Wicked Wanderers

Chronicling the full time RV lifestyle of a young family

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Chapter 33: South Dakota in a Nutshell

We followed I-29 North through Kansas City, Omaha, and Souix City; we took several breaks along the way at numerous rest stops to stretch our legs. We even stopped to enjoy the “world’s largest corn palace” in Mitchell, SD. (It was interesting/strange…)  Finally we arrived in Wall, SD: Home of Wall Drug Store: a tourist trap in the middle of nowhere. Home of ‘free ice water’ and ‘5 cent coffee’. Since it was just about 100 degrees outside we passed on the cheap hot coffee. We enjoyed viewing all of their oddities: you can ride a jackalope, check out the roaring T-rex, play on the splash pad, shop in the gift shop, grab a bite at the restaurant, etc. Not really our thing but if you are near Wall Drug you have to say you stopped in! (Plus they had some pharmacy history to view) What else is there in Wall, SD? Nothing (practically nothing) except the Badlands National Park. 

We, of course, didn’t drive thousands of miles to ride the jackalope. We were excited to visit the Badlands. We parked right out side the park at Buffalo Gap National Grasslands and we were very glad to finally take a moment and enjoy the sights for a week. (Or so we thought). 

Temperatures were sweltering. Eliza was extra cranky. We had plenty of solar but the air conditioner could barely keep up. The point of boondocking (for us) is to enjoy nature and it was almost too hot to be outside. We took a drive through the National Park one afternoon and saw 5 different types of animals in 5 minutes.: sheep, buffalo, prairie dogs, coyote, and haws. It was fun and Eloise definitely enjoyed trying to spot all the different animals. Unfortunately due to work and the hot hot temps we weren’t able to enjoy the hiking in the area. We packed up after only a few days and hit the dusty trail further on to Custer and the Mount Rushmore area. 

Mount Rushmore was interesting. It was neat to see it so up close and to learn about the history of the sculpture. Parking is $10 and I was a little put off by that and the whole thing seemed liked more of a tourist trap vs. a quiet place to experience and view a piece of history. We also took time to go to Wind Cave National Park.  Unfortunately Eliza wasn’t feeling the ‘family friendly’ cave tour that was recommended and had a melt down 40 minutes into the 60 minute tour. She was d-o-n-e. (Oh well, first time for everything–she had been on a cave before and slept through it.) It was a beautiful cave and her cries echoed marvelously throughout it 🙂

Our campground in Custer I thought was unique. It was an old Flinstones themed campground that opened in 1966 and was sold in 2015. It re-opened under the name “Buffalo Ridge RV Park” but some of the old Flintstones decor remained and it was entertaining to see. I would have loved to visit this park in its heyday (probably 1990s?)

One night while were were riding around on the campground train (which was free and kinda cool) we met 2 other families who 1) happened to be parked right next to us and 2) were also traveling the country. Eloise had a ton of fun playing with all of their kids and we enjoyed a campfire with them before we parted ways. We decided to check out Rapid City before leaving the area and both of the girls had fun at the Wa Tiki indoor waterpark. Eliza loved the warm water and zero-entry pool while thrill seeker Eloise was able to ride on all the slides on Dad’s’ lap; a fun day!



Chapter 32: To the Midwest we go!

Once we got the call from Keystone that our camper was ‘ready’ we packed and left. Our goal was to make it to Glacier National Park; we knew that fall and winter came early up there: therefore we had to get our butts in gear.

We left Maine, drove straight to the Keystone factory, grabbed the camper, got all of the items out of our storage unit in Elkhart, IN and hit the road to Missouri just in time to be in the path of totality for the solar eclipse!

