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Right now, I'm at Cottonwood campground in Apache National Forest. (But the cover photo is from my birthday on White Sands.) The sun set about 30 minutes ago, so I am in the part of the day where the temperature is plummeting, and I will likely head for my sleeping bag before too long. But for now, a pair of open-tipped gloves will buy me some time. I'm thinking about the things which have gone particularly well and poorly on this trip.

MVP Gear:

  1. Hitch step - life is so much better with this than it would be climbing in and out on the bumper alone.
  2. Coleman stove - without it, I'd be using a little backpacker's stove: perfectly serviceable, but more expensive (for fuel) and much less stable.
  3. Approach shoes - they've seen limited use, but for the weeks I've been bouldering, man, have they been terrific. They're so sticky on the rock, and I've spent hours climbing in them with greater comfort than the pointy climbing shoes.
  4. Side Bins - when I bought them all for almost $100 on my last day or two in Pittsburgh, they certainly stung. But imagining the hellish mess the sides of my truck would be without them makes me shudder.
  5. Plush air mattress - Even when the seams ruptured and were repaired (at the Field Lab), then other slow leaks kept bleeding air, I have not suffered any disruptive back pain. With my super-crooked back, that's been a nice surprise.

(The truck, my laptop, and camera have all done a fantastic job so far, but didn't surprise me as much.)

Best Adjustments:

  1. not going across North Dakota in January
  2. Staying 2 extra days in Mississippi to paddle to Horn Island with Rachel
  3. Staying 2 extra days in Hueco Tanks (after a week straight of making plans to go) and making friends with M.
  4. Adding 1x8s under the bins on the side so that they no longer get hung up on the doors
  5. Enacting a "minimal interstate highways" policy

Worst mishaps:

  1. Picking up backpack which wasn't fully zipped, dropping iPod touch to concrete in Texas and shattering the screen
  2. Losing sunglasses ($45) and 32G USB Drive ($40 or so, I hope it's just hidden in the truck)
  3. Leaving Railroad Canyon, which was wonderful, and driving around Gila National Forest all day without a good hike while obviously being surrounded by them.
  4. Driving down Black Gap Road in Big Bend, smashing bumper and maybe botching alignment
  5. Wearing new boots for a long hike and giving myself a pair of blisters

Pleasant Surprises:

  1. So far, insects have been a total non-issue, even at meal times. INSANE.
  2. Mississippi and Louisiana were both much more beautiful than I knew to expect.
  3. The dumbbells I brought are actually seeing use.
  4. I haven't gotten lonely or homesick.
  5. Knock on wood, the only mechanical problem I've had with the truck through 4000 miles has been one punctured tire, repaired for $10.

Unexpected Annoyances:

  1. When 3 things are out of place in the truck, I can't move. But this is probably good, since I am a capital‑L Loser (of stuff.) Mandatory organization takes a lot of time and effort, but I'd have lost
  2. at least $500 worth of gear if I'd done this trip ten years ago.
  3. Weeks of cooking in high winds has gotten grueling; but I'm getting more comfortable with cooking in the back of the truck when necessary. It's easy to ventilate, so I don't think there's much risk to doing this occasionally.
  4. Sunset brings such rapid cooling in the desert, sending me to bed comically early. I miss being active after dinner.
  5. This isn't really an annoyance, but a disappointment: I was hoping to get some coding done, more art and guitar practice in. But I seem to be unable to dedicate time to them when I could be getting exercise or heading to the next spot.
  6. I miss having a chair with a back, and maybe a desk. I wanted to build them into the setup, but basically ran out of time and figured they were non-essential.

Things I would consider changing for next time:

  1. Rather than making a huge loop, pick a single region and stay focused there
  2. Insulating the roof of the truck if possible, maybe trying to deal with condensation better
  3. Some sort of refrigeration system might be real nice
  4. Starting in spring or the tail end of summer instead of winter (although there's nothing wrong with my choice this time, and you go when you can.)
  5. Having some sort of income so money isn't a limiting factor

Going on this trip has, overall, showed me that this lifestyle could be really good for me on a more permanent basis. I'd need to win the lottery or get a job I can telecommute to (and, ideally, be offline for long stretches.) But I could definitely see this being something I orient my life around from now on.

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