I stand at the edge of the vast canyon laid out before me. The various colors of red, orange, greens and browns all delight my senses as I stand quiet, feeling the chill of the early morning breezes.
The ancient sandstone pillars stand silently atop the massive plateau dotted with grey sagebrush. On the thermals soars a raven, circling ever higher in a balancing act of wind and wing.
I stare deep into the deep grandeur of the canyons below and imagine the strength of the river and wind… what marvelous architects.
Again I feel the warmth of the sun and I’m brought back.
The mountains stand steadfast in the distance. Dark purple and grey, climbing high above the desert floor in a majesty all their own.
The songs of the past whisper on the wind, telling stories of hardship and a love of the land… a spiritual connection to the vast night sky full of starts and the brilliant blue of the day. The blazing sun and the parched land yielding only enough to eek out a living. I can hear the cries of the warrior, the yelp of the coyote, the singing of the canyon wren, the rustle of the dry yellow leaves of the mesquite.
My heart sighs, my mind settles and my eyes take in all it sees with gratitude for this new day.
We pulled in late last night, as is our norm with the short days. Since we crossed the time line in Nevada, and lost an hour with DLST, sunset at 4:30, dark is around 5:15-5:30. Of course, fire restrictions are on high alert, so we pretty much retreat to our van after gazing at the sun fire red clouds and the darkening skies of sunset. On our new schedule, that means we have about 4-5 hours to play/drive, before it’s dark.
We come upon the park at about 4 pm. The parking lot that the NFS calls a “campground” (Sunset) reminded me of parking at a drive-in movie. It was all that was available. No fires, dogs on leash, just our kind of place. Not.
The morning comes super early as well and by 6 am it’s full on light outside. By 7 am the big RVs in the “campground” have turned on their generators. The van is pretty well insulated from sound so it’s just a dull roar. We decided to set out early and explore the other campground above us. We drove through last night and checked it out, but it fills everyday by around 2-3:00 pm.
After some Coffee and a quick breakfast we grab our e-bikes and are off to seek out our new home base. The host told us to go up around 11 am to secure a site, so we grabbed our chairs and a backpack and headed up to the campground to find a spot. After riding around for 20-30 minutes, we found a few empty spots, got together and picked one. #71 Home base.
It ended up being a lazy day. Chris was still recovering from some gastric issues (day 3) so our bike ride was about 3 miles too many. We are desperately in need of showers…going on day 4 tomorrow. We rode around to find the “showers” that showed on the maps but they never materialized. I’m guessing tomorrow will be bath day…
Ya know what sucks about National Parks is that they are so “structured”… ok, strict?… in the year of COVID or *rona, that’s people on people. Everybody and their uncle is out in the parks, wilderness, trails and so forth. We all practice social distancing and depending on the state/county, some will wear masks. We are incredibly paranoid about getting this. Maybe we won’t die but what if we have a month in the hospital? That could literally bankrupt so many families and ding us pretty good.
Social distancing in DEATH Valley… I think I read somewhere that like 1.7 million people come to Death Valley every year… Hmmm that means that from late October to early March, which are tolerable temperatures, over 635,000 a month, 21,000 people a day, entering the park in those 4.5 months, from all over the US, the hotspot of the pandemic.
Now to say this doesn’t weigh heavy on our minds everyday we have to use a gas station, toilet, go grocery shopping? Sometimes I find myself in a pure panic and can just envision the germs invading my nostrils. LOL. Then I’m reminded that we are all dying anyway… so live your life as safe as you can but not in fear. Not buying into any herd mentality mind you. More like impermanence.
Day two. Lazy morning. Coffee outside in the sun. Slight breeze blowing and the sound of new campers driving around looking for a camp spot. The low murmur of people talking to one another. Our van has been quite a hit and we continue to get compliments. It’s a conversation starter for sure. Gandaulf has also touched so many hearts. Kids and adults alike. It’s really hard to draw boundaries when people are kind and interested. I really don’t want to be afraid of people but I am.
The parched landscape of Death Valley whispers solitude and isolation. The multi-colored rocks, sand and salt bring to life thousands of years of history. Scattered along the landscape are brilliant green oasis where the brutal force of tech tonic plates grinding together forcing super heated waters to seep to the surface. From this violent beginning comes life in all its magnificence. In the middle of the hottest, driest place on earth, life in its simplest form can survive.
