Wanderlust Part 2: Eastward Journey

In Part 1, I wrote about my travel accommodations. In Part 2, I will be writing about some of the places I explored as I traveled from California to Vermont.

After staying with my friend in Sacramento for about a week, we decided to go hiking at Lake Tahoe on my way out. This was in early September so the weather was perfect and the scenery a wonderful escape from the city. I was somewhat surprised by the amount of development around the lake as well as the campground rates (around $40!) as it was my first time there, so after we parted, I continued to drive around the lake, through Reno at night, eventually sleeping in my car at a rest stop somewhere in Nevada.

I spent the next day driving through the desert in northern Nevada and Utah, passing through Salt Lake City and watching a spectacular sunset at the Flaming Gorge in Wyoming where I camped that night. I drove through the rolling hills of southern Wyoming the following day near the route of the Oregon Trail, stopping for a break at Independence Rock. As I neared the Black Hills area that evening, I found a place to park my car and slept inside once again, wrapped in my cozy 20 degree down sleeping bag.

In the morning, I watched the Bison roam through Custer State Park and saw Mt. Rushmore from a distance. It was my third time in the area so I didn't check on the progress of Crazy Horse, hike down into the caves or drive on the Needles Highway, all of which I recommend checking out if you haven't been there before. Since I was traveling with a limited budget, I decided to spend my money on things I hadn't yet experienced. I had purchased a National Park Pass earlier this year (a great investment), so I decided to check out some of the Badlands before heading east.

The remainder of the day I drove through fields of corn in South Dakota and southern Minnesota until I reached my parent's house late that evening. In that following week, I spent time catching up with family, eating lots of home cooked food, going to a car show, and learning about the Minnesota wine development at a winery in the area. Apparently there are cold season grapes native to Minnesota that they cross with European grapes to make varieties unique to the area. Wineries have been popping up all over the state in the last 10 years with a current number around 50.

Heading north from my parent's farm in southern MN, I drove through Minneapolis, the downtown skyline and U of M exits still familiar. I decided to take my route through Duluth and the UP where I had yet to travel and was treated with forests and spectacular views of Lake Superior. Fall was at it's beginning with the leaves just starting to turn. I can only imagine what it looked like a few weeks after I passed through. I crossed the border at Sault Ste. Marie and after a few questions about who I was, where I was from, where I was going, and why I was in Canada, I continued on my way.

Canada was beautiful. Most of the landscape I drove through in Ontario and Quebec was full of forests and lakes with scattered towns and cities. There is a large Amish community up there and the shoulders of the freeway are extra wide to accommodate their horses and wagons. I stayed the night at a hotel in North Bay and drove through the cities of Ottawa and Montreal the following day before crossing the border back into the States in New York. At some point, I would like to go back and spend more time up there. 

Soon after I crossed the border, I refueled since I had tested my luck with the size of my gas tank due to the high cost of gas in Canada. I found that my tank actually holds at least 14.2 gallons, possibly even more since my gas light didn't come on. I did also consider that it may not be working. After I filled my tank, I drove on a narrow two lane highway across the islands of Lake Champlain, catching the sunset and then driving the remainder of the way in the dark to my destination: Yestermorrow Design/Build School near Waitsfield, VT where I would be taking the Tiny House Workshop.

