A virgin no longer: Emily’s first backpacking trip

I really didn’t think I’d ever do it.

Day hikes? Yes, please.

But… carrying all that extra stuff on my back and cuh-cuh-cuh-camping out? Overnight? With no shower at the end of a long hiking day? And having to… you know… in the woods?

I don’t think so.

Say hello to our backwoods poop kit.
1. Dig a hole at least 6″ deep. (That’s dirt on the trowel, y’all. Just dirt.)
2. Poop in it.
3. Use TP/wipes as needed.
4. Bury the human waste and biodegradable paper products.
5. Bag any non-biodegradable paper waste and carry it out.
6. Use hand sanitizer.

Backpacking has always been Tim’s thing. He’s been sending himself on long-distance walkabouts almost every year since he retired from the Navy in 2013, starting with a 3-month trip on the Pacific Crest Trail. He’s also done the entire John Muir Trail, parts of the Appalachian Trail, and a Grand Canyon down-n-up, among others.

I’ve always been the support person for these adventures, providing drop-offs and pick-ups at trail heads, mailing supply packages, and taking care of all the other things that need to happen when one’s spouse is temporarily living off the grid.

What made me change my mind? A combination of three things.

  1. Being in Washington for an extended period of time, with access to fantastic trails in both the Cascades and Olympics, during prime hiking season;
  2. Realizing that other than a proper pack for me, we had enough gear & supplies needed to outfit both of us safely; and
  3. Reminding myself yet again that life is short, so maybe I should fix my pony tail, set my squeamies aside, and find out what I’ve been missing.

    This.
    This would be one of the things I’d been missing.

So we bought me a big-girl pack, and we planned our first excursion: 3 days, 2 nights, about 27 trail miles.

Come along with us. The easy way.

Day 1:

We started there at the red pin, Tipsoo Lake, on August 6.
Thought you might like to see a map that shows where we were in relation to someplace you might recognize. Like Seattle.

Day 1 (orange): Parked at Tipsoo Lake (A) and camped for the night at Sheep Lake (B)
Day 2 (pink): Pacific Crest Trail to camp at Basin Lake (C)
Day 3 (green): Basin Lake alllll the way back to our Point A
Mileage by map: 23.4
Mileage by tracking app: 29.1.
Average of the two: 26.2 (Can I count this as my first marathon?)

Our home for the first night: Sheep Lake
Popular place.
We were definitely not alone. Lots of other campers, due to the fairly easy 2-mile hike from a main road.

We arrived mid-afternoon, and refilled our water containers from the stream that feeds the lake.
This is my “dirty bag” for collecting water, which I then filtered into…

This!
Delicious, cold, fresh and safe

That stream made for a good tootsie soak too, but only for a few seconds at a time. Icy!

One-pot dinner, served in…

… multi-use cup.
After a few minutes standing in hot water, that formerly dehydrated chicken breast looked and tasted like… dry chicken.

Home sweet tent.
It’s model name is Hubba Hubba, and we have made all the jokes.

Zipped in and ready for bed, yes, while it was still light out.
That 40-degree rated mummy bag? Nope. I got cold, even wearing jammies, and temps probably hovered around the mid-50’s.
We have since replaced it with a warmer bag.

Let’s start Day 2:

The best part of waking up is not exactly instant coffee in your cup (which is also used to hold your oatmeal, sports drink, rehydrated dinner, etc.), but it’ll do for the short term.

We trekked northward…

… and Mount Rainier watched over us.

That which we worship protects us …

… but we can’t always protect that which we worship.
This was our first evidence of recent forest fires.

Our first view of our home for Night 2: Basin Lake
We arrived at about 2:30 p.m., and had the entire basin to ourselves. There may or may not have been afternoon skinny dipping, and we didn’t even encounter anyone coming in as we climbed out the next morning!

Home sweet tent, this time with the rain fly added for warmth.
I missed seeing the stars through our roof, but I slept far more comfortably than I had the night before.

OK, put your boots & pack back on, and pick up your poles for Day 3:

We found our way through this haunting scenery.
Following the trail was difficult, with fallen trees and ash obscuring the route in places.

Found later on a live, still standing tree: one very old trail marker!

I took this screen cap at what might have been the highest elevation point on our trip.
Based on topographical maps, we probably hit about 6500.

Wanna watch how slowly I hike? Sometimes I cover a whopping 2 miles per hour. Oh, and you can probably tell I didn’t know Tim was taking video. Derp.

