600 Acres and a Long Drive

Friday, June 24 (continued)

The wildfire on the hillside north of Lee Vining, CA burns merrily. I’ve determined that I’m not in any immediate danger, but this puts a serious crimp in my plans. I can’t go anywhere in case the wind changes and threatens the trailer. So much for visiting Bodie State Historic Park today.

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Neither can I simply hitch up and keep moving north. Shortly before 10 am the fire makes the news when it shuts down 395 between Lee Vining and highway 167. The detour coming from the south (I’m just south of the blockade) is to take highway 120 east to Benton, then get on Interstate 6 north until it hits route 360. 360 ends at I95. At Hawthorn get off I95 onto 359 going west, which becomes highway 167. It’s a long detour, but early reports are optimistic that the closure won’t last long. Tioga Lodge is on standby for evacuation but Lee Vining itself seems safe for now. The fire now has a name, the Marina Fire.

Shortly after 10, Lee Vining Airport, just a few miles away, becomes a maelstrom of activity. Helicopters land, then take off again with a large bucket on a cable suspended underneath. They must be here to combat the fire, help has arrived!

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There are small planes buzzing overhead too, although those must be picking up their flame retardant from somewhere else as I never see them land at the airport. The peace and quiet of the boonies is a thing of the past, the Casita echoes with the roar of aircraft constantly coming and going. Occasionally the flames leap high enough that I can see them from camp, even without a camera that zooms.

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The afternoon winds rushing down out of the mountains cause spot fires to cross 395 (which is still closed). Despite the firefighters best efforts the blaze is growing. The Marina Fire is 350 acres as of 2 pm and three buildings (including the Tioga Lodge) have evacuated. Lee Vining and Mono City are now on standby for evacuation. Lee Vining is between me and the fire so if they evacuate, I will too.

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A smear of bright red catches my attention. It’s something being dropped by the planes. I take a poor quality photo, but here’s a much better one captured by a fellow who goes by the Twitter handle BartsheMiller:

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And another one by BartsheMiller of a helicopter putting out a spot fire near Lee Vining.

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As the sun sets behind the Sierra, the wind starts to die down. The helicopters and planes continue their runs until the last light dies. They’ve been working all day and it makes me wonder what their hours are like. How long is a shift? Do they get lunch breaks? What happens overnight when no one can see to fight the fire? Watching them work today, I have the utmost respect for the service they provide. It’s been a privilege.

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Click for larger image

A new report comes in shortly after sunset. The fire is around 600 acres now and 395 will be closed at least until 6 am. Over 300 personnel are working on the fire, a Type 2 management team is being flown in tomorrow (don’t know what that means exactly, but it sounds impressive) and the fire is 5% contained. Lee Vining and Mono City have not had to evacuate.

Fires are destructive, but they’re beautiful too. The mountainside glows with hundreds of tiny orange dots, mere pinpricks from a distance. If you forget about the fact that the color is wrong and it’s parallel instead of overhead, it looks like a field of stars on an exceptionally clear night. That’s really pretty, but you all better stay put and not come any closer.

My camera is incapable of getting a picture of it, but here’s one shared on Twitter by a gentleman with a real camera, Jeff Sullivan.

It's a time lapse photo.

It’s a time lapse photo.

Saturday, June 25

The longer the fire burns, the worse the air gets. Everything is a smoky haze in the morning, breakfast tastes off because of the smell. It’s time to go. I don’t want the carpeting in the Casita to smell like smoke and the sky is too fuzzy to get photos.

Reports say 395 is expected to stay closed until the afternoon at the earliest now. Detour it is. Curiosity has me driving into Lee Vining to see the blockade first though. Semis and RVs line the streets of town, waiting for the road to open. I don’t envy them, the smell is even worse here.

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I turn around and head back south on 395, past the turnoff for my boondock to where 120 heads east to South Tufa. My GPS informs me that the detour is going to add nearly two hours on to my travel time, all to bypass a four-mile section of highway. Ugh.

Driving through a bit of Inyo National Forest on 120, I make the decision not to go back to 395. I’ll see Lake Tahoe some other time, it’ll be busy this time of year anyway with the holiday coming up and the free camping near there doesn’t have a phone signal, which I’m going to need to launch my guide. How freeing, to be able to to change plans as circumstances dictate on a moment’s notice!

