|Hug Point Recreation Area, Oregon|
One woman. One dog. One tiny camper . . . together for six thousand miles. The result? "My confidence restored!" says the woman.
In late summer in 2018, Texas resident Nancy Rushefsky took off for a 6,000-mile jaunt with her dog Mayla and her Rustic Trail Teardrop Papa Bear camper, gone for five and a half weeks for an epic solo journey. "Traveling solo has many advantages, but one huge disadvantage is having to do all the driving. In the beginning I was able to cover 400-500 miles per day. By the end I was exhausted after 300 and got hotels the last two nights." The disadvantages of solo driving, though, didn't touch the positive experiences.
"I made the journey to recover some confidence lost in a nasty divorce, and I was pleasantly surprised to also regain some confidence in my fellow humans. I was amazed, almost daily, how helpful and kind people were. I think that is one of the things I love most about camping--that people from wholly divergent backgrounds can come together for conversation around a campsite--and for those moments accept each other openly and completely.
"This was my first big trip, solo--with a dog. I made the decision not to leave her in any campground or the car for site seeing purposes, so I’m sure I missed some things, but to me that was well worth it. After all, I did drag her 6,000 miles so wanted her to have fun, too. We hiked a lot and explored many a small town together. I was surprised how welcome she was in most small towns that we toured about in. So many shops had water bowls and treats etc., especially in Colorado, Idaho and Oregon, which made the trip very pleasant for us both
"I learned to manage bathroom breaks on travel days by finding local parks where we could both stretch, play, and relieve ourselves. When at a gas station, I paid at the pump to minimize our time there. When I wanted restaurant food, I either found one that had dog-friendly patio seating, or ordered food to go and found a park to eat at. It was super easy to keep us both happy."The word Nancy used to describe her experience of traveling with a tiny trailer was "fabulous," and she provided several reasons.
- Gas mileage is terrific so I don’t feel guilty for traveling long distances.
- It’s not stressful to have to park it or navigate with it. I feel it's much more forgiving than a large trailer would be, especially being a solo traveler.
- I always met my neighbors because the trailer is so cute! I think people are also intrigued by a woman traveling alone. Neighbors always looked out for me, brought me food, invited me to take walks and hang out, etc.
On an epic trip like this, Nancy experienced the great variety of the American West, so much so that her journey breaks down into at least five segments: Texas, Colorado, the Great Basin, the Oregon coast, California, and the Grand Canyon country. That's a lot of diversity!
|A Texas parade|
Driving out of Texas was "a feat of and by itself. We passed through a small town, Post, Texas, that I frequently stop at to walk and stretch, but found a ton of traffic which surprised me. Turned out they were having their rodeo parade, and all the roads were blocked off. So, luckily my camper is tiny and I was able to park easily and we got out and enjoyed the festivities."
|Mayla enjoying Colorado|
Spending a total of nine days camping in Colorado, Nancy included Pagosa Springs and Durango on her route. "I stayed in private campgrounds in both places (Pagosa River and Lightener Creek), and loved each immensely, but particularly Pagosa. The hikes are amazing there and the hot springs make a truly wonderful way to end each day. The town is cute and easy to navigate. While in Durango I went to the town of Silverton and enjoyed the Million Dollar Highway, and stumbled into a wedding at an alpine lake, so that was pretty cool. One thing I really like about Colorado is that if it’s hot where you are, you can drive ten minutes up a mountain and need a jacket."
|Pagosa Springs, Colorado|
The Great Basin country of Utah, Idaho, and Eastern Oregon was next on the map. Nancy visited friends in Boise, Idaho, and then drove to Bend, Oregon. "We didn’t camp at all during these days, but we did sight see a bunch. It was great to see old friends, do laundry, and take it a bit easy. Boise, Idaho, is a great little town, and I hope to visit again sometime. We spent some time in an art alley, which was quirky and urban. Bend, Oregon, has amazing parks and breweries, which we got to explore a little bit.
|Depoe Bay, Oregon. Many whales this day!|
When Nancy, Mayla, and her Papa Bear reached the Oregon coast, they stayed a while, at three state parks for four nights each: Fort Stevens, Bullards Beach, and South Beach. "I loved each in their own way and really enjoyed exploring the lovely coast and eating the seafood. I probably ate my body weight in smoked tuna and salmon. Hah! Oregon is super dog friendly, which made me super happy, too."
