Tag Archives: vacation

Life’s a Trip – When You Are Alone

Life’s a Trip, Part 5

Not everybody likes to be alone.  Extroverts and socialites have a hard time understanding why anyone would go out of their way to be by themselves.  But introverts and loners get it.  Sometimes it requires solitude to refuel the emotional tank, and there is nothing lonely about it.

I have lived in urban locations where the only place I could be alone was sitting on the toilet.  But that’s doesn’t satisfy if you are anxious in small spaces.

These are some locations where I have been able to find solitude outside of the bathroom.  Some of these take a lot of effort to get to, while others just take some strategic planning and/or timing.

The Alaska Highway

Yukon mountains
The Alaska Highway is 1500 miles of rugged mountains, valleys, forest and tundra.

Okay, this is a big challenge.  You will have to block out a couple of weeks to make this drive… and that’s just one way.  Double that if you are driving it both out and back.

The aloneness that I sensed in the middle of the Yukon was so intense that it made me nervous.  Hundreds of miles to the nearest mechanic.  But if you want to be alone, you will have your way out here.  Sometimes, when I would pull back onto the highway after a fuel stop or overnight camp, I would look both directions for traffic and not see another vehicle.  Not one, as far as the eye could see.

I think your solitude quota will be satisfied easily while you travel the Alaska Highway.

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We had the campground entirely to ourselves at Coal River Roadhouse, Yukon Territory.

For more on the Alaska Highway, read my related post here.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

SBDNL solitude edit

This is a popular northwest lower Michigan destination for families with kids.  Try hiking,  beach combing, dunes climbing, and a 27-mile-long bike path that runs through deep forests and dunes.

You will be with crowds at the popular Dune Climb and the Scenic Drive which lands you at the top of the dunes 400 feet overlooking Lake Michigan.  What a view!

But there is a solitary spot at the top of Sleeping Bear Point, although at sunset there will be a few folks who will trek out to see the million dollar sunset over Lake Michigan.  From Glen Haven, take the blacktop road west to the end and then drive down the gravel lane to the trailhead parking lot where there are restrooms. You might want flip flops for about a hundred yards until you reach the foot of the dunes, then go barefoot.

The national lakeshore also includes two large islands, South Manitou Island (seen in the distance in the photo above) and North Manitou Island that have many miles of deserted beaches and unspoiled forests.  Take the boat from Leland, Michigan; advance reservations are necessary.

The Channel Islands, California

Channel Isles solitude edit
Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands.  Hard to believe it is almost within sight of Los Angeles.

Call ahead or go online for reservations on the passenger ferry from Ventura Harbor, Ventura.  You may be accompanied by dolphins on the cruise over.  Cool.

Once you disembark there will be a short orientation talk from the ranger, then you are free to wander about the island without distraction from crowds of hikers.  The trails on the high cliffs are impressive and the drop-offs intimidating, so mind the edge.

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Valley of the Gods, Utah

Valley of Gods pickup campsite crop

During the day, an occasional SUV will pass by as you settle in at your free campsite in the desert just about 30 miles from the famous Monument Valley Tribal Park where there are bus loads of visitors swarming the overlooks.  At Valley of the Gods, you will be alone most of the time and at night the quiet and solitude can be almost unnerving.

Once the sun sets over the cliffs nearby, the wind will completely stop – along with that awful moaning sound in the top of the butte that towers over the campsite – and you’ll be in the dark.  If you ever wanted to film the Milky Way above, this will be the spot without any interfering light from the nearest city over a hundred miles away.

Bob V.O.G. Milky Way corner fix 2

Bryce Canyon National Park

Queen's Garden cover crop

This one calls for some strategy.  Bryce is second only to Zion National Park for the number of visitors in the desert southwest.  That means you’ll have to find the more remote hiking trails to find solitude.

Or go at night.  This was my strategy when I was looking for those trails with the tunnels cut through the rock; I was looking for a certain photo setting, sort of an Indiana Jones theme.

The Queen’s Garden Trail was busy with hikers as I headed down off the rim into the canyon in the late afternoon, but as dusk fell they disappeared.  I was totally alone for my evening photo shoot…  and for the entire climb back to the rim after dark.

The White Rim Road, Utah

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Again, Canyonlands National Park is heavily visited, though not quite as much as Arches National Park nearby.  But there are hiking trails off the rim that are only sparsely traveled.

