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Old 01-03-2015, 06:33 PM   #1
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Dreams of Full Timing Off/On the Grid

After finishing 1 year 9 months and 28 days of Military Service in 1970, I was free to pursue anything a 21 year old could imagine. I had no possessions other than what fit into a foot locker, shipped to a military base of my choice, three weeks later.

My pockets did not contain a pair of dimes to rub in my pocket. The bus ticket "home" was all I had left to spare and my brother's bus ticket home, as his car broke down while coming to pick me up and left as junk in a town long forgotten.

But... I had a dream. To camp "Off the Grid" and and earn a living while doing it. Nearly two years in the Army was a great education in that area... living with minimal possessions, income and able to live under any conditions. Any...

What an opportunity that was presented to me at the time and lasting memories that cannot be repeated today. Sometimes the worst of times open opportunities for the best of times. I was their poster child.

I worked to buy a 1957 Ford pickup truck, rebuilt the engine myself and could live longer on $1 than most could with $100. Bought some geological maps and headed out to the High Plains of the USA. Living for three months in my parents basement gave me a transition from military to civilian existence. Only those of you put in two to four years at this time will understand.

I found myself collecting fossils on Ranches, working for gasoline and meals rowing hay and checking fence. The fossil hunting was wide open and nobody considered wasting any time in these remote areas leaving all of the weathering from decades of rain and snow at my disposal. I collected fossil tortoise (turtles), saber toothed cats, horse, camel, rhinoceros, squirrel, rabbit, mouse and other fossil mammals, lizards and snakes from 38,000,000 years ago in Western Nebraska.

GI Bill gave me $366 a month to attend college and this was an opportunity to finish my Geology Degree and had decent living conditions 8 months of the year. My true love was being in the Field, camping and following the contours and geology on field maps to explore what was relatively unknown to the majority of people. Other than myself and the ranches that were so generous to me in those early days.

They are vague memories today and the ranches have changed hands three or four times and are corporate operated or extensions of western cattle operations. These "badlands" are now leased out to companies and groups who "pay to play" operations. What I did can not be repeated today. It is much like when barbed wire began to keep livestock off the private ranches and farms in the 1870's. It changed the western plains and access to private property.

You ask... what brought this on? I read with some interest of people selling their worldly goods and possessions to FULL TIME in their Airstream or RV. The dream is there, but the circumstances have changed. I could not even consider making this change as I made opportunity from what most would considerable an unbearable life, living among roaming livestock, hiking into barely accessible terrain to discover fossil treasures that were rapidly decomposing due to the weather and soft bedrock their remains were held... gently for my rock pick.

I was living 19th Century in a 20th Century world.

To Full Time On or Off the Grid is an expensive option, today. Selling the home is cutting the relief line to return to... a place. There is no turning back. Unless you invested wisely and have a comfortable return on these investments... things can sour quickly. I had a purpose and the effort was difficult but unknowingly, rewarding in many ways for an ambitious young man.

The thought of traveling full time today does not interest me at all. It eventually gets boring... very routine and eventually you have had your fill of living free from the encumbering one's self with home and possessions. Before you begin living "your dream"... live it for a year. Have a trusted friend rent your home from you, or relative. Try it. Not everyone who tries will continue. I have met many who have tried and failed miserably.

My experiences are unique from most. But it worked for me... until I had done it all and wanted change. Change to returning to the 20th century, getting a full time job, buying a home and never wanting to Full Time again!

Had I a reliable Airstream/Trailer at the time... I might have lasted this dream for a couple more years, but I still needed an address, a place to store my treasures. There were severe limitations with a rolling address and scenery. You will discover those quickly. I lived my dream as a reward from serving time in the US Army. This cleared my head of past regrets and living without wants other than what I could carry.

So, please. Have a purpose FIRST. Some dreams are just that... dreams. But, give it a try. After one year... you will know. As a youth, you will never get old, until you are. Make those plans on paper, test it out and if it works... You are living the dream I had for most of my life. I cannot say it was 100% pleasant... but I managed and survived.

Today my wife, myself and two Blue Heelers are living our shared dreams of going to places we never knew existed had we stayed at home, Off and On the Grid. I have met folk that live by a handshake and trust. Had I a way to do this all over again and could have one wish to make it so... could I have had just a few more years?

Thank you and I hope this inspires someone else to take that step to living the dream... but be prepared before you commit 100%.
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Old 01-03-2015, 06:41 PM   #2
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Another home can be bought.

