3 Month Trip Analysis

We left Kentucky on January 26, 2012, and so we’ve just completed 3 months on the road, which is about 1/3 of our planned 9-month adventure of a lifetime.  Being the geek that I am, I’ve meticulously logged various aspects of our trip in a spreadsheet.  I thought it might be interesting to share some of these statistics.  All figures are for the 3 months from January 26 through April 25, which is Day 91 of our trip.


Parks

The primary purpose of our trip is to visit the most beautiful natural lands in the western United States, Canada and Alaska.  These can be found in parks, monuments, and forests.  In general, we’ve been skipping the parks that we’ve visited before. 

Following are the number of days we spent hiking in each type of park we’ve visited, followed by the number of parks of each type:

  Days Parks
National Park 19 9
State Park 17 11
National Monument 10 5
National Preserve 6 1
National Forest 2 2
Municipal Park 2 2

Here is the list of parks we’ve visited thus far, in the order we visited them:

  • Grand Isle State Park (Louisiana)
  • Brazos Bend State Park (Texas)
  • Enchanted Rock State Park (Texas)
  • Oliver Lee Memorial State Park (New Mexico)
  • White Sands National Monument (New Mexico)
  • Catalina State Park (Arizona)
  • Saguaro National Park (Arizona)
  • Coronado National Forest (Arizona)
  • Sonoran Desert National Monument (Arizona)
  • Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (California)
  • Lake Cahuilla Municipal Park (California)
  • Joshua Tree National Park (California)
  • Mojave National Preserve (California)
  • Death Valley National Park (California)
  • Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada)
  • Vermillion Cliffs National Monument (Arizona)
  • Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (Utah)
  • Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)
  • Kodachrome State Park (Utah)
  • Goblin Valley State Park (Utah)
  • Arches National Park (Utah)
  • Canyonlands National Park (Utah)
  • Colorado National Monument (Colorado)
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado)
  • Mueller State Park (Colorado)
  • Arapaho National Forest (Colorado)
  • Golden Gate Canyon State Park (Colorado)

We spent the following number of nights in each state:

  • California – 32
  • Arizona – 14
  • Utah – 13
  • Colorado – 9
  • Texas – 6
  • Nevada – 5
  • Louisiana – 4
  • New Mexico – 4
  • Tennessee – 2
  • South Dakota – 1
  • Wyoming – 1

Hiking

All who wander are not lost.  One of principal ways we enjoy our natural lands is by hiking them.  And we’ve hiked a lot on this trip:

We hiked on 56 of the 91 days, which is about 62% of the days.  We hiked on 82 different trails, which of course means that on some days we hiked more than one trail.

We hiked for 238.6 miles, which is about 630,000 steps at 2 feet per step.  So on average we hiked 4.26 miles per hiking day.

We climbed 28,595 feet of elevation, which is about 5.4 miles, or the equivalent of climbing to the top floor of the Sears Tower 20 times.  On average we climbed about 510 feet of elevation per hiking day.

We hiked for 175.0 hours, which is about 7.3 days.  On average we hiked for about 3 hours 10 minutes per day, which actually doesn’t seem like a lot to us.

Our net average hiking speed was 1.4 miles per hour, which is pretty fast for us, since this average includes stops for lunch and sightseeing.

For you dog fans, Darby and Shadow hiked with us on 36 of the 56 days, which is about every other hiking day.  The dogs hiked a total of 125.8 miles, though that number is probably much higher because they wander all over the place and don’t hike in a straight line on the trail when they are off the leash.  The dogs climbed 12,625 feet of elevation, which is about 2.4 miles.  And the dogs hiked for 92.3 hours, which is about 3.8 days.  Note that all of these hiking figures for both us and the dogs do not include the 2-3 dog walks per day, which would certainly add to the totals.

Driving

Driving is not our favorite thing to do, but of course it’s the only affordable way to do a cross-country trip.  In our planning, we estimated that we would drive over 20,000 miles on this trip, in our RV and SUV combined. 

We drove the RV on 34 of the 91 days, or about 37% of the days.  We didn’t record how many days we drove our towed vehicle, a 2008 Toyota RAV4, but it was pretty much every day.

We drove the RV for a total of 5,410 miles.  We drove the SUV for a total of 3,030 miles.  Thus we’ve driven both vehicles for 8,440 miles.

