Archive by Author | Sara

Dirtbag Economics: The Road Trip Budget

Many of our blog followers and friends have wondered about the finances regarding our most recent road trip. Now that I’m finally settling here in Colorado I decided to crunch the numbers from our road trip and share some of our money saving tips. We hope to post a few other posts in the near future that will provide good beta for any aspiring road trippers.

The whole reasoning of spending money is to gain a quality experience, and we did just that. The three of us spent about 56 days on the road together visiting 8 world-class rock climbing areas and 14 National Parks. Most importantly we had a good time, finished smiling, and finished friends.

Prep Work

To predict the cost of this madness I created a budget before we left, using estimates from Gas Buddy and Harris Teeter (grocery store with online shop). All three of us then contributed money to a new debit card that we set up using a local credit union. This way all of our money was in one place and we were all equally contributing. We dubbed our new credit card “The Green Card” due to its beautiful lime coloring.

Spending Breakdown

In total, we spent approximately $1,170 each (we each saved $133, thanks to our grant from the American Alpine Club!). Here’s a breakdown of per person expenditures per day:



We spent over $2,100 on food for the summer, well over half of our budget. This included groceries, eating out, and alcohol. To keep things cheap we visited a big box store before we left and purchased large quantities of items we used frequently including dry milk, energy bars, canned chicken & tuna, pasta, etc. We ate cheaply but frequently restocked on vegetables and fruits to ensure our goal of “NO SCURVY 2013.”  We cooked a majority of our meals on our own, which helped keep costs low, but at certain times in the trip it was necessary to “Treat yo self” to a nice meal. We usually only drank when we were actually in towns or cities with good beer…another way to save.


Keeping the Subaru moving was our 2nd largest expense, costing over $1,200 over the trip. My Outback averaged around 27 miles to the gallon for the trip. We used the Gas Buddy App to find the cheapest gas around. We made sure to load up on gas in states with fewer gas taxes. We also were very lucky this summer that gas prices remained comparatively low and there were no major gas spikes. There were only a few places where we paid more than $4 a gallon, for the most part we paid somewhere in the $3.60-$3.80 range.


We were easily able to keep our budget low in this category, spending just over $310. A majority of our camping was done at primitive free camping sites. Usually we found existing sites on National Forest Lands right off a gravel road. We also did several nights of back-country camping in National Parks which required small fees. Most National Parks are surrounded by National Forests with free dispersed camping. In cities we stayed with friends and never splurged for a hotel room. When the focus of an area was rock climbing, we would try to stay at campsites located near the climbs which were usually between $5-$10 dollars a night. This category also includes most spent on showers since primitive camping doesn’t keep you clean…we showered anywhere we could find them….community pools, laundromats, outdoor showers at public beaches/hot springs.

Climbing and Other Expenses

Climbing is a cheap activity when you think user fees. In comparison to something like skiing where you have to have a lift ticket, once you have all the gear for climbing, you are usually good to go. We purchased and rented a few guidebooks along the way, but also relied on Mountain Project and local beta from climbing gear shops. Mountain Project has an app for the iPad where you can download all the information for an area and then access that information without using data/WiFi later on. This was very helpful when when were in remote areas with little or no service.

Other expenses included the America the Beautiful pass that allows access to all National Parks for one full year for $80. This was paid off just by visiting the popular parks of Yosemite, Zion, and the Grand Canyon. Plus we can use the pass until next summer at the local Colorado national parks. Excluded were our gear purchases made pre-trip which will hopefully be used again and again in the future for more adventures in Colorado and beyond.

Just Get in The Car!

Don’t let money get in your way, we were able to keep costs pretty low. Compare $23.34 per person per day on the road (about $700 a month) to your “real-world” average day-to-day living costs, and going on the road is a steal! Plus the benefits of the places you see, the people you met, and the time together are worth every swipe of the green card.



Mount Timp: “our biggest and least prepared trek.”

One of Tania’s major goals was to hike to the top of Mt Timpanogos just south of Salt Lake City. She had tried it a few years ago but was stopped by ice on the trail. For this trek we would be joined by Candy, Tania’s good friend who hikes the mountain every year. Candy first suggested that we hike the harder and steeper trail.

We’ve hiked half-dome, climbed mountains, forded rivers, etc. so we didn’t heed her advice to not to go on the 4 mile run the night before. Then another local friend told us that our planned 7am start time would be too late, storms and the afternoon sun could make us miserable. He suggested starting the trail at 3am. This meant leaving the house at 1:30 am and it was already 10pm. Tania and I decided to forego sleep and just stayed up watching more of the OC, while Janna took a nap.

