Why This Was Not My Trip of a Lifetime

As I prepare to rent a 24-foot truck next week and empty out our storage facility, I have been reflecting on the past two years.  This journey has brought me many places and taught me so, so much, some of which I’ve shared on here, but much of which is waiting to come out once I have a little distance from the journey.  Now that the travels are coming to an end and I am moving somewhere that, surprisingly, seems to meet almost all of my initial criteria in what I was looking for in a new place to call home (more on that in a later post), I am coming to terms with a change in focus and identity. While the past two years were spent exploring new corners of the country and trying to figure out where we were going to lay our head each night, I will now be focusing on setting up a home in a town where we know no one.  I will be sorting through the massive quantity of things we stored, stripping out the inessentials.  And since I am still the same person I have always been, I will be doing a healthy bit of exploring our new home state.

It is with this frame of mind that I recently enjoyed The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau. 9780385348843 I will mention upfront that I thought the book was rather choppy and could have been edited better, but I really enjoyed the subject matter.  The author pursued a quest to visit every single country, which makes my goal to visit all 50 states look like child’s play.  But the book is about more than his quest.  It’s about quests in general and it focuses on a diverse bunch of folks that have all pursued their own version of a quest.  My favorite was a woman from Oklahoma who set out to cook one full meal each week from every single country in alphabetical order.  It took her four years, but the impacts went well beyond what she had imagined. Throughout the book, the author discusses different stages of a personal quest and puts together pointers for discovering your own quest.  Since we are winding down our own version of a quest, the book was timely.  Especially the parts that discussed how you may feel once your quest is complete.  For some, like the birdwatcher who wanted to see as many different species of bird as she could (and eventually broke the world record doing so), their quest is never really over.  But for people who wish to walk across the country, see all of the Roman Catholic Basilicas in the United States, or have a date in each state (all actual quests discussed in the book), there is a clear ending.

For me, this journey also has a clear ending, and this is it.  After almost two years of choosing to live without a home, or choosing to make anywhere and everywhere a home, I will be picking one spot and making a home there.  This will be a transition for all of us, especially for the little guy who asks us EVERY SINGLE DAY “where will we be driving to today?” and “what state are we going to today?”  After three weeks in the same house in Maryland, he had a fit that we were going back to the same house because “it’s just the same!”  Yeah, so I’ll be dealing with that, too.

But even though I will be trading my traveling shoes for a more rooted life, I have discovered the importance of having dreams and, even more, that I can make these dreams my reality.  Chris Guillebeau talks of planning a new quest once you have completed and digested your current quest.  It is with that spirit that I am putting together an audacious list of lifetime goals that I will working towards.  Which will be my next quest?  I don’t know.  But if this trip has taught me anything, and it’s taught me more than I ever thought possible, it has taught me how doable it is to follow your dreams.  And it is for this very reason that I never once referred to this journey as my “trip of a lifetime.”

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review; however, I am completely honest in my reviews.  If I didn’t like the book, you would hear about it.

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Now is Now

I just finished reading the first of the Little House books to Van.  I’ve never read them myself (shocking to those of you who know me well), so I’m probably even more excited to be reading them than he is.  As I turned to the last page, I came across this gem: “She thought to herself, ‘This is now.’  She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now.  They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now.  It can never be a long time ago.”

Reminds me to appreciate where we are right now, even if we don’t know where we are going to be next month.  And to all of you out there who know exactly where you are going to be living next month, rejoice in the clarity.  We are living this way by choice at the moment, but there are many, many, many people out there that are not.  I cannot imagine the stress of not having a stable home, especially in the winter months.  It is my hope that once I have a home, I can make life for those in the community with a home or who are “house-insecure” a little more comfortable and secure.

 

 

 

 

A Week in North Georgia

Due to the incredible generosity of our friends, we were able to spend a week staying in our friends’ family’s vacation condo in the North Georgia mountains.  It has been the most relaxing week I’ve had in a long time, and I expect it may be the most relaxing week of our journey.  We were able to receive mail via general delivery at the local post office, wrap up some of the loose ends associated with moving and getting on the road, and catch up on journaling and writing these posts.  We’ve done a lot of cooking (pancakes almost every day!), checked out the local fitness center most days, and visited a number of magnificent waterfalls, including two that we were able to walk behind.  It’s also given us the opportunity to reassess what we brought with us and cull through our belongings, sending some back to Colorado, getting rid of some, and using up our excess consumables.  It’s a good idea to have a roll of toilet paper – four is completely unnecessary.  The same goes for the massive quantities of sardines and herring that we brought with us.  Now you know what we’ll be eating for lunch in the coming weeks!

