During the first six months of the year, I have three points on the map where I’m heading, each more than 800 miles apart from each other. Since I got on the road, I envisioned myself as a slow traveler. A vision which, to date, I have failed miserably. You might remember, when I recapped 2019, I talked about this and made slow travel a goal for 2020. So, you know what that means? I’m going to attempt to match my vision for traveling with reality. And I thought it would be fun to bring you along for the ride.

Trip #1, The Route

For my first attempt at slow travel, I drove from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Lake Guntersville, Alabama. That’s 1,278 miles using the most direct route according to my travel boss, Mapquest. I make all my plans ahead of time on the computer.

As a side note, I made reference to Mapquest on a social media post and someone replied, “Aww Mapquest. LOL.” As though I’d offered her a trip down memory lane, a throwback to a nostalgic era from long ago. I had no idea that Mapquest now fell into the same category as My Space. It made me realize I may be only one step behind people who use paper maps and who don’t own a computer or a cell phone.

Don’t care. I like what I like. I plan how I plan. (Hmm, post idea?)

Slow Travel Overall

I won’t keep you in suspense. Let’s start with the bottom line. How did I do on my first attempt? If I were grading myself, I’d give me a C+. On a scale of 1 to 10, that would be a 5 or a 6. The perfectionist in me says that’s terrible. But as the traveler who has squarely earned an F (or a 1) up to this point, I was kind of impressed with myself.

Temperature control and temperature consistency is one of the most unexpected and hardest challenges of RV life. It is important for my comfort but I can be logical about a little discomfort. But what I am unwilling to do is comprise comfort for my pets. Well, now just pet.

Temperatures along the way were in the 30s and, without hookups, that’s just a little colder than I can tolerate since, without hookups, I cannot plug in my space heater. Or can ask my cat to tolerate even though I cover her up with a blanket. So, I kind of knew during the planning that there was a chance my ideal wouldn’t happen. In fact, in my notes, I wrote alternative places to stay with hookups all along the route. This included county parks (which is a type of place I haven’t yet experienced) and roadside RV parks.

The Plan vs. The Reality

After four months in Deming, I went to Albuquerque for a week to see a friend, do a petroglyph hike (super cool) and to visit places like Costco, Trader Joes and Sprouts. I struck gold with the latter two, finding some great vegan products.

Brown rocks that make up a hill. One has a flat face with a petroglyph.
The brochure said that the hike we went on, Piedras Marcadas Canyon, had 400 petroglyphs. It’s a little like a Where’s Waldo book trying to spot them. My friend brought binoculars which helped as you are not allowed off the trail.
Close up of a brown rock with many petroglyphs.
This rock had quite a few.
Side of a hill with dried desert bushes and brown rocks. One rock face has petroglyphs, mostly of hands.
The rocks were created by a series of volcano eruptions. The Indians figured out that chipping away at the outer layer (called desert varnish) revealed a lighter color underneath which left a lasting mark. They are estimated to have been done between 400 and 700 years ago. You might remember the Gila Cliff Dwellings were used 700 years ago.

The plan was to leave Albuquerque on February 21 and arrive in Alabama on March 1. That gave me nine days to slow travel. When I left Albuquerque, I took I-40 most of the way east, more than 1,000 miles, veering off in Memphis, Tennessee. There are tons of Harvest Hosts (more on that in a second) along that corridor so the plan was to stay at nine different Harvest Hosts, traveling on average two hours per day. Except one day where travel would be about 400 miles due to no Hosts in that stretch.

The Harvest Hosts website allows you to put in your starting point and your destination. It figures the likely (shortest, most straight-forward) route you’ll take and tells you all the Hosts along the route You can indicate how many miles you are willing to drive away from that route in order to find a Host. If I were willing to go up to 40 miles off route, there were 26 options. Reduce it to 20 miles (which is kind of my standard search), there were 15. Fifteen was plenty for my purpose. 

I selected nine different Harvest Hosts and five non-Host alternatives with hookups. Going off route to get to places ended up adding 100 miles to my trip in case you are wondering.

So, I loaded up the cat, the cat box, my notebook with my agenda and notes including all the places to stop (including gas stops…yes, I plan those out too…and, as you’ll see, one adventure stop).

Groceries laid out on a table. Mostly vegan frozen food and 3 packages of kale chips.
My vegan food haul. Several items I’d been wanting to try for a while but things can be hard to find in small communities.

Pause for an Announcement

Just in case you have no idea what I’m talking about when I talk about staying at a Harvest Host, let me give you the ten-cent rundown.

Harvest Hosts is a membership organization. For your annual dues, you get access to a map of over 1,000 pins. Each pin is a Host and Hosts are wineries, breweries, distilleries, museums, farms and other adventure businesses. In other words, a free place to stay overnight. You click on a pin to get the details of the Host, including if there are any restrictions (such as no pets or only small RVs).

Even though it is a free night’s stay, the expectation is that you will patronize the small business. If it’s a winery, buy a bottle of wine. If it’s a museum, take a tour and/or make a purchase in the gift shop. You get the idea.

It offers some really interesting and unique, sometimes beautifully scenic, options instead of the same old RV campground.

Interested in a membership? Click HERE and use the discount code in the banner across the top to get a 15% discount.

A white van pulling a white and purple fiberglass trailer, parked in front of trees on a cloudy day.
My spot at the Harvest Host, a winery in Norman, Oklahoma.

