We’re going back in time to share our 2017 car camping adventure through the Southwest! While our trip ended up being shorter than planned, we had some amazing adventures, including several new national parks and getting to be on one of our favorite TV shows! Thanks for reading along!
Building The Hitchenette and outfitting Franklin the Tahoe with a new camping rig took several weeks longer than planned. So instead of hitting the road shortly after New Year’s, it was January 19 before we had Franklin packed and pointed south.
No two people have ever felt so ready to hit the road!
Our trip south would be a slow one. We had plans to zig-zag our way down the East Coast, seeing friends and family along the way. (In fact, we didn’t realize it at the time, but it would be a full month before we even got to try out our new camping gear!)
Our first stop was New Jersey. What was planned as a quick weekend with friends turned into almost a two week stay. Our friends were renovating a condo they planned to turn into a rental property, and we were only too happy to lend a hand.
Next stop, northern Virginia, where we caught up with college friends in our old hometown of Leesburg, and enjoyed late night tacos and wine with more friends outside Washington, DC.
From there it was another quick drive to Jacksonville, North Carolina, where Ryan’s brother is stationed at Camp Lejeune. We had a great time checking out the Marine Corps Base, enjoying a few margaritas, and even getting in a not-too-chilly mid-January walk on the beach.
Our next stop was checking off a new national park (our first new park since the previous October!).
Congaree National Park is quiet in winter; we had the Boardwalk Loop Trail almost all to ourselves! The downside was that there were almost no critters to be seen, and we were too early to enjoy a ranger-guided canoe tour of the park. (That’s definitely going on the future to-do list!)
From Congaree we began slowly heading west, this time for more urban adventures. Our next stop was Charlotte, North Carolina for a wonderful night of food and drink with friends.
We had a truly amazing meal at Stoke (still one of our best meals of 2017), followed by rooftop drinks enjoying the Charlotte skyline at Fahrenheit.
We had one more stop to make before Louisiana … because clearly, Alpharetta, Georgia was a great place to cheer on the Patriots during Super Bowl LI!
Fortunately for us, the Patriots won — and we cheered quietly enough that none of the neighbors stopped by to tar-and-feather us.
After 2.5 weeks on the road (without a single night of camping yet!) we reached Louisiana, where we settled in to spend some time with Ryan’s family. We caught up with the grandparents and cousins … spent some time by the pool … and put in some quality work time before our anticipated upcoming Internet dry spells in Texas. We also had a chance to visit the national wildlife refuge outside New Orleans where Ryan’s great-uncle volunteers!
On Monday, February 20 we pointed Franklin due west. It had been a long slow journey south, and while we cherished the wonderful times we’d been able to spend with friends and family, we were truly itching for the simple life: camping, natural vistas, and the open road. Clearly, Texas was the place for us — and we were eager for our upcoming adventures of beach camping on the coast and an extended stay in our (tied-for-first) favorite national park — Big Bend!
New Mexico was pure magic, and we seriously talked about never leaving.
We were supposed to head from New Mexico into Colorado, but at that point (mid-April) the weather was still looking pretty questionable. (Even though we were already almost a month behind schedule.) We decided to cut west and visit Utah before heading up into the Rocky Mountains.
After a quick detour to the Grand Canyon, we headed to Utah and were immediately awed.
Looking back … Utah is where the plan started falling apart.
We crossed the Arizona-Utah border headed towards Zion National Park in the throes of a raging wind and snow storm that blew through quickly, leaving us hopeful that better weather lay ahead. And while we had many gorgeous sunny days, it was still cold — and the wind and snow quickly began to seriously cramp our car camping style. We had planned an ambitious three-week circuit through Utah’s five national parks, but the crowds at Zion and Arches — combined with National Park Week and Jeep Week in Moab — left us tired and burnt out.
By the time we drove into Colorado on April 15, we were seriously ready for a break. We booked a week at the most comfortable AirBnB ever, and proceeded to spend it catching up on work, doing some serious Netflix and chilling, and eating lots of food that was not McDonalds. It was glorious.
