What a year. I already did a sort of year-in-review thing last week. Last night I celebrated the New Year at the Lit Cactus — at least until the unrelenting wind made it too cold to be comfortable.
I’ve been making new friends, a couple of whom have joined our camp. I met Amanda, my RTR co-presenter. She was coming to the Lit Cactus anyway, and stayed at our camp rather than the crowded Lit Cactus parking lot. She’ll be back to officially join our camp later this week. I also met Karla, who I first met on a van life singles Facebook group. She’s here in her Chevy Avalanche to take a peek at what this way of life is like, and see inside as many rigs as she can to gather ideas for her own future van or skoolie.
Misty’s fitting in just great, and I greatly appreciate her sharing her generator to help keep my batteries topped off. These short days have found the limits of my solar charging capability. By sunrise, my batteries are at their minimum safe voltage. Of course, the Renogy 175-watt flexible solar panels that match what’s already on my roof are backordered for at least the next month, by which time the days will be long enough to give me all the solar charging I need. Misty’s generator is letting me kick that can down the road until I either can get the third solar panel, or decide to live in something else by the time next winter rolls around. More on that later. Our new neighbor Yellow Wolf brought me some organic apples yesterday, which became my breakfast. She’s a Curandera, essentially a medicine woman (not the Dr. Quinn kind), and we’ve been having some fascinating conversations. Even Eugenia returned for a night, on her way to points east. It was great to catch up with her, and her dog Matilda. Birgit and Tom will be back sometime soon, too.
Some people are here at our camp by my invitation. Others, by pure chance. Melinda’s still here. We played games and sat by a campfire with Wayne the other night, who’s next to us in a tow-behind camper. We’ve also enjoyed a fire with Darrell and Marilyn, who have a camper of their own on the other side of Yellow Wolf. Kendrick, who left for Lake Havasu for a job, just returned when that job didn’t work out. Regardless of how people got here, we’re turning into quite the tight-knit community. This is something I’ve missed in life, and especially on the road, which has been a bit lonely since Trisha left. Here in Quartzsite, I feel like I’ve truly found my people.
Plans for 2022
What are my plans for 2022? Hopefully a less hectic and far less stressful year than 2021! That’s a pretty low bar. As long as I don’t set my home on fire, I’ll be ahead of the game.
I’m leaving my travel plans pretty fluid at this point. I plan to stay in Quartzsite the rest of the winter, at least until it warms up in the north and/or starts getting too hot to stay here. The one corner of the country I haven’t seen yet is the Pacific Northwest, so that’s where I’ll be going. I want to cruise up the Pacific coast since the novelty of seeing that particular ocean for the first time still hasn’t worn off. I know people in California, Oregon, and Washington, and hope to make plans to visit along the way. I’m also meeting many people from that area here in Quartzsite, who are giving me pointers about things to see along the way.
After that, it’s uncertain. I have at least a couple of different plans I’m considering.
Previously, my ultimate dream road trip was to cross the US, head north into Canada, and then cross the Great White North. I’ve partly fulfilled that dream, and the rest of it remains quite feasible IF I can get into Canada when the time comes. Right now the border is still open, but who knows if it will be by the time I get there in late spring. Plus, even if I get in, I’ll have to keep my scanners peeled in case they close the border in the middle of my trip. The ‘Rona ruins everything. Still, this is not an impossible dream. I could at least see British Columbia, and hopefully some of Vancouver Island, which Vancity Vanlife has made me want to visit. If I have to dip back into the US partway across before a hypothetical border closure, it’ll be a bummer, but possible.
In a perfect world, I’d go all the way east to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I took a motorcycle trip out there in 2013 to ride the Cabot Trail, a 186-mile loop around the east end of the province. It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I only got to see about half of what I wanted to because of the time constraints of my life at the time. The only limitation I would have this time would be the 180 days per year I’m allowed to stay in Canada as a US citizen, so I’d like to see all the places I missed the first time, and ride the Cabot Trail again — in both directions. Of course, there’s A LOT of Canada between BC and NS, so I’d have to research what to see along the way as well. Banff National Park would definitely be on that list. And as a stretch goal, maybe I could take a ferry over to Newfoundland. It would be amazing to see the Targa Newfoundland race, or even help work it if they use ham radio communications, but that might be too late in the year for me.