Maybe a new town and the opportunities of new friends once off the road.

Fulltime can be a genuine break, lets remember. Clear out the old and make room for the new.

Certainly sounds better than the sterility of a 55+ retirement community. And then off to the assisted living wing.

Given the demographic coming up in age there is much to be said for selling out now. They won't have the money due to either debt or permanently depressed wages. House value is tenuous as hell. Anyone thinks otherwise is asleep at the wheel.
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Old 01-03-2015, 06:59 PM   #3
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Very well written...some can and some can't...
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Old 01-03-2015, 07:04 PM   #4
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We spent a couple of years discussing the idea of full-timing, the sort of coach we needed, what we wanted to do, etc. With our place now under contract we're about to be officially landless but not homeless. We have some money in the bank, but probably not enough to satisfy some people. We plan to work, volunteer, and play in roughly equal amounts. Both of us are in good health now, but only God knows how long that will last. If we waited until we could "afford" it we probably wouldn't ever have sold everything. We would have stayed on that acreage, puttering around and getting old.

If God allows us to get old, fine. We are going to see as much of this country as we can. We know we won't see everything, but we also know we'll see much more of it than if we just vegetated back home. Some day we may have to settle down somewhere. That's fine. We'll figure out what we have to do then.

I've read too many stories about people who dreamed about full-timing but wanted to wait until they had enough money and then lost their health before being able to hit the road. No one ever has enough money - not even Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. Figure out your own needs and go for it, if that's what you want.
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Old 01-03-2015, 07:36 PM   #5
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I have probably already said more than enough. Just one more thought, thinking of the Wizard of Oz that we watch every Christmas season.

"There is no place like home."

... and that is where YOU decide where home is! Be prepared. Being 21 years old or 75... home is not where, but with WHOM you share a space.

I have done both and it has taken me an entire lifetime to resist the temptation of becoming... a normal human being.
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Old 01-04-2015, 10:25 AM   #6
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Totally agree Ray! I was a full-timer for 3 years in my late 40s (could afford to be), and although I'm happiest being an adventuresome nomad and wanderer without too many responsibilities and commitments, I too yearned for a "base camp" somewhere. I bought a cheap little cottage in the country and now that I'm over 60 and officially retired (pension plus benefits), there's no way I'd give up my base camp even if I'm on the road 10 months each year. A little cottage can be extremely low maintenance, so it's not an added burden in a nomadic lifestyle, it's actually very pleasant to have the best of both worlds. Best to choose a base camp within 100 miles of an international airport and an Amtrak station, and good recreational facilities.
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Old 01-04-2015, 10:32 AM   #7
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Well said, Ray, and closely echoes my sentiments on the subject!!
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Old 01-04-2015, 11:06 AM   #8
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awesome posts.
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Old 01-04-2015, 01:09 PM   #9
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My question is where you park the RV and how much that costs out there.

It's not like Lucy and Desi when you could just pull off the road wherever you liked and stay for a few days or weeks.

And we all know you can't just park and live on Malibu Beach like Jim Rockford or that beatnik in Gidget.

So that leaves BLM land out in the Arizona desert or pay to stay RV parks and campgrounds.

So where do you really stay and what is the cost?

Thanks
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Old 01-04-2015, 01:24 PM   #10
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Smile Dreams of Full-Timing....

Very well-written piece, Ray. Your essay hit the highlights and hinted at the lowlights. We have had the conversations, have traveled and visited many places, but know we must have a "home-base" as well.

Best wishes to you and yours...hope your dreams come true.
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Old 01-04-2015, 05:52 PM   #11
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Nice articles that make you think. Makes me think of what my daughter taught me, "YOLO" - You only live once; enjoy!!
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Old 01-04-2015, 09:50 PM   #12
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I've been full-time in an Airstream for 4 years now. It's easier in RV parks, so that's what I do. I don't mind paying the rent, as it's cheaper than any other "on grid" living scenario. and easier than off-grid, since I also work from the AS as a home office, so I need high-speed internet and no time-consuming maintenance routines like fetching water or handling my own wastewater. My condo is rented out. I was able to pay off the mortgage faster by renting it out. I sold all my furniture 4 years ago, and stored a small room-full of other stuff. Now, with the experience gleaned from 4 years in the AS, I'm designing a Tiny House that I hope to commission soon. I know what I need much better now, compared to merely daydreaming about it and reading blogs as I was doing 5 years ago.
Traveling and working at the same time was very hard for me. Picking a nice location and staying longer-term is much easier if you are not retired. And it's cheaper since the gasoline really adds up.
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Old 01-05-2015, 05:06 AM   #13
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Things must…….and always do……change

