Wilderness Travelers: Part Three

Life on the Road 

We are but babes when it comes to living on the road. We left the comforts of a masonry four walled building to the comforts of our van/RV. We gave up only the creature comforts that require you to spend mindless hours staring at something that turns your mind to mush. We still have hot water showers, a toilet, a bed, AC, heat, a stove, running water and a sink, chairs to sit on, an IK, a UTV, hiking poles, fishing gear, decorations in the walls and plenty of cabinet space. What more do we need?

Living on the road requires a little more attention than falling through the routine that is “responsible living.” We both have jobs… I take care of the mechanical breakdowns and fix-it stuff and Chris takes care of organizing and anything financial. We both share in driving, cooking, and clean up. 

Our routine varies, depending on where we camp or the weather. Coffee is of course first on the agenda and we make some of the best! Italian expresso makers, Hydro Flask mugs to keep it piping hot and the finest ground coffee. 

We find the most perfect vantage point, looking over a river or canyon, in the early morning sun to warm up. Then we set up and sit as we listen to the sounds, or lack there of. We talk about the day and what we might do or see. Maybe a day in the hammocks reading, maybe a river float, fishing, hiking, sight seeing, or shopping for the weeks meals. The world is our pallet we choose how to color it. 

It took a little time to trust leaving our camp unattended without locking down the place like Fort Knox… After all, this is now everything we own and our home space. We choose to live mostly outside which is where we both feel the greatest connection. There is an unspoken rule between campers that needed to be trusted before we could go away from camp and be ok that no one will mess with your stuff. So far we have not had any incidents. 

We rely heavily on maps and Garmin. Trip Advisor is a good source, as is local word of mouth, for finding the out of the way gems that tourist tend to over look. Although electronics are pretty reliable, they don’t always show you the single track road that goes to the most beautifully isolated valley, stream or lake. In a way we are explorers in own own back yard, after all, the world is our back yard. 

Sometimes we are forced to stay in established campgrounds, rest stops, gas stations or a neighborhood or parking lot. This is just part of life on the road. We prefer dispersed camping on Forest Service land or BLM lands. Sometimes the only human life is miles away and the silence can be deafening. I enjoy being very still and slowly allowing my senses to awaken to the intricacies of the world around me. The colors, smells, sounds, feeling of the sun on my bare skin, the vibrations of all around me, all these create a world of peace and imagination. 

Wilderness Travelers: Part Two

The Buildup

How would it be to spend a week, 10 days, a month, a year without worry? Without the daily grind of home, work and paying bills. It’s a dream come true for us. 

The last 30 years have been the most stressful of my life. The career we entered was a 60 hour a week, every week, no paid vacation, no sympathy and no gratitude for a job well done. Ruthless and cut-throat. We started planning over 15 years ago to make our escape. We stashed away all the money we could and left enough for essentials. We invested in property, 401ks, annuities, and savings. As our nest egg grew so did our health problems from the stress. It was time to go and soon. So, in November 2018, we bought a 2015 Ford Transit 250 hightop shorty van, (we call her SleepyTurtle or The Turtle) in November of 2019, we sold our house. In March 2020, the business and in June 2020, we hit the road. 

We spent some time on the van in the past three years but in April 2020, we hit it full time. I learned about solar, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, and gas. No one showed me how, but the internet did come in handy. 

The last week of May we finally finished up the van and selling off all our belongings, and on pJune 1,2020, hit the road in our custom designed RV/Van, SleepyTurtle. All the amenities of our home built into a tiny home space. Hot water, a way too comfy bed (almost king size), running water, lights, solar, electric and a great stove. 

What we learned during the build and equipping the van was that this is going to be our home… one should not skimp! We bought a Camp Chef Mountaineer 40,000 btu stove, a pure sine wave generator, a custom rack and rock rails/tubular running boards and a mattress that would keep you in bed cozy and warm.   

All cabinets were custom build and made strong for rough washboard roads. We carry 50 gallons of water, 24 dedicated primarily for cooking and drinking and an additional 18 gallon tank for hot showers with an on demand ECOtemp hot water heater and the 7 gallon RoadShower solar hot water heater on the roof for emergencies. 

