About nine years ago Kim and Frank Trotter took a trip to Montana and accidentally let the car battery die.
They reached out to camping neighbors in an Airstream to ask for a charge. They ended up meeting a family who lived on the road full time.
“They call them full-time families, people who travel in RVs full-time,” she said. “We loved them and spent the evening with them making dinner and roasting marshmallows around the fire. And that night I could not sleep a wink.”
Trotter said she knew that night what she wanted to do.
“I wanted to get on the road and spend at least a year on the road,” she said. “I told Frank the next morning, ‘We should do this.’ And he had the better judgment to say, ‘Just a second, we’re just about to build a house and send our two kids to this quaint little school. Why don’t we wait a few years and prepare for this?’ He was totally right.”
Team Trotter decided they would plan to take off with middle school. They could enjoy their time at the Alta School before then and, as she says, “Middle school kind of stinks for everyone.” For the next eight years they budgeted, planned their trip, worked out the details of remote learning, and eventually were ready to rent their house out and hit the road.
The Trotters followed autumn across the country, heading east towards the Badlands to begin tracing the perimeter of the United States.
“We followed the colors northeast, planned to winter somewhere warm like Florida, and come up the West Coast in the spring,” Kim Trotter said. “We didn’t plan for the gas prices.”
Initially, Alaska was going to be the first part of the itinerary, but it ended up the epilogue.
“We did almost 38,000 miles,” she said. “It wasn’t our plan necessarily, but we touched the tips of just about everywhere.”
They went as far east as Acadia National Park, as far south as Key West — the southernmost point in the continental U.S., the followed the southern edge of the United States to Big Bend National Park in Texas. Then they went all the way over to San Diego and the West Coast.
Trotter said most of what they did was free and planned around public lands.
“We are so blessed to live in this country and to live in a place where the people before us had the foresight to protect some of these places, specifically our national and state parks,” she said.
The trip wasn’t always easy, especially when the mechanic they needed for the camper was in Arizona and Frank Trotter had to drive the length of California three times to get it fixed. But the family adapted to the challenges.
“There were times when the kids told us that we were holding them hostage and they would get online and look for one-way tickets home,” she said. “It wasn’t all the time, but we had moments. But you realize looking at the photos, these kids had a great time and they learned a lot.”
And upon their return, she sees in her kids an awareness that wasn’t there before.
“They understand so much more of the world than we could have given them in Alta, Wyoming,” she said. “For them to see poverty and to see diversity and also see the history of our country — we were able to learn everywhere — and not just the kids, but me and Frank too. We learned so much on this trip, and about humanity.”
Trotter sees the year as once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have filled the emotional banks of her children, spending a full year giving them her full attention.
“I think it made our family closer,” Trotter said. “It’s a very rare opportunity to spend time with your kids like that and they’re getting to the age where they don’t want to spend that time with us. We were exposed to the goodness of the United States and the goodness of our people. And that I think speaks volumes to where our country is and where our country can be.”
Would she do it again?
“Yes, but next time we won’t do it with kids,” she said.
Besides her road itinerary bringing her home to Alta, something else in Trotter’s life came full circle as well.
Before departing on the road trip, Trotter was the U.S. program director for the Yellowstone-to-Yukon Conservation Initiative. And as she was packing and wrapping up loose ends to rent the house, she was approached by another conservation group, the Teton Regional Land Trust.
The trust had lost its executive director, Joselin Matkins, in January 2021.
But Trotter, a perfect fit for the organization, stayed the course and continued to prepare for her trip.
A year later she was approached again but this time by a recruitment agency, and she was also approaching the last leg of the trip.
“By that time, April or May, the board had decided to hire a recruiter to fill the job and I said, I am not coming home yet but they said go ahead, throw your hat in the ring,” she said. “And so, I did. We were in California at that point and over time we spoke a number of times. So when I did get home I was anxious to meet with them and I was nothing short of impressed.”
Trotter said the board and staff had done a phenomenal job keeping the organization running without an executive director, and she thought it was a “really easy decision” to say accept the role of E.D.
“For so long I have done contract work from home and now I am really excited to come into the office and work with a team.”
But Trotter is clear about one thing in her professional life after returning from the road: Work doesn’t get first place the way it had before. She champions being able to live your life and enjoy the work while you do so.
“I think you walk out of an experience like this, and we were able to live healthier,” she said. “We were able to live more mindfully and that is something I really want to take forward. I hope to bring that model to the organization.”
That kind of energy is being well received at the land trust as its fortified staff takes on the tide of development in Teton Valley.
“In the past we would see one to two easements change hands a year,” she said. “And in the last 18 months, 30 easements have changed hands.”
Trotter is close to wrapping up a major capital campaign with the help of the Hamill Family Foundation. The Legacy of Land campaign is raising millions of dollars for the Teton Regional Land Trust.
“It’s to specifically fund what’s called a conservation action plan, which allows the land trust to be nimble and to work quickly, on priority projects and priority properties,” Trotter said.
A year off has given Trotter a new perspective, but she has returned to the Tetons with finesse and with an even bigger love than before for where she lives.
“Throughout most of our trip, people would ask if we were looking to move and we’d say no, we’re not really looking to move,” she said. “More than anything, we felt even stronger about coming back home, and that we knew that we are so blessed to live in this beautiful place.”
“There were times when the kids told us that we were holding them hostage.” — Kim Trotter new executive director of the Teton Land Trust