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Today we are thrilled to welcome Judy Nichols to MDK. For most of the year, Judy and her knitting heed the call of the open road. We are intrigued by the adventurous life she and her husband have made, and thought that you would be, too! 

—Ann and Kay

I am a semi-nomadic knitter, traveling much of the year with my husband, Tom, in our fancy-ass camper, dubbed The Epic Van. For the winter holidays, we return home to my mother’s house in Scottsdale, Arizona,  like college kids kicked out of the dorm.

My travel memories are sprinkled with yarn I have met along the backroads: beautiful handspun skeins found at an arts cooperative along the Natchez Trace; luscious hand-dyed hanks from a local yarn store in McCall, Idaho; alpaca yarn purchased at a farmer’s market on a dirt road in southern Arizona, where I met the woman who spun it and the animal that produced it.

Knitting is the perfect passion for this stripped-down lifestyle, squishy enough to stuff in a corner.

But, trust me, you can go overboard.

The Tough Decisions

When we sold our house and hit the road nine years ago, along with the clothes, toiletries, food and hiking gear, I packed tubs and tubs and bags and bags of yarn, moving it from bed to seat to cubby over and over and over. It was more than I could use in years, way more than necessary for nine months of wandering.

Now, a wiser road-tripper, I limit myself to two (or three, or four) projects onboard, knowing something will speak to me at a local yarn store or festival around the next bend.

Just as I learned to pare my projects, I learned to winnow my wardrobe.

I keep my mini closet in mind when I choose my next knitting love affair. When I saw the Turnstile Wrap in the MDK Field Guide No. 24: Spark, I fell. It is perfect for my wandering life because—yay—armholes!

It stays in place when I’m hiking on the Mendocino Headlands in California, and on Manzanita Beach in Oregon. And it single-handedly dresses up my casual/rumpled/forest-gnome-living-in-a-van look when we break out and actually go to a restaurant for dinner.

The Joy of Wandering

Our years on the road have taken us back and forth across the great 48.

From the Florida Keys, where we saw Hemingway’s six-toed cats and drank mojitos at his favorite watering hole, to the Corning Museum of Glass south of Rochester, New York, where we watched glassblowers make breakable potatoes.

From the Kirkham Hot Springs, near Lowman, Idaho, where we took a soak with some random Russians, to Big Bend National Park in Texas, where the Boquillas International Ferry is a rowboat that scrapes its bottom as you cross the knee-deep Rio Grande.

And from tubing the Niobrara National Scenic River in Nebraska, along the state’s northern border, to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Northern California, where we volunteered as interpretive guides for three months.

Rangers at Prairie Creek taught us about the amazing trees, which grow 350 feet tall and create their own rain by condensing fog on their leaves, then dripping it to the forest floor. The giants can live for 2,000 years. And we learned about the endangered Marbled Murrelets, seabirds that nest in the old growth and, at dawn, call kir-kir-kir as they fly up to 98 miles an hour to feed in the Pacific Ocean.

On workdays, I hiked to the visitors center built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Along the way, I picked up fallen branches and cones from redwoods, Douglas firs, and hemlocks, to show the differences to visitors from Illinois, Israel, and points across the globe. I awarded Junior Ranger badges to kids who filled out workbooks, but only after we completed the required slug dance together.

It was in Prairie Creek, standing under the tallest trees on the planet as the sun rose, listening for the Murrelets, that I knew I would never tire of this meandering life.

About The Author

Judy Nichols is a wanderer, traveling the country in her camper van with her husband, Tom, knitting her way along the back roads. An award-winning journalist, she writes about her travels in her blog New American Nomads.


  • How wonderful. You live in an amazing country and in a beautiful van. It sounds perfect for you. I understand about the yarn as I’m in the space of wanting and knowing not to do it. I will probably give a lot away, it’s better to use the yarn than having it sit? languish on my shelves. Thanks for the reality check.

    • Christine, Don’t think I’m too virtuous. While I limit what I take for each trip in the van, I have a wild amount of yarn stashed in our storage unit. And, yet, I’m always intrigued by a new project, a new colorway, a new fiber. I applaud your idea to share the wealth. More yarn for everyone!

