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Collecting Experiences Instead of Things

Porter Palmer and friends
Porter Palmer (wearing a Lander shirt) and Bill Trinkle, right, pose for a picture with fellow travelers James Gillentine and Rhiannon Deems during a visit to Horseshoe Bend, near Page, Ariz.

Lots of people talk about wanting to see the country. Lander graduate and former Discovery Communications executive Porter Palmer and her husband, Bill Trinkle, have been doing just that.

For the last seven years, the Trinkles have been traveling the United States in an RV. They've seen 24 national parks, plus other places of interest, logging 30,000 miles along the way.

Both got their first taste of RV life as children. Bill went on several trips as a boy in his grandparents' Winnebago. Porter was still a baby when she made her first trip in the family's 1968 Shasta, along with her father, Frank, her mother, Eleanor, and her brother, former Greenwood County Sheriff Dan Wideman. It was an experience that would be repeated at regular intervals throughout her youth.

"When we weren't camping, I used the camper as a playhouse. It was parked right beside the carport, and I spent many days playing 'house' in the Shasta," said Porter, who graduated from Lander in 1992 with a degree in elementary education.

Some soul-searching, after Bill lost his classic rock radio show in the recession of 2008, led to the decision to travel.

"We looked at the things around us, and the house payment it took to hold those things, and the multiple jobs we were doing to have those things. We started asking ourselves, 'What do you need?' The more we talked, the more full-time RV life made sense. I could work from anywhere if I had internet, so we sold the house in San Antonio in 2009 with plans to become full-time RVers."

While they searched for an RV, Bill began working on developing a new craft: photography. Taking advantage of the weak housing market, they also bought a house in Michigan that they would later sell for a modest profit. By the summer of 2011, they were ready to roll.

"For the most part, it was awesome, but I didn't always feel like I got to see the places where we were traveling because of an over-abundance of work. Even though the work was rewarding, it was more than I wanted to do forever. A couple of years into our travels, I started thinking about how much I'd need to save to take a break for a little while," Porter said.

By 2016, they had saved enough for Porter to leave the workforce and begin sightseeing in earnest. In the year that followed, they visited 10 national parks, including Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Canyon, Great Basin, Joshua Tree, Redwood Forest and Mount Rainier.

"I rarely find myself without words, but these places left me speechless," she said.

The many destinations visited by the Trinkles during their cross country travels include (pictured, top to bottom): Royal Gorge, a canyon of the Arkansas River near Cañon City, Colo.; Yaquina Head Lighthouse, in Newport, Ore.; Old Tucson Studios, in Tucson, Ariz.; and S parks Lake, in Deschutes County, Ore.

So far this year, they've been to Hot Springs, Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountain, Carlsbad Caverns, Petrified Forest and Acadia national parks. They've also been to the Wright Brothers National Memorial, Gettysburg and Fredericksburg national battlefields, the National Mall, Arlington National Cemetery, and the birthplaces of George Washington and John Adams.

While no fan of blowouts, road construction or heavy traffic while towing, Porter likes almost everything else about life on the road - especially the constantly changing landscape and the anticipation of someplace new.

"I love our little house on wheels. It's all that I need. When I hear the screen door close, it's a distinctive click, and my heart warms. We're always making the house more like us and less like it was in the pamphlet."

That doesn't mean filling it with a bunch of "stuff."

"In 300 square feet, it's difficult to practice a lot of consumerism. There's a lot of self-negotiation before any new item is purchased."

They save on expenses through their membership in "Thousand Trails," which enables them to stay in about 200 campgrounds across the U.S. for around $775 a year.

Sometimes camping on public lands makes more sense than staying in a campground, especially out west, where public lands are plentiful and free. Their rig is equipped with solar panels, holding tanks for fresh and used water, and appliances that will run on either electricity or propane, enabling them to "boondock" for up to a week.

For the past year and a half, the Trinkles have been living primarily off of their savings, but they also enjoy some income. Bill has moved his photography into the professional realm. Porter serves as community manager for Less Junk, More Journey, a YouTube channel. She also writes for RVillage, the location-based social net-work for RVers.

"I write the copy for the website, email campaigns, press releases, how-to guides, proposals, advertisements and pretty much any-thing else that requires written words," she said.

The Trinkles are not alone in their full-time RV lifestyle. During their visit to Lake Greenwood State Park in April, they camped with Camille Attell and Bryce Cripe, a couple they met two years ago in Arizona. They have also camped with Lander mass communications faculty member Jim Murray, whom she describes as a former colleague and longtime friend.

Escapees RV Club, of which the Trinkles are members, sponsors several convergences each year that provide additional opportunities to camp alongside people who, like themselves, "seek to escape the traditional life pattern of a career, a house and accumulation of possessions in favor of a more minimalistic and nomadic lifestyle that focuses on collecting experiences instead of things."

Full-time RVing is not always the easiest life to sustain. The Trinkles have watched members of their RVing community come off the road, for any number of reasons, and they know that time may come for them. But for now, continuing the odyssey they began seven years ago is what they want to do.

"Travel opens your mind to people, places, history and culture," Bill says.

"If you want to be in awe, go to one of America's national parks and then another one and another one," said Porter. "If you want to see what's great about our country, spend some time hiking a trail or enjoying nature at one of our national parks. It doesn't have to be a Yosemite or a Yellowstone, although both should be on your list."

Both are on her list, too, although for different reasons. Yellowstone, which she took 150 teachers to see in 2012, is a park she'd like to revisit. Yosemite is a place she's never been.

"That's OK," she said. "I like having places still to see."

This story is featured in the Fall 2018 edition of Lander Magazine. Read more at www.lander.edu/magazine.

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