The Great American Road Trip

Nov 20 2017

Our RV, parked in front of my SF apartment

Day 1: San Francisco to Coalinga, California

In September, I moved back to Chicago and seized the opportunity to finally do an RV road trip. When I moved to SF initially, I flew with Flip and Sweet Pea (and Kim) which was practical, efficient and boring. This time I was free to do what I wanted – no job with limited vacation days holding me back.

I presented the idea to Seth and Kim, who were immediately interested. And with that, a ten day road trip was planned, primarily by Kim with details filled in by yours truly. My friend Vik was a late addition – we picked him up in Vegas on day three and dropped him off in Denver on day six. I'm not sure how deep I want to go with details about how to road trip in an RV...we rented from Cruise America and they made it really easy to understand. That said, if you're interested in doing a trip of your own and have questions, get at me!

I will say that RV road tripping is not the cheapest way to travel. There are a lot of things to pay for, which may not be apparent at first, such as:

RV nightly rate: Varies depending on size of RV and time of year. Since we went in off-season, our nightly rate was $65 per night.

Gas: Unleaded for a 55 gallon tank. With today's gas prices, it's about $150 per fill up and you get about 8 miles/gallon.

Mileage: We paid $0.35 per mile and traveled 2,838 miles for a total of $993.

One way fee: This can be avoided if you bring your rental back to the same place once you're done. The fee is $500.

RV cleaning fee: This was a bit ridiculous, so be prepared. Cruise America recommended taking the RV to a local car detail shop, which would have cost at least $150. So, we cleaned the RV ourselves with a power washer and Lysol wet wipes. We couldn't even pull the RV all the way into the car wash bay due to its height, so Seth pulled it as close as possible and washed only what he could reach. Meanwhile, Kim and I used Lysol wipes (really!) to clean the interior, including the back door step which was full of dried mud. Upon inspection at Cruise America, the vehicle was deemed clean enough and we can safely say we cleaned an entire RV for like, $20 or something.

Propane refill fee: Cruise America charges an outlandish fee to refill propane...I think it was like $20 per quarter gallon or something, and the propane tank was a few gallons in size. Needless to say, we drove to a nearby UHAUL facility and filled it ourselves for $15. It smells fucking disgusting and we were sick to our stomachs for a bit there, but at least we didn't have to shell out $100. Bring a mask because it seriously smells like shit.

Groceries: This goes without saying. We barely ate at restaurants, so we made several grocery pit stops for things we could cook over a campfire. Other things to note: Utah does not sell liquor at traditional grocery stores, so if you are a harder boozer, be sure to stock up before you reach this semi dry state!

National park entrance fees: These are around $25 per park unless you have an annual pass, which I believe is close to $100 a year. Worth it if you plan to visit a few parks.

RV Camp Park fees: The are between $30-50 depending on the campsite.. Sites with full electric and water hookups were on the higher end of the range, while sites with pit toilets and no electric were far less.

All in all, the three of us spent about $1400 for the ten days, with Vik spending less since he was only there for 3 days. Not the worst but certainly not the cheapest. That said, every penny was worth it.

The Actual Trip: So many of you have asked about the trip and the move, so here's how it went down. While I managed the movers at my apartment, Seth and Kim landed in San Jose and picked up the RV from a nearby rental location, which they then drove to SF. By then, myself and the cats were ready, so we loaded up and drove away from the place I'd called home for the last 2.5 years. That final left onto Gough was surreal, to say the least.

Moving day! My empty apartment :(

Since this is an honest run-down, the first night was truly hectic. The RV wasn't set up to our liking and the cats were out of control, meowing and running underneath the gas pedals while Seth was driving. None of us were used to the noisy rattle of cabinets as the RV traveled down I-5. I was nervous, anxious, and my jaw hurt the entire trip to our first stop in Coalinga. By the time we arrived, it was dark and the management wasn't around. Since we'd never done this before, there was a moment of "Oh shit, what do we do?" Nonetheless, we guessed which campsite was ours, parked, and went right to bed.

