Reflecting on a year of full-time RV life.
Curious what a year on the road looks like?! This post includes details on all of the places we stayed, the hikes, adventures, and food we most enjoyed, and, of course, also notes all of the things that broke along the way!
Also, just know, these are the highlights. For all of the time spent on these adventures, I spent equal parts time sitting at my computer working, with a spattering of TV watching and sleep thrown in. But that stuff just isn’t as much fun to share!
This is a LONG one. But the good news is I added a Table of Contents ?, so feel free to pick and choose the places you’re interested in reading about up above!
11/12/2018 – 12/31/2018: The Start Of It All – Pittsburgh, PA to Bradenton, FL
I ended up detailing our introduction to RV life pretty well in this blog post. So I won’t repeat myself. If you want to see how it all began, that’s the post to check out first!
1/1/2019 – 1/3/2019: Winter Quarters – Bradenton, FL
On January 1st of 2019, we were still pretty fresh to RV life, only 51 days in. We kicked off 2019 by celebrating with family in Naples, FL. Actually… I started 2019 out that way, Barrett started it off by feeling sick, walking away and being found hours later laying upright in a parking spot. ? ?♀️
We started off RV life, having already been very close to my parent’s house in Florida since November 17th. We spent that time switching between a Thousand Trails park, a few state parks, and a local Mason’s campground while we waited for our Thousand Trails membership to become activated.
Being near family proved great for starting off and getting our bearings. We had a lot of help with a bunch of little projects we needed to take care of in the RV before we officially took off on the road. And we got to do it all in Florida, escaping the winter blues.
Also, while there, both of my Grandmas (who have since passed) had the opportunity to check out the RV. That was pretty awesome since they were both avid travelers who always inspired me to get out and explore.
1/3 – 1/18: Crystal Isles – Crystal River, FL
This was the first destination we felt we had officially spread our wings. Gone was the comfort of having Mom and Dad nearby.
While in Florida, my Aunt and her boyfriend had told me that Crystal River was the place to go swimming with manatees. We deemed this our first official RV life adventure, and off we went!We loved it here! The area was beautiful. We hiked all of the Crystal River Preserve State Park trails (and ranked them). We also had a fantastic bike ride where we saw the cutest river otter skipping along in puddles. And we swam with manatees!
Notable Food Mention: The Biscuit Barn
1/18 – 2/1: Southern Palms – Eustis, FL
On our RV life journey, one of our main goals has always been to explore as many lake towns and green spaces as we could. While in Crystal River, we saw Ocala National Forest was nearby, and with a local Thousand Trails park, so we decided that was where we would explore next.
While in town, we had a lucky BINGO night where Barrett won ALL but one round! We also got some mountain biking in on the Paisley Woods Mountain Bike Trail and hiked a few trails in the Ocala National Forest, including the Salt Springs Observation Trail and The Yearling Trail.
At the end of our stay, we knew we might not be making it back to Florida for a while, so we decided to splurge and take a day trip down to Universal Studios!
And then lastly, before leaving Florida, we met up with my parents for one last day trip in the nearby quaint small town of Mt. Dora.
2/2 – 2/12: Bayou Segnette State Park, LA
Getting from Florida to New Orleans was a BUMPY ride. The cats were miserable, which made me really nervous that we signed them up for a cruddy life. (But, don’t worry, I can now confirm after driving in many other states that Louisiana roads are just AWFUL. We also added new tires later on in the year that have drastically improved travel days. More on that in Oregon. All in all, the cats are now doing just great!)
What Broke: The rough Louisiana roads did, however, shatter our glass shower doors. The latch broke during the ride. We parked the camper, came in, and found glass everywhere. Honestly, though, who thought glass shower doors were a smart idea in a fifth wheel in the first place? Now we have a curtain and rod set up, and we like it much better. Primarily, it lets a lot more light into our bathroom.While in New Orleans, we explored the town a bit. We went for a stroll in Audubon Park, visited a cemetery, dressed up for the Krewe Of Chewbacchus Mardi Gras parade with our friends Ashley and Brian, took a trip on the Algiers-Canal St Ferry, and went to the National WWII Museum (which I highly recommend)!
Personal Progress Made: Our stop here ultimately drove home the point that our RV life “where do we want to live” search is not about the big cities. The fun lives we had in big cities in our 20s just wasn’t cutting it these days.
2/12 – 2/21: Lake Conroe, TX
The Lake Conroe Thousand Trails had by far the most modern amenities we’ve ever encountered at a Thousand Trails park. We had so much fun at this campground, and we made sure not to waste the opportunity to use so many impressive campground amenities! Our time there honestly felt like a vacation, except for the fact that it was always either too windy or too rainy to go out on the lake. We instead filled our mornings and evenings with mini-golf, bags, pickleball, basketball, tennis, and hot tubbing whenever possible! And then also had a day of hiking around the impressive Sam Houston National Forest.
The campground was building brand new, big, beautiful sites on the other side of the park; however, since most of that area was still under construction, we opted to stay in a tighter, older spot, with no construction noise, so nothing much to write home about there.
The transition over to RV life, in the beginning, was MUCH more arduous than anticipated. (I’m not complaining though!) So having a week such as the one we just had in Conroe was delightful! It served as a reminder as to why we chose this life in the first place.
What broke: Near the end of our stay, while driving around Conroe, big white clouds of smoke started pumping out of the hood on the passenger side of the truck as well as in through the air vents! I swear, never a dull moment in this lifestyle! Before checking out, we found a local mechanic who we believed had fixed it and then continued on to Austin!
Notable Brewery Mention: B52 Brewing
2/21 – 3/16: Austin, TX
Once we arrived in Austin, we then transitioned into SXSW mode! We spent the first part of our stay going to a lot of volunteer shifts (to earn our badges since I’m too cheap to purchase them) and attended speaker sessions in between shifts. We then spent the latter part of the trip with my dad listening to tons of music!
