They say an addict never forgets the day he or she last used. The day I will never forget is June 10, 2010. That afternoon I walked away from a perfectly delightful, ordinary life to become a homeless wanderer. One year ago today.
It’s been quite a ride—overwhelming, scary, exhilarating, incredible. I’ve learned to hitch up and back up my trailer without embarrassing myself too much. I’ve learned to ferret out sweet and often free places to “guerilla camp.” (I’m collecting photos to show you.) I’ve met some wonderful people and some weird ones. I’ve tried to put myself in the presence of God every day.
I’ve learned a lot this year. Obviously, I’ve had a lot of time to think, and I’ve found myself in unforeseen circumstances, both pleasant and otherwise. Here are some of the lessons learned:
- Weather rules. Just before Memorial Day, it was winter in the Rockies. Pines were blanketed with snow in the high passes.
Today, the heat index (kinda like the wind chill) is over 100 degrees in Iowa. Since a trailer is simply a tent with hard sides and primitive electrical and plumbing systems, you are extremely vulnerable to the elements. A thin fiberglass skin is all that separates you from whatever’s happening on the other side. And as we continue to learn, weather is powerful, indomitable, and uncontrollable. You can listen to your weather radio and decide to stay put or make a run for it, but when weather hits, all you can do is to ride it out and hope for the best.
- You can’t do everything. You know the frenzy—another tour, another trail, another natural wonder. It’s just over the next hill, just one more day, just another ten bucks. While I’m still sorry I missed some things—the Devil’s Garden trail at Arches, the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie, I remind myself that I’ve already seen a lot and that I have nothing to prove—to myself most of all. I don’t, for example, have to hike the final ascent to Angel’s Landing today. I don’t have to squeeze painfully and gracelessly through the “Crawl-through Arch,” like the other folks on the Fiery Furnace tour. It’s nice to have lost the obsession to do it all.
- On the other hand, I HAVE done this. You know how it is with dreams. Sometimes they happen; a lot of times, the pleasure is in the dreaming, and too often, it’s a heap of stir and no biscuit. Now, whenever a niggle of doubt crosses my mind about whether I’ll really travel through Latin America or take the Trans-Siberia Railroad, I think, Well, you’ve done this. Who knows if I will follow through, but I have more confidence in my resolve—unless I fall back on #2.
- This is only a means to an end. The goal of this adventure is to achieve a simple, unencumbered life. With less stuff to carry around, it’s easier to be mobile, to be available, to be responsive, to be free. So, the end isn’t just to travel around in a trailer, but it is to need less, to possess less, and to see more. And eventually, maybe this material disengagement will seep into my spiritual bones, where it might become something like poverty of spirit.
I thought I was doing pretty well, living in a space the size of an office cubicle. Until I met Melissa. She is traveling with everything she owns in a van, and she is loving it. (I still have stuff in storage.) She is wondering if she can get away with living in her van when she starts her PhD program in Tallahassee this fall. Don’t know about you, but I’m impressed.
5. I’m in better physical shape. When I left home on June 10, my right shoulder hurt, my knees hurt, and I had some weird nerve issue in my left hand. Early on in the trip, I threw out my back lifting the dog into the trailer. I remember thinking, Man, it’s a good thing I’m doing this now. I won’t be able to in a couple years.
Then, a few months ago, I realized that nothing hurts. I still can’t leap up from a squat, but my knees are working just fine. And although I haven’t weighed myself since I left, I’ve lost the generous midriff I started out with. It feels great to be cheating time a little. Maybe I’ll be able to climb to Machu Picchu after all. When I do that Latin America stint, you know.