  • Some day I would love to follow your example and travel the states. I was happy to see Corning Museum of Glass on your list, it’s amazing. Did you happen to visit Watkins Glen and its gorgeous state park? I grew up in Watkins Glen and we hiked the gorge almost daily in summer as kids. 800+ stone steps through 3 waterfalls and over a suspension bridge – it’s well worth it.

    • Good for you and your hubby!
      For years, during the month of September, my husband and I traveled across the U.S. and Canada by car. We have visited many of the places described in the article and feel grateful, now in our later years. One tip, get your knitting supplies together and packed first! Keep traveling. XO

    • Karen, We did! It’s an amazing place. How lucky for you to hike it so often. It is one of the many lovely finds along our meandering path. I am regularly in awe of all the beautiful spots we come across, like pearls on a string across the country.

  • Judy – I can relate. Seven years ago we did The Great Loop (look it up). We have just completed a 756 mile trip from Florence, Alabama to Port St. Joe, Florida. Traveling for 23 days – on the Tennessee River, Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, traversing Mobile Bay and the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway. Locking thru eleven locks. My knitting has been with me the entire trip. Planning for this trip included packing the projects (one knit-along) a pair of socks, finishing a cap, working on an afghan (kit purchased back in the summer) and stashing a couple of more small projects for when the others are completed. All of this traveling and knitting occurs on a 45 foot trawler that travels at 8mph. Judy keep traveling and exploring.

    • Ruth, my BFF and her hubby are planning on doing the Great Loop in 2025! They’re starting from Buffalo, NY and traveling down the Mississippi to the Gulf, then around Florida and back up the east coast. Says it’ll take them a whole year!! I can’t even imagine. I’d prefer your idea of 23 days instead. She’s an avid knitter, so I’m sure she’ll be making room for yarn and projects. She said the best part of looping is meeting a lot of new and knowledgeable people.

      • Debbie – she is so right – we met so many people and have kept in touch with several – some have even become very good friends that we have been able to take trips with since one our boats. I have to go back and look at what the 23 days was – our loop took us 365 days. The most recent cruise may be the 23 days – we have to look at an electronic device sometimes to even know what day of the week it is when we are out on the boat. Believe me knitting travels.

    • OMG Ruth, I have been dreaming of something like this, and actually trying to recruit friends to rent a barge to float the canals in Europe. But, duh, I didn’t think to look closer to home, even though Tom and I have explored (on land) the Erie Canal and bicycled several canal trails earlier this year. You’ve blown my mind. Have you read River Horse by William Least-Heat Moon? I picked it up after I finished his book, Blue Highways, which inspired our van travels. Thank you for the great idea. I’m off to head down a new rabbit hole.

      • Your comment is awaiting moderation.
        Judy look for the book ‘Honey Let’s Get a Boat’. It’s available on Amazon. I’m sorry I don’t know how to create a link. It’s also available from I’m sorry I have not read the book. Al, joined AGLCA and took me on a training cruise through Northwest Explorations. We found a boat and spent time on the boat before he retired from his job and I sold my yarn shop. We made the trip in 2017/2018. We have made a few more river trips on the same boat that we bought in 2011 and more importantly we still enjoy each others company traveling and exploring.
      • Living my dream!! Such a nice share!!!

        • Thanks, Denise.

        • Thanks, Ruth. I’m definitely going to look it up. Love to hear of other happy campers, or boaters, in this case. Tom and I are really compatible, too. Some people, hearing about our lifestyle, say they couldn’t stand to be “trapped” in such small quarters with their spouse, but we love hanging out and have similar interests. I’m even teaching him to knit, although I don’t expect he’ll be as addicted as I am. Ha.

      • Welcome to MDK, Judy! It seems so many knitters are equally enthralled with nature! My husband I also enjoy traveling via the open road. Thanks for sharing and like the other commenters, I look forward to hearing more from you and Ted.

