When the final June school bell rings, high school teacher Dan Spedding hits the road in his Lance Camper, fly rods ready to go. Read about how he went fly fishing across America.
In 2005, we pointed our truck camper west and embarked on our first truck camping adventure, a six-month cross country dream of a lifetime trip. For the first week or two, we executed our trip itinerary, took lots of pictures, wrote postcards home, and soaked up everything we could, as fast as we could. We were in American vacation mode, a routine most of us know well where we try to fit fun and life-affirming adventure into annually scheduled one or two week chunks. Hurry up and have a good time, work is waiting back home.
But then something amazing happened. After the first two weeks had passed, we began to realize our new found freedom. We could go where we wanted to go, when we wanted to go there, for as long as we wanted. Home was no longer in Pennsylvania, but with us. You know that expression, “If you lived here, you’d be home by now?” We lived wherever we were. We were home, anywhere!
The experience of this freedom had an profound effect on our entire world view. It literally changed the trajectory of our lives and eventually resulted in the very electrons you’re reading now. The best part of this experience is that it’s readily available to anyone who has the opportunity, and the gumption, to take to the road.
I am sure that Dan Spedding is enjoying every word of this. From his interview, there can be no doubt that he realized the freedom of the road, and is completely hooked. When Dan talks about his truck camper and travels, he sounds like a person who just won the lottery.
Above: Returning from Arctic Circle, James Dalton Highway, Alaska
TCM: In an email, you told us that you recently accomplished your goal of visiting all fifty states. Which state was number fifty, and did you visit every state in your truck camper?
Dan: Strangely enough, Missouri was the fiftieth state and it’s right in the middle of the country. Kansas was second to last.
I am a school teacher. For the last five summers, I have spent on the road. When the last school bell rang in June last year, I pointed my truck camper towards Alaska and spent virtually the entire summer there. I returned just in time for classes to start in September.
Above: Dan in Denali National Park, Alaska
TCM: Being a former school teacher, I know how hard you work during the year. I also know how treasured summer vacation is. With being a teacher and having such a busy schedule from September through June, how did you plan for your trips?
Dan: I plan for my trips a lot less than people might expect. That’s one of the joys of a truck camper. You can go wherever wind blows you. I have a destination in mind, but if I find something interesting along the way, I can stay for a few days if I like it. I don’t plan very much at all. I’ve got my GPS and I go.
TCM: That sounds heavenly. Do you use your camper during the school year?
Dan: Yes I do. I live in Massachusetts and use the camper pretty much year round. It’s on my truck right now. Throughout the year, I’ll do weekend trips, even day trips. I’ll go up to the beach in New Hampshire and surf or fish, or spend time in the woods and the mountains fishing. Another nice weekend trip is to drive up to Maine and shop at L.L. Bean. I do weekend trips all the time.
I also travel up to Montreal a couple times in the winter because I love hockey. I even go to Florida for winter vacation. With the truck camper, it’s more practical to go on these kinds of trips.
There’s a comfort level to being in the camper and the bang for the buck is unbelievable. You get to sleep in your own bed all the time, and you’re not living out of a suitcase. Plus my food is there, and I can cook whatever I want. You can’t beat it.
TCM: I completely agree. Tell us the story of how you were first introduced to truck campers and truck camping.
Dan: I was first introduced to truck camping on a trip to Oregon about six years ago. I noticed that there were so many truck campers around, and the people were doing all the things that I liked to do. They were not going to a hotel at the end of the day. They were staying right where they were playing. I also found it unusual that there were very few truck campers where I lived. From first sight, it seemed to be the way to go for me.
TCM: We basically fell in love with truck campers at first sight too, at least Gordon did. What was it about truck campers that made you choose a camper over other forms of RVs?
Dan: In my experience with boats and campers, anything with wheels or a motor will give you trouble at some point. That’s trouble that I don’t want. My truck camper has been virtually maintenance free for three years now.
The stealthiness of a truck camper was also appealing. Free camping in plain sight is something that’s a problem for larger RVs. I also felt that having something big was not necessary. If you’re in Alaska for the summer, the only time you’re actually in the camper is when your eyes are shut. And when all is said and done, you drop the camper in your yard and take your truck to work.
TCM: What did you have in mind when you bought your camper? What did you want to do with it?
Dan: As someone who loves the outdoors and fly fishing, I wanted to be able to stay on site where the fishing is good, not go home or to some hotel. When you have a camper, you can stay as long as you like. The experience continues at the end of the day and you don’t end up in a restaurant in some city.
Above: Soda Butte Creek, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
For me, fly fishing is where it’s at. Fly fishing takes me to beautiful places and, with my truck camper, I never have to leave them. It just makes the experience that much better. I made a rack on the inside roof of the camper where I can leave two fully strung fly rods so they are always at the ready.
There’s a lot of nice places here in New England that are just a little too far for a day trip. I want to be able to go to Maine, western Massachusetts, and New York, and not have to hustle home. I want to get up and continue the next day.
Traveling on your own schedule is also something I love. If you’re bored with an area, you can just keep on driving. If you’re having fun, you can stay as long as you like. No flights and no hotels. You can go away for one night, or for the whole summer.
Above: Dan fly fishing in Hope, Alaska
TCM: We always hear about people fly fishing out west. Are there any good fly fishing opportunities in the east?