Built into one of the cabinets is a SnoMaster Classic 40cu chest type fridge. It holds a weeks worth of food and drinks. We chose the chest type for efficiency. The cold air stays in the fridge when opened vs a standard door which when opened, allows the cold air to pour out.  

We have a sink and grey water collection tank under the sink. We run off a 200ah AGM battery charged with a single 300w solar panel mounted on the custom rack. We have a 2000w pure sine wave generator which provides us with power on cloudy days or when parked in deep woods.  

Our biggest purchase took the most debate… the toilet. We debated over a cassette type or compost toilet. After a great amount of research we decided on the compost. We went with the Natures Head for ease of use. It was a major investment ($1,000) but after using it we find it worry free and no messy cleanup. The liquids and solids are kept separate for ease of cleanup, which requires the liquids tank to be dumped at least every 3 days of constant use. Every 6 months on the composting solid side. No smell no mess. 

The other thing to consider when you’re in your design phase. Do you want more storage or more living space? Everything must fit in this small space. We chose the storage over living space. Our bed frame is 40” tall providing a large enough garage space for all our water tanks, 2 mountain bikes and all necessary equipment. We built a 4 foot, 600 lb. slide to accommodate accessing the heavier boxes without climbing through the garage. 

We each have 2 large boxes for our clothes, a small box for socks, underwear, etc., and a box for personal essentials. We chose to keep everything in sealed plastic containers after a small mouse invasion early on in Colorado. We travel with Gandaulf, our 11 year old Corgi. Gandaulf even has his own cabinet for his food and toys. 

We decided on dual swivel seats. It is amazing how it opens up the living area when they are turned around. It also creates a small den behind them for Gandaulf to sleep and get away. 

The coolest part is our soft storage areas. We used the cargo nets from cars to organize our soft gear. Ingenious! We have hung them strategically so that it’s easy to access but tucked out of the way. They can be hung on the back doors for extra shoes, water hoses, and power cords, on the headliner for blackout blinds, window coverings, gloves, hats, etc. In the 12’ trailer we haul, we’ve hung them from the ceilings to make our space 3 dimensional.  We travel with a 50” Can-Am Maverick UTV and two electric assist bikes, for getting around where the van can’t go. 

We also added one small item as a last minute booster for our cell phones. We are now a personal cell phone tower that can boost our reception (in theory) so we can be a little further off grid but still in some service in case of emergencies. The jury is still out on this device. 

This is Our New Home

The vast sky looming above

The clouds drift by in heavy formations

Billowing to the top of the sky in endless flowing and changing shapes

The birds sing their joy

Tiny babes can be heard calling mother back to the nest

The sound of water as it meanders down the creek bed

Bubbling over the rocks

Sneaking beneath overhangs where fish sit poised for the next meal

The aspens still waking from a cold winter

Have the tiniest almost translucent pale green leaves

The subAlpines and black pines soar like silent sentinels above the sage 

Whole fields of deep green dotted with brilliant yellow flowers for as far as the eye can see blanket hillsides

This is our new home

Travelers of both time and space

No longer slave to the clock

A sanctuary made by Mother Nature 

Observed in silence and reverence

Existing as the flow of the river 

As invisible as the wind

Setting and rising like the moon

This is our new home

In The End… There is a Beginning

It’s taken years and years of planning, building and selling off everything we have owned. Our house, our car, our possessions… short of a 2015 Ford Transit T250 cargo van. The plan was to convert the van into our tiny home on the road.

We started planning in 2015. The list seemed unsurmountable. First off, we owned a thriving car dealership, a house on the hill, plenty of “stuff” collected over the years. All of our worldly possessions had to be slowly released and sold off. Items were given away to anyone who needed our “stuff.” 

Chris and I have been together for nearly thirty years and have accumulated items from our travels around the world, all needed to go. The memories, trinkets, art work, all needed to find new homes. It was, at times, incredibly hard to release items that held memories of an incredible time away in another culture. Some we met the artist, some were bought off the street, from a blanket spread out on the sidewalk. Some bartered for something we owned in return. In a way each told a story that only Chris and I will remember.

