So the trip is coming up in 12 short days. It has morphed and changed in recent weeks, getting 2 months and many miles shorter due to finances-however, we feel confident that it will still be uber epic. How could 5 months living on the road not be? The bulk of the planning has been done for months, and there is nothing left to do but wait out the last days. Well, wait, and get rid of all our belongings, get a root canal (for Amber), say our goodbyes, leave our jobs, repaint the apartment, hand over the keys (with fingers crossed to get some deposit back) and pack up the van.
This trip is something I have dreamt of since I was a small child and our car broke down on the highway. My mom and we 3 little kids started walking towards the nearest gas station or pay phone when a young hippie man offered us a ride in his VW bus. The kindness of a stranger always triggers to me remember "this is a good place to be." And I thought having a bed in the back of your van was super cool.
My mom and dad traveled the country like this, living in a teepee that my mother had sewed, hopping between the California National Forests, eventually ending up near the Ozarks. Somehow I always assumed I would follow their footsteps-except instead of having a husband (without a drivers license) and two toddlers in tow, I would have a boyfriend (with a drivers license) and a dog. Flash forward many years and a couple boyfriends later, I decide I want a man with enough adventure in his blood to be willing to do something like this with me, but enough calm that I don't have to struggle to keep up with him. In comes John, a homebody who perks up at the mention of this dream, whose parents have also done this journey. John is the kind of man that decides he wants to live in the woods for an indefinite amount of time, and so he does it. And now of course here we are, 12 days away from the adventure of a lifetime.
We've spent a year and a half planning and saving together, and now I feel as if I'm at the top of a roller coaster and I need to close my eyes. The climb up here was scary and exciting-now we're about to free fall and it's terrifying and exhilarating. "It's happening!" goes through my head and out of my mouth several times a day. Shortened or not, this is going to be spectacular.
Plus I get to have a bed in the back of my van.
So come the last couple of weeks before our trip starts. I’ve been in this position a few times before, transitioning from the comfortable, rhythmic, settled nature of domestic living toward an adventure whose freshness and discomfort offer unspoken promises. Giving up a bed and a home, I go to lay claim to those promises. Inside, I will build a lasting home out of the experiences and wisdom the land will give me. There is a sense of security that must be given up if one desires to live intensely.
A big part of that is the great purge of stuff. Many of the items which have been enormously useful, practical, sentimental and decorative must be left behind. When you are going to be living a van for a few months, there is simply not enough room to bring everything. And even more than that, if the adventure is to be assumed with the greatest openness to the treasures it will give, space needs to be cleared inside. With every piece of clothing donated, with every kitchen appliance sold on craigslist, with every book given away, a bit of the old life moves aside to give way to the new.
It is not without irony that the novelty and freshness come from the timeless land. As we set off on our journey, I look at the many atlases and books of pictures that one might find on the floor of our apartment. In them are the towering Sequoias of California, the fathomlessly deep canyons of the Southwest, the endless plains of the Midwest and the ancient weather drawn faces of myriads of mountains. These features of our American landscape have inspired countless generations and have been the homes of more life than a small human mind can grasp.
And I will be a bit of that life. To me these are all imaginings and pictures in books. When I see them for the first time with my eyes, in my little life, they will be born anew and I will be drawn back into the depth of time beyond remembering. As a Catholic seminarian I would often reflect on the connective quality of tradition, how the same songs, the same prayers had been spoken and heard by so many over the course of hundreds of years. How much more have the mountains and rivers been seen and heard over the course of millennia! Taking them into myself will be as a holy communion, linking me to the body and blood of the land as well as my fellow humans who walk her surface and taste her treasures. Such a communion has been the heart of America since her earliest days. From the natives who had a deeper connection to this land that perhaps we will ever know, to the settlers who, in their quest for freedom, stumbled across some of the most liberating scenes any human has beheld. In the more recent past, my own parents set out to live on the road in a revamped school bus. My girlfriend’s parents lived out of a teepee in the national forests. And many other Americans have done the same. Absent the great frontier to explore and settle they have taken to the road.
"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." - Tolkien