We made it back to our RV park by late afternoon for long, hot showers.
Look at my dirty pants!
And herein lies a shopping lesson.
These are boys’ REI brand mountaineering pants, priced at $39.95.
Comparable pants in women’s sizes started at $64.50.
The boys’ version fit me perfectly, and my psychological barrier to purchasing clothing marked XL instead of S was completely obliterated by my excitement over the money I’d saved!

And then we went out for a big, calorie-laden, non-dehydrated dinner, and I ordered a wild boar sandwich for the express purpose of being able to post, “I was so hungry, I ate a boar.”
And that is when karma made its move against my sense of hubris.
The boar attacked within about an hour, and I spent the next 2 days battling and recovering from food poisoning. That sandwich was the one and only item I took in that day that Tim didn’t, so we’re sure it’s the culprit.
Message received.
And no boar for me again, ever. Even pork is gonna be an issue for a while.

The illness was unfortunate, and I wish — really wish — it hadn’t happened, but it did not ruin backpacking for me.
I’m ready for more of this.


Disclaimer: No compensation was received from any brands or entities named above, nor does our mention of them constitute an endorsement. Links are provided for information and convenience only.

3 years in: RV there yet?

No!

Today marks the start of our 4th year of living full time in The Toad, and I’ll celebrate the occasion by updating last year’s post, which included answers to the 12 Questions We Hear All The Time. Bonus: I’ve added a 13th question to make it a baker’s dozen.

Many answers are still the same; updates are written in this nice shade of purple, and I’ve replaced most of the photos too.

1. Sounds like a lot of things go wrong with the RV. Don’t you miss living in a house?

Yes they do, and no we don’t. Things go wrong in everyone’s RV, from the newest to the oldest, from the high-end to the low — just like in a house. They never happen at a good time, they’re expensive to fix, and although Tim can handle most repairs on his own, sometimes we have to pay someone else to do it — just like in a house.

2. You don’t miss anything about having a house? Really?

Fine. We miss having a bathtub. And I’m not crazy about living without my photo albums and other prior-to-digitization mementos, all of which are in our storage unit in San Antonio. I feel like a big chunk of my history is missing.

3. How many states have you visited in the RV, I mean like, for more than just a rest stop?

By my count, 25: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Virginia, West Virginia, Utah, Wyoming, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, North Carolina, Alabama, Washington, and Oregon, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota. Without really even trying, we’re more than halfway through the Lower 48!

My criteria for counting a state as visited are a bit fluid, which I know will drive some people a little nuts. Did we stay overnight? Long enough to do the weekly laundry? Go on a hike or visit a national park? All of those are valid to me. Just driving through on the way to elsewhere, with a potty break at a gas station? Not so much. 

This map represents our travels from March through June of 2018. It’s not exact, but it’ll do.
I deliberately left out one-nighters, and some of our stops in WA lack labels because I had to zoom out so far to show our path from end to end.
(source: maps.google.com)

4. Have you found a place in any of those that feels like home? That’s what you set out to do, right? Find home?

Yeah… about that. No. We are no closer to finding home than we were when we started this crazy adventure, and that is because we’ve spent most of our time going from one “Hey, come join us for this” occurrence to another, and occasionally finding spots to explore and play between those events. But we’ve spent time with more friends and family in these last three years than we had in the prior 20, so we have no regrets!

Flagstaff, AZ, was a contender for a while, because we liked the size, the landscape, the people, and the vibe, but when a friend posted a few months later that it was 28 degrees on the morning of Memorial Day? Gone. Dead to us. Off the list. No.

And now, Coeur d’Alene, ID, is a contender. Tim spent his high school years there, and still feels a connection to the place. I like it too, and we’d have a built-in network of friends. The city itself is way too crowded for us, but 10-15 acres several miles outside the city limits sounds appealing. And yes, we’d keep an RV so that we could easily winter elsewhere. I don’t see us pulling the trigger on a land purchase any time soon, but the bug is buzzing about our brains.

5. You sold two houses in 2016, so are you just rolling in dough? Must be nice to be so rich that life is a permanent vacation.

Come closer.

I want you to hear me say this: We lost money on both houses.

I won’t tell you how much, because there is not a big enough margarita on the planet to make me feel better about it, but for a total of 13 months between 2015 and 2016? We were paying the mortgage on a house we weren’t living in, waiting for it to sell.

It hurt, I don’t recommend it, and we should probably not be allowed to buy property ever again because we are terrible at market timing. We are relieved to have the homeownership burden lifted, and we are now rebuilding our savings, thankyouverymuch.