Most Memorable Things We Accomplished While In Town: Seeing friends and consuming as much bbq & tacos as possible. We also hosted an Oscar Party in the RV! That was fun and definitely still the most people we’ve ever had in the rig at once. Barrett went to a car show. I went to a slumber party and got to take the most epic bath in my friend Emily’s incredible bathtub. We also made sure to stop by a few of our old favorite places before taking off, including Town Lake, Rudy’s, Juiceland, Ramen Tatsu-ya, Torchy’s Tacos, Salt Lick, Hula Hut, and Mozarts to name a few.
What Broke: Our converter, and then also our truck… again. Upon arrival, we quickly lost power. Luckily, the weather was in our favor, so not having power wasn’t too much of a biggie. We met a local RV mechanic who was beyond helpful in getting us set up on a generator until we could replace our dud of a converter. A few days later, we were back up and running.
The truck was also in the shop that week for 3 days. The white smoke issue came back and had not officially been fixed, so off to the dealer it went. To add to the adventure, during that time, we also had a lot of dull life things scheduled to do, like going to doctors and dentists. So we took lots of Ubers.
Cat Lessons Learned: While in Austin, we had to switch campgrounds in the middle of the stay. When arriving at the second campground, we went to check-in and came back to find our cat Vodka roaming the grounds. The next time this occurred, I caught her in action. I watched her stand on the switch and then lift her little head as if she was about to squeeze through the window. Confirmed: she knows how to roll the windows down. Those are now on child lock at all times.
Personal Progress: Our time in Austin could be described as another moment of transition. We spent a big chunk of our lives in Austin. It’s where we met, dated, and even bought our first home. Seeing our old stomping grounds in the light of our new life really had us reflecting on what we had here in the past, and thinking about how what we want for the future is changing into something very different.
To give some perspective on how much RV life has changed us, our stay at McKinney Falls State Park was my FIRST TIME EVER BEING THERE! Our Austin house is located 18 MINUTES away from this park. I lived in Austin for FOUR years. How this stay was the first time I’d been to McKinney Falls is beyond me. It also speaks volumes about the changes that have occurred in our lives over the past few months.
3/17 – 3/28: Lake Guntersville, AL
This stop was all about attending The RV Entrepreneur Summit. And boy, am I so happy we did! Not only was the event super motivational and informational, but attending within the first few months of RV life helped us meet people pursuing similar life goals. We made friends we still talk to regularly now!
Once it was complete, Barrett and I extended our time in Alabama. We gave ourselves some time to debrief and discuss how everything we learned had impacted us. We took a hard look at our goals and asked ourselves if we learned any lessons that would help us get to them, and then also considered whether or not we needed to re-write any of those goals.
We also took a day trip to High Falls, which is a waterfall you can get insanely close to. It was both exhilarating and scary.
In retrospect, I’m grateful we decided to stay, focus, and work hard in Guntersville those extra few days because I just had no idea we were next headed straight into Spring Break madness.
3/28 – 4/10: Pigeon Forge, TN
We next spent a little under two weeks exploring Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it was not enough time at all!
If you’ve never been to the Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg area, then you may not know the place is an overwhelming sight to be seen. I sure didn’t! I thought we were merely going to a National Park. But no, we arrived at a vacation mecca, during the middle of Spring Break.
To set the scene of our arrival, as you approach Pigeon Forge, tourist shops start to creep up on either side of you. At first, it’s a few long buildings here and there, but by the time we had reached mid-city, King Kong was on the Empire State Building on one side of us, and the Titanic was lodged into an iceberg on the other.
While there, we consumed a bit too much moonshine, wine, and cider, had some great meals, rode all of the rollercoasters at Dollywood, and conquered some beautiful hikes! We explored Pigeon Forge with my childhood bestie Nicole and her hubby, Ben, crushed an impressive hike up to Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains with our friends Rachel and Dan and had some date night fun in Gatlinburg.
Some of the additional hikes we were able to do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on our own included hiking to Laurel Falls, the Schoolhouse Gap Trail, and to Clingmans Dome.
We loved our time here and were sad to leave, but we knew there’s a lot more left out there to explore!
Notable Moonshine Mention: Sugarlands Shine
4/10 – 4/14: Knoxville, TN
Our time in Knoxville was all about exploring the town while having a blast with our friends Dan and Rachel. My favorite destination was the Ijams Nature Center. It’s located right outside of downtown Knoxville, but it sure doesn’t feel as close to town as it is.
The park is full of beautiful trails, and even has a beer garden for hiking breaks and a quarry you can kayak in! Mead’s Quarry kayak rentals are provided by River Sports Outfitters for only $12, and draft beer is on tap for $5. It just doesn’t get much better than that! We felt that after a long day of hiking, a drink and paddle were exactly what the doctor ordered. Oh, and to top it all off, it even came with a show because Barrett flipped his kayak!
More about all of the best things to see and do in the Knoxville area can be found here.
4/14 – 4/22: Blairsville, GA
The Blairsville area was full of many great surprises. Vogel State Park is hands down one of the most beautiful places we’ve camped. While in that area, we checked out a popular stop on the Appalachian Trail, hiked up to the highest point in Georgia, stumbled across a cute little Bavarian town named Helen and even saw a bear climbing a tree!
What Broke: While relocating here, we lost the lower back panel to our refrigerator. No idea how or where, but I sincerely hope it did not cause any damage.
Notable Food Mention: Bigg Daddys Burgers in Helen, GA
4/22 – 4/30: Back to the Smoky Mountains – Wears Valley, TN
We just didn’t feel like our first stay in the Great Smoky Mountains was enough. So we next went back and completed a few more recommended hikes and bike rides that we didn’t get to do the first go around. We rode our bikes around Cades Cove, which was nothing short of an experience, and not just because of the animals, it’s definitely also a people-watching experience as well.
We also went out on the Middle Prong Trail, which was recommended to us by a local gear shop owner. Along the way, we got to see an old abandoned Cadillac and some BEAUTIFUL waterfalls.
We absolutely love this part of America and are falling more in love with it every day! #frontrunner
We were also tortured by some pesky llamas… More on that here.