We did managed to start around 3am, except on the wrong trail. A slight error that cost us 2 hrs and some of our energy. We started moving in the right direction, up, and continued to do so for several more hours. My pace slowed to a trudge and I wondered if I could fall asleep while hiking with the black night sky and only a headlamp guiding my way. At some point on this trip we’ve all taken a ride or two on the struggle bus and today I would be a passenger. It was hard to be upset though when we watched the sunrise over the mountains.


At some point we thought we were getting close and our trusty guide, Candy, let us know that we couldn’t even see the summit yet and that we still were not even halfway. Candy said later that all of our faces dropped and she could visually see our spirits deflating. Tania and Janna trucked ahead while me and Candy slowly made our way higher. I convinced myself that would at least see the summit and then decide from there.


Of course once I got to a pretty view, was reunited with Janna and Tania, and the summit looked like it was in reach I tapped into a new chakra and made it to the top with my buds at 11,752 ft. Tania was so excited about completing her bucket list hike that she napped supine on the highest rock.


Unfortunately what comes up must go down and we begrudgingly made our way back down. Fatigued in so many ways, but we had done it, taking 11 hours. We’ve never deserved Taco Bell more! It was nice to save one of the most epic adventures for last on this trip.

Cobble Wrestlin’ in Maple Canyon

The drive from Capitol Reef to Salt Lake City took us through some very small Utah towns. Although we had only found a few cemeteries thus far in the trip for our favorite car game, the cow game, on this drive we (mostly Tania) found several cemeteries and cleared all of our scores to zero at some point. Tania went on to win the Cow game of the entire road trip with 13 points, just like she prophesied earlier in the trip. She laid low till the end of the trip and was the best at finding cemeteries. Way to be so patient for several weeks treitz!

The photo below, taken by Anna Thorn, represents our debut into Salt Lake City.


After sleeping indoors for one night we were all anxious to get back into the wilderness, so the very next day we packed up and headed to Maple Canyon for some rock climbing. The climbing in Maple Canyon is by far the most bizarre I’ve seen. The rock is conglomerate, which means that somehow a bunch of pebbles and cobblestones were fused together vertically. It made for some really interesting climbing. The weather was wonderful and we all were able to get in several classic sends. It was a fun experience where we witnessed just how far we all have come in our climbing skills over the course of the trip. It made us all feel really excited about our future climbing adventures we can have together in Colorado.


Anna joined us for the trip and provided us with great company and more climbing psych. Anna has admitted that when she is 25 years old she wants to being living out of her car just like us…dreams are important. At dinner that night Anna asked us some great questions about our trip that sparked a wonderful discussion expressing what the past several weeks had meant to all of us. All three of us admitted that there was little that we would change about our trip if we had the magical powers to do it over again.


Back in Salt Lake we took a low key day by appearing on Anna’s radio show, watching the OC, and eating lots of food.

Space is the Place

Continuing our way through the beautiful national parks of Utah brought us to Bryce Canyon. Bryce is actually not a canyon, but instead has an ampetheatre of colorful and unique sandstone formations, hoodoos. We ate a dinner near the rim, including our most decadent desert thus far… No bake cheesecake with strawberries and Nutella!

Thanks to its isolation, Bryce Canyon has some of the best views of the night sky. We attended a ranger program that taught us all about stars, solar flares, black holes, and gamma death rays. After this we were able to view Saturn through the parks giant telescopes.

The next day we went for a 6 mile hike down through the amp. This hike allowed us to walk underneath and through the bizarre features of Bryce.


Thanks to a solid tip from the park ranger we changed our route to Salt Lake City to drive down the scenic highway 12 and visit Capitol Reef National Park. Somehow all of these parks that feature dessert sandstone and water manage to each have something different to offer. Capitol Reef provided us with one of our favorite scenic drives into a canyon and a beautiful sunset.


Capitol Reef also is full of human history. Ancient Fremont tribes left behind Petroglyphs on the sandstone cliffs and Mormon settlers left behind homesteads and fruit orchards.


We were just two days late from being able to pick fresh peaches from the trees, a huge bummer since the Ranger at Bryce had sold us on Capitol Reef based on the promise of fruit picking. Luckily the park sells fresh baked fruit pies and these were able to satisfy our fruit cravings (no scurvy 2013). From here we watched our last park movie and headed on our way to Salt Lake.


Birthday in Bishop

After Yosemite we drove to Bishop, Ca. A place I had only heard about through the climbing world, so I was expecting a small town. However we discovered a moderate sized city with a famous bakery, several outdoor stores, a laundromat with showers, and a bi-rite market. All of which we visited.

The next day we headed to the Owens River Gorge, a popular sport climbing destination just outside of town. Not so popular in the summers, however, as the high desert temps push the area climbers up to the alpine destinations. So we had the cliffs to ourselves for the day.

