2013: A Year of Travel Across North America

2013 vanessaruns
“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.” – Ashley Smith

What could you do in one year if nothing were holding you back?

This is the question I asked myself at the beginning of 2013. My quest to answer it has taken us 40,000 miles across the continent. We began in California and drove north to Alaska. In the fall, we drove across Canada, then dropped into Pennsylvania for the winter at The Wolfestead. We have explored 2,000+ miles of trails and there is an urgency I feel when I tell people to stop putting off their ambitions. There is nothing holding us back.

2013: A VIDEO YEAR IN REVIEW

Direct YouTube Link HERE

You May Also Enjoy:

Why We Need Nomads

Happy Hoboversary! Stats from One Year Later

Ontario, Canada: Finding Home Right Where it Always Was

****

Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

About these ads

Vulnerability and Catcalling in Bear Country

vulnerable

“Hey! What’s a pretty girl like you doing back here?”

I jerked my head to spot the shabby homeless man. I had walked right past him and hadn’t noticed. He sat on a park bench with an old green grocery bag leaning on his side like a dirty man-purse.

He looked weathered and tired, but his expression betrayed amusement at my unexpected presence. His black hair was disheveled and he refused to drop the piercing gaze of his black eyes.

He appeared to be in his mid-50s, but could have been much younger. I couldn’t tell if his dark skin was his natural hue, or if he was just really dirty. I could smell him.

He had the features of a Native American, and he wore three layers of tattered clothing, even though it was fairly warm outside: a black shirt, a black sweater, and a stained, brown jacket. I was wearing my short pink running skirt and a light green tank top.

I felt naked as he leered at me, waiting for my response.

“Um… hi,” was all I could manage.

He caught me off guard. I had jogged there from the park where we were playing ball with Ginger, off to the left of the Fairbanks visitor’s centre in Alaska. This was our first big Alaskan town and we were kicking off a much-anticipated summer of exploring Alaska’s trails.

I was heading to the visitor’s center to check the movie times for a documentary film I wanted to see on the Aurora Borealis. Instead of walking to the front door, I thought I could get in through the back. I didn’t know anyone was there.

He continued to pursue conversation and my discomfort grew. I was sharply aware of his intruding eyes on my body. My heart rate began to instinctively rise and I felt a warm wave of anger wash away the smile I was wearing. I responded with more mumbling and walked away. No way was I going to let him see me run.

Once I was safely out of his line of vision, I walked dejectedly to the front door. I didn’t care about the movie anymore. I was mad.

I was mad that I couldn’t jog away from my boyfriend for two minutes without being the recipient of unwanted attention. I was mad that I was minutes into my epic Alaskan adventure, smiley and excited, and this guy ruined it. But most of all, I was mad that my first reaction had been to deflate and flee the scene.

I saw flashbacks of myself years ago—in my 20s, and in my teens—being called at, leered at, and yelled at by strange men on the street of Toronto. I felt that same old wave of fear and panic I had always felt, not knowing whether those men carried weapons, whether they would follow me home (some did), or get angry if I didn’t respond.

I live a different life now. I have grown stronger and wiser, and most importantly I have gotten away from those shitty neighborhoods.

I have struggled to educate myself. I was the first in my family to graduate from University. I have finished 100-mile races and uncovered new strengths in both my body and my mind. I have written a book and traveled to the most remote state I could think of… yet none of that mattered.

Here on the edge of the world, there was still anger and fear and poverty, and an old man on a bench in his shit-stained coat could still make me feel like a nobody.

Why wasn’t I stronger, I raged to myself as I stormed into the visitor’s center.

Later that morning, an older man stood in the park and watched me do yoga. Under normal circumstances I would have thought nothing of it, but now my senses were on high alert.

Shacky sat nearby with Ginger, but that didn’t matter. I could feel the man’s eyes watching me.

Downward dog….

Now plank…

Every alert system blared in my head as I shifted positions. My skin crept with that instinctive itch all women experience when they know they are being sexualized.

I WILL NOT LET YOU STOP ME FROM DOING MY YOGA!! I screamed at him in my head. This time I would be strong.

Every position was now a rebellion, shooting defiance and indignation in his direction.

Keep your face calm, I told myself. Don’t let him see that it bothers you.

Warrior 1…..

Warrior 2…..

GO AWAY GO AWAY GO AWAY GO AWAY!!!!

I finished my yoga and stomped off.

Less than an hour later, I had to use the bathroom but there was a man lying on the sidewalk, blocking my path. I didn’t want to walk past him, so I asked Shacky for the key to pee in the RV.

“He’s fine,” Shacky assured me. “He’s here with his family. He’s not homeless. His kids were just here.”

Really? Were my instincts off? Was I being oversensitive and paranoid?

I headed toward the bathroom. As I passed, the harmless guy stretched himself across the floor of the sidewalk to look up my skirt. I rushed into the bathroom and peed, seething on the toilet seat.

I was helpless and weak, hiding in the girl’s bathroom just like I did on the first day of middle school when I couldn’t find my computer classroom. Then again at lunch when nobody would sit with me.

I tried to brush it off. Certainly, I had endured much worse. Still, I couldn’t shake my disappointment in myself. How could men I didn’t even know still have the power to make me feel frightened and objectified? I hadn’t changed at all.

I was off my game for days. Nothing noticeable, but subtle frowns mixed with streaks of paranoia. When a man approached us to ask about Ginger a few days later, I tensed up. The little things made me feel a lack of control.

Fairbanks wasn’t what I had hoped. An unexpected heat wave forced us to keep the dog in the RV with the A/C running. When we tried to explore the trails, starving herds of mosquitoes bombed us repeatedly like angry wasps.

