How Did I Get Here
On Saturday, April 15, 2017, I bought a year old Ram ProMaster 1500 with 29,786 miles on it. It was the launching point for a new adventure that had been brewing for over 3 years, and it ushered in a scary reality for me: it's time to stop theorizing and actually get to work.
Few people knew about my upcoming plans to buy a cargo van and convert it into a stealth camper (think non-obvious RV), so when I made that first big purchase the questions understandably started pouring in. "Why does it have to be white and windowless?" "You're going to paint it or get a wall decal, right?" "Are you getting 'CNDYMAN' vanity plates?" And, more importantly, "where did this start and why are you doing this?"
My memory suffers when it comes to the exact moment when I knew I would quit my job to live out of a van and travel the United States. But I think several moments have played a key role in how I got here...
- Junior year of high school we wrote a research paper for english class. I chose On the Road, by Jack Kerouac. The novel is one of the best representations out there of the Beat Generation - people who went on journeys across the country seeking their own form of spirituality and rejecting the social norms of the time. I romanticized some of the story line and the adventure, especially when it came to riding across the country in the back up a pickup, with a bottle of whisky to keep you warm. It created a fascination in me about the great American road trip and abandoning social standards. It planted a seed.
- My senior year of college I started rock climbing thanks to my great friend Bess. Through climbing, I started to meet people who were passionate about exploring the outdoors and began to understand that passion myself. I ended up skipping an entire week of classes in the Spring so I could go climbing at the Red River Gorge with Bess and her now husband, Brad (who's pretty much the coolest). We stayed at Miguels Pizza, seemingly a right of passage, and my eyes were opened to the community created by outdoor adventurers as we ate pizza and played board games together at night. And I really liked it.
- When I moved to Madison, WI for my job, I started climbing more (goodbye 'student night,' hello salary!) and taking advantage of varied opportunities to get out and explore. I regularly went up to Devils Lake, went on a climbing trip to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Arkansas, was assigned to work in Oregon and took advantage with camping trips to the Northern California coast and to Crater Lake, went paragliding in the Oregon hills with coworkers, camped and skydived in Colorado with a college friend and her family, camped by myself in Maryland the weekend of Bess and Brad's wedding, and did solo hikes around the country wherever my job took me. While traveling for work afforded me the opportunity to see many new places, it teased me about the potential out there and didn't leave me with enough free time to pursue the long list of "need to go there" items racking up. I wanted more.
- A few years into my work in Madison, a friend of mine, Jordan, left the same job and bought as small RV with his mom. Then he temporarily commandeered that RV to travel around the U.S for a while and do some WWOOFing while also exploring National Parks. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit jealous of his experience at the time.
- April 24, 2014 (I state the date because... what are the odds, as I write this on April 24, 2017), Goal Zero puts out a video of Alex Honnold's Ford Econoline converted van. I had heard of van dwellers before, but only in the context of vans fabricated at homes by the manufacturers (VWs, Astros, etc.). So this was my first exposure to the idea that someone could take a blank canvas of a cargo van and create a small home from scratch, building it out to their own design and specifications. I was intrigued.
- Delta used to have an awards miles program to go around the world. It included 7 segments going in one direction, to be completed within 12 months, for 180,000 miles. Since I traveled for business, it wasn't hard to earn those miles a few times over. My plan was to travel the world at some point when I decided to change jobs. But then Delta discontinued the program and I was left searching for a new adventure... After some time I thought, "why travel the world when there's so much I want to see and do within the United States?!" After reading a Teddy Roosevelt biography, his passion and grit for exploring the West rubbed off on me and I had an added level of respect for the magnificence of our own country. I realized how much of it was a foreign land to me and how much I wanted to get to know it. The On the Road seed began to grow.
- I've always liked the majority of my job, but I also knew it wasn't a position that would hold me forever. In 2013, I started telling close friends I was going to leave in the next year to do something new. But comfort is really hard to abandon. Then two years ago, in the Spring of 2015, I saw a video put together (watch below!) of Jedidiah Jenkins (I mean, come on... what an adventurer's name!) and the bike trip he did from Oregon to the bottom of South America. I found his monologue in the video to be a beautiful reflection, and his thoughts on learning and routines resonated with me:
When you’re a kid, everything is astonishing, everything is new. Your brain is awake and turned on. So every passing second your brain is learning something new, learning how the world works. As you get older and your brain figures out patterns and establishes a routine, the fascination with the way the world works goes away… When you’re a kid, you don’t have to work for that astonishment. Once you’re an adult, it’s a choice. Choose adventure for your own life. Get out of your routine. - Jedidiah Jenkins
It was helpful in making me look at an extended adventure as a serious and worthy pursuit. So I committed and began to save money. Slowly, the rumblings of the van-dwelling idea began to form.
Eventually, it just seemed obvious to me that I would absolutely be buying a van, converting it into a stealth camper, and roaming around the country. I wasn't interested in doing anything else. I realized living in a van would give me the chance to create something tangible and pursue activities that I really wanted to dedicate myself toward: visiting as many National Parks as possible, tackling more complex climbing, learning to mountain bike, to surf, to paraglide (but I quickly realized I wouldn't have the budget for that), and more!
I also realized that while living on the road, devoid of intellectual stimulation from a job, I would need to challenge myself to try my hand at new, non-physical pursuits as well. And from that, this website was born. This is one of my opportunities and challenges I'm pursuing, to be creative. To try and share and encourage others with what's at the heart of this journey: chasing after experiences and environments that bring me joy.
And so, I bought a van on a Saturday while with family in Michigan. The next Friday I put in my notice to end work on June 30th. On Saturday my dad drove the van to met me in South Bend for a best friend's priestly ordination. That night I slept in the van for the first time. On Sunday my friend blessed my van, my home, and the start of my journey. And now the van is in Madison and the real fun can begin. Stay tuned.
P.S. Since creative writing isn't something I've done for over 8 years, and some english professors would argue even more, please let me know if you see areas where I can improve or if you think I should go deeper on certain topics. This is a learning opportunity for me and one thing I learned from my job these last 6 years is that feedback is good!