Lessons Learned: Some of our experiences were slightly hindered due to the time of year it was:
- If you want to bike Cades Cove, you can anytime. However, I recommend going between May and September when they start having two mornings a week that Cades Cove is only open to bikers.
- If you want a less strenuous hike to Grotto Falls, wait until Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail opens.
The BEST Breakfast I’ve Ever Had: Crockett’s Breakfast Camp
Notable Food Mention: The Townsend Abbey Beer Garden
Notable Fun Time Mention: Hillbilly Golf
4/30 – 5/7: Marion, NC
While in Marion, we stayed in an old Jellystone Park that wasn’t a Jellystone Park anymore but was still pretty cool.
We hiked up to the top of Chimney Rock and drank some brews at the bottom, at the Hickory Nut Gorge Brewery. We also explored the lake town of Lake Lure, took a stroll on the town’s flowering bridge and went for an incredible mountain bike ride in the nearby Paddys Creek biking area, and soaked up some sun at the Paddys Creek beach. It was a relaxing time that I’m grateful for.
Personal Progress: By this point, we were really starting to feel like we were getting in the groove of exploring smaller towns and getting more on track with the purpose of RV life for us.
Notable Food Mentions: Relish Taco Truck
5/7 – 5/15: New River Gorge Area – Fayetteville, WV
We next made our way to Barrett’s home state of West Virginia!
We stayed in Babcock State Park, which was really quiet at that time of year. This state park is home to the iconic West Virginia Grist Mill, so we made sure to see that. Beautiful hiking in the area included the Skyline Trail, the Boley Lake area, and the Manns Creek Gorge Trail.
The Fayetteville area was also close by and offered a lot of incredible hiking trails with amazing views of the New River Gorge area, including the Endless Wall Trail, Long Point Trail, and Grandview Rim Trail.
One more pretty neat local experience that I would never have initially thought of going to was the Exhibition Coal Mine Tour. You get to tour inside what was once a working coal mine and get to see a reconstructed coal mine town.
Notable Experience Mention: One of my favorite days of the entire year was spent here on a full day River Rafting tour with River Expeditions!
Notable Food Mention: Secret Sandwich Society
Notable Sunset Spot: The overlook facing the New River Gorge Bridge at the end of the Long Point Trail.
5/15 – 5/28: Davis & Thomas, WV
Then onto Blackwater Falls State Park and Dolly Sods Wilderness, which Barrett had been telling me he wanted to show me since we met. Seeing it in person made me understand why! The area is gorgeous!
We spent a couple of days hiking all throughout Dolly Sods. We also had a pretty incredible bike ride on the Blackwater Canyon Trail in Thomas. Barrett came up on a bear! I have no idea who was more scared. They both lept into the air and bounded in opposite directions.
We also had a date night where we got to enjoy the Bastard Bearded Irishmen perform in Thomas at the Purple Fiddle.
What Broke: When we arrived at the Blackwater Falls State Park campground, we noticed our antenna was laying sideways on our roof. It completely snapped in half. (After multiple Camping World repair attempts, this is one thing that has still never managed to get repaired.)
What Else Broke: Moments after the bear scare, the peddles on Barrett’s bike just fell off. So we walked back, wondering if that bear happened to notice.
Notable Brewery/Food Mentions: Stumptown Ales & Hellbender Burritos
Notable Sunset Spot Mention: Lindy Point Overlook
Lastly, we took a quick excursion from here to Hagerstown, MD, to see Barrett’s family for Memorial Day before we took off.
5/28 – 5/30: Cedar Point – Sandusky, OH
When driving from West Virginia to Michigan, how do you not throw a Cedar Point trip into the mix? The decision to stop here was entirely spur-of-the-moment, and right after I bought the tickets, storms started to roll in. I was a little nervous I had made a poor choice, but once we woke up the next morning, all of the rain was gone! It was gloomy and chilly, but no wind and no rain, so honestly, just a perfect park day. We did not wait in any lines all day!
Cedar Point Budget Eating Tip: While there, we bought one all-day eating pass, instead of two. The pass lets you eat every 90 minutes, so we were able to share a new meal between us every couple of hours, which ended up being plenty of food.
RV Park Tip: While we were staying at Cedar Point’s Lighthouse Point campground, it seemed a few of the amenities were on the fritz. However, it should be noted that while staying there, you also have access to Hotel Breakers, which has indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs, beach access, Starbucks, gift shops, and more. You can jump on a shuttle at the RV park and hitch a ride straight to the front door of the hotel at any time.
5/30 – 6/13: Grand Rapids, MI
Our time in Grand Rapids was fabulous! First off, we started our time here at the wedding of our friends Lindsay and Mike!
I also went to college in Grand Rapids, so it was great fun getting to show Barrett some of my old stomping grounds. I ended up turning more than one of our morning coffee outings into a driving tour of Grand Rapids. Including showing him my old college campus, the PBS station I worked at, introducing him to Biggby’s coffee, the BOB, and of course, Founders (which has changed A LOT), showing him my old house, my friend Sarah’s old house… you get the point. I’m sure I was boring him to tears, but I LOVED it!
Other local excursions included a quick day trip along part of Michigan’s west coast to see Grand Haven State Park & Holland, as well as a trip to the beautiful Frederik Meijer Gardens, pictured above.
Then, the campground we stayed at was also so pleasant. It was on the Grand River, with a steamboat!
Notable Food Mention: We also got to go out and explore the town with our friends who got married and check out some fun spots that were new to me, including The Mitten Brewing Co, where you can get a pizza flight!
Before trekking north, we also took a short trip east to visit with some friends and family for a couple of days. We first saw our friends Nicole and Ben again, for a night of eating every appetizer man has ever created and for some Euchre! Next, we saw my Aunt Terrie, Uncle Kent, and Cousin Tobi for a day in Detroit. This included a Mexican Town Lunch at Los Galanes, a lap on the People Mover, and a visit to Campus Martius and the Fisher Theatre. I grew up about 10 miles outside of Detroit, so it was fun to see how much the city has changed since I left the east side in 2004. Lastly, that evening my Mom flew into town, and we were also able to go see my Aunt Lynn and Cousins Sarah and Bryan and their families.