Unprepared, we had no bug spray. Our dog would run back to the RV after only a few minutes outside, covered in red welts. She’d nip at the air and swat her own face until we finally had the sense to leave town. Unreasonably, I blamed those men. They had ruined the entire city. Fuck them.

A few days later, the beautiful town of Anchorage lifted my spirits and I decided to approach this issue the same way I always handle things that trouble me: I research them.

I wanted to understand why men acted this way. Did they want attention? Did they genuinely believe this was an effective way of finding a mate? Did they think women enjoyed it?

And what was the most effective way to react? Ignore them? Humor them? Shout at them? Out-creep them? I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of reacting exactly the way they wanted. I didn’t want them to know they had gotten a rise out of me.

Most of what I found online was directed at men—a lot of “Stop it, guys!” and little analysis. Then I stumbled on an essay in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates examining manhood. Coates argues that men street harass women as a means to feel more powerful. They are not terrible people, but simply powerless men who lack opportunities to display dominance in other areas of life.

Men who are validated and respected do not need to catcall. Men who are trampled, disrespected, and overlooked get a rise out of making a woman squirm. When the powerless man watches a woman drop her eyes or shuffle away in embarrassment at his call, he feels powerful. She has noticed him.

Alyssa Royse offers another perspective. She believes the unfortunate cause is society’s habit of demonizing male sexuality. “It starts young,” she writes. “Girls are told that boys are predatory and somehow out of control. The corollary there is that boys are told they are predators, and out of control. Therefore, not a desirable thing, but a thing to defend against. From the get-go, we are teaching our kids to fear male sexuality, and to repress female sexuality… It’s sad. It’s insulting. And it’s damaging…This way of looking at male sexuality conflates sexuality with predation.”

As far as street harassment prevention, many women on online forums seem to embrace a concept known as “bitch face”. They brag that the reason they are not harassed more often is because they go through life wearing a “default bitch face”.

Here is the scholarly definition according to Urban Dictionary:

bitchface

I am horrified by this concept. I worry that if I wear a bitch face all day, I will soon become a bitch in real life. I need my default face to be a happy one. I need to smile until I have a good reason not to.

In my world, defaulting to a bitch face would allow random men to hold me prisoner to my own fear and skepticism. It would ruin not only the days they call to me, but also the days they don’t. They would sentence me to walk through life with my guard up, a burden I cannot accept.

I may not be able to control the comments of every man on the street, but I can protect my instinct to smile. No matter how often I am made to feel uncomfortable or self-conscious, I can preserve my faith in the inherent goodness of humanity and tear through every corner, laughing and running in a short skirt as though nothing unpleasant has ever surprised me. I can choose to stay vulnerable—on purpose.

Brené Brown recently intrigued me with her TED Talk on the path to vulnerability. She stumbled on the concept of vulnerability in her research on connection and shame, and like many of us, she was terrified by it. “In order for connection to happen,” she says, “we need to be seen—really seen.”

After six years of deep research that included hundreds of interviews and thousands of stories, Brown isolated a breed of people that she describes as “whole hearted”. These people had found connection, love, and belonging. They were living to the fullest.

Brown took a magnifying glass to their lives and found two common threads:

1. They were courageous.

There is a difference between bravery and courage, Brown stresses. Courage, from the Latin word cor (meaning heart), was originally defined as telling the story of who you are with your whole heart. “They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were,” Brown says.

2. They were vulnerable.

Not only where these people vulnerable, but they embraced vulnerability. It was important to them, and they believed it made them beautiful. They talked about vulnerability as something that was important, not excruciating. They were willing to say, “I love you” first, and they were willing to invest in relationships that might not work out.

This data started Brown down a long and difficult path of learning how to implement vulnerability into her life. She came to an important conclusion that perfectly describes why bitch face is so tragic.

“You cannot selectively numb,” Brown says. When we try to stifle feelings of anger, grief, and despair, we numb everything. “We numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.”

Bitch face is a numbing. It’s an armor shielding against unwanted attention, but also against anything good that may cross our paths that day. It protects us from catcalling, but it also protects us from unexpected kindness, motivational encouragement, and spontaneous hospitality.

I spent the rest of the summer practicing vulnerability in Alaska. This mostly manifested itself in me being a nerdy goof (read: being myself), talking to strangers, and singing to the bears. I took more chances than usual and climbed steeper hills.

I learned to approach each new experience with a fresh expectation of success, though yesterday may have ended in disaster. And every new man gets a clean slate.

Brown’s TED Talk on the Power of Vulnerability

Direct TED link HERE

You May Also Enjoy:

Sequoia National Park: Finding Resilience in the Forest

Are You There Running? It’s Me, Vanessa

Why We Need Nomads

****

Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Q&A Uncensored: Answers to Your Questions

VanessaRunsPhoto: Denali National Park in Healy, Alaska

In my previous post I presented an open invitation for anyone to ask me anything—no topic was too taboo or too personal. Here are the questions I received, and their answers:

Do you and Shacky ever fight? You are living in a very small confined space and have to be totally flexible with your lifestyle, so when and if issues/disagreements come up, how do you resolve them? You really do seem like a love conquers all couple (I know that sounds corny). – Corina Smith

It sounds crazy, but we have never fought. Both of us have a very similar temperament: laid-back, calm, and low maintenance. We also both love this lifestyle and we don’t have the typical stressors that other couples balance: debt, work, time management, children.