House 1, in San Antonio TX, sold in March of 2016.

House 2, in Norfolk VA, sold in November of 2016

6. So… are you poor? Is that why you’re living in an RV?

No. We’re not poor. We are living on Tim’s military retirement pension, and had in fact been doing so for two years before we downsized to the RV, so we already knew that if we maximized use of his retirement benefits while simultaneously reducing expenses, we could make it work. The RV is simply the means by which we are Owning Less to Do More. It could just as easily have been a tiny home or a boat or a yurt.

We’ve also done a little work camping since last year: the stint in Texas paid us in free rent, and our gig with Amazon Camperforce in Tennessee paid us in both free rent and an hourly wage. With those savings/earnings, we were able to pay off the loan for the new BFT, and we are now living debt free!

7. Are you thinking about getting a new RV still?

No. We’ve decided to keep upgrading and modifying this one until… well, until we feel like we’re done. We’ve painted, replaced some furniture and fixtures, upgraded the power system, added disc brakes and a bit of insulation, and I forgot what the hell all else, but we talked a lot about it in this video by Heartland RVs. We’d still like to add solar power, and get an exterior paint job.

In 2018, the biggest upgrade that I wrote about was our flooring replacement. The biggest modification that I didn’t write about was having our undercarriage stuff upgraded to 8,000-pound axles and H-rated tires by our friends at Performance Trailer Braking (and the fact that I used the term “undercarriage stuff” should explain why I didn’t write about it). 

We also replaced our manual awning with an automatic one, helped my brother’s family with some post- Hurricane Harvey work at his house, and went from not-exactly-legal to clearly-and-absolutely legal with our Texas driver’s licenses. I behaved abominably over it. Here’s why.

Practice makes perfect, and I had to practice a lot to pass the driving test required for our license upgrades.
I crushed a few safety cones.
Sorry, safety cones.

8. How about a new dog?

No. We miss Lola, but this just isn’t the right time for us to add four paws to the mix. Besides, we really don’t look good on paper (no yard, no fence, no vet, no permanent address), so I’m not sure a shelter would deem us a proper adoptive family anyway. Now if a dog finds us? All bets might be off.

– Lola –
Oil on canvas by Tim’s sister, Whitney

9. About that “no permanent address” thing. How do you get mail? Or vote? Or go to the doctor?

OK, we do have a permanent address; we just don’t live in the UPS Store where it’s located. We’d already been renting a mailbox in San Antonio for a while before we started traveling, so we just kept it. It’s the address we use for our driver’s licenses, voter’s registrations, vehicle registrations, banking, etc. Every 2-3 weeks, we call them to have our accumulated mail forwarded to wherever we are.

Our medical “home” is also San Antonio, and we return every 6 months for my cancer follow-ups, and anything else that needs attention. While traveling, we are able to make use of military treatment facilities and VA hospitals, thanks to Tim’s 25 years of Navy service.

10. Do you like the new truck?

Yes! Wow, do we love the new BFT (2017 Dodge RAM 3500 dually). We actually rather liked the old BFT too (2012 Chevy Silverado 3500 dually), and would have kept it until death did us part, but… oh wait. It did die. We just chose not to live with it after the major organ transplant.

But anyway, the advances in comfort, maneuverability, and electronic features between those model years are noticeable even to me, and I don’t really pay much attention to that kind of thing. (“Does it start when I turn the key? Yes? Good. That’s all I need.”)

2017 RAM 3500 Laramie Crew Cab 4X4 8′ Box
6.7-Liter I6 Cummins® Turbo Diesel Engine
AISIN 6-Speed Automatic Transmission
Dual Rear Wheels / 17-Inch x 6-Inch Wheels
Black interior
True Blue Pearl exterior

11. How long ya gonna keep doing this?

We have no exit strategy. When we started, we thought it would take a year or two to get all our exploring done and find The Place, but now we’ve decided to play this hand for as long as we can comfortably hold the cards.

Tim is 52, I’m 49, we’re frequently the youngsters of the RV park, and I’m OK with that. If you’ve read our “How we met” story, and are now trying to do the math, let me help you out. Yes, we were young. We married at 26 and 23, had our sons right quick, and that is how we ended up with an empty nest by the ages of 49 and 46.

The way I like to characterize it is that we are living our twenties now. I even got up to a little mischief during a recent stay in an age-restricted RV park.