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This is some very isolated country. At Benton I turn north (east) onto I6 and keep driving. And keep driving. I lose my 3G (yes, I’m still on an old 3G phone) almost immediately upon leaving the Mono Lake area and don’t find it again until I get to Ely, NV, nearly 250 miles away. Once I drive an hour with no phone signal at all.

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For a girl who comes from east of the Mississippi, country like this use to scare me. What if something happens when I’m in the middle of nowhere? What if I don’t find a gas station in time? I6 isn’t the Loneliest Road in America (that title belongs to I50, which parallels I6 to the north) but it might take second place. I stop in Tonopah, NV to eat lunch and get gas. I drive the next 170 miles and only see a single gas pump, and that at a sketchy looking place that appears closed. Good thing I get at least 200 miles per gas tank when towing, heh. I think the best thing you can do is fill up every time you see a gas station, no matter how much you still have since even if you have an app or something that’ll show gas stations, you might not have a signal to use it (although maybe offline maps exist that can be downloaded…).

There isn’t a lot of traffic along I6, but I start paying attention and usually the gap between cars coming the other direction is 10 minutes or less. I take good care of Bertha and Cas so a breakdown is unlikely, an accident even more so, but if the worst should happen while in a dead zone (signal-wise) I trust that someone would stop to help. In fact, I see a SUV towing a pop-up camper pulled alongside the road at one point and slow down to see if they need help, it looks like one of their camper tires is shredded. But the husband is on the phone talking, so I keep driving knowing they’ll be okay.

Miles and miles of emptiness

Miles and miles of emptiness

Most mountain ranges in the United States run north to south. This means that when you’re on a north/south road in mountainous country, you’re less likely to have to cross passes than when you’re on a east/west one. I6 is a east/west route, and I do scale several passes on the way from Benton, CA to Ely, NV. None of them are very severe though. The steepest grades are only 6%, and 7,100 feet the highest elevation. Bertha has no problems towing the Casita. In fact, Nevada has some of the nicest roads I’ve ever driven on, probably due to a lack of wear and tear from regular traffic.

At one point I come down into a valley to see cowboys herding cattle across the road. One of the men tips his hat to me and I wave as I drive past. A line of trees signals a creek running past. It’s nice to see signs of life in what is a pretty barren land. From what I’ve seen of Nevada so far, it seems to be mostly sage desert, with sparse pinion/juniper forest on the mountains. Signs of habitation are rare.

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I fail to get a picture of the place I stay tonight, Valley View RV & Mobile Home Park. I’m too busy getting groceries, dumping and filling tanks, and checking out possible boondocks. There are two places near Ely in the mountains west of town that are high enough elevation to be out of the worst of the heat and close enough to town to get a phone signal, but the roads are currently impassible to my truck (let alone the trailer) due to erosion. One of them was highly rated on freecampsites.net, I’m guessing the road washed out after that. I do get a picture of a neat old ruined building near it though.

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Sunday, June 26

I make use of the park’s free WiFi, and wait to leave Ely until noon. There’s a national park not far from Ely (Great Basin National Park) that has Bristlecone pine forests and a nice cave system according to reviews, but the forecast high of 100 degrees has me making a beeline north on highway 93 instead. This road does have a few small towns along it, but remains pretty empty.

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The welcome sign for Idaho looms, I don’t pull up my phone fast enough to get a picture. I end up in Twin Falls for the night at a Walmart. My neighbor is a couple in a Bounder class A. I have a talk with the husband, who was a professional rodeo clown for 23 years on the weekends between his regular day job. Traveled all over to entertain folks. You meet the most interesting people on the road!

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As proof that you don’t need to be in a wilderness, a fancy resort, or prime tourist area to enjoy a good sunset, let me present this evening’s, seen right from the parking lot.

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* * *

For those who are curious, as of this posting, the Marina Fire is 654 acres and 89% contained. 395 opened up on the 25th at around 1 pm for guided one way traffic, and later in the day opened fully. It was human-caused, and an investigation is under way. The government website to see updates on it can be found here.

