Friday, August 2, 2019

From the Canadian to the Mexican Borders: Doug Pollard's Tiny Trailer Adventure

"I met people from all over the world. What an adventure!" How else can you describe a five-month journey of over 13,000 miles that spans twenty-one states from the Canadian to the Mexicans borders--and is boondocking throughout? Definitely, "What an adventure!"

When Doug Pollard was asked the general area he was traveling to, he replied, "I'm starting out up north, heading toward Washington state, then down the coast to California. Then the Southwest. The last time I made this trip, I hit twenty-three states and Canada three times so just about everywhere!"

In 2017, recently retired Doug Pollard decided to hit the road with his Little Guy RT, pulled by his Toyota FJ Cruiser. He left his West Virginia home in June, pleased with his vehicle, which he noticed did a good job of climbing mountains, dirt and backroads, and maintaining AC coolness inside while towing in extreme heat. "It's perfect for what I like to do: exploring backroads, 4+4 roads, and boondocking off the beaten track."

"Evening shower heading into Northeastern California. First rainfall in months there. (9/20/17)

This was his third trip across the country. "I have gone back and forth, up and down, mostly backroads, spending four to five months each time going where the wind blows. I record every road and boondocking site on individual Benchmark Recreational Atlas state maps, so it would be hard to pick one route. Alaska is diffidently on the bucket list, if I live long enough. LOL!"

Doug headed west toward the West, but was still crossing the Midwest when he had his first adventure--the alternator went out on his Toyota while in Indiana. "Better now than later" was the consensus opinion, including Doug's, for the repair on his 2007 Cruiser. Doug had bought it from a business that dealt mainly in high end cars like Porsche, Audi, and Mercedes; however, when this was traded in, it was in such good condition the dealership decided to sell it themselves rather than selling it at auction. 

The trip to his first longer stay in Montana included some exciting and majestic moments, though. 

Devil's Tower, Wyoming (7/5/17)

Rocky Mt. National Park, Colorado (7/06/17)

"What's the chances in July? Pretty good, if you're driving thru Beartooth Pass in Montana. Started the pass at 98 degrees in a thunderstorm. By the time I peaked it, the temperature dropped to 51, then rose to 78 and sunny." (7/06/17)

Gallatin National Forest

After auto repairs, Doug powered through Missouri and Kansas, finally making it to the Rocky Mountains and Colorado, where boondocking opportunities abounded, such as in Gallatin National Forest and the Timber Camp Recreation Area. He spent quite a bit of time there, boondocking, exploring, and hiking inside and outside of Yellowstone National Park, near Gardiner, Montana. He explored the Petrified Forest, getting a free permit at the Tom Miner Campground trailhead to take some of what he found. Besides petrified trees, Doug also discovered opals, crystals, old mines, and many more geological and historical finds. Doug summed up his experience with "I love it here." 

"I have stayed at two primitive camp sites since reaching, Gardiner, Montana, at the North entrance to Yellowstone. Stayed the first night near the little creek, it being 8 pm. The second night, I picked the site I planned to stay at for a week or more--kayaking, hiking, and visiting Yellowstone. I'm eight miles up in the wilderness at Timber Camp in Gallatin National Forest. Picnic table and an outhouse. What more could you ask for and free? There is a view of Mammoth Springs going in and out to my campsite. Big time grizzly country." (7/15/17)

"Hiked 13 miles today, did the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone River, came across an elk head and horns, also a buffalo carcass with head. Looks like a wolf kill. Great hike. (7/17/17)

Along with Doug's boondock camping, there was a lot of hiking, exploring the countryside. Here are some comments from his Facebook posts.
  • July 12. Hiked a trail in Yellowstone today, like a desert out there.
  • July 14. Took a 10-mile hike up and around so that I came out at the top of Mammoth Springs. Then I decided to go cool off at the Boiling River. It's a hot spring that dumps into the Gardiner River. You can be either extremely hot or cold or somewhere in between. It felt awesome after a long hot hike."
  • July 23. Hiked the Tom Minor Trail to a Petrified Forest. Climbed 10,900 ft to Ramshorn Peak. I could see the back of the Tetons from up there.
Pacific Northwest Family Time

July ended with Doug on the road again to his son's house, visiting family in Washington state. The month of August and a few days of September he spent with his family, including his grandkids. They all worked, played, helped one another, and went on road trips and hikes. Doug's son also helped him with some upgrades for Doug's camper, upgrading the battery and then installing a plug for a solar panel to keep the battery charged when out in the wilderness. They made a 20-foot cord for it so it can be put almost anywhere. "The camper came with one of those small 12 volt batteries which meant I would have to run the FJ, almost every other day to keep it charged. Won't have to anymore." He sent big thanks for his son's help.

