Travel

A couple years on the road revolves around 2 questions: Where to park, and whether there’s food

When Jody Overstreet packed for her big adventure, it wasn’t as easy as tossing some clothes in a bag and heading to the airport.

No. She was on a sell-everything-and-hit-the-road journey that covered 80,000 miles and lasted a couple of years.

Overstreet grew up in Southeast Alaska and worked in the visitor industry for several years before planning her getaway. Just before her big break, she owned and operated Alaska Photo Treks. She’s an accomplished photographer.

“All of my adult life I’ve had the urge to do this,” she said.

But it didn’t happen overnight.

While Overstreet was running her tour company, she lived for three years in a Class C motorhome — a cab-over camper that’s built on a beefed-up van or truck chassis.

“The company was doing well, to the point that I needed to bring in more people. I realized that’s not what I wanted at this stage in my life,” she said. “So I decided to sell the company.”

Living in the RV helped her decide what kind of rig she wanted. She opted for a custom-made 18.5-foot fiberglass Oliver trailer. She bought a GMC Canyon midsized truck to haul it.

“I wanted a four-season trailer,” she said. “Custom features included solar panels and a composting toilet.”

Although Jody was raised in Alaska, she’d never driven the Alaska Highway. “I left in November of 2018 on my first Alcan trip,” she said. “I drove all the way to Tennessee to pick up the trailer. It was the first time I’d ever towed anything.”

By this time, her company was not the only thing she sold. “I just downsized everything,” she said. “I had food, clothing, tow rope, jumper cables and other road emergency gear.”

When she left Anchorage, her first goal was to drive across Canada. “I was so lucky to start before the pandemic hit. I drove all the way across to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick,” she said. Then she headed south to the Florida Keys.

Along the way, Overstreet became accomplished at “boondocking,” or camping overnight for free. “The East Coast and Florida are pretty tricky. But there are plenty of Cabela’s stores and Walmarts. Also there are quite a few apps like RVParky and ioverlander.com, where users share info on where to camp,” she said.

Heading west from Florida, Overstreet made some stops in Mississippi to see family, then headed to Magnolia Beach in Texas. Magnolia Beach is on the Gulf Coast, located between Houston and Corpus Christi. “I met a bunch of Canadians there who had been boondocking for months,” she said.

Overstreet made it a point to see as many national parks as she could. But in the end, she always “followed the butter” — that is, when the butter is cold, you head south. When the butter is melting, you head north.

One of her favorite destinations, though, was the Sonoran Desert near Quartzsite, Arizona.

“There’s free camping there,” she said, echoing a recurring theme among boondockers.

“Is Quartzsite just a big ‘Nomadland’ set?” I asked, referring to the award-winning movie about full-time RVers.

“I saw ‘Nomadland,’ ” said Overstreet. “She (director Chloé Zhao) was trying to capture people forced to live the lifestyle and made it dark,” she said.

“My experience at Quartzsite was that this was a huge community with all kinds of demographics,” she said.

“There are young people, old people, rich people and poor people,” she said. “You can be parked next to a quarter-million-dollar diesel pusher (Class A motorhome) and on the other side is a family in a schoolie (renovated school bus).

“Some people are forced in to this because of job loss or divorce. But once they get in to it, they love the freedom and the community and the simplicity,” she said.

Overstreet said there were two questions each day: “Where am I going to park?” and “Do I have food to eat?”

Throughout her journey, Overstreet continued to work as a photographer. “I used my AT&T cellphone as a hot spot,” she said. “I had great coverage except in the national parks.”

Along the way, Overstreet published a blog detailing her journey: theroadtohere.blog.

“The blog features lots of musing. It isn’t necessarily travel advice,” she said. Rather, it was more to keep family and friends apprised of her progress. But her photos are stunning.

Along the way, Jody named her truck and trailer. The trailer, which she describes as a “souped-up casita” was dubbed “Billiken,” the big-bellied good luck charm. Her Chevy truck was called “Fluke.” “I wanted to keep an Alaskan theme!” she said.

Overstreet lost track of the national parks she visited. “I visited the Grand Canyon many times,” she said. But also on the list were Death Valley, Big Bend in Texas and Carlsbad Caverns.

“I really enjoyed spending time in the Southwest,” she said. “I’d never want to live in the desert, but I especially loved the Sonoran Desert in the spring.”

When the time came for her to shift gears once again, Overstreet sold Billiken and Fluke to a fellow boondocker in California. “I bought a new Subaru, fixed it up and drove back up the Alcan.”

Overstreet says she was very lucky to be able to take this window in time and “totally be free.”

Months of boondocking, checking out the national parks and meeting fellow travelers helped Overstreet develop a simplistic life. “Just reduce your needs to the basics. Then, relax and be happy,” she said.

Now that’s some traveling.

Correction: A previous version of this column listed an incorrect website for people sharing info on where to camp. The correct site is ioverlander.com.

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