Many of our challenges involve working as a team (e.g. researching places to go, organizing travel details, navigating new terrain). This has produced an “us against the world” mindset that motivates us to cooperate and compromise.

I attribute the peace in our relationship to simple living combined with compatibility. That said, things like hunger and heat can make us both very grumpy. Although we may experience a moody discomfort, we tend to be angry at our circumstances or other people (bad drivers, etc) rather than each other.

I recently read a great quote from Gunter Holtorf, a 75-year-old world traveler who has driven his car (and lived in it) for more than 820,000 kilometres all over the world. He traveled with his wife until she passed away. He writes:

“When you live in a car for nearly 20 years, it’s not a normal situation of a couple living in a home. Living in the car, and doing all that travel over all those years is like living as Siamese twins. When you travel like that, you can’t say, ‘I’m going to go read a book in the garden.’ You are stuck together, 24 hours a day. The only splits would be if one of us went shopping, or if you go behind a tree to use a toilet. You are bound to be together.”

What do you think about the competition element of ultramarathons? – Katie

I strongly support competition.

Back in San Diego, I volunteered for an organization called Girls on the Run. They do a lot of great things, but this was one topic of disagreement I had with them.

I was a volunteer running coach for a group of middle school girls. They were at that age where socializing and boys were more important than physical activity, and they were reluctant to participate. We coaches brainstormed about how to motivate them.

We agreed on the idea of introducing a sense of friendly competition and felt confident that this was the missing spark. Our idea was squashed by the higher-ups. We were told the organization didn’t believe in competition because it might lead to some girls feeling excluded. Although their arguments sounded great on paper, I knew the girls were being cheated.

One of the worst things we can do is to teach our young girls to associate a strong and healthy competitive drive with negativity, exclusion, and/or bullying. On the contrary, competition brings out the best in us. This is true not only in running but in life.

Competition is that fire in our bellies and that extra push in our legs. It teaches us to handle both victory and defeat, and sets us up–not for always winning–but for trying our best every single time.

VanessaRuns2Photo: Battery Point trailhead in Haines, Alaska

Did you know that your writing career would flourish when you started to do it for yourself, or is this a happy side-effect of your lifestyle, and having more time to follow your passions?  Was spending more time writing one of your goals? – Katie

I did expect that my writing would flourish. I believed in myself wholeheartedly and in the full potential of my talents. Embracing that type of confidence is the only way I was able to survive the insurmountable negativity of my past. I am still my own #1 cheerleader.

Sometimes people confuse a lack of confidence with humility, or confuse self-love with narcissism. I believe you have to love yourself fully in order to love others well. George Sheehan once wrote, “I have met my hero, and he is me.” Be a person you can be proud. Be your own hero.

Why IS everyone going to work all their lives and missing all this wonder and beauty in the world?! – Katie

I don’t think working necessarily means you will miss all the wonder and beauty in the world. “Work” can be seen as a dirty word in nomadic circles, but that is a mistake. In reality, I work much harder now than I ever did for an employer, because I am more motivated and passionate about what I do. My paycheck just isn’t as large or as steady.

I love this quote by Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

If you find what makes you come alive, your world will always be filled with wonder and beauty, regardless of employment.

I’m wondering what you eat and if it’s changed a lot since being on the road. – Tam

We’ve experimented with everything from paleo to vegan. I felt best eating mostly raw vegan, but I’m not strict about it. I try to fully experience the places we travel to, and that includes local foods. For example, on the West coast we ate a lot of fresh seafood, and in Alaska we ate wild game.

Food for me is highly social and I believe in long lunches, lots of sharing, and homemade meals with good friends.

What has traveling taught you? – Kristin

It has connected me to who I am and what I love to do. It has also reignited my faith in humanity. There is still so much goodness and generosity in the world. Once we get away from our digital screens and start talking to real people, it’s easy to see that the good far outweighs the evil out there.

If you had to run one 10-mile portion of trail for the rest of your life, where would it be? – Scott W. Kummer

The Los Pinos hill climb of the Los Pinos 50K course. This was the first stretch of trail that broke me, and I didn’t meet the cutoff at the top of the hill. It’s a brutal, exposed hill.

After it defeated me that first time, I went back and completed it three more times. The weather is always extreme and unpredictable. It’s a real challenge to carry enough food and water, and a real danger if you run out.

The original race director, Keira Henninger, gave it up because she didn’t feel she could keep runners safe on this climb. My friend Carlos Quinto, with Keira’s blessing, has recently resurrected the event. The first time we took Carlos out there, he had to beg some bikers for spare food and water. It’s a glorious challenge.

HERE is my first race report at Los Pinos.

VanessaRuns3Photo: Flattop Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska

How do you deal with others judgment of you and your decisions? I grew up in a people-pleasing environment and this is something I struggle with. It seems like you are very strong in your decisions and beliefs. – Alena

I used to be surrounded by naysayers and it took a lot of courage to separate myself from them. I have deleted online friends, broken off in-person friendships, and even cut contact with certain family members. The transition was difficult and awkward, but since then my life has evolved so much faster and my confidence has soared. I strongly support a ruthless purging like this for everyone.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you disassociate with people who don’t agree with you, but rather say goodbye to people who wish you ill and poison your life with their misery. Life is to short for negativity and toxic relationships.

People still make judgments of course, mostly online (you will never escape that), but now they are not people who are close to me. I can review their points, and if there is no validity there, I can easily shake them off.