While hiking in the Mt. Baker area, the effects of the 2017 forest fires were all too obvious. "Went on a hike and a swim in the Mt. Baker National Forest yesterday. The smoke from the fires is blowing in from the east, can't get away from it." He later mentioned his experiences while traveling with the fires and firefighters. 
"The fires in Montana were terrible, smoke so thick, it stings your eyes. Felt so sorry for the people that live there, you just can't escape it. Saw many a firefighter camp in fields along about a 300-mile stretch of Highway 90. They were living in smoke-shrouded tents by the hundreds. Then they have to climb up those steep mountains in hundred degree heat, not to mention the heat from the fires. They are not paying them enough. One firefighter died the day I drove through, sad."

"A stormy day on Fishing Bay, Orcas Island, Washington.

Adventures also included a trip along the Oregon and Washington coast with family, including Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands. Fun times with the grandkids included starfish hunting in the tidepools and sliding down sand dunes. A kayak expedition and a hiking and camping trip with the grandson were part of the activities. The kayak trip was fifteen miles, stopping for lunch in the city of Snohomish. "Everyone was very tired by the time we finished the trip, which took nine hours to complete."

"Took my grandson on an overnight hike to Vesper Peak. 6,200 ft up, over 4,100 ft elevation gain, 5.1 miles to peak." (8/23/17)

Vespers Peak (8/23/17)

Backpacking to Vesper Peak. (8/23/17)

Hiking Washington State. "Pictures just don't do it justice."

The Scenic Route Home

Remember that this is a tiny trailer boondocking journey, off into spaces less frequently traveled?
Well, Doug dropped off the grid in Idaho and eastern Oregon, taking in some rugged sightseeing as he began the last leg of his adventure. Meeting up with an old friend, they decided to explore ghost towns and old mines, soaking up frontier history. Gold mines, dilapidated buildings, and high desert were his stomping grounds for the next week or so.

Abandoned gold mine.

Warren, Idaho, established 1862.

"Headhouse" Where they off-load ore from the ore cars to a sky tram that takes it to the processing plant near town." 

A mining workshop outside of Mackay, Idaho

The ghost town segment of his travels was ended with a drive and a visit to the Oregon coast, after which Doug  headed off for the Sierra Nevadas of California. "You probably won't be hearing from me for a while," he told his family, as he headed off down more back roads. The Sierra Nevadas at mid-September meant times of blowing snow. 
"The Sierra Nevadas are beautiful, not to mention Lake Tahoe. Been driving thru some snow storms as I crossed some of the passes. Thankfully, none of the ones I wanted to take today were closed as happened to me yesterday. It was a long detour. I decided to stop early because it is supposed to drop below freezing, and Yosemite doesn't allow boondocking. Yosemite is only twenty-five miles, away so I'll be there early in the morning. Can't wait to check it out.Time to cook some dinner, having hot dogs and beans, an old camp favorite."

Sierra Nevada boondocking sie.

What with snow, September, and passes closing, Doug arrived at Yosemite. Reaching the national park, he found "lots of snow in the higher elevation" and too many people. He wanted to hike the John Muir Trail and Half Dome, but the traffic was so bad that he couldn't even get to that part of the park. Visitors had to be picked through a lottery to hike the Half Dome. "I lost. Can't win them all. The park was beautiful, though."

Doug had arrived at the national park just after landslides in the park had caused fatalities. He posted to his family and friends that he was in Yosemite and safe, yet feeling "sorry for the families of the dead and injured in the landslide."


"The part that broke away. The avalanche dusted everything around with a huge dust cloud."

Continuing with his routine of traveling and then hiking an area, Doug hiked through Mono Pass to see Mono Lake. "My highest hike to date, 10,600 ft," he said. "What a difference it was from one side of the pass to the other!"

Mono Pass

On his way to King's Canyon, Doug stopped in Fresno, California, to buy new tires for the trailer. "I've traveled over 10,000 miles already."

"It's not much, but it's been home since June. Love that I can watch a DVD now that I have a solar system. Last night, boondocking in King's Canyon, I found if I burned one candle it would take the chill off. Below freezing most nights lately."

Doug managed to get both his hiking tand tiny trailer sight-seeing in as he continued south toward San Diego to meet with family. He especially enjoyed the tunnel tree and the climb up on Moro Rock at Sequoia National Park.

Sequoia National Park

"With all the fires and drought out here in the West, you really have to be careful where you boondock for fear of a tree falling on you. There are millions of them dead. Two trees fell while I was camped outside of Yosemite, not more then 100 feet from me. Glad they fell away from me. Lucky none of these giants decided to fall while I was in King's Canyon. They'd have made a pancake out of me."

On October 5, Doug hit Joshua Tree National Park, planning to reach San Diego the next day.

Arriving at San Diego, Doug met with family and was treated to an Octoberfest concert, which he enjoyed immensely; however, he realized that the Las Vegas shooting incident was on everyone's mind. He saw that "SWAT vehicles and teams were on every ridge, drones and helicopters flying around thru the whole event. Security was tight, but I still think they couldn't prevent an attack if someone wanted to. You can't let that keep us from our freedom to get on with life." Putting his thoughts and feelings into action, Doug was "down in the front, dancing with the masses till the very end. Foo Fighters, Cage the Elephant, and Queens of the Stone Age were great."

"From 11 in the morning till 1 at night, non-stop music. Friggin' awesome." CAL JAM 2017.