The color pallet laid out before me in the rocky landscape is soothing to the eye. The earth tone browns, yellows, reds, greens, a whole miriad of colors, blending together. Countless eons of time, layer upon layer, thrust up into the air by forces I can’t even begin to know, but my mind imagines the violent beginnings. Now all that remains are majestic, multicolored mountains, outlined in cobalt blue and wisps of white.
After a day of exploring the depths of the once inland sea -301’ below sea level, we wandered over to the Devils Golf Course. It looks like a frozen river at thaw… huge chunks of salt crack and move. We stood quietly and listened to the metallic ting as the salt moved in the heat. The beauty and starkness boggled my mind and my child just wanted to explore… so we did. Chris one way and I the other.
We drove around and did a few hikes and took lots of pictures. We had lunch on the side of the road and chilled taking in the view. We drove back to the camp site with our jaws dropping view after view.
The sun sets so early these days. I am grateful that it is so warm outside when it is “pitch black”. The campground looks like a small encampment of like minded people. Fires blazing against the inky blackness. People laugh and there’s music drifting on the warm air. The sky peppered with millions of pin pricks of light. The stars are thick and the milky way shows itself against the absolute darkness. I stare off for untold minutes loosing myself in the vast starlit sky. I am one with the universe. My mind mingles with the infinite wisdom and light… I feel minuscule but incredibly voluminous. I return to our little village, as Gandaulf tugs on his leash trying to relieve himself.
4,000 feet Day 4:
We decided to pull up stakes and head up into the foothills in the Death Valley Wilderness area. The breeze is blowing and it’s 15 degrees cooler. There is an abundance of life and even a solitary big old cottonwood in showy yellow. I just want to hug that big ole cottonwood and listen to its stories. At the mouth of a wash dug deep into the desert floor and that tree. The image is burned into my mind in all its ancient glory.
Our camp is quiet, except for the occasional vehicle going up the narrow canyon. The road said 25’ maximum length… I didn’t see it until I was already committed so I crossed my fingers and carried on. It was one of those scary windy 1 1/2 lanes wide. The turns were tight and 40’ meant hogging all of it through the turns. We arrived at Wild Rose Camp and picked a spot over looking the canyon and trees.
We settled in and set up camp. We kinda messed up and went to a camp with not much to do around it. We made the best of it and explored further up the canyon, minus the trailer. The hills up above the valley floor look like they are covered in velvet. The rolling folds accented by the late afternoon sun were a sight to behold. The fact that anything can eek out a living in this bone dry place is amazing in itself. Quite the contrary, this place is teaming with life from wispy grass like plants, sages, to several varieties of hardy trees. Nature has found a balance of life and death in this DEATH Valley.
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.
We knew that it was too good to last. So far our vacation has been perfect. Perfect weather, perfect food and drink and perfect group out here on Half Moon Caye. Our last night was full of dancing, drinking and sharing tales. We watched the sunset at the beach just outside of camp while partying with all our new friends. We took pictures and shared email addresses then went back to camp where the guides performed native Garafuna drumming, song and dance. We all danced the night away and had a lovely prepared meal (no shortage of those). Then off to bed.
The sun began to wake up the day as a big ball of pink in the morning sky. A cloud bank began to roll in and by breakfast the storm had arrived. We all ran out to our tents and secured the rain flaps. Within 5 minutes the rain began. First a little drizzle, then the lightening and thunder accompanied the sheets of rain. Now we are all sitting in the mess hall watching the rain, hoping the boat coming to get us today actually will leave Belize City and make the 2-3 hour trip across open water. I personally would be happy if the boat was unable to come.
Chris and I recounted our trip so far. Chris said that this island adventure reminded her of summer camp. There was always activities to sign up for each day, an applause after each meal, educational moments and of course glamping. So now every time I think of the last five days I smile and think “adult summer camp”.
My girlfriend and I have been planning our escape for years. It was some fear and apprehensions that stopped us from taking the leap years ago and wandering our beautiful planet on a forever way of life…traveling.
We planned and saved every dollar we could. Tried to make good decisions about big purchases. Brought our company to a viable asset. Fixed everything physically wrong with our aging bodies so we could be young again. We made a goal of 2017 as our jumping off point.
Well 2017 came and went. We put our business up for sale at the beginning of 2017. We had several interested parties, but running a car dealership is not as simple as liking cars. Everyone that came to the table either faded away when they found out how much was actually involved or the banks turned them down. I fell into a deep depression that I kept hidden as best as I could.
We set ourselves up to live a good life. We built our dream home 18 years ago and are about 3-4 years away from paying it off. Our house is warm and comfortable and WAY too big for our little family of two humans and a corgi. It was a tax shelter and necessity which has now become a source of financial security, affording us freedom if we could cut the chains.