Let me break that down for you:

  • Thursday: with 2 small children we drove 1,067 miles straight through the night in our truck arriving just as Keystone opened for the day. Yawn!
  • Friday: Once we saw the camper at Keystone we realized that they were not really ready for us to pick it up and a few more items needed to be addressed. (Not surprising at all) We wandered around the local Walmart getting supplies while they finished up. Once the unit was truly ready we drove across town to our storage unit with 2 kiddos who were more than ready to get out of the truck. (Thankfully I had arranged for a helper to help us unload the storage unit items back into our camper. Without this hired helper I found on uhaul.com Kevin would have been unpacking items for the rest of the day.) We spent the night in the area putting all of our junk back into its rightful place.
  • Saturday: The next day, things were still a mess. We organized a bit more, bought more supplies at Walmart, and then hit the road late in the afternoon towards Illinois.  
  • Sunday: We were able to say hi to my Aunt Mary and Uncle Dick who were kind enough to drive down to meet us in the middle of nowhere IL (te Chebanse KOA) for a Sunday morning visit. We chatted and watched Eloise swim around in the unheated outdoor pool. Brr! We left later that afternoon to drive another 300 miles to Missouri to arrive just in time to be in the path of totality for the eclipse. Solar eclipse traffic heading down from Illinois to Missouri was not as bad as the rumors we had heard but still added a good 2 hours to our trip. Fun! (At least driving through Illinois was mildly interesting: miles and miles of corn as far as the eye can see!) We parked next to  another fulltime family who invited us to their grandparents house in St. Genevieve, MO to view the eclipse.
  • Monday: Solar eclipse day. It was amazing: the eclipse, the hospitality, the friendship. We had a lovely time. The experience of being in the path of totality was neat. We stayed to visit with them for a few days of rest while Eloise and Eliza enjoyed playing with their 2 girls.  We parted ways at the end of the week as we were headed North and they were going South. Until next time Rackovans!

Chapter 31: Our Main Maine Adventures

We arrived in Maine Mid-May. On August 14th we got the call from Keystone that our camper was ready for pick up, but more on that to come shortly. This post is to fill in the gap: what did we do in Maine?

Our first month in Maine was all work, maintenance, and organizing. Boring. Time sure did fly by but here is a short list and some photos of some of the more fun things we had been busying doing around this region in July and August:

  • Green Valley Campground, Vassalboro, Maine–we stayed here for 3 weeks
    • Playing with our friend Maddie on the playground
    • Meeting up with our old friends and having a sleep over with Sherry
    • Mountain biking

  • Moe.Down Festival in Turin, NY–we drove out here for the 4 day event
    • The girls enjoyed the live music
    • The near constant rain and resulting mud was a bummer
    • Meeting up with our friends Brian and Sherri was a blast

  • Poland Spring Campground, Poland, Maine–we stayed here for 9 days
    • Tons of activities for kids at this campground
    • Swimming in the pool/learning to swim without a floatie!
    • Hiking up Tumbledown Mountain with the Thomas family
    • Vising great grandparents from Poland

  • Bar Harbor, Maine–we stayed at Bar Habor Campground for 10 days
    • Pirate’s Cove mini-golf
    • Udder Heaven ice cream
    • Swimming at the pool with our new Canadian friends
    • Kayak around Jordan Pond
    • Popovers at the Jordan Pond House Restaurant
    • Bike several miles of carriage trails
    • Dinner out with the Thomas family

  • Skowhegan, Maine–our camper did not come with us here. We stayed at my family’s cottage on a pond for a month while our camper was in the shop for repairs
    • Swimming
    • Canoeing/kayaking
    • Family time/visits with Uncle Bub, Auntie Caitlin, Aunt Marcia, and Big Mem
    • Visits with friends
    • Celebrated Eliza’s 1st Birthday
    • the Skowhegan State fair

Good Bye Maine! Until next time…

Chapter 30: Maine-tenance

Maine. Home. Home? It was nice to breathe in the fresh cool air. We had a few weeks of repairs lined up and it was quickly clear that it would take longer than anticipated. 

We parked on our family’s lawn which was multipurpose: help with the repairs and help with the kids. Eloise loved it and enjoyed visiting with everyone. Eliza enjoyed all the new faces. Many thanks to all the family members who pitched in to help with all of our projects. We completed tasks fast and furiously and barely stopped to take any photos of it. 