The Money

Okay, so let’s get real. Technically, these are free stays but when you intend to buy one bottle of wine and end up leaving with four, it isn’t a cheap “free” stay. But who cares? You end up with four bottles of wine. Do that nine nights in a row and you can practically open a winery (or survive the Coronavirus Social Distancing period).

Okay, that’s not really what happened.

In the end, I stayed at three different wineries for four nights. One of the Hosts had electric hookups for $15 per night (very few Hosts have any type of hookups, but a few do). Then, I ended up going to a roadside RV park for four days. Finally, I called the state park in Alabama and asked if there was room for me to arrive on the 29th. There was.  

Overnight camping cost breakdown for the 9-day slow road trip:

  • $88 RV Park, Corinth, Mississippi
  • $30 electric at a Texas Harvest Host
  • $12.38 Leap Day stay at Lake Guntersville State Park, Alabama
  • $175.31 for 10 bottles of wine at my “free” overnight places

I know I paid more per night at my “free” stays than I did at the RV park with hookups. But I would’ve missed out on good conversation with winery owners, unique places to overnight, three wine tastings (and learning a port is wine with brandy is added) and purchasing 10 bottles of wonderful wine made by small wineries.

Overall, a pretty good deal and a great time.

A white van hooked up to a white and purple fiberglass trailer in front of a metal blue building with a rounded roof. Blue sky in the background.
The Texas winery. I’m so close to the building because they have a 30 amp hookup.

Adventure #1 as a Result of Slow Travel

Not driving straight through for 10-12 hours a day, stopping only for gas afforded me the opportunity to stop along the way. I mentioned in the year-end post that I saw the Cadillac Ranch from the highway as I whizzed by last year, I couldn’t stop because I needed to get to a winery before they closed for my night’s stop.

Two Cadillacs buried vertical up to their back doors and spray painted all different colors and designs. Lots of spray paint cans scattered on the dirt nearby.
The first couple cars in the line. There were empty paint cans everywhere. What a treat to stop on my slow travel journey.

Guess where I stopped this trip along I-40?

Cadillac Ranch! I was all prepared. Before I left Albuquerque, I dug out my can of purple spray paint, ready to add my mark to one of the Cadillacs buried in the dirt outside Amarillo, Texas. As I drove, I played with different ideas of what I would paint, how I’d leave my mark. Temporary as it might be. As I pulled up, I settled on SSL for Supersize LIFE.

A metal gate painted in many different colors.
The gate where you enter. I actually took this as I was leaving and the frontage road is where you pull off and park. I-40 is just beyond the frontage road. In addition to painting the cars, people have painted this gate, the nearby dumpsters, even the dirt leading to the Cadillacs.

Got out of the car. And almost got knocked down by the wind and cold. There were only a few people out at the Cadillacs. I decided to tough it out but I left the spray can behind because I feared ending up with a face full of paint. It was really windy.

Other people were doing the same as me. Fast walk out, snap a few photos and fast walk back. Oh well. It wasn’t the experience I hoped for—in addition to not spraying, I also didn’t get the chance to search for the two Geocaches on site—but that isn’t the point, is it? The point is that slow travel actually allowed me to stop.

Blue, red, green, white spray paint close up.
So many paint layers, texture has been created. This is a super close up shot.

Adventure #2 as a Result of Slow Travel

Initially, I wasn’t going to unhook Quill in Cornith, Mississippi, at the RV park. But I decided to because I wanted to get groceries. While I was out and about, I stopped at the Mississippi Welcome Center. I love Welcome Centers where you can pick up a plethora of information and brochures about a town or state.

Then I went to the Corinth Coca-Cola Museum. Corinth had one of the first bottling plants for the beverage. Today, 110 years later, they still bottle Coke products. The museum is across the street from the main headquarters. It’s free and a fun way to spend a half hour.

Vintage Coca-Cola signs hung on a wooden wall.
They had decades worth of Coca-Cola signs hung around the top of the room. It was hard to get good photos because it was so high. Still fun to see.
About 10 vintage Coca-Cola vending machines, most are red square boxes with the logo on the front.
This display was behind glass but isn’t it fun to see all these vintage vending machines?

Afterwards, I walked across the street to the hydration station they use for their annual Coke-sponsored 10K Miles of Smiles race. The station is awesome. Of course, you can buy a Coke (my guess is that they are free on race day), have your bike repaired (not sure what that’s about since it is a running race), get water and look at more things.

But I haven’t told you the best part of the hydration station. As you get close, the theme from Rocky starts blaring out. After Rocky is finished, it’s the theme from Chariots of Fire. I swear, I had an smile on my face the whole time I was looking around.

A small building front with a Coke machine, water fountains, a bike hanging on the wall.
With the sun shining into the camera, I couldn’t get a good shot but this is the hydration station across the street from the Coca-Cola Museum.

Final Note and a Request

The original ending to this post was to tell you I was in the midst of slow travel trip number two. With a world gone sideways, that trip was cancelled. Even with so much uncertainty, I remain hopeful the third trip will happen. And if it does, here’s hoping I can improve my slow travel grade.

Did I mention, not only do I love Harvest Hosts, I also work for them? I have for about two years now. I am the person who finds the wonderful Hosts. On our You Tube channel, we recently posted a 3-minute Tennessee cave adventure which is one of the places I signed up. Since I’m the Host Recruiter, if you know of any place that might make a great Host send pertinent information my way and I’ll follow up.

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