This post is a bit of background for some upcoming posts about Exploring Arizona. Arizona holds a special place in my heart and my imagination. In 2014 and 2015, I went on three vehicle camping test trips to help me decide whether or not I wanted to live in a van, two of which were in Arizona. I also took long scenic drives on backroads between Phoenix and Flagstaff a few times.

Approaching Retirement

At around age 29 I decided to ramp up the amount of my income I saved. This would allow me to retire much earlier than most people. At first, I expected to be able to retire by age 40. Then I reduced my spending further and thus saved more each year while also reducing my net worth retirement target. I ended up retiring at age 34.

I expect that over the rest of my life, I’ll spend my time in different phases that last  2-10 years each. Some of the phases I’ve had in mind are below Some phases could happen concurrently.

  • Living in a van and traveling around the western US
  • Living in other countries (Southeast Asia, and/or Latin America)
  • Living in a shack/cabin in a remote area with access to some kind of nice terrain (Mountains, coast, etc.)
  • Bicycling a ton
  • Living in a small town for a while
  • Living in a big expensive city by means of some uniquely cheap housing (like living in someone’s guesthouse in exchange for a bit or work or just so they have another person around)
  • Living on a sort of homestead/compound
  • Doing some entrepreneurial projects
  • Working some fun jobs
  • Improving the world in some way
  • Very deep/serious romantic relationship(s)
  • Bicycle touring
  • Slow travel internationally
  • …. and others

As I approached retirement, I wanted to decide which to do first. I’ll share in another post all the details about the various reasons I decided to live in a van. For this post, I want to describe the test trips I went on to get a feel for what it would be like to live in a vehicle.

 

Test Trip #1: Sequoia National Park

Starting in 2013, I traveled a lot for work. I went to different factories. Many of them were in small towns surrounded by thousands of square miles of farms. Or in medium/large cities that are also surround by thousands of square miles of farms. But sometimes I went to more interesting places. In the fall of 2014 I went to a factory near Fresco, CA. That’s close to Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks. So I made that my first test trip.

I worked there during one week. Tuesday through Thursday. Instead of going home after the factory visit on Thursday or Friday like usual, and flying to the next location the following Monday, I stayed out in California the whole weekend and on Monday flew straight to the next work location. This gave me 3.5 days to go do my own thing. I brought along my camping and outdoors gear.  I found a first-come-first serve campsite fairly high up in King’s Canyon that would have open spots when I could get there.

I had a wonderful time. Just driving through these National Parks is a treat – let alone camping and hiking there. Camping among 200 foot tall sequoia trees was wonderful. A hiking trail passed near the campsite and I explored it in both directions. I saw a bear while hiking. And more while driving. I was really cold when the temperature dipped near freezing overnight. The last day I went for a hike at lower elevation and drove through Sequoia NP again – through dropping temperatures and freezing rain. I had a splendid time.

Driving through Sequoia, there are a ton of places calling out for to you to stop and soak in the view

 

My original version of “Cowboy Cuisine”. It’s gotten a lot better now :-D. That’s tea in the bowl

 

 

This is the hiking trail near where I camped. I saw a bear within a couple hundred feet of here. It was running along and making a TON of noise in the brush and sticks on the ground.

 

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Pretty darn nice place to sit and read Meditations

 

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My Campsite

 

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My vehicle setup

 

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View from high in Sequoia. Just off the road

Test Trip #2: Coconino National Forest – Near Sedona, AZ

In 2015 I started going to Flagstaff, AZ for work. I’d fly into Phoenix and drive up to Flagstaff for a few days. Some of my trips there were with another person, in which case we’d ride together from Phoenix to Flagstaff, and I couldn’t go do my own thing. My first trip there by myself was in April, so I made that my second test trip.

I drove up to Sedona, went to the National Forest Visitors Center, and learned about dispersed camping. I camped out on the Forest Service roads ~5 miles northwest of Sedona. Again, I had a wonderful time.

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Hiking. This trail goes up the Mongollon rim and higher. And just on a walk, you can see many many different types of plants

 

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I bought my van a few weeks after this second test trip.

Test Trip #3: Coconino and Tonto National Forests

I went back again in May and made and did the same thing. For my drive from Phoenix to Sedona, I went up highway 87 to Payson, and drove about 30 miles along a Forest Service/Fire road that traverses the top edge of the Mongollon rim. There are many campsites along the rim.

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At the rim edge

 

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One of the wonderful campsites along the rim. Past the edge you see in the foreground is basically a cliff of a few hundred feet

 

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After my work week, I went to the same area near Sedona as the first trip, but it was cold this time. I went over into Tonto N.F. where I could go a bit further south and to lower elevation. I camped in a little valley south of Payson, I believe right here. That hiking trail up the road (Barnhardt) is pretty good.

When my days were up and I needed to head back to Phoenix, I drove over to check out Roosevelt lake, and saw the old native dwellings there

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Entrance to this area (A National Monument) was free the day I came because there were a bunch of bees at the dwelling. You couldn’t go all the way up there though. Some rangers(? or I don’t know what?) were stationed on the trail as far as visitors are allowed, to stop them from going further. Since they had nothing else to do, I asked one of them about 50 questions. It was fascinating. And it was very impressive how they knew so many details about the people who lived here (and many times I asked “how do you know that?”).

By chance, I drove the Apache Trail to get back to Phoenix. I was just looking for a fairly direct route, and that’s the one. I was blown away on the drive! The Apache TrailI follows the Salt River from what is now Roosevelt Lake to Apache Junction (what is now a far east suburb of Phoenix). I assume the original real Apache Trail followed the river all the way. The road now goes over a pass that’s 500 or 1000 feet up above the river. I stopped many times on to take in the view, and to imagine myself back there, retired, camping, soaking in the area and letting days pass as they come with no schedule forcing me to push through the area in just one afternoon.

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What a nice place to camp, huh?

 

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I made another trip or two to Flagstaff by myself in 2015. I was already busy building the van, so I went home to work on it rather than spend extra days in AZ. I drove the Apache trail again:

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Roosevelt Lake

 

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Result of Test Trips:

I could’ve easily done test trips in my car somewhere near my home. Since I was already traveling for work, I took the opportunity to do them in beautiful places. These three test trips all went very well and cemented my decision to build and live in the van as my first post-retirement phase of life.

About two years passed between my first test trip in California and quitting my job to travel full time. Over those two years I imagined, probably many hundreds of times, being free of work and moseying around the U.S. I imagined being able to settle in to camp for a week or more at a time. I imagined sitting around relaxing, reading, writing, hiking, watching the stars, and so on. In many of these daydreams, I was in Arizona. I was out near Sedona. And, most common of all, I was along the Salt River.

I’m writing this post from Fountain Hills, AZ, which is a Suburb in the far northeast corner of Phoenix. I’ve made two trips out of Phoenix so far. I’ll tell you about them soon. Can you guess where the first trip was?