FOMO, forget about it! FOMO (fear of missing out) is a common feeling for most of us and has been a regular concern on this trip. Every day we’re passing by so many cool, interesting, pretty, historic, etc. places and/or things to do – but if we tried to see and do it all, we’d still be in California right now! Over these months we’ve had to teach ourselves to get over our FOMO. We try to choose quality over quantity (to a degree) and pick a few things from the many many options to visit or experience. What has been the best is when we camp in one place for 3-4 days, do a few day trips in Smarty and then hang at camp one day. It doesn’t always work out this way – but this is normally our goal. Budget, our schedule, weather, etc. also need to be taken into account and these all can screw with that ideal plan.
Before setting out on this journey, we had talked about staying at places for 1-2 weeks at a time. While this would have been great for a number of the places we’ve been, it’s just not possible with the loose route through the US that we have laid out for this one year. I know this probably sounds stupid, but the US is a lot bigger than we thought! We try to keep our drive days at or around 150 miles and we rarely do drive days back to back. I’m sure 150 miles doesn’t seem like much, but when you factor in the time it takes in breaking down camp, getting Merlin road ready, hooking up Smarty, and then actually driving at a speed that is both safe and comfortable – that 150 miles can take most of the day. Plus we avoid driving at night and since the cats hideout during the drive, driving for anything over 6-8 hours would royally suck for them.
While planning this trip over the past few years, Bryan and I both developed so many expectations – both conscious and subconscious. Now 9+ months into our adventure, the reality of this trip has exceeded our expectations in most areas, fallen terribly short in others, and has sometimes left us scratching our heads. We had really expected that this trip would allow us an unbelievable amount of free time to read books, exercise, go for long walks, and do a lot of nothing. And before you all start screaming at the screen, YES – I know that this entire trip is essentially ALL “free time” – we’re not working for an entire year. This is definitely true, but while we do have a bit more of those chill, relax, do nothing days than we did before – this lifestyle and a trip like this takes so much more work, planning, and research than we could have ever imagined. As I was explaining to a friend recently in an email, just about every single move we make on this trip requires a ton of planning! So far, we’ve driven almost 10,000 miles – so that’s a lot of moves and SO MUCH PLANNING. Even something as simple as getting gas takes planning. Not all gas stations can accommodate our rig with Smarty in tow – they may not have the height clearance or the area of the gas station is too tight to get in and out. You don’t realize how comfortable you get in your hometown where driving to the market or to dinner doesn’t take any thought – you get in the car and POOF you’re there. We no longer have that familiarity and anything that we need or want to do takes a lot of effort. I’m in no way complaining about our current position – believe me, but this just wasn’t something that we had fully understood before taking off. Even the fun stuff – figuring out what excursion to do, where to go, what to see, etc. – just the planning of this alone could take up all the time we have in that particular place. If there aren’t obvious places to see (e.g., Yellowstone National Park), we will do some brief Googling to find a few popular and not so popular destinations, try to get suggestions along the way from locals or other travelers, and then head out and see where the wind takes us. Even the cities and stops we pick to stay in are normally established just a few days in advance and sometimes just minutes before we start Merlin’s engine (no joke, we just decided between two different states with a coin toss before we hit the road, ha ha!).
For me personally, one of my biggest expectations that I wasn’t even aware I had made was that I would experience less of some of the most undesirable sides to myself (stress, anxiety, melancholy, moodiness). I think I have wrongly assumed for a long time that these were all due to my environment (hectic city life, work demands and pressure, etc.). But very soon into this trip these continued to crop up and it was a hard reality check to realize that even on this trip of a lifetime with all this time to spend with Bryan, my kitties, nature – these still show themselves more often than I’d like.
One big motive for taking this trip was to finally get to spend more time together. For those of you that know us, you know that for Bryan’s 10 years in Los Angeles and for the duration of our relationship Bryan’s work schedule has been hard with regular long days, late nights, and weekend work. We’ve been together for 9 years and have a pretty solid relationship. We laugh way more than we argue and are a really fantastic team. Going into this we hoped that this would all stay true and even get better with all this new time together. I am happy to report that we’re doing really good after being together non-stop, 24/7 for 9 months! Yes, the stresses of this trip can give us moments of some harsh words or frustration with each other, but overall we’re happy. We still spend most of our time cracking each other up, working hard together to keep things going, and truly enjoying this adventure.
