As I sit here and reflect on how this all started I remember that it was dark and rainy, like it always is mid winter in Northwest Washington. Our old Victorian house creaking and swaying in the wind. In Bellingham there isn’t a whole lot to slow that wind down as it comes barreling in off the sea with wet spray against the house. Jacob and Elias were in their rooms, Ila? I can’t remember, she was probably pulling on our dog Sunder’s ears, but Michelle and I were arguing….maybe more like fighting. Do I remember exactly what about? No, but it was most likely based on one of the usual unimportant topics, nitpicking at each other, trying to change each other but in reality we were trying to change ourselves, and somehow make life easier, because everything seemed to just refuse to get easier back then. How many months late on mortgage are we? Will our electric get turned off? Will water get turned off again? Were we arguing about anything important? Were we going to solve anything by yelling at each other? Of course not but it was that one fateful evening when Michelle went upstairs to take a breath. When she came back down what she said would change our lives forever.
“Let’s do it Joseph”
“Let’s sell our house, sell the other car, pay off our debt and go camping for the year. You know. Do what we’ve always wanted to do with the kids. Go on an adventure.”
When she said that I remember my first reaction… a big smile taking over my face and then there was almost the deep sigh of relief. But first I had to make sure. “Really, you mean get rid of the house and everything?” I was skeptical. It was common knowledge between us that I always wanted to go on adventures. I would get rid of it all in an instant and just go. But I always thought she was too cautious for this. The idea had every bit of my attention.
“Yeah. Let’s do it.” Her eyes were still wet from crying. Her voice was inspired but still tender. “What do we have to lose. This obviously isn’t working. At this rate our family is going to fall apart and we’ll lose everything we have. We’ve always talked about going on this kind of adventure. This is what we want.”
“You’re sure about this?” I couldn’t help but remain skeptical. But maybe she was serious. “We need to make sure we can get what we need for the house.” The housing market had crashed but we’d been hearing whispers that it was coming back up. Could this be possible? We sat together on the coach now. We were close, like we use to be, our bodies intertwined. The possibilities were endless.
Michelle revealed her feelings with a trembling and decided tone, “we need to feel our love for each other again. It is not going to happen here and like this. Let the kids feel our love instead of hear our arguing. We need a “life cleanse”. Why not do it? That’s what we want right? Wake up outside together every day in nature. Teach our kids about their country. We can go and visit friends that we haven’t seen for ever and we can visit family.” Becoming even more convinced and perhaps more animated than before she adds, “This house isn’t important. Our stupid cars aren’t important. We’re important. Why not just do it?”
I sighed deeply now because it was clear to me that she was serious. I walked into the kitchen and dumped the rest of my beer out into the sink and walked back into the living room while talking, “But so much needs to come into play, we need to figure out how much we can get for the house, we need to figure out how to sell it, what to do with my business and your work, how to tell the kids….so much to do.”
But Michelle and I were no longer overwhelmed. All of these things that needed to be done were a welcome challenge that we embraced whole heartedly over the next five months until the moment we drove out of town on our year long journey. Because when a challenge aligns with your soul or your spirit it is never too big. In that moment, instead of working out all of the millions of details that would lead us to our trip we went out on the front porch and sat together now that the wind and the rain had subsided. The streets of our neighborhood were wet and the twilight gave dark texture to the clouds. Michelle and I excitedly talked about our big journey ahead.
“We’ll go to Montana first.” I said. “Work our way through the Northern states for the summer and down through the east coast for autumn, you know, on time for the fall colors.” Michelle didn’t intervene in this part of the planning. In fact she counted on me for that. “December in Florida, work our way westward for January and spend February in Arizona. Let’s make sure we do lots and lots of rock climbing” It was as if it was already planned, the route correlating with the seasons unfolding in front of us.
“We’ll need to stop at libraries and have homeschooling days.” Michelle put in.
“Bikes?” Michelle asked
“No bikes” I answered. “They’ll take up too much room.”
Michelle continued, “I guess we’ll just take the van. We’ll get a roof rack to fit everything. The trip needs to be simple and affordable. We need a roll up camping table….I can’t wait to organize everything. We should blog about our trip!”
For days, then weeks, then months we hammered out the particulars. Every little detail was so incredibly fun to mull over. Every single article of clothing or piece of gear, cook wear, kitchen utensils, all so much fun to figure out and all so important to the trip. Michelle continued to go to work and I continued to run my business during the day. The evenings were filled with private discussions so the kids wouldn’t suspect anything. When we felt ready in late spring we took them for a walk and explained to our boys, Jacob and Elias what we were planning to do.
“We’re going to go camping for a whole year?” Elias yelled out. He was a happy little 7 year old. Elias has always found his bliss in nature. “Wow, a whole year!” You could see him lost in the excitement of the plan. He was on board.
Jacob was quiet. “What’s going on Jacob? How are you feeling?” Michelle chimed in.
“Well…what about my friends?”, Jacob has always been a lover of people, of social gatherings and of his friends. “Are we going to come back?”
“Yes, of course and much of the year we will spend time with friends and family.” Michelle assured.
Well that fell on deaf ears. But although Jacob was not 100% there at the beginning, we continued work on our sales pitch tweaked it a bit and slowly got him on board. What Jacob didn’t realize is that this adventure would affect him more deeply than perhaps all of us.
We told them both we were going to get them each something special for the journey before we left. Elias we promised a pocket knife and Jacob a hatchet. We bought these items for the boys the day we left.
Now of course Ila didn’t need explaining. The great thing about a one year old going on two is that camping for a full year is actually easier then figuring it out at home. She just needed a few things. We needed to make sure that her BOB stroller found its way into the minivan, a potty seat was stowed close by, with her ergo carrier in grabbing distance, four adoring big people around her and lots of love. Funny that with eight eyes on her pretty much every moment of every day she still managed quite a bit of mischief…
Somehow over those five months we figured out how to sell our house in a timely manner which included a putting on a new roof, new floors, a new bathroom and painting every surface. I set my business up so it would be running half time and I could run and organize trips on the road. Michelle took a sabbatical year to help with my business and home school the kids.
Finally almost all of our gear for the trip was organized, we put our belongings in storage, threw out what we didn’t need, worked around the clock and eventually the departing day was decided…closing day on the house. On August 14th 2013 we woke up at dawn well I actually don’t think Michelle slept. There we were in our empty sparkling clean house that was ten times nicer now than it was when we bought it eight years earlier.
After a simple breakfast and stowing the last of the gear into the van we created an impromptu family ritual thanking our house and the land. So many memories including both of our younger children’s births took place here in this very place. We each gathered a personal symbolic object, our dog’s tags, a plumb pit, feather, penny and a special rock… Together we buried the items under the fig tree that we planted when we moved in. Holding hands and wiping tears we locked the house and dropped the boys with friends for the day. At 1:00 pm we received the funds for the house and handed over the keys, by 3:30 pm we settled all of our debts. Finally at 4:30 on that picture perfect bluebird summer evening our Mazda minivan pulled onto the highway to begin our journey carrying the only things that mattered in the world at that moment: The five of us and a roofrack!