  • Disk brake conversion! (A huge DIY project)
  • Baby swing hanging in the toy bay area
  • Lowered the happijack bed to normal floor height (no more climbing a ladder to get into our bed!)
  • Kids bunk beds modified to fit neatly into the bedroom slide
  • School desk built for Eloise starting kindergarten
  • Living room painted white
  • Kids room painted white (it was a very light green that ended up looking white)
  • Curtains measured and to be sewn, all old dark valances removed
  • Camper washed and waxed
  • All new tires for camper 
  • All new tires for the truck

It seemed that just as we were ‘fixing’ things even more things were breaking. We couldn’t move our home without something going wrong. Kevin had been in contact with the manufacturer and they agreed that it would be best if our camper returned to the factory for major structural repairs and all minor repair work. In the interim, we were told that it would be best to keep a list of all broken items and limp it along until our camper could get to the ‘hospital’ in Elkhart, Indiana as Eloise called it.

After numerous hours on the phone with Keystone, Kevin was finally scheduled to drive it out to  Indiana to drop it off on July 24th. His dad graciously agreed to tag along and help with the driving while the girls and I sat this trip out in Maine. His dad also helped with emptying our home contents into a storage unit. (Yes, you read that right, Keystone requested the camper be empty of personal items–what a pain!).

Its official: our camper is in the hospital. When will we get it back? 4 weeks or so we have been told…stay tuned!


Chapter 29: Our Belated One Year Celebration

We’ve been on the road for one year. ONE YEAR. Boy does time fly. (Technically it’s one year and about two months now but i’m a little behind the times). We’ve had our share of ups and downs; life on the road can be richly rewarding but also has its own set of challenges.

Here are some quick stats on our year in review: 

  • Number of nights boondocking/dry camping: 118
  • Number of miles traveled: approximately 10,000
  • National Parks visited: 12 
  • Number of side of the road breakdowns/flat tires: 0! (I am setting us up for next year) 
  • Items that we carried across the country and never used: chainsaw, several items of baby gear, excess clothing, books, DVDs
  • Number of repairs needed to the camper: Too high to count
  • Overall average cost per night: $25 (we learned MANY things our first year out and believe we can significantly reduce our cost per night over this next year. Its worth noting that our average cost per night West of the Mississippi was only $13!)
  • Strangest place we visited: Probably Gila Bend, AZ numerous metal dinosaur sculptures all around town but no grocery store
  • Something we never expected: We were camping near our friends who also live in their RV full time. They were approached by a local charity with offers for blankets because it was assumed they were homeless!
  • Coldest camping night: Bryce Canyon, 28 degrees F
  • Favorite places visited: 
    • Kevin: Moab, UT –biking and hiking
    • Emma: Death Valley, CA–hiking, breathtaking scenery, kid friendly
    • Eloise: Disney world in Orlando, Florida –princesses and theme park rides
    • Eliza: every grocery store across the US–loves to ride in the cart and get free cookies from the bakery

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so here are photos of our favorite moments from this past year. Enjoy!

(Hover over the photo for the caption or click on it to see full size/slide show)


Chapter 28: Just a hop, skip and a jump up to Maine!

Long car ride selfie (found this photo weeks later on my phone!)

We left Albuquerque on a Thursday night and had about 12 days to make it to a work meeting for Kevin in Massachusetts. We were anxious to get to Maine but we vowed to make several stops along the way; to try to take our time and not rush. (If you recall, last fall we drove 24+ hours straight from Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas to Arizona and agreed that we would never do that again. Ever.)

First stop: Arkansas. One of our favorite fulltime families is taking a break from travel and is parked on family land in Arkansas. Since we had never really been to rural Arkansas before and Eloise loves to play with their son, it was an easy choice. Arkansas was very lush and green. We parked next to them and enjoyed the pretty pasture and the rain. We had fun chit chatting and taking a break from riding in the truck. We went to their family’s farm and Eloise and Eliza had their first horse ride; we thoroughly enjoyed their Southern hospitality.

Friends dueling and playing Mario cart

Horse rides!

