Life on the road is no cake walk. Compromise, silence and space, solitude and good old Mother Nature. A tough re-entry into the world of civilization and then back to our happy place.
Leaving the back roads and beaches of Mexico was… in itself…hard. It was in essence the hot and humid weather and the need for COVID-19 shots, that drove us back to Utah. We have been officially off the “road/van life” for a month now. We have been doing service projects for friends and family and van fixes …including one very inconvenient tow, all month. May 2021, has been Service Month… literally.
We have helped with a remodeling project.
We helped recondition and sell a speed/ski boat.
Assisted a great, close friend to buy a new car. Helped our sister and brother-in-law get a good deal on two great eBikes and of course, we both got our vaccinations for COVID-19.
The spread of COVID-19 has slowed in the US. People are being vaccinated. We spent more money than our normal monthly budget for unexpected van repairs, spent a few nights in long stay hotels, and had to give up the van twice for two different repairs, one, after a minor mishap with the trailer.
My body has decomposed in this month, it’s shed thick calluses off my feet, lost at least half of its once healthy glow, my sinuses blazing with rivers of snot from seasonal allergies, lungs full of said rivers. My mind has shut down as things around me change, and I’ve all but shaved my head.
The routine has changed from outdoor living in peace and solitude, a primordial existence with Mother Nature, to City life. Now, four hard walls with a shingled roof, flush toilets and showers on demand with plenty of hot water, shelter us.
We ran to Kara’s house, loaded up the Hyside raft we sold, the IK we sold, the oar frame on the new roof rails, everything else suspended from the ceiling of the trailer. All the toys in one heavy ass trailer. It sucked the gas mileage from North Salt Lake, UT to Twin Falls, ID to under 9mpg… keeping it at an avg. of 68 mph. SUCK…
I drove the whole way with gusty tail winds, strong head winds and strong sideways burst…nuts! The Memorial Day holiday traffic is evident, from seeing 3 crashes south bound in Utah, to plenty of slow traffic driving north. We listened to an ebook talking about how US drivers fall asleep or just plain old don’t pay attention because our straight roads are hypnotic.
Nothing in the outdoor recreation world has changed since COVID-19. The prices of the recreational equipment, led by the demand and short supply, is up by thousands over retail value. That’s what has lead us to the west side of Idaho, a place we’ve yet to experience. Once we offload the extra weight we will head back to the Northern mountains of Idaho to decompress… as has become our norm… 3 days of mostly silence between talks of destinations and a sorta plan… at least a direction. Time is of no urgency unless a set destination is planned.
We spent the first night at a Harvest Host golf course right on the Snake River and a beautiful river gorge.
The silence is welcome. All 3 of us, Gandaulf included, need to hear nothing but the wind, river, birds, crickets, our own breath and heart beat. Until the controlling and aggressive “city personalities”…calm down and a synchronicity of calmness and kindness resumes… this is how the re-entry, repositioning, has been. Sometimes you just need a little space. Doesn’t mean we don’t love each other. I can fight it or move through it, it’s always a choice, and 15-30 minutes of uncomfortability in a day… doesn’t ruin the whole day.
We have been back for almost a month and it feels like a year. The amount of stimuli experienced in one day is a month or twos worth on the road. It’s hard to find any solitude when we get back to the city and live out of the van. The last time we slept in the van was April 27th. We’ve been camping out in my sister-in-law Kara’s house for the last two and a half weeks.
We got our first COVID shot and are now waiting for the second and then back on the road. This was our first service work. This month has been dedicated for the benefit of others. We helped out Kara any way we could with tearing out and replacing walls and old carpet for hard flooring. I mowed the lawn and keep up the outside and helped when I could inside. I have a real aversion to being inside lately. The van is cool since it’s a small comfortable space filled with few frills and only the basics to live, eat and sleep.
We had so much planned for this month but best made plans fell to the wayside when we got new tires on our trailer, let the service shop hook up trailer to the van, then said trailer proceeded to come unhooked and ran into the back of the van. Another small detour in life on the road. The body shop has had her since Wednesday and we pick her up on Monday morning. It’ll be nice to have her back.
Being back in the city really changes you after a while. The roaming soul falls asleep and the restless one takes its place. We are both ready to get back into our home and take off towards our next goal, Bend, OR. We’ve read about it and drool every night. With COVID restrictions loosening up, the Canadian border could open by July maybe still enough time to venture to Alaska. We have nothing left here except family and friends, what more do you need? So we’ve decided this would be service month, giving, just because. It’s part of the whole be kind thing. It’s been fun to use our talents to help out where ever we can.
