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Andersons on the Road

Nine-Month Family Adventure in the Lower Forty-Eight

Harvey, a 1997 twenty-six-foot Tioga Walkabout Class C RV, was the Andersons’ home for nine months. Here, it’s parked in front of a friend’s house in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where they stayed for a week at the end of October (photo by Miranda Anderson).

WRITTEN BY MIRANDA ANDERSON

It was a radical idea. For over a decade, I had been dreaming about taking an extended family road trip. But it wasn’t until January 2021 when my husband, Chuck, announced his retirement from teaching that we finally felt it was our time. 

So we called a family meeting. Our three kids got excited, hoping we were finally getting a dog. 

Instead, we told them we would be taking them on a nine-month trip along 24,982 miles of roads; through 37 states; visiting 29 national parks and monuments; staying in 74 different campgrounds, homes, VRBO, and Harvest Hosts.

After grieving ten minutes, everyone enthusiastically helped brainstorm our trip. The kids were at good ages to travel: Mallory was 15; Ben, 13; and Kate, 9. 

Harvey, as we affectionately named our 1997 twenty-six-foot Tioga Walkabout Class C RV, was to be our new home. In tow was a twenty-foot aluminum car hauler trailer loaded with our Ford Explorer that held our five bikes and any additional items we could store inside. 

We hit the road on September 10, 2021, with anticipation, excitement, and a family prayer for what was ahead. Here are highlights from our travelogue: 

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The Anderson family, visiting the largest cranberry farm in the US–A. D. Makepeace Farm, Wareham, Massachusetts. From left: Mallory,15; Chuck; Ben,13; Kate, 9; and Miranda. (photo courtesy of Miranda Anderson).

September 10 | Westby, Wisconsin: Our first destination was a creamery that’s part of a network of farms, wineries, vineyards, and points of interest called Harvest Hosts. These sites let you boondock (camp without amenities) for one night free in exchange for purchasing from their store. 

Three mares and foals greeted us at the fence of the creamery’s rolling hills. This was a great distraction for Ben and Kate as we discovered that Harvey’s water and propane didn’t work. Not a great start. So, PB&J wraps for dinner! 

September 11–14 | Logansport, Indiana: Our first campground with a multiple-day stay. We arrived late with a broken blinker. As Chuck and Mallory headed to town the next day for parts, they witnessed a processional bringing home one of the thirteen Marines killed in Afghanistan. Crowds lined the streets, Air Force jets flew above, and more than ten thousand motorcycles from five surrounding states showed support to the mother and family of this young man. It put our mechanical challenges into perspective. 

September 15–22 | Driving East. Over the next two weeks, we traveled through Ohio, northwest Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, and Vermont. 

The reality of how much I missed people from home hit me while working one afternoon. I needed to call my network administrator, Karly, who’s also a dear friend. As soon as I heard her voice, instant tears ran down my cheeks, and a lump grew in my throat. I was quick to tell her everything was good—really good. We had just left Vermont earlier that day, surrounded by natural beauty and historic architecture, and had taken a 4.5-mile walk to the only remaining covered bridge in East Montpelier that dated back to 1851. We were doing all the things we had planned. And at the same time, we were learning how much we appreciate our community back home. Everywhere we went on the road, we were strangers.

 

September 23–30 | Acadia National Park, Maine: We spent a week exploring the park by foot, bike, boat, and car, including watching a sunrise on top of Cadillac Mountain—the first place in the US to see the sunrise each day.

 

October 3–11 | Boston: Walking the Freedom Trail and visiting historic sites proved especially meaningful experiences for Ben, who was studying American History. 

 

October 7 | A. D. Makepeace Farm, Wareham, Massachusetts: A bucket-list item for me was visiting the largest cranberry farm in the US, with two thousand acres of bogs that produce 400,000 barrels each year. It was peak harvest when we arrived. Glenn, the Cranberry Boss, gave us a private tour and even let us step into the bog and help.

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The Andersons sit atop “The Summit” overlooking a stunning Sedona sunset (photo courtesy of Miranda Anderson). 

October 21–November 1 | Kentucky & Tennessee: Harvey felt like home by now. But in Kentucky we had a couple nights’ hotel stay with family who traveled down to join us, followed by a weeklong home stay with college friends. Bedroom doors, quiet workspaces, a full kitchen, private laundry room, a lawn to help care for, and even a piano were enjoyed with fresh appreciation after living in a twenty-six-foot-long RV. 