When climbing in the summer, the shade is your friend, and we followed our friend around the entire day. We started at the Great Wall of China on a classic 5.8 and 5.9, with Tania and Janna taking the first leads respectively.


From midday to 3:45, the only shade to be had was down by the river tucked under some trees. We were able to hide out here eating lunch and napping. Then we found cooler temps on the other side of the gorge. Here Janna scored her first lead of a 5.10 grade climb, she is now officially a intermediate climber!


It was my turn to pick a challenging climb. Boldly I chose the “steepest 5.10c in the gorge.” Normally I prefer and excel on more straight vertical climbs where I can use my technique to float to the top. Since this wall was overhanging I would have to rely on strength and endurance to make it up. I had to take after I pulled the crux and fell a little higher once my hands could know longer hold on, but after that I grinded it out to the top. As much as I struggled and how much it contradicted my natural climbing style, I was about as happy with the climb had I just onsighted a harder climb that was more my style. When I got down I watched Janna and Tania successfully battle the climb on top rope.


We walked out of the Gorge during the Golden Hour with some great views of the surrounding Sierras. It was a solid climbing day for all!

The next day was my golden birthday. Although we had pushed ourselves pretty hard the day before we had planned on squeezing in a few climbs that were allegedly 5 minutes from our campsite. We set off following a map we had received from a local guide shop. We walked much further than 5 minutes and found no walls that matched our description and the trail we had been following petered out into the bushes. We cursed the map maker and after we couldn’t figure it out I exclaimed that yesterday’s climb would count for my birthday and that we should head to town. On our drive back we realized that our reference point on the map (our campsite) was really down the road and we had been spending the last two nights at a trailhead parking lot. Whoops, at least we knew why we had gotten so lost.

The rest of the day consisted of eating burgers and homemade milkshakes at a shack in the middle of a trailer park and then swimming and showers at the local community pool. From there we began celebrating my birthday by visiting happy hour at a local saloon. The plan was to get one drink and then head to dinner, however, some nice locals began chatting us up. Next thing we knew we were doing shots in honor of one of the men’s three day old daughter (we decided to detach ourselves from the fact that he was at the bar…no judging) and I was wrangled into playing many games of shuffleboard.

Finally able to pull away, we ate some delicious Mexican and retreated from the lights of town back to our campsite.

Smith Rocks

We drove out of Portland and passed beautiful Mt. hood on our left. After a brief lunch break at an Indian reservation we continued driving through Central Oregon to the world class climbing destination, smith rocks.

Like city of rocks in Idaho, we were in the desert and would have to chase the shade with early morning starts and evening climbs.

Our first day we set up camp, waited for the heat to fade, and then head up to the dihedrals. An area where famous 5.14 climbs are just around the corner from 5.7 moderates. Standing below routes like “to bolt or not to be” that I’ve seen on countless climbing videos was pretty awe inspiring.


We turned the corner and warmed up on some moderates and got a feel for the rock. At smith rock, small pebbles stick out of the rock and make great hand and footholds. We got three climbs in before the sun went down and hiked back to our car with headlamps on.


We ate a late dinner and headed to bed. The campground at smith rocks is kind of an ideal campground. Everyone stakes their tents somewhere in a meadow and then everyone must cook in a communal kitchen area. After camping in a majority of isolated campgrounds it was refreshing to start conversations with other climbers at the dish washing station or over breakfast. #imanextrovert

The next day was our big climbing day. We hiked along the crooked river to the west side of the rocks for some shade. The hike to pleasure point was very steep but offered an amazing view of mt. Hood and the three sisters range.

From here we climbed several climbs from 5.7 to 5.11a, with all of us leading at least two climbs. My personal favorite was the 5.11a that climbed an overhanging arête and required powerful moves off small holds.


We took a midday siesta and headed to the Phoenix wall. Obviously we needed to climb here because the name (Phoenix is the name of the Ultimate Frisbee team we played on together). As I was leading The Phoenix 5.10a during the golden hour two bald eagles flew overhead! Definitely a cool moment. We also climbed JTs route which was another classic rated 5.10b.


We hiked out again with our headlamps on and had a late dinner. The soreness from climbing a lot of routes in one day was starting to set in.

On our last day in Smith Rocks we woke up a little later than planned which meant that our climbing objectives were no longer shaded by the time we arrived. Despite the heat each of us managed to lead climb the ultra classic Five Gallon Buckets 5.8. This climb features huge circular pockets (huecos) that are almost big enough to fit yourself inside. It made for some lovely and interesting climbing. There is nothing like wrapping your whole hand around a solid hold and leaning back to get a full view of the valley down below.


Knowing our adventures would be calling us down to California and that we had a lot of driving to do, we left Smith Rocks and took the most illogical route to Yosemite (a story for our next blog). With the timing of our trip it feels like just when you start to sink your teeth into an area it’s time to move on. We comfort ourselves knowing we are headed to somewhere else great and that a lifetime of climbs still await us should we return. Also it was really hot…so that really helped move us along.



