Some copy-pasta from my spiel on reddit.
tl;dr Go travel. Travel is good.
The short story:
I graduated from Michigan State last May, had a job almost in my field for ~8 months but really despised it. My dad half-jokingly recommended I start planning an AT thru-hike, but I decided the parks out west held more interest to me. So I quit my job (a little too early money-wise, way too late mental well-being-wise), spent a month or two mulling around, a month or two planning, then left on May 22nd out of the Detroit area. Got back on Friday. Hell of a trip.
By the Numbers
- 13,486 miles driven
- 400.5 miles hiked
- 17 national parks
- 6 other units run by the NPS
- 3 state parks
- 5,856 pictures and videos
- 1 samba CD from a guy named Frank gained
- 1 front right blinker assembly lost
- 0 bears sighted
- 300+ combined plays for the tracks on Zedd's Clarity album (Played that album into the dirt)
- $3000 expected budget
- $3806 actually spent (on the road)
- ~$400 shortly before leaving on gear and clothing I was lacking. Some of which I didn't really need but did not mind having and will make use of some day (water filter, bear can, rain pants).
On the road spending splits into:
- $1453 on gas
- ~$1463 on "food" (Groceries, eating out, booze, and some other stuff picked up while grocery shopping like bug spray and soap)
- $194 Campgrounds
- $52 Showers and laundry
- $70 One night in a Hojo
- $28 Firewood (Kinda wish I'd made more fires or invited myself to more stranger's fires)
- $124 Various entrance fees (tolls, ferries, cave tours, Monterey Bay aquarium, some state park fees)
- $422 Odds and ends (Car check-ups, a new camera that broke two weeks later, fridge magnets for my mom, a night at a bar in North Dakota, bear spray, etc)
So I ended up about $800 over budget. I attribute this to a $120 camera snafu, a $70 night in a hotel, and extremely poor diligence in cooking my own meals. I think that $1463 could easily be cut in half by someone better about doing their own cooking and not drinking as much booze. I do have a line-item expenditures list, so if requested I'll try and get a decent number for what I spent on alcohol. I'd estimate it was $250-$300 store-bought. I did not classify my $50 night at the bar in North Dakota under "food".
My Brand Spankin' Old Corolla
I rock a 2000 Toyota Corolla that my Grandpa took meticulous care of for 10 years and 80,000 miles that I have since treated like an absent parent who neglects to do anything beyond feeding their child and putting a roof over their head some of the time. Left home with ~108,000 miles.
I initially budgeted for 10,000 miles (About 8,000 miles on the main tour loop and 2,000 miles in and around the parks) at 30mpg and an average gas price of $4.00/gal. That's an estimated $1333 in gas. The actual result was 13,486 miles at 35.5mpg and an average gas price of $3.83/gal. So I guessed way wrong on the driving I'd do to and from destinations but ended up compensating by getting my mpg and gas price wrong in a good way. $1453 spent on gas.
There are some car costs I'll be covering later down the road. The plastic cover for my front-right blinker disappeared somewhere in Colorado. My Engine light came on the week before I left, and I was assured it was just some irrelevant emissions problem. So that's on, and there may be other Check Engine bullpomegranate of non-importance that started during the trip. In Glacier, my handbrake light came on and hasn't turned off since, but to no obvious effect. Wiring problem I assume. And for good measure, I got rear-ended by a chain-smoking waitress (who - judging by her reaction and response - seems to blunder into minor accidents on a fairly regular basis) at the only stoplight in Greybull, WY. This prompted the only night I spent in a hotel, because no one wants to wake up in a sleeping bag to discover that their whiplash developed into a bigger problem of soreness and pain. Which it didn't. Yay.
The Final Route
(Some of the route gets cut off for me, can someone let me know if the northern driving route is not visible?)
My route during planning:
Gonna throw up the Google Maps I made while planning for the moment. Yellow markers are parks. Dark blue are potential camp grounds, generally cheap and near the parks. Light blue are campgrounds with showers... which I basically never used. Most of the parks' concessionaire-run general stores and/or campgrounds had showers. Not quite as many had laundry.
