Submersion

Submersion

I’ve all but cut my ties to SLC. Yesterday I backed down seeing Tracy to every other week which has cause a little rift in the Tribe but it is a step I need to attempt on my own. I don’t know if I’d consider therapy a crutch but it has brought me so much peace of mind from understanding my head and all the intricacies it holds. 

We spoke of the healing power in nature. I am already well aware of the energy that I tap into out here. I have a connection to the outdoors that I can’t find anywhere else. I am glad that Chris is also a much more calm and kind person. I plan to continue to practice  in the outdoors, being an observer, a seeker, a wandering Yogini. To find serenity inside by engaging outside. 

Soma… body. We spoke a lot about my mind and feelings or lack of understanding what I’m feeling or how to relate to it in a healthy way. This has made me physically ill where that energy arises or dwells. What he said struck so deep I knew he had hit bed rock. 

I have always sought out someone else’s words to describe how I feel. I feel very deeply but just can’t explain why I’m crying or what made me sad, happy or what-not… it never mattered so I run away inside. This in turn makes me sick physically. Another step in healing that seems like a daunting task. I just need to find balance. 

The rain fell all night last and everything is dewy and vibrant. The sun is shoeing away the last of the heavy grey clouds. I can here a small bird and the sound of the river. The air is crisp and smells of damp earth. The pine trees stand eerily still waiting for what the day may bring. My mind wanders off. I pray to the mother, to the ancestors, for the courage to continue to find things within myself that have lost their way and that the inner peace will flood my entire being with calm and serenity. 

I enter my mind through meditation, experience, sounds, vibrations and a connectedness with all living beings, animate and inanimate. I get to the center and see through many eyes, many time periods, many memories. I tremble as I look out through these eyes as they walk and talk. As they anguish in their roles to help me survive. 

Close Encounters of an Unwelcome Kind

I rise to the sound of the river. It’s fluid motion is heard above the birds welcoming the morning. I kick the covers from around my feet and sit up, bleary eyed and semi-conscious… another day in the solitude of the forest. 

My puppy hears me rustling and jumps up for morning scratches and a nice long stretch. He rolls over and I awaken my stiff hands in his warm fur. Mornings are tough when it’s cold and damp outside, but this is my world, my new existence. The outdoors have become my backyard. 

I slide to the edge of the bed. My girlfriend is already up and making some nice hot coffee to waken my foggy brain and warm my cold hands. It continued to rain all night and a low mist hangs around the trees in the mountains before me. The ground sodden from the rain and smelling of fresh wet earth. My senses delight in the sounds and smells. 

I pull on my clothes, left in a pile last night as I quickly undressed and ran for the cover of my warm bed, and breathe slowly as I inch my half frozen pants over my legs. The air in the van is damp and smells of the campfire we had all day yesterday to keep warm. The light is hazy as it struggled to break from behind the clouds and stream into the windows. I open the door and step into the morning. 

The sky has begun to clear and has been washed of the smoke that has been choking the air and hiding the suns brilliance. I can see the sun as it slides down the mountain sides, illuminating the changing colors. Bright yellow, orange, red and vibrant green accent the mountain side, as fall starts to paint the mountains with its magical brush. I long for the warmth. 

I take a chair close to the edge of the river and sit down to a piping hot cup of joe and feel it warm me as I take a sip. My girlfriend comes over and softly kisses my cheek and says “good morning.” I reciprocate with “thanks for the coffee.” She pulls up a chair and sits beside me. I take another sip and concentrate on it as it warms me on the way down my throat. This is life…and life is good. 

The past week has been a tough one as far as breathing goes. The Northwest is on fire and the smoke follows the wind. We were fortunate to not have had the smoke all summer until this last week. I am reminded of the damage caused with a deep rattling cough. Between the dust and the smoke, my lungs are burning to breathe fresh mountain air once again. Today the rains have scrubbed the sky brilliant blue and the air fresh and cool. 

Out of the corner of my eye I see a quick brown flash of movement. I turn my attention to two squirrels as they chase each other through the branches. Their acrobatics bring to me a sense of joy as they jump and scamper from tree to tree. Chattering wildly as they the run around, Gandaulf sees them and enters their game of chase. 

We’re packing up for a hike along the Selway River in the Selway Bitterroot NF. We’re planning on about a 5 mile hike… it is the first real hike of our trip. Gandaulf is suited up in his green neoprene fleece jacket and orange bandanna. We layer up since it’s cold now but by the time we get to the trail head, 12 miles away by UTV, it will be warming up. 

We pack the essential do-dads and emergency stuff, and pack it away in our day pack. We pack the jetboil and some chicken enchilada freeze dried backpack food and some lunch for the Boo. We pack some extra water, the .38, bear spray, and rain jackets. Nothing tastes better after a strenuous hike, than a cold beer, but we have decided to forgo those until our return to camp. 

I topped  off the gas in The Thing (our UTVs name) and take a rag to the thick layer of dust coating everything, mixed into a nice mud slurry from the rain the last 24 hours. We load up and do a double check and are off to Paradise. 

We knew from speaking to the Fish and Game warden, that there are bears, wolves, mountain lions and rattlesnakes along the trails route… so we packed the .38 and the bear spray in close proximity to our front so if by chance we happen upon one of these predators, we can run… Ever read the label on bear spray? Remove the safety and spray a tiny test to see which way the wind is blowing! Do they really think anyone will have time to follow the directions? Hell no! Shoot to kill, mame, or injure then run! Instinct will win with most people. 

