowed, so it took several weeks to get things taken care of. By the time I caught up with the WINS again, in South Dakota, it was the end of May. I stayed with the WIN circuit as we explored the Black Hills of South Dakota and then on to Grand Teton National Park, in the middle of June.
In Grand Teton the cycling circuit met up with another circuit spending the summer touring the northwest. The combined circuit was big, far too many people for me to comfortably deal with, so it was time for me to head out on my own again. Since it was only the middle of June I decided I would spend the rest of the summer touring some of the National Parks in the region, so I spent the next 3 weeks in Yellowstone, the movesd up to Glacier National Park for 12 days, then crossed into Canada to visit Banff for a week before coming back to the states and visiting Craters Of The Moon. From here I visited some state parks in Idaho, then headed west to visit North Cascades National Park.
This brought me to Labor Day, and not having made reservations 6 months in advance, there was no way I was going to get into any park anywhere so I sat out the weekend in a casino parking lot just outside of Olympic National Park. After the holiday crush I moved to another boondocking spot while I checked out Olympic NP, then made my way toward Crater Lake and another free spot for a week.
In mid-September Aoife had another vacation week. Whenever she comes for a visit the conversation always turns on where she should fly into. This time I said “fly into San Francisco and we’ll go visit Yosemite!” Now the Bay Area is an expensive place, and RV park prices hover around $100 per night. Not being a fan of RV parks or of paying that much money, I managed to find a county park in San Mateo, Coyote Point Recreation Area, that had 4 RV sites along the edge of a parking lot on San Francisco Bay, and only a 15 minute drive from the airport!
We made a day trip from here down to Monterey, and explored a couple of beaches along the coast on the drive home, then the next day we headed east and up to a Thousand Trails park just outside the west gate of Yosemite. Yosemite is amazing and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves until it was time to get Aoife back to San Jose to catch her flight home.
This left me with just over a week before I had to be in Death Valley for the start of my time here as a volunteer camphost, so I headed to Lone Pine to hang out and explore that area.
So that was a long recounting of “I went here and then I went there.” What’s my point? What is to be concluded from all this?
One one hand, I’m glad I did what I did this summer. These northern parks aren’t places I would go with my RV in the winter, so the only reasonable time to visit is in the summer. And I had a wonderful time and have memories of some amazing hikes.
So am I going to do something similar next summer? Nope. I’m going to find a seasonal job and settle in to one place and earn some money and avoid the summer crush of RV travelers. There are far too many RVs on the road in the summer. Everything is crowded and it’s hard to find places to stay. I experienced some epic traffic jams in Yellowstone, on the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier, and I shudder at the memory of trying to get to Lake Louise in Banff (I went back the next day, before dawn). I enjoyed some amazing hikes in the parks, but in order to do so I was getting up at 3 or 4 AM to get to the trail-head at daybreak to beat the crowds.
It’s okay to go on vacation in the summer, where you’ve planned everything out months ahead of time and made reservations, but that’s — maybe surprisingly to those who know me — not the way I travel. The bottom line is that winging it in the summer is rather a hassle.
When people ask me where I’m from I have several answers I might give depending on the context, and sometimes just my mood. I might say “Wherever I am, that’s where I’m from,” which is my I’m-a-full-time-vagabond-free-from-the-confines-of-everyday-life answer. Or I might say “I spent most of my life in New England,” which is my I’m-a-proud-New-Englander answer. Or sometimes if I just want to end this conversation I’ll say “Texas,” as Livingston, Texas is now my official residence.
For the most part I do still think of myself as an Easterner, and more specifically as a New Englander. I remember telling someone last year that while I loved being in the desert it was not my native habitat and to feel really at home I needed mountains and trees. I enjoyed my time in the Rockies of Colorado last summer, but of course those are different mountains and trees than those I grew up with in New England. In the West, everything is on a much grander scale.
When I left Colorado bound for Connecticut last September, I was quite excited about heading “home.” And I do remember the excitement I felt when I hit Pennsylvania and things started to feel like home. Even the heavy northeast traffic, and tolls, and constantly watching for low clearances, felt like home. For a while.
I spent three weeks in Connecticut. It rained. A lot. I enjoyed seeing family. I enjoyed showing Aoife around the places I grew up. And then I headed south. Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. Four states in one day! The next day; Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia. Holy crap, it takes me four days to drive across Texas.
I spent a few days in Shenandoah National Park, and a few more at Carolina Beach down in North Carolina, then I headed west to Livingston, Texas. After a week or so there, I headed back east to Louisiana where I spent nearly three months at Black Bayou Lake NWR. It was all nice, but it started to feel so small and cramped.
I left Louisiana a couple of weeks ago. After stopping back in Livingston for a few days to take care of some medical appointments, I finally struck out for the West again. It took four full days of driving to cross Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and get just across the border into southern California. Big, wide open spaces. Desert sunsets. It feels good. It feels like home!
When I first chose Texas as my domicile and “moved” there, it felt pretty far west to me. But now Livingston, which is in the Piney Woods Region of eastern Texas, feels like the East to me. I want to be farther west. Maybe I should move my home base to Arizona. Well, that’s something to think about for a while.
Last night I was browsing NetFlix (love my satellite internet!) and came across Karl Meltzer: Made to be Broken; a documentary about Karl’s 2016 run that broke the then record fastest time to complete the Appalachian Trail. I enjoyed this on so many levels.
First was just seeing spots along the AT and recognizing them from my own thru-hike. It’s amazing how many places I recognized, and even thought to myself “I know exactly where they’re standing to get that shot.” Continue reading “Speedgoat Karl”
According to Merriam-Webster, a Monkey Wrench is: 1: a wrench with one fixed and one adjustable jaw at right angles to a straight handle 2: something that disrupts
It’s the second definition I have in mind; something that disrupts. And yes, I know it’s weird that I write monkeywrench as one word instead of two. I always have and even though I know it’s wrong, I’m going to continue doing so. Continue reading “Monkeywrench Your Life?”