After that, I’d re-enter the US through Maine, either by driving across New Brunswick, or taking the ferry from Yarmouth, NS, which is scheduled to start running again this spring. This sets me up to visit a bunch of my old friends once again, as well as clear out my storage unit in New Hampshire. It’s my one last tether to New England, and a monthly expense that would be great to eliminate at some point.
The meme pretty much sums it up. If not Canada, then what? If I’m already in Washington, I will have already been south, can’t go north, and can’t go west without getting extremely wet. The remaining direction is east. Yellowstone National Park is a strong possibility. So is the Sturgis, South Dakota area — NOT during bike week! When I covered Sturgis for RideApart in 2019, I thoroughly enjoyed the riding, except sharing the road with a quarter million Harleys definitely slowed me down a bit. I’d like to revisit and explore at my own pace. Maybe I could even see some wildlife along the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop, which the quarter million Harleys scared away when I rode it.
At this point my plans become even more fluid. I’d like to check out the motorcycle riding in the Ozarks, which I hear is excellent, and got a brief sample of during our Route 66 layover in Springfield, Missouri. I’d also like to revisit the Smoky Mountains. I could spend some more time at the Cherohala Mountain Trails Campground, where I stayed before, and explore more of the great riding in the eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina area. If I’m up for it, I could revisit the Blue Ridge Parkway, and finish it this time. Plus, I have family in Florida who frequently remind me that I’m always welcome to visit.
It depends on how the rest of this winter goes, but considering my experience so far, I’m inclined to come back to Quartzsite next winter and do what I’m doing now, lay low for the winter. What route I take to get back here depends on from where I start my return journey.
I’m even considering the idea of switching my residency to Arizona. BCM Mail and Ship, right here in Quartzsite, provides not only mail collection and forwarding, but also a physical address for residency purposes. There are many factors to consider in this decision. Florida, where I’m currently a resident, doesn’t have income tax. Arizona does, but my car insurance is bound to be lower than Florida’s sky-high rates. It’s a balancing act, as well as a commitment, and I’d have to figure out how to balance things in my favor. If I’m going to consider the Quartzsite area my home base for several months each winter, the convenience of easy access to my mail and state services counts for something as well. Nevada is another possibility, since they’re also an easy state for nomads to call their home base, and they don’t have income tax, or vehicle inspections outside of major cities.
But, what I have right now is working just fine, and there’s no reason to change it just for the sake of change. The closest thing to a deadline I have on that is sometime before I have to renew my Escapees membership in May so I can avoid that expense if I do decide to change.
Expanding the Fleet
I’ve written before about possibly picking up a camper or cargo trailer. As I return to Arizona next fall would be the right time to do that. As much as I’d enjoy the extra space, it’ll be much easier to travel without anything in tow. That’ll give me the year to put down some miles and see a bunch of places while I still have the maneuverability and flexibility of just the van.
When I’m parked here, though, I’ll be able to legitimately settle in, and that’s when the camper or trailer would be most useful. If I convert a cargo trailer, I could do the conversion here, while continuing to live in my van until it’s ready. I’m still not sure which option I’ll go with, though. I have time to figure that out.
Right now I’m actually leaning toward converting a cargo trailer into a combination toy hauler for my motorcycle, plus a living space. Campers aren’t built to last. They’re built for vacations, not full-time travel. Cargo trailers are strong and built to last. They’re lighter than a fully equipped camper, and I could add only what I want instead of getting a bunch of appliances I don’t necessarily need. I could add roof racks, then line the roof with rigid solar panels, which are cheaper and more robust than the flexible panels I have now. I could reuse many components from my van, like my AGM batteries, the fridge, the propane heater and stove, and the composting toilet. I could also address the issues I have with the van build, like inadequate legroom in bed.
What would that mean for Smokey Da Van? Well, I won’t get anything too heavy for my current van to tow, so it may still become the tow vehicle until it rusts out from under me. Once I’m finished creating a tow-behind living space and motorcycle hauler, though, I could hypothetically swap the camper van for a dedicated tow vehicle like a truck. But that’s a long way down the road, both literally and figuratively.