There are things we don’t have in the van, like TV. This is the number one robber of time. It’s an old pattern I thought might be broken while on the road, but for at least one of us it remains the same. You become used to having a flush toilet and shower right there, no effort needed. Hungry? Want something to eat but don’t feel like cooking, go get something. These are just a few of the “city habits” we pick up and become softened by. I like living like a wanderer, seeker, explorer, and pioneer. When in the city, there is too much to rest on…to depend on. You loose that sense of one with nature, with your own self.
Things always happen beyond our control, we still just roll over it, but the stress meter climbs everyday.
I’m sitting in my van outside Kanab, Utah, USA, being pummeled by 30-50mph winds from the SSW… storms coming. I’ve been driving only an hour or so but it’s been a constant two handed battle against the wind. We choose to find the shelter of a grove of pinion and juniper down a well worn red dirt road off Rte 89.
We can’t go outside, the fine silt of red rock desert gets into everything… even if closed. Within a minute you’re seeking shelter as your eyes feel as if they are wrapped in wool. Another gust and a burst of red sand whips across the dirt road and into the side of the van. It’s just impossible to do anything so what better time to decompress.
Part One: The Landscape
I look outside the window of the van to a familiar yet foreign landscape from the desert of Baja California and Sur, let’s just call it “the Baja”. The greens, although vibrant, seemed muted in some way. The alien foliage and fauna of the Baja became like wandering through a page of a Dr Seuss book. The odd shapes and contorted tress, the giant cacti that made travel off road dangerous. One of my favorites is the giant Cardon Cactus, which was blooming when we left. I was told it only blooms at night and attracts bats to is succulent nectar. They fly to the flower, a large white multi petal flower that protrudes off the body of the main cactus, on a soft green, fruit like bulge, and the bats drink till they literally fall away as if drunk on its nectar.
The desert in the Baja was coming to life even under the cloudless skies. The plants have adapted to this unforgiving landscape and put forth a spectacular sense overload of heavy sweetness from the most delicate of flowers. Again, these small delicate flowers are also a feast for the birds and the bees. They buzz and flit and fly in and out of the trees and flowers, some looking for the flowers and others, those the flowers entice. In such a harsh environment the whole place thrives.
The sky, well the sky definitely rivals any cloudless high Rocky Mountain summer day. The key word is cloudless. The sun shines brightly 365 days a year. The humidity rises quickly through the day near the ground, only to be heated up, creating well placed clouds that create the most enchanting sunsets. These vibrant sunsets can turn the entire bluish green sea, into the most beautiful pink and golds. The sky and sea become one without a horizon.
The mountain ranges, always visible from any location on The Baja, are the work of some amazing artist. The newly formed peninsula, by a geological time frame, has the most diverse mountain ranges of anywhere I’ve ever seen in such a short relative distance. The bed of the ancient sea was thrust up by tectonic activity, pushing with it all manor of fossils and bones. The huge sea creatures that became entombed over eons now exposed in the rock slides of the ancient sea floor as it tumbles hundreds of feet and is exposed by the elements.
Some mountains bear the scars of mining, big corporate and small village operated co-ops. Others soar to the highest of heights and seem impenetrable. These lofty giants can catch entire weather systems and wring it out on one side or the other. The great arroyos are testament to the power and ferocity of these rains.
Further south, in Baja California Sur, there is evidence of volcanic activity. These beautifully sculpted mountains are verdant green from the constant humidity of this region of the peninsula. They have hidden entire stone Catholic missions and preserved ancient cave paintings from indigenous tribes of Cucupas and Puipui.
The sand on the southern beaches are softer and the seas range from a kite surfers dream, a surfers haven, a wave lovers and thrill seekers dream… to the calm blue green waters of The Sea of Cortez and Bay of California attracting lovers and fishermen, tourist and drug runners. The Sea pours into the Pacific and the two become undistinguishable.
My mind can still see all this clearly. Our two months exploring the Baja has waken a sleeping dragon, sparked creativity and created a deep spiritual connection with the very essence of this strip of land. Life here is an intricately choreographed dance of life and death and rebirth/rediscovery.
I focus my eyes back outside the van as a gust of wind shakes us and whistles through any space it can find. The beauty of this red rock desert, speckled with sage brush, tall lodge pole pines, stunted cedar, pinion and juniper, brings me back in touch with my love of the deserts of southern Utah.
You can’t see my tears… They’re really not there. They’re actually memories melting away from a troubled mind. You can’t see my tears… I won’t let you. Instead I’ll wear my heart on my sleeve. You can’t see my tears… My heart heaves. I struggle to breathe sometimes. I won’t let you see my tears… I am stronger than that. At least that’s what I tell myself. My tears will show themselves… I’ve lost that control. They are my heart overflowing… With happiness With sadness And with love and compassion for others. I will show you my tears… They are part of me. Share with me, if you will, this journey with all it’s twists and turns. Hold my hand Dry my tears Assure me when I am confused Give me hope when I feel hopeless. Here are my tears…
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.