There is no simple answer to how I came to move into a 29’ RV at forty-eight years old. I didn’t just wake up one day and say, “Ok, today I’m going to leave the community I’ve been living in for 28 years, sell everything I own, buy a 23-year-old RV and live in the National Forest now.” No, it was a lifetime of experiences and choices that led me here.
I’m sharing my story because I know some of you have had similar experiences and struggles and are still trying to find your own path. If I can inspire just one person to find their true authentic self and follow their dreams by sharing my story, then it’s worth it!
How I Came to Live in a 29’ 1993 Class C RV
I think I have Drifter blood running through my veins. Before I reached 8th grade I’d lived in 4 states and attended 13 schools. I learned early not to get too attached to people or things.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an adventurous spirit and a desire to travel and experience everything. But the chaos and dysfunction of my childhood led me to seek a life that was the exact opposite of how I grew up. That last thing I wanted was to be like my parents: so at twenty-one, I escaped the small upstate New York town I’d spent my high school years in, moved to San Francisco, put myself through college and eventually earned my B.A. from U.C. Berkeley at 29. I then went on to build a successful career in sales and marketing and eventually started my own business. I was seeking the American Dream of success, money and stability: things that in my eyes, my parents never had.
By the time I was thirty-five my career was taking off and I was working my way up the ladder. I’d gotten married and all I needed to complete my picture of success was a home of my own. I’d never lived in a house. Growing up it was one cheap apartment or trailer park after another along with another new city, another new school and another round of strangers I wouldn’t even bother to befriend. To me, buying a house represented all those things I never had: stability, security and community. Buying a house would mean I’d “Made It”.
Be Careful What You Wish For…You Just Might Get It!
In 2005, I got my house. Instead of feeling happy and secure, a sinking feeling gnawed at me: I had shackled myself to this 1,350 square foot, $320,000 pile of bricks and the bank owned the next 30 years of my life. But I brushed the doubts away: I’d arrived. I had achieved the American Dream! Life was amazing… Right???
I don’t think I realized it at the time; but in retrospect I know I was feeling trapped. I wasn’t free. I wasn’t secure. In fact, my life had become the exact opposite of freedom and security! I was bored. Unfulfilled. And uninspired. I spent most of my life commuting an hour each way to an unsatisfying job in a claustrophobic office, living for weekends that were spent doing housework, yardwork, running errands and spending money on things I couldn’t afford, trying to fill the emptiness I felt inside. All I need is that expensive car, Coach bag or those Michael Kors shoes and I’ll be happy! I spent forty-nine weeks a year fantasizing about and longing for the three weeks of freedom I was granted.
But, in the spirit of chasing my American Dream, I’d willfully chained myself to that job and that life: one missed payment, one wrong career move and my so-called security would be yanked out from under me – which is exactly what happened when the Great Recession hit three years later.
I Looked Great On Paper, But My Life Was a Mess.
The American Dream I thought I’d wanted was making me miserable. I was empty inside and I longed to be free. Really Free. But I didn’t know what that freedom looked like or how to get it. That decade after college, I’d been slowly and insidiously slipping back into my old addictive behaviors.
More and more I was seeking comfort and a false sense of freedom in the bottom of a bottle of Stoli. By forty I was lost again; the alcoholism was consuming me. My “secure” and successful looking life was beginning to crumble. The alcoholism was affecting my job, my marriage and my ability to be happy.
I Wanted a Different Life Story
I knew I had to get sober (again) and in December 2008 I had my last drink. It wasn’t easy, the Universe threw a shit storm of challenges at me that first year: The Great Recession hit home and I got laid off from my job of six years, the value of our house fell below 40% of what we paid, so we walked away. I left my husband, my 7-year-old dog, JT, died and I moved into a six hundred square foot apartment. On the bright side, the layoff led to starting my own marketing consulting practice, I lost 75 pounds, started backpacking again, got a passport and started working with an amazing therapist who has helped me change my life!
I had to lose everything to realize that I’d spent decades building a life that didn’t suit me. Why then, did I devote my life to chasing something I didn’t really want?
