A Year in the Vanlife!

I took off last August in search of quenching my travel thirst. To finally stop day dreaming about the life I wanted. With a livable monetary goal reached & notices into my places of work I left the nest yet again to seek out what my soul longed for. Travel.16123724_1184938021613707_4301677155902816256_n

The first couple of weeks were filled with friends and challenges.I headed to South Dakota. I started off during Sturgis, the biggest motorcycle rally in America. That was exciting and scary. The windy Black Hills roads and thousands of bikes in every town was hectic but I just tried to lay low and be a good driver. Devil’s Tower, Mt. Rushmore, & the Badlands were some of the major highlights.

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Devil’s Tower

Then I headed East to Minneapolis to visit a friend and tour her city. My navigation skills were lost in the plethora of new roads and construction. Seeing a familiar face a week into my new solo journey was very much-needed. She took me kayaking for my first time in one the 10,000 lakes Minnesota boasts and showed me the Twin Cities.

North to Winnipeg was my next leg. A friend I had met internationally was from there and being so close made it all the more exciting to see her in her country. As I crossed a pretty benign border check point (side note: pepper spray is considered a weapon in Canada) my speedometer went out. Perfect timing! Alas it wasn’t so bad. I made it through my whole time in Canada without knowing my speed. My Canadian friend knew the Winnipeg downtown scene which was exciting to experience. There was also Human Rights museum that recently opened. It showed the humbleness of the countries tragedies.

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Canadian Lays Chips

After spending a few exciting days north of the border I headed back state side to Voyagers National Park. This Park is one of the least visited and about 40% of the park is water, including the boundary waters with Canada.

The second time visiting Minnesota proved to be more emotional than the first. I did not have a friend to distract or entertain me. Instead I had my thoughts to overwhelm me. I had one specific day where I was waiting for my auto appointment to fix the speedometer. I parked at a grocery store and started sobbing. I felt that I didn’t have enough purpose. The van life wasn’t supposed to be just random driving, surviving, and gaiety. There just wasn’t enough purpose. I realized I needed to either go home to have life of working a job for a purpose or see what this adventure had in store for me. I chose the latter.

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Park Point, Duluth

The next part of my road trip took me around the lake shores of Superior. I instantly fell in love with the beaches, lighthouses, lake glass, and waters. Two Harbors was my favorite Minnesotan town I visited because of its quaint character. Duluth, I had some mixed emotions about due to its awkward roads, and getting yelled at in traffic. The positive side was the moving bridge and Park Point beach which I spent a good amount of time at waiting for my appointment.

 

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Handpicked Blueberries

Since I was following the coast of Lake Superior, Wisconsin was next! I visited Bayfield and the Apostle Isles. I loved all the surrounding orchards and farms. I picked my own blueberries and a saw completely solar-powered farm.

 

Upper Michigan was next. Crossing the state line I was instantly a Fudgy (tourist) by the Yooper’s standards. I followed the southern shores around Superior enjoying when I could stop and see the water. One night a Forest Ranger shoo’ed me out of a day use area and I drove down the road to a hotel to sleep for the night. In the parking lot a lady walked up to my vehicle and said, “The Northern lights are out! Come see!” I was scared but didn’t feel there was any danger. I got out and watched the light show out over the lake with a very nice couple from Chicago.

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Mackinac Bridge

I really enjoyed all the towns in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Pictured Rocks National Lake shore was beautiful! I went to the Soo Locks is Sault Sainte Marie and also to a college party in Marquette. The Upper Peninsula is connected to the “hand” of Michigan by the 5 mile long Mackinac suspension bridge. Off the side of the bridge in Lake Huron is Mackinac Island. I really appreciated this pearl of history. The island only has horse and bike transportation which can be very chaotic with all the pedestrians on the main street. Regardless though the people are nice, the shops are historic and stories are exciting. After Mackinaw I drove over to Sleeping Bear National Lake shore on Lake Michigan. The sunset there was beautiful and the legend of the sleeping bear was somber. I headed south down the shore of Lake Michigan to Holland. I spent close to 8 hours in Nelis’ Dutch Village experiencing the transplanted culture of the Netherlands.

 

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Niagara Falls

Crossing Michigan over to the Detroit side of the state I headed into Canada to grab some poutine and see Niagara falls. The border crossing was more invasive this time. I had 3 men going through my van and questioning me. I had very vague and apparently unbelievable answers but I didn’t have anything illegal so they finally let me go. It took a few hours to get across the kind of land bridge between Lake Huron and Lake Erie. There is an amusement park looking town on the Canadian side of the falls. I thought the town was cute and but mostly checked out the falls. On Wednesday nights they have fireworks during the summer. That was magical to watch from the Tesla statue.

