2022 was quite the year. As a family we had considerable changes this year repositioning ourselves as we embark on a family gap year, a break from traditional work and school for an extended period of time, in 2023. Brent and I both ended traditional W2 employment and the kids will finish out the semester in mid-January and then we drive our RV out the driveway to explore North America on our terms.
While 2022 was a pretty remarkable year, it didn’t start off as planned. On New Year’s Eve we camped in Palo Duro State Park in West Texas, also known as the Grand Canyon of Texas. One last adventure before making the drive home in the RV. We were excited to mountain bike and explore lighthouse rock, which is where we encountered a hitch in our plan. We never made it to Lighthouse Rock, instead we spent three days at Children’s Hospital in Lubbock, Texas following my daughter’s bike accident. The first 9 weeks transformed into navigating life as a 10-yo with two full arm casts as she recovered from two fractured wrists and extensive left elbow surgery. She took it all in stride and was up for just about anything. She disappeared for hours in her room and managed to read all of the Harry Potter books in 2022.. She wore oversized jackets to play outside, and instructed the boys where to put the legos for her 3 story design. Bones heal, spirits lift, and we figured things out.
Before returning to school in February, the girls celebrated getting casts off with a weekend trip to Arizona. Vitamin D was a welcome nutrient in the transition plan where we met up with friends, took several hikes and a few dips in the pool. She got back on her bike at the end of May to ride with friends during our memorial weekend camping trip. In July she took her first mountain bike trail ride in Idaho still with considerable courage and equal parts fear. One final clean up surgery on her elbow in October and now she just has a great scar and a good story to tell.
Brent and the boys kept their Spring Break plans skiing several days in Colorado. Teaching all of the kids to ski at age 2 has paid off as we have 3 independent and proficient skiers. The boys now switch between skiing and snowboarding. They revisited Copper Mountain, and added a couple days at Cooper Mountain and Loveland. They are yearning for some higher elevation these days. We put the ski equipment away in spring and switched over to hiking, biking and fishing.
Brent announced his resignation from teaching in April. Eighteen years as a tech-ed teacher was a worthy ride. The desire for flexibility to explore other interests and do this gap year thing were the guiding principles of our lifestyle design. Teaching just didn’t fit in the plan any more. Heidi published her book, Beyond Normal, a field guide to embrace adventure, explore the wilderness, and design an extraordinary life with kids in May. The process of writing a book was an adventure and one she is excited to do again.
In June we were ready for our longest adventure yet, which was a test on sabbatical life. We departed from Wisconsin initially with our eyes on Alaska, but decided to slow things down in Banff and Jasper and make our way back to the states. With gas prices soaring it was a great way to pressure test our budget and shift to slow travel. Caleb’s passion for fly-fishing routed us to Missoula, Montanna which led to a Fly fishing shop which happened to be the neighbor of one of the best small batch homemade ice cream of the trip, Sweet Peaks for the win (Little Monster’s travel goal is to taste the best small batch homemade ice cream in each state). We spent a week in Idaho boondocking, also known as dry-camping, exploring the natural hot springs, Renting paddle boards and enjoying our new backyard. We moseyed to Wyoming before parking another few days in Spearfish, SD and making friends with the 4 YO neighbor at the campground. Our third visit to the Badlands was our best yet, we caught an amazing sunset on our ride in and participated in the night sky program that we still talk about. A stop in Iowa to see Field of Dreams and resisting making our way home we made a few stops in Wisconsin – at the New Glarus Brewery and another lick at a small-batch ice cream joint in Wisconsin (Sassy Cow Creamery). Slow Travel fits us, and with 2 months of summer left we didn’t waste any time.
We got home with just enough time to repack and head in different directions. They boys took their annual week canoeing and fishing in the boundary waters of northern Minnesota. The girls packed up for our own mini-adventure staying at Gma O’s house for a week while I worked in Minneapolis. Despite loving my job, the pull of the family gap year was much stronger. I announced my resignation at the end of July agreeing to stay until December 30th. The extended notice gave both the organization and our family time to wind down and begin the transition to part-time RV family life.
Since September is the most stationary we have been for years. Savoring home and school life, the kids all signed up for fall activities: soccer, cross country and horseback riding lessons. Fall in Wisconsin often jumps from one hunting season to the next. Our freezer is full thanks to the successful duck hunting and deer hunting season. Caleb bagged a trophy buck that all my brothers are proud of – no small feat for this family.
Brent completed several projects around the house and subcontracted with a local construction company to be the 5th man for large projects. He is in the process of completing his RV technician license to be certified to repair RV’s, our own traveling repairman 🙂 After years of supporting my kids in piano lessons, I signed up for online piano lessons and am enjoying my time at the piano bench. My podcast, Ordinary Sherpa, continues to lead me to having conversations with fascinating people, many we hope to meet up with on the road. The kids have each established a home school project for next year based on their interests. Caleb will be building out his fly-fishing business and developing his website. Tying and selling flies for fishing has both nostalgic significance, while marrying his artistic skills with love of the outdoors. EllaMae has a few themes around Greek Mythology (thanks to the Percy Jackson series) and understanding the formation of the United States (Thank You, Hamilton). Micah picked up my DSLR camera in Canada and has been begging to get his hands on it ever since. I’m enough of a realist to know we are in for one hell of a ride.
Many have asked how you can follow our family journey. I have a podcast and Instagram account (@ordinarysherpa) designed to inspire families to connect through adventure. But if you want the REAL story of our adventurous life with 3 kids and a dog living in an RV across North America then it might be best to join my email list. If you go to ordinarysherpa.com/subscribe and choose Family Gap Year Adventures (and whatever other topics you might be interested in) you’ll get to be an honorary member to the behind the scenes shenanigans of the Dusek Family.
Whatever 2023 looks like for you, I hope our paths cross. We are designing this gap year to spend more time with friends and extended family that we seldom get time to build deeper relationships. If you want to meet up, or if you have a place to park our 30’ RV let us know. We are great guests, we play outside and go home each night, we even come with our own groceries LOL. Here’s to many more laughs together this year and beyond!