I made it back to Kalaloch this fall, the campground where I started my full-timing vagabonding three years ago on September 1, 2016. So much has happened in that three years that trying to write about it has kind of stopped me in my tracks.
I can use my campsites then and now as a metaphor. The first campsite was tiny and dark, with my shiny new Alto 1743 tucked under a tree, in a site barely long enough to fit trailer and Subaru Outback 3.6R without jutting into the narrow road. I spent a lot of time worrying about my electricity and battery and ran the generator every other day because I was worried I would “run out” of juice by the end of seven days without hookups. I could barely hear the ocean, let alone see it from my little spot. But, still, I was free of leases, full-time work, and city life. My new chapter had started.
This fall, I turned into the Kalaloch campground and circled the left side loops looking for an ocean view spot. As I made the turn to the ocean view sites, a white SUV was just pulling out of a spot and I hit the brakes as I realized they were in motion. The woman in the passenger seat gave me the thumbs up, so I backed up to make sure that meant they were leaving and the site was mine to have. Yes, it did. Beautiful solar, a short but double-wide site that just fit my Alto and Subaru. I was in and unhitched in under 10 minutes, then I set up my chair in the sun with the beach as my view across the narrow road.
Three years ago, I had a vague idea of what I was going to do. I would go down the west coast, then hang out in the southwest for the winter before heading east in 2017. I was nervous about towing, despite the four months I’d spent moving campgrounds every week or so as I finished up my full-time job in Seattle. I was nervous about every new campground, worried about getting the Alto into a campsite, and I couldn’t figure out how to make my brain understand the whole backing up thing so I wasn’t doing that at all (thank you, Caravan Mover).
This September, I took the back road out of Salt Creek and drove down to Kalaloch with memories of driving that stretch of 101 with my dad on one trip and my nephew, Austin, on another. I didn’t stress out about logging trucks, tailgaters, and pickups that zoomed by me as soon as there was a legal passing lane. I went my own pace, my own rhythm. As I set up camp and then relaxed in the late afternoon soon, I wasn’t worried about a thing. I was just enjoying the beautiful sunset unfolding across the water.
In the last three years, I’ve gotten around a fair amount…
I’ve seen amazing places, from Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico to the Bay of Fundy tides in Nova Scotia, from the sites of civil rights marches in Alabama to a solo early morning kayak paddle in British Columbia. I’ve met so many people through my trailer’s Facebook group, and enjoyed rallies and impromptu gatherings with dozens of them. I’ve learned how to swap out my trailer battery, tell when my 7-pin needs replacing, found trailer mechanics in four different states, and washed my dirty clothes clean in more laundromats than I can count, including one that used to be a bank and featured the vault right next to the big-load washing machines.
But more than places and people, what I’ve learned is to ease up on the need to control outcomes and instead go with the flow (or at least try to). I’m still a project manager at heart and I still plan months ahead for the big arcs of my travel routes. But I am becoming more comfortable with what I can’t control (weather, available campsites, grocery stores, and bad drivers, for starters). I’ve learned the technical stuff I needed to figure things out: why my solar panels weren’t charging the battery (loose wires at the solar controller), how to troubleshoot a malfunctioning burner (by cleaning and reseating everything), and how to manage without hookups for weeks at a time (solar panels, a big battery, and a generator, if you’re curious).
Things I’d recommend to anyone thinking of full-timing or hitting the road for an extended period of time:
(1) An emergency fund (cash in the bank). When I broke my hand, I had enough money to cover a week in a hotel, where I could sleep and shower and watch TV and take painkillers as needed. And I had enough to cover the $1000 in medical bills that was my share of the cost over the next six months.
(2) Watch youtube videos about RVing. Watch everything from how to dump your tanks to “10 mistakes we made…” kind of videos. I got a ton of advice about not going too fast, driving too far in one day, and seeing the sights rather than ticking items off a list. Youtube is pretty good about suggesting videos based on what you’re watching so I just surfed from link to link many nights while I was prepping to pick up my trailer, soaking up all the advice and how-to stuff.
(3) Stay connected. As a solo vagabond, I have found I really need that connection back to family and friends, whether it’s facebook, text messages, or posts and comments on my website. I have two hotspots (ATT and Verizon), a WeBoost cell signal booster, and a Netgear MIMO antenna for the hotspots. Between those four pieces of equipment, I’ve only been completely shut out in 2-3 places in the last three years. While weekenders want to get away from it all, full-timers mostly need the opposite: we are so mobile in our lives that the thin signal of cell networks is what keeps us connected to all of you out there.
(3.1) Find your tribe. It turns out that Altoistes are my tribe. There’s something about people that fall in love with this tiny trailer that makes for great camping companions. I’ve camped with big groups of Alto owners and small groups and enjoyed myself every time. Next year’s plans include a lot of “social camping” to enjoy being with these friends more. Whatever path you take as a camper, find people to hang out with and make it a point to hang out with them on a semi-regular basis. Yeah, it can be a bit challenging as a vagabond, but it’s worth the effort, the planning ahead, and the waking up early in the dead of winter to score that summer campsite next to each other.
(4) Less is better. Less clothes, less shoes, less kitchen stuff. I’m constantly curating my possessions, seeing what I can do without because I don’t use it much or at all. I have lightened my load considerably over the past three years. I wouldn’t say I’m minimalist, but compared to what I had when I was living in a sticks-and-bricks place, I guess I am. Everything I own still fits into my trailer or car (although I have a few things stashed in PA and FL at friends’ houses, but even those would fit in trailer or car if they had to).
(5) Figure out what works for your camping style. Are you a glamper-camper or are you an off-grid-and-grill-everything kind of camper? I didn’t really have any idea what kind of camper I was going to be. It turns out I’m happiest as a mostly glamping camper. Lots of people cook outdoors 90% of the time; I don’t even own a grill any more so I cook inside all the time. (This might have been somewhat influenced by the months of rain I experienced my first winter!). When I started out, I wore normal clothes like you’d buy at Target or Kohl’s, but slowly I’ve converted to technical fabrics because I can hand-wash them and they dry quickly. Jeans? They take forever to dry and feel really cold and damp in wet weather, so I rarely wear them anymore. Five dollar quick-dry t-shirts on sale at Walmart? Yeah, I’m all over that now.
I found a picture the other day of my campsite in June 2016 and I literally did not have ANY of that stuff any more except for the Alto itself! I’ve changed out my ground cover, awning, chair, table, and footstool. Mostly, I figured out what worked for me as a solo traveler. The awning I have now, for example, is way easier and faster for me to put up and take down, and that is a huge factor, winning out over the better privacy of my original awning.
Making it back to Kalaloch this fall felt very much like I was closing the loop on the first chapter of my vagabond adventures. I can see how very different I am from the me of three years ago. I stepped so far out of my comfort zone I wasn’t sure what I was doing for the first year. I made mistakes, all of them fixable, and kept going. The second year was all about things breaking (phones, windshields, tire, hand, fan, and more) and how I dealt with setback after setback. And still I kept going. The third year was easier than the second, thankfully, and made me realize how much I enjoy being a vagabond, despite the challenges of a life in motion. I’m still learning pacing and timing and that the weather is never what the forecasters say it will be.
I’ve started my fourth year with a boatload of experience, some ideas of where I want to go, and I’m wide open to serendipity as I move through the weeks and months ahead. Maybe I’ll see you out there…
The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.