In 2016, Rob and I hit a tipping point. We’d been married almost 15 years, and the pace of our life felt like it was getting too fast. Work responsibilities were increasing, our children were growing, and activities and commitments were eliminating margin from our life. Nevertheless, we’d always been committed to a simple lifestyle. One day we looked at each other and wondered aloud, “How did this get so out of hand?” Our calendar dictated our time, and we saw the years with our children at home quickly slipping away.
We were drawn to communal living and the tiny house movement, but we also felt a restlessness. We’d driven across the country a couple of times, and we felt an itch to drive again. When the Seattle RV Show opened that winter, we bought tickets and went. Maybe travel was the way we could streamline our life and take it back.
In 2017, after saving for a year, we bought our camper — a used 24 foot 2014 Forest River Wolf Pup — from Craigslist. I demoed the interior, and Rob built an extra bed to retrofit the space to sleep six. We packed our things, left our house in the care of neighbors and set off. We traveled more than 11,000 miles that spring and summer, 72 days on the road. Rob telecommuted, the kids and I homeschooled, and we sated our wanderlust in the desert, mountains and plains of the American West.
Not long after arriving home, we realized we’d created an even bigger problem. We’d been bitten by the travel bug; now we always wanted to roam! We ran the numbers and considered living as a full-time RV family. But for a variety of reasons, we decided to stay put. Still, we committed to spending each summer on the road, logging as many miles, visiting as many national parks, and enveloping ourselves in as much wilderness as we could.
Even while working and schooling, long-term camper traveling offered our family incredibly focused time together. Rob taught the boys to hitch and unhitch the camper and truck (“the rig”) alone. The girls he taught to empty the tanks and hook up utilities. Our children could tell you how to safely camp in bear country, leave no trace, and find your way around every KOA camp store from coast to coast.
Camping also allowed us to pursue simplicity in the way we’d always wanted. Each child had a single duffle bag of clothes — a single sweatshirt, two pairs of shorts and four t-shirts. Six plates, six forks, six spoons, four knives completed our dining ware. And the physical work of setting up and tearing down camp allowed us to release the mental cares of the day in profitable labor. Each day had so much elemental work of its own that we didn’t think much beyond the moment. No more calendar planning or long-range projections. Just one mile after another, one day at a time. Best of all, we were together. Every night, we’d gather on our bed for stories and to mark the map hanging on the wall with our day’s mileage.
We were just 26 days into our 2019 road trip when Rob died. Our itinerary had us to depart the next morning for two nights at our favorite desert watering hole before heading on to Glacier National Park. But after the funeral services a month later, I returned east with the kids, driving the rig the last 1,000 miles by myself for the first time.
Avid campers know that January is the most important month of the year. It’s the month most national parks open for campground reservations. The most popular ones — Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon — sell out within minutes. Though the summer feels far away, campers always begin planning in January.
This January I’ve decided not to plan my summer travels as usual. Like that first road trip, grief has clarified my values and given me fresh perspective on long-range planning. For now, I’m letting the present be the present and the future be unknown. I don’t know where the road will take us this summer, but I have no doubt that anywhere we are together “is a place that I’ll call home.”