* * *

Lastly, The Little Guide To Dreaming Big is now live! (click the name to go to the infoΒ page). Thank you everyone who has purchased and I hope you get a lot of use out of it. If you’ve finished reading it and would like to do me a big favor, you can review the guide on Amazon which will make it more visible to people who don’t read my blog.

Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments below! And if you feel so inclined, I’m looking to collect a few testimonials to put on the sales page, so if you don’t mind your comments being posted on the site, make a note of that too (I won’t put up people’s comments unless they give permission).

And as always, thank you everyone for following along on this adventure and for reading IO. This guide, and this blog, would be nothing without you. πŸ™‚

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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. Brad on July 4, 2016 at 9:33 am

    I was through that route about 3 weeks ago. There is no gas between Tonopah and Ely. Signs warn of this but you don’t see them until the turn off for #376. My boondocking plans had failed along #6 so I pushed on to Ely and found Ward Mountain CG just outside Ely. It was a very nice FS CG with water,trash and the amenities looked new. The big shocker was it was only 8$ which would seem high 10 years ago but now seems like a bargain. There is a nice free BLM CG about 40-50 miles east of Ely at Sacramento Pass. There are even a couple of nicer spots up the road at the equestrian section of Sacramento Pass. I originally had planned to boondock an hour or so north off of 93 but was turned back by a bad storm three weeks ago. So much hail and sleet it looked like it had snowed. I also forgot to mention, there is a free campground just outside the semi ghost town of Belmont NV. It’s about 50? miles NE of Tonopah but paved the whole way except for the short road spur to the CG. I had cell reception at the previous mentioned CG’s (Cricket/ATT) but nothing at Belmont. Sometimes places aren’t listed on freecampsites and maybe there is a reason as people don’t want them overrun. Still, their website is very helpful.

    • Becky on July 4, 2016 at 5:40 pm

      Yeah $8 is a good price Brad. It was so hot when I drove through that boondocking wasn’t going to be an option unless it was high in the mountains and I saw there were more options to the east but I knew I wanted to go up into Idaho so 93 it was. That storm sounds like it was something wicked, glad you were okay.

  2. Johanna on July 3, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    “The little guide to dreaming Big” is on my list! Thank you Becky!

    • Becky on July 3, 2016 at 6:57 pm

      You’re very welcome Johanna!

  3. Ernesto Quintero on July 2, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    “This guide, and this blog, would be nothing without you.”

    No, no, no Becky, your story telling and images is outstanding, you are the reason so many of us wait to read your dispatches and images on Interstellar Orchard. IO would be nothing without you, Becky ! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ You are the primary reason so many of us love Interstellar Orchard(uber cool name btw). Be safe.

    • Becky on July 2, 2016 at 7:01 pm

      Thanks for the kind words Ernesto. I’ve come to think of blogging as kind of a joint venture. Yes, IO would still exist but it’d be much more static and boring if I didn’t have someone to write to. It’s like that saying: If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to witness it, does it still make a sound?

      If a blogger writes her story on the web, and no one reads it, does it still have meaning?

  4. Norm H. on July 2, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    You really don’t want to be downwind of a slurry drop from firefighting aircraft-unless you really would like a pink Casita! Glad you and your home are safe. We have been near several forest fires, including evacuating our home quickly -would have been nice if it was on wheels. So grateful for the firefighters, many of whom are state prisoners making a difference for themselves and others. I can tell you from personal knowledge those ground crews work round the clock, if nessary. Tough job.
    Come back to Nevada when it’s a bit cooler, and you will enjoy it. Just keep that gas tank full, your tires properly aired up, and have a good time. A couple of Geri cans for fuel and water are good for extended backcountry exploring. Also, if you do go solo exploring it’s a good idea to let a friend know what roads you intend to use and for about how long. Then, let them know when you’re back in cell service area. There are still a lot of wide open spaces with no cell service in the (wild) West.
    Hope you can stay cool. Congrats on the successful book launch.