Pigeon Forge, TN

Second stop: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This ‘resort’ city is home to “Dollywood” and is right outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Boy was this place built up; a true tourist trap. Parts of it resembled the styling and commercialism of Downtown Disney. There were so many chain restaurants, theme dinners, gift shops, etc. Part of me wanted to immediately go shopping but there are only so many postcards, t-shirts, and magnets one needs. (But its fun to look!) We skipped the shopping and hit the hiking trails instead. Great Smoky Mountain National Park has two unfortunate distinctions: the most visited and the most polluted/poor air quality.

Scenes from the National Park

Some of the fun we had at the KOA in Pigeon Forge

Traffic into the park was thick by 7am. The hiking trails that were easy and nearby (i.e. kid-friendly) were packed and the parking lots were congested. Nevertheless we had a nice time checking out the sites. This was also the first park where we experienced an ‘auto nature trail’. It’s like a hiking trail for your car. It was interesting. After spending so much time in the truck, I can’t say that Eliza particularly enjoyed this trail and the slow pace of following other cars through the forest at 5 mph. We were able to see wildlife and the scenery from the road was beautiful rolling pasture. We stayed at a KOA here in Pigeon Forge and it was fun. It was hot, like 90 degrees hot and they had a pool. They also had a playground and a ‘jumping’ pillow and tons of kids; we enjoyed our stay. When traveling long-ish distances we typically drive at night from 7pm until we get tired and stay at Walmarts or Cracker Barrels for the night and then wake up and keep driving the next morning. Stopping at this KOA  for 4 days was a pricey, but nice change.

Fun times with friends in Massachusetts

Third stop: Southborough, Massachusetts. Our friends Katie and Brady live there. We dry camped at the Cabela’s parking lot (as we had in the past–its quiet there) and enjoyed visiting with them and their little boy. Kevin was able to get in a mountain bike ride too. After having towed our camper through numerous states where driving has been a nightmare Kevin can definitively say that driving in Massachusetts is still the most frustrating state for road rage. Some things will never change haha! We finally crossed the border into Maine on a Wednesday afternoon and immediately got to work: we had two weeks of camper repairs and upgrades planned and we were ready to get them over with so we could begin to enjoy our summer.

Chapter 27: Last stop for us in the wild west

This kid was all smiles in Petrified Forest National Park!

We weren’t able to hit any of the ‘cool’ spots in New Mexico like Roswell or Carlsbad Caverns. It’s a big state and we plan to go back next year.  We were on a timeline and our mission was clear: get to Albuquerque in time for Kevin’s work conference.  When you have two ‘littles’ in tow you really can’t deviate from the plan. Eliza was getting increasingly anxious and fidgety during day-time car rides too…

Scenes of beautiful petrified logs

We left Moab, UT with time to explore Petrified Forest National Park and  some of the city of Albuquerque before the conference started.  We did drive a portion of Route 66 which was cool.

Petrified Forest National Park was a small-ish park. We camped right on the edge of the park at a gift shop that was also a campground. We explored the park for an afternoon and then drove towards New Mexico that evening. We went on several short hikes and it was neat to see the beauty of the petrified wood.

We stayed at “Enchanted Trails RV Park” right on Route 66 in Albuquerque. They had several vintage campers that you could rent out to say in for the night!

Some of the fun things we did while in Albuquerque that we have photos of: played Nintendo switch, swam at the pool (note Eliza’s size 12 month swim suit that’s just too tight to be pulled up), coloring, and playing house together.

We were much less inspired by Albuquerque. We went on a family bike ride, went out to eat, and took in the view of the Sandia Mountains but never really ‘connected’ with this city. We met up with Kevin’s friend Brandon who was also in town for the same work conference and went out to a yummy restaurant. Once the conference was over we hitched up and hightailed it outta there on the long long road to Maine…

This photo perfectly sums up dining out with children: Child missing from her seat. Water glass full of toys. Bread basket nearly empty (her dinner).