Dan: Fly fishing opportunities are everywhere. Almost any fish can be caught on a fly rod. There are legendary rivers here on the east coast from the hills of West Virginia to Vermont to Florida and the Everglades. Fish need clean water and, where the water is clean, there are usually very beautiful places to go fly fishing.
Fishing is one of the few activities you can do where you actually handle and touch and connect with another life force. It’s magical. I believe truck campers are made for fly fisherman.
TCM: Where have you been with your truck camper that you would recommend to other truck campers?
Dan: Visiting America’s national parks is always a blast. They are treasures that should be visited by everybody; Grand Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Yellowstone National Park are some of my favorites.
Three summers ago I went out west for my first trip in my Lance. I started with Yellowstone, visited Oregon, and the came home. That trip was about four weeks long. I quit my summer job to make last year’s Alaska trip. I was fearful of that decision, but time is more important than money. You only go around once in life, so take advantage of the time you have.
Last summer I spent the whole summer in Alaska. I took the Alaskan Highway through the Yukon in Canada.
Above: Dan in Nashville, Tennessee
This past year I went south. When I was out in California, I had some truck problems and needed a new transmission. While the truck was being repaired, I flew to Hawaii and then to Anchorage for two weeks. I came back to California to a repaired truck.
Above: Valdez, Alaska
TCM: Now that’s an excellent plan B if I’ve ever heard of one. When your truck breaks down, go to Alaska and Hawaii. I love it! What were some of the highlights for you on the Alaska trip?
Dan: The first thing I would like to say is that it’s possible to go to Alaska. You mention going to Alaska to many people and it they act like it’s on the other side of the world.
Above: Dan made it to the Arctic Circle in Alaska
If you’re driving, half the joy is the process of getting there, not just in the destination. The roads are all paved. You can drive the whole way from Sweetgrass Montana, through Alberta, up through the Yukon, all the way to Fairbanks, Alaska on paved roads.
If you are any kind of a fisherman, like I am, you can’t beat Alaska. One can catch five types of salmon, massive trout, and grayling within a couple hours drive of Anchorage. I also wouldn’t miss Denali National Park or the funny little village of Talkeetna. All of Alaska is a campground waiting for you. The mountains and wildlife are like no other place on earth.
Above: Dan spotting bears in Valdez, Alaska
As far as the money is concerned, everything is going to cost you money. Money is only a means to happiness if you spend it the right way.
I kept a blog documenting my travels in Alaska and added spectacular photos that I took while I was there. You can check it out at www.danspedding2.blogspot.com. Remember, the blogs are in reverse order, so the part you see first describes the last days of the trip. You need to start at the beginning in June of 2010.
Above: Mariposa Grove of the Giant Sequoias, Yosemite National Park, California
TCM: During your travels, do you enjoy boondocking off-road and off-the-grid? Or do you prefer camping at public and private campgrounds?
Dan: One of the benefits of owning a truck camper is that a campground is just not necessary. I can count on one hand the number of campsites I’ve spent money on since I’ve owned the camper. Once I went seventy-eight days without paying for a campground.
TCM: How did you do that?
Dan: I stayed at Walmarts, truck stops, and places like that. I make it a personal goal to not stay in a campground if I don’t have to.
With a truck camper you can hide in plain sight. One of the tricks is to actually not try to hide. That’s my philosophy. Park in front of the police station or be at the end of a row of RVs at a RV dealership. You only take up one little parking spot. Park right on Main Street and usually no one will bother you.
I don’t own my truck camper so I can spend a week at a campground surrounded by other campers. I want to stay at the attraction, even in it. I have probably plugged my electrical cord in twice since owning my truck camper. I have two batteries. I need to go see the world, not sit in campgrounds playing checkers. That’s the beauty of the truck camper right there.
TCM: What’s the funniest thing that ever happened while you were truck camping?
Dan: Well, while parked for the night at the Walmart in Fairbanks, Alaska, I was woken by the parking space line painter guy who painted the lines in the spot all the way around the truck camper!
TCM: So did you have marks on your tires after you left the next morning?
Dan: He was going right over the lines and doing it in the middle of the night. It was still daylight in Alaska, so he went around and did them in the whole parking lot. I was surrounded by the paint guy, but he didn’t get my tires.
Another experience happened at the Walmart Cody, Wyoming. The local high school kids know people are sleeping in campers at Walmart. The kids were blowing through the parking lot with their radios at full blast, beeping their horns, screaming and dancing, waking people up. It’s funny to me; as a high school teacher. I get it.
Some of the most unique experiences I’ve had while truck camping involve driving the rig down 100 miles of dirt road to nowhere and then staying there for a while. It’s something the average person wouldn’t or couldn’t do without a truck camper. These days it’s tough to get 100 miles from anything.
TCM: Where do you see yourself going next summer?
Dan: We pretty much decided, believe it or not, to go to the 2012 Olympics in London. And then, maybe, I’ll go to Alaska for a couple weeks. I’ve got to keep going. I’ve got to find a way to get my camper on the plane. That would be great.
TCM: Please let us know if you figure that out. If you can fit your rig in a bag, Southwest lets bags fly free. That would be the deal.
Dan: I’ll let you know.
Truck: 2006 Toyota Tundra, double cab, single rear wheel, short bed, 4×2, gas
Camper: 2008 Lance 805
Tie-downs and Turnbuckles: Clamps added to simple nut and bolt tie-downs