Detroit - San Francisco
San Francisco - Glacier
Glacier - Grand Forks, ND
I winged it from Grand Forks back down Michigan. The initial plan was to take my sweet time through Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan but I was well over-budget by then so I just went to the three major Michigan parks I wanted to see. I spent one day driving across Minnesota and Wisconsin, then two days each in Porcupine Mountains State Park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear were the only parks on the trip that I've been to before.
Camping and Lodging
- 1 night hotel
- 12(ish) nights with friends/family that conveniently got me through some cities I wanted to look around a bit (Denver CO, Las Vegas NV, Palo Alto/San Francisco CA, Portland OR, Grand Forks ND)
- Remaining nights spent camping. Stayed at about 12 pay sites, 14 found dispersed sites, and 10 official free sites of various development. The official free sites were generally my favorites, but the $10/night Deer Park CG in Olympic was far and away the most beautiful place I threw up my tent. A few of these free sites were <1 mile walk-in/back country camping sites and required grabbing a permit. The rest were primitive drive-in campgrounds, usually without water or trash removal but there were exceptions.
400.5 miles total for an average of 4.6 miles per day. Did my heaviest hiking in Yosemite, Olympic, and Glacier. Since I was out solo in new territory and I am a backpacking novice, I did not do any backpacking/overnighters. The longest day I had was a 15 mile hike in Glacier. Always allowed enough light for a 1.5mph pace including all stops but was in the 1.75-2mph area for most hikes.
I've got mileages and brief notes for every hike I did, but a few highlight trails:
- Figure 8 Loop - Bryce Canyon
- Angel's Landing - Zion
- Giant Forest - Sequoia (Took a J-shape route from the museum to Moro Rock, up past Tharp's Log and some of the meadows, ending at the Gen. Sherman tree)
- Four Mile, Panorama, Mist Trail combo - Yosemite
- Third Beach to Scott's Creek - Olympic
- Grand Ridge - Olympic
- Cascade Pass - North Cascades
- Maple Pass Loop - North Cascades (Dare say this was my #1)
- Highline/Garden Wall - Glacier
- Ptarmigan Tunnel/Iceberg Lake - Glacier
- Cascade Canyon to Lake Solitude - Grand Tetons
- Deer Haven - Badlands (Badlands has an interesting open hike policy, so this was an off-trail venture that almost immediately devolved into a day of fossil-hunting)
- Chapel Falls, Lakeshore Trail, Mosquito Falls loop - Pictured Rocks
I ended up loving alpine meadows as a hiking setting. Definitely not something I get in Michigan.
The TL;DR Album 70 of my favorite vistas, flowers, wildlife, campgrounds, and oddities throughout the parks.
~700 of the best by park
My favorites by park. 20ish-70ish per area.
Things I'm glad I brought and a few things I wish I had
I bought a Nexus 7 a few weeks before leaving and it was simply the best thing. I bought a little $5 offline map app that had KML import so I could put all those campgrounds in my above route maps on the tablet. I had the Motor Vehicle Use Maps for pretty much every national forest I came within 50 miles of which aided a great deal for the dispersed camping. I stocked up on a ton of books and read a few dozen (All hail Neil Gaiman). It was good to have an absurd amount of ebooks and a cheap hammock. And having something more usable than a smart phone while in Wifi range was nice.
Paper maps. I got AAA maps for the states out west and highlighted the rough route I was taking and probably got more use from those than the tablet on long driving days. Quick and easy for country driving.
And let's face it, I should've put some porn on the tablet. I think the two times I was lucky enough to get 4G in national forests where I could choke the bishop and not risk a human encounter were proof that god exists and he wants me to be happy.
I think spending more nights in paid, developed campgrounds would've been a good thing. I could've met even *more* weird people than I did. I kept my camping pretty damn cheap, but paid for it by meeting fewer people than I wanted to.
Sinfire cinnamon whiskey. I can never drink Fireball again.
Got questions? I've got answers.
I kept a Captain's Log of gas fill-ups, more or less everything else I spent money on, each camping location, and each hike. If you want more detail on any of these subjects, I've got it.
@Throes Pictures are done