Eloise admiring the petrified wood or having a foot-stomping temper tantrum? You decide… 🙂

Chapter 26: A girl walks into a cactus…

Eloise pointing to the patch of cactus she tripped into

A girl walks into a cactus…is not the start of a funny joke. It was a really bad night that Eloise has thankfully fully recovered from. She was walking next door in the dark to say goodnight to her little friend and tripped. Kevin and I spent an hour and a half picking cactus spikes out  of her. Poor baby! My fault for not giving her a flashlight. 🙁

Anyway, cactus aside, we loved our time in Moab, Utah. We stayed about 3 weeks in total. We loved the food. We loved the local vibe. We loved the hiking and biking and if you ever go there you have to try the Quesadilla Mobilla food truck! Yum!

View of Moab from the Sunset Grill Restaurant

It wasn’t all amazing tho: first there was the snow and then there was the wind. We encountered a winter storm on a mountain pass towing our 5th wheel from Bryce to Moab. We saw several tractor trailer trucks off the road and Kevin was ‘white-knuckling it’ driving down the steep, icy mountain pass. Yikes. We were all glad when we had finally arrived in one piece. Secondly, THE WIND is unrelenting in Moab. Of all the nights we stayed in Moab we could only have a fire/be outside in the evening about 5 or 6 nights. (That’s a lot of windy nights!) The wind blew over our hammock/hammock stand, ripped the hinge off our front door, blew away a few toys, and untold amounts of sand blew into our camper during several wind storms. Oye!

Layer of sand and dust on our printer after one windstorm the night before

We boondocked (dry camped) on public BLM land about 12 minutes from downtown Moab and had an amazing view of the La Sal Mountains. Moab is perfect for dry camping as there is free water and dump stations in town. We had long planned to come to Moab and there were several things we wanted to be sure to do. Our first order of business: a new mountain bike for Kevin. After lots of careful research and planning, his dream bike was finally found on pinkbike.com and he had an amazing time breaking it in. He rode over 100 miles of trails including the whole enchilada, mag 7, and slick rock.  I inherited Kevin’s old mountain bike and redecorated it appropriately. We have been able to enjoy several family bike rides since.

View from our camper of the La Sal Mountains

Kevin and his many biking adventures in Moab

Kevin’s old bike covered with stickers and a few other necessary accessories 😉

We had the good fortune of meeting up with numerous other fulltime families  and friends while in Moab which was a great blessing. We love meeting and getting to know other families on the road. First we met with a family traveling the US from Switzerland who happened to park right near us. Then we met up with the Logdson’s from Tennessee. We went out to dinner with them a few times, enjoyed a the Moab Jeep convention, went on a beautiful hike, and had fun playing and hanging out around the fire. We hope they will be able to meet up with us for a tour of Acadia in Maine later this summer!

So much fun with our little friends

Fun times at the giant sand dune right across from the entrance to Arches National Park

Then we met up with a couple from Escapees Chapter 8 who we had met during our two week trip to Mexico this past February. Donna has her hair dyed rainbow colors  and just loves playing with Eloise! Eloise couldn’t wait to try some temporary hair dye with her.

Purple, blue, and red hair!

Playing with our little friend Maya

Next we met with a fulltime family originally from Lithuania who we had met at several rallies in the past. Eloise got to know their daughter quite well over the course a a week while Kevin and Giedrius were able to enjoy numerous mountain bike rides. Together we all enjoyed the town aquatics center and playgrounds, several hikes in Arches National Park, and we also rented a Jeep with them one day. We rode our Jeeps on the 100-mile “White Rim Road” in Caynonlands National Park. It was such an amazingly fun and adventurous way to experience that national park.

The White Rim Road with our Jeep (we rented the blue one)

We have so many beautiful photos of Canyonlands National Park its hard to choose just a few to share!

Finally, we met with our Maine friends Cassie and Ryan who passed through Moab for one night on their month long tour of the US. (Eloise vividly remembers attending their wedding last fall and thus refers to Cassie as a ‘real life princess.’ Cute.)