November 1–15 | Great Smoky Mountain National Park: Hello again, Harvey! When we arrived at the park, it was peak color season. Bright yellows, reds, and golds welcomed us. Folk art is a big part of Smoky Mountain culture, and we were captivated watching potters, blacksmiths, and glass blowers practicing their craft. After three months on the road, we had perfected cooking meals over a fire or on the Blackstone grill. We were intentional about visiting farmers markets along the way. Buying locally grown foods from local people allowed us to experience new fruits and veggies, sunflower pesto, blackberry ketchup, and fresh salsa. We rarely ate out, instead spending our money on experiences. On average it cost us $212 a day for our family of five to travel the US including gas, groceries, campsites, experiences, household goods, and the unexpected. This was close to what I had read on other blogs. So what if the kitchen remodel was put on hold?

Thanksgiving (November 24–30) | Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: This was the first major holiday we weren’t spending with family. So I booked us a week of relaxing at a campsite with a half mile of ocean beach, an indoor pool, multiple lakes for fishing, and most importantly, a basketball court.

10 December 9 | Florida: We joined a hundred other people on a long bridge to view the Space X Falcon 9 Rocket, which launched at one o’clock in the morning. Later, we visited the Kennedy Space Center, and then we spent a week soaking up the sun in the Keys before flying home for Christmas to be with family and do all the Minnesota winter things—a nonnegotiable. Harvey, meanwhile, along with the trailer and Explorer, were stored at the KOA where we stayed before and after our three-week trip home.

11 January 30–February 4 | Crystal River, Florida: While swimming with manatees at a campground near Kings Bay springs, we met a family that amazed us: a single mom with six kids from Utah who had been on the road for the past three years. A year into their journey her husband died, but they were determined to finish their goal of visiting all fifty states. They had seven states left. Our kids hit it off, and we adults exchanged on-the-road life and school hacks. One evening, we offered to bless them by watching her four younger kids while she and her two older teen daughters had a night out. They jumped at the offer which included taking our Explorer for a spin. 

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Sampson the camel crashes the family picnic at White Sand Dunes National Park (photo by Miranda Anderson).

12 Super Bowl Sunday (February 13) | NEW CANEY, Texas: We made our way across Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana to Texas, where a college friend had invited us to stay with his family just outside of Houston. We hadn’t seen him since our wedding twenty years ago, but our families quickly connected as we helped them prepare to host a party for the big game.

13 February 22–24 | Twin Elm Guest Ranch, Bandera, Texas: We celebrated Kate’s tenth birthday at the cowboy capital of the US. The experience on the 165-acre dude ranch included roping lessons, branding wood, hayrides, and a stark change in the weather. Overnight temperatures dropped forty-nine degrees down to thirty-seven when we got up at 6:30 a.m. to help with chores. 

14 February 25–28 | Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Parks, New Mexico: We had an unexpected visitor, Sampson the camel, stop by as we were lounging on the dunes on a sunny Sunday afternoon. He felt so comfortable that he lay down by our picnic blanket and even nibbled on Kate’s sweatshirt. Some experiences just can’t be planned.

15 March 2–April 8 | Arizona: No matter what part of the state we were in, sunsets were consistent hues of oranges with outlines of mountains and plateaus. We gazed at them in Benson, Mesa Verde, Pine, Scottsdale, Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction, and Lake Havasu. 

16 April 8–May 18 | Utah, California, Oregon, and Washington: Hiking was nearly a daily occurrence as we explored Canyonlands, Arches, Zion, Bryce, Sequoia, Death Valley, Yosemite, Redwood, and Olympic National Parks. The roar of the Pacific Ocean greeted us on the West Coast. Its constant roaring waves are different from those of the Atlantic Ocean, where a single wave crash was followed by quiet, then another wave. This was true from the first beach we visited in northern California to Ruby Beach in northern Washington as we traveled the coast on Highway 101.

17 May 18 | Homeward: When we departed Fall City, Washington, (outside Seattle) our last multiple-night stay, we were like horses for the barn. The trip home that I had thought would take us six days only took four. We arrived home on May 22, 2022.

Many people have asked what our favorite part of the adventure was. We saw a lot of amazing places, but for us the best part was having the adventure as a family. As a wife and mother who has worked outside of the home for the past twenty years, I have never had this much time with my family. Because the kids were at the ages they were, forming their own ideas and opinions, we had many great discussions about the things we experienced together. We got to know each other in deeper ways. It was so much more than I expected. 

And of all the places we visited, Merrifield, Minnesota, is our favorite. You are welcome anytime. 

Editor’s Note: Read more about the Anderson family adventure on their blog, AndersonsOnTheRoad.com.

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