Newly invigorated to hit the road (after plenty of soul-searching on whether or not to keep going), we left Cedaredge bound for Rocky Mountain National Park … only to hit another snow storm on the way.
And while RMNP had us seriously charmed … boy, was it cold.
We headed south, fell in love with Great Sand Dunes and Mesa Verde National Parks …
… but somewhere along the way, we decided to cut our trip short.
Let me tell you — that was a seriously hard decision.
Ahead of us was the promise of sunnier weather in California, and checking Alaska off our bucket list.
But when we sat down and honestly discussed it … we just weren’t having fun anymore. We were tired. We were burnt out. We were frustrated with trying to work on the road, and being stuck in the car during bad weather. We just needed a break from the road.
We made a quick detour to Arizona to see friends and family (and had our decision to turn around reinforced by the 100+ degree weather we encountered there) … then pointed Franklin north.
We made several great stops along the way — including the unexpectedly lovely Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and celebrating our anniversary in Chicago — and arrived back in New Hampshire on June 8. Since then we’ve been spending a glorious, sunny New England summer back in the camper parked at Rebecca’s parents.
So … what does it all mean for Our Streamlined Life? Right now, it’s a little early to tell. Ryan just started a new job he’s very excited about; we’re planning some international travel (Morocco! Thailand!); and we’re starting to talk about putting down long-term roots in New England. On the blog we’ll be reverse-time-traveling to catch up on our adventures over the spring, sharing the tips and tricks we learned on this trip, and chatting about minimalism and living that travel life. (We even have a giveaway coming up soon. Hint: We still love these guys.)
As we’ve alluded to a few times here on the blog and on Instagram, we’ve decided to make some big changes to our travel style for upcoming adventures in 2017. So we wanted to share our thoughts on why we decided to leave our camper behind as we set off to criss-cross the country this year!
On our drive north after wrapping up our Appalachian adventure Ryan and I began discussing what our 2017 travels would look like. We’d previously assumed we’d be taking the camper with us around the country, but after six weeks of having it on the road with us, we weren’t as excited about the prospect as we’d expected to be. Fortunately, we were in agreement that for the next leg of our travels, we needed a better — and smaller — plan.
We began discussing options. Our first idea was to leave the camper behind, sell the Tahoe, and purchase a small (<18′) RV that would lighten our travels but still provide the comforts of home. Ryan did some research, we found several on Craigslist, but pretty quickly discovered that for what we wanted to pay, we’d definitely be getting a fixer-upper — and we weren’t sure we had the time (or the energy) to do that again. And, since we were heading north, any projects would have to be completed while braving a frigid New England winter. That prospect was less than thrilling.
Next we considered trading in the Tahoe for #vanlife … in fact, Ryan had already built out into an epic road tripping home on wheels in his mind. But, while we’re still positive a van is in our future, we struggled to find one at the perfect intersection of price point and specs we were looking for. (And Ryan wasn’t thrilled at the idea of buying a van that had endured salty New England winters.)
Those options having fallen by the wayside, we were back to square one. And at that point we realized — Franklin, our trusty Chevy Tahoe, was already a pretty sweet road trip machine! Ryan went back to the drawing board and had soon sketched out plans for a new car camping build, including an awesome new kitchen design. He took on some projects to make Franklin look and run better. And before too long, our current vehicle had transformed into a comfortable and reliable mini home on wheels! 🙂
All that is the what of our upcoming travels, but I also wanted to share why we found ourselves wanting to downsize in the first place. Minimalism has been a big driving force in our lives over the past couple of years, and I always loving talking about why we love living small and the things that drive us to a lighter, more adventurous life.
