Wrap Up – Our Year in Review

Well, we made it back to our home in Kentucky a little over a week ago. With our year(ish) adventure at an end, it is time to reflect on and wrap-up some of the statistics about the trip and answer some of the questions we have been asked.

First, let’s look at some statistics:

Number of US States We Visited:  18, 19 if you count Kentucky

Canadian Provinces/Territories: 3

Miles Traveled: Approximately 24,500

Number of National Parks Visited: 23 (Five of them were Canadian National Parks)

Number of other National Park Service Units (Monuments, Parkways, Recreation Areas, etc.) Visited: 16

Campgrounds, Harvest Hosts, Boondocking Sites Stayed In: 131

Problems Encountered:

The camper fresh water pump stopped working.  Luckily we had a spare and we replaced it quickly. 

We had both a cactus thorn and a nail stuck in a tire, but luckily, neither one protruded enough to cause an air leak. 

The check engine light came on once in the truck, but once we cleared it, it never came back.

Lithium Ion Battery Isolation Manager is acting flaky, causing our camper batteries to sometimes not charge while we are driving, and at other times to charge the entire time we are driving.  (The system is supposed to charge for 15 minutes, then shut off the charging for 20 minutes to allow the alternator to cool.)  We installed a new one, but the problem remains, so there is further diagnostic work needed.

Heather took quite a fall while out running one day and skinned her hands and knee, and busted her lip pretty badly.  Luckily, no medical attention was required, but it was a lengthy healing process, especially for the skinned hands.

Propane detector malfunctioned and had to be replaced.

Trailer brakes had to be replaced after one completely fell apart.

Small dent in water heater door from rock.

The microwave surround trim cracked and a new one had to be ordered. Jeff anchored the microwave down better to cause less stress on the surround trim piece and the new one was installed.

Unpleasant weather for our big wildlife and scenic cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park led to Jeff getting pretty sea-sick.

An after-market heat shield for the exhaust on the truck fell off and was lost. Jeff fabricated and installed a new one out of a piece of sheet metal.

We overheated the transmission once.  Luckily, no damage.

Furnace will intermittently not run the cool down cycle after a heating cycle.  Multiple furnace parts were replaced on the road but the problem remains, so further diagnostic work is needed.

String on one window shade broke.

Now, for the questions.  All questions came from friends and family who were curious about our travels.  For the questions with answers that might differ between the two of us, Heather put in her answers before posing the question to Jeff, and we didn’t discuss our answers beforehand!

Where was your favorite place of all the places you saw?

Heather: Alaska.  I really can’t narrow it down any more than that, but that isn’t to discount all the amazing places in Canada and the lower 48.  There were some amazing places we visited in those places, too.  This really isn’t a fair competition to put anything up against Alaska…

Jeff: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park because it is incredibly difficult to get there and once there you are in the largest national park in the United States.  It is full of mountains, glaciers, and untouched raw beauty.  It is quintessential Alaska.

What was the most breathtaking scenery you saw?

Heather: Man, that’s a tough one because we saw so much breathtaking scenery.  Almost every place we visited in Alaska was amazing and I thought Valdez and the Denali Highway were particularly gorgeous.  You can’t leave out Canada and the lower 48, though.  Places like Jasper and Banff National Parks in Canada or Yosemite NP in California are spectacular.  I really can’t choose!

Jeff: Salmon Glacier takes the cake, closely followed by Valdez and Wrangell-St. Elias.

Which places do you want to visit again?

Heather: With only a few exceptions I want to visit all of them again!  There were very few places we visited that I thought, “OK, I’ve seen that and I don’t need to see it again.”  I MUST return to Alaska some day, though, so I guess if I must choose, that is what I will say.

Jeff: All places Alaska and Canada would be at the top of my list, but there are many wonderful places in the lower 48!  I would love to spend more time in Guadalupe Mountains NP and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument again.

Where did you stay the longest?

The longest we stayed in one place was 13 days, and that was divided between two different stays in Palmer, AK.  We loved that area!  It was a large enough town to have some decent amenities without being a big city, there were a ton of sight-seeing and hiking opportunities in the area, the rv park we stayed in was really nice with great owners, and the views all around were spectacular.  If we were going to move to Alaska this is definitely an area we would be looking into!

How did you plan where you would stop?

We used a variety of resources to plan our stops.  First, we would determine the general direction we wanted to go and how long we wanted to travel, then start looking around the area to find where we might want to stay.  We mostly used Google Maps, Campendium, Harvest Hosts, and iOverlander to choose our campsites.

