Letting the Trails Lead the RV

A bike sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking a river and mountains.

Seven years ago, my husband and I were settling into our first house on the outskirts of Austin, Texas. Life was great by all the usual metrics—we had a house and great jobs—but we felt like we were missing something. We longed for more free time and more nature. When my husband first presented the idea of buying an RV, I was a little apprehensive. I wasn’t totally convinced I’d like the lifestyle. But after visiting some local dealerships and touring a few models, my skepticism completely changed. I had no idea how amazing and modern some of these campers were.

We ended up buying a Keystone Hideout travel trailer, and it was truly everything we needed to begin carving out a new lifestyle for ourselves. Over the next few years, we spent our weekends touring Texas and getting outside as much as possible. Looking back on it, it’s so clear that our very first camper put us on a path that changed our lives forever.

Buying an RV allowed my husband and I to see so many new places and expanded our outdoor experiences, but, truthfully, our fitness levels were preventing us from getting the most out of our trips. It was challenging to move from a relatively sedentary lifestyle at home to a much more active one, but we knew we had to work at it and embrace it in an attempt to enjoy our travels more. And so, we bought some running shoes and bicycles, and began hitting local trails every day. It wasn’t easy, but the payoff was totally worth it. 

Over time, I came to love the solidarity of riding and running outside. Not only was my health and fitness improving, but my activity levels were changing. I began to outgrow the concrete running paths and pavement bike loops of my Texas neighborhood, and started seeking out more challenging open-air experiences and variable terrain. It’s no surprise that mountain biking became an instant passion for me. The thrill, the speed and the closeness to nature were invigorating, and I wanted more of it.

 

After riding the same local trails over and over, my husband and I began seeking newer, harder trails. We traveled farther and farther every weekend in order to find new spots. And ultimately, it was our love of mountain biking that made us realize traveling full-time would be the most fulfilling way to spend the next few years. And we would use some of the most epic biking trails as a route map.

In October 2019, after several months of planning and a newly upgraded Keystone Alpine fifth wheel in tow, my husband and I found ourselves on our way to Big Bend National Park as full-time RVers. The area has hundreds of miles of biking trails and seemed like the perfect starting point for our new life. It was here that I experienced my first “true” climb and descent, and I loved every minute of it. I knew we had made the right decision.

I’ve gained a lot of endurance, confidence and skill since then—most of that is due to the sheer variation of the trails I ride and the places we visit. This variation doesn’t just benefit us physically (the flat roads in Austin never prepared me for the 10,000-foot hills in Colorado), it motivates us. Not only do I get to visit places I never dreamed of, but I get to experience them in such a unique and rewarding way. And none of this would have been possible without that first decision to start RVing.

Since starting this journey, we’ve been to some of the most incredible places. We spent most of last winter hopping around Arizona, including Tucson, Sedona and Flagstaff. We had no idea how diverse the state was—from towering Saguaro cacti in the south to breathtaking red rock formations in the middle to snowy mountains in the north. Utah is another stunner and has some of the most iconic mountain biking trails in the country. Even after spending a few weeks at the Grand Canyon, Zion was nothing short of astonishing.

I can’t help but think about how different our lives were just a few years ago, both physically and mentally, and how much we have been able to see. Our RV led us to our mountain bikes, our mountain bikes have taken us all across the country, and I can’t fathom a better way to travel than that.

I’ve included some tips for how to plan your next mountain biking trip, including what to look out for when choosing where you want to camp and what trails to ride.

Use Your Resources. There are so many different websites, resources and apps out there, be sure to use them! I love to read inspiring stories for motivation, and a lot of them contain hidden gems to seek out. Almost all of your state and national parks have great maps available in the visitor centers. GAIA GPS also has overlays for everything, including free and public lands, which are essential for finding places to enjoy without crowds. MTBproject, TrailRunProject, AllTrails, Campendium, freecampsites.net and andFacebook groups are all invaluable resources for finding the next excellent trails to ride.

Be Flexible. Traveling can be unpredictable, so try to have alternate plans if your initial plans don’t work out. When we plan to arrive in an area for boondocking, we usually have at least three other sites in mind and a couple nearby RV parks as backups.

Keep A Log of Your Favorite Spots. Save all your favorite places on a map, or in a book, by GPS coordinates. We didn’t do this at first and lost so many great destinations. Now we have a little book with all our secret favorites that we’ll share with close friends. When we arrive and set up camp, we explore a bit and mark down the coordinates for all the other sites we’d love to stay at a future date.

Carry Tools and Know How to Use Them. You are your best support, especially when you’re in a remote area. I always carry a full mechanic’s tool set, basic hand tools and some power tools. Most stay in the RV, but when heading out for a trail ride, I make sure to carry spare innertubes, CO2 inflators and a universal bike tool.

Safety Is Key. Download offline maps, and carry a satellite communicator if you can. The more remote you are, the more aware and cautious you need to be. Cell signal isn’t always reliable, so be sure to download maps or take printed ones for longer excursions. It doesn’t hurt to carry bear spray or pepper spray with you if you know you’ll be in an area with lots of wildlife.

Kelly and her husband RV in a 2015 Keystone Alpine 3730FB.

What places do you recommend nearby?