1. Towing the Camper Can Be a Drag
There, I’ve said it. After getting off to a rough start towing the camper through the mountains of West Virginia, it took us a while to settle in to pulling 6,000 lbs behind us wherever we went! That’s the cost of carrying all your creature comforts with you, I suppose — but after about a week on the road, we were already tired of setting up, breaking down, not being able to get drive through … the list goes on. And it was also frustrating that Ryan was the only one able to drive; hats off to you ladies who are skilled at towing, but I’m just not! While he’s usually happy to be behind the wheel, there were times when he was tired, or not feeling well, or just didn’t want to drive, and we missed the flexibility of me being able to take the wheel. Overall, while we adapted pretty quickly to the vagaries of life with a camper in tow; it just seemed like a continuous, low-grade hassle, and one we didn’t feel like dealing with for the next nine months.
2. We Want to Cut Costs
You had to know this one was coming! You guys, camper spots, even without sewer hookups, are expensive. Of course, there’s always boondocking, but if we were going without things like air conditioning and an electric hookup to run the fridge, what was the point of having the camper with us, anyway? This trip we’re looking to do a lot more boondocking … maybe even check out a Walmart parking lot or two … and just generally rough it in the interest of adventuring more, and saving money. (The sacrifices seem totally worth it if it frees up more cash for things like rafting the Rio Grande in Big Bend, or taking an air taxi to Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska!)
3. We’re Comfortable with Less
After selling 90% of our stuff, taking twosix week car camping trips, and figuring out we don’t miss our stuff, even the camper was just feeling extravagant! And after another summer parked in Harpers Ferry, and a three month stay with my parents (plus a very generous Christmas!), we were both beginning to feel the weight of our stuff again. (Can I just say — going through every nook and cranny to pack for this upcoming trip was highly therapeutic!) We’ve learned that with car camping we have just enough to feel comfortable … but not too comfortable. We’ve been joking that the next step in our downsizing process is a backpack apiece! (Spoiler alert: we already have them 😀 )
We’re Craving More Adventure
One more thing we learned on our last trip — somehow, having the camper ended up putting a damper on our adventurous spirits. I often think of Jess Curren’s excellent post, I Don’t Trust Myself in Suburbia, and somehow, the camper was starting to feel like our own personal version of suburbia. (If you haven’t read her post — and even if you have — go read it. Seriously.)
“We are advocates for an active, outdoor, adventure, family-oriented lifestyle so what does that say about me when I can’t even get us out the door in over a week? It says that life in Suburbia is hard and we are cheaters.” — Jess Curren
Traveling with the camper we found ourselves sleeping in later, spending more time watching TV on the laptop (seriously, we watched three seasons of Chicago P.D. in six weeks), forgoing campfires in favor of nights on the couch, and generally sucking at getting out the door and exploring. I can’t explain what it was, other than that we were just too comfortable. And comfort is not why we upended our lives and moved into a camper.
And That’s Why We’re on the Road with Just Our Tahoe
So, here we are — on the road, headed southwest, with all our stuff packed into our Chevy Tahoe. We’re planning on mixing it up this trip; it’s not going to be nine straight months of camping. In fact, in the two weeks we’re taking to get from New Hampshire to Louisiana, we don’t have a single night of camping planned — our route is formed by waypoints with hospitable and welcoming friends and family. So, while we will be doing lots of car camping this year, we’ll also be stopping with friends, and we are also hoping to dip our toes into the world of professional house sitting. And I’m sure we’ll pepper in some hotel stays and tent camping, too.
That’s all, folks! Thanks for reading along 🙂 Tell us in the comments: What’s your favorite method of travel? RV, van, car camping, tent camping, backpacking?
2016 flew by and was absolutely packed with adventure. In the past year we’ve seen ourselves grow more comfortable in the full-time travel life, spent a lot of time with family, and traveled to many new cities and states. Despite a few stressful moments, 2016 was a pretty great year! Here’s the 12-month recap of trips we took, people we saw, and adventures we had!
January found us still in Louisiana with Ryan’s family after enjoying a wonderful holiday season with them. We helped his parents move into their beautiful new home, saw his youngest brother Kennan become the third Rogge boy to become an Eagle Scout, and said goodbye to his brother Landon as he headed off to Officer Candidate School for the Marine Corps.
