The last month of the year is traditionally a time to take stock of where we’ve been, what we’ve done and the lessons that we have learned – both good and bad.
For Jennifer and me, 2016 has been a year in which we have traveled every month, in all sorts of weather, through white-out blizzards, thunderstorms, hail, wind and those picture perfect cloudless blue skies that we post on Facebook to make our homebound friends jealous. We've camped on mountains, beaches, in the deep woods, in RV resorts, Mom and Pop campgrounds and stealthily on urban streets and parking lots.
We've hiked, biked, fished, photographed, visited with friends around many a campfire, toured museums, shopped and gazed in wonder at sunrises, sunsets and the universe of twinkling stars on God's black canvas.
And it’s all been good. All of it.
But this has been a year unlike the others, a year in which we traveled slower, covered less distance, saw and experienced things we would have missed had we stuck to the interstates. We made no reservations, traveled serendipitously, stopped when we felt like it, changed routes on a whim and did more exploring to and from our destinations.
This year, there was no cross-country westward trip. Instead, we generally stayed East of the Mississippi but widely ranged from the far north to the deep south.
January – We began the year by taking our motorhome north to The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in northwestern Michigan, driving up on New Year’s Eve and waking up January 1 boondocking in the woods near Empire, MI. It was just a quiet night, under lots of stars surrounded by about a foot of snow. We did another stint of winter camping in mid-month at the Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We love winter camping and wil; be back up to the falls in mid January 2017, but suffice it to say that winter camping not only is very doable for everyone, it is for us, is much fun as summer camping.
February – Our lives – and our traveling – changed permanently in February. Jennifer and I share birthdays just four days apart in February (mine is the 8th, her’s the 12th) and this year our three grown kids surprised us with a 10 week old Norwegian Elkhound puppy. I remember son Scott saying, “This dog is going to have a great life, seeing the country.” We spent most of February recovering from the gift and going through puppy training classes with Bo.
March – March saw us in Perry, GA for the FMCA’s Family Reunion there. We did a couple of seminars, caught up with lots of old friends and realized again how the motorhome community is like one big family.
April – There are two big snowbird migrations. The first is the end of October every year, when northerners head south for the winter. The second is early April when they return home. For us, that means some choice beachfront camping spots opened up on the Emerald Coast of Florida’s Panhandle. So that’s where we headed, camping right on the Gulf of Mexico beach at Camp Gulf near Destin and giving Bo his first camping experience.
May – As the dogwoods bloomed, May found us in Nashville, TN. We shared on our Roadtreking Facebook Group that we were headed there and, lo and behold, a small group of others thought Nashville sounded like a great place to be, too. A bunch of us attended the Grand Ole Opry together.
June – Every year, Jennifer and I and our Roadtrek friend Yan Seiner organize several gatherings. We keep them limited to about 50 people and very informal. The early summer one is always devoted to photography and this year we gathered at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We did lots of hiking and held a week’s worth of seminars on learning to take better landscape and wildlife photos.
July – The month of July found us at the beach back on the Emerald Coast for pretty much the entire month. We had our three kids and seven grandkids join us for some of the time. Swimming, fishing, kayaking and lots of fun around campfires made the days pass quickly.
August – In August, Jennifer and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. We used much of the month of August to explore one state and this year, we chose Georgia. We drive through Georgia several times every year, usually on I-75. But this August, we took only backroads, learning history, visiting civil war battlefields, Pine Mountain, FDR’s summer White House and the beautiful Calloway Gardens.
September – This month, we headed north to Canada and the Bruce Peninsula National Park near Tobermore, Ontario for another one of our Roatreking gatherings. Tobermore is known as the fresh water SCUBA capital of the world for the crystal clear Lake Huron water that makes it easy to see lots of sunken shipwrecks. Some of us snorkeled (in wetsuits!) but mostly we hiked and explored.
October – This was another Roadtreking Gathering, held in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park on the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan's far wester Upper Peninsula. This event coincided perfectly with peak color and we were surrounded by hardwood forests in all shades of yellow, gold and red.
November – It was back to the Emerald Coast, with travel through Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. We marveled at what a beautiful month November isin the Deep South, so different than the blustery winds of November up North
December – Christmas Eve had us in Michigan with son Jeff and daughter Wendy and their families. On Christmas Day, we head off to spend tome with son Scott and his family, heading to Florida to then to spend New Year's Eve and a couple of weeks in January in Florida.
The year passed very fast.
Key things we learned in 2016: There's no hurry
Jennifer and I are hard put to say what was our favorite trip, our favorite site. In all, we spent pretty much half the year traveling and half at our sticks and bricks home north of Detroit. We also added a second home on the Emerald Coast of Florida that we have come to love so much. We will rent it out much of the year but use it as a base for our Roadtreking adventures in the South and Southwest as often as we can when we don't have guests.
We have been stunned at the growing audience for our Roadtreking: The RV Lifestyle Podcast. We have had over two million episode downloads and as we’ve traveled people have recognized us and said how it has inspired them to get out there. We truly love doing the podcast and haven't missed a weekly episode in since we started in October 2014 no mater where we were.
The RV industry, of course, is booming. More younger people and young families are traveling in motorhomes these days. And advances in solar and battery technology has made many motorhomes – particularly the Type B “campervan” style we use – energy independent so campers can go off the grid and boondock in state and national forests untethered to the hookups and amenities offered by commercial campgrounds.
As we look ahead to 2017, we are planning new adventures. We know we want to head west again in the New Year. Maybe we’ll do Alaska, too. But maybe not.
See, that’s the beauty of this lifestyle.
The whole continent awaits. We can tackle as much of it as we want, on our schedule, in our way, taking our time.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Hope to see you our there in 2017.