Frozen in suburbia

After a day in Pennsylvania, we headed south to our second state of the trip: Maryland.  Instead of camping at a park or campground, we drove into the heart of suburbia and parked in our friends’ driveway. It made for a bit of a spectacle, actually, and the camper was the talk of the neighborhood. 

We spent two days visiting, and the guys ended up doing some truck maintenance together. Our truck was showing signs that the starter was going bad, so George and his friend picked up and installed a replacement starter from NAPA (not a sponsor) while I watched Frozen for the first time ever with the kids. (I know, I know. How is it even possible not to have seen it before?) We hadn’t traveled far, but already we appreciated the help and support of good friends on the road. 

Our next stop was to visit a cousin of mine whom we hadn’t seen in a while. It was wonderful meeting his daughter, showing her on a map where in Italy our ancestors came from, and taking a walk along bridal paths to what I think was the Sassafras River.

Beautiful late-day sun over the dock on the river

This part of Maryland was near the border with Delaware, so when we said goodbye to my cousin, we headed to a campground in our third state of the trip: Delaware.

At this point, we made the decision to take a coastal route south. I had really hoped that we could drive through Shenandoah, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Smokies, but the weather was just too cold for our 3-season camper, so we decided to drive south along the coast to escape the freezing temperatures for good.

As we packed up to leave the campground in Delaware, I drove the truck with the camper for the first time and backed it up between two narrow posts so our sewer hose could reach the drain. I was VERY proud of myself. So proud that I got out and snapped a photo of my handiwork.

I back the truck up into this position between two narrow posts

Unfortunately, someone who was cold and wet and who had to do the emptying of that hose was not so excited…

Not impressed

But we were headed south toward Assateague Island, so there were wild ponies to look forward to! More on that next time.

Ever on!

Mountain biking and orienteering

We crossed the Delaware River and entered our first state of the trip: Pennsylvania. The first turn we needed to make was onto a road that was closed, so we detoured south along the river for scenic views of the river and old historic houses. Eventually we turned west away from the river and checked in at French Creek State Park, where we set up in the campground just before sunset. 

Pippin poses cheekily at the campground entrance

George had chosen French Creek because it looked good for mountain biking. I recognized the name as the location of orienteering events. Orienteering is a sport in which you navigate to specific marked locations using highly detailed maps and a compass. The goal is to reach all of the control markers in order and as quickly as possible.

The park brochure we received when we checked in had a section on orienteering, going so far as to name French Creek as the “Orienteering Capitol of North America”. The park even has a permanent, self-guided course. The brochure said that to follow the self-guided course, you could pick up an orienteering map from the park office. It was settled, on our first full day, outside of New Jersey, George and Loki would go mountain biking, and Pippin and I would go orienteering. The only question was where in the park the orienteering course was and how I would get to the office to pick up the map.

I couldn’t just drive to the office because we hadn’t unloaded the camper off the truck, and it was hooked up to the water and electric, so I needed to walk or bike there. It is possible to unload the camper, but it’s a bit of a hassle to do with the bicycle carrier on the hitch rack in the back. We’ve considered towing a second vehicle for situations like this.

In hindsight, I should have called the office and just found out where the orienteering was, which would have saved me a trip. But after waking up and having breakfast, George and Loki set off with his fat bike on the trails, and I set off with my fat bike on the road. I coasted down some very steep hills to the park office, got my map, and found out that the orienteering course began right there at the office. I needed to go back to the campground to pick up Pippin, though, so I pointed my huge bike uphill and began pedaling. The bike had plenty of gears, so it wasn’t as difficult as it could have been, but boy was that a challenge. I developed bursitis under a tendon near my knee back in September, so I haven’t been cycling in months, and even before then I was road biking on pretty flat land. This was a cardio effort unlike anything I’ve done in years. A drive to the office would have been simple, but I felt really accomplished for getting on the bike and putting in this effort,

When I got back to the campground, I was ready for a nap, but Pippin was ready to go orienteering. So I pulled out my hiking day pack and set out with Pippin on hiking trails down to the beginning of the course. The trails were wide from a lot of foot traffic, but they reminded me of the rocky and root-strewn trails we knew in New Jersey. 

The orienteering course was a beginner-level course, with control markers easily accessed on roads and trails. More difficult levels require bushwhacking and following features like cliffs, rock walls, bodies of water, etc. The challenge in orienteering is knowing how to read the features of the map to choose the route that will get you to the control first. The most direct route may require going over a hill through dense brush and actually take much longer than going the long way around on a road or trail. I was happy that this course wasn’t taking us off trails, and it was refreshing to decipher the map and find each marker. In orienteering events, the control markers are square orange and white flags with an electronic “punch” to register when you arrived. These permanent markers were wooden posts with the orange and white orienteering symbol on them.

Consulting the map after locating the first control marker

George enjoyed his bike ride, and Loki, outfitted with a training collar and GPS tracker, did a great job of staying with him and not running off. 

And just like that, as soon as we finished our activities, it was time to pack up and head on our way south. One state down, many more to go.

Ever on!

Home is behind, the world ahead

The day of departure dawned red and skunky.

We were due for a major winter storm that day, and Loki had just gotten skunked the night before. The old saying “red sky in morning, sailor’s warning” has a lot of truth to it – the sunrise was vividly red and pink. 

Our last remaining belongings were stacked in separate piles around the house: items going in the storage unit, items being mailed or returned to the library, items being given to people we would see, and items being packed somewhere in the camper or truck at the last minute. 

