Go West 2023: The Best Laid Plans

Traveling, Camping and Hiking My Way Westward

A compass with the words Life's An Adventure Go Live it inscribed on the metal is held in a hand. The metal is silver with a heart arrow and swirl which have been darkened to stand out from the background.

Where to From Here

In 2022 I did a blitz trip west to visit family and friends in Utah, California and Arizona. As the landscapes rolled by on 10-12 hour days of driving, I had promised myself I would take the trip again in 2023, cutting back those driving days in a way that I could explore the places on my route a bit more. I’d work from the road, a long-planned benefit of my remote job. I’d get a taste of the nomadic lifestyle to see if I could make it work and if it was truly for me. I’d embrace the off season and take my chances with the weather.

Of course plans change, which happened with this trip. And while it hasn’t played out exactly how I expected, it’s been full of reminders that planning only goes so far. Then you have to just roll with the unexpected, trying to find the lesson or joy in the moment.

The photo is filled with leaves in a variety of shapes. The colors range from green to yellow and brown.

The western route I planned will take me in a sweep from Minnesota, through South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah. Then clipping Arizona, Nevada and on to California. Nine days towing my camper to National Parks, State Parks and dispersed camping. This time of year would have smaller crowds and less pressured access to many of the places I wanted to visit.

I methodically mapped out my route to keep my driving to five hours or less using Google Maps. and my trusty gazetteers. I knew the total driving time would be longer than online maps estimate because I’d stop for breaks, side adventures and food. I might see a place I wanted to check out along the way. I added stops I knew I wanted to make to my trip plan. My trip plan is the detailed list of where and when I will be throughout my adventure so if anything happens there is a place for the trusted few who get it can expect to find me. I use a plan whether on a backpacking trip or a road-trip.

In the final days of my planning I received news which put a brief pause on my plans. My role at work, which I had embraced fully as part of the plan, was being eliminated. I spent a few days trying to decide if I’d continue with trip. Taking a whole month to travel seemed frivolous, irresponsible. As I started the process of figuring out what I’d do next, I came to the realization that perhaps this was THE moment. For me travel has always proved cathartic. Whether hiking, camping, backpacking. No matter if on foot, by plane, train or automobile. The time would give me mental space to consider my options. And who knew if this amount of time would ever be in front of me for unencumbered adventure? So, I finished up my plans, knowing I could look for and apply for jobs along the way, replacing one kind of work with another.

The photo is of a pile of road atlas and gazetteers set on brown carpet. The atlas on the top of the pile is the Rand McNally 2020 Road Atlas of the United States.

With my gazetteers marked with my route for each day, my trip plan organized, and reservations made where I could, it was time to start packing.

A Planning Note: In the late fall and winter many National, state and county campgrounds are either closed for the season or only allow walk-up for campsites. There may be closures for hunts, road repairs or weather. A critical part of planning is to research before you go so you have a general idea what to expect. Check the averages for weather in your destinations over your travel dates. Check again as you go. Be ready for weather to impact your plans. In the west rain or snow can make roads impassable with little warning in the fall. Have a backup plan and carry an SOS device of some kind and plenty of water. Even if you are traveling and camping in a vehicle. Be prepared for something to go awry. Because it will.

The photo shows a stack of four Granite Gear Air Zipsacks in the corner of a room. They are different colors, chartreuse, deep purple and turquoise. All appear to be filled.

Packed, Mapped and Ready

Getting ready for and adventure requires prep too. With my little adventure camper I have the flexibility to bring more. More stuff, more food. But I’m always thinking back to my backpacking experiences and asking what do I NEED to bring? Just because I can take stuff doesn’t mean it will be helpful or needed. It’s become habit to bring my backpacking pack simply because it has what I need in it – shelter, a sleep system, basic cooking equipment, first aid and safety items. It’s my travel adventure “go-bag”. Beyond it, my needs would be a variety of clothes to take me from the cool fall weather of Minnesota to the daytime warmth of the mountains of Utah and California. Temperatures ranging from highs in the 80s to lows in the 30s.

After many years of acquiring gear, I’ve learned to layer effectively so I can cut my clothing down to some basics pretty quickly. Synthetics for the really hot days which can be layered with merino and down to handle those brisk cold, windy days. I’d add my winter sleeping bag to my kit for extra warmth in the camper, cutting my need to run the heater much if at all.

I packed up all my clothing in Granite Gear Air Zipsacks which are simply my favorite way to organize my camper. These magical cubes are the workhorse of my camper organization. I love that I can stuff them to the brim, but always end up with a square-ish shape that’s easy to stuff into cubbies, backpacks and even fill spaces in my car. The grab handles on both ends make moving them around a breeze. And I keep an empty one to stuff my dirty clothes so a trip to do laundry on trip or post-adventure clean-up is easy.

With all my plans in place I closed up my home, emptied the refrigerator into my cooler and loaded the car and camper for the month ahead.

Next Post Preview: Packed and ready, I hit the road for South Dakota’s Lake Vermillion State Recreation Area, reminded by family there is a birthday to celebrate along the way.

GEAR: Granite Gear Crown2 38 Pack, Marmot Kompressor Pack, Oboz Katabatic Mid Waterproof, Oboz Katabic Low, Mountain Hardware Stretchdown™ Light Jacket, Mountain Hardware Stretchdown™ Pant, REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Jacket, REI Co-op Magma 850 Down Hoodie, REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Pants, Gnara Go There™ Pants, Chickfly Merino Eucalyptus Leggings, Icebreaker Women’s Merino 200 Oasis Long Sleeve Crewe Thermal Top, Icebreaker Merino 200 Oasis Thermal Leggings, SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS Messenger, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Women’s Micro Vario Cor-Tec TA trekking poles, Nemo Dragonfly Ultralight Backpacking Tent, Nemo Sonic™ 0 Down Sleeping Bag, Paria Thermodown 30 down quilt, Exped Ultra 7R Mat, REI Flash 3-Season Sleeping Pad, Thermarest Z Seat™, MSR Pocket Rocket Stove, TOAKS Titanium 450ML Cup with Lid, MSR® IsoPro™ Fuel.

Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets or check out my posts titled “Gear in Review”.


Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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