February 10 we were finally on the road after 11 weeks in Louisiana. We left the camper in Baton Rouge with Ryan’s aunt and uncle and were flying free and easy down the road in our brand spankin’ new camping rig!
And somehow, by Easter weekend we were back in Virginia to see Ryan’s brother Landon be commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps. It was such a proud moment for our family, and a blessing to be able to spend Easter with them (as well as my sister Katharine, who joined us from Illinois).
We kicked off April with a long weekend of business (a wedding) and pleasure (a sweet hotel) in the Charleston area.
Finally settled back in Virginia, we settled into what we didn’t realize would be one of the rainiest springs on record in the DC area. (And I quote: “From April 27 to May 11, D.C. logged measurable rainfall on 15 straight days, the longest streak on record by five days.”) All I know is, 15 straight days in the camper, surrounded by muddy footprints, watching the rain pour in buckets from the sky, had us both screaming, “What fresh hell is this?!”
But all that rain did have one positive effect: When the rain is falling, the river is rising, and Ryan got to experience some pretty sweet whitewater on the Shenandoah River, which is usually more of a pleasant paddle than the epic torrent it became.
At the end of April I headed to the Atlanta area to see my baby brother graduate from Army basic training. My brother Adam joined us from Texas, and we had a great time traveling with my parents.
As the rain continued in May, I was so ready to escape. Ryan was hard at work ziplining and rafting, but I jetted off to Colorado Springs with my mom! Ostensibly we were traveling to bring my brother’s car to him at Fort Carson, but we had a great time road tripping together, visiting my sister along the way in Illinois, and even (barely) outrunning a tornado in Kansas! And in Colorado Springs we got to visit the Air Force Academy, see my brother’s Army digs, and spend some time in the Garden of the Gods.
June 6 was our eight year anniversary and we headed to Niagara Falls for a fun and relaxing getaway (after spending a few days visiting my family in New Hampshire). We had a great time exploring Niagara’s parks and drinking lots of Niagara wine!
Another highlight of my year also happened in June: visiting Chicago with my sister Michaela. We had such a fun time running all over the city — I absolutely fell in love and can’t wait to go back soon with Ryan!
We didn’t go anywhere in July … instead, the fun came to us! My parents and three youngest sisters stayed at the campground with us for a week of ziplining, whitewater rafting, hiking, and campfire relaxing. They rented a cabin near our camper and we all had a great time. (The picture above is from when my dad and I hiked Maryland Heights — the best view of Harpers Ferry!)
Ryan and I parted ways once again at the beginning of August. I headed to New Hampshire to spend a week with my family; Ryan traveled to southern West Virginia to do some disaster relief work for the flooding that happened there earlier in the summer.
And then we headed to Maine for two glorious weeks! We hiked. We ate blueberry pie. We tent camped. We loved every minute of it. And on the way home, we visited with my family again and stopped off in New Jersey for a few days, too. It was a great way to cap off the summer.
Come September we breathed a giant sigh of relief to get back on the road! (Editor’s note: Despite all evidence above to the contrary, it totally felt like we spent a housebound summer after being parked on the mountain for four months. Apparently that was less true than I thought!)
After a quick stop at home base to get some maintenance done on the car and to say our goodbyes in Harpers Ferry, we were officially New England bound. Our stop-off in New Jersey was perfectly timed for some of the best foliage we’ve seen in years … and we also got in some history by visiting a few national park sites! (Read our guide for visiting all four of New Jersey’s national parks in a day here!)
After a busy early fall, November was time to hunker down and get some work done. We parked the camper at my parents’ and settled in to enjoy the remnants of fall and take care of business.
That said, November wasn’t all work and no play: we enjoyed a great Thanksgiving with family (even our military brothers joined us — mine from Fort Carson and Ryan’s from MCB Quantico!) … went into Boston for our traditional Sam Adams brewery tour … and visited Louisa May Alcott’s childhood home and Minute Man National Historical Park.
In December, the coziness continued. We decorated the camper for Christmas … and even got a little snow! The month was busy with Christmas shopping, Christmas cookies, and general good cheer. Family started coming in from around the country and we celebrated a fun holiday weekend with plenty of presents and lots of good food.