The truck and camper poised for departure

As soon as they were loaded up, we pulled out of the driveway and said goodbye to the little cottage in the hay fields that we’ve rented for the past 5 years. 

Home is behind,
The world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Our first stop was brunch with nearby family, followed by a trip to the storage unit, and then dinner with friends about an hour south. By the time we finished brunch, the storm had begun, dinner was postponed, and George thought that he would like to adjust the height of the bicycle carrier before heading out on the road. His cousin invited us to hunker down at his house until the weather improved.

Loki belying his skunkiness and looking majestic as George assessed how to raise the height of the bike carrier

The two of them worked on the bicycle carrier, needing to get different parts more than once to get it set up the way that would work the best for us. I took the opportunity to give Loki another bath and to wash everything that had skunk smell on it, with positive results. Meanwhile, the snow fell and winter settled in around us.

Final touches on the hitch rack amidst snow and ice

We stayed an extra night before the storm ended. We were excited to get on our way, but winter wasn’t quite ready to let us go. Just south of George’s cousin’s house, the temperatures had been warm enough for freezing rain to coat everything and cause widespread tree and power line damage. Roads were closed, traffic lights were dark, and everywhere trees heavy with ice were bent low over the roads – possibly too low for our 11’8” height clearance. We maneuvered as safely as possible through these obstacles, got stuck on ice and slush in George’s parents’ driveway, and after getting unstuck and bidding family farewell, ultimately pointed south.

Covered in ice and snow and unable to keep water in the pipes without freezing was not the way we expected to start the trip.

We spent the next day and a half visiting with friends and making final preparations. (Going to a candy shop counts as preparation, right?) I was especially thankful to be able to use a ladder, brushes, and a scraper to clean remaining ice and snow off the camper before heading out. It seemed fitting to remove the signs of winter that had been trying so hard to keep us from leaving.

Cleaning off the roof

And then, after months of packing and goodbyes, we pulled out of our friend’s driveway and made our way west toward the Delaware River to see where the road will take us.

The world ahead

Goodbye for now, New Jersey. When we do come back, we’ll certainly have a tale or two to tell. 

Setting up the camper

We purchased our Livin’ Lite slide-in truck camper at the end of September from a seller on  Craigslist. It was road-ready at the time, but we needed to figure out how to pack our necessary belongings into it for the trip. We took the camper to Maine for a few days in late October for a trial run, and those few days really helped us figure out what we needed to do to set it up for a year-long adventure. 

How to turn this into a home with everything we need over the next year

It rained almost the entire time in Maine, so we found out what it feels like to spend almost all of our time inside the camper. While the space is small, it is surprisingly roomy, and it really wasn’t bad staying inside. Utilizing both the couch and bed areas, both people and dogs have their own space.

After the trial run, I (Tara) felt that I needed to figure out a system for storing clothes, shower supplies, a first-aid kit, and extras like books, journals, and small craft supplies for off-grid entertainment. Enter The Container Store and some 15-year-old dorm room accessories leftover from college. The Container Store provided plenty of hooks, a hanging towel rack, a collapsible canvas trash bag, and a hanging storage bag with several pockets for large and small items. The storage bag holds the first aid kit, laundry supplies, extra pillowcases, extra washcloths, and a plastic jar containing a Marimo moss ball (lovingly named Bombadil). Plastic drawers from college fit perfectly under the storage bag and hold the entertainment extras. An old college shower caddy fits neatly into a corner of the camper’s bathroom for use in the camper shower or for carrying supplies to a campground bathhouse. 

A hanging storage bag and some old plastic drawers from college provide much-needed storage

Packing cubes turned out to be vital for organizing clothing. We used a combination of luggage, duffel bags, and the closet for clothing storage, and space in the luggage and duffel bags is so much more compact and organized with packing cubes and stuff sacks dividing different types of garments. 

Fitting an entire kitchen into two small storage cabinets was a challenge, but we utilized the below-sink cabinet to store accessories like pots, pans, and utensils, and the above-sink cabinet for dry food goods, with some items transferred into smaller, stackable containers or baskets. 

With so few cabinets, we have to make use of every space, so we store all of our dishes and bowls stacked up together in the microwave. We cut non-skid drawer liners into squares and interleaved them between each item so they don’t break while bouncing down the road.

Using every available space for storage – even the microwave

We could not fit our outdoors gear inside the camper, so we are using an enclosed bicycle carrier on a hitch rack as well as space in the cab of the truck. To maximize space in the truck, George and his cousin removed the back seats of the truck and built a wooden platform for the dogs to sit on and where we store their food. Underneath the platform is space for two storage bins for our gear. Some other extras, like reusable grocery bags, a yoga mat, and trekking poles, fit around the bins.

The last part of the camper set up was adding some home-y touches, including curtains, photos, and postcards.

Home sweet camper

Introduction

A truck camper stands on jacks in the driveway. The house looks simultaneously cluttered and empty as belongings are moved from shelves and cabinets to be packed into boxes for storage.  We are preparing for a long road trip around the continental United States, and the truck camper will be our home on the road.

Instead of experiencing states through highway gas stations, we will meander the backroads and see America slowly. We will hike through parks and stop at museums and libraries and meet people and learn from their histories and points of view. I expect to drive through quirky and quaint towns and see the country’s most majestic sites at the national parks and take more pictures than will fit on my devices. A lot of things will also happen that I cannot expect, and adventure lies in that unknowing. 

It is sure to be an unforgettable experience, and we want our family and friends to be able to join us here on this blog. Check back for updates and photos or subscribe to receive an email every time we post. Thanks for following along on our journey – ever on!

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can

J. R. R. Tolkien