My dream was to live out in the country. I have always lived in Suburbia, where there is plenty of work. I bought and old farmhouse on 10+ acres and worked hard on the land for 10 years, keeping my " city " home, bouncing back and forth, getting tired of the 2 1/2 hour drive. I have found that I don't really like driving. Now that I am single, the country life is very lonely. I am, and will always be an outsider, and I feel like I don't want to be a slave to a piece of land, no matter how much I love it. The taxes in suburbia are $10,000 a year, so people who aren't working, leave. I don't really have enough money to fund a woman's retirement….again.

I just don't know what I want to do.
Live in a campground for $600 a month?
Live in suburbia where taxes are $900 a month?
Live in the country alone, chopping wood, doing hard labor?
Live on the road, driving, running from the weather, no close friends?
Rent a place and live by a condo associations rules for $1000 a month?

Now I know how my father felt when he retired…what do I do with myself? He had money and me to take care of his house.
My guess now is that I will try to find a compromise. a small base camp, that will let me travel a bit, enough land for some privacy, near people.
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Old 01-05-2015, 06:02 AM   #14
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Well thought out and written post Ray. And some great followups from others.

For me, I have found that six or seven months a year on the road, and the remaining time back here in the sticks and bricks works for me.
One thing that spending time on the road in the trailer taught me is that I don't need nearly as many possessions here at home. To that end, I am slowly cleaning out things and only replacing what I need with fewer, better quality, carefully chosen things.

A loose goal, or target is to only keep things that when I die, my kids can go through all of it and say, "I want to keep this" or, "this has some value". It's been mildly shocking how much "junk" I have accumulated that really has needed to just be thrown away.
When on the road, I mostly stay in campgrounds with full hookups. I like the convenience and comfort of these places. As to costs of campgrounds, for me, it seems around $30/night is typical when staying less then a week. Most places offer weekly discounts, and monthly rates may get even cheaper on a per night basis.
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Old 01-05-2015, 10:02 AM   #15
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Good post Ray. Sounds familiar, left the Navy (first time) in 1969 and went to school on GI Bill as well. But I missed the Navy life, travel and adventure and went back for more.

Traveled widely in in this country those following years, tents and VW bus campers. It was easy to pull off somewhere, almost anywhere was near a place to camp. Yes it's different now. Increasingly, corporations own the land and the government. And they are not generous.

We still travel much of the year with our Airstream, daily fees are the norm when away from home. Our interests are history, architecture and art, local cultures, interesting people. We hike and bike. We seek natural environment, woods, desert and mountains, lakes and the coast.

It's good to have a home port, a place of our own with our own stuff to return to. Our own simple, somewhat rural lakeside place. It could be a place in the mountains or on the prairie, but it's home and we live as we like and don't pay rent to do it.

That's freedom to us.
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Old 01-08-2015, 02:37 PM   #16
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Wonderful story Ray and sage advice. Your experience in the long ago west reminds me of that great old western song, Coyote, by Don Edwards:

"Well, he cursed all the roads and the oil men
He even cursed the automobile
And he said, "This ain't place for an hombre like I am
In this new world of asphalt and steel"

Then he'd look off some place in the distance
At something only he could see
He'd say all that's left now of the old days
And them damned old coyotes and me"

Everybody has a different backstory and degree of comfort with life on the road in a limited space. It comes down to how much one yearns for space and adventure versus the accommodation of a "home base". We are a mere 3-1/2 months into our full-time experiment and I wonder sometimes how long the sense of adventure will last for us. Right now every day brings yet another opportunity to see something or meet someone new - an opportunity not easily found in our old apartment life in a city. I can't compare my young adult life with yours - you were truly living on and off the land while I was working the mundane (at least to me) routine of earning a paycheck amongst the thousands, millions of fellow southern Californians. You filled your cup, probably many times over, and we're just taking our first sips. But you're right - at some point we'll slow down and our plan was to use our travels to pinpoint a landing spot for a more stationary life in small town in the west. Our, and others like us, measure of fulfillment will vary with mileage and in some cases, like you mentioned, may result in misery. Now there are some miseries that are truly a dead end but I would venture that not having tried and always having that unanswered question would be the greater misery, at least for me. Before my wife and I left, I shared my worry to a close friend about failing but he countered that if we only lasted a year or even months, we'll at least have succeeded in making one dream come true, albeit even for a short period of time, and in doing so, making an attempt most people are either afraid of or just incapable of doing so, for whatever reason, and that in itself would be worth it.