I Searched My Soul and Discovered My Authentic Self
I grew up watching families on TV that had no semblance whatsoever to what was going on in my own home. Brady Bunch and Happy Days, where moms and dads were present, involved and loving and kind. They didn’t hit and scream and yell and disappear for days on end. The Brady and the Cunningham dads had steady jobs, the loving families lived in nice houses, in nice communities where they stayed for a long time, and had lots of friends. They wore nice clothes and had plenty to eat and never had to worry about money. At a very young age I knew THAT was what I wanted: The happy American Dream life.
There was no happy American Dream in my house. It was more like an American Horror Story. Coming from such humble beginnings that were wracked with unimaginable tragedies, it’s no wonder I spent most of my adult life chasing what I never had. I wanted something different. I wanted to be different. And so I denied who I was at the very core. I denied my (healthy) free-spirited, fun, adventurous, nomadic self, because she was tied to my Horror Story and I had to get as far away from that as possible.
I was running so fast that I never paused to notice how empty I felt. In the spirit of chasing success and the American Dream I’d forgone travel, adventure and my true adventurous spirit. Alcohol became my weird little adventure, my rebellion, my escape; my Novocain.
Getting sober again and losing everything I thought I wanted (and working with a wonderful therapist) allowed me to finally be who I was always meant to be: A free spirited wild child who takes healthy risks, loves to venture out into the wilderness and the world on her own.
Losing Everything Set Me Free… Almost.
In the seven years since quitting drinking and shedding my old life, I’ve traveled to seven countries, bagged a couple peaks (including Mt. Whitney), jumped out of an airplane, ran a half marathon and backpacked hundreds of miles.
Being self-employed has allowed me to define not only how I work, but how I live my life. The more I backpacked and traveled the more I realized THAT is my ideal life. My freedom comes in the form of being at liberty to pick up and go where I want, when I want. And while at first I was still buying into the American Dream, feeling the need to build a huge successful business and end up on the cover of Fortune Magazine, that changed as I got out and explored the backcountry and the world. I started to realize I valued experiences and freedom much more than stuff. Dedicating my life to building a business wasn’t how I wanted to live.
Last year I backpacked the John Muir Trail – 256 miles over 26 days, alone (You can read my blog about that adventure here).
I remember sitting on in the dirt outside the Tuolumne Meadows store in Yosemite with my thirty-seven-pound backpack leaning against the wall next to me. I’d been on the trail twenty-three days. I’d had one shower in those twenty-three days and I wore my trail dirt and earthy odor like a badge of honor. I was loitering around the store reveling in my freedom as I waited for my phone to charge inside, leisurely eating chocolate and watching the tourists and hikers go by. At one point a giant – and I mean ginormous – Class A motorhome bus pulled into the parking lot, just a few feet from my dirt-streaked, outstretched legs. It practically blinded me with its fresh wax job and sparkly newness. I chuckled to myself out loud as I surveyed its massiveness and the crispy clean and perfectly coiffed forty-something year old man driving it. I glanced down at my own version of a motorhome: a 63-liter REI Flash backpack. All I could think was, “WOW, some people can’t take a vacation to enjoy nature with less than they can cram into a 40+ foot monstrosity and I’ve lived out of my backpack for twenty-three days… “.
My whole 23-day journey living and hiking in the wilderness alone had brought me to that moment. The hike had been stirring me and awakening a truth that had been bubbling near the surface over the last several years – and maybe my whole life. My pursuit of success and money and “stuff” was utter bullshit. It wasn’t real. None of it was real. All it did was take me further and further from myself. “Real” is the mountains and the trees and the lakes and streams. Real is sitting completely alone on a mountain top deep in the wilderness with everything I need to survive carried on my back. Real is hopping on a plane and traveling to a foreign land immersing myself in another culture’s reality – even if just for a few weeks. All the rest is stuff we clutter our lives with in the name of some elusive – and in my opinion- false Dream.