Did you reserve campsites in advance, and how far in advance?  Were there any issues with sites being too far away from each other to drive in one day?  How did you handle this when there was not internet/cell coverage?

Sometimes we made reservations and sometimes we would just “wing it.”  When we left home, we only had four reservations made to the most popular spots we wanted to visit. (Big Bend NP in January, Grand Canyon NP in March, Yosemite NP in April, and Denali NP in June).  For the rest, if we made reservations at all, we made them as we went, usually a day or two in advance of when we would be in that place, but never more than about 2 weeks ahead of time. There were a handful of times this meant we didn’t get into our top choices, but really not that many!  We did not encounter any problems with sites being too far away from one another to drive in a day because we were very cognizant of how far away each place was, along with how long we were comfortable driving and planned accordingly.  We also paid close attention to areas where we would not have internet service so we could plan ahead a little more.  In a pinch, we could use iOverlander since it works without internet service, and there were a few times we just drove until we had connectivity and then pulled over somewhere safe to do some research.  The key was just knowing what to expect and planning ahead. 

Big H’s Halibut and Chips

Any good local restaurants or regional dishes you will particularly remember?

Heather: Honestly, we didn’t eat out a ton because it was so expensive, and we weren’t particularly impressed with many of the places we did go.  The only exception I can think of was Big H’s Halibut and Chips.  This was a food truck at a campground we were staying at in Clinton, BC, and the fish and chips were AMAZING!

Jeff: Hands down, Big H’s Halibut and Chips was the best fish I have had in 50 years.

What was the high and the low of the trip?

Heather: There were so many highs, but for me, it has to be Alaska.  All of it.  Getting there, the cities, the remote areas, the hikes, the people, etc.  I loved everything about it.  We didn’t have a ton of lows.  There were some things that didn’t go according to plan, like our visit to Great Basin NP when we had truck problems, didn’t get a great campsite, and the road through the park was closed, but in the grand scheme of things, it was all minor stuff and didn’t detract from our overall experience!

Jeff: The high was finally crossing into Alaska after such a long journey!  The low was definitely coming home, knowing that we have so much work to do on the house, truck, and trailer, and knowing that we have to go back to work.

Easiest and hardest parts about being on the road for so long?

Heather: The easiest part was the flexibility.  Don’t like where you are?  Move!  Didn’t have enough time somewhere?  Stay!  Tired?  Don’t do anything for a day or two!  The freedom to do what we wanted, when we wanted was liberating!  The hardest part for me was the uncertainty.  It was hard for me to not always know what was coming next and exactly how we would find a way to meet our needs in each new place.

Jeff: If you have a thirst for adventure, RV travel is the easiest and most effective way to quench it.  The hardest part is the untold work that goes into this type of lifestyle.  There is constant effort needed to get water, dump tanks, keep the batteries charged, find new locations to camp, monitor expenses, and determine the route.  These are things that are done every day.  If you are stationary at home, you don’t have to worry about any of these things!

Were there things (places or other aspects of traveling) that varied widely from what you expected?

Heather: I think I underestimated how much work this lifestyle would be.  There was surprisingly little time for relaxation or hanging out by a campfire like most people envision.  Between the blog, the videos, trip planning, and day-to-day chores, we seemed to always be busy.  Totally worth it, though!

Jeff: Traveling up the Alaska Highway didn’t feel nearly as remote as I expected, Texas was far more mountainous than I expected, and in general, the RV community was more friendly, helpful, and generous than I expected.

What would you do differently?

Heather: For our first extended trip I think we did things really well.  Sure, there were times we felt rushed, but for the most part the travel pace was good.  If we go on the road for a long time again, though, we will probably travel a bit slower and stay in each location longer.  We would also like to have a smaller, more capable rig so we can get to some of the places we weren’t comfortable pulling a trailer.

Jeff: For our travels in the far north I would have liked to have had a truck camper, but for the rest of the travels, having the extra space of the trailer was an advantage.  I would also consider not limiting ourselves to a year on the road.  Everywhere we went we wished we had more time, so I would like to travel a little slower.

What was the most important lesson you learned?

Heather: This is a tough question!  I guess my answer is that you can live with a lot less than you think.  All the “stuff” we accumulate in our homes really isn’t necessary.

Jeff: There is more to life than work.  A lot more.  Oh, and don’t travel to Alaska with sub-par shock absorbers.  Buy the good stuff before you leave.

How did you handle insurance, banking, medications, etc.

All banking and bills were set up so they could be taken care of online. 