As far as financing such an undertaking? Like I said earlier, we owned a business, a house and tons of stuff. Next we had been stashing away the maximum possible in our 401k for the last 25 years or so. Properly invested, it has become a nice nest-egg for funding the remainder of our lives. We sold the car dealership in March 2020 and our home in November 2019. With the proceeds from theses sales we were set.

We procured the van in November of 2018. It was a super high top, shorty, with single rear wheels. It seemed like a daunting task to imagine building this empty shell into a someday home. It was quite cavernous, stark white, bare walls, a stinking rubber insulated mat that has soaked up years of landscape smells, no windows except for the two back doors. My imagination was reeling, the cogs began to put a bed here and a cabinet there. I thought about how much I didn’t know about solar, electrical wiring, plumbing, carpentry and running propane lines. Building the van was going to be an adventure in itself.

We started small with searching the internet for build blogs. Vanlife is a real thing!

Life on the Road

It’s no small task to take off on a road trip of a lifetime. To become a traveler of both time and space. Exploring anything that catches our eye. Going with the weather, eventually heading North and cutting the umbilical cord from our life of 28 years. This of course means I need to get a good handle on my tribe and understand and work with Chris and Tracy to keep me in line if I should loose focus. It’s tiring to stay so focused, but I know it’s what I got to do.

Gandaulf is enjoying life on the road… or he just loves being with his moms all the time. Either way he is comfortable in the van and that’s a good thing. He has his own memory foam seat between us and is able to see out the windows. He is starting to even learn to sleep while driving. He’s such a good boy and everyone loves him.

WE did this 27 yrs ago. Sold everything we owned, and hit the road. Back then it was a silly dream, early middle age crisis… a healing journey that solidified our relationship. We both are at home in nature, be it mountains, deserts, beaches not so much big cities. This is a journey with no real destination. A healing vagabond journey. A wondering yogi. Two lost souls looking to release, relax and reconnect.

Waging War

I grew up in a time of segregation…discrimination.

A time when I learned to hate for no reason.

Where everyone I knew was the same color as me.

The adults so stuck in their small minds of the time.

Crosses burning in a young black child’s mind.

What a fucked up world we live in

“The times they are a changin’” used to play on the air

Let it Be…imagine… and so I did

I imagined the love and peace of these songs.

Chanted and cheered about love.

As I watched friends die from a “war” no one wanted to talk about

Sending brothers and sisters into hell as parents weeped.

It was a war waged… man against man … brother against brother.

While In the streets of our home…

the black man weeps.

Gays die of AIDS.

What a fucked up world we live in.

Our politicians that act as if they were gods…

Play Russian roulette with the little mans lives.

“We speak for the people” they lie through their teeth… as the poor man struggles to get on his feet.

What a fucked up world we live in

We’ve now grown older and wiser we think.

We now see things

our parents choose not to see.

Their whole damn lives…

taking a back seat to the man.

Polluting rivers and seas with oil brought from the ground, plastic and toxic waste.

Burning fuels that are so carcinogenic…we…once again suffer from their mistakes.

Guns and mass shootings are a thing these days?!?

What a fucked up world we live in

There’s a fire burning though…

From the kids down below…

who now watch their friends die.

afraid to go to school?!?

Think they’ll sit back and watch?!

Don’t bet on it Jack!

These kids are on fire and will be cleaning house soon enough.

Forward thinkers, motivated activists, kids that refuse to take no for an answer.

This is the army now fighting the war that their parents refuse to believe in…

turn a blind eye to.

As the children sit back and cry.

What a fucked up world we live in.

Continue

In a dream, the most intense dream I’ve had in some time, I saw Happiness and Serenity waiting at the crossroads. I walked up and questioned each.

I first questioned Happiness. How can one experience all you have to offer?

Happiness smiled and replied… First one must relinquish their clinging to the past… second one must surrender their negativity… third, one must listen to the joy that exists within, that which no one can take from you.

I pondered the advice and turned to Serenity and asked the same. How can one find serenity?