We have read countless books on becoming a minimalist. We have attended Overlanding expos and created good, healthy ties with fellow explorers and travelers living both here in the US and in foreign countries. We bought a 2015 Ford Transit 250 to build into our adventure mobile. Of course with our still busy schedule it has not had much attention. So here we sit, chained to our business and unwilling to give up our comfortable home until the sale.
To make matters worse… everyday we wake up to another mass shooting, another unarmed kid shot by cops, a narcissistic POTUS who is batshit crazy and can seriously impact our financial health, physical health and turn the world against us. Kids are taking to the streets demanding change but getting the hand by the grownups they rally against. It is just too much for my fragile psyche to be bombarded with everyday.
Why take off and leave all that we know? Why sell off everything and have nothing but freedom to show for it? Why break away from all that is comfortable and travel to third world countries where people are happy and live harmoniously with the world around them? Seriously… you need to ask!
It’s hard to tell a story with so many twists and turns. Sometimes the anticipation and planning is more stressful than anything I’ve done before. It’s different when it’s a long term decision. The path we choose now WILL affect the next phase of our lives. Saying that out loud really brings this into perspective. The decisions we have made in the past could be wrong… we always had the time and means to make it right. This decision may not be so easy to undo.
What on earth could be so dire? Well it’s the decision about our new home on wheels.
So you may be saying, so what’s the big deal?
When you are going from a house too big for two, to a custom created camper van with a living space of 73.5 square feet. Everything you own is contained in this space. How do you decide what to keep and what to discard? We grew up in a time when at least 40 years of our lives were NOT digital. That means for a photographer… boxes and boxes of prints and negatives. I have a wood toy chest from my childhood I have lugged all over the US every time I moved. Handwritten letters from past loves, friends and family. Artwork collected from around the world.
The electronics, furniture and other STUFF is easy to part with. There is just so much STUFF to get rid of…
The process: We have really vacillated back and forth between a very used Sprinter van to a gently used Ford Transit. My mind has been designing and redesigning our cozy living space. The main goal is usable space and storage. A space that two women and a corgi can live in comfortably. A “home on wheels” that is comfortable and inviting. Our Tiny Home.
There is so much I have had to learn. Solar, plumbing, electrical, wood working. The imagination is strong and the ability to recreate what I see may be tough. We hopefully will be buying our van this week and the build will begin. I hope we will be able to be patient and build out our space carefully and “hell for strong”, as my dad would say.
The hardest thing of all this moving on is the hurry up and wait game. I guess we did it to ourselves.
In the US, perhaps as with many other countries too, forgive my ignorance… we have to invest our money in a home in order to offset some tax burdens imposed on us. Same holds true with a business… pay yourself or pay the government.
Seventeen years ago we built our dream home. We had no intention of moving outside the US or traveling to the extent we are currently planning. If you had told me back then that we would amass a good amount of money, enough to live very well on, I would’ve laughed. Today this is very much a reality.
The biggest hang up is our business and building it works out of. I have no doubt that our home will sell quickly. The business is hit or miss. The building is also a major wildcard. Part of investing in our future has been making these investments. It is the time it takes to liquidate all these that is driving me crazy.
It is the hurry up and wait game that we are embroiled in currently. People inquire about the business, the building and what not. We answer these questions and nothing seems to ever materialize. The other day some “YouTube” guys came in and took a tour. They are looking for a studio to make their videos. Another guy came in and sat down in front of me until we had so much going on I had to excuse myself. Another guy has been texting and has a walk through and interview on Tuesday. I hope that in all this action some solid lead will come.
In the meantime we continue to move forward with decluttering years of possessions. The various pieces of local artwork from different countries where we have traveled all have to go. The nick knacks, furniture and household items we have accumulated must go. It is hard to put what worldly treasures you think you want to keep and someday be reunited with, in an assortment of manageable boxes.
What will life look like when we finally land and put downs some roots again? Will we be able to live on our own and be healthy? A deep down part of me fears growing old. Being alone someday. The life of a Gay Woman, a Vagabond, an Overlander, a World Traveler… all come with a price in the end. Growing old and alone. Hey… it’s reality. No kids, no family but those you’ve met on the road. No roots, no foundation but the means to buy whatever happiness you can… and even now that isn’t always a given unless you carry around pieces of gold.