6/13 – 6/27: Traverse City, MI
Next up was Traverse City, which is the place to be in the summer. These two weeks quickly turned into a sort of mini summer vacation for us!
While there, we explored Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, downtown Traverse City, Suttons Bay, and spent lots of time at the beach. Watching it, stepping into it (it was still kind of cold), and my favorite way to explore any type of water, Jet Sking on it!
We also had one day where our two brave friends, Tina and Craig, decided to help me test out my DIY bike-n-ride libations tour in the Suttons Bay area, as well as a day we went on a Kabrew tour with our friends Ashley and Brian later on in the stay.
Notable Brewery/Food Mentions: Moomers Ice Cream (go for the ice cream, stay for the scenic views), Lake Ann Brewing, Taproot Cider House (huge cider selection), Hop Lot, Black Star Farms, Suttons Bay Ciders, and Georgina’s
RV Upgrades: We finally accepted that our backs would hurt a lot less if we bought some real computer chairs for the RV. So we trekked to Staples while here, got some, and have never looked back. I’m sitting in mine right now!
6/27 – 7/3: North Higgins, MI
Our stay in North Higgins was short and ended up serving as a sort of recharge spot. While there, we went on a beautiful bike ride throughout the woods in North Higgins Lake State Park, ate ice cream at the oldest looking DQ I’ve ever seen (And we’ve seen A LOT!), went bowling and checked out Michigan’s CCC Museum.
7/3 – 7/7: Mackinac Island/St. Ignace, MI
For this next leg, we took the RV over the Mackinac Bridge into Michigan’s Upper Penninsula!
Since Mackinac is a small island, the RV and cats did not come along for this part of the journey. They stayed parked at a campground in St. Ignace, and we then took a couple of day trips over to the island via ferry. We biked all over that island and just had a wonderful Fourth of July weekend!
This island is a favorite place of mine. So much so that I’ve written a detailed post about everything you need to know before visiting that can be found here!
Notable Brewery/Food Mentions: The Pink Pony‘s bar, for the views, the Tea Room at Fort Mackinac, again, for the views, and then if you really want to go all out, the Grand Hotel has the Grand Luncheon Buffet that should really be on everyone’s “once in a lifetime” list.
While in the area, I also made sure Barrett tried a Michigan staple, the pasty. This turned into a mission that lasted the entire month. (The best one ended up being at Karl’s Cuisine in Sault Saint Marie, MI.)
7/7- 7/14: Brimley, MI
Our next stop in Brimley was a place my family camped at when I was a kid. I was itching to know if it held up as an adult. (Happy to report that it did!)
While there, we spent one evening walking around the Sault Saint Marie area, checked out the Soo Locks, toured an old freighter that has now been turned into a museum called the Valley Camp, and even caught a sunset inside the top of a lighthouse!
The campground was lovely and quiet, but it was also the spot where we had the worst internet connection in all of RV life. Signal was non-existent. So it was here we officially decided to give up my ancient grandfathered Sprint cell phone plan and acknowledge that it was time to step up to the AT&T big leagues. We attempted to switch while here, but it ended up not actually being in the cards for us until we got to Minneapolis. Therefore, we spent much of our week either at the bar down the road (Pickles) or at Biggby’s coffee shop in Sault Saint Marie for free wifi.
Personal Progress: One morning, while here, I decided I missed my kayak way too much. I went on Amazon, found a small, inflatable one, ordered it, and then, two days later, opened my RV door to see it dropped directly onto our steps! I’ve never looked back, it was a great $60 purchase that has provided many fun adventures since.
Notable Brewery/Food Mentions: Bird’s Eye Outfitters & Karl’s Cuisine
7/14 – 7/20: Tahquamenon Falls State Park, MI
While in Paradise, we camped in the Tahquamenon Falls State Park. One unique thing about this state park is that it has a brewery. While here, we decided we would do a big hike throughout the park, to the brewery, and earn those calories.
We hiked a combination of the Clark Lake Loop, to the Wilderness Loop, to the Giant Pines Loop, to the brewery. It’s funny the things you remember first and foremost. I looked at this heading and instantly thought of this hike, the mosquito hike that broke me. When we were almost done with the hike, I legit cried at one part because those pesky bugs were so intense and awful. We bailed on the last little bit and walked the road to the brewery because I just simply could not re-enter the woods with those monsters. After the reinvigorating brewery stop, we took the Upper and Lower Falls Trail back.
While in the area, we also went to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. And of course, we had an evening that we went swimming in the falls before we left!
Notable Brewery/Food Mention: The beer float at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub
7/20 – 7/29: Pictured Rocks – Munising, MI
This stop was all about seeing Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, but we managed to squeeze in a few day trips to surrounding areas also while here.
Recommended Experience: After reviewing the best options to see Pictured Rocks, we decided to rent our own pontoon boat for a self-guided tour along the Pictured Rocks. It honestly was about the same price as the local kayaking tours, but this way, we had our own boat, could do it at our own pace, and I even got to bring my inflatable kayak along and take it out for a spin! IMO, this was one of the best days we’ve had so far in RV life. Actually, it was one of the best days of my life. I cannot recommend it higher to anyone!
We also spent another day hiking through the park to Chapel Beach. The mosquitos/biting flies were INTENSE. This was the hike that broke Barrett!
Notable Coffee Shop: Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore
One of the day trips we took was to Marquette, we started off at the Mt. Marquette Scenic Overlook, then went to Sugarloaf Mountain (but access was closed for filming), then we checked out Presque Isle Park (kicked some kids out of Pokemon gyms ?) and ended our day at Ore Dock Brewing for drinks and then The Vierling Restaurant for dinner.
Recommended Beverage: I had first tried Ore Dock‘s Black Cherry Hard Seltzer on tap in Sault Saint Marie and fell in love. It, for sure, gives White Claw a run for its money.