And if you drive below the rim, you will find even more isolation.  The park service puts a quota on the number of visitors on the White Rim Trail, so you will have to plan ahead. You can make campsite reservations as much as 4 months in advance on their website.

Be advised, this drive is not for the faint of heart.  The drop-offs are hundreds of feet.  A Jeep or SUV with four-wheel-drive will work the best and they can be rented by the day from the outfitters in Moab nearby.

If you really want to be alone, take the Potash Road from Moab and, once you leave the pavement onto the gravel, you will be able to get to the White Rim without meeting another vehicle.  Stop anywhere along the way for a solitary view of the Colorado River a thousand feet below or the massive cliffs and dry creek beds through which you will be driving.  (See my 11-minute scary video of the White Rim Road here.)

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Saturday, February 10, 2007 (44)

Again, this is a hikers’ mecca and the trails that skirt the cliffs 200 feet above Lake Superior will be busy with adventurers.

But, if you drive east from the town of Munising along the shoreline, you will find the less traveled county road H-58 that wanders through the forests above the lake connecting scenic overlooks with rustic campgrounds.  Hike to Au Sable Point Lighthouse and see a scant few other wanderers, and linger at Sable Falls on your way to a campsite at the little village of Grand Marais or one of several national forest campgrounds that are carved out of the deep woods.

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So, there are lots of locations where one can be alone, but sometimes they are difficult to find.  These are just a few of the sites I have found… and now you know about them too.

How Travel Ruined My Life

Milepost 1-1-16                            In a vacation rental at Rockford, MI

I am spoiled for the ordinary.

As a summer camper and beachcomber, my dad was the one who did it to me and my siblings.  I remember the day he took the whole family to Sears to buy our first cabin tent that would sleep all 7 of us.  I have precious memories of mountains we climbed and trails we hiked while hauling that heavy tent on the luggage rack of the family stationwagon.

Dad overloaded the old station-wagon and then drove it along the beach as far as he could to reach a remote campsite.
Dad overloaded the old station-wagon with camping gear and then drove it along the beach as far as he could to reach a remote campsite.

And I have done it to my kids likewise, dragging them around the country to national parks and seashores in an old van, and later, offshore to foreign countries for months at a time.

In the heart of the Rockies, my daughters explored the ruins of an old ghost town.
In the heart of the Rocky Mountains, my daughters explored the ruins of an old ghost town.
Our family shopped at the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall tienda for daily provisions in the Dominican Republic.
Our family shopped at the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall tienda for daily provisions when we lived in the Dominican Republic.

And as a mentor, I have done it to a whole lot of other people’s kids as well.

A  youth volunteer at the local church for 35 years, I took kids camping, hiking, canoeing, and spelunking.  My wife and I even took them on cross-cultural trips to underdeveloped countries to see how the rest of the world lives.

Our girls posed with the neighbors where we lived for one school year in Santiago, Dominican Republic.
Our girls posed with the neighbors where we lived for one school year in Santiago, Dominican Republic while teaching in an international school.

One of my mentees once complained to me, “Bob, you have ruined my life;  I am no longer satisfied with normal American life.”

Okay, so he said it with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, but there is real truth to the matter.  The American dream sits at the top of a ladder to success whose rungs are installed in a standard sequence that goes like this:  Do well in school so you can get a good education so you can get a good job so you can marry the right person and provide for the perfect family and live in a nice house (with a mortgage) in a good neighborhood and have two cars and a boat in the garage so you can eventually retire and travel or play golf all day.

Feeding your inner travel beast too early can change the order and mess things up.  I used to tell my mentees that “What you feed is what will grow.”

Well, if the thing that you feed is a wanderlust, you may become dissatisfied with the normal sequence of American life and want to get out early.  You would have been better off to never leave home in the first place.  You wouldn’t know what you were missing and would be content to stay put.  You should never have opened the cover of that first National Geographic magazine.

My daughters have traveled just about as far as they could get from their home in rural Michigan.
My daughters have traveled just about as far as they could from their home in rural Michigan.

So, I am all about blowing up the status quo.  And ruining people for the ordinary.  And I will never apologize, because the end result of an inconveniently interrupted American lifestyle is actually a much richer existence.