Riding bitch with Flip

Breakfast at the Sommerville Almond Tree RV Park in Coalinga, California

After a full night of rest, we started day two in good spirits. We had a nice breakfast outside surrounded by other RVs, some of which were monster sized. We learned that a lot of people travel for work in the area (farming, solar) and rent out space at the RV park by the month. Some of these RVs were INSANE. One had a full length picture window on it's back panel. Others had pull out "rooms." Some made me question if they were even drivable. It was cool to see a life path different from the default of buying a house.

Flip peeks out from under a blanket during a brief stop

Day 2: The Mojave National Preserve

Our second night was spent in the Mojave National Preserve, which was a dream come true for me. I became obsessed with the desert during my summer trip to Joshua Tree and couldn't wait to spend a night in the mystical, weird, middle of nowhere. Our campsite was very remote, with only a handful of other RVs nearby and literally nothing for many miles. It was our first "scenic" night and it didn't disappoint. I set up my watercolors while Seth started a monster fire with little to no effort (this would NOT be the case later in the trip).

Day 3: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Utah

I really want to spend more time in the desert, especially after our visit to the Mojave. Sadly, we couldn't stay and had to move on. We headed to Las Vegas, swooped up Vik from his hotel, and continued on to our next destination, the Coral Pink Sand Dunes in western Utah. What a sight to see! Huge pink sand dunes dominated the landscape and radiated even brighter against the sunset. Not to mention, our pull through campsite was beautiful! After exploring the dunes for a bit, we spent the rest of the evening at "home," cooking a meal of real and vegan sausages, drinking wine from a box, and watching Kim try to make a candle by putting kindling in my smallest saucepan (an epic fail, if you hadn't already guessed).

Day 4: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary + Bryce Canyon Nat'l Park, Utah

Kim is a real Planny McPlanny, always creating agendas for our vacations. I'm grateful for her because I hate planning and research – not only is she good at both, but she finds unique, interesting things to do that the average trip planner would never find. One such thing is the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. It's the largest domestic animal sanctuary in the US, housing a ton of cats, dogs and a few horses. It's a no-kill shelter, meaning all animals live out their lives here unless they are adopted into loving homes. We visited early on day 4 (at 8am!) for a tour of the place, which was really cool! Lots of cute animals and really cool merch. We all ended up buying sweatpants, sweatshirts or both, since we knew it would be cold at night in Bryce Canyon, our next stop.

Kanab is very close to Bryce, so after the animal tour, we headed to the national park, chose a campsite for our trusty home on wheels, and then hit the trails. Holy shit. I've heard Bryce Canyon is amazing but you really have to see it with your own eyes. When we got there, we were on high ground, looking at the canyon below (!!!) which was wild and hard to believe. Little did I know how much more beautiful it would get once we descended into the canyon.

Epic, indescribable, beautiful. I don't know what else to write – I'm not very expressive so I'll just conclude by promising you that if you visit, you will be blown away by the beauty of nature and the mystic, surreal vibe of this strange land.

That night, we couldn't get our campfire started. Not sure why – perhaps because we were in a higher altitude? Kim tried everything, even burning cardboard boxes, but nothing seemed to work. She got it going after awhile, but Bryce would mark the beginning of a streak of fire trouble for us. Eventually, we feasted on tacos, which are Vik's favorite, and went to bed shortly after.

Day 5: Arches Nat'l Park, Utah

The day started with me and Vik frantically decorating the RV's interior for Kim's 29th birthday (she had stepped out to shower). Seth was outside and he distracted her pretty well when she returned earlier than expected. Once we surprised her with the decorations, we had a mimosa breakfast and Kim opened the gifts I had gotten for her.

Arches National Park was on the agenda and pretty close to Bryce (I recommend doing both of these parks if you can). Arches was pretty touristy, as Bryce was, but since it's in an a more open setting, the tourists were harder to tolerate. Also, the park is fucking humungous. We chose a small section to visit since we only had an afternoon, but if you do visit, you should stay at least a full day or more. We had also committed to wearing party hats all day, and that meant we'd hike Arches with them on. So many people stopped to ask "what's the occasion?"....it's like, we're wearing fucking birthday hats, what do you think is going on?

We managed to escape the tourists by hiking a less commercial trail that was marked by small piles of rocks. This was far more enjoyable and I felt a moment of calm when I looked around and saw no other humans, only miles upon miles of red rock and endless sky.