We also took another day trip down to Fayette State Park to explore some trails and exhibits down there. And then ended the day with a raft ride over Kitch-iti-kipi, Michigan’s largest natural freshwater spring.
7/29 – 8/1: Madison, WI
This portion of the year gets a little wild! We spent the month of August traveling from Madison, WI to Glacier National Park. Along the way, we had a weekend planned with friends, a family get-together, a check-up scheduled for the Cougar, and a decent amount of real-life tasks to take care of while we’re briefly in civilization (aka Minneapolis).
Our visit to Madison was a short one, but we managed to check out the town, experience a Concert on the Square, and see the play Anastasia at the stunning Overture Center for the Arts while there!
8/1 – 8/7: Minneapolis, MN
Ah Minneapolis, I remember this as the hottest week we’ve ever had in the RV. The poor Coug’s A/C was running hard.
We mostly just caught up on work, got some haircuts, saw the Spoonbridge and Cherry, and of course, also hit up all of the fun inside the Mall of America!
We actually ended up going to the Mall of America twice because we spent almost all of the first trip at AT&T, finally getting our new phones and phone service! Oh, happy day! By the time that was done, we had lost half the day and decided to come back and ride all the rides on a separate day.
What Broke: Around this point in time, about 5 of my keyboard keys were not working. I had checked open recalls and found out it was a problem with my specific Mac. I had gone into 3 or 4 Apple stores over the last two months in both Michigan and now Minnesota. They all were quoting over a week to two weeks to get my repair complete. That was going to be pretty problematic for not only our lifestyle but also for getting client work and writing done. Enter the Minneapolis Micro Center! They told me they could perform Apple Certified Repairs and get the computer back to me within 1-2 days! All fixed! And thank goodness because writing articles without all of your keys is a real nuisance.
8/7 – 8/12: Sioux Falls, SD
Next up, Sioux Falls! While there, we took our camper in for a checkup, which gave us the chance to spend some quality Airbnb time with our friends Sarah, Josh, and their kiddos!
We had a day around town where we explored Falls Park, went on the SculptureWalk downtown, and played Candy Land at Woodgrain Brewing. There was also an epic city waterpark and Japanese Garden within walking distance from the Airbnb. Us ladies had a ton of fun at the waterpark, while the boys went out to shop for matching shirts ?.
8/12 – 8/18: Interior, SD – Badlands National Park & Black Hills, SD
As for South Dakota, I have no idea how this part of the year was only 6 days. I guess we had a deadline to get to Glacier National Park, so it had to be short, but I LOVED this area and want to go back again soon!
Badlands National Park is now on my top 5 National Parks list, and I think you should add it too, especially if you have kids! The unique nature of this park is that you can just run wild basically anywhere you want, and it’s such a fantastic feeling.
While there, we did a marathon training run along the Castle Trail. We also hiked the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail, the Notch Trail, and the Door Trail, which are all very short and close to each other in the east most part of the park. The sunsets in the Badlands are also incredible. The most epic one we saw was at Pinnacles Overlook.
What Broke: One day in the Badlands, we noticed a bunch of our lug nuts had randomly disappeared. So our truck went into the shop while we were there, which actually led us to extend our stay to these six full days.
Once we had our truck back, we went to stay at the most epic KOA we’ve ever encountered in the Black Hills. It’s basically built like a little town. They have a convenience store, restaurants, live music by campfire, wine tastings, horseback riding, fishing ponds, multiple pools, a slide, and, of course, a giant bouncy pad! But the most impressive part: they had a rodeo while we were there!
Our site was even epic with an outdoor grill and a porch swing. (We made sure to use the hell out of both.)
While in the Black Hills, we explored Custer State Park‘s Wildlife Loop (where we saw TONS of buffalo up close and personal), Sylvan Lake, and drove along the Pinnacle of the Needles Highway. We also went and saw Mount Rushmore at night (when the parking is free, and the crowds are small).
Lastly, you can’t really come to this part of the nation without a Wall Drug mention. I’d visited as a kid, and now I’ve visited as an adult. It’s your typical roadside attraction, that’s now also been turned into part Instagram Funland. If you’ve never been, you probably want to walk in at least and say you’ve done it.
Notable Brewery Mention: The Miner in Hill City (with Prairie Berry Winery next door)
8/18 – 8/21: Driving from SD to MT
During these days, we drove A LOT. Along the way, we saw Devil’s Tower and the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Oh, and we encountered an adorable campground dog as well as some pretty territorial geese.
8/21 – 8/28: East Glacier National Park
Next up, Barrett and I arrived at Glacier National Park one week ahead of our parents to spend some time exploring the east side of the park. We spent time driving along the Going To The Sun Road and stopped for a hike on the Hidden Lake Trail, where we saw lots of goats and bighorn sheep. Explored the Many Glacier area and hiked along Fishercap Lake to Redrock Falls (saw a moose in the lake). We also explored the Two Medicine area and hiked to Aster Falls while waiting for our boat ride, then took the boat across the lake and then briefly hiked along Sinopah Mountain before going back on the boat, where we saw another moose.
The most significant hike we took part in while over on the east side was a hike to Grinnell Glacier. We woke up early and hiked to the furthest out Many Glacier boat dock to join up with a ranger-led hike group. From there, we hiked, took in all of the beauty, got to the glacier, and were utterly amazed. Then we hiked back and celebrated our achievement with dinner and drinks at the Swiss Lounge in the Many Glacier Hotel. We also saw a bear run right past our truck on the way home!
What Broke: It was here we realized our antenna was just completely gone. Whether the people at Camping World in Sioux Falls removed it, or the travel day removed it, we’ll never know… But it’s still not fixed, and now it’s also just gone.
Oh, and one day after hiking, we stopped at the Bad Frog Cantina stand for some dinner and music, and then stumbled upon an end of the season annual rave starting up next door! We danced the night away in our hiking boots, and I hugged this adorable rave cat:
8/28 – 9/4: West Glacier National Park, MT
So while we were exploring Glacier National Park last week, our parents were driving toward the park from both Maryland and Florida!