        • Thanks, Jan. I think you’re right. I’ve met several knitters in my travels, and even some who have spinning wheels on board. I’ve resisted that. So far. 🙂

  • A life to be admired.

    • Thank you, Terry

  • What a lovely, wondrous life!! Thank you, Judy! I hope you will write to us regularly!!!!

    • Thanks, Kathleen

  • Thank you, Judy, for bringing me along on your travels, if only for a moment. Safe travels.

  • How wonderful! I can’t wait to hear more about your adventures. I love having the experience to travel with someone virtually! Keep on keeping on!

  • I can’t wait to read more about your adventures. I hope to learn the slug dance before my next visit to Whidbey Island. They have quite the slug population.

  • What a treat to read your article this morning. We, too, have a Roadtrek – 02C190V. We don’t full time but spend several months each winter wandering the back roads of this beautiful country. We don’t often have an itinerary , rather let the road lead us and the suggestions of the people we meet along the way. I’m always looking for those LYS’s as we travel and love the memories projects made from those yarns picked up provide. Boondocking and National Forest campgrounds are our top choices. Perhaps we will bump into each other along the road. Thanks for sharing your story. I will look forward to future articles from you.

    • Barb, How great to hear from a kindred Roadtrecker! Our travel styles sound similar: wander, explore, create space for serendipity. A good recipe for knitting, too! I’ll keep my eyes peeled for three little windows with yarn trailing behind.

  • Creativity fueled by adventure. What could be better? Your journeys are remarkable. May the roads be smooth and the jaw dropping vistas be magnificent.

  • Judy, you inspire me-thank you!

  • Thanks for the introduction to a fascinating knitter.

  • A fascinating and fabulous life! Looking forward to hearing more!

  • Fascinating report, thank you Judy! I’m a long time follower of the Senior Nomads whom I’m sure you’re familiar with. They travel mostly outside of the US so I’m so happy to be able to follow your blog for in country experiences. Best wishes for safe beautiful travels and happy new year!

    • I’m not familiar with Senior Nomads. Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll check them out.

  • Sounds like a wonderful life!! Prairie Creek is one of my favorite places on Earth. Looking forward to more tales from you.

    • Thanks, Nina. Prairie Creek is magical. When we volunteered, we were able to stay for three months, which allowed us to become familiar with all the trails. It was so wonderful.

  • I, too Judy love a wander into a new little shop or place to buy yarn. Not only here in the US but overseas, as well!! Have met so many interesting, lovely people doing this!!! Happy travels and adventures to you and your husband❤️

  • Wonderful! I have one request, though: please, would you tell us where each picture was taken?

    • Sure, Gretchen, The first picture is me wearing my turnstile wrap on the Mendocino Headlands in Northern California. The second is boondocking in The Epic Van near Blanding, Utah. The third is on Manzanita Beach in Oregon. The next is kayaking the Buffalo River in Arkansas. Then a trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Northern California. Then me knitting in camp.

  • P.S. what’s that project on your four dpns? I have poor spacial skills, so can’t figure it out.

    • Jan, It’s a baby hat. I’ll find the pattern name and add it later today.

  • Judy, what a great article! I had to read it out loud to my husband, so we could laugh together. We were on the road for 5 months this year camping through the Utah Big 11, into the Midwest, up through Canada, Alaska and back home to California. I bought local yarns at LYS and farmers markets for projects on the road, and still had too much! If you make it back to the SF Bay Area and need a place to park your fancy-ass camper for a spell, let us know. What a hoot we could have! Maybe even find some common family roots….

    • Judy, I so look forward to reading your contributions in the future! We camp in a 22ft. Rpod and my husband always jokes as we pack up….”did you bring your 37 knitting projects?” We just returned from a visit to family(flying) and I actually pared down to just two! And I survived! Happy New Year!

    • We must be cousins! So glad you enjoyed it.

  • Tell me more about this art co-op on the Natchez Trace! I can see it from the back of my property in TN, and we have no LYS!

