Today marks our fifth month on the road, which seems like as good a time as any to pause and reflect on this crazy adventure. It’s been an amazing ride, filled with interesting people, breathtaking sites, and personal revelations. But it’s not all swimming in glacial lakes and running through fields of wildflowers. Just like anything, there are highs and lows: some days you’re standing on top of a 14,000 foot mountain with tears in your eyes, and other days you’re washing your hair in a Walmart family bathroom with soap running down your face.
The dark side:
- Not a creature was stirring…oh wait, something’s eating our candy corn.
By the time we hit Wyoming and Colorado, we had finally escaped the clouds of mosquitos that inhibited our enjoyment of evening sunsets, and we ignorantly thought we had made peace with the woodland creatures. So imagine our surprise when we heard rustling in the night and discovered that Mickey Mouse and the Mouseketeers loved Madge’s warmth and snacks just as much as we did. We spent that first night exhausting every humane trapping strategy in the books (knife gangplank out the door of the van, dangling jar of peanut butter…), before moving on to more sinister strategies. And now, we sleep with one eye open.
- Excuse me, where’s the bathroom?
Questions about our bathroom access (or lack thereof) were the biggest feedback we received in the months leading up to hitting the road—and for good reason. Indoor plumbing is one of the greatest luxuries we left behind. The daily shower is something that Avery and I talk about fondly and reverently, like a cherished memory of a deceased relative. We have baby wipes and a sun shower, which does the job, but gone are the days of singing and daydreaming in the shower
- Winter is here.
When we entered Colorado in early October, we also entered the winter season. Which, while strikingly beautiful, has a few drawbacks, like limited access to water (most of the water stations at national and state parks are turned off for the winter), questionable driving conditions (Madge is no snow bunny), and chilly nights. One cold November day in Ely, Nevada, we ran out of propane for the van’s heater, only to learn that every propane distributor in the town either had a leaking tank or no one on staff who could fill RVs. That night, the temperature dropped to 4 degrees, and our sink faucet cracked open.
- Can I get some privacy?
When everything’s in its place and we are sitting in our assigned seats, Madge feels quite roomy. But all the other times…well suffice to say, for the sake of our sanity (and relationship), we have to take turns moving around. Bedtimes and wake-ups must be staggered, and all maneuvering requires an extra spoonful of patience and yoga breathing.
- What’s that rattling noise?
We are acutely aware that, at any moment, our plans for the day or even the entire trip could be disrupted by a scored crankshaft, an aging suspension, or (heaven help us) a blown transmission. No fault to Madge—its hard to age gracefully—but we have been left by the side of the road more than once, wondering what went wrong, if any local shops will be able to help us, and where we’ll sleep that night.
Having said all that, the benefits of this adventure far out weight the hiccups. Downsizing and traveling is liberating, energizing, and just so freaking fun.
- I’ll take the corner office.
An important aspect of this year is the opportunity to pursue freelance work, and it has been a dream to work on projects that are meaningful, rewarding, and on our own terms. We’ve typed away as bald eagles soar overhead, edited photos while peaking over the crest of a canyon deep in BLM land, and made calls from the comfy chairs in the back of many Starbucks (because…coffee and wifi).
- Let me check my schedule and get back to you.
There are so few times in life where you truly have no timetable. Vacations are a close imitation, but the end is always in sight and responsibilities (usually a growing inbox of emails) are awaiting your return. For us, in this moment, there is no timetable. When we find a town we love, we can spend a whole week there without compromising our experiences anywhere else. It’s a rare gift, and we are making every effort to appreciate and enjoy it.
- And what do you do?
People are fascinating. When we look back on this year, I think some of our favorite memories will be meeting people from different walks of life and world perspectives. Every time we chat with the person sitting next to us at a bar or parked beside us in a campsite, I’m struck by the incredible stories we all carry. Human connections were the hardest part of leaving DC, but also the very best part of this adventure.
- All I want is a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air…
Yes, living in the van can be cramped and messy and frustrating. But it can also be so cozy and comfortable. A few weeks ago, we were parked in a winter wonderland, and as the snow fell outside, we made tea, knitted, and read late into the evening. I don’t think that’s the mental image people conjure when picturing life in a van, but Madge really does feel like home.
- Did you pay the electric bill?
Life on the road is incredibly simple. We have a few changes of clothes, a pot and a pan, a small stack of books, Avery’s camera gear, and not much else. Everything we have and need is within arms reach. Of course, we still have bills (I’m looking at you, health insurance chaos) but even our budget has been streamlined and simplified on the road. We’ve traded stuff for experience, and I think we’ve definitely made out in that deal.
And the list could go on and on, ranging from instant coffee to laundromats to truck stop politics. But overall, looking back on the past five months, I am so incredibly thankful we have the opportunity to take this journey together, excited for all that lies ahead, and humbled that you all are sharing the experience with us. Now it’s time to get back on the road!