Once they all arrived, we spent this week with them in a rental home that also had RV parking! So we were able to be hooked up in the driveway while the family stayed in the rental house. We went on many amazing hikes and day trips, spent evenings playing games, and even had breakfast and dinner served daily from “Chef” Mama & Papa Peitz! (He asked that I add the quotes ?) It was a pretty incredible time.
Excursions we packed into the week include:
- Hiking the Trail of Cedars with everyone and then Hiddle Lake Trail with Chris and Rachel (where we saw some adorable little cliff climbing goats).
- A boat ride on Lake McDonald.
- A visit to Whitefish Mountain Resort where we rode up and down ski lifts and flew down an Alpine slide.
- A trip to the Great Northern Brewing Company.
- A morning of hot tubbing and bocce with my parents, while Barrett went on the Highline Trail hike with Chris and Rachel.
- A boat ride with our new friend Tobi and her family.
- A hike to Avalanche Lake with Chris and Rachel.
- A trip along the Going to the Sun Road.
- A day spent exploring Polebridge, with a BBQ lunch, bakery stop, and kayaking in Bowman Lake.
- And then lastly, a fancy First Anniversary / Dad’s B-day Celebration Dinner at the Abruzzo Italian Kitchen in Whitefish.
9/4 – 9/9: West Glacier National Park, MT
It was around this point in time, we started having the sense to slow down again. We hung out at the house’s next door RV park for a few more days, mostly catching up on work, but also getting to go on an epic rafting trip with our new friend Tobi & her daughter!
9/9 – 9/11: Spokane, WA
Our stop at the Nine Mile Recreation Area in Spokane was really just a stop on the way toward the west coast. I did, however, get to pop out on my kayak one morning before leaving!
9/11 – 9/21: Leavenworth, WA
Again, since August was basically a mad rush to get from Michigan to Montana, once we got to the Pacific Northwest, we decided to pump the brakes and spend more time on the west coast.
After All: These days on the road are meant to be cherished, not rushed.
That all started with Leavenworth. We LOVED Leavenworth! We extended our stay here twice, despite having power pole problems because the town was just so cool! It boasts lots of great hiking, Bavarian food, and even a Nutcracker museum! Oh, and an ice cream shop that Barrett still says has the best ice cream he’s ever tasted.
Hikes we enjoyed in the area included the Icicle Ridge Trail, walking around Enchantment Park & Blackbird Island, and the local Colchuck Lake Trail. The picture above is from the Colchuck Lake Trail. If you’re ever in the area, you simply must make the trek out to this lake, it’s stunning! We also went on a wild mountain bike ride on the Freund Canyon Trail. It took us hours to get to the top, just to fly down all the crazy twists and turns in about 20 minutes. So much fun!
Notable Brewery/Food Mentions: Little Reds Espresso & Bakery, Whistlepunk Ice Cream, Icicle Brewing Company (you must try the Dark Persuasion beer), Leavenworth Cider House, and Yodelin Broth Company and Beer Garden.
As we were packing up to leave this spot, we came out and noticed our power pole was smoking. We immediately disconnected and then carried on our way, hoping all would be well at our next stop.
9/21 – 9/28: Rainier National Park, WA
What Broke: Well, all was not well. The power problems at the last park caught up with us here. Unbeknownst to us, some damage had been done to our power cord. So we showed up here and blew up a power pole upon arrival. We spent the first couple of days without a working power cord and cold for the most part. After some delivery problems (being that we were at a closed for the season ski lodge) we finally connected with Amazon, gave them our exact coordinates, and they were able to get our cord delivered straight to our RV’s front door!
And once we were up and running, holy cow did we pick the most beautiful week to explore Mount Rainier! We had epic sunsets and hikes all around while there.
First, we had a hike day in the Sunrise area. From the Sunrise parking lot, we headed north to the Sourdough Ridge Trail. We hiked along that path and then switched onto the Burroughs Mountains Trail. We hiked up to the first and second Burroughs, which were insanely windy! Then turned around, but hiked the more southern path back toward Sunrise Camp and Shadow Lake and then back to the parking lot. If I was to do this hike all over again, I would do it in reverse because there were beautiful views of Mount Rainier behind us the whole way back. I kept turning around!
Then our second hike day started with a loop through the Grove of the Patriarchs. Then we drove to the Paradise Inn and asked the ranger for recommendations. We were planning on doing one of the popular hikes near the lodge, but she recommended Pinnacle Peak Trail for us instead, and man am I so glad she did!! This is another one of those best of 2019 days. We took the trail all the way to the “End of Maintained Trail” sign and then continued along the path to the top of one of the pinnacles. And that’s how we got the marvelous picture above!
9/28 – 10/22: Seattle, WA / Flight to Los Angeles, CA / Olympic National Park, WA
Can you even believe it?! We stayed in one place for almost a month! Well, sort of… To be more specific, the camper stayed in one place for a month. Us, not so much.
While in Seattle, we flew to Los Angeles for a fast weekend trip to spend some time with friends. We saw Vampire Weekend at the Hollywood Bowl with our friends Meghan, Aaron, Tom, and Grace. I introduced Barrett to Six Flags Magic Mountain. We also had a fun night out with our friends Alicia and Robb at a Star Wars bar called Scum and Villainy Cantina (which, after now being to the Star Wars bar at Disney World, I personally think the LA one is better). And in the morning went for a classic Runyon Canyon hike in the Hollywood Hills with Robb and stopped by the Chinese Theatre to put our hands in some handprints. Also squeezed a Sugarfish stop in and a pizza party night at Tom’s in before returning to Seattle.