What do you miss about having a fixed address and “regular” job? (I’m sure the answer is NOT “nothing” — every living situation has its good and bad features, even if it’s just the great Mexican restaurant down the road from your old house.) – Robyn

I really miss the familiarity of running the same trails over a period of months. Familiarity makes it easier to note physical improvements, and to mentally push myself to do better over time, especially with something like hill repeats (it helps to have the same hill!). It’s also lovely to watch one trail change with the seasons—I miss that. Finally, I miss going out for breakfast or coffee with old friends.

If you could change ONE thing about yourself as a person, what would it be? – Jen S.

I would give myself a better sense of direction. I am constantly getting lost while others seem to have a natural compass in their brains. I’d love to be able to go somewhere and automatically know how to go there again on my own, instead of having to look it up. I’m getting better, but it’s definitely challenging since we are constantly visiting new places.

What advice or tips would you give to someone who was considering giving it all up in order to live a more simple, nomadic life? – Katie

 Don’t wait to simplify your life—do it now. There are many ways you can start downgrading to make the transition easier. This can include giving stuff away, selling things, or cutting out non-essential expenses. We waited until the last minute, and it became overwhelming to get rid of so many things. In retrospect, we should have started much sooner.

What’s the weirdest sexual act Shacky has requested since hitting the road? – Jason

Our sex life isn’t that weird, sorry to disappoint! I feel like we’ve both had enough experiences to know what we like, and we pretty much stick to our favorite acts, which happen to be fairly standard.

While “What’s the weirdest sexual act Shacky has requested since hitting the road?” is hilarious, dare I add… Where?! – Jen S.

Always in the RV, everywhere from San Diego to Alaska to Toronto! Sometimes beautiful locations like mountains or glaciers, and other times just Home Depot parking lots. The RV has great cover so our biggest challenge is to not kick the pets.

vanessarunsPhoto: On the ferry from Haines to Skagway, Alaska

Do you make any money directly out of your running—through sponsorships or any other way? 
Or do you just run for the love of it? – myrunspiration

I don’t make money directly from running, but sometimes I get free race entries. I also get a small income from blog ads (WordAds via WordPress) and income from my book, The Summit Seeker. I will sometimes get free gear, like clothes or shoes in exchange for blog reviews.

I’m not fast enough to win races and even if I were, ultrarunning is not very lucrative. I definitely run for the love of it and usually pay to do so. I don’t keep my medals or race swag since space in the RV is limited. I give everything away to volunteers who were exceptional that day.

Do you worry about health insurance or medical costs? – Anj

Not as much as I should. I do have coverage in Canada (I’m Canadian), but that doesn’t necessarily help me outside the country. We’ve been looking into a few options and I’ve been scolded about not making it more of a priority.

How many states have you visited since you took off? How long have you been on the road now? Can you tell me the month and year you left for this trip? Any idea how many different trails you’ve explored or run during this trip? – Kristin

We have been on the road for one year (since August 2012). We’ve explored countless trails and run 2,000 miles, driven 30,000 miles, and visited 17 national parks (2 Canadian, the rest American).

Does the RV ever smell due to lack of showering? – Jakehat

Not from our bodies (we can keep up pretty good with at least a wet wipe), but sometimes if the dirty laundry piles up, it will smell like… dirty laundry. Also, when the cat takes a poop, we all smell it for a few glorious seconds until she covers it up.

If we don’t clean and put away our gear after a long run, a running funk will develop. I’m in charge of cleaning and I normally stay on top of it, although it’s surprisingly difficult to sort, clean and store all your gear immediately after a 100-mile race. In those cases, we surrender to the funk for a day or two.

vanessarunsPhoto: Spending the night just outside of Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada

What do you feed ginger on your long runs together? I’m training with my dog and figure if I am eating something, she should be too. – Dustin Heath

We will carry any of her favorite foods. She loves hot dogs, jerky, and peanut butter. She seems to enjoy burritos as well. When she ran a 50K with me she enjoyed potatoes from the aid station. Almost anything she is willing to eat, we will feed her. She is a picky eater so we trust her instincts.

Do you ever listen to the weakerthans? – Jakehat

I had never heard of them, but just checked them out online. Not bad! I’ll get Shacky to download more of them. We’re currently on a Johnny Cash binge.

When can we all go for a run on Brown Mountain?! – Rob G.

Not sure where that is? :)

I always picture you and Shacky driving around singing Queens Bohemian Raphsody. What are the lyrics to that song? – Istomsl

Shacky prefers this version.

vanessarunsPhoto: Kathleen Lake in Yukon, Canada

You May Also Enjoy:

Why We Need Nomads

Answering the Call of the North

The Pacific Northwest: Finding Humility at the Waterfall

****

Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Why We Need Nomads

Jamming and bumming around on the Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska

I recently stumbled on a Quora question in which the writer was thinking about quitting his job and selling his possessions to travel the world. He gave a brief description of himself (single, in his 20s, a job but no career), and asked whether he should go for it.

The resounding answer was yes, but not necessarily because it was a respectable lifestyle. Rather, because he was young enough to get away with it. Because he still had time to build a career, a family, and a real life. Because now was the time to get the travel bug out of his system.

I was glad to read the encouragement and travel tips he received, but couldn’t help wonder: what if a 40-something man with three young children also wanted to become a nomad?

A nomad is someone who travels extensively, with no real home to speak of other than the wide-open road. They usually carry all their possessions with them, and earn little to no income.

Truth from a reliable source

Truth from a reliable source

 

Nomadic travel is tolerated if you are young, responsibility-free, and trying to find yourself, but only for a pre-determined amount of time. Why isn’t travel—apart from age and status—worthy of pursuing in itself as a respectable (not just fulfilling) way of life?

The most common question we get from people we meet since hitting the road full-time is: “For how long are you traveling?”

