vanlife, chapter 1: by the numbers, and other notes

  • 8 months
  • 4 oil changes
  • 1 hit-and-run
  • 19 national parks, seashores, and forests
  • 30 state parks and forests
  • 55 bodies of water where Ritchey’s ashes swim
  • 21 households that took me in
  • 74 books read
  • 40-some mountain bike rides on 20-some trails
  • 75-ish hikes
  • 54 breweries and 1 distillery
  • 22 states
  • 0 speeding tickets
  • 0 flat tires
  • 1 (very minor) theft
  • 2 stoves
  • 1 time overrun by no-see-ums
  • 6 civil rights museums, monuments, memorials
  • 70 birds identified (not counting those in captivity)
  • 21 other wildlife identified (not counting those in captivity)
  • 14 turtles helped across the road
  • 7 artists honored by visits to homes and other landmarks
  • 15,000 miles (approximate, and with deep regret that I didn’t mark down the precise odometer reading when I headed out).

  • favorite trails: Oak Mountain in central Alabama; Blankets Creek just north of Atlanta, Georgia; Dupont State Park in North Carolina; Lebanon Hill in southern Minnesota; Palo Duro in northwest Texas, Big Bend in southwest Texas, and my new home trail in Upshur County, West Virginia.
  • favorite bookstores: Malaprops in Asheville, NC and Content in Northfield, MN.
  • favorite friends: never. 🙂 I love you all.

lessons learned:

  • this life is easier, and much more joyful, than I’d expected.
  • I like being alone just fine. also, I like to catch up with those I love.
  • Hops likes meeting new people.
  • I need way less of everything than I thought I did.
  • whew, it’s hot out here, y’all.

Before I get too misty-eyed, let me wrap up this wrap-up post. In nine months or so, the plan is start chapter 2. Thank you so much to all of you who have kept up along the way. If you got a postcard from me on the road, would you consider sending me one now that I have an address? PM me for that info. Lots of love.

Foxy in her new WV home-for-now

more updates

I wrote a post over at that other blog on how my teaching is going. Just a few days in, but I wanted to share. Hops and I are feeling fairly well settled in our little house; I have made some mountain biking buddies and found a gym and a pool. I like it here in Buckhannon, a sweet little town with everything I need for the next nine months. After that, I’m still psyched to hit the road again.

I still owe you a wrap-up post with all the juicy stats collected in my eight months on the blue highways in Foxy. It’s coming one of these days… and then we’ll really settle into silence until the next adventure.

Take care, friends.

still settling in; a second visitor

Well, I lied when I said there would be just one more post. There will be a couple, it seems.

My dad came to visit immediately upon Liz’s departure, and we have continued the projects that Liz started/helped conceive. We put my mattress up on a platform of plywood and milk crates. We repaired the screen door. We’ve been documenting a few maintenance requests. And walking the neighborhood, and exploring the town (a local Italian place turned out excellent! craft beer here is more expensive than I’ve seen it, ever!), and exploring a little further away as well. We spent a day in the mountains and today we’ll spend another. I’ve had a few more bike rides with new friends! It’s all very exciting.

We also celebrated Hops’s 11th birthday at a brewery after a good day of hikes – he napped well.

I am still touristing, a little, in my new town. As soon as Pops flies out, though, it’s back to work: I’ll have less than a week til orientation starts at the new job, and my syllabi need work. Busy busy…

moving in

The move began with a desk in the van, on loan from my buddy Doug for the duration of the time I’ll be living here in Buckhannon, WV.

Foxy as moving van

The next few days were a delightful whirlwind. My buddy Liz came to visit and help out. We moved in a bunch of free/gifted furniture, she helped me get set up; we enjoyed some local food & drink, and walked around the neighborhood.

I didn’t take many pictures, and none (sorry to say) with Liz.

It was a delight to have her here, and it was the end of an era. The next weeks involve a visit from my dad that I’m really looking forward to, and prep for the beginning of the semester and the start of my new teaching gig. Foxy has been emptied out, down to her frame and cabinetry. I’ve brought the mattress in to sleep on it indoors, which will make it a little harder to use her for weekend trips – I’d need help to reload the mattress, and back and forth. Well, we’ll see. There is a lot to be seen about my new life.

The end of the Foxy travels era also means the end of this as an active blog. I expect I’ll be wildly busy with the new job, and integrating into a new community. I figure I’ll post once more here, after several weeks, to let you know how the settling is going; but the next post is likely to be the last, at least for a while. The plan as of now is to hit the road again next May, when my nine-month contract with the college ends. At that point, I expect, I’ll restart this blog when I restart the travels. But the future is never known for sure, is it.

Thanks for being with me during these weird and wonderful months. Here’s a picture of Hops at our little house. Cheers and hugs, friends.


I am writing this on Thursday night. These words will post on Friday morning, as I remove the final items from my rental house (toilet paper, cleaning products, the one folding chair) and do the final clean sweep, lock the door, and turn in the keys. The first day will be an easy one, travel-wise: I’m just headed a short distance north to the brewery where I worked until recently, to have a few last beers with my friends there. I will park Foxy at a friend’s house nearby, or who knows, maybe even just stay at the brewery for the night. Saturday morning I’ll say a final goodbye and drive a few hours to Houston, my hometown, where I’ll see some friends and stick around for a concert on Monday evening. I have a few hours’ work lined up for Saturday afternoon, because I am lucky to have a few clients sticking with me during this time of change. I am grateful, for example, for a certain fly fisherman/distiller/blogger who trusts me with his words and says nice things about my work.

It’s a time of change… I have liquidated so much, packed much more into a little storage unit, and jam-packed the rest into a twenty-four-year-old teal-and-white van. I will be living differently. Every piece of garbage I create I will have to find a way to dispose of (not a bad thing, to be so cognizant of trash); I will have to work to find places to shower, do laundry, cook, and poop. I will depend on the kindness of strangers to a certain extent, and I will depend on myself and my own decisions. I will be learning a great deal, about myself and the world. It’s tempting to wax on like this, but truly I have no way of knowing what the future holds, and anyway I’m tired. The sun has gone down and I live in a van, so I’ll head on towards bed now.


starting points

Before we head out on the road, I wanted to share a series of images of the places I’ve been. Hopefully this post informs you a little bit about where I’m coming from, inspires me in where I’m going, and starts us all off in the right spirit of travel and adventure.

Click to enlarge.

who & where from

My name is Julia and I’m a freelance writer & editor. I’m originally from Houston, Texas but have lived in Washington state and a few Texas small towns. I’ve been a bike messenger, librarian, and bartender.

My copilot is Hops, a ten-year-old Chihuahua-pug mutt who loves both hiking and lounging.

Traveling with us in spirit is Ritchey, who died a few months before our departure, at age sixteen. He would have loved the adventures but would have been impatient with the hours cooped up in the van.

And finally, Foxy the van came to me from friends. Kyle and Portia and dog Townes traveled the country before passing her on to me. In their honor, here’s a lovely picture from their time with Foxy (read more about their adventures here).

We’re setting out from the Texas Hill Country in December 2018. Thanks for following along!