 

A friend in Pennsylvania invited me to visit so I headed over to PA. He lived an hour away from Pittsburgh and was a great tour guide for his city and state! We visited Pittsburgh, Punxsutawney, the Amish, and hiked in the Allegheny mountains. I told him I really wanted to see New York City so we found an opportunity to visit the following month when an Australian friend was there.

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Watkins Glen State Park

It was late September, early October and the fall colors were starting to show. I darted north into Upstate New York. My first stop was Watkins Glen State Park near the Finger Lakes. The gorge walkway had several flowing waterfalls. It was like a fairyland fantasy! Placid Lake was my next stop in New York. Two winter Olympics were held there in the small mountain town. I had never seen so many trees covering mountains before.

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Placid Lake

 

The Appalachian mountain range started changing colors right before my eyes as I drove through to Vermont and New Hampshire. I loved the quaint covered bridges and small farms. In New England they call a mountain passes “notches”. Maine was beautiful! I bee-lined it for Acadia National Park because I was so excited to finally get to another national park! I got there a week before they closed for winter which gave me enough time to go on 8 Ranger guided tours and become a Junior Ranger!

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Walking the streets in Salem, MA

After that excitement I headed south to get to Salem, Massachusetts for Halloween! I met a fellow van lifer and learned how to YouTube. The town of Salem was very fun and unique. The ghost and witch stories really give me the creeps when I walked round after dark. I dressed as a gypsy for Halloween and walked the streets. There was a call to the dead ceremony in the park at sundown. There was probably 100+ people crowded around 4 drummers and 2 witches shouting to the spirit of the ancients. At one point we were asked to yell out the name of a person who had died that we wanted to communicate with. The summoning ended with all of us dancing around in a giant circle singing a seance.

 

I finished my time in New England by driving through Rhode Island and Connecticut. I took a phone call at a gas station in Rhode Island which extended my stay there. Haha. I had an ancestor buried in Stonington, Connecticut and I wanted to see the grave. He had founded the town in 1662.

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Washington Square

It was now time to met up with my PA friend and see the famous NYC. I had the best introduction into the city by waiting in a taxi for an hour in traffic. We knew better after that and took the subway or train to get out of the city. We met our Australian friend and her mother in Washington Square. That night we ate at donut pub and walked around Times Square. The night was too short but we wished them safe travels to Chicago. The next morning my PA friends and I walked around the city some more. I saw the Twin towers memorial and the Statue of Liberty from the pier.

 

The next part of my journey was experiencing the factories of Pennsylvania. Hershey, Snyder of Hanover, and Crayola were super fun! I walked through several parking lots one night just to get a Hershey chocolate milkshake! At the Crayola factory the kids were going bonkers but I loved all the activities.

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Crayola Factory

I found this amazing rock park that had several rock structures reminiscent of Europe. I felt a lot of energy there. The last place I went to in PA was Philly. I parked at the Walmart and walked 4 miles to downtown and 4 miles back. It was definitely one of the more sketchy places I had been to. When I was getting a local Philly cheese steak I met two guys from Australia who were also doing the van life.

Maryland and Deleware were my next two states to hit. I mostly drove through them on my way to D.C. Although I did have my first real encounter with a police man at the town of Ocean City. I was parked at this huge empty parking lot bordering the ocean. He came knocking around midnight and scared me. It felt like God was knocking on my door. I tried driving out of town after he left my van but he pulled me over down the road. The Police Officer ended up letting me sleep that night in the parking lot.

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Myrtle Beach

D.C. was miserable! It took me 5 hours to find a parking spot for the night and it was still in a tow zone. I decided to head back over the Chesapeake Bay. The South seemed like the place to be. The nights were growing cold and a fellow vanlife friend invited me down to South Carolina. I took the famous bridge and tunnel to lower Virginia. It was definitely scary but I managed just fine.

South Carolina was interesting. I spent a few nights on a haunted plantation. My friend said he felt someone tickling him while he was sleeping and in the morning he would hear someone tap on his van. I may or may not have heard drumming one night. We explored a cemetery and old buildings on the property. Soon we parted ways and I drove to Myrtle beach for Thanksgiving. It was a beautiful day to walk the beach.

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An Old House on SC Plantation

 

 

I followed the coast down to Charleston. Voted Americas friendliest city. My first night in town I parked on the ocean front street. A very nice cop woke me up to inform me that I could not sleep there due to city ordinances. I loved walking around the town. The houses were grand and the Spanish moss was beautiful.

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Charleston, South Carolina

 

Continuing down the coast I stopped in Savannah, Georgia  to see some alligators and crime. Both were fascinating in there own right.

Jacksonville was the first town I stopped at in Florida. The beaches were great and every other road that stopped at the beach and had parking. Following the eastern coast was fun because I knew I could get out and go to the beach whenever I wanted to. Most beaches were great for seashells. The Kennedy Space Center was neat and St. Augustine was beautiful. I strongly disliked Miami drivers and the toll road. Homestead was great because of its hidden gem. The Coral Castle. An amazing feat of architecture. South of there is Florida Keys. 7 mile bridge and key lime pie thank you very much. After the Keys I took some boat tours through Everglades National Park! I saw crocodile, manatee, roseate spoonbill and several other kinds of birds. Then I headed north. The middle of the state is filled with orange orchards.