Wanderlust Part 1: Acommodations

In my first blog post, I mentioned that after being laid off from my job, I decided to take my Subaru on a road trip. Over the course of about 3 months, I drove across the country and back, covering more than 10,000 miles of land so beautiful and diverse, yet at times monotonous (as those of you familiar with the Midwest plains know). I find it interesting when I talk to people who are fascinated by the flat prairie, endless fields of corn and relatively unpopulated areas of the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska and southern Minnesota. It's usually people who grew up in urban areas and are accustomed to denser development. I think that growing up on a farm in Minnesota has led me to appreciate the conveniences of city life, but yet I still need time where I can escape the traffic, pollution and constant human interaction to recharge in the peaceful solitude of less populated areas. This is also the reason I chose to travel solo. It can be enjoyable to travel with family, friends or a partner and can keep costs lower, not to mention safer if you happen to break down on the road or want to go on a multi-day backpack. I also have friends who have traveled solo and participated in ride share and couchsurfing to help minimize costs while also being able to meet new people. I have couchsurfed in the past a few times and have had positive experiences. I even had a potential offer to stay at a place in Salt Lake City, but my timing had changed and I found a place farther east that evening to camp instead. With couchsurfing, you really have to plan ahead and I wanted to be more flexible with my travel. I enjoy sleeping outside when I can and prefer undeveloped camping areas in National Forests or BLM land over established ones with the drone of RV generators interrupting the silence. My tent is a 2-person which really means 1-person and room for gear. With the rainfly, self-inflating pad and 20 degree down sleeping bag, I have stayed warm when nighttime temperatures have dropped into the 30s. It's the first tent I have ever purchased and has held up for 4 years so far. My only complaint is that it has sleeves for the poles instead of clips which I think makes it more difficult to set up and take down especially in cold weather with numb fingers. Other than camping, I slept in my car at rest areas (which I learned that you are allowed to do for up to 8 hours, not sure how that is regulated), rural areas and areas just outside of towns (sleeping in a car within city limits is generally frowned upon in many areas). Sleeping in my car was sometimes just easier than finding a place to set up my tent and I didn't have to deal with packing up a frosty tent in the morning! It was, however, a bit cramped since I was sleeping in the back seat and I'm 5'8". My car was a great traveling companion and has been reliable so far, which is why I bought a Subaru. However, in the future I would like to trade my car for a 4-wheel drive truck with a camper shell. Having a truck would enable me to get to places I have been unable to go to with my car since it would have a higher clearance and 4-wheel drive provides better traction than AWD. Also, sleeping in the back of a truck is less conspicuous than sleeping in a car and you can fully stretch your legs so they don't get cramped. I also stayed in a few hotels and motels, one in Canada where I arrived in the evening and after two hotels said they had rooms for $120 and $150, I finally found a third with two kind women at the font desk who gave me a room for $100 including tax (which was 14%). I mostly wanted a place to shower and use the internet, a plus was that they also had free breakfast. A tip for traveling: if you arrive in a city or town late at night and need a place to stay, ask for a lower rate. Hotels usually want to fill their rooms so they may be flexible. I also stayed at little motel on Mt. Desert Island in Maine for 2 nights since the campgrounds were closed (apparently this is common in the New England states, and likely other states in colder climates, to close after Columbus Day weekend in mid-October). I was also able to talk the lady into renting me the room for the weekly rate which was lower so I only paid $125 for the two nights. The other motel I stayed in was in Vegas after I was unable to locate a sweet camping spot on BLM land just south of Zion National Park where I had been a few years ago. I went online to Travelocity and booked a room right off the strip for $24! Finally, I stayed with family and a few friends along the way. A few options I did not utilize on this trip were couchsurfing, Airbnb and hostels.

Camping at Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Vermont

The Impetus

Hello, my name is Laura and this is my first blog post! I grew up on a farm in rural MN and have recently resettled in Portland, Oregon, where I lived for about 4 1/2 years prior to the last nine months. In the past nine months, I moved to San Diego to work for a solar company doing energy audits. I had a friend working for the company and qualified people there were hard to come by so I thought, why not further my professional skills in a sunny locale? Of course, this was my rationale during rainy and cold January (although still not as harsh as MN winters). San Diego was a sunny and warm relief and I did learn a lot about energy auditing as well as about solar. I was less impressed with the amount of people, traffic and obstacles to cycling but did manage to eventually find a relatively safe route to work and back with the help of a pedestrian bridge. After three months, I was promoted and transferred to the Orange County office in Santa Ana and found a place to sublet on the UCI campus. I actually enjoyed living in Irvine mostly because the city has a great network of multi-use paths which I enjoyed for recreational cycling (riding to work was not really feasible) and because I had a really great roommate with an adorable cat. My new role at work was as a lead auditor (I was an assistant before) and at first I had an assistant who soon was phased out so I was doing audits solo. At first, it was a bit overwhelming, especially when I was going to two homes a day and then having to complete the data upload. Eventually I worked out a system that streamlined the audit and data upload process and enabled me to complete audits faster with better accuracy. Then the company decided not to offer the full energy audits and to incorporate a simplified version to the solar audits in order to still meet incentive requirements. That meant my job would be phased out. So I continued to learn as much as I could about solar including the auditing, permitting and inspections processes in hopes that I could transfer to a new position. Unfortunately, by the time my audits ended, the company was not in a position to transfer me so I was laid off after 4 months. During this time, I also learned that living in the "O.C." did not really fit with the culture and values I want in a place so I decided to move yet again. I stayed with a friend in Sacramento for a week, left some of my things there and headed east on a three month road trip in my Subaru. The details of this adventure will be covered in a future post. By the time I returned to Sacramento, I realized that Portland was where I really wanted to be, so I found a place to stay through a friend where I am able to keep living costs low by helping work on the house. As much as I enjoy traveling, it really is great to have a home base! Part of the reason I started this blog is because I want to share my travel experiences and to inspire extended periods of travel. The other part is that, after moving 6 times in the last year, I really want to have a place of my own. Since I cannot afford a conventional house and do not want a mortgage, I have decided to build a tiny house next summer. Until that time, I will be volunteering, researching and blogging about what I learn in hopes of being able to help and inspire others who also want to build. My dream is to have a tiny house in Portland which I could rent out when I want to travel to those interested in living more simply. I would also like to find and buy land in the forest and build a small strawbale cabin, studio, sauna, etc. which would be a retreat for me and others. I am excited to share this journey with you wherever it leads!

On the road to San Diego