We’ve also had to send home some of the books we brought with us.  We both love to read, but I think we were overly optimistic about the amount of reading we’ll be getting to do while one the road with a toddler.  Alan took it upon himself to read as much as he could this week and we both sent a number of already read and not-yet-read books back to Colorado so we can refresh our book supply when we get there in a couple of months.  That being said, if you have any book suggestions that you think are appropriate for our journey, we’re all ears.  I recently started reading Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat Moon about the author’s cross-country travels along the back roads of America in the 1970s.  I’ve been enjoying reading about his ambitious road trip as we make our way along the back roads several decades later.

Without further ado, below are a few highlights from our week in northern Georgia and southwestern North Carolina.

View from Rabun Bald, the second highest peak in Georgia

View from Rabun Bald, the second highest peak in Georgia

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls near Highlands, NC

Watching the water fall

Watching the water fall

Dry Falls near Highlands, NC

Dry Falls near Highlands, NC

Dry Falls

Dry Falls

Dry Falls

Dry Falls

Train Tracks Along the Nantahala River

Train Tracks Along the Nantahala River

Yogurt?!?!

Yogurt?!?!

Yes, yogurt!!!

Yes, yogurt!!!

Excitement on the Nantahala River

Excitement on the Nantahala River

Excitement on the Nantahala River

Excitement on the Nantahala River

Hiking

If you’re anything like me, you have a long list of things you’re interested in, many of which you hope to get around to learning or doing one day when you have time.  That list can be inspiring, but it can also make you feel guilty – like you’re not doing enough.  Gretchen Rubin discusses this in her popular book, The Happiness Project.  In it, she asks you to consider your life and what you actually make time for right now.  Those are the interests that are most important to you.  This  point has stayed with me since I read her book over a year ago.  My answer then is the same now and would be the same five years ago or ten years ago – hiking and reading.

In our many discussions leading up to this journey, Alan and I talked about how excited we were to be able to go hiking more often than once a week.  I (foolishly) thought that maybe we could go hiking every day.  This might be doable if was just me and Alan, but taking Van hiking every day would be a recipe for disaster.  Van loves to hike – loves it – and I don’t want to ruin it by turning it into a chore.  I also spent a lot of time before we left thinking about the many books I would bring and read during our journey.  We sent some ahead to Colorado to trade out when we arrive and left some with my parents in case we need a resupply when we see them in Arkansas.

Hiking and Reading.  So far, it seems that we’ll have a lot of opportunity to do the former, but less opportunity to do the latter.  I suppose that comes with the territory when you’re camping with a toddler.

We had our first opportunity to go hiking on this journey when we arrived in the Boone area.  We were lucky enough to spend three days in a row traveling on some magnificent trails.  Our first day took us to Linville Falls and Moses H. Cone Park, both on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Van spent most of the hike to the falls on Alan’s back (yelling “more, more” every time Alan would brush against leaves) and enjoyed the hike/walk along the carriage roads in Moses H. Cone Park in his stroller.

Linville Falls

Linville Falls

Butterfly at Linville Falls

Butterfly (or is it a moth?) at Linville Falls

View from Moses H. Cone Park along the Blue Ridge Parkway

View from Moses H. Cone Park along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Moses H. Cone Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Moses H. Cone Park

Moses H. Cone Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Moses H. Cone Park

Our second day of hiking took us to the resort town of Blowing Rock.  Before heading out on a hike, we went to see Blowing Rock itself, a cliff above Johns River Gorge that got its name from due to the current of air that flows upward due to the shape of the walls of the gorge so that if you throw very light objects off of Blowing Rock (emphasis on very), they’ll return to you.  I tested this with some pine needles and they boomeranged right back to me.  Not the same with the small pebble that fell into the gorge below.

Alan on the Blowing Rock

Alan on the Blowing Rock

Stacey on the Blowing Rock

Stacey on the Blowing Rock

Van blowing our cover - our ascent to the top of the Blowing Rock was so easy a toddler could (but should not) do it

Van blowing our cover – our ascent to the top of the Blowing Rock was so easy a toddler could (but should not) do it

After a picnic lunch, we set out for the Glen Burney Trail, which leaves right from the downtown of Blowing Rock.  It was a great trail that followed the river and took us to the ruins of an old sewage plant from the early 1900s and to two beautiful waterfalls.  Thankfully we had water for the uphill hike back – though we experienced snow just a few short days ago, it was pushing 80 during our afternoon hike.

We spent our third day of hiking at Stone Mountain.  It was a bit of a drive from our home base, but it was completely worth it.  We opted to do the four and a half mile loop trail, which took us up to the summit of Stone Mountain, down and around the other side by a waterfall.  We unknowingly took the hard approach, climbing a steep ascent for the first one and half miles, which allowed for a much more gradual descent over the last three miles.  As the signs below show, they take their warnings very seriously in this park!