The night was spent in Moab, where we surprised Kim with birthday macarons and another impossible-to-start campfire. I knew that Kim would rather spend her birthday at a divey Chicago bar with all her friends but since we were on the road, I tried to make it as special as possible for her.

Day 6: White River Nat'l Forest, Colorado

We had to cover a lot of ground, so we left early and made minimal stops. It started to rain as we approached the White River National Forest, but Seth navigated it like a champ and we found our (very) remote campground easily. It was called the Bogan Flats, and it was situated between two large peaks. The rain meant we couldn't go hiking, which was pretty disappointing, but rather than dwell on it, we set to work making dinner. The fire making situation was atrocious yet again. Vik dumped round after round of lighter fluid onto the weak blaze, until I finally started fanning the shit out of it with a La Croix box – and it worked! We took turns fanning the sides of the fire and soon we had a blaze that we could cook on, despite the rain.

The altitude was so great that our bag of Ruffles (we went through 4 or 5 of these, by the way) puffed out completely, as did most of our bags of snacks. Surprisingly, none of us experienced altitude sickness, hooray! After our dinner of beans, corn and sausages, the rain increased so we spent the evening inside getting our asses whooped by Kim in Trivial Pursuit.

Sweet Pea spend most all her time in the driver's seat when it was vacant

You're not gonna believe what happened in the morning. We woke up to a blanket of SNOW on the ground! The temperature had dropped overnight, turning the miserable rain into wet snow. We had not expected nor prepared for such an event but luckily, the snow wasn't accumulating yet – we left quickly and headed to the highway where we assumed driving conditions would be better than hilly side streets.

Scenic lookout off of I-70 near Vail

We arrived to Denver a few hours later, dropped off Vik, and continued onward to our next stop in Gothenburg, Nebraska. The drive was long (we covered 450 miles that day) and we arrived to our campsite pretty late and during a severe thunderstorm, which I didn't mind.

Days 8-10: Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois

Days 8-10 aren't as interesting scenically, but I'll run through them in brief since they were important nonetheless. The campsite in Gothenburg had full electric hookups, which Bryce, Arches and rural Colorado did not have, so we basked in this great luxury. Our next stop was Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which was 450-ish miles away. Luckily, Nicole (one of my best friends) now lives in Cedar Rapids, so we were able to stay with her! We parked our rig in front of her home, opting to leave the cats inside since they had grown accustomed to their living situation. Dinner was pizza in downtown Cedar Rapids and we spent the night in real beds for a change. Nicole and Anthony also provided us with breakfast mimosas so needless to say, Day 9 started out right.

We camped that night in the Burnidge Forest Preserve in Elgin, Illinois (very close to where Kim and I grew up). We wanted to be close to the RV drop off location in East Dundee the next morning.

Day 10 was bittersweet. I felt the post-trip blues creeping in, but also felt relieved to have made it back to Illinois and be moving into my new place the very next day! Lucky for me, my belongings had arrived safely from California and were ready for delivery, which was a good thing but also meant I had ZERO down time between the end of the trip and moving day. More on this in a future post, I'm sure.

We headed to pick up our rental car, a Jeep Compass, and soon realized we couldn't fit everything inside. Thankfully, we were upgraded to a high-tech minivan. With the back seats down, we could fit all our luggage and all my belongings inside (keep in mind, I had brought pans, food, bedsheets, towels, all my plants...we had a lot of shit!) From there, we refilled our propane at UHAUL and ghetto-ly washed the RV before dropping it off and heading to Chicago.

2,838 miles, 40~ beers, 10 days, 7 states, 5 full size bags of Ruffles, 4 humans, 3 YAHTZEES!, 2 cats, 1 25' Type C Motorhome.

It was the trip of lifetime and I'm so grateful to have a sister, friend and boyfriend that were willing to make a stressful, scary long distance move a fun experience. I was anxious most of the time, worried about the big decision I had made, worried about my shit en route to Chicago, worried about my new place, worried about the cats......and Kim, Seth and Vik were there for me, even though some days my mood was questionable. Thank you guys. I can't wait for the next one. (There will be a next one).

Where we stayed:

The RV: (pickup in San Jose, CA and drop off in East Dundee, IL)

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Colorful, wild paintings and other art by color lover and maximalist Adrianne Hawthorne.

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