Dunn, NC: Stayed at a Walmart. This town was all about god and we got to watch a carnival being set up right next to us in the Walmart parking lot – fun!
Raleigh, NC: We stayed at the NC state fairgrounds near the horse complex. Pretty decent campground with full-hookups for $30 a night. Here we visited several local parks (NC has the BEST state parks we’ve been to so far!) including: Umstead park, Lake Johnson, Old Mill. Got to watch a few events of a horse show, visit with our friend Jeanny (from LA who just moved to NC in the summer), explore downtown Raleigh a bit, and check out the local modern art museum (Jeanny works there).
Lake Norman State Park, NC: Great hikes, pretty lake, we walked out to an island and saw a mama goose on her nest, visited a few cute towns: Davidson, Cornelius, met cool folks: Case, Laurie, and Dasha, and had beers at Ass Clown Brewery.
Serious night life in Merlin.
Curtis Creek Campground, NC: Stayed at an amazing National Forest campground for $5 a day – yes, five dollars a day! From here did a hike from hell that took us up to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) (ended up being over 12 miles and almost 8 hours, eek!), did a drive on the BRP, and spent an afternoon in Asheville.
The creek just steps from our campground.
Smarty’s 1st time on the BRP!
On the BRP near Craggy Gardens.
Biscuithead = big big YUM!
New Belgium brewery right on the river!
This hotel fosters one dog at a time that lives @ the hotel until it’s adopted!
The water felt SO good!
I’m pointing the almost 3 miles down the mountain to our camp – we just hiked straight up to the BRP!
Buffalo Wild Wings, Asheville, NC: Spent the afternoon/evening and stayed the night in the parking lot. We got to watch the Bruins play the Senators and lose – falling out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Fun time, cool people, good beer and food, but sad game.
Cable Cove, NC: Another National Forest campground – but this one was $10 a day. Drove 318 curves over 11 miles on the Tail of the Dragon, visited 2 different sides of the Great Smoky Mountains, drove the Foothills Parkway, and had a beer in Bryson city, at Mountain Layers brewery.
The lake at Cable Cove.
Smarty all by himself on the Foothills Parkway!
The Great Smoky NP!
This is an air quality sampling station up in the Great Smokys – interesting architecture.
Huge ass dam.
Smarty taking a break after riding the dragon!
Our lunch spot at day 2 of the Great Smoky Mtns.
Park and street signs in Cherokee language.
Smarty on a bridge in Bryson city.
Bryan, his hat, his hair.
Knoxville, TN: Stayed at a “campground” in a parking lot on the UT campus near the soccer stadium and softball fields ($30 a day), visited Bryan’s cousins: Ashley and Geoffrey, had wonderful spirits and cocktails at Knox Whiskey Works (thanks Ashley!!), visited our 3rd stop on the Manhattan Project tour in Oakridge, TN, explored downtown Knoxville, and did some hiking at Ijams Nature Center.
Another tunnel with Merlin!
A drone landing pad?!
Downtown Knoxville just before the rain came.
No pic of Ashley 😦 But this was her room 🙂
We are SO bad at taking pics with our friends and family. That’s Geoffrey’s hand.
Living the dream in a parking lot – this place was packed during the games! Fun Fun!
Kingsport, TN: Stayed at a Cracker Barrel overnight after a Harvest Host stay fell through (big bummer!).
Stone Mountain State Park, NC: Our favorite state park! Beautiful campground, plenty of sun for our solar panels, lots of hiking right from the campground. The park’s claim is Stone Mountain – a huge granite dome popping out of the forest with views for days. We stayed in the no hook-up loop and it was $15 a night during the week and $17 a night on the weekends (not including the state park fee of $3 a day, whack!). On the coldest, rainiest day we did another drive on the BRP – we cannot get enough of that road!
I could not love this place anymore!
And, of course, the kitties:
Some really cool creatures and flowers we’ve encountered recently:
We have seen so many of these – they’re super creep, but really cool!
That’s a bear off in the distance at the Great Smoky Mtns.
A groundhog, we think?
These are mountain laurels
I love driving along with deer hanging on the side of the two-lane mountain road!
Trying to get the best shot!