One of many, many signs like this that we saw in the park.

One of many, many signs like this that we saw in the park.

Danger!  Danger!

Danger! Danger!

The view from Stone Mountain

The view from Stone Mountain

Our Little Hiker

Our Little Hiker

While getting our feet back on the trails was exciting, the highlight of our time in the Boone area was staying with a friend who I haven’t seen since college!  She and her family were kind enough to welcome us into their home and life for a couple of nights.  There is nothing better than spending the evening with friends after a long day outside, especially when those friends are excellent cooks who happen to cook the kinds of foods that you love.  A huge thank you to Sarah, Tom, and Carter – especially Carter who was great about sharing his toys with Van and didn’t mind having a superfan who followed him around everywhere.  It was truly an honor to get to spend a few evenings together and to witness the beautiful life that they’ve created in this corner of North Carolina.

Traveling around the country in a van? But why?

When I think back on my life and recall many seemingly disparate events or interests I’ve had over the years, it is clear that while I may grow and learn and develop new skills and interests, the essence of who I am and what drives me has been with me long before I could articulate my passions.  When I was a small child, I had two favorite books: Messy and The Man Who Cooked for Himself.  Reading the latter of these as an adult after many, many years of forgetting the details, it was incredible to realize that what captivates me as an adult captivated me as a preschooler.  In it, the main character lives alone in the woods and is lazy, very lazy (ok – that part is not captivating) and after eating an awful, terrible, no-good stew of the remnants of the contents of his cupboards, he goes for a walk and discovers his ability to forage and fish.  He cooks several amazing meals made of apples, blueberries, fish, acorns, and watercress.  He is inspired and begins a garden and realizes how much he can do for himself.  If you know me well, you would not be surprised that this would be a book I love today, but isn’t it crazy that it was also a book I loved when I was three?

Fast forward several years later in life and I attended my very first book fair in third grade as a part of the Reading is Fundamental program.  At the end of the program, the teachers arranged a table full of books (mostly) suitable for third graders and allowed each of us to choose one book to keep.  It was truly heaven for a reader like me.  I remember studying the books at the table for a long time, wanting to pick the perfect book.  If I recall, they were almost all children’s books of the sort you’d find in the school library.  And then I saw it – How to Survive in the Woods – a book for anyone (mainly geared towards an older audience) about exactly that, how to survive in the woods.  To this day, I’ll never know how that book got mixed up on that table, but it continues to hold a place of prominence on my bookshelf.

But what does this all have to do with traveling around the country in a van?  This, too, has been lurking beneath my ordered life, surfacing every now and then to remind me of my deeper passions.  I camped a lot with my family as a child, which I absolutely loved.  Some of my favorite memories are from our time spent in our pop-up camper or the tent that my brother and I bought with money we pooled from saving many, many months of allowances so that we’d have our “own” place to stay on camping trips.  Whenever I hear tires crunching on gravel, I recall the sounds of campgrounds as a child.  I lived with a gravel driveway for several years as an adult and I never got tired of that sound.  If it were up to only me, that would be the sound that greets me every time I return home.

Getting back to the van…  I’ve always had a penchant for untethered traveling, but I recall the first instant I knew I had to take a long and unstructured trip around this great land in a van.  I was on a trip through the south with one of my closest friends after having just graduated from college, and we were getting gas at a station in North Carolina or Georgia (somewhere close to the border).  I saw two women just about our age or a couple of years older hop out of a large brown panel van.  When they opened up the back of their van to rearrange things, it was clear that they had been living and traveling in the van – by choice.  In that instant, I knew that it was something I had to do.  The image of that woman opening the back door of her brown van holds a place in my memory’s highlight reel, not typically a place I keep memories of perfect strangers or their (yes, I’m saying it) not-so-attractive vehicles.  A year later I found myself in the Yukon Territory during a month long trip around Alaska and its environs.  I met some folks up in Dawson City (a cool, cool place, albeit about eight hours from the nearest city of 25,000 people) who came up for the summers to work and live and hang out – many in small cabins without indoor plumbing.  It was here where I met a guy who was living in a converted school bus.  That moment too was captured forever for my file of random moments that have led me to this point.

I’ve talked about traveling around the country in a van.  I’ve even planned to do it – more than once.  But now these dreams and plans are turning into something tangible.  As I pay attention to the clues I’ve left myself over the years, I begin to realize that my current interests are not as haphazard as I may have once thought.  And when I stop to listen, I can hear the Staceys of yesteryear telling me what I need to do.