It really came down to this, for me - a quote that grew all the more evident as my window of opportunity appeared to close, almost imperceptibly at first but after life-changing surgery, crystal clear:

“Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don't know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It's that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don't know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”

― Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky
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Old 01-27-2015, 10:39 AM   #17
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That is us... Have the house- retired from work (in my mid-40's) sold three cars (toys) left a multi 6-figure job to play, travel, and have time with my 3 boys (14,11,6) - giving them an experience of a lifetime traveling the U.S. And Canada. If it works it works, if not I can always make more money - but the "break" is needed on my/our part.
Luckily we have a farm house if everything goes to **** to stay to rebuild everything- but I am highly doubting it - have mapped everything out but the travel.
Currently in the process of selling 80-90% of our "crap" that we have amassed over the years - will rent/lease the house out and finish remodeling of our 76 31' Excella 500.
I am soooooo looking forward to the adventure, but still keeping feet on the ground.
Hope to see/meet some great people on the trip....
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Old 04-22-2015, 04:33 PM   #18
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Making the Full/Part Time on or off the Grid Decision

We have spent several weeks in February in Quartzite, AZ to Lake Meade Boulder, NV campground and had business in southern Nevada and camped another two weeks in April at the Lake Mead Boulder campground. Senior Park Pass into Lake Meade gets you in for no charge and the campsites are nice, flushing restrooms, water, picnic table, view of Lake Meade just upstream from Hoover Dam, Las Vegas Strip within 35 miles- $5 an evening with Senior Pass, $10 without. No power, which you will need in July and August for Air Conditioning, unless you have adjusted to dry heat...

We met many singles and couples who were FULL TIMERS. Thirty days and they would move to another RV Park, as that was the stay maximum. They knew where all of the best deals were to be had. They also had a routine of campsites... on and off the grid. Many knew one another. This was the same at the State Park at Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The majority were retired or on some compensation, be it Social Security or Disability.

Some retirement aged couples SOLD their home and possessions and seemed happy and content full timing.

Some retirement aged couples KEPT their homes as a base and spent more time on the road, but needed a place because of family or were not ready to make a final decision about becoming full timers without any home base.

Some individuals were divorced, mostly males, and were full timing. Those I spoke with had no regrets as full timers. Usually larger RV's, more than ten years old.

Some middle aged women were camped in large tents in the tent area. They were there when we arrived and two weeks later, still camped.

Even those full timers needing power could get a reduction in rates for 30 days of about 35% from the daily price at the RV sites to the south of the Lake Meade dry camping sites. Neither required a reservation and it was "as available". There was a daily coming and leaving traffic. Weekends for locals filled most of the RV Park.

I have discovered that some married couples that the spouse or both were/became/or retired have a bit of difficulty seeing their spouse every hour of the day. This would not be the time to discuss Full Timing, as it probably was not going to work out too long. One couple when the spouse retired early still needed "their own time", so obviously some transition better than others. I just bring this up from my observations.

When my wife was bought out of her position running mortgage servicing operations for the third time... we did not want to leave Castle Rock and called it quits. I thought she would have a hard time making the transition of being home... full time. Not only was I was wrong, but we bought the 2006 Airstream and hit the road. She was thrilled to get out of the corporate world of mortgage servicing BEFORE the meltdown that she predicted was coming and we are now both free to travel anywhere at anytime. We, or more myself with my collections, need a home base to work from. As a geologist I bring lots of "things" home. In addition to my library of 25,000 volumes, whittled down from 35,000 and working towards 5,000 to 10,000 volumes eventually.

Each individual is unique in the Full Timing arena. Couples can find the idea... scary at first and should try tent camping first, before investing in an expensive trailer or RV. I see too many 1 or 2 year old RV's For Sale because it just seemed like a good idea... and it was a horrible experience.