    • Becky on July 2, 2016 at 6:57 pm

      Nah Norm I do like my Casita in white. πŸ˜‰

      I bet having to evacuate was scary, but I take it the fire didn’t reach your home? Yes, I was definitely thinking I was lucky my home was on wheels. Same thing I thought my first summer in the RV when I was camped along the coast of SC and hurricane Irene was coming in. “Well, at least if we have to evacuate I can take everything with!”

      • Norm H. on July 6, 2016 at 1:43 am

        Stopped the fire at the rear of our property, about two acres from the house. Helicopter dropped water just off the rear deck, just in case the fire came closer. Close enough for the DW who evac’d with the kids and pets as I was racing home from my office. Smell of outdoor wood smoke still makes her nervous. But, in the end we were among the fortunate ones and did not lose our home.

        • Becky on July 6, 2016 at 3:03 pm

          I’m glad to hear that Norm, take care.

  5. Judy Blinkenberg on July 2, 2016 at 10:30 am

    Great post! I felt I was going along with you. We stopped in Tonapah also. I am looking forward to our travels. You are very inspiring! I can agree with being worried on the road. We lost a boat tire on hiway 40, between cities. It was so hot when we found a spot. Fortunately, I have a mechanic husband who changed the tire to the spare we had brought along, and New Mexico has terrible wifi coverage! Thank you again for all your wonderful pictures!! You are my favorite!

    • Becky on July 2, 2016 at 11:11 am

      Glad your boat tire incident turned out alright Judy, there’s nothing quite as frustrating as being waylaid on the side of the road when you have places to be!

      Glad you enjoyed this post and I’m happy to hear that you’re finding my advice and adventures inspiring. That’s one of the things I like best about blogging, hearing about how I’ve made an impact on other’s lives. πŸ™‚

  6. Sandy Smith on July 2, 2016 at 10:29 am

    Hi Becky,

    I’m many pages into your book now and here are my thoughts so far. Feel free to use for a testimonial (and my name), if you feel they are worthwhile. Here goes…from the heart:

    The Little Guide to Dreaming Big is a thought-provoking, practical guide to help you realign the life you live with who you were intended to be. Written by someone who has actually dared to live her big dreams, the author clearly and concisely takes you on a journey that will reunite you with your long-neglected hopes and dreams by following the steps she’s used and proven along the way.

    • Becky on July 2, 2016 at 11:07 am

      Very nice testimonial Sandy, thanks for letting me use it and especially thank you for purchasing The Little Guide To Dreaming Big. I hope you get a lot of use out of it!

  7. Sue Ann Jaffarian on July 2, 2016 at 10:10 am

    Years ago I heard a motivational speaker say: “A goal is a dream that burns in your belly.” It was what triggered me to make the commitment to fulfill my life’s dream of being an author. I never looked back. Now I’m applying that to becoming a full-time RVer.

    Just bought your latest book!

    • Becky on July 2, 2016 at 11:05 am

      Thanks Sue Ann and I hope you enjoy it! That might be one of the best ways I’ve heard life goals explained. I tell people that going full-timing was “the one thing that I couldn’t not do.”

      I wish you all the best.

  8. marijka on July 2, 2016 at 9:37 am

    I generally travel with two 7 gal. Geri (yes, not Jerry) cans of fuel on my roof rack, emptying them into my tank every month to refresh with new fuel. It saved me in barren West Texas. Peace of Mind!

    I’ve never been in or near a wildfire, but it’s probably my biggest natural-disaster fear. I would’ve humped out of there at the first sign, especially with a trailer! I can go just about anywhere on/off-road in my FJ to get away, but pulling something means I’d be stuck on roads – possibly blocked or full of traffic. (Is that claustrophobia + fear of fire? lol) You’ve got some cojones sticking around like that, girl! Salute!

    • Becky on July 2, 2016 at 11:02 am

      Marijka, bringing that extra gas along is a good idea. And I’ve driven through west Texas before and know what that’s like, haha.

      I think a fear of fire is a very natural and understandable thing, wildfires can be really nasty! I was lucky that this one really wasn’t “bad” in the grand scheme of things, 600 acres may sound like a lot but the Erskine fire that started near Lake Isabella (yes, right near where I camped back in April, heh) is over 48,000 acres. The big Yellowstone fire of 1988 burned 793,880 acres.

      The thing that really made me think was that the fire started overnight and I was boondocking. I wasn’t awake until it was already well under way and if I had been in the danger zone, there’s no guarantee anyone would have found me to warn me to evacuate. Firefighters and officials are going to know to warn those in residences and campgrounds, but since boondockers could be anywhere… that is a risk if you’re camping in a fire-prone area.

  9. Dawn from Camano Island on July 2, 2016 at 9:24 am

    So glad you’re out of the fire zone, Becky! We came home through Nevada this spring just for something different. It’s a gorgeous state but yes–looong stretches between services. We spent 4 days at Kershaw Ryan State Park & really enjoyed the park & the area.

    The daughter of a friend is a helo-fire fighter out of Libby, MT. Yup, she & her crew rappel out of helicopters to fight fires in remote areas. They work hard during the fire season, often working for 24+ hours at a stretch. No lunch breaks; they may even work during the night. I believe the protocol is that fire fighters can’t work more than a 7 day stretch without time off.

    If you’re interested in the history of the U.S. Forest Service & how we came to fighting fires as aggressively as we do now, I highly recommend “The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt & the Fire that Saved America” by Timothy Egan. One of my favorite books–one of the few I’ve re-read & worth the price.

    Take good care–happy trails!

    • Becky on July 2, 2016 at 10:47 am

      Interesting Dawn, thanks for the information about your friend’s daughter. I would be so tired working 24 hours non-stop, kudos to her! I’ll look into that book, having seen the process in action from a distance I’m quite curious to know what goes on behind the scenes now.

      I bet Nevada is even prettier in the spring before the heat dries all the plants. The temperature was just too hot to stay and visit this time around, I’ll definitely have to check it out another time.

      Thanks and take care!

  10. Kevin on July 1, 2016 at 9:50 pm

    13 months, 200 hours, are you a slow typist or did you have writers block? Wait I know, it’s that the research takes so long to put out a quality product- Am I right? Are you getting set up for your 3rd book, I can see it now, a book on all your travels.

    Have a good evening.

    • Becky on July 2, 2016 at 8:57 am

      200 hours is a conservative estimate, I didn’t start keeping track of how many hours I was putting into the blog and book until January. That being said 1,000 words in a book takes a lot longer for me to do than 1,000 words in a blog post because quality is so important and continuity with the larger product takes more brain power (and thus time).

      Remember though that from May 2015 to just before Christmas I was working full-time hours at seasonal jobs, I didn’t touch the book at all when I was working my 60 hour weeks at Amazon which knocks 3 months off right there. January I was so busy learning how to boondock and meeting RV groups at Quartzsite that nothing on the book got done… you get the picture. πŸ™‚

  11. Sandy on July 1, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    I am absorbing your new book very slowly. I used to rush through things, but I am going to try to get every bit of value from your book. I haven’t gotten far as a result, but you really should be commended on you writing ability and your ability to organize content. I was a technical writer by trade and you humble me.

    Glad you are safe. Glad you are sharing your depth of knowledge. You must be a very old soul, because your insights exceed people twice your age.

    • Becky on July 1, 2016 at 7:42 pm

      Thank you Sandy and I’m glad you’re finding my book helpful! To be honest, I don’t think of myself as a very good book writer. It took me about 13 months, easily 200 hours if not longer, to write this guide, seems like so much effort for something only 45 pages long. Oh well, it took 2 years and 4 months to write the first so I guess I’m improving. πŸ˜€

      • Sandy on July 3, 2016 at 8:35 pm

        Give yourself some credit where it is due. Most writers have professional editors to review and improve upon their work. You managed it on your own. Time to write is not a gauge for how good you are. Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind) wrote only one book. Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) did just two, I think.

        • Becky on July 3, 2016 at 8:49 pm

          Thanks Sandy. Actually, I paid a copy-editor to review this one, but they were just looking over it for grammatical and spelling errors.

