If you’re reading this, congratulations! It means that you, too, survived the mess of a year that was 2021. Everyone had a different experience of the year, but I’m willing to bet a significant sum that all of us had one of the weirdest years ever. And I thought 2020 was going to take the “Weirdest Year of My Life” prize…
Despite the pandemic, I managed to make it through 2021, in a trailer stocked with masks, a pulse oximeter and thermometer, and (my newest addition), COVID-19 self-tests. None of those things would have been on my shopping list when I started this grand vagabond adventure in 2016.
Let’s look at my 2021 in more detail…
At the end of 2019, I had visited 40 states with my Alto. In Pandemic Year 1 (the year formerly known as 2020), I visited one new state (Mississippi), making my total 41. I’m happy to report I added two whole states to my total in Pandemic Year 2: North Dakota and Utah. Whee, now I’m up to 43 of the continental US states. What’s left? Nevada, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Vermont, and New Jersey. I’m thinking about knocking a few of those off in 2022, but if the Years of the Pandemic have taught me anything, it’s that plans were made to be changed. And then changed again.
All told, I visited 22 states in 2021, from Florida to California. This might be the last year I do a cross-country jaunt, they’re a lot of driving and the bloom is off that particular rose. To see where I went in 2021, you can check out my 2021 travel map.
Side note to my friends at Chapter 3 Travels: I’ll trade you one North Dakota night for one Arkansas night. Deal?
National Parks Count
If I had to pick a theme for Pandemic Year 2, Visiting the National Parks would probably be it. Planning my big fall adventure and then actually doing it absolutely made my year.
I managed to see 12 (!) new-to-me National Parks this year, along with a score of National Monuments, National Historic Parks, National Lakeshores, and other National “fill in the blank” places.
- North Carolina: Great Smoky Mountains
- South Carolina: Congaree
- Indiana: Indiana Dunes
- North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt Badlands
- South Dakota: Wind Cave
- Colorado: Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes
- Utah: Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands
Related Link: Check out all the “National” places I’ve visited with this handy map.
In 2021, I stayed at 95 different places in 365 days. Longest stay was 30 days at Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina, taking advantage of their snowbird special one more time. Pretty typical number of places for a full year of vagabond life for me. Just for fun, as my spreadsheet-loving big brother would say, I’ve creating a file with all the campsites by year so I can see where I’ve been at a glance. It also lets me see the average ‘stay time’ at campsites. No kidding, I’ve averaged 4 nights per stop every single year (not counting the pandemic months I was locked down in Florida).
Stats by the Month
I went just under 10,000 miles in 2021, with the final number of towing miles being 9761 (or something close to that). Biggest month was August, when I made the trek from Minnesota to Colorado via North Dakota, followed closely by October, when I drove all over the Colorado Plateau. Least towing miles? February, when I spent the entire month at Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina.
If you’re still reading and you are interested in how much it costs at a basic level to be a vagabond in my footsteps, this is the section for you. Here’s the monthly breakdown for 2021, with monthly averages at the bottom of each table. In my 2019 Retrospective, I wrote how gas prices were more than $4 a gallon in California. This year? I was happy to have avoided paying over $5 a gallon in California more than once ($5.23 a gallon near Salton Sea, second highest was $4.89/gallon twice).
While I do like boondocking sometimes, I mostly stayed in state parks and national parks (including USACE campgrounds) this year. April’s cost included two weeks at South Carolina beaches, which charge a lot because they know they’ll get it. Same for California in December. Paying $45 a night for a no-hookups site sounds ridiculous but I wanted to be close to friends and there weren’t many options besides state parks and even-pricier RV parks. Ah, California, I really like you but between gas and lodging, you’re a pricey state.
Going back to that year-by-year spreadsheet, I can see my miles/drive has been dropping year over year. In 2016, I was averaging about 140 miles/drive, while in 2021, I averaged just over 100 miles/drive. This has mostly been a conscious effort to drive less per day, even if it means more stops. I’d rather stop twice and drive 2-3 hours per stop and not put in 5-6 hours of driving in a single day. That’s just my style, slowing down to enjoy my vagabond life rather than rush around the country trying to cram a lot into every single day, week, month, and year.
Related Link: See all my yearly Retrospective reports, from 2016 onward, via my Vagabond Life page.
Things That Went Well
Battery/Solar setup: I’m still loving the 100 amp hour lithium-ion battery. I’ve only pulled out my propane-fueled generator twice, and both times it was to make sure it still works more than it was to charge up the battery. I still cart around the genny because “ya never know” and it doesn’t get in the way, stowed safely in the in-bed trunk of the Ridgeline.
Improvising campsite stays: Between pandemic and weather, the year had a few challenges, most notably very full campgrounds from Memorial Day to Labor Day. And the month of December was a bit of a mess, too. I got kicked out of a state park due to weather closure, only the third time that’s happened in five-plus years of vagabond life. And about 3-4 times, I stayed longer at a place or left earlier to avoid an oncoming storm, which paid off each time.
Vaccination availability: I got my first vaccination dose in South Carolina, the week that the Biden Administration opened up the pharmacy/grocery stores plan to make more doses available. It worked. I had my second dose 4 weeks later and about 90 miles from the first spot. No trouble making an appointment in New Mexico to get my booster shot at the end of October.
Things That Didn’t Go So Well
Do I need to even mention that pandemic? It closed visitor centers, cool attractions (like the opportunity to go down into a Minuteman missile silo), and made grocery shopping and dining both ongoing exercises in risk assessment. I’m a masker, too, so I’ve got a solid supply of KN95 masks to kick off 2022, along with those self-testing kits.
The Alto is coming up on 6 years of full-time travel, so I had to do a few emergency repairs, but I’ll cover those in the Alto-versary #6 report in May. Suffice to say that I still love my little home on wheels and I’m not thinking of trading up or trading it in for something else. Same goes for the Ridgeline, it’s an amazingly good tow vehicle with a ton of space to stow things.
Looking Ahead to 2022
More pandemic-influenced behaviors, from no trip to Kitt Peak Observatory in Arizona (completely closed due to COVID-19) to still debating whether to get on a plane to Orlando in April. I can stay pretty isolated while camping but the thought of airports, planes, and hours indoors in areas where people are unvaccinated and don’t wear masks kind of freaks me out. I’m a solo act, so if I get sick, it’s not like there’s someone next to me to see me through however bad it might get. So I’m careful, more than many people, about taking chances getting exposed to the various virus variants.
I’ve got my winter plans all set up and underway, and I’m about 50% with spring and summer plans so far. Fall is anybody’s guess, depending on a lot of factors. As planners and weather forecasters say, there’s a large cone of uncertainty for anything more than xx amount of time ahead. For me, the cone of uncertainty is about 3 months ahead, so predicting my fall is a fool’s game. I’ll just see how things go. Which is kind of what I’ve been doing all along in this vagabond life.
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
Hunter S. Thompson