The princess and her prince went on a few hikes in Arches with us, went to the local brewery, and were the first guests to stay overnight in our home in a long time! We all enjoyed hanging out with them before they headed on down the road to Las Vegas the next morning.

All in all we had a magnificent time in Moab and can’t wait until next time…

Happy baby outside Arches National Park

Chapter 25: Bryce Bryce Baby…

We pulled into Bryce Canyon, Utah in the early afternoon. We wanted to stay right near the national park and we had a few options lined up but Eloise met a family in Zion who was also headed to Bryce. They were staying at Ruby’s Inn and Campground so we changed our plans to stay with them. The campground had plenty of room because it sits at 8500 ft of elevation (compared to 3000 ft at Zion). Who cares? Well that major change in elevation meant one thing: it’s cold. While it was warm in Zion it was ice cold in Bryce. It was disconnect-your-water-hoses-at-night-because-it-will-freeze-solid cold. Fun. (Truthfully tho it was a welcome change from the brutal heat of Southern Arizona…)

It was nice to need a light jacket for once! haha

We stayed 3 nights and enjoyed the indoor pool there. We played with our friends we met at Zion and enjoyed several hikes around the hoodoos at Bryce.

We took a day trip to the local ski mountain (Brian’s Head Ski Mountain) where Eloise got to try out skiing with Daddy.

They had a nice time skiing and someone enjoyed making snow angels just as much as skiing

We had originally planned to stop at Capitol Reef National Park and Goblin Valley State park later that week but further research informed us of two important details: 1) it was too cold and snowy at Capitol Reef (the Park was largely closed; the roads were still snow covered) and 2) there was no internet/cell service at Capitol Reef or Goblin Valley. So we headed on down the road to sunny Moab instead.

Kevin got a chance to go mountain biking on the Thunder Mountain trail in Bryce


Chapter 24: Zion: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Zion canyon

We didn’t realize it was Spring Break. For everybody. And that there was a marathon going on…

We pulled into Zion at around 5am. We didn’t have any reservations. The campground, South Campground, was first come-first-served and we had read that to get a spot you needed to line up early. When we got in line there were easily 10 other campers ahead of us. (None of them had a 39 foot camper tho) Our back up plan was to find some public land to camp on but thought it might be fun to try to stay inside the National Park for a change. We got lucky and there was room for us and we stayed there a week.

View from our window

The good: We were a short walk to the shuttle bus and the Visitor’s Center. We met several other families and kids who were on Spring Break and Eloise had fun getting to meet all of them. The campground was paved and she enjoyed riding her bike all around. The weather while we were there was mostly pleasant with one rainy day and there was a nice restaurant we could walk to right from our camper. Our favorite hike was the Wildcat Canyon trail which was located off of the Kolob Terrace Road which is a less popular area of the park. Amazing views and no people!

Eloise and her many friends

The bad: Because it was only early April, not all of the roads/hiking trails were open. Most notably the famous ‘Narrows’ hike was closed due to high water along with several other trails which were closed for maintenance. Roads in the northern park of the park were closed due to snow.  The park seemed under staffed for the number of visitors. The line of cars at the entrance gate to get from the nearby village into Zion was a mile long on some days.

Hiking views

The ugly: Over crowding. One day Eloise and Eliza and I hiked up to the emerald pools in Zion Canyon while Kevin was working. It was a short 3 mile hike. It was packed. We walked (trudged) right behind other hikers the whole way there and back. To access the many hiking trails in Zion Canyon you must ride the shuttle bus which was super packed and standing room only. We waited for 2 buses before I said the heck with it and pushed my way on the bus wearing Eliza and holding Eloise’s hand. In another example of the over crowding: there were several trail heads that you take your own car to that were so packed with cars that even in the early morning we couldn’t hike them as there was no place to park. Fun.

All in all Zion was gorgeous. Beautiful scenery. Unfortunately its proximity to major cities means this park has record breaking crowds early in the year. I can’t even imagine it at its peak. We had a nice time but did not achieve that quiet ‘back to nature’ vibe we were hoping for at a National Park.

The cool kids who finished the hike first and waited for us back at the truck


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