The Olympic National Obstacle Course – Part 2

Below is the second half of our adventures in the Olympics, written by guest blogger Leila Tunnell:

Wednesday: We woke up feeling as if we had just speed-hiked 12 miles uphill. However, Wednesdays plan was much simpler and more realistic: hang out by the river at our campsite, hike an easy 3.5 miles to Low Divide, eat lunch, hike the 3.5 miles back, and then hang out by the river some more. A easier active recovery from the active recovery we had done from Potlatch. Doable. And that’s what we did. After our freeze-dried scrambled eggs and bacon burritos, we packed our lunch and set out up the mountain. I think we were all relieved to not have to
beat the clock, and we rambled our way up the mountain taking frequent stops to photograph all the beautiful waterfalls we passed on our way. Some hiker men assured us that Low Divide was spectacular, but there had been some signs of a bear in the area. Low Divide was, indeed, spectacular. We sat and ate lunch in a mossy, verdant, mountain-side meadow with a stunning view of a glacial waterfall directly across the valley.


We sat among the wildflowers as we munched on our cream cheese and cucumber pitta and dozed in the warm sun. Luckily (unluckily?) we were the only creatures larger than Mosquitos that we saw in the area. It was glorious. After a while, we sauntered on back down the mountain and caught a brief riverside nap in the last 30 minutes of direct sunlight by our campsite. It was Asian night in chateau 16-mile, so master fire-builder Janna built us a lovely fire and we passed around the bags of pad Thai with added tuna fish and kung pao chicken and then downed 3 candy bars.


Highlight of the evening: a mama deer and her twin fawns fearlessly approached us as we sat around the campfire. Unclear whether they were just trying to get a drink or to ford the river, but they hung out for a while at the waters edge no more than 15 feet from us for quite some time and then disappeared back into the woods. After the deer sighting, were all still hungry (unrelated to seeing deer) but wary of our food supply for the next 2 days, so we played some cards and I tried (unsuccessfully) to whittle a spoon around the campfire instead until the sun was close enough to going down to justify going to sleep.


Thursday: Our plan was to hike back about 9.5 of the 12.2 miles back to North Fork, ending up at Wolf Bar Campsite for the night before we finished the hike the following day. We were all feeling pretty good from our 7 mile active recovery from our 12 mile active recovery from potlatch, but the first big obstacle of the day: re-ford the freezing Quinault. We ate some oatmeal, packed up camp, loaded our packs, and took off our pants. Determined to avoid hiking in wet shorts for almost 10 miles, we had settled on a panty-fording. That’s right. So, we threw on our long sleeves, packs, and fording Chacos, and, pants-less, crossed the river. Considerably less cold and miserable than it had been at 8:30pm 2 days before.


Pants back on, we retraced our steps over the (little baby) rivers and through the woods. It was perfect weather and so gorgeous. We passed giant firs that we could not have all reached around, hemlocks, maples, cedars, and several huge banana slugs. After a brief stop at a trapper cabin for some lunch (an entire pound of cheese, salmon packets and tortillas) and sitting down, we powered through the last 5 miles to Wolf Bar. We arrived in time for some lovely, sunlight, rocky/sandy beach laying time, pitched our tents, Tania and Janna built another fire and then we settled down for Indian night. Delicious. After some apples and peanut butter and a makeshift, fire-toasted powered chocolate peanut butter tortilla crepe for dessert, we sat and chatted and then turned in for our last night of outdoor sleeping.

Friday: We only had 2.5 miles left to go, but we tried to get an early start out of Wolf Bar so that we could get back to the ranger station, get some ice cream and then get back to Seattle in order to eat some delicious seafood (not from a bag) and take me to the airport. It was a lovely hike out.


Saw some more banana slugs. Discussed our dream-men. Janna picked some berries that she thought looked edible. Janna quickly squashed said berried in her backpack and had to discard them. Janna picked some more berries, and then before we knew it, we arrived back at the car!


4 beautiful days later we had made it out, no bears, no injuries (barring a few scrapes and bruises) and 32 miles later. Success! After returning the bear cans and eating Janna’s berries (which the guide book at the ranger station informed us were salmon berries), we were on the road back to Seattle. After a quick stop to grab some road tea and ice cream at grandpa’s soda fountain and ice cream parlor in Olympia, Washington’s quaint capital, we arrived in Seattle, showered (Oh, Hallelujiah) at Tania’s friend Ashley’s apartment and now off to delicious seafood and then the airport! Farewell beautiful Washington and thank you Janna, Sara and Tania for letting me be in your sister-wife club for the week! Best first backpacking trip ever.