And in that moment I was faced with a blindingly conspicuous symbol of a philosophy that had been forming within me for so long: we’ve become slaves to all the stuff we think we need in order to achieve the American Dream that is crammed down our throats by the Capitalist society we live in. When in fact all we really need is food, water, shelter and warmth. The rest is a lie propagandized into us, convincing us we need More. We need Bigger. We need Better. And if we aren’t fulfilled, we just need to work harder, amass more stuff and get deeper in debt; keeping us forever trapped in lives we fantasize about escaping.
The months following my JMT hike were brutal. I went back to my $1500/month, 600 square foot in-law apartment in a crowded suburb of San Francisco and felt like a caged animal. If I wanted to walk my dog any place quiet I had to drive to crowded open space areas that half the city used. I had no real outdoor space of my own and few windows. The traffic and crowds, noise and commotion of a life that no longer fit me felt shallow and pointless. I longed to be back in nature where I felt at peace and free to be me.
By that time, I’d lost all desire to keep working my ass off in hopes of achieving my ever-so-elusive idea of “success”. After spending twenty-six days alone in the wilderness I could finally admit that I didn’t believe in the American Dream! All I wanted was to earn enough to live in the forest, backpack, travel and be free to wander where my heart led me. I even suddenly remembered a dream I had long ago, as a teenager: I’d fantasize about jumping in my 1977 Chevy Nova and hitting the open road, traveling from small town to small town waiting tables to earn gas money to move on to the next. That’s the life I dreamed of as a teenager, but in my desperation to be someone different I chased the Dream, telling myself, “I can’t be a drifter, I have to go to college have a career, buy a house. I have to NOT be like my parents!” Now, finally at forty-eight I decided to live that life…
I Had to Get Out
At first I fantasized about taking some survival courses, learning to live off the land and grabbing my dog and my backpack and disappearing into the wilderness. But there were a few problems with that plan: 1). I’m mostly vegan and the idea of having to kill, slaughter and clean mammals completely grosses me out. I’d surely starve to death. 2). Where would I go and not be discovered? 3) How would I support myself, I’d still need supplies. 4). I wouldn’t be able to travel living like that. And 5). Ummm. really? Get serious.
So I started Googling “off the grid living” and “tiny house living”. One day I stumbled upon a whole community of people, many just like me who live in RVs. I That’s it! That’s what I will do! I will live in an RV!
Everything I’d earned over the last several years had gone back into the business, funding my adventures or buying a bunch of crap I thought I needed, so I didn’t have much savings. All I had was a tiny bit left in an old 401k that I’d been desperately holding onto. Should I risk it all to live free? I whipped out the spreadsheets and started doing the math: with what I’d save on rent, I figured I could quickly build up my retirement account again. So I cashed out.
The next step was figuring out how I’d support myself. I had a couple contracts that would run through the end of the year – and I worked with those clients remotely. So I knew I’d have enough to live on for at least 6 months. After that, who knows…
For now all I need is an internet connection and I can work wherever and whenever I want! My cell phone hot-spot would cover that and I did some research on satellite internet for the really remote places where I couldn’t get a signal. (I will share that with you in a later blog)
Within three months of making the decision I had my RV. And 6 weeks after that on April 26, 2016, I’d sold everything I owned (except my car which I put in storage), moved out of my apartment and left the backyard of my landlord’s house and hit the road.
My first few months of stealth camping and boondocking in the Bay Area and Northern California were chock full of trials and tribulations: I learned A LOT in those first few months – and I’m still learning! (I’m going to be sharing all that I learned so be sure to sign up to my mailing list for updates.)
I’m a Full-Time RVer!
So that’s my story of how I got here. I hope you found some things in it that inspire you to chase your dreams – whatever they may be!
Stay tuned, I have LOTS of stories, adventures, experiences and insight to share and will be adding content to the website and blogging regularly. Be sure to sign up below to join my mailing list to be notified when new blogs, stories and content is published.
I hope you enjoy reading my adventures and experiences and they help make yours a little easier! Happy Trails!
Watch the Video!