Yesterday, September 1, 2016, marked one year since I sold my house and started my journey in an RV and living on the road. It took a couple of days to get everything settled into the RV and a few more to actually get on the road but September 1 was when I officially became a gypsy of the road.
This week also marks the end of this phase of the adventure and the beginning of the next phase of my life.
It has been an amazing year. It was full of ups and downs, highs and lows. I saw the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of Alaska, parts of Canada, and 27 states. I traveled 58,007 miles, and fell in love. I also depleted my bank account, had two flat tires, obtained many cuts and bruises, and even twisted a knee that kept me from hiking for two months. I had surgery to treat a cancer scare. One of my dogs passed away on my journey.
I met many other travelers, some of whom I have continued to stay in touch, and even crossed paths with the couple visiting every national park in 52 weeks (#59in52). I got stuck on the wrong side of a mud slide in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and couldn't see Wonder Lake in Denali National Park because another mud slide blocked a road there.
I learned about gray and black water tanks, learned that you always wear gloves when emptying the tanks (and why), learned that RVs will always need repairs (even more so than a house), found that living in a small space is pretty comfortable, and that I still don't miss cutting a lawn.
I did my first canyon repel and hiked on top of a glacier. I saw the tallest mountain in North America, visited the newest national park, spent time in the oldest national park and experienced a small portion of the largest national park. I also saw 62 species of mammals, which is the goal of this adventure - to document the mammals of North America - but there are a lot more still to photograph. I lost count of the number of bird species I saw and I saw at least six different reptiles and amphibians.
I tried dozens of regional beers, tasted a few regional wines too, tried fireweed vodka (very yummy), drank way too much sweet tea to keep me up while driving and not enough water. I taste-tested a lot of gummie bears (my go-to snack while driving); in my opinion Sprouts sells the best ones.
I also saw a lot of Walmart parking lots - a lot - and staying in these lots humbled me in seeing how some people have to live - not choose to live like me and other RV travelers.
I missed many things about having a home - good Internet connection, baking, friends nearby, and familiarity. I also found out that I did not miss many things - surprisingly television was one of them.
I loved every minute of my travels. I saw a lot of beautiful places. Some of which I know I will never have an opportunity to revisit; many will become regular destinations for me. But my list is very long and I feel I haven't skimmed the surface. I checked off 45 places on my Year in an RV List but the list still includes 407 destinations; more than 1,000 if you include the general notations to see all of the national parks, state parks and state wildlife management areas in Colorado, and all of the national wildlife refuges. I have accepted the fact that I will never see everything on my list because the list grows every time I go someplace. (And how sad would it be to not have any new place to look forward to seeing?)
I still have not seen a mountain lion in the wild and didn't get a photo of that lynx I saw in Denali National Park. Ocelots, fishers, wolverines, musk ox, nutrias, ringtails and short-tailed weasels still elude me. The Louisiana black bear is high on my goal list. And those silly little armadillos, which I saw all over the place in Louisiana, skunks, and pine martins have yet to be photographed by my camera.
I hope to keep the travels going but I will need to rebuild the coffers for a while and work on some editing. I feel like this past year was a failure and a success all at the same time. I learned a lot about myself, about how I got to this point in my life, and why I needed to do this. It was a failure because I did only see 45 places on that list - that is less than one a week (but often the best photos come from really getting to know an area). I didn't do as much planning as I would have liked, I didn't have as much money as I should have when I started, and I didn't stay focused as much as I should have.
But I am being hard on myself because it was a tremendous success. It was a success because I did it. I left the security of a traditional life and took a big chance. And that chance is what is giving me the confidence that I can continue to pursue my dreams.
I have taken more than 61,000 photos while on the road, which is actually a much better ratio of clicks to time than I have done in the past. Only a few short years back I could take 10,000 frames in a week. I am down to just a few hundred per location now. [Thank you, Russ Burden, for the "Shoot before you edit" note that I keep in the truck.]
But for what I thought would be a six-month journey, has turned into a lifestyle I can't seem to walk away from - at least not today. So as we drive the RV back to Colorado I am looking forward to seeing what the next year holds in store for me - and feeling some anxiety all at the same time about where the road will take me. For once in my life I do not know what my next step will be. I only have two things on my calendar past the end of September - a brown bear workshop this time next year and an article due in March. It is time to market my work, schedule more workshops, plan more presentations, pitch more articles, work on getting assignments, find some sponsors, and discover what the next adventure looks like.
Here's to another fantastic 365 days!