Scenic Highway

By Katie Roiger

It was love at first trip.

Dave and Jo Peterson were on their first date when the typical tell-me-about-yourself small talk turned to a subject that they were both passionate about: Travel. The couple discovered that they shared the kind of wanderlust embodied by Willie Nelson’s famous song “On the Road Again.” Dave had crisscrossed about 35 states on his motorcycle, and Jo had also done her fair share of cross-country adventures. Together, they waxed enthusiastic about how amazing it would be to live a nearly full-time road trip.

“Before we knew it, we were doing it,” Jo said. They bought a spacious 34-foot travel trailer with a living room and a dining room and set off. A month later, they were married on the road.

In the three years that followed, Dave and Jo have shown their travel bucket list no mercy, visiting 35 states (with plans to complete their map in the near future) and taking in the scenery from Key West to Joshua Tree. A year ago, they upgraded their travel trailer to a 40-foot fifth-wheel trailer, but their exploration goals remain the same.

“The U.S. is so big and vast and beautiful that we just wanted to see other parts of it,” Dave said.

Submitted Image - Dave and Jo Peterson at the end of the Alaskan Highway
Submitted Image – Dave and Jo Peterson at the end of the Alaskan Highway

Southern Minnesota on the road

The Petersons aren’t the only Southern Minnesotans who have fallen in love with life on the road. In the spring of 2019, Sarah Roggless and her husband found themselves eager for a change. Their lives had gotten increasingly busy as their two children had grown older and the pace was leaving them weary.

The turning point came when Roggless’ husband’s boss unexpectedly passed away.

“It was one of those things in life that makes you go, ‘Oh my – how are we spending our time? Are we focusing on the right things in life and how can we change that if we’re not?’” said Roggless. “It made us look at how we were not really valuing our time as a family.”

Experiences as a family are much more important than material things. Sarah Roggless

While discussing ways to create more intentionality in their lives, the Roggless stumbled upon the idea of taking some time off to travel together. Thanks to her long-term position as the vice president of a software development company’s public sector division, Roggless was able to work from any location as long as she had internet. They bought a 39-foot Keystone Sprinter complete with a bunkhouse, stocked it full of craft supplies and school books, and her husband quit his job in order to prepare to homeschool their nine-year-old son and five-year-old daughter. By that same September, the Roggless’ lives were fully mobile.

The Roggless also chose to navigate the United States in order to pack their itinerary with as many experiences as possible. They visited New York City early in their trip, driving their 300-square-foot RV carefully through Manhattan traffic and parking it in New Jersey at night, where they could see the Statue of Liberty from their windows. Harry Potter on Broadway was one of the journey’s many highlights, followed soon after by visits to Niagara Falls, historic landmarks in Washington, D.C., national parks and much more.

“We got to see pretty much everything we wanted to see,” Roggless said.

Submitted Image - Dave and Jo Peterson keep track of their travels on a map on the side of their RV
Submitted Image – Dave and Jo Peterson keep track of their travels on a map on the side of their RV

Family time

The amount of family time they spent together skyrocketed. In some locations, such as the Monaghan State Park in Utah, the Rogglesses were alone with each other and nature. Hiking and exploring were balanced by family games and relaxing by a campfire.

Roggless said that she enjoyed how their home away from home helped her family to focus on the most important things in life.

“We realized that to enjoy the little things in life, we don’t need to live in a huge house,” she said. “We could really live comfortably in a 300-foot RV. We had everything we needed, and the kids still had plenty of toys and space for arts, crafts, and school supplies.”

The Petersons’ choice to downsize included leaving their motorcycle in storage as they found that they weren’t using it frequently enough to justify hauling the extra weight. Other, unexpected things became essential, such as their portable flower garden. Thanks to their warm-weather travel itinerary, they have been able to keep their current annuals alive for over a year.

“Both of us have always had some flowers around our houses and decided that was something that we were going to take with us,” said Dave. “We get a lot of great compliments from others around the way.”

Wanting to keep things simple – and homey – inspired Roggless to perform a major RV renovation halfway through their trip. In Arizona, they made a pit stop to gut the trailer’s inside. They removed the dinette table and couch, painted all the walls and cabinets, and installed a new, sleeper-style couch. In place of the dinette, they added a small, moveable table and four stools.

“It really opened up the area and gave us a lot more space,” Roggless said.

Submitted Image - Dave Peterson driving in Alaska
Submitted Image – Dave Peterson driving in Alaska

New friends …

If family time in their newly-renovated camper abounded, so did the Roggless’ opportunities to meet new people. Roggless said that she was surprised at the number of fellow RV travelers they met at campgrounds.

“You’d be surprised at the community of full-time family RVers,” she said. “We’d find a park where there were kids and [her children] made friends instantly. We met a great family in Texas and met up with them a couple of times in Arizona and Utah and Montana too.”

You’d be surprised at the community of full-time family RVers. We’d find a park where there were kids and the children made friends instantly. Sarah Roggless

Dave and Jo said that they were also pleasantly surprised to find a community of fellow travelers. During one particularly memorable trip to Alaska, the couple pulled over for the night at a campground near a river. A handful of other campers were already parked at the site when they arrived. Not long after the Petersons parked, the other visitors knocked on their door to invite them to a sing-along.

“We grabbed a beverage and a few chairs and went,” Dave said.  “There was a group of people and they sang for us, and we had a great time that evening.”

Sometimes their fellow travelers provided a welcome dose of humor. Jo said that during a visit to Key West, Florida, she saw an image that has stuck with her ever since.

“We had an interesting view one morning while eating breakfast,” she said. “It was a gentleman in an odd outfit that included a pair of fairy wings. I can’t ever forget that.”

Submitted Image - From Dave and Jo Peterson's Alaska adventures
Submitted Image – From Dave and Jo Peterson’s Alaska adventures

… and family

A different kind of unexpected encounter turned into a permanent traveling partner for the Petersons. While visiting family in Mississippi, their niece introduced them to a rescue dog who needed a home. The Petersons were smitten and named her Boo after the Lobo song “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo.”

“It was more of a case of Boo picking us than vice versa,” said Dave. “After meeting her, it was hard not to want her.”

After a year of travels, the Roggless family returned to their Mankato home full of stories from their trip – and newfound appreciation for what they had left behind. The kids enjoyed reconnecting with their local friends, and Roggless said that they have retained the most important lessons that they learned during their travels: Less is more, and adventures are often the best things to collect.

“Experiences as a family are much more important than material things,” she said.

As of now, Dave and Jo have no plans to get off the road again. They have talked with families who have lived in their RVs for over 20 years and are confident that they will want to do the same.

“As long as our health allows, we will keep going,” Dave said. “We have no plans to quit.”