In Every Direction: Four great road trips North, East, South, and West from the Crossroads of America
One of the pluses to living in the middle of Indiana is that any road trip in the continental US is very doable. As I sit here in Indiana, still grounded with a stay at home order, I begin to reminisce about some of the best trips I’ve taken in the past four years with my 2016 TAXA Cricket, aka, The Doghouse.
I find myself reading through old notes from previous trips and thinking about lessons learned. Though I could easily pick out 15-20 trips that I hold close to my heart because of the people, adventures, and/or scenery, I’ve chosen a few favorites that took me in four different directions.
East: Shenandoah National Park, Stanley, VA
My first trip big trip in 2016 took me east for the purpose of taking a Stand Up Paddleboard class with my dog, Norbert, near Fredericksburg, VA. Being new to traveling alone (with my dog), I planned my stops carefully and regularly checked in with friends who followed my travels. I had chosen the TAXA Cricket partially because of its size and weight (I could pull it with my then, 2011 Subaru Outback) but also because it was sturdier than the average camper which gave me a greater sense of security. I made a stop my first evening at Twin Knobs Campground in Morehead, KY. I set up just before a major hailstorm hit which filled me with a sense of accomplishment in the warmth and safety of my habitat.
One thing I learned during this trip was that it took me an extra 20-30 minutes to get to the campground from the highway. Since my purpose was to get to my destination, I’d opt to stop somewhere closer off the highway in the future.
As I made my way east, I noted Tamarack Place, a huge arts and crafts tourist destination in Beckley, WV. It sits right next to a large truck stop and is worth walking around a bit after filling up the tank. While there, I noted campers could boondock for free for the night. I had passed through midday on this trip, but did stop there late one evening this past year on another trip and boondocked next to three other campers. It was as quiet and peaceful as any place I’ve stayed and felt completely safe.
Eventually, I made my way to Fredericksburg, WV and after two fabulous days of paddleboarding classes, I made my way north to Shenandoah National Park in Stanley, VA. My site sat just feet from the Appalachian Trail and the views were phenomenal. I saw my first bear on a short hike and spent a couple hours taking in views on the Skyline Drive before heading home.
Lessons learned and tips:
- Backing up a small trailer can challenging at first. Be patient with yourself
- When traveling alone, check in with friends/family and allow them to track your travels
- If your purpose is to get to your destination, find stops near the highway
- If you have the time, take the scenic routes. It will add time to your trip which doesn’t always have to be about the destination
- Driving over mountains the first time can be intimidating. Take your time and be comfortable with pulling the extra weight (before long, you’ll be a pro at it!)
North: Paddleboarding and Mountain Biking in Copper Harbor, MI
I took this trip with some mountain biking friends who were attending a bike camp in Copper Harbor, MI. We left in the early morning to make the trip in one day via Wisconsin. I quickly learned that when traveling with others, one must adjust and adapt. I was used to getting from point A to point B in as efficient a manner as possible (unless, of course, a scenic drive was in the plans). Our group stopped often for breaks and food, which turned out to make for more fun, as we had taken two separate vehicles.
Along the way, I felt a bit of a sway as I was driving, but knew I had packed the camper appropriately (by moving much of the interior weight toward the front). We pulled over to the next gas station and got under the Cricket to try to figure out what was happening. With a lack of answers just from looking at the undercarriage, I sent a question out to a TAXA Facebook Owners group. My fellow habitaters did not disappoint! It was a case of a loose lug-nut on the spare tire!
Copper Harbor was magnificent (in August, after the black flies leave). I spent my days paddle-boarding on clear waters with Norbert while my friends went to their bike camp. I also spent an afternoon driving around to view lighthouses and walk along the lake. There is little to no cell service there which made it a great place to get away a bit!
Lessons learned and tips:
- Pre-check your camper before every trip – check the spare tire, nuts and bolts, and just do a general walk around
- When traveling with others, have a plan, but be ready to change and adapt as needed
- Get yourself up early for sunrises – they are worth it
- Get out to see the sunsets – they are also worth it
South: U.S. Canine Biathlon in Anniston, AL
I’ve now made two trips to Anniston, Alabama for the U.S. Canine Biathlon (this May would have been three, but has been postponed until August). The event is a 3.5+ mile obstacle course with 15+ obstacles that one does with their dog (both of you complete each obstacle together). All the obstacles are made with dogs and their safety in mind (humans, be damned!). For anyone out there who loves to spend time being active with their dogs, this event is for you!
The event is at the Vapor Wake K9 Training Academy that sits on 320 acres in Anniston. Participants can camp on the land for the weekend and enjoy food trucks, a beer truck, and musical entertainment. It is the most fun I’ve ever had with my dogs and is a perfect place to bring any of the TAXA habitats.
Lessons learned and tips:
- Bring extra water with you when you go to hot places that may not provide drinking water
- Bring extra beer as the beer truck empties quickly
- Don’t be afraid to try something new
- Get out and meet people with similar interests – you’ll find lifelong friends along the way
West: Work and play on the way to/from Bozeman, Montana
I could write a book about this trip. I refer to it as my speed dating trip with National Parks and forests as I drove through (and around) several, including; Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Black Hills National Forest, and Badlands National Park.
En route to Bozeman, Montana for some work meetings, I made a stop in Grandby, CO to boondock outside a friends house for a couple of days. Wildlife encounters included several foxes visiting the Cricket and a moose spotting on a hike!
In Montana, I stopped just outside of Bozeman, near Yellowstone, where I did some of the best hiking and paddleboarding and relaxed at the most scenic campsites, just off the main road.
The highlight of this trip was driving the Beartooth Highway on my way home. I almost didn’t take this route it as it is considered one of the most dangerous highways and I was pulling my TAXA Cricket with a 4-cylinder Outback. I decided to make a go of it, allowing myself plenty of time in case I needed to back out.
The drive was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be (I was there in mid-July – I wouldn’t advise it if there is snow or ice on the road). Most of the drive has a 15mph speed limit and there are plenty of areas to pull off (which I did, mainly to take in the scenery). Regardless of the switchbacks, this is a drive you want to take your time doing because it is absolutely spectacular! I spent several hours driving and stopping and taking in the most amazing sights of wildlife and various mountain formations. Every turn on that highway was unique and awe inspiring. I was brought to tears by the beauty. To this day, it stands as the top highlight of all my trips these past four years.
Lessons learned and tips:
- Do the research and try the things you want to try. If you aren’t sure, have a back out plan. If it works out, you won’t regret it!
- You may not be able to see everything you want to see, but sometimes going by places quickly can give you a taste of what you may want to come back to later
- Just because a mapping app says a drive will take three hours, you can certainly decide to take seven hours instead!