Personally... WE as a couple find a reason to pack up the trailer and leave for a week, a month or whatever time we want. Having a "purpose" is important. For me, the exploring and hunting for some elusive treasure (in my mind) that usually ends up as a great adventure in places we never would have found on a website as the Airforum. We invested wisely, learned to live below our means and actually can make a living on the road if it ever came necessary.

Not everyone has the personality or interest to even take the first step to test a month on the road. It IS scary for many. My wife loved camping, and much of my youth was spent with my Forest Service father... "camped" in Forest Service cabins in the forests of Montana, never giving it a second thought that there were people in a town that lived any differently. Where else can you step out of a cabin, catch your trout limit as a youth as a regular routine? We lived without most all conveniences but when you do not know about conveniences, they do not exist. Do they?

I call myself lucky. Could it get better?

Nope. When I post of the Forum, it is because I do what I say. I might be gone for weeks at a time, but find time to see what is happening on this site. Will be leaving again next month for high country exploring... as the snow line is receding up the peaks and everything is in bloom and leafing out. Could I imagine a better way to spend our remaining years together? Only if I had figured this out twenty years earlier...

Test the spirit first. If it works, take small steps for a purpose. You will know what option(s) work for you. You will not have to ask anyone for an opinion... otherwise you are not ready or confident enough. It the time in your life is right... you will look in the mirror and see a different person and it is time to explore. Good luck and just keep the gasoline topped off when you take that turn onto the gravel road.
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Old 04-22-2015, 05:17 PM   #19
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Very nice, Ray Eklund.

You have to really like, and really love, your partner in order to enjoy extended travel together.

Those who do, really seem to cherish it.

We did.


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Old 04-22-2015, 08:41 PM   #20
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Westcoastas... What we discovered after eight years, we seem to have run out of places we have not been to or near. Of course we run primarily between the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains to the East front of the Sierra Mountains from California to Washington. We are leaving the west coast for the future...

All it takes is a sack of Western Americana books for those of us who like the high and dry air country. Once you begin to read about cattle being driven from Texas to Wyoming in the 1860's to 1880's you become curious. Even small towns in western Kansas become... places to explore. I gave this particular book to a rancher in Wyoming, where we have camped a number of times on the property. He was surprised to read about Texas longhorn cattle and the open range wars, etc, etc. Just one book opened up a purpose to go visit these places, long forgotten.

I have five large cartons of Western Americana to read. From Folk Lore of the West to towns I never thought still existed. One book discussed that most of the buildings in Ely, Nevada were from mining towns in the late 19th and early 20th century that went bust. The departing citizens took their homes and buildings apart, moving the whole works to Ely, Nevada! Wow. That is an example of how Americans "use to be". That is why Full Timing is so attractive to some of us... Freedom to go where we please. Even Ranches I use to visit in western Nebraska are now not open with the new owners buying up the small ranches. Times change and my wife and I will not miss out on the Public Lands that become more and more restrictive as to rules and regulations. Which is probably to be found in a number of books available today.

I have always enjoyed exploring for anything that can be found. Reading a geological map sure helps to find the general area to begin. A book can open up more opportunities to travel when you think there are no interesting places left to visit. It need not be a RV Park. A vacant parking lot to Boondock in a small mining town, close to the local restaurant and sidewalks can make instant conversations IF you spent some time to read up on the area. Tonopah, Nevada is a good example of not knowing what you will find wandering in town with plenty of "free Boondocking" if you "smell" the vacant lot, a service station providing the back lot for travelers, etc.

At first you feel a total lack of confidence. Probably expecting someone to rob you on sight, or steal the wheels off your tow vehicle. You will get over that after awhile. It takes a few weeks of just finding a comfort zone. Inquire with the locals for any options and be seen. Next thing you know, you stay a few days and have a reason to come back in the future.

Camping in the National Forest or BLM takes some courage, but early settlers had a wagon, several horses and thought nothing of the five day trip into a town with nails and some lumber to add a room to their "dwelling" near a spring in the woods. I was at home off the grid, but your experiences in California in the tall pines can be a bit of a shock if you have not tried it!

It is important to find a "purpose" to your traveling. Driving 400 miles is no more of an exciting place as 35 miles from your home. Some towns, three miles and you are really between nowhere and somewhere.

We will never be Full Timers, as when winter comes at elevation... you either head into the Southwestern desert country, or to some shelter to sit the next four or five months out.

My Philosophy of Life today:

"It is best to have tried something and failed, than did nothing and succeeded."
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