One interesting way to analyze our trip is by which RV we were driving.  We can divide the trip into three distinct periods:

  • Pre-Crash: driving our 2006 Four Winds Hurricane Class-A RV
  • Recovery: driving our SUV around southern California trying to find a new RV
  • Post-Crash: driving our 2012 Coachmen Freelander Class-C RV

In the pre-crash portion of our trip, we covered a lot of ground from Kentucky to California.  We also spent all of our nights in campgrounds.  In the post-crash portion of our trip, we didn’t need to drive as much because there were many more parks packed into a much smaller area in southern California, Utah and Colorado.  Also, we tried to spend as many nights as we could dispersed camping in the middle of nowhere.  The following table illustrates some of these differences:

  Total Pre-Crash Post-Crash
RV Miles 5,410 3,029 2,267
Driving Hours 141.0 74.9 64.1
Days 34 11 23
Miles/Hour 38 40 35
Miles/Day 159 275 99

On such a long trip, fuel economy is important.  When we are driving our RV, we are almost always pulling our towed SUV, which weighs about 3,500 pounds.  Both of our RVs have a Ford V-10 6.8L 305 HP engine.  Our old 18,000-pound RV averaged about 7.8 miles per gallon.  Our new 12,000-pound RV is averaging 8.5 MPG.  But our actual mileage is probably higher, because our generator consumes about 1/2 gallon gas per hour, and we run the generator about an hour/day when we are boondocking (camping without electricity).  Our Toyota RAV4 is doing great for a V-6 SUV, averaging 26.0 MPG.

Campgrounds

Campgrounds are an important part of the trip, as that’s where we park our RV and sleep at night.  Following are the number of nights we spent camping in each type of campground, followed by the number of campgrounds of each type:

  Nights Campgrounds
Private Campground 32 11
State Park Campground 23 8
Dispersed Camping 15 8
National Park Campground 9 3
Motel/Hotel 8 2
National Monument Campground 2 1
Municipal Park Campground 1 1
RV Dealer Parking Lot 1 1

A very important aspect of camping is what hookups are provided.  The three most important hookups are electricity, water and sewer.  When talking about hookups, these are the connections that are provided at your camp site.  Note that some campgrounds may not provide some hookups such as sewer at your camp site, but they may provide a public sewer dump for everyone to share.  There are other hookups including cable TV, telephone and Internet, but these are less important to us, since we don’t watch TV and have our own mobile phone and Internet.  Following are the nights we spent at campgrounds with each of the different configurations of hookups:

Hookups Nights Pre-Crash Post-Crash
Elec+Water+Sewer 30 14 16
Electric+Water 22 18 4
Electric Only 3 0 3
None-Campground 13 0 13
None-Dispersed 17 0 17
None-Motel 8 0 0

Notice how we’ve gone without hookups much more frequently post-crash.  This is part of our conscious decision since the crash to camp in remote areas whenever possible.  Our new RV allows us to go about 3-4 days before we need to refill our water and dump our sewer.

Expenses

We’ve incurred many expenses the past 3 months that have little or nothing to do with our trip.  For example, we still have a house to sell, so we are paying for the mortgage, insurance, electricity, security, lawn care, etc.  We also have to pay for auto, health, and other insurance that we would pay regardless of our trip (though our health insurance would likely be cheaper through our employer if one of us had a full-time job).  Thus for this discussion, I will focus on the expenses directly associated with our trip.

Campground fees are one of the largest expenses.  The total cost of our campground fees was $2,016.79.  Thus, the average cost was $21.69 per night.  The average cost when we actually paid for camping (i.e., not including the free nights dispersed camping) was $26.89 per night.  These figures include tax.  In general, we prefer to pay less than $30 per night for full hookups when camping in a campground.

The most expensive campground was LazyDays RV Campground in Tucson, Arizona at $41.16 per night.  The least expensive campground was Ryan Campground in Joshua Tree National Park at $10.00 per night, though it had no hookups, water or sewer dump, so you get what you pay for.

Following are some of our most significant trip-related expenses we incurred the past 3 months, along with the average per month:

  Total Per Month
Groceries $2,228 $743
Campgrounds $2,017 $672
RV Gas $1,964 $655
Phone $795 $265
RV Service $739 $246
Dining Out $542 $181
Medical $474 $158
SUV Gas $432 $144
RV Supplies $327 $109
Gifts+Souvenirs $217 $72
Internet $115 $38
Laundry $109 $36

If you exclude other living expenses such as insurance and a house to be sold, living on the road is actually quite affordable!

Conclusion

Perhaps the most important aspect of our trip that these facts and figures do not capture is how much fun we’ve been having.  To be sure, life on the road is not easy.  There is the stress of driving from place to place, trying not to get smashed to bits by police cars in high speed chases, figuring out where you are going to camp for the night, working with limited resources in a very limited living space, dealing with weak cell phone signals and even weaker Internet, etc.  But the joy we’ve had hiking our country’s most beautiful natural lands has been immeasurable.

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