12. What’s next?

We’ve traveled from Idaho back to Washington for the month of August. We want to do some hiking in the Cascades and/or Olympics, and we want to see our older son and his girlfriend again before we head back to Texas for our autumn round of family visits and medical appointments. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter for updates as we go!

After the first week of October, both the calendar and the roads are wide open.

Oh, the places we’ve seen…
… and the places we’ve yet to go!

13. Do you make money from this blog?

Nope. The only payment we receive is your attention, and so far that’s enough for us.

We have not monetized our blog or any of our social media accounts by accepting advertising, by promoting products for manufacturers, or by using affiliate links. If we mention a product (or restaurant, campground, RV park, etc.) that we really liked (or didn’t like), we do so without the owner’s prior knowledge and without compensation.

We have lots of RV blogging friends who make use of some or all of those income streams, and we encourage you to support them. It helps fund their travels, or at the very least, the expense of purchasing and maintaining their web site. We’ve not felt the need to take this step, but we’re not ruling it out as an option should we begin attracting a (much, much) wider audience.

Oh, and on a related topic, we do not have a YouTube channel. Appearing in and editing video is absolutely unappealing to us, so you’ll just have to put up with our “old-fashioned” ways.

So that’s it for the end of Year 3! If there’s a topic I didn’t cover, you are welcome to ask your question in the comments section below, but keep it clean. My parents read this.


Other updates: We started full-timing in August of 2015, but I didn’t think to do an annual review until the end of 2016, and it was just a listing on Facebook of places we’d visited. After that, I started using a quarterly format.

WheRVe we been? Our travels, 2nd quarter 2018

Wow. So uhhh… all that not leaving the Lone Star State we did in the first three months of 2018? We more than made up for it during the 2nd quarter!

Here’s a summary of our travels from Texas (home of our younger son and my side of the family) to Washington (home of our older son and Tim’s side of the family) and Idaho, mapped with a little help from Google.

RV miles traveled this quarter: about 3,215.

It’s not exact, but it’ll do.
I deliberately left out one-nighters, and some of our stops in WA lack labels because I had to zoom out so far to show our path from end to end.
(source: maps.google.com)

Texas to Washington, March 31 – April 12: We spent our first night in north Texas, having received a quick and positive answer to a last-minute, “Hey, I just realized we’re passing through. Are you guys free?” Erika & Tony, with whom we became friends through the Heartland RV Owners Club, not only secured us a spot in the RV park where they live, but also treated us to dinner!

In many ways, the RV community reminds us of our military community. We’ve got friends all over the place; they welcome us even on short notice; they offer generous support and assistance of all kinds; and we pick up right where we left off, no matter how long it’s been since we last saw each other.

After that, we stopped for a few days in Norman, OK, where the The Toad got upgraded tires, wheels, and axles from our friends at Performance Trailer Breaking; and we got to reconnect with a college friend of mine and her family for Easter dinner (that’s her bunny in the photo below). Moving on to Utah, we stayed for a couple of nights at the beautifully secluded and pleasantly uncrowded Fremont Indian State Park, before continuing to Hill AFB in Ogden to restock the fridge and do the laundry.

– Our scenic spot at Fremont Indian SP
– Flower, the bunny
– The face I make when I find dollar washers and dryers (hurrah for access to military RV parks)
– A nice, long hiking day in Sevier, UT
– A trail with a view, perfect for an afternoon run at Hill AFB

Skagit County, WA, April 14-30: At long last, we arrived in Washington on April 12, but had to hang out on the east side of the Cascades for a couple of days while we waited for a non-blizzardy time to cross Snoqualmie Pass — yes, in April! The primary reason for our visit was to help Tim’s folks clear the last of the stuff out of the house they’d just sold, in order to downsize to a 5th wheel. Like son, like father much? It was a perfect time to experience the best of a PNW springtime. The tulips and cherry trees were in bloom, the sun was out more often than it wasn’t, and although temps were a little chilly for my taste, we were able to enjoy several outdoor activities.

– A colorful afternoon at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
– Tim reminiscing with his mom, over a tub full o’ family mementos bound for storage
– An ornamental cherry tree (maybe one of these?) at our campground
– A view of the Columbia River, from our holding spot at the Wanapum Rec Area
– Midpoint of a “sluggish” run

Here’s an outdoor activity for ya: We ran our first race together in Mount Vernon, in the rain, with temps hovering around 48 degrees.
This was a 5K to benefit the non-profit agency one of Tim’s sisters works for, Community Action of Skagit County.
The things we do for family!
(photo credit: Community Action)

Jefferson County, WA, April 30 – June 1: For the entire month of May, we hung out close-but-not-too-close to our older son and his girlfriend, and were able to spend as much time with them as possible, juggling get-togethers and adventures around their full work schedules and community commitments. They had their home; we had ours.