We still aren’t sure how to answer that. “Um… forever?” Shacky says, and then we explain that we live this way. It’s not a vacation. It’s not a year-long project.

People are puzzled by this concept. Our contact with them usually expires before they grasp it, and as we walk away I can almost hear the wheels turning in their heads with a million questions.

Online, people have fewer questions and more opinions. We are called freeloaders or spoiled by people who don’t know us but dislike the concept of full-time travel. Some accuse us of contributing nothing to society, or worse—burdening it.

This isn’t surprising when you consider that although this lifestyle has many benefits, they are often described as personal fulfillments rather than contributions to the real world, giving us the reputation of takers, not givers.

What benefits do nomads bring to society? Do we really need them?

The answer is a resounding yes. As much as we need lawyers, doctors, and construction workers—we need nomads. Here’s why:

Social Benefits

A few weeks ago Jessica Kurti posted the following story on my Facebook wall:

Transported my first hitchhikers today… was AWESOME. Two ‘through hikers’ doing the entire Pacific Crest Trail. Gave them a lift to Sisters, Oregon, where they were going to eat, run errands, and meet a ‘trail angel’ who would give them a lift to the next trailhead. So, I would like to say THANK YOU, to you, Shacky, Honey Bird and Crockett (their trail names). I learned so much about what is possible! Although I love to help people, I rarely would consider picking up hitchhikers (in this country at least as a single female). SO GLAD I DID. And I wish *all of us* continued safe journeys and amazing adventures ahead! ‪#‎cannotbelievethisismylife ‪#‎LIVINGTHEDREAM

Much love from Bend, Oregon (started in Florida). Keep on keeping on!

She was thanking me because I had previously written about our experiences picking up hitchhikers, commenting on how unfounded our society’s fear of hitchhiking actually is.

Nomads are more trusting of strangers than your average person, probably because they spend a large portion of their time talking to strangers. They discover that strangers (and people in general) are inherently good, hospitable, and eager to help.  As a result, nomads serve as society’s connectors.

Nomads will:

  • connect people with similar interests to each other
  • connect people with resources to people in need
  • connect strangers in close proximity
  • connect Facebook friends in real-person contact

Nomads not only make frequent connections, but also improve the quality of those connections. The transition isn’t from stranger to acquaintance, but from stranger to good friend. Nomads have the time to really listen and understand the people they meet. They are not rushing to their next appointment or thinking about what they will cook for dinner. Their attentions are focused on the stories and experiences of others. Nomads allow us to feel heard and to feel like our stories matter.

Nomads connect us to each other, re-establish our faith in humanity, and dispel unfounded social stigmas.

Intellectual Benefits

I first learned about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in a high school Psychology class. As a child of poverty, it was one of my first introductions to the concept that there may be something more to life than living to fulfill our basic needs of food and shelter.

Abraham Maslow developed this theory in his 1943 paper describing the stages of human growth. While other psychologists of his time were studying the mentally ill, Maslow examined the healthiest one percent of a college student population. He named people like Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass as examples he studied. Here is the hierarchy:

 

Our current society over-emphasizes the bottom two levels at the expense of the top three. Once we have met our basic needs of food, shelter, and security, we are pressured to over-develop those benefits: a bigger house, a nicer car, giving our kids everything they could possibly want (not just what they need). To achieve this, we sacrifice the higher levels of friendships, self-esteem, and the freedom to be creative.

Nomads embody the opposite, and as a result they balance society. We embrace the bare minimum when it comes to food, shelter, and security in exchange for the higher opportunities of self-actualization. We have the freedom to immerse ourselves into areas that the rest of society has little time for: volunteering, extensive travel, year-long projects with little to no financial return, and time-consuming works of art.

We learn from the nomad that happiness comes in different shapes, despite society’s insistence that more money equals more freedom. We see nomads working as their own bosses, or exploring their true passions. Watching them gives us the courage to do the same.

Nomads change the way we think and view the world.  

Environmental Benefits

Can you brush your teeth with two sips of water? What if all the water you had access to for the day was the amount you could carry on your back? What if all the trash you could make was limited to what you could pack out? What if the only light you had after dark was a headlamp?

As a nomad, I have learned to use less water, less electricity, and produce less garbage. I have grown resourceful enough to fix things when they break instead of throwing them away. Many nomads live this way. It’s not a weekend camping trip; it’s life. More importantly—it’s not that hard.

Nomads can teach us to respect, appreciate, and preserve our resources. They can show us how to live comfortably with less, how to save hundreds on unnecessary products, and how to stop draining our planet.

I have only experienced two city-wide blackouts in my life: one in Toronto, and one in San Diego. Both times, it felt like mass panic in the neighborhood. As a society, we are uncomfortable with the concept of living with less. We tend to imagine extremes: either we live large or live in a cave with nothing. Nomads know there is a sweet middle ground. We can drastically reduce our carbon footprint yet still fit in with civilized society.

Nomads teach us to respect our resources and show us how it is possible to live comfortably with less.

Global Benefits

A few weeks ago I posted this picture on my Facebook wall and it immediately sparked a flurry of comments.

avocado

The photo was taken in Healy, Alaska, just outside of Denali National Park, and was fairly consistent with the avocado prices I had seen in other parts of Alaska. When we began our journey from San Diego, avocados were a main staple in my diet. By the time we arrived in Alaska, I had been forced to give them up. I could no longer afford avocados.