We hop in the UTV and take off for Paradise, at the end of the Magruder Corridor. It’s a beautiful semi-primitive campground and the host to many of the trails in the area. We set out, packs on our backs, hiking sticks, Gandaulf in his finest wear, the .38… no bear spray!! No good… So I head back to the UTV to get it and run into a line of pack mules heading up to some random hunters camp. The mule skinner was polite and we let him pass. 

We hiked about 2.5 miles through a heavily forested trail lined with white cedar trees thick with old mans beard. The rocks were carpeted with the most vibrant green moss and old dead fall was reduced to sodden fibrous skeletons, providing a new fertile place for low forest floor plants.  As we came upon the cutoff for Bad Luck Creek, we saw our first bear track. We just brushed off the berry filled scat as old but these tracks were new. The hairs instantly rise on your neck when you realize you are in the presence of the top predator in the area. 

I moved my bear spray closer and removed the safety, Chris checked her .38 and we laughed as we hiked on SUPER VIGILANT! We came to a stream crossing at around 3 miles in and decided to turn around and head out. I grabbed the keys to the UTV and fastened them to my hiking stick as a makeshift bear bell. You’ve never heard a set of keys make as much noise as it did today.  

We hiked on and heard some footsteps coming up the trail and I noticed our Fish and Game Warden, Victor, coming around the corner. We exchanged pleasantries and I showed him the picture of bear poo that was fresh as of a few hours. He said a hunter almost walked in top of a bear yesterday by where we saw the prints. He was in for a 15 mile hike to an airfield in the wilderness where hunters and outfitters take clients to hunt elk, deer, bear… whatever is in season. We wished each other well and took off. 

We were getting hungry and knew of a nice area right by the river for a stop for lunch. Of course we made sure we were up wind from our food smells. Gandaulf barked and created a safe environment for us, at least from bears. We made our chicken enchiladas and scarfed it down, each of us secretly thinking of the same thing… bears. 

By the time we had made it back to our UTV, we had seen more fresh scat than we cared to, like it wasn’t there when we hiked in. Bear for sure, some other smaller animal that also loved the blue berries, and a white, well formed large poo full of fur. Guessing wolf or maybe mountain lion. At our lunch spot was an old moldy, very thick leg bone that had been caught between a long tree root and a rock, probably during high water. It had been snapped off in a very clean break. The bone was about 12” long and at the point of the break about 3” in diameter. We found many other bones and lots of scat to indicate maybe a favorite dinning spot. It’s is kinda creepy to think about being 4th in the predator line. 

We made our way back to camp (home) and settled in for a good cold beer and to discuss all the sign we saw. Play ball with Gandaulf and nurse our sore bodies. 

River

The sound of the river rushing by in constant flow

The towering cliffs stand tall and hard against the deep blue sky 

Carved by this liquid snake over eons of time

The trees stand and watch the the endless motion of this fluid architect

Gently the bubbles make their way down the current

Rocks hold to their purchase of land against the rivers flow

Others roll along without putting up a fight

My mind is sucked into the current… empty… constantly fluid… clinging to nothing

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. 

Wilderness Travelers: Part One

Life Off Grid

Life on the road is not a vacation. You are not going home. You are home. You didn’t skirt any chores, honey-do fix it project, or little things that need to be done, because there’s always something to fix on the van, and it’s sometimes harder on the road. 

Living off grid is a wonderful adventure if you have the right state of mind, as my grandparents used to say,”got enough gumption.” Where ever you land is where you call home. Some places feel like a place you’d like to stay and experience all it’s energy. Others are just quick over nights. 

I think that life in the wilderness affords you a certain peace of mind, softens the heart, and gives you a connection to the earth. You live with the flies, the mosquitos, the ants and mice. You’re in their home as a visitor. You live sometimes on dusty roads with the humidity just right, and the air just still enough, that the dust hangs like a heavy cloud, suffocating all manor of life, including you. Other times you’ll live on a desert plateau or a beach, or a mountain riverside. Each pallet a different experience. Each is your little place in the world at that second. Your footprint is very small. 

You may meet people here and there. Each with their own story to tell. Each exist in their struggle to belong, to find something they think is missing. Out on the road there’s only you to deal with (except in a COVID-19 pandemic). With COVID, anyone you meet and even the air you breathe can make you sick. In general most people are kind and courteous, following the rules. We are all on the same path to be calm and stay healthy.

I have a certain affinity for trees, perhaps I was a squirrel once. The taller the better. These enduring sentinels hold years upon years of memories of season upon season. In the Wild I connect to everything animate and inanimate. The depth of the silence, the rivers voice heard loud and clear and echoing through the canyons. The peel of a bird of preys call. This is a place of magic and whimsy. 

You need only 4 things when vagabonding… food, a clean source of water, gas (petrol and LPG) and a safe place to park. We prefer places away from people but this isn’t always possible. So you bend and accept whatever accommodations you can for that night. We are always able to move in the morning to a more suitable place to call home. Everything is fluid. 

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.

Emptiness

The sound of the river rushing by in constant flow

The towering cliffs stand tall and hard against the deep blue sky

Carved by this liquid snake over eons of time

The trees stand and watch the the endless motion of this fluid architect

Gently the bubbles make their way down the current

Rocks hold to their purchase of land against the rivers flow

Others roll along without putting up a fight

My mind is sucked into the current… empty… constantly fluid… clinging to nothing