And here we are wrapping up 2016 grateful for a wonderful year bookended by January in Louisiana and December in New Hampshire, with lots of glorious adventures in between. (And you’d better believe a not insignificant part of our month was spent making travel plans for 2017. That post is coming tomorrow, but I just have to say — it’s going to be awesome!)
Over our past two summers working and living in Harpers Ferry we were very blessed to find a really awesome church. When we first visited Harvest Pointe Community Church, we were surprised to find we already knew several families from previous churches we’d attended, including the pastor who married us, along with his family, which made it much easier to decide to attend that church. Once there, we made great new friends that we really enjoyed getting to know.
This summer I was able to go on a short term missions trip with HPCC, my first since high school. At the end of June, southern West Virginia suffered massive flooding, with 23 lives lost and over 1200 homes destroyed. Our church partnered with a larger church family of Southern Baptist churches, and we assembled a team to go down and spend three days helping.
Cleaning materials were desperately needed to combat the mold and mildew that set in quickly after flooding. The team running the relief operation assembled a list of these cleaning items, and created kits from them which would fit in a five gallon bucket, cost a total of $50, and would be enough to clean an average home. Our church raised enough money to buy and assemble 65 relief buckets, and we loaded those in a trailer and brought them down with us.
When we arrived, we were met by an awesome and diverse group of experienced relief workers from all over the country. Many were retirees from construction fields who spent much of their year in their RVs, traveling wherever help was needed! What an awesome way to spend a retirement, and what a great reason to travel!
Every morning we’d gather for breakfast and devotions, and then head out into the field as assigned. Our team varied from unskilled to semi-skilled labor, so they split our team up, and sent Vance, an HVAC engineer and all around cool guy, and me to work on a house that needed a tremendous amount of work.
The house was about 250 yards in front of the creek that had flooded. At its highest, the water had come up to the bottom of the first floor windows all around the house, destroying the first floor drywall, cabinetry, and furniture, and flooding the homeowner’s brand new HVAC system.
Previous teams had come in and gutted the first floor, removing all the dirt and mold. Once the inspector certified that the mold was completely gone, other teams had come and replaced about 90% of the drywall. Vance and I were tasked with finishing the drywall, and taping and spackling the entire first floor.
We jumped right in, and over the next 3 days were able to put two coats of spackle on almost the entire first floor, including the bathroom, bedroom, living room, dining room, kitchen, enclosed patio, and utility room.
We were also able to do some extra framing to support bouncy sheetrock, and framed and sheetrocked areas that hadn’t been reached before we arrived, including under the stairs in the living room.
I really enjoyed working with and getting to know Vance, and we had some great lunch break chats! I was fascinated to learn that he worked in a lab where they designed and tested cutting edge high efficiency heating and cooling systems for homes — and he offered to take us on a tour!
Meanwhile, the rest of our team was also hard at work. Since they didn’t have building experience, they were tasked with some of the heavy cleanup, which is an incredibly nasty job — climbing around sub-basements and crawlspaces through sitting water and sludge, and removing moldy wood, fiberglass insulation, and other debris from homes.
Those troopers spent two days working in those conditions without a complaint. The third day, they moved onto a a rebuild job to help another team of contractors insulate and sheetrock the home of a local widow who lived right next to the creek — and whose house had been devastated.
Vance and I, having finished as much as we could given the high humidity and slow drying time of the spackle, were able to jump in and help them with that job for a while before we hit the road back north to Harpers Ferry.
This entire trip was a tremendous experience, and I was very grateful for the opportunity to join in. Rebecca and I lead such a blessed life, enjoying the ability to travel and explore the country. This disaster relief trip served as a great reminder that not everyone is as blessed as we are. Working in these kind of situations has always helped me to keep my priorities straight, and I’m glad for the reminder this trip served as. Having the flexibility to be able to jump up and pitch in is just one more reason we love this debt-free, footloose life of ours!