So now… sitting in my backyard, surrounded by sounds of the birds in our little piece of forest. Somewhere in a small mountainside in Utah, my home, the simple greens of our oak trees and aspens are soothing that turmoil of fear. Life is here and now. Sometimes, yes we must settle with hurry up and wait.
I don’t know who coined the phrase “half of the experience is the journey itself”, but they hit that nail dead on the head. We started packing last weekend. The Cruzer is taking some getting used to but she is capable of handling our gear. The way I figure it… I pretty much have everything I need to be self sufficient for several days.
What’s the difference between a trip for several days vs. several months? Not too much. If you were living on the road, the road would be your home and you would need to stop and do laundry once a week, or so, just like you do in your brick and mortar home. I think you generally just stink and after while don’t notice. Ha! What a thought. So you don’t need to own but maybe two weeks worth of clothes… and I’m not talking three changes a day… think about it; what do you really need if it’s 50-100 degrees everyday. A chance of rain half the year. Twelve hours of daylight on average per day.
Food? Well unless you’re going down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon by paddle boat, you can go to the market once or twice a week and buy fresh. We don’t have a full on refrigerator after all. If you go camping for a week you go to one place and hopefully have enough food and ice to keep it cold. So there you have it.
One thing I would have to do though is organize the Cruzer. It was frustrating trying to find anything. I had to do a lot of climbing around and rummaging to find things I knew I had put in there somewhere. Oh well… duality noted. I think we will need to build compartments. That’s what I hope to bring home from the Expo.
Part Two: The Revelations:
First let me start by saying going to the Expo was a great thing! I met some genuine people there. The camp area was packed tight with all types of rigs from VW Buses to Hummers to Land Cruisers. All the rigs had basically the same equipment. Tents of all types and sizes. Gear necessary to support it’s occupants for a trip into the wild. Varying degrees of sophistication. Some old and some newer. Some costing thousands of dollars to build to several hundreds of thousands. What did each have in common? The owners and travelers desire to be self sufficient with the ability to escape the realm of responsible reality.
I was lucky to get some great neighbors on each side. The most memorable will be Mona and Al from San Francisco area originally.
To say they took a blow on the chin and continued to turn the other cheek would be an understatement. They lost their home in the fires that ravaged the area a few years ago. Still they remained hopeful and positive, and picked up what they had left and continued moving forward instead of becoming “victims”. They reminded me so much of Chris and I it was amazing. They complimented each other, obviously loved each other and yet were so totally opposite of each other. I think that is the greatest strength of any healthy, life long relationship. Mona and Al took me in and we became good friends in the short time we spent together. They have big plans for escaping just as Chris and I do.
I attended many seminars, Q&As, demonstrations and took from each a bit of vital information and revelations. I really enjoyed speaking with real people that have actually done what we are preparing to do. The greatest part was that maybe learning from them and their experiences, we can avoid some costly mistakes.
I got to experience the life of “up at sunrise and to bed at sunset”. I got to pick people’s brains on a personal one to one basis. I was taught as a student and was showed things I never would have known otherwise. I gained a confidence in what our future may look like. I came home with so many great, doable ideas and how to put them into something tangible that will increase our chances of survival as two women alone on our Overland voyage.
The best part of it all was when Chris finally joined me on Saturday night. There was no way I could show her all I had learned but I took her around and showed her it was possible. Our dream could come to fruition with the knowledge of those who have been doing the minimalist life style for years and years. I was able to get her buy in 100% to building our “home” on the road. We discussed at length weather or not we had the right vehicle. We discussed other possibilities if money was no option. In the end I told her I would design Lucky’s interior and before it went into production get her buy in.
Leaving on Sunday was bitter sweet. I had to say goodbye to my new friends. Pack up all our soon to be “worldly possessions” and hit the road for the long journey home. This 8 hours was the longest Chris and I had spent without the TV on, faces in our phones or iPads in a long while. It was the quality time we needed to do what we do best… discuss our ideas, hash out our differences and compromise.
The next phase will begin as I draw out my ideas about how we need to improve our home with the knowledge I gained from veterans who have gone before. Hopefully learn from their mistakes and leap into the next stage of our lives with a better knowledge and understanding of what could lie ahead. I feel it will be easier for us to transition into life on the road without time limitations and the burden of owning anything except what is “on our backs” as it were.
In conclusion, this was an enlightening weekend. It was a necessary step in the right direction. It affirmed this journey as possible. It drilled into my brain the realities of the dangers and enjoyment one can encounter when all ties are broken and life is lived not just endured.
“We travel not to escape life… but for life not to escape us”.