Wonder The Road
Inspired by Cheryl Strayed’s ‘Wild’, Kate decided to take a trip. She grew up going on road trips with her family and decided that would be her adventure of choice. A two week trip turned five month exploration, Kate Jackson said goodbye to her Brooklyn life in search of a new home in America. We were able to ask Kate a few questions about what she’s been learning about life on the road and are excited to share her wisdom with you.
Photos by Kate Jackson unless otherwise noted.
Meet Bold Explorer, Kate
How did your trip come to be?
If I had to pinpoint the inception, it was probably reading Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild.” I’d never backpacked and I didn’t have to do quite as hard a reset on life as she did, but the need for a drastic change through adventure was incredibly inspiring. I’d been living in Brooklyn for several years at that point and loved it, but it was starting to wear on me. I was also working a job that was great on many levels, but ultimately knew it wasn’t a lifelong venture. The questions of where to live next and what career would be fulfilling became more and more pressing. I knew that if I moved, I wanted to do a month-long road trip to my next destination, but as I started looking into it, I realized there was so much I wanted to see in this country and that wasn’t going to cut it. So, over time, it expanded to six months (or until the money runs out). After visiting a few contenders for my new city last year, but not really being blown away by any of them, I also decided to use this trip to see where in America felt like home.
Why did you choose to travel in your car vs a camper or trailer? Do you tent camp?
For whatever reason, it wasn’t until about six months before my trip that I was clued into the camper/vanlife culture. I researched it for a few weeks, but ultimately decided that I wanted to keep things simple and the costs down. Plus, if I had to build out a van or camper, there wasn’t anywhere easy to do that in Brooklyn. So, I kept with my original plan to camp the way I had when I was a kid, pitching a tent as I moved along. Ultimately, I’ve really loved being able to wake up in a tent most mornings in the middle of nature. The downside, though, is not having much protection from the elements, but that just comes with the territory (and usually makes for some good stories).
You chose to travel solo. What have you learned about yourself along the way?
Up until I left on this trip, my life had a routine and there was some comfort in that. I understand the value of that to people, but I think the thing I’ve realized the most is that your life can be whatever you make it. I was adventurous to some extent before, but never in a “pack up your stuff and live out of your car for several months” kind of a way. It’s done me a lot of good to see that I can survive anywhere, without much, and have an incredibly fun time doing it. It’s shifted my perspective on what’s possible and, if I had to guess, probably changed the course of my life. Exploration has become addicting and I see more trips like this in my future.
Also, I’ve learned that I can build the hell out of a fire now and that does wonders for one’s confidence.
How did your family and friends react to the change?
At first, my parents were freaked out about the idea of me on the road alone. The turning point, though, was when my mom was on a hike and met a woman who’d hiked the PCT. This woman, bless her heart, somehow put my mom at ease, and since then, I’ve received growing excitement and anticipation from my parents for my stories from the road.
My friends, on the other hand, were nothing but supportive from the get-go. I’ve mostly heard from people – friends, work colleagues, those I’ve met on the road – how inspiring my trip is to them and how they wished they could do something similar. I’m not sure if they all know, but it means so much everytime I hear this and is a reminder of what a crazy, amazing thing I’m doing.
Do you have any safety tips for life on the road?
It seems this is a pretty common theme, but intuition has been my best tool. There have been a few times where I’ve been a little scared (what if a bear comes through the campsite at night or a stranger pulls into a dispersed camping area when I’m the only one there), but I’ve found that all fear thus far has been in my head. If I don’t feel comfortable in a situation at first, it’s usually because my mind has wandered into the unknown as opposed to focusing on the likelihood.
When folks find out I’m solo road tripping, they’ve gone above and beyond to be friendly, offering me great travel tips or inviting me to their campfire. I’ve been overwhelmed by the friendliness of people. So, as I’ve gained more experience in these unfamiliar situations, I’ve come to trust that they will end up being positive experiences rather than disastrous ones. And, really, I think that experience and confidence are key parts of intuition. When you’re able to draw from past experiences and know that everything usually turns out okay, you have a better feel for what might cause you harm and what won’t.
That being said, I sleep with bear spray and the Buck knife my dad gave me most nights just in case.
What was the adjustment period like when you took off?
It was a long one, actually. I ended up planning the first couple of months on the road either visiting friends or having family/friends join me in the car. In retrospect, I would have given myself at least a month alone to get my mind right about a solo lifestyle before planning comfortable encounters.
The feel of my trip changed exponentially once I got to The Badlands and was truly alone for an extended period of time. It was where I finally got my bearings and adjusted to living by myself out of the car. I no longer had a schedule of where to be and when and was able to have freedom with changing my mind on planned destinations. That was definitely unnerving at first, especially when you’re tent camping, because there’s a little more thought required as to where you’ll end up at the end of the day. When it’s just you, that means getting everything sorted before you get on the road. But, I eventually got the hang of it and as I became more comfortable, this lifestyle felt like second-nature.
Do you have any advice for other solo women planning a big adventure?
Take half as much stuff as you think you need. There’s really no way of knowing this until you’re on the road and have a better gauge for what is useful to you, but if you’re packing something with the thought of “this might come in handy,” there’s a good chance it won’t.
Keep things organized. When you’re living out of your car, van or camper, knowing where everything is cuts the possibility of frustration down dramatically. It took a few go arounds for me, but once I figured out the best way for my car to be organized and kept on top of it, setting up camp quickly became a breeze and that’s invaluable after a long travel day.
Try to connect with other travelers before you leave and stay open to meeting them on the road. There have been some incredible places I’ve been clued into by other travelers that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. This has added to my trip’s experience exponentially.
Know that it’s okay to take a day off. Honestly, I still struggle with this, but it is important. When you’re on the road, going from place to place, it can get exhausting after awhile. It’s hard to give yourself permission to take a day off and not explore, whether that be hanging close to the campsite or getting a motel room and watching a Fargo marathon on TV. I have reluctantly done this, but always been really grateful in retrospect. Sometimes you need to just not do anything and recharge so you can go out and fully explore the next day.
Finally, do it. Seriously, it’ll be the best thing you’ve ever accomplished.
Take a photo of your five must have items for road travel.
- Cast-iron skillet. You can cook anything in this thing and, after you get her good and seasoned, clean up is a breeze. I use this almost everytime I cook for myself.
- Coffee-making supplies. This is vital and part of my morning routine most days.
- Dromedary bag. This has really come in handy when I’ve camped in places with no water. Even when I’ve had water close by, it’s great to have a water source at your campsite for washing hands and dishes.
- Rainboots. These take up a ridiculous amount of space considering they’re only useful when the weather sucks, but man, have they come in handy. They’ve gotten me through mud fields, wet grass, and some crazy ass storms. I wouldn’t give them up for the world.
- Headlamp. As far as I’m concerned, these things changed the camping game.
Where has been the best place you’ve woken up?
In the Grand Tetons. Thanks to www.freecampsites.net (y’all, this is an incredible resource), I found an amazing free campsite in between Grand Teton and Yellowstone that sat on a bluff overlooking the Snake River and the Teton mountain range. My last morning there, two moose crossed the river over to my side and we watched each other for awhile. That was pretty magical.
Where are you now and where will you be in one month?
Right now I’m in Northern California, exploring the coast along Highway 1, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. In a month, I’ll be in Austin for the winter. After some deliberation, these last five months or so haven’t satiated my desire to travel and I plan on working in Austin while it’s cold to save up money and get back to living on the road next spring.
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Have any more questions for Kate? Ask away!
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