We also took a mini trip to Olympic National Park, leaving the camper behind and staying in small motels outside and inside of the park. The truck got to travel on the Bainbridge Island ferry for the first time with us! That was fun! Once in Olympic, we spent the first day hiking up the Mount Storm King Trail, then found a motel to crash at in Forks, found some dinner and then headed out to the beach at night with our headlamps to explore tide pools at low tide. The next day we traveled into the Hoh Rainforest. We hiked the Hall of Mosses Trail and part of the Hoh River Trail. When returning to our vehicle, we encountered an enormous crazy elk that was charging cars. Eventually, we got into our truck and then headed to the Lake Quinalt Lodge for a night of old-timey fanciness. I made sure to take in all that the pool and sauna had to offer before going to bed. In the morning, we had breakfast in the lodge, saw the world’s largest spruce tree, did some more tide pool exploring on the beach on the way back, and then lastly stopped for a dip in the Olympic Hot Springs before heading back to the RV.
And then lastly, we did also spend a couple of days out exploring Seattle, mostly staying in the Pike Place Market vicinity and creating a bit of a DIY food tour while there. We stopped at Kerry Park to get that iconic postcard look at the city, and one morning we randomly checked out Snoqualmie Falls. I say random because I woke up one morning, saw this waterfall on Instagram, thought it was beautiful, googled it, and saw that is was less than 10 miles down the road from the campground!
Dang, we did a lot while in Seattle!
What Broke: Barrett’s cell phone. So we also checked out the University Village Apple Store, which was pretty cool. They had real living trees inside the store!
Notable food/drink stops included: Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, Rachel’s Ginger Beer, the Nest Rooftop Bar, Piroshky Piroshky, and Storyville.
I should also mention, this was a pretty nice campground, definitely one of the best Thousand Trails we’ve stayed at. On the days we were there, we enjoyed using the sauna and mini-golf!
RV Upgrades: Since this campground was also really cool about mail, we started to purchase all of the supplies to swap out our blinds for curtains while staying here.
10/22 – 10/30: Portland, OR
What Broke: The kicker with that new power cord we got in Rainier was that once we got it, it didn’t work all of the time either. During our lengthy stint in Seattle, we started to come to terms with the fact that we were probably having some internal RV problems and needed to get the rig to a Camping World. All of the Washington locations had a wait that was over a month. So with that, we were Oregon bound.
So upon arrival in Portland, the camper went back into the shop, and we went into an Extended Stay. The hotel was conveniently next door to a Discount Tire. So our truck got new tires that make our travel days about 500% better – lesson learned there!!
For those of you considering RV life, there are so many different things you can invest in to make RV life more comfortable in the beginning. Still, you obviously can’t buy it all at once because, well, budgets. But I now can recommend placing tire upgrades high on the list.
We honestly didn’t do too much in town while we were there. But we did get to see my cousin row his heart out at a regatta in Portland, which was entirely spur of the moment and so much fun!
10/30 – 11/20: Bend, OR / Flight to Austin, TX
Another long stint in one place! Again, can you even believe it?!
Bend was such a beautiful and adventurous stop. The RV park there had a year-round hot tub, which was a super exciting surprise, as well as a lot of bunnies!
While here, we hiked some local trails, including going to the top of the Lava Butte cinder cone, around Sparks Lake, the Green Lakes Trail #17, and the Todd Lake Loop. Barrett also experienced his first-ever clothing-optional hot springs, Cougar Hot Springs. It was as much of an experience watching him get through the situation as it was to enjoy as a hot spring. And then we also took a few road trips to some surrounding areas, including Crater Lake National Park, Toketee Falls, and Watson Falls.
Our marathon training also really started picking up in miles while we were here. We were needing to find safe long paths to run on more and more often. Luckily we were very close to the Sunriver Resort and able to put in a lot of miles around their loop track before leaving.
We also met up with our friends Swiss and Nicole at Deschutes Brewery, where they asked us if we’d want to go rock climbing with them! So a couple of days later, we found ourselves rock climbing at Smith Rock State Park, which was incredible! Afterward, we hiked to Steelhead Falls and then returned to Smith Rock State Park in the evening to hike the Misery Ridge Trail up to Monkey Face lookout for sunset.
As for our day out around Bend, well, it turned into a day out exploring McMenamins. We went in for an early morning screening of the Lion King and then just never left. They were hosting an annual Grateful Dead party that day, and there were fun times to be had everywhere! We played shuffleboard, I went for a dip in the soaking pool, listened to a Grateful Dead cover band, got drinks in a hidden Broom Closet bar, also hit up a Whiskey and Cigar bar, and then capped off the night with dinner, still at the hotel. We spent way more than we basically ever do anywhere throughout the day, but it was great fun!
Another excursion while in Bend included taking a short trip to Austin to meet up with friends for my birthday and to meet up with other RV Entrepreneurs in Fredericksburg, TX, a favorite spot of ours. We landed and were greeted by a robotic coffee maker that brought me great joy. Our trip was so short we also decided just to get Peached Tortilla tacos in the airport before we even left. We then took an Uber to our Turo car rental. (Game changer. We might never use a car rental agency again.) Drove to Fredericksberg, checked in our Jellystone cabin, which felt HUGE, and then went out on the town for some wine tasting and dinner at Hondos. The next day, the meetup began. It was wonderful. We met many new full-time RVers!
After the meetup, we drove north to Georgetown for a Birthday/Football party! The Texans were playing the Ravens, and the Lions were playing the Cowboys. Fans of all teams were accounted for. It was a great time seeing our friends CJ, Emily, David, Dane, Caitlin, as well as a lot of CJ and Emily’s family members! The next day we went to the dentist and then took a quick stroll around Town Lake with the obligatory Juiceland in hand before returning to Bend.
What Broke: Our kitty. ?Squirt had to go see the vet and a cardiologist, but she received excellent treatment and is doing well now! Both cats continue to live a happy life, regularly admiring new window views and different types of birds. Also, I think they love the new tires even more than I do.
RV Upgrades: Our curtains were installed here, and our blinds were removed!
11/20 – 11/30: Mount Hood – White Salmon/Hood River, OR
We next found ourselves taking the RV across the tightest bridge EVER to a campground at the end of the bridge in White Salmon, WA. This town was on the Hood River, OR border. Oregon’s where we actually spent the majority of our time while here.