|Fort Steven State Park, Oregon. Low tide revealed a bit of history|
|Camper about the size of tree circumference|
"Words cannot express the beauty of [the Oregon coast], whale watching, beach combing, hiking, etc., all in a breathtaking setting. Plus, for me being directionally challenged, all I really had to do was know north from south. One hike in particular stands out though, and it was recommended by a local who said a shipwreck was revealed at low tide, which would be around sunset. So Mayla and I hiked the two miles or so through the woods from our campsite, and we certainly were not disappointed!"
|Mayla adding some glamp to a California redwood campsite|
Nancy designates the fifth segment of her journey as traveling through California, from Trinidad to Lake Tahoe and then down south to the Grand Canyon area. She was at first disappointed because she was an avid hiker but discovered that her dog wasn't allowed on any trails in the state and national parks.
"Bad on me for not researching it more thoroughly. It all worked out amazingly well tho! First off the campsite at Emerald Forest was possibly my very favorite of the entire trip. It’s a privately owned piece of redwood forest and was simply beautiful – moss covered giant trees and tree stumps all over the place! I wish now I had scheduled more time there, but such is life. There was a beautiful beach in the town of Trinidad just minutes from the campground, and we also drove to Arcata (upon the campground owner’s recommendation) where we were able to hike in a redwood forest that was municipal, so dogs were welcome."Nancy enjoyed her stay at Lake Tahoe, finding the Sierra Nevadas beautiful. "Lake Tahoe is so amazingly blue! I was lucky to have a friend who lived there, and she took me on a hike to down to Seal Bay that I never would have found otherwise. That day was the highlight of the area for me. I camped in a private campground called Coachland in Truckee, and I would never recommend it to anyone. It was jammed packed with zero privacy or space between sites. Live and learn."
|Lake Tahoe beauty|
Traveling south, Nancy left behind the beauty of the Sierras and headed into drier country, ending up at the Grand Canyon.
"The Grand Canyon, was of course, GRAND. I hiked the rim trail because it was dog friendly and soaked in all the views – or tried to at least. Perhaps the picture that best sums up the trip was taken by a man from Germany, who saw Mayla and me sitting and taking a rest. He thought we looked peaceful so he took our picture. Then he offered to text it to me, so this pic is one of my favorites – it captures my dog and me taking in the world together, and it came from a kind stranger, which I learned are everywhere!"
|Grand Canyon vistas|
Although Nancy mentioned that driving the long miles was fatiguing, that wasn't the most challenging part of her trip. Her description of her greatest challenge was both shocking and unexpected.
"Without a doubt the most challenging day was driving in California from Trinidad to Lake Tahoe. I chose the forested road, which happened to be having fires. I could barely see, had no cell service, was on a road too tiny to turn around on, and I was ALONE. This is the only day on the entire trip that I doubted I could handle this all by myself, but in fact I was able to. Which is pretty cool. At one point I stopped and prepared an emergency bag in case the dog and I had to abandon the camper due to burned road ahead. I had no idea what we’d do to stay safe, but felt better at least doing that. When we finally made it across the forest and to HWY 5, my phone blew up with concerned friends. And I broke down into tears from relief and exhaustion."
|Boise, Idaho. Freak Alley Gallery|
"I embarked on this journey as part of divorce recovery. I needed to know I could have a full and interesting life on my own, without a human partner. And I must say, I feel like this experience was the last thing I needed to do to be whole again."With her experience has come wisdom, not just universal wisdom but personal wisdom about what camping experiences she enjoys best, which Nancy intends to use. "I did learn on the great 2018 NW journey that while I’m solo, I prefer to be near towns, and I prefer to have cell service. I’m more comfortable knowing other people are around, so I’m tending toward state and private campgrounds and not sleeping in national forest land. I’ll take a day trip to serene forests, but find I sleep better in more populated parks."
Nancy is taking her well-earned strength and experience down the road again in 2019. She and "the pup" will spend three to four weeks in Colorado, driving less than last year. She's looking forward to cooler temperatures than central Texas once they hit the higher elevations.
Tall mountains and a tiny trailer--what a perfect combination for happiness.