It's been a year this month since we stepped back into our lives in the U.S., and I have finally finished the postscript to this adventure. Finally put into words my reflections on two years of a most unconventional life. Recap the highs and lows, reflect on our reentry, and reach out again to everyone who followed us on this wild ride. LoJo is back home and parked on our street. We said we would take a year before we made any big decisions. Well, it's been a year - now what?
John and I spent twenty-six months on the road, and before we left people told us we were crazy. They told us it was dangerous. A few told us we would die. We quit good jobs and walked away from security. It was not an easy path for us to take, but we accomplished our goal of driving all the way to the end of the world, with an added ocean voyage to Antarctica. We did this all in a search for a new perspective. We needed to shake things up. We changed our daily life pretty drastically but I didn’t realize how much it would change our wiring. That shift didn’t come all at once, of course. It’s been more of a drip, drip, drip kind of change. The kind of change that you don’t really notice until one day you wake up, as if in a dream, you realize its you that has changed.
I thought I was fearless before I took this journey. But 685 days, 17 countries, and 26 border crossings later, I know I am fearless. Not fearless like I now want to jump off cliffs (that still terrifies me), but fearless in ways I haven't even seen yet. Fearless in wanting more, expecting more, and believing I can have more kind of fearless. I learned that when you trust in a dream, and in the goodness of other people, your path is always the right one.
There is a certain humility in living as basic as we did, and with daily resource constraints. That humility is valuable. We often had to do without, but it was through that scarcity that we discovered true abundance. When we had access to all the things we’d once taken for granted, they were celebrated and cherished. Simple pleasures were deeply appreciated because we’d been denied them for so long.
We stripped down to our most basic selves and it changed us. We lived in the same conditions as the local people the majority of the time. Getting water was a constant issue for us, and we stayed in towns where it was rationed or even turned off for hours a day. We drove through protests over water, some violent, and saw the anger in a mother's face as she crowded around a water tanker truck with a jerry can in one hand and her small child in the other. There was no tap of endless running water, so we too learned its value. Boil an egg? Use that warm water to wash up. Nothing was wasted.
We persevered through horrible roads, bad Internet, empty ATMs, constant noise, shitty bathrooms, burning garbage, gas stations with no gas, ridiculous bureaucracies, serious security concerns, corrupt police, and sometimes very difficult for me, bore witness to starving animals in every single town. The same endless script was recited at every run down gas station we stopped in (“yes, California, yes we drove here, yes we are Americans, yes, it’s a Casa Rodante…”). Our existence was met with open stares in kind and not so kind ways, with people often stopping to take pictures of us or with us. I remember one morning toward the end of the trip, peeking out the window as I woke up to see a pick up truck slowly driving by, then stopping to back up. Two men got out and began taking cell phone photos of the rig. I closed the window and laid my head back down, craving the anonymity of home.
As difficult and maddening as nomad life can be, there was hardly a day that passed that didn't offer up some form of magic in the unexpected and sweet happenings that stand out in stark relief to the challenges of the road. We rode horses with gauchos through the Argentinian wetlands and wrangled pregnant cows in Uruguay. We mountain biked lush coffee farms in El Salvador and swam in magical volcano lakes in Guatemala and Nicaragua. We lived on what felt like Mars and the Moon in Bolivia. We hiked to world famous peaks, stood next to electric blue glaciers, and sat amongst penguins. We met other adventurers and shared our whole lives with them in a matter of hours. We cooked slow meals over a wood fire, often next to families enjoying their weekend doing the same. Occasionally we invited people we met into our tiny camper. Some were local villagers who came in out of curiosity; others were Overlanders who came in for shelter. For most everyone who visited, it was a step up from where they were living. We had a refrigerator, stove, hot water, solar electricity and heat - simple luxuries many communities we drove through did not have in their own homes. Often these encounters made us feel a little embarrassed by our fancy home. Which was essentially, the back of a pick up truck.
I relished in the constant surprises my daily walks provided. Surprises like a herd of soft brown newborn calves in a pasture at sunrise in Argentina, or a black-headed swan couple and their 8 spotty-feathered chicks in the freezing cold waters of Ushuaia. There was an Alice-in-Wonderland-sized jackrabbit that surprised me on a wooded trail, and I will never forget jogging past a giant Marsh deer, an ostrich-like bird and a capybara one evening - all chillin' together. A beautiful beach run in Chile gave me fifty creamsicle-orange starfish clinging to a rock in the surf's break, and in Patagonia the clouds parted to reveal majestic peaks late one evening after a rainstorm. These were the gifts I received on the road. Not expensive clothes or fancy things, but these moments and the people we met, are what made me feel so fortunate.