    • It was the Bill Waller Mississippi Crafts Center in Ridgeland, just off the Trace. I also found a beautiful hand-made sewing basket and some lovely Christmas ornaments made from cotton bolls. That was pre-pandemic, though.

  • Judy, what great inspiration and joy you give as a traveling knitter! I love your story.

  • I had such a good time reading your words and vicariously dipping my toes in that water, that I had to read it again just to soak more adventure in! I cannot wait for your next “installment”! Tally Ho!

  • This is great! Looking forward to more news!

  • My husband was semi retired when Covid hit, and then he was all the way retired. I am still working a regular job, but it is a lovely work from home job, and I get a long weekend once a month or so and we use it to wander our area (the PNW) and have adventures as you do. I’d love to do the wandering that you do, because I love going off the beaten path. But that’s not what I was going to comment about.

    Its funny that you mention the Marbled Murrelet, because we were out at the visitor center at the Devil’s Punchbowl (in Oregon) and I picked up a copy of “Rare Bird: Pursuing the Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet” by Maria Mudd Ruth. It’s very good, heartbreaking in parts (which I guess is to be expected in a book about an endangered bird. It’s a fascinating read, highly recommended.

    • Oooh, Kary, Thanks so much for the tip. I would love to read more about the birds, and will go find the book. And happy wandering in the PNW. We have relatives up there, and visit every year. There are so many wonderful spots to explore.

  • Dear Judy, Upon retiring in June ’24, my husband and I are are loading our jeep and heading west on our our Epic Adventure to travel and tour this beautiful country. Knitting is a must for me as we go and I seriously can’t wait to discover the yarn and the inspiration along the way. Thanks for sharing!

    • Lisa, The West is the best, with wide open vistas that will make your heart soar. Happy travels!

  • I love this new column, it’s very vividly written; I feel as though I am exploring with her!

  • What a wonderful glimpse into a life that is impressively different than mine. I never cease to be amazed at how many fascinating ways there are to live a good life. While I am one who looks forward to each day nestled in my own cozy home, I am awed by you, Judy, that you have also created something that makes you jump out of bed in the morning and get going to embrace the day. Thank you so much for sharing and I hope we knitters hear more from you.

    • So true. And, thanks, PT.

  • Camping and knitting are my loves! We don’t camp year round but we can be found in New England campgrounds many weekends from Spring through the end-of-season Fall. I’ll be the one knitting (usually socks) next to the standard poodle and the designated dog walker husband. Look for us in the Aliner if your travels bring you to New England.

    • New England is on our list. It’s the only part of the lower 48 that we haven’t explored. Not for lack of wanting, but because we have trouble fitting it into our search for 72-degree weather. It will happen someday soon.

      • That 72 degree weather is scheduled for a Tuesday in May, but there will be black flies to ruin it.

        • Ha

  • Living the dream!

  • Love this travel piece by Judy Nichols! You have encouraged us to get off our butts and get out there and see so many areas of California and the West that we haven’t seen. Of course I loved the part about traveling with your yarn stash. It’s hard to have regrets about my growing yarn stash; I have so many great memories of how I came to acquire it.

  • It looks like you were in one of our favorite campsites at Prairie Creek Judy. The park truly is magical. If you can let us know when you will be there next we will come do the slug dance with you. Why did the Rangers never mention this ritual to us oldsters???

    • Next time you’re there, go to the visitors center and ask for the Junior Ranger booklet. I often had adults request them. They have great information in them, geared to each park. In the back is the slug song, which spells out the dance moves. Rock on!

  • Judy what a great article! I work at Knit on Pearl in Jackson Hole, WY and can’t shake the feeling you may have passed through in your travels? I feel like we met! Stay safe and enjoy future adventures.

    • Thanks, Carolyn. We went through Jackson Hole many years ago, and I probably did stop by. I’ll be sure to when we go through again, maybe later this year.

  • I dreamt of doing this …. Knitting and spinning along.

  • l’envie

  • Love this new blog addition. I hardly ever travel- for various reasons- but it sure will be fun to follow Judy and Tom on their adventures.

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