We purchased a fixed indemnity plan as well as accident and specified disease plans for our health insurance coverage.  It is not traditional insurance and doesn’t cover a lot of what traditional insurance would cover, but it had unlimited telehealth and would help out for doctor visits and catastrophic events and/or disease diagnosis and treatment. 

We have always had our medications filled at Kroger in Kentucky, and luckily there are Kroger affiliates almost everywhere we went, so for refills we could just contact the Kroger, Smith’s, Fred Meyer, etc. that was nearby and they could access our prescriptions.  The few times we used telehealth and needed a prescription, we just had the doctor call it in to the nearest pharmacy we could find (which wasn’t always easy in remote Alaska!)

What conveniences from home did you miss?

Heather: I mostly missed the washer and dryer (I hate laundromats!), and the ease of getting in a good workout. I missed many days of exercise because there wasn’t a safe or convenient place to get it done.

Jeff: A comfortable chair and reliable internet.  I also missed the garage and a nice workspace to work on things. 

What did you miss most about leaving KY for a year?

Heather: Definitely friends and family.  I didn’t miss Kentucky itself or the house much at all.

Jeff: Family and friends, and that is about all.  I like Kentucky just fine, but I didn’t really miss the area much.  I certainly did not miss the Kentucky summer heat.  I never wore a pair of shorts this year, and I loved it!

What had to be done at home to be gone for a year?

We unplugged just about everything that could be unplugged, turned off the water heater, set the thermostat so it would automatically switch between heat and AC as needed, set up security cameras, and put lights and TVs on timers.  We did not turn off the water to the house because we have a septic tank and we didn’t want it to go dry, so we needed water run into it periodically. We disconnected the batteries on the car and old truck and put the car on jack stands so the tires wouldn’t flat spot.  We gave everything a decent cleaning and did some landscaping work outside to keep weeds at a minimum.  We have a great neighbor who agreed to look after the house for us.  (We paid him of course!)  He brought in the mail, ran water in all the faucets, flushed the toilet, mowed the grass, and just kept a general eye on things.  He also took care of some bigger items like cutting up a tree that fell in the yard, and he waged a war on the groundhogs that were digging up our landscaping.  Heather’s mom helped us out by coming over once a month to have another set of eyes checking everything over, and she also went through the mail and sent us anything we needed.

Were there times that you just wanted to go home?  How did you navigate that?

Heather: There were definitely times that I got decision fatigue and tired of the uncertainty.  During those times I just wanted a break from making decisions about where we should go next and figuring out the basic logistics of life on the road, but I never really wanted to go home.  When I got to the point that things were starting to wear me down, a few days in an RV park with full-hookups typically gave me the break I needed.

Jeff: Not even once.  It was not a problem.

What difficulties did you encounter at home when you returned, and how can they be avoided next time?

When we returned home, we were greeted with several plumbing leaks in our crawl space and some mildew that had grown in Heather’s car from being closed up for so long.  We had not asked our neighbor to go to the crawl space to check for leaks, and we didn’t pay close enough attention to our water bill to recognize that there was a problem.  If we had just paid a little more attention, we would have recognized it sooner and could have had it taken care of before we returned home.  The car situation would have likely been avoided if we had just left the windows cracked.  If we take another extended trip beyond a few weeks, though, we will likely sell the house and car before leaving, so we should not have to worry about those problems again.

What’s next?

That is the million dollar question.  Right now we have a lot of questions and not a lot of answers.  We know that Kentucky will not be our long-term home, and we also know that neither of us will be satisfied with staying home, taking week-long vacations, and working 9-5 jobs for the next 20 years.  We are not at retirement age yet, however, so some form of work is a must.  What that will mean in the future…we aren’t yet sure.  For now, the plan is to go back to work for a year or two while we decide what shape our lives will take from this point forward.

So for now we are home in Kentucky and doing some soul searching and contemplating on what is next. We plan to keep the blog active, though posts will likely be fewer and farther between since we don’t think anyone is interested in what chores we are completing and what we are having for dinner! As far as the YouTube channel…we still have months of video content from our travels, so stay tuned for that! And we will be continuing to travel as much as time allows to have new content as well!

If any of you have any ideas or leads on remote work that would allow us to travel more than traditional jobs, please let us know. That would be a best case scenario!

Until next time!

2 thoughts on “Wrap Up – Our Year in Review”

  1. Great recap of an awesome adventure! So nice to look back on all the things you two have done over the past twelve months.

    I’m shocked that those barbecue sandwiches we snagged on the way back to the Anchorage airport didn’t get a mention in the favorite foods category. I still think about that!

    See you soon!

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