Nobody arrives at their deathbed saying, “I wish I had traveled less and seen less of the world.” or “I wish I had not met those foreigners and broadened my world view.”

I hiked the backcountry at Denali - where my youngest daughter lives and works every summer.
I recently hiked the backcountry at Denali with my daughters – where my youngest daughter now lives and works every summer.

So if I can feed your wanderlust I will do it.  I would love to blow up your common life by helping you get out the door and on the road.

Because I know you will someday thank me for it like I thank my dad for blowing up his modest household budget one summer by purchasing that expensive canvas tent at Sears Roebuck & Company.

But you need to have your eyes wide open.  What you feed is what will grow.  Feeding your inner gypsy is dangerous.  It could devastate the comfortable lifestyle you now enjoy.   You could end up selling your house and hitting the road – like me.

And discovering an alternate universe, as it were, in the next state and around the world.

Yes, travel has demolished my routine.

And it can do the same for you.

Thanks to my dad's travel bug, my brothers and I waded into the narrows at Zion Canyon National Park.
Thanks to my dad’s travel bug, my brothers and I waded into the narrows at Zion Canyon National Park when we were boys.
We brought the world to our house by hosting foreign exchange students... and then taking them on the road to see America.
We brought the world to our house by hosting foreign exchange students… and then taking them on the road to see America.  Here are our 3 daughters and 1 Russian student on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Inconvenient Trade-Offs

Milepost 7-5-15               Ortonville, Michigan, our summer hiatus

There is good and bad in everything, and it is no different with the traveling life.  We have been at this modern gypsy thing for a while now, and sometimes it seems that the life style comes down to a balance of convenience and inconvenience.  With every trade-off of one for the other, there is the question, “Is it worth it?”  “Is there a reward?”

I don’t know that it varies from any other sort of life style in that way, the details are just a little different.  Here are some inconveniences we have had to consider:

Security

With adventure there comes a certain amount of risk.  When we lived in the big house in rural Michigan for over 40 years we never locked the doors.  Even when we were gone.  Now we live in unfamiliar neighborhoods with dwellings only a few yards apart and we lock every time we leave for more than a trip to the mailbox.  Maybe we don’t need to – campers tend to watch out for each other – but we don’t know the area well enough to know how safe or unsafe we are.

On the other hand, most of the parks we have stayed in are gated communities and have prepared for every scenario to ensure the safety of their clients.

Services

One of the things that old people want to know about their community is where the nearest emergency room is.  It can be inconvenient to drop in to the nearest urgent care facility and not have access to your medical history.  Searching for a dentist when you chip a tooth a thousand miles from your hometown can be a challenge.

Stores and restaurants are usually not a problem any place in America.  Even on our epic drive to Alaska last summer, we were able to pick up basic foods at a local convenience store… at twice the price, of course.  The nearest supermarket was 125 miles north of us at Fairbanks.

Access to viable internet and television signals can be a bit less handy.  Back home you subscribed to cable or satellite link-ups and then forgot about it for two years.  Not so with the mobile life.  Thankfully, in every campground there are veteran RV-ers who can help you find the nearest and strongest providers who will keep you connected.  Month-to-month and without a contract.  Cool.

Maintenance

Stuff requires maintenance.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s a hobby farm, a condo, an estate, or a travel trailer, stuff has to be serviced from time to time.  The convenience of the RV life is that there is much less stuff to maintain.  The house is smaller and that means less vacuuming and mopping.  The yard is non-existent, so there is no mowing (unless you are a work-camper) and no mower whose blades have to be sharpened.  You have left the keepsakes in storage along with the cupboards and bookcases that housed them, so there is a minimum of dusting.

But the RV needs the wheel bearings greased every few thousand miles, the rubber roof needs to be re-treated every 2 years, and the siding, if it’s fiberglass, needs waxing every couple of years.  The truck or motor home engine needs the usual oil changes and tire rotations.  The propane tanks need filling every now and then (more often in the wintertime) so you will need to locate the nearest filling station.

Family

One of our biggest inconveniences is that we are away from our kids and grandkids for long months at a time.  We have never been homesick because our home is with us, but we do miss the grandkids every now and then.  When they are young they grow from one phase to the next quickly, and we feel like we are missing out.  The FOMO factor kicks in (Fear Of Missing Out).

