Eileen and I have written a Christmas letter each of the 30 years we have been married. But with my retirement on Sept. 9, and our plans for nomadic travel across North America, quite a few people have suggested more frequent reporting. Hence this foray, our first, into blogging. Although some blogs involve essentially daily entries, we think we’ll be posting somewhere between weekly and monthly. This first post will give some of the background of our decision to sell our house and our vehicles, donate the majority of our other belongings, build a new camper, and hit the road.
The story began in 1999, when I used two years of vacation to take a 52-day trip from Rochester, NY to Alaska and back. Along the way, we drove essentially all of the roads in the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Alaska, that would show on a state or provincial scale map. Because of the remoteness of the areas visited, we took with us the food we’d need for the middle 6 weeks of the trip. We fit all our gear and food in and on top of a normal passenger van. It was a fantastic trip, which we enjoyed immensely. Highlights included Fisher, Lynx, Marten, Timber Wolf, Spectacled Eider, Sabine’s Gull, Gyrfalcon, Small Round-leaved Orchis, and Sparrow’s-Egg Lady’s-Slipper.
On the long drive home, we discussed how sad we were that the trip was ending, and how surprised we were that we had readily fit everything we needed for such a long trip in a regular van. This naturally brought up the question of why we had an entire house full of other things back home, when they obviously were not essential to our happiness. When we got back, I went through the house room by room and looked at everything we owned. My conclusion was that almost everything we had in our possession was because we owned a house — furniture, appliances, yard tools, etc. About the only thing we would have needed to stay out seven months instead of seven weeks, other than food resupply, would have been more books.
A second important trip in shaping our thinking was in October of 2001, to Montana. Eileen took a week-long workshop on tracking mammals, during which I visited Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks. The days were magnificent, with stunning scenery and many sightings of Grizzly Bear, Mountain Goat, White-tailed Ptarmigan, and golden Subalpine Larches. But winter encroached and each afternoon the temperature dropped and the wind picked up, becoming so strong that I could not keep the Coleman stove lit in camp. So each day I sat in the back of the van, and made peanut butter sandwiches for dinner, finishing as it got dark, and facing the prospect of about four hours of cramped existence until bedtime.
On the drive home we talked about how nice it would be to have a proper camper, so that nights could be comfortable even under difficult conditions, and to allow a complete recovery after strenuous days. We had always intended to buy a camper when we retired, but this trip convinced us not to wait any longer, and before the year was out we had ordered an Alaskan camper and a pickup truck on which to have it mounted. We collected the camper in Washington state during the summer of 2002 and loved it from the start — it was exactly what we needed.
I had quite a bit of vacation stockpiled from the intense five-month period when I finished writing my book, so in 2003 we took another 52-day trip, this time to southern and central California. Some of the high points of the trip were fantastic flowers, especially in Death Valley after its winter rains; Gunnison Sage-Grouse (on the drive out); Island Scrub-Jay; and a list of 42 mammal species including Badger, Palmer Chipmunk, and Yellow-nosed Pocket Gopher (in Colorado). This marvelous 10,500-mile trip was the third and final piece in our making the decision that, upon retirement, we’d sell our home and adopt a nomadic existence, traveling and camping across North America full-time. Thirteen years later, we are finally carrying out that plan.