One of the most surprising things was how we changed as a couple. It tested our relationship in ways we can only now see strengthened us. We expected to be amazed by the world and the people in it, but we didn’t expect to challenge and grow our relationship, exceed our personal boundaries by a huge margin, or develop new communications skills. Through the good and bad (and a lot of in between), we learned to rely on each other totally, which is something we didn’t do before. It wasn’t all pretty. There were endless decisions to make every single day, and we learned, not all that quickly, to balance the load and work through stressful moments or we would implode. Gradually, we fell into a comfortable rhythm of defined roles that made sense - because they had to.
Looking back, I see how fortunate we were to step away from the rust that routine builds, and to carve out a life of total freedom for the first time in our adult lives. That freedom was the most rich we may ever feel, and probably why some people choose to stay on the road. Certainly now that we are back home, we truly understand the abundance we have in the U.S. It is so amazingly plentiful here. Really. This country is overflowing with anything and everything anyone could ever want, including opportunity, something denied to most of those living south of the border. Yet, I still see a scarcity mind-set around me now. People unhappy who have so much. I don’t pretend to know the path for others, certainly moving into a pick up truck isn’t for everyone, but I know I found a new perspective by squeezing our lives into that small space and peeling back to a less material life.
Sometimes, to be the person you always thought you were, it’s not about adding more. It might just be about subtracting.
Abundance surfaces in different ways for me now that we are back. My hikes on the ridge every day with neighbors I love, access to healthy food, an endless supply of clean water, not struggling to understand every conversation, and having my tribe close to me – all these things I still do not take for granted 12 months later. A greater sense of abundance after a life of scarcity - that seems to be sticking.
So, now we are back. Reentry has also come with its highs and lows. We have struggled a little with our place in the world. We are back in our house and after countless conversations of where to move, whether or not to sell the house, where to find “our place”... inertia sets in. Ultimately we have come back to wanting some kind of base here in Mill Valley, and we are working on what that can look like. We still have the rig but are almost ready to let it go – it served us so well through Latin American, but it is unlikely to serve us on the next adventure. Over the summer we had the most wonderful invasion of visitors, mostly from Holland, which brought me closer to my homeland, so we hope the future incorporates time there as well.
This year we dabbled in the arts. John took a welding class and made beautiful wood furniture from trunks of trees. After years of being drawn to ceramics, I took a class and fell in love. Who knows, once we get a little better maybe we start to offer these hand made treasures up to world. And John’s photography from the trip certainly needs to make it out of this blog some day.
We also dabbled in work. John became involved with a family friend’s reclaimed wood business up in Petaluma called Heritage Salvage. On his first day, filming began on a show for the DIY network. Instead of spending his time with his head buried in the finances, he spent much of his time on the top of a chicken barn, deconstructing it as part of the show. Look for him on the Heritage Salvage show that airs in the Spring!
My desire to reengage with my work pushed me most of the year. I wasn’t entirely sure what that looked like, then John and I took a spontaneous trip to Jamaica over the summer, which has turned into a consulting project with a hotel company owned by Chris Blackwell. I’ll be spending the month of April there, living at the GoldenEye Hotel, helping them build out their foundation and integrate purpose into their business model. I also took on a consulting project right when we got home that has, somewhat unexpectedly, turned into a full time job. The organization is a Boston based nonprofit called Tourism Cares. Their mission is to advance the travel industry's social impact to help people and places thrive, and I’ll be taking over as their new CEO. So, John and I are moving to Boston! The job is a big one, and this new life will certainly be an adjustment from what we know now. But the sense of adventure is alive in us again and we are excited to take on this new challenge. John is handling all the move logistics as I dive head first into the deep waters of full time employment, but he’ll also be exploring new horizons. He’ll take the year to learn, wander...and hopefully cook! We want to absorb New England - changing leaves, Norman Rockwell towns, summers on the Cape, bone-chilling temps, and big city life. I’ll be blogging a little about our experience as East Coasters – because this too, will be a whole new culture.
While our future is more certain now with Boston coming up, we are still sorting out what the next chapter looks like for both of us. What I know for sure is that after our 2 years on the road, I am listening to my soul, my heart, and my purpose louder and clearer than I ever have before. And that feels very abundant.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious,” Carl Jung said, “it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
All along our drive we shot video of what we saw. Most of it made it into the 20 videos I made on the road. All the bits and pieces that were left over I turned into "year in motion" videos - one for each year. Here's the Year2InMotion video: