Mark Vlaskamp Road Trip Canoe Vibes

15,482 Miles and One Better Word Choice

Fifteen thousand four hundred and eighty-two miles, thirty-seven states, one hundred and twenty-two days, six full-time job offers, a couple of hundred fish, five oil changes, sixteen tubs of cat litter, and one defective brake light ticket later, I woke up on a friend’s couch back in Houston.

The sun came up, the world kept spinning, and I poured a cup of coffee.

It was over.

Picking Better Words

There’s this inevitable cheeseball narrative that comes with the intrapersonal and interpersonal growth while recapping a once-in-a-lifetime trip like this.

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When you’re living the #VanLife, you don’t have your friends on demand; everyone becomes your friend. You don’t have a closet; all the clothes you thought you couldn’t live without get donated. You don’t have a garage; all the excess gear you thought you needed gets sold online to create excess space. You don’t have a TV; everything around you becomes your episode of reality tv. The cheesy, feel-good stuff could (and usually does) go on and on in these type of things. After all, what good is a conclusion if you can’t pad the ending with Cinderella’s perfect fitting slipper, the 9th inning comeback, or the romantic walk off into the sunset?

I won’t entertain that narrative; while it has some merit, it’s underwhelming and overplayed.

Instead, I’ll focus on the single most used word people choose when describing my 15,482-mile pavement burn: once-in-a-lifetime. From baristas to bartenders, friends to family, and outdoor folk to other #VanLifers, everyone refused to accept my trip as anything more than an outlier to life’s inherent mediocrity. It’s so unlikely to happen again; you better enjoy it now – a dismal thought process as you see the geographical circle of the states begin to come full tilt.

Within that context, the final scratch of my winning lotto ticket while riding on Haley’s Comet with a case of the chickenpox is over and – only because it already happened once in my lifetime – it is never happening again.

As a grammatical choice of adjectives, that’s lazy. As an objective measurement of the likelihood that I commit a couple of months to an extended wander through the world again, that’s bullshit.

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Done right, it is not difficult. It’s not expensive – it’s actually profitable. It’s not young and reckless. It’s not socially irresponsible. And it’s not an outlier. It’s a lifestyle model that is easily repeatable, regardless of it’s unconventional roots and it’s carelessly given once-in-a-lifetime title.

It’s over for now, as the limited sustainability is a function of time; but it’s not going to be gone for long.

On a Lighter Note

Bullet points aren’t my style, but these light recaps work best in light formatting.

  • Favorite Cities – Lake Tahoe, CA. Moab, UT. Hermosa Beach, CA. Savannah, GA. Salida, CO.
  • Best Overall Paddling – Salida, CO.
  • Best Overall Fishing – White River, AR.
  • Favorite Overall State – Virginia.

  • Worst Traffic – New York City, NY.
  • Most Expensive Tolls – Boston, MA.
  • Most Expensive Subway Sandwich- $8.85 Spicy Italian in Hilton Head, SC. Note – most other states averaged $6.15.
  • Best Highway Rest Stops – Idaho. Note: Worst – Mississippi.
  • Best Parties – Hermosa Beach, CA. North Conway, NH. Fayetteville, AR. Willoughby, OH. Boynton Beach, FL.
  • Best Food – Toronto, ON (Poutine). Osceola, WI (Cheese Curds). Ruidoso, NM (Green Chili Grits).
  • Best Day Trip – Charlotte, NC (US National Whitewater Center).
  • Favorite National Park – Yellowstone.
  • Most Underrated National Park – Great Smokey Mountain.

  • Nights Slept in Guest Bed – 37 of 122. Avg. 30%.
  • Nights Slept on Guest Couch – 11 of 122. Avg. 9%.
  • Nights Slept on Guest Floor – 12 of 122. Avg. 10%.
  • Nights Slept in Hotel – 18 of 122. Avg. 15%.
  • Nights Slept in Tent – 23 of 122. Avg. 19%.
  • Nights Slept in Car – 21 of 122. Avg. 17%.

  • Miles Driven – 15,482.
  • Dollars Spent/Expensed on Gas – $2,483.36.
  • Days on the Road – 122.
  • State/Province Fishing Licenses – 18.
  • Baseball Stadiums – 9. Note – Houston, Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Colorado, Arizona.
  • Books Read – 8. Note – I can’t seem to kick this Klosterman binge.
  • Sunglasses – 5.
  • Oil Changes – 5.
  • Cell Phones – 3.
  • Rent Paid – $0.

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For the last month of my six-month disappearing act – a month in Europe: UK, France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, and The Netherlands. After that, I’ll continue the adventures splitting time between a small business in Austin, TX and freelance outdoor industry media outlets with the occasional trip or expedition report posted here – remaining active until the next big bang.

It flew by, but the work put into travel logistics and planning seemed to take forever. Most of this burden was unfairly put on the incredibly understanding fishing buddies, friends, and family hosting me. For the cooperation with last minute travel changes, midnight logistical text messages, and those warm meals and cold beers along the way, I’m grateful. Thanks, everyone.

Here are some long-overdue shoutouts that haven’t been mentioned in the shoutout section of an article before:

  • Mom, Dad, and Kelly – People are right; something was in the water growing up. With a sister living in and traveling through Central America and two parents who still take on the world in a tandem canoe, I’m definitely the stationary office nut in the family. Thanks for letting me act like you guys for a couple of months.
  • Corporate Sponsors – It was in my pitch. It was in the agreement. And it was in the handshakes along the way. I’m not a hashtag groupie, and I’ll never be. That’s not good storytelling, advertising, or branding for you or me. You guys know who you are. Thanks for the financial and logistical support, the newfound friendships, and the mutually beneficial relationships we’ve kicked butt through along the way. Here’s to the next sponsored expedition soon!
  • Doug Crise – I didn’t stop in either big city that you have called home between Oklahoma in May and Louisiana in September. This fits; work with me here. Five plus years ago, I was a Business Economics major with no clue 1) how blogs could be entertaining and 2) that people would care to read them. Without knowing it, the posts that you wrote in Billy, We Don’t Suck Right Now– while slightly skewed by unfair ballot box practices come award season – changed the way I read, write, think, and do business. I owe you a big one for that, one I probably can’t pay back, but I hope to have paid forward.
  • Subscriber Friends – You guys are the real MVP. I could never have imagined how many people would want to read my stories, much less interact, share, and reply. I’m not overly social on social media; over the top self-promotion isn’t my thing. Redefining the content sharing model with a primary focus on email blasts helped me tons; thanks for helping, understanding, and reading. I’m an email away for anyone looking for help planning, organizing, or executing their big once-in-a-lifetime outlier.


editorial, road trip, tips, trip reports

Mark Vlaskamp

After four years as Marketing Director for Yak Gear, Mark now partners with creative outdoor brands and pursues the gray area between freelancing and (f)unemployment. Currently, he is floating between Austin and Houston, TX - still searching for new water, cool people, and cheap beer.

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A Long Portage:

We're back after a really long portage. What used to be a roadtrip-centric canoe blog is now a bit more settled in the Texas Hill Country. We still believe canoeing is dated, not dead. And we still chase high CFS and sticky situations.

But we're not on a roadtrip battling for cell service from the backseat of the Jeep anymore. We're enjoying life off the road. The showers, hot meals, and stable jobs are nice too.

If the paddling road trip is what you're looking for, it's moved here.


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