Soon after the concert, Doug took I-8 out of San Diego, heading home. On October 9 he took off, and by the 13th he was home, with many hours on the road. He still managed to find some interesting sights and experiences along the way, especially at the Mexican border and at the Petrified Forest. Mostly, though, he hunkered down and put the last miles behind him.

"Stopped along the Mexico border, which is just over that sand dome. Very hot but beautiful." 

Petrified Forest

Before leaving San Diego, Doug had posted on Facebook the following: "Getting homesick and with snow starting already in the mountains, it's probably not a bad idea [to head home]. I had a great time, saw a lot of parks and places I've never been before. Five months on the road, living out of my teardrop, is a long time. I didn't get to do everything I wanted to, but there's always next year."

Upon arriving home, Doug had to deal with a dead refrigerator, a toilet that didn't work, and a satellite TV foul-up, but it was still good to be home. "Well! Home Sweet Home to get to some yardwork. NO, I really mean it, and it sure needs it!"

Balance is an important part of life, and Doug's trip exemplies it. Happy to be alone, happy to be with family. Happy to be on the road, happy to be home. Doug must realize that "home" is as much a state of mind as a place. He certainly had a great trip--and, oh yes--he did get the refrigerator and toilet fixed. "Easy fixes," Doug said. "Back to normal, if that's possible." Normal is certainly possible with Doug, and after five months of living in such an immense backyard, what's a little yardwork?

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  1. It was a great adventure. Thanks for writing the story, you did a great job. Planned on making another trip out west this yr. Unfortunately I had a tragic accident happen to me . I had just completed a 221 mile section hike of the Appalachian trail in April and decided to change up with a fishing kayaking trip. I convinced two of my life-long friends to accompany me one of them never having been on a kayak before because of his big stature. I happen to have a kayak that can handle 600 lbs & is wide & stable. I bought it for my Dog ,myself & overnight camping gear. My friend Dave's Nickname was "The Big Guy" Not just for his size but also his heart. Dave took to it like a pro. We fished & kayak the 1st day,camping out on an island that night, the weather was perfect. The 2nd day was just as beautiful on the Cheat River in WV. About 3pm a big storm was moving up the river coming straight at us. The wind & hail was blowing hard so we took cover on the shore next to a 7ft high bank, hoping it would provide some cover. My other friend, John , had to run back out to keep the wind from blowing away the kayaks, him being the only one that had a raincoat & hood. I huge gust of wind blew in ,I looked up just in time to see a live tree snap off about 20ft up. It came crashing down on Dave & I, Killing Dave instantly & driving me into the ground. I landed in about a ft of water that was left over from previous high water & was at the ft of the bank breaking my left arm ,Collar bone, collapsing my left lung & severely damaging my ribs in my back. I managed to regain my feet ,however I could hardly breath & could not speak. I went directly to Dave that fell opposite of me with his feet pointed at me. He was not moving. Once I saw the top of his head ,checked for breathing & a pulse I knew there was nothing I could do for him. John had secured the boats and was looking for cover from the hail 30 ft away or more & had no idea what happen because of the sounds from the storm. I regained my feet again & stumbled out towards John, knowing I was severely hurt but not knowing how bad. Once John saw me I collapsed on the ground the pain was taking hold as my adrenaline wore out. John ran over I explained a tree fell on us & I think Dave is Dead. My mind not being completely clear I needed him to check on Dave to make sure. Sadly it was true ,he was gone. We had no cell signal & there were no homes or roads on the side of the river we were on. John Had to Kayak for help. He landed across the river & found a cabin the owner had no phone their but ran to a neighbor to call 911. John returned to my side,covering me because I was in shock & shaking like a leaf. After an Hour Emergency Crews started to arrive across the river at the end of a 7 mile un-maintained dirt road. One of the rescue guys was a 2 time Iraq Vet & decided not to wait for a boat ,it coming from an hr away. He bravely crossed the river, not knowing how deep it was and with the water running high & strong. Others followed his lead. I laid there for over 2hrs till they could get a helicopter to land on my side on the river partly in the water. I was flown out & my friend john was taken by Ambulance to the Hospital, He's blood pressure being sky high, No wonder. My friend Dave was 57 yrs old with a wife, kids, Grandkids and many friends, he will be missed. Dave passed quick ,never making a noise or feeling any pain & died doing what he loved fishing 7 being outdoors on an adventure. For that I am thankful. My friend John is doing well & I am on the mend. Already I have been back on the trail ,however with limitations. Can't Kayak yet but can't wait to get out there again, Dave would have wanted that. Dave was a Great Friend & I will carry his memory with me on all my Adventures in the future. Planning another cross-country trip next yr. Till then take care & don't forget Life can be over in a flash so get out there & enjoy it.

  2. I've never had a comment quite like this. You're right--tragedy can happen, so we should try to live a good, full life, appreciating our gifts. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Doug may God continue to bless you and have his hand on you. Your trip you described was fantastic and I enjoyed reading it. Looking to hear about your new adventures and praying God's protection on you always.