 

 

Atlanta is home to a few friends of mine. They showed me the quirky parts of the city which I enjoyed very much! We hung out in Little Five Points and went ice skating. I love ice skating!

When I started this trip I wanted to end it at Marti gras. I was a month too early and a vanlife friend suggested going to Arizona for the Rubber Tramp Rendevous. On my way to Arizona I stopped by Baton Rouge and had a Daquiri.

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Big Bend National Park

My grandparents were snow birding in Texas so my next stop was Cotulla. We rang in the new year by watching the ball drop the next day at a reasonable hour. Then I ventured over to Corpus Christi to visit an old friend. Heading west I stopped in San Antonio for a day trip with the grandparents before I visited Big Bend National Park. Big bend was amazing! I saw Mexicans in Mexico while I was standing in America! I only saw half of the park so I plan on going back some time to see the rest.

 

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White Sands National Monument

On my way through New Mexico I knew I wanted to see White Sands National Monument. I had a couple days to get to Quartzsite, Arizona so I stopped at Saguaro National park and the Mission in Tucson, Arizona.

 

The Rendezvous  was great! I met a lot of amazing vehicle dwellers. My new friends and I went campfire hopping handing out candy most nights. Those were great times! During the day Bob hosted several informational seminars about vehicle dwelling. I learned so much and loved having the community around me.

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Slab City Crew

From there a group of us traveled over to Slab City California. It was quite the experience! We were there for the annual talent show and met some interesting people. I felt safe with the group I was with. I knew of a few people who had said they had stayed there alone and felt fine. But it definitely felt like we were outside of the law. I did venture down to Mexico for a day with a friend so I could get my teeth cleaned and hang out in another country for a minute.

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Mexico Lunch

After Slab City I need to spend some time by myself so I headed to Joshua Tree National Park. This park felt so unique because it had two different deserts inside of it. The Mojave and Colorado Deserts. I did a full day of bouldering where I almost died several times because I would get myself into spaces that I could not get down from. But I am writing this blog so I must have survived some how.

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Joshua Tree National Park

Next was Las Vegas for my Mom’s birthday. I had some family in Vegas so I hung out at their house for a couple weeks while we birthday partied it up! The surrounding area of Vegas has a lot to offer. Red Rock Canyon National Park, Hoover Dam, and Valley of Fire State Park. I went into Valley of Fire twice because a friend came and boon docked with me near there.

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Fire Wave in Valley of Fire

 

We traveled over to Lake Havasu to meet up with another offshoot gathering of RTR (Rubber Tramp Rendezvous) people. It was a beautiful camping area right outside of town and we went hiking a few different days. One hike we got lost for a few hours, and another one I ripped my pants, but it was fun! We did go to the lake to kayak and paddle board.

After a fun filled week or so with my RTR family I moved north. On my way I drove past Death Valley and Yosemite National Parks. I wanted to go into Yosemite but it was closed being that it was early March still. The mountains were covered in snow as I drove through the eastern side of California. I had missed winter by now so this was my first encounter with snow since the previous year. I cut over to Red Wood National Forest because it was on my mental list of places to check out. I had mostly only ever seen the southern parts of California. I loved the park. There were lots of elk and big trees all right next to the Pacific Ocean. Just four months before I had seen the Atlantic Ocean when I was in Florida!

Idaho was my end goal for the next two months. I arrived in the southwest area of Idaho to stay with some family friends. It had been a while since I had been “home”. I am from Idaho but my parents currently live in North Dakota. I had a great time hanging out with my childhood friends and seeing there grown up lives. One was finishing college and another was just coming up to her first wedding anniversary. I got some good down time in and felt comfortable in a house while I was there. Next I went north to see family. It was great to visit and be in the mountains.

My next stop was back to where the journey had started in North Dakota. I needed to get the van all situated before I started my summer conservation corps job in Colorado. It was great to be with the family after 10 months of being on the road. I got Sherry (my van) all ready to go and headed out a couple days before my start date.

I have now been in the Colorado, New Mexico area since the end of May. It has been a great year living in Sherry, my fantastic van. I have been to Mesa Verde National Park and Great Sand Dunes and even over to Arches in Utah! This four corners area of the country has a lot to offer for outdoor entertainment. I will be moving on after my season is over. Sherry will still be my home until January of next year then I will be getting on plane headed for Southeast Asia.

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Cliff Palace – Mesa Verde National Park

Thanks for reading! Safe Travels!

-Curious Karli

 

 

©Curious Karli

 

 

 

 

 

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