  12. Jodee Gravel on July 1, 2016 at 7:35 am

    Those firefighters are truly amazing, they just keep going until the job is done. You got some great pics and thanks for sharing the ones you found from others. Glad you moved on – isn’t is wonderful that you can?! – and got out of the smoke. Now getting out of the heat will be the top priority as it seems to be everywhere this year.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Why Wheatland, Wyoming?My Profile

    • Becky on July 1, 2016 at 7:46 am

      Yeah Jodee, the heat has proved harder to escape. My current camp gets pretty warm but I can drive into the mountains if necessary. In fact, once the launch is over and having a phone signal all the time is no longer crucial, I may go boondock in the mountains for a bit.

  13. Upriverdavid on July 1, 2016 at 1:14 am

    P.S. You also missed Benton Hot Springs?…….You should have stopped…..They are sweet!!

    • Becky on July 1, 2016 at 7:39 am

      It’s impossible to see it all in one trip. But luckily my home has wheels so I can always drive past again.

  14. Upriverdavid on July 1, 2016 at 1:11 am

    Oh..You should have stopped at the Great Basin park with the cave…The campground sites are next to a creek and the temps are lower…The cave tour is swell!!
    Maybe next time…Eh?

    • Becky on July 1, 2016 at 7:38 am

      So maybe 90 instead of 100 degrees? πŸ˜‰ Nah, I’ll go back in spring or fall when the weather’s nicer. I love hiking and it would have been miserable hiking there.

  15. Kevin on June 30, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    How many miles are you putting on this summer, you’re sure going through some great country, I bet you wake up every morning with a big ol’ smile. Not a bad way to live.

    • Becky on June 30, 2016 at 9:34 pm

      It sure isn’t a bad way to live Kevin! The mileage is a good question. I tally up the miles the Casita has traveled at the end of every calendar year. So far the most I’ve done in one year was about 6,100 miles (just towing the trailer, mind).

  16. Kent on June 30, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    Yet another great report. Really enjoy both your words and photos.

    Just picked up your .pdf version of “Little Guide” and it was a snap. Looking forward to what I am sure is a great read.


    • Becky on June 30, 2016 at 9:33 pm

      Thanks for purchasing Kent and I hope you enjoy it! I’m also glad to hear the shopping process went smoothly. Knock on wood I haven’t had a single person report a problem with downloading the guide so far which is great. You’re welcome and take care.

  17. pamelab on June 30, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    Hi, Becky –
    So happy you are out of the fire area. I have to say, your photo of the smokey sky and the back of Cas is very nice. Lots of different colors and the light near the fire and you can still see some blue sky. I like it.
    Happy Trails to you.

    • Becky on June 30, 2016 at 9:27 pm

      I’m glad too Pamela, the smoke smell was starting to get pretty strong. That being said I’m glad I stayed a day to witness how a wildfire is fought, it was neat to experience firsthand, if tragic in consequence. Thanks for reading.

  18. DianeJ on June 30, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    I used to worry about gas on long stretches too, then once I actually did run super low at night but made it to a rest stop. I was travelling solo, cross-country in a moving truck. Once there I asked a trucker if he could drive me to the next town to get a gallon jug of gas. He was so nice he actually syphoned some from his big rig. Back then most uhauls were diesel and so was his truck so it worked out perfectly. You just have to stay optimistic to find the kindness of strangers when traveling!

    Congrats on the book!

    • Becky on June 30, 2016 at 9:24 pm

      What a nice story Diane, thanks for sharing. πŸ™‚ Like you, I’ve found that in general, people are nicer and more helpful than we expect. I’ve been helped several times since I hit the road (and even before).

  19. Jerry Minchey on June 30, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    The Little Guide to Dreaming Big is one of my favorite books. I’ve read it twice today so that I would be sure to soak up all of the information presented.

    We all have dreams, and this book shows how to make them happen. Whether you admit that you have a dream or not, I’m sure you do, and this little book can make a world of difference in your life.

    Becky, you are welcome to use all or part of my comments in any way you see fit. You did a great job on this book. Congratulations.

    • Becky on June 30, 2016 at 9:22 pm

      Thanks for the testimonial Jerry! (and for purchasing of course). I’m glad that you enjoyed it. For those reading comments, Jerry is quite an accomplished writer himself and you can learn more about his books at his website, http://www.liferv.com/

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