The two weeks around Christmas was good time with family and friends. On New Years we booked campsites for our trip west to California.
In late December and most of January, when we weren’t with family, we were at Jess’s parents second home in Chattanooga. New Year’s Day was almost exactly the halfway point of our 506 days from the day we closed on selling the house to the day Braden starts kindergarten.
It’s been an incredible trip that we are so excited and blessed to be able to do. We’re making memories we will never forget. We’ve seen some incredible parts of this country. We’ve met or reconnected with some awesome people. I thought we’d take a few minutes here for some overall observations based in part on what people asked us when we were home for the holidays.
What have been our favorite spots so far?
Braden: Yogi Bear parks and the St. Louis Arch
Andy: My favorite stops have been the ones that surprised us. We knew places like Yellowstone and the Outer Banks were going to be great and they were. But the Blackhills of South Dakota, the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia were probably the biggest surprises. I think because those three really exceeded our expectations, those are my favorites.
Jess: Needles Highway at Custer State Park, South Dakota. Upper Peninsula and Lake Superior in Michigan. Stone Mountain State Park in North Carolina.
What have been the most unexpected challenges?
Andy: The time change and short days got us. In the summer, I could work until 5, and then we still have 4 hours to go play. In the winter, if I’m done at 5, there’s about 15 minutes of daylight left. I’m working with my boss to take some longer lunch breaks to see things. It would be a shame to drive all over the country to sit in the dark.
Jess: Finding places for recycling.
Braden: I have to be patient, like waiting to go up the Arch. The smell of Yellowstone. It smelled like egg toots.
Are you able to get work done like expected?
Andy: I think a lot of people are surprised that I’m actually working and staying on top of things. While there are some times when my co-workers have had to be patient with me if we’re driving, I’m pleased and my boss has been pleased with this arrangement. I’m putting in a solid 40-45 hours per week. It’s not all 8 to 5, but it’s there. And with the conferences and visits i’ve been able to make, we’re happy to have added three new clients since we started this trip. I’m very fortunate and thankful to work for a couple of bosses who are this open minded. Wi-fi hasn’t been as easy to get as expected and we’ve had to up our Verizon data plan twice for staying in touch when there is no Wi-Fi. Also, Jess has been super helpful to type notes, take dictation or do other work for me from the passenger seat while I’m driving.
Has Jess driven the RV yet?
Andy: No, but maybe in West Texas. I don’t mind the driving.
Jess: I don’t even like to drive a normal size car, I just do it because it is part of being an adult and I don’t want to live in a city large enough where I would only take public transportation.
How far have we gone?
Andy: About 17,000 miles.
Braden: All the way to Texas and Iowa. (Then, looking at the map) The Diamond Mine (Arkansas) and Mount Rushmore. Florida. Kentucky Horsepark. Bama. West Texas.
What do we miss about home?
Jess: What we miss the most being on the road is “our people.” Community is so important and while we have met nice folks along the way it does not replace consistent interaction with people who know and love us. It makes me want to be more intentional about making time to spend with friends once we are back in a “sticks and bricks” home and worry less about how clean and put together everything is before inviting people over.
Andy: Champy’s Fried Chicken. And friends. There are times when this trip is a little lonely and very chicken-less. In January, we were very glad to be able to go back to our church. Oh, and super fast EPB Internet in Chattanooga.
Braden: The only thing I miss the most is people visiting our blue house at Christmas.
How is the trip changing us individually?
Andy: I’m learning to be quiet. Most folks know I’m a talker, but beyond that, I listen to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts. I always like to have something going on, but on this trip I’m learning sometimes silence is nice. It’s okay to just be alone with my thoughts. That’s not been something I’ve normally done. It sounds silly, but we’ve also learned that the we are the same people in this RV that we were in our house. I had these visions of running every morning and never procrastinating and that sort of thing on this trip. But really, for better and for worse, we’re the same people that we’ve always been.
Jess: I’ve had the chance to enjoy being Braden’s mom without as many other things competing for my time and attention. I want to get rid of more stuff when we get back home. I think we’re more aware of things that are happening around the U.S. and globally. I say that, but at times we are cut off because of lack of cell service and we almost never watch TV news.
Braden: Smarter about almost everything. And I’m superhero crazy.
How has this trip changed us as a family?
Andy: For me, Jess and I are closer than we’ve ever been. I hadn’t really thought about all of the travel time that we’d spend sitting in the front seats with nothing to do but drive and talk. There’s not much we haven’t covered in that time. She’s taken an interest in my work and we’ve shared a lot of the ups and downs of the trip and life together. We have had our arguments, but we argued about things at home, too. I think this trip has made us realize how lucky we are and really appreciate this time together.
Braden: Chewing gum makes mama angry.
Jess: Because we’re in a small space together, we have to work together. That means everything from helping spot the corners while Andy backs up and finding a campground to coordinating cooking and other activities. When the weather was good and the days were longer, we were outside all the time. Inside, we rotate activities around the RV based on what space is needed. We interact more because we don’t have places to go and hide and get away from each other. I do get a break from Andy as needed because he has to work.
Andy: I can understand that.
Are you tired of traveling?
Jess: There are days when I long for familiar things like knowing where everything is at the grocery store and how to get to the store without asking Siri. In reality, the more we travel the more places I learn about that I still want to see. It is a balancing act. If we drive every day to a new campsite, that gets tiring, but if we don’t rush it and take time to enjoy things that is what the trip is all about.
Andy: I was tired of Florida. The January break came at a good time for me because Florida was a frustrating part of the trip for me. Traffic, work demands and early winter darkness made it tough. But after about a week back in Chattanooga to catch up, I was ready to get on the road again.
Braden: I want to go to California!
What’s your favorite animal seen in the wild on the trip?
Jess: A moose! And Manatees.
Braden: Prairie dogs.
Andy: Elk and big horn sheep.