– Hello, Port Townsend, and what fine beer you have.
– The boy, his girl, and me, at the first stop of what turned into a pub crawl. They let me tag along!
– Tim spent the first week of our stay on a hiking trip in the Grand Canyon. Off you go, dear.
– Time for rhubarb at the farmer’s market
– If you visit western Washington, don’t forget to look up every now and then

– A 10-mile hike along the Lower Big Quilcene River Trail
– Another race together, the 40th annual Rhody Run 6K
– I may have been a little excited to spend Mother’s Day with one of the reasons I get to celebrate
– Hair color shenanigans to cement my reputation as an RV park “rebel”

But yeah, it was still too chilly for me.
I got caught doing my “I can’t believe I have to wear this much clothing in May, and I am still effing cold” dance.
(photo credit: K. Eichmann)

Central & Eastern Washington, June 1-22: We helped Tim’s folks kick off their first month of full-time RV living by traveling together to a few different campgrounds. In order, we stayed at the resort located inside Sun Lakes/Dry Falls State Park, the municipal park in Bridgeport, a privately owned RV park near Dayton, and a military recreation area near Cheney. And yes, by “traveling together,” I mean we helped each other fix things that broke on or in our respective 5th wheels. Ha!

– Tim’s parents have an inflatable kayak, and we are now considering adding one to our collection of adventure gear
– A hot hike with Tim’s folks, to the ancient Indian caves above the lake
– This unwanted stowaway outsmarted our traps twice, and also dodged the root beer mug, before finally taking that one. final. bite. SNAP!
– In-laws, arriving to join the mayhem. I mean fun.
– Such different scenery than the green forests of western Washington

– Tim’s dad, a talented amateur photographer, got some fantastic shots of the rolling hills of The Palouse. The best one I got was this one of him!
– Another stowaway was hiding inside our tire covers. This is the kind of stowaway we like, but we sent him hopping off into the grass, where he’d be happier.
– The oft-photographed Palouse Falls

Coeur d’Alene, ID, June 22 – July 6: And now we’re kicking off the third quarter of 2018 in a hometown from Tim’s past. He graduated from high school here, and his family still has several friends in the area, so it’s been a trip down many of their Memory Lanes.

What’s better than having a dog?
Having friends nearby with two dogs, one of which is a wriggly, pees-on-contact-but-I-don’t-care puppy!

With all the moving around we’ve done this quarter, it finally happened: I forgot which state we were in.
Let the record show that I have since taken preventive measures.
Not. One. Word.

Tim and his parents recreated a typical family road trip, during opening night of the classic car weekend in Dayton.
What a long, sweet trip it’s been.

Where to next? We’ll head east to Minnesota to visit one of Tim’s cousins, then we’ll work our way back to WA for a little more family time in August and early September. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter for updates as we go!


We started full-timing in August of 2015, but I didn’t think to do an annual review until the end of 2016, and it was just a listing on Facebook of places we’d visited. After that, I started using a quarterly format.

1Q 2018      4Q 2017        3Q 2017        2Q 2017        1Q2017        2016

2018 Grand Canyon Hike

Tim

A couple months ago, I was presented with an opportunity to join a group of five guys in a hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in early May.

Who could pass that up?

The story in photos:

(Hint: Click on the first photo, and navigate through)

If Willy Wonka had been a florist instead of a candy maker…

… his world would look like this. The colors of these flowers are almost obscenely vivid and rich, to the point of surreality.

We are visiting family in western Washington during tulip season! Usually we visit during the holidays or the summertime, so this is a rare treat.

For better event and travel information than I can give you (because my advice would be “Call my mother-in-law, and she’ll tell you everything you need to know,” and I’m not sure she’s up for that), visit the Tulip Festival and RoozenGaarde.

I’ll let my photos* do the rest of the talking. You start planning your trip for next April.

I can’t take him anywhere. #selfiespoiler

Recreating an iconic family photo: the preparation

Nailed it!
On the left, our sons in 2004, which was the last time we tiptoed through the tulips. The boys were 9 and 7 at the time, and our family was stationed in Bremerton, WA.
On the right, these two parents in 2018, ages 51 and 49.


* I used the auto-enhance feature on these photos, but no filters. In person, the colors of these flowers are so vibrant and luscious, you may be tempted to lick them. I do not recommend it.