The biggest purchaser of avocados that I know is my good friend Patrick Sweeney. This free-spirited California beach boy practically survives on avocados, hot sauce, and beer. He often posts photos of his fruit and vegetable purchases—mounds of fresh produce at obscenely low prices. Sweeney hates the concept that healthy food is too expensive and unavailable to poor people who want to eat well. This argument, according to Pat, is an excuse that perpetuates the obesity epidemic in America.

I agree with him partially, but not entirely. I have learned from our travels just how region-specific eating well actually is. My idea of healthy eating has evolved from primarily raw vegan to whatever the locals eat, and what the region offers. Along the Pacific Northwest, I enjoyed mostly fresh seafood. Now in Alaska, I eat fresh game meat (mostly reindeer) and salmon that was swimming only hours ago. Here, I would go broke as a vegan.

The avocado issue made me reflect on how many times we make wide, sweeping generalizations about the world based on our own tiny regions.

Nomadism infuses the world with people who can relate to different perspectives. We carry the message that there is more than one way to do things and we refute stereotypes wherever we travel.

Every community seeks to bond over common ideas. This is human nature, and it makes life easier. But every once in a while, every region needs a nomad to shake things up in places where everyone thinks the same, earns the same, and votes the same.

We need nomads to reminds us that our rules do not apply to every inch of this planet. We also need nomads to experience our own regional truths, and carry our stories off to places where our habits are considered strange.

Nomads fight stereotypes by collecting and delivering different world views across regional lines.

Physical Benefits

After watching the documentary Craiglist Joe, Shacky and I were answered a Craigslist ad to pick up a brother/sister pair of backpackers hitchhiking their way across the country. Eddie and Charlotte turned out to be amazing company. We took them to the Grand Canyon and picked up some great travel tips just by observing them.

One of the main things I noticed about Eddie and Charlotte was that they walked—a lot. I was used to viewing movement as a form of exercise in the form of a training plan, or something you needed to schedule. But Eddie and Charlotte walked as a way of life. In the months that followed, I would come to redefine movement for myself.

In my pre-nomad days, I would log all my exercise on a site called Dailymile. It tracked my running, walking, hiking, swimming, or movement of any kind. I could record the mileage and at the end of the week, it would give me a grand total and tell me I was awesome.

After we hit the road, logging workouts on Dailymile became more complicated. Without a GPS surgically attached to my wrist, I had no idea how far I had moved that day. I no longer went out to do a workout. I just went out to play.

Instead of running a pre-determined route, we would pull over to the side of the road intrigued by a hill or mountain, and climb it. We spend time on the trail or in a pool, coming home only when we were hungry or out of water. This healthy concept of movement was a welcome change and we seek to share it with others.

Eddie and Charlotte gazing down into the Grand Canyon for the first time.

Eddie and Charlotte gazing down into the Grand Canyon for the first time.

 

Nomads help us see exercise and movement as a way of life, not an activity we need to schedule.

Emotional Benefits

Michael Comerford was the second hitchhiker we picked up on the side of the road. He was surviving as a carnival worker, traveling the country to work various gigs. He told me stories that I’ll never forget about how much carnival workers loved making children happy, yet the irony that most of them came from abusive childhoods and were separated from their own children. He told me about the shocking lack of education and illiteracy in the industry, and the hopeless abandonment the workers would face if they tried to leave their carnival families.

Nomads often immerse themselves into the margins of society. We see, hear, and feel those who have no voice, no words, and no education. These experiences tune us into a full spectrum of human emotions that we can then share, speak about, or write about. They come out in our art, in our music, and inject themselves into the hearts of those we come in contact with.

Back in the “real” world, when I had a real job and a real home, it was easy for me to disconnect. Routine set in, and my emotions were dulled. There was nothing new or exciting, and there was nothing to make me angry or annoyed. I had tweaked my world for maximum comfort and slipped into a state of complete moderation.

Now in a world where anything can happen at any time, I have reconnected with the way I feel about the world. From intense joy to tremendous frustration, nomads experience a wide range of human emotions on a daily basis. We are good at feeling things in a society where emotional displays are often unwelcome.

Nomads expose us to a full spectrum of human emotions that feed our sense of humanity.

Psychological Benefits

When I read Jennifer Pharr-Davis’ book Becoming Odyssa: Epic Adventures on the Appalachian Trail, I was a new nomad struggling with the concept of inactivity. Well-trained in the art of office multi-tasking and accustomed to starting each day with a “to do” list longer than my arm, I was now immersed in a world where it could take all day to do one thing. Sometimes that thing was as basic as finding a place to sleep that night.

I was starting to work on my second book, and if I wasn’t pounding away at my keyboard every spare second, I would feel guilty. The guilt puzzled me since I had no deadline, no boss, and I was writing for fun, yet those societal values of ceaseless “productivity” still lingered in my brain.

In Becoming Odyssa, Pharr-Davis wrote about her own transition from constant movement to sitting still. She describes one incident where she was at a friend’s house, just sitting there. Her friend asked if she wanted a magazine? Did she want to watch TV?  But Jennifer just wanted to sit there, as she often would in the evenings on the trail, and that concept made others uncomfortable.

These days I do nothing just as often as I do something. And shockingly, it has made me more productive. I have better ideas, and when I work I am faster and more eloquent, because I have had time to organize my thoughts.

The biggest psychological stress plaguing our society is… well, stress. This goes hand in hand with the concept that we need to be doing something every minute of the day, and any minute resting is a minute wasted. Even when we do stop to rest, we are burdened by thoughts of what productive things we should be doing instead.

Rushing, multi-tasking, and stressing out are now things that only exist in my past, and that is something I learned from a nomad. In return, I seek to pass it on to others. It is a message that our society needs to make time to hear.

