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Preparing for the Adventure of a Lifetime

Cody Smith
February 27, 2012
Filed under Blog

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“So, where is your favorite place you’ve been?”

“Ummmmm…”

Unfortunately, that’s about the extent of my answer to that question most of the time. It isn’t that I can’t think of anywhere – it’s the fact that when someone asks me that question, there are about 100 locations across the U.S. flashing through my mind like a slideshow in fast forward. Usually, within a couple minutes, I can narrow it down to my top 10 or 15 favorite places, but then I remember a few more I forgot about, and I have to narrow it down again (which is always extremely difficult). For example: how am I supposed to choose between Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, the Badlands of South Dakota, and Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center?

See, in 2008 my family and I left our house and most of our possessions to travel full-time across America. Since then we’ve been to 27 states, 16 national parks, and covered approximately 34,000 miles of road. Needless to say, we’ve seen a lot! But before I go taking off on a long description of our journey, which will come in other posts, let me take you way back to the beginning and give you a sort of intro to the Smith family and how our travels began.

From left to right: myself, Naomi, Hanna, Gabriel, Mom (Sheri), Tytus, Dad (Shae), and Josephine.

Before we set off on this adventure, my family of seven lived in Highlandville, MO – a small rural town consisting mostly of cattle or dairy farms. Our 2,800 square foot, two story house on four acres was home for 11 years, and is where two of my sisters and one brother were born. Whether pets or otherwise, we always had plenty of animals around. Dogs, cats, chickens, fish, snakes, turtles, frogs, lizards, and even an occasional wounded squirrel or chipmunk could all be found living in or around our house at one time or another.

Footballs, soccer trophies, and baseball gloves aren’t the kind of things you’d find laying around our garage – but it was, and still is, pretty evident what our family hobbies are. An RV sat in the driveway, ATVs in the garage, and camping gear in various rooms of the house. Whether a six hour riding trip or a four day camping excursion, we were more than willing to jump at any chance to go! It was on one of these camping trips that this whole adventure started.

We were with our church on a weekend camping trip at the Old Highway 86 campground along the shore of Table Rock Lake – swimming, skits, campfire songs, and pranks all made this a pretty average church campout. Everyone had a great time, as usual, and nothing out of the ordinary happened until one evening my dad said, “You know, I think I could do this full-time…”

That statement is what began the landslide of events that has changed our lives forever.

What followed were the many late nights and long conversations discussing and researching whether or not doing something like that would actually be feasible. Should we sell the house? How would we travel? Where would we go? How long should we travel? Are there other people that do this? What are the pros and cons of traveling full-time? And countless other questions that needed answering.

There was no doubt as to the desire to do it! My parents have been camping and traveling since before I was even born – taking a blanket out onto the beach for the night, and going for day trips hiking and snorkeling in Texas, California, or Key West – wherever the Navy stationed them.

The Keystone Springdale, our family camper for several years. Having bunk beds, a queen bed, and a foldout dinette gave us the sleeping room we needed.

When my sister, Hanna, and I came along within a couple years of each other, a tent became necessary. Several years later, after a miserable camping trip along the Buffalo River during which the humid Arkansas air soared to a temperature of 105, my then pregnant mother said if we were going to continue camping it was time to get something with four walls, a roof, and AC. In 2001 we went to an RV show in Springfield, MO, and my parents bought a 31 foot Keystone Springdale travel trailer with one slideout and a very nice floor plan for us at the time. This was the family camper for about six years, and it took us on adventures any weekend we could find the time to go. My dad even rigged up a 75 gallon water tank and an old swimming pool pump to give us extra water for our frequent stays in the national forest. ’05 and ’06 were hard-core camping years, and found us visiting our favorite places in southern Missouri sometimes two weekends a month, weather permitting.

My parents decided that, although what we had was a great weekend camper, it would take something a little more spacious to travel full-time in. The fact that our family had almost doubled in size, from four to seven, also settled this decision. They ended up picking out a Forest River Salem Sport toy hauler, which we went and got from Goshen, Indiana – a place many RV and RV parts manufacturers are based out of. At 42 feet long, and weighing in at around 13,500 pounds, this fifth-wheel surprised all of us at its size and amount of storage. And since it offers a king size bed, two queens, and a twin, along with a foldout bed in the dining room, there are actually more beds than what was in our house.

With a total length of about 60 feet and width of 8 1/2 feet, these monsters take up a lot of room anywhere we go.

My dad had recently sold his Chevy Silverado and Nissan Armada to buy a new Dodge Ram 3500 dually with the extra large “mega cab”, which is what he towed the camper back with. There was only one minor incident as we turned out of the parking lot onto the road – it seems when the emergency breakaway cable accidentally gets pulled, even an 8,000 pound truck with 350 horsepower can’t pull a 6 ½ ton fifth-wheel with its brakes locked. But we quickly learned the best way to route the cable, and this incident has thankfully never happened again. Once we returned, it came time to take care of the less enjoyable parts – packing, sorting, and garage sales. My parents ended up buying a 40 foot Wells Cargo storage trailer to put anything into we wanted to keep (picking this massive trailer up is a whole story of its own). Friends and family from all around the Springfield/Branson area came to help us pack belongings and load boxes. By the time the house was empty, we had filled the trailer from front to back, and sold or given away virtually everything else, besides what we decided to bring along with us.

Sometimes we have plenty of space to spread out, like here at the base of Superstition Mountain near Phoenix, AZ.

In the back of our new home, the fifth-wheel, is where we parked our four ATVs, three kayaks, and seven bikes. It was a tight fit, but my dad’s an expert at packing stuff, so like a giant jigsaw puzzle we parked the ATVs in, leaned the bikes against the back door, and laid the kayaks on top. My mom also had a jigsaw puzzle to put together, except her’s was made of school books, clothes, kitchen utensils, and toys.

Once everything was finally packed in the RV and storage trailer, and the house emptied, we left and went down to one of our favorite places to visit – the 1,600 acre Eagle Rock Retreat Center, near Eagle Rock, Missouri. It was time for a trial run, while we waited for the house to sell. Everything went off without a hitch, and about a week later we drove to Branson where my parents signed over our house and property to the new owners. At last it was time to hit the open road, which is exactly what we did after a short stay at my grandmother’s.

Thus began our adventure into the great unknown, the day before my birthday, October 2, 2008! Of course, I’ve tried to cover in this short post what took over a year to actually take place, so there was certainly a lot more that went on in between the events I’ve covered. One thing I need to mention, though, is the birth of my youngest brother, Tytus, nine months after we started traveling (this is also a whole story of its own).

Just admiring some mountains during a picnic on our trip through New Mexico.

Since that chilly Fall day when we left everything I’d known for the majority of my life, I’ve been places and seen things I can’t even describe, and done things I would’ve never thought in a million years I’d get to do. It really has been the adventure of a lifetime, and after over three years we’re still going strong, with no plans to stop traveling any time soon.

Thanks to Tom Kaiser (managing editor) and Chris Soash (digital media manager), I’ll be posting my adventures on this blog from now on – along with useful information, travel info, fun stories, and lessons learned during our travels!

So, where is your favorite place you’ve been?

Leave a comment and let me know. No pressure, though…

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