Occasionally, we miss a family reunion.  Last year, when my brother passed away in Michigan, we were on a 5-month work-camp assignment in California and had to excuse ourselves quickly and fly home for the funeral.  (It’s important to keep funds on hand for such emergencies.)

Pets

For Kaye and me, the thought of having a pet with us is not worth the inconvenience, but we are surrounded by pet-owners who are making a go of it.  One of their biggest challenges is making sure their pet doesn’t become an inconvenience to their neighbors.  A yappy dog quickly becomes a very unpopular thing in the middle of the night in a campground.  Most of the pet owners we have seen are really good about the essential inconvenience of picking up after a pooping dog.

Children

I cannot speak to the challenge of the young family who pursues the traveling life; we see very few who are doing it.  The few that we have encountered are home schooling their children, of course, and that presents its own challenges, but location doesn’t seem to be a problem.  In fact, it’s the only way to educate your kids on the fly and it can be done anywhere.  We met a family on the beach in Alabama that was sailing the high seas with the kids in a sailboat.  Maybe they wouldn’t do it forever, but they were certainly building an unforgettable educational experience while the kids were young.

I think the bigger problem with kids would be what to do with them on rainy days when everyone is trapped indoors in a crowded space.  You can’t send them to the basement rec room or to their bedrooms with a book or a toy.  You can’t ever really get away from them.  You will have to be creative.  Every town has a library and a theater or bowling alley and we even found an indoor aquarium or two in a couple of places.  Without imagination or an on-board library – whether books or videos,  I see gypsy burnout on your not-so-distant horizon (but if you are lucky enough to do it, try it for a while anyway!)

Hobbies

If your pastimes include road tripping, sightseeing, hiking, farm marketing, campfire cooking, reading, photography, or “collecting” lighthouses or waterfalls or new friends, you are in luck.  The mobile life will accommodate all of these and lots more.

If, however, you amuse yourself with carpentry, pottery, classic car collecting, or welding, you may be up against a bit more of a challenge.  I have managed my interest in carpentry by doing it seasonally.  When I am back in Michigan every summer I get my portable workshop-in-a-utility trailer out of storage and build the latest book shelf for my kids.  If they need some project done in the house, they just know not to ask for it in the winter when I am wandering around the south or in the tropics.  Come summer, I will back into their yard and open up my mobile workshop and fix whatever needs fixing.

I am also a musician and have my piano on board with me.  Last winter in Alabama I found a campus band to play along with, and one guy even had an entire recording studio set up in a tent next to his RV.  How about that.

The Rewards

The trade-off for the inconveniences of the wandering life is the rewards that it offers, and that’s really the reason why most of us are doing it.  We want to see new places, meet new people, try living somewhere else in the world for a while and see what it’s like.  We are tired of the old place, we are tired of the cold winters, we are tired of feeding and weeding and mowing the lawns and trimming the shrubs.

There are mountains to be climbed, there are beaches to be combed, there are forests to be hiked and ocean sunsets to be enjoyed.  We are not waiting any longer to get there.

Inconveniences be damned, we are going for it!

Yee-ha!

The sun sets over the RV on the shore at Seacliff, California.
The sun sets over the RV on the shore at Seacliff, California, a boondocking site (no hook-ups).

Are you thinking about going for it?  Trying to weigh the risks with the rewards?  Will it be worth it?

You know what?  You won’t think of everything.  And that’s all right.  Relax.  Prepare for it the best you can, talk to people who’re doing it, read blogs like this one.  But don’t let fear of the unknown be a roadblock to your new adventure.

The worst inconvenience of all would be getting to the end of your health – or your life – without the satisfaction of having pursued your irresponsible dream of the traveling life, the way of the vagabond, the beach bum.

If you don’t like it or it turns out to be more inconvenient than rewarding, you can always go back to the former life with its security and its predictability.   Either way, have fun!

This RV park at Coal River, Yukon, was 100 miles from the nearest power grid and was operating on its own generator.  We had the campground to ourselves for the night.
This RV park at Coal River, Yukon, was 100 miles from the nearest power grid and was operating on its own generator. There was no internet, but if we wanted solitude we were in luck;  we had the campground to ourselves for the night.

“Our culture has become so obsessed with the before and after that we’ve forgotten that all the living happens in the during.”  –Stacy Sims Brown; see her blog, Fat Aunt Sassy Sees the World