Mount Hood was lovely and itching for snow while we were there. We spent two days hiking around the area. One of those days, we hiked along the mountain ridges in the Top Spur area while looking out at Mount Hood. And then the other day, we went for a hike around Mirror Lake, after first checking out the Timberline Lodge, which was the exterior of the hotel in The Shining for all you Steven King fans out there! The mountain was crazy dry. But snow was coming. And because of that, it was too foggy to see the mountain reflected in the lake.
Another day trip we took from the campground was to the popular tourist stop of Multnomah Falls. We were shocked at how easily accessible it was. You just step out of your car, and you’re there! So after seeing the waterfall, we found another hike nearby called Angels Rest and decided to tackle that before returning back to the camper.
We also spent Thanksgiving at this campground. We started that day off with a local Turkey Trot, then cooked and ate all-day, then woke up and drove toward Portland for some obligatory Black Friday shopping where we got our BRAND NEW DYSON. Cleaning the RV has never been better! We ended the day, checking out one more McMenamins location, Edgefield.
Notable Brewery Mention: Pfriem Brewery
11/30 – 12/7: Seaside, OR
While in Seaside, we spent our hiking days along the Oregon coast. We explored multiple trails in both Ecola State Park and Oswald West State Park before continuing south.
12/7 – 12/18: Florence, OR
At this point of the year, we honestly were trying to make our way south toward warmth. But we kept hearing about more and more beautiful spots to check out along the Oregon coast.
When moving on to Florence, we had the option of skipping the 101 and traveling eastward toward Portland and then south, and then west to reconnect with the coast, which would have been more manageable with the RV, but a bit longer timewise. But we got caught up in the idea of seeing more of the coast and hitting up Tillamook for free cheese, so Barrett ended up pulling the RV down the 101 in the rain and some darkness… I think he’s still trying to decide if the cheese was worth it.
We met up with my Uncle Jim and took a trip to Devils Elbow State Park and the town of Yachats. We also took a second trip back to the Yachats area to explore Cape Perpetua, including seeing the astounding coastal splashes on display at Thor’s Well, Sprouting Horn, and Devil’s Churn. I also one day went for a hike on my own around Lake Marie, saw the Umpqua River Lighthouse, and Facetimed my mom from the South Jetty Dunes.
Notable Experience: While here, we experienced another “best day ever” type adventure! Dune buggying on the local sand dunes. We had the area entirely to ourselves. It was amazing. I was feeling the high from that day for weeks.
One more timely experience in the area was at Shore Acres State Park, south of us. We had heard they put on a holiday light show, so to get in Christmas Spirit, we decided to trek down to that region for one day. On the way down, we stopped for hikes at Natural Bridges and Secret Beach along the Samuel H Boardman State Scenic Corridor.
Notable Food/Brewery Mentions: Yachats Brewing in Yachats and The Hukilau in Florence.
12/18 – 12/21: Redding, CA
Our stop in Redding was almost exclusively spent in shopping malls and post offices. We did, however, make a quick day trip into Lassen Volcanic National Park! Also, this campground had a hot tub. ??
12/21/2019 – 1/2/2020: Petaluma, CA / Flight to Baltimore, MD
Welp, we’ve arrived at the end of the year! We parked the RV and cats in Petaluma, so we could fly out of Oakland to Baltimore, and spend Christmas in Maryland with Barrett’s side of the family.
One Note About The Cats: When we are gone, Rover sitters do come and check in on them. They are too old to be left alone anymore, and the RV is just too untrustworthy to leave them without supervision. I also spy on them regularly with our awesome ring camera.
Once we returned to Petaluma, we also made sure to make a stop at the local Six Flags before taking off.
And that’s it, folks! 2019 in da bag!
2019 LESSONS LEARNED:
While creating this blog post, a few lessons we learned along the way kept coming up in my mind:
- When possible, slow down and spend extra time in each place. There is an unlimited amount of spots out there to be discovered. You’ll never see them all. Stick around and enjoy the one you’ve chosen to visit. Who knows when or if you’ll be back.
- Kind of in the same vein: Try to not book too many reservations in advance. As we move along in RV life, we consistently meet new people and discover new intriguing adventures. Having too many plans can stop us from getting to enjoy the real joy of living in the moment. For the most part, RV spots can be found anytime, and anywhere.
- Notice the beauty of your surroundings. At some point last year, I realized that I used to be way more selective about the moments I decided to take in the beauty of my surroundings. I rarely paid attention to the scenery changes that came with rainstorms. Sure, I would always admire the view on my morning walks through my neighborhood, or when I was on a hike or on vacation somewhere. Now though, I find myself paying attention much more often. Part of that is because time plays out differently in RV life. It’s not that time’s pace feels faster or slower. It’s that I find myself much more present and mindful of my time. The awareness and structure have also left me much more open-eyed and aware of the world around me.
- Make time to see family and friends along the way as much as possible. I was super pleased to see how much of last year we spent with the people we love. Many of them even making an effort to come out to us! The time we’ve spent with these people, while it has generally been short and sweet, it has also been impactful.
- Explore different sizes of cities and towns. By doing this, we now have a pretty good idea of the size of the town we’re looking for in a future hometown.
- One thing I’ve gotten leaps and bounds better at accepting throughout this year is that there are just MANY things I cannot control. And when things break or change, we aren’t always able to improve our plans or fix the problem right away. Solutions might not come today, and that’s okay. All I can do is let that understanding be enough. I have to accept this truth and be patient. There are going to be times of sitting in discontentment. Times of discontentment are often the hardest times for me. I’m awful at sitting still. But this past year, I’ve gotten better at it. RV life is making me more and more okay with that feeling.
- Buy the extended warranties your not sure you’ll need on those big-ticket purchases (aka your RV/Truck). The peace of mind is worth it. And then if you have to use it, that’s also worth it.
- If every couple of months, you come across an experience that has a bit of a high price tag, but it sounds incredible, and like something you’ll remember forever, just take the plunge! Buy the ticket. Rent the boat. We all only live once. All 4-5 of my best memories from last year I almost didn’t do because of the cost. Just be choosy! Know what those best of the best experiences for you are, and then go out there and do them!