Taking it slow and drinking in the views on the Alaska Highway

Taking it slow and drinking in the views on the Alaska Highway

 

Nomads encourage us to slow down and de-stress.  

Survival Benefits

Residing in what is now Lebanon, the Phoenicians enjoyed a rich, civilized culture based on lumber exportation in 300 B.C. They grew to obtain great wealth due to their enormous and beautiful cedar trees, whose infamy is Biblically referred to as “the cedars of Lebanon.” Their land was plentiful, their people were strong, and their soil was rich.

The Phoenicians were self-sufficient and prosperous, but as they started to clear-cut their cedars trees over time, the quality of their soil decreased. It became harder for them to grow food, and their people started to go hungry.

The leaders of the time decided to go to war to expand their borders and rose up against Alexander the Great. Alexander squashed them like bugs and conquered their entire civilization. Historically, nations who could not feed themselves would never survive.

“Food sovereignty” is the term used to describe a nation’s ability to feed itself—a skill we are rapidly losing in our society. Socialized with the idea that if we need something we must buy it, we commit Phoenician sins at an alarming frequency.

We need people who know how to be self-sufficient. Through programs like WWOOF, many full-time nomads are learning to work organic farms in exchange for free room and board. Nomads are also experts at acquiring the things they need without using money. They barter and trade their services, goods, or skills. No matter how industrialized we become, these ancient survival skills are always useful.

Nomads bring us back to our roots of self-sufficiency, trade, and simple survival.

Irrational Benefits

Philosophically, does the constant supply of information steal our ability to imagine or replace our dreams of achieving? After all, if it is being done somewhere by someone, and we can participate virtually, then why bother leaving the house?

This is the question that Ben Saunders attempted to answer in his 2012 TED talk.

Saunders is a polar explorer and the youngest person to ever ski solo to the North Pole. He ponders his purpose of nomadic travel:

“Nothing will come of it,” he wisely admits. “We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, and not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. So it is no use. If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy, and joy, after all, is the end of life. We don’t live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means, and that is what life is for.”

Nomads understand this to be true first-hand. In a society that demands a purpose and a rational explanation for any expenditure of energy, nomads represent travel, movement, and adventure as worthwhile pursuits in themselves. Theirs are the adventures that inspire books and TED talks. This is where original ideas are born and lives are changed. There is no other job or career on earth that operates on this principle: that the destination is senseless but the journey is everything.

The benefits of living vicariously through your local nomad are also abundant. Not all of us need to ski to the North Pole, but some of us have irrational dreams of our own that we’ve muted with society’s expectations. Sometimes it takes a nomad to come along and uncover them. If we pursue those ambitions, our own adventures will inspire others, and so the circle continues.

Nomads feed our inherent sense of curiosity, wonder, and adventure; they give us permission to follow our own senseless dreams.

While nomads are not the only people on earth who benefit society in these ways, they are important, underestimated, and rare contributors. Just as some of us aspire to bring home a steady paycheck and live in comfortable homes (society needs that too), there are also nomadic spirits chained to their cubicles because they are convinced that travel would be selfish.

It is not selfish. Nomadic travel can never be selfish, because for every benefit you receive, you give away everything—your entire heart, your mind, strength, and life—to forever change the people you meet and tenderly touch the places you visit.

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,

To gain all while you give,

To roam the roads of lands remote:

To travel is to live.”

- Hans Christian Andersen

You May Also Enjoy:

Seeking Dispersers: A Call to Embrace a Wild Life

The Pacific Northwest: Finding Humility at the Waterfall

4 Powerful Lessons From a Nomadic Life

****

Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Our Second Hitchhiker

with hitchhiker Mike

with hitchhiker Mike

This week we had the honor of picking up our second hitchhiker off the side of the road. We saw him as soon as we drove into Fort St. Nelson in the evening, but we were stopping to spend the night. I hoped he could get a ride (there weren’t many cars going North), but decided we’d give him a ride tomorrow if he still needed one.

We found a place to park the RV for the night and got on with our evening ritual of watching Dr. Who episodes before bed. A couple hours later, I noticed the hitchhiker walking down the street, alone and defeated looking for a place to spend the night. I made a mental note to look for him the next day.

He was a tall, lanky dude in his 50s wearing a heavy backpack and a black t-shirt. The next day we discovered that the shelter in town was full, so he had spent the night in the announcer’s box of the local baseball diamond, trying to fight off mosquitos. In this part of the world, the sun comes out at 2 to 3 a.m. and he was hoping for a ride until about 11 p.m., so he didn’t get much sleep.

Shacky and I drove into the Visitor’s Centre to use the bathroom and get some wifi before starting our commute. We spotted the hitchhiker on the side of the road again, and took bets on whether or not he would still be there when we came out of the bathroom.

When I got out of the bathroom, I found him already talking to Shacky. His name was Mike and he was a writer. He had worked as a newspaper reporter for most of his life, and now had a blog on Huffington Post. He was on a one-year mission to work at as many traveling carnivals as he could, currently on his way to Anchorage to see if he could work there (it would be his 3rd carnival).

Mike had no other income other than what the carnivals paid, which was less than minimum wage. His plan was to blog about his journey and publish a book about it at the end of the year. I packed a food bag for him, and he ate while we drove.

Mike told us all about his travels, the people he had met along the way, and asked lots of questions about our own lifestyle. He scribbled notes into a tiny notebook and helped us keep track of the wildlife we saw. He was bright and eloquent with some fantastic stories.