Serenity replied in a soft assuring voice… one must learn to let go of that which doesn’t serve them… to become vulnerable… one must sit with oneself and dig deep to find forgiveness.

Again, I pondered the words spoken.

I sat at the crossroad… quietly contemplating the meaning of each response to my longing for both.

Tears of anger became tears of forgiveness

Thoughts of self-destruction… became thoughts of peace and love

Feelings of helplessness and deep sadness, became feelings of joy and faith.

My mind reeled

My heart wept silently as it slowly melted

I retreated deeply

I spoke gently to the tribe

As much as I am grateful to each of you

Each of you allowed me to survive

Each of you have your place

Each of you is loved

Each of you has lived through unspeakable horrors

I am not giving up on you, I am grateful for each of you… but it is time for us all to heal

Life is too short and too precious

Today I must make a choice for all of us

Today I must begin to give up behavior that is not conducive to our health… to turn away from that which has become comfortable and take a chance

Today I must dig deep and allow myself, all of us, to become vulnerable and become brave.

To forgive those which I despise with conviction

To live in the warm glow of love and compassion

To shed the tears of cleansing.

Today I stand at the crossroad of life… my life. A choice needs to be made.

J

The Awakening

To say my life has taken a turn is putting it quite mildly. Over the last month I have experienced perfect bliss, extreme pain, illness, dis-ease, sadness, loneliness, fear and a greater awareness of love and compassion. All these exist within me. My physical being continues on its finite path of growing older yet I have awaken something dormant, something that has been there all along, but stuffed deep inside, buried under all the superficial pain and suffering, fear and longing. My soul, my spirit, my inner most aliveness. I have tapped into a wellspring of emotions and feelings and have made a safe place for these not so friendly parts of me. I have opened myself up to being mindful of all my surroundings, each moment as it unfolds, for good or bad. I have found a calmness that has long since eluded me. Through my practice and the teachings I have the tools to be content. I have found a silence that screams loudly yet does not break the peacefulness in my mind and heart. I am learning to make peace with my inner child, my fears, doubts and longings.

As my life unfolds in this new awareness, I am utilizing as many tools as I have available to try to incorporate this into my life. The silent movements of T’ai Chi, the quietness and inner searching of my meditation practice, taking in the beautiful world in my own back yard, all these are teaching me in their own way. The suffering of an illness way beyond my control and acknowledging the fears that it brought. The courage to put my unraveling life into the hands of caring professionals and friends who nursed me back to health, each in their own way. For all these things I have a grateful heart.

Everything that will happen today, that is happening in this moment, will all be gone tomorrow with just an imprint on my memory that will soon fade away into that which was my life, my past. I no longer need to make those memories, my past, my current life’s story or influence my path. They are just experiences that I have had, today is a new day, tomorrow is unknown, so I choose to live in this moment and make myself the best I can be for this moment, this day.

It is hard at times when I am bombarded with outside negativity on a constant basis. Some of these influences I can turn off, like the TV and social media. Others are present and part of my daily life and I am learning to listen with one ear and hear the lessons of my teachers with the other. I have chosen to stop internalizing those negative influences as this is like a cancer eating at my very inner most being, it is poison to my spirit which wishes to be free and happy. I am brought back to this moment by my puppy who sees me as perfect in all lights. He lives a simple life, happy just to get scratches, play, eat and sleep. Ah…to have such a simple life.

This is a second, third, maybe forth chance at this life. I have messed it up so many times before. I listen, learn, practice and then as time goes on… as life presents itself, I allow myself to get drawn back into the haste and forget to take care of myself and I end up in the same situation over and over again, with the same results. Some people call that insanity. So, as always, this new awakening I am incorporating into my “new life”. My intention this time is to cultivate it, nurture it and feed it on a daily basis with silence and practice. I choose to separate myself from the expectations of those around me that would love for me to be sucked back up into the games. This has to be about me this time and that needs to remain my constant focus. I don’t know if I’ll get another chance at another “do over”.

Day Five: Serenity Awaits

This morning’s meditation was full of thoughts I couldn’t control no matter how deeply I breathed. I thought about how I am enjoying the slow down, giving myself a well deserved break from the busy life I lead. I thought about all I have learned this week and how it’s mine alone. I thought about how I wished that my girlfriend could share in this peace with me but this is my journey. I thought about my crazy puppy and how his energy and smile can pick me up on my darkest days. I thought about my new understanding of my anger and depression and how alone I feel. I felt a belonging in this path I’m on and how I hunger for more Dharma talks and Metta. I became aware of the silence and how rewarding it is to just sit quietly in meditation. Then, all at once, love and peace as I placed my hand on my heart and took a deep breath.

Mindfulness is becoming aware of all of these things. It’s a way to dig deep and understand, own and learn to live with everything inside me and around me. It’s a way to step back when I feel that anger, be aware of it before I spontaneously combust. It’s a way to deal with, identify and embrace my sadness and depression. It allows a deeper appreciation of all things, kinda like living life in macro. It’s about internalizing the Metta and the Dharma and learning to be kind to myself and those around me. It’s a source of peace and serenity I have longed for for a very long time, I was just too busy to notice.

This practice of Mindfulness strengthens as I practice here in this container of love and likemindedness. The internal peace I feel grows deeper each day and is consuming and comforting. I am determined to hold this peace and love once I re-enter the world. I need to remember all I have been taught and continue my practice daily. For this effort…serenity awaits.

Day Four: Metta

Loving kindness…what a concept. The practice of Metta in meditation has been my undoing. Metta is basically positive affirmations with a Buddhist twist. It is all about internalizing positive thinking and learning to project it back out into the world. It is about learning to love yourself and all your short comings, accept the parts of you that are not so becoming and learning to live in a positive space. We end everyday with this practice and teaching.

Last night I cried so hard during the Metta meditation. It was a deep sobbing cry. We were asked to think about all the people in our lives that were instrumental in teaching us, loving us and inspirational. At first I felt lost, unsettled and empty. Who in my life has picked me up and carried me when I couldn’t do it for myself? Who has been my confidant? Who have I shared my deepest fears, aspirations and joy with? Who has loved me and accepted me for who I was at the moment without judgment or scolding? Unconditionally…living or passed on. Who has been my teachers? Not out of obligation as in immediate family…

Once the flurry of anxiety had cleared and I began to think a bit more clearly, I thought of Chris, Faye and Sylvia, church members from my childhood, speakers at rallys, singers and song writers perhaps I’d never met but were inspirational. I thought about how I treasured bits and pieces of all of them. I began to understand that I am not alone in my life, and even though I have felt deeply alone, that if I let down my guard and was honest, people were always there for me.

In the past, and even now, there were people I opened up to that were not so positive and supportive. Sometimes they were judgmental, sometimes they would tell me to suck it up, tell me I was silly and sometimes I was told to “grow up”. It was those times that I remember and stopped reaching out. I learned that I had to carefully choose who I shared myself with, who I could let into my “space”.

Last night I summoned the positive back and dismissed the negative. I surrounded the negative in a pink bubble and set it off into the universe. The sadness flowed out of me in rivers of tears. I felt such deep emotions that had been buried deep under piles and piles of shit. On day one I had spoken one to one with one of the teachers here when I became afraid that I would not be able to control the explosion of anger, tears and whatever emotional upheaval might occur. I was assured I was not alone. I was also told that anger and depression is manifested from deep sadness and it is often a way of coping. He shared last night about his own sadness and bouts of depression and how when he started his journey he found that he could never fill the void he discovered inside his being but had to embrace it as part of him and surround it with good and nurture it, giving it its space to be. I get it…and cried myself to sleep.

This morning I struggled to get out of bed for the 6:15 meditation but I forced myself awake. The pain my body was in all day yesterday was gone and the anguish I felt last night too was gone. I sat in meditation this morning and thanked the universe for taking care of me through the night and for the clarity I feel this morning. I feel very raw and emotional. This is the beginning. I am now an empty vessel. From here it is my choice to let go and let myself heal…to listen deeply and with an open mind and heart. Let the day begin.

P.S., the sun is out…