He described the majority of carnival workers as very poor, uneducated individuals (many not having finished grade school, and a few who could not read), eager to drink and party but also extremely hard workers who found joy in helping kids have fun. The irony was that many were away from their own families and children, and some had joined the carnival to escape their families (mostly abusive).

Instead of giving away Mike’s stories, I’ll encourage you to check out his carnival blog and follow his travels HERE.

We drove to Liard Hot Springs, where Shacky and I had planned to spend the night after a good soak. Mike wanted to continue his journey, so we said our goodbyes.

After dipping into the warmest hot spring I have ever experienced, Shacky decided he wanted to keep driving. Mike was still waiting for a ride, so he hopped back in and we drove to Watson Lake. We were definitely spending the night in Watson, so that was the last time we saw Mike. When we get to Anchorage, we’ll look for him at the local carnival.

Every hitchhiker we pick up confirms my suspicion that strangers are inherently awesome, trustworthy, and good human beings. I read on a blog somewhere (I wish I could remember names to reference it) about a woman who hitchhiked all over the world, and insisted it was one of the safest things she had ever done. She said that all the men warned her about other dangerous men, believing that they were the exceptions; each of them convinced that most people could not be trusted. We distrust our neighbors, and our neighbors distrust us, but dangerous men are more of a minority than we believe.

This does not mean that we should not be vigilant, aware of our surroundings, or that bad people do not exist. I just wish—with years of “don’t talk to strangers” ingrained in my upbringing—that I had spoken to a few more along the way.

Read Shacky’s account of our hitchhiker encounter HERE.

i-saw-a-hitchhiker-giving-me-a-thumbs-up-so-i-m-guessing-he-likes-my-facebook-status

You May Also Enjoy:

Our First Hitchhiker

Answering the Call of the North

Seeking Dispensers: A Call to Embrace a Wild Life

****

Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Alaska-bound and Other Adventures

Alaska

In a few days the Shacky, Vanessa, Ginger, and Momma caravan will be leaving the familiarity of San Diego to slowly start moving North—Alaska-bound.

This will be the longest Shacky has been outside of California since his Navy days, and for both pets their longest trip outside of California ever. For me, it will be my longest road trip and my very first time through the West coast.

There were mixed emotions for me yesterday when I realized that we probably won’t be back in San Diego until next fall, or possibly later. I’ve been here less than two years, but it very much feels like home. Our friends here feel like family.

Still, we are excited about the prospect of a new adventure. We have good friends yet to meet and favorite trails yet to discover. I’m very nervous about bears, having never seen one in the wild. I’m concerned about Ginger and the cat and the RV—there’s just so much that can go wrong and so many unknowns. We also don’t know what the hell we’re doing. But I suppose that’s the best way to learn!

Soon I’ll be running around with things like bear bells, pepper spray and/or knife…all of which are so foreign to me. I love animals but I’m also a little of scared of them in the wild. This trip should take me way out of my comfort zone.

Speaking of animals, our first few weeks in Alaska will be spent helping out at Steve Krochel’s Wildlife Sanctuary where he adopts and rehabs countless wild animals. On their Facebook page, they show a bear named Kitty and a huge moose you have to climb on a ladder to feed. There’s one more photo that saddens me: a beautiful but dying owl. The caption warns to not use rat poison as a form of pest control. This owl ate a mouse that was poisoned, and it took her life.

We’d like to head to Seward after the animal sanctuary for 4th of July celebrations, then run the Crow Pass marathon in Girdwood in July. After that we’re playing with the idea of running the Resurrection Pass 100. It’s been described as a mostly self-supported race right through bear contry. Gah!

Other things we’re looking forward to is the fishing and possibly hunting, both of which I have zero experience with. The hunting I feel really weird about, which makes me think that I should try it. Although I’ve been sticking to vegan for about six months, I’ve heard you can get bear bacon in Alaska, and I’m not above trying that. I’m also excited to try elk and moose for the first time.

For me this trip will be all about new experiences, new discoveries, and lots of firsts. I’m hoping to do as many things that make me scared or uncomfortable, which so far has been a good theme for my 2013.

Shacky and I will be taking our sweet time driving north, and keeping detailed notes. We’ll start with some runs in Arizona to train for Zion 100 in Utah. After Zion, we’ll keep driving north. I’m particularly excited about driving through (and running) British Colombia. I’ve never seen those rugged parts of Canada, and I suspect I’ll feel right at home.

In other news, I’m a few days away from publishing my first book, a series a memoirs about running. It’s titled The Summit Seeker: Memoirs of a Trail Running Nomad. And I’m 1,000 words into my second book, a close look at ultrarunning from a female perspective. This next one will take much longer to write. I plan on conducting hundreds of interviews and some heavy research. I think it’s going to be a ground-breaking book for this niche topic, and I’m already excited by the responses I’m getting from women at all levels of ultrarunning.

A couple of other new twists have been my little foray into the world of yoga. I have been doing yoga every morning for a few days now, and loving it. A couple of weeks ago I spent some time with my dear friends Caity and Pat, and that was the start of my yoga habit.

I started doing yoga with Caity every morning, also inspired by Angie Bee’s yoga progress. I continued doing it on my own and I’m pleased with the feeling of building my strength. Now that I’ve trained for and completed four 100-milers, I feel comfortable with running high-mileage weeks. But I’m not yet comfortable with a high-yoga week.

SONY DSC

These days I’m trying to keep my running more focused to climbing and descents, while spending more of my time building a stronger core and upper body. I think in the long run, this will go a long way to improve my 100-mile times. Zion should be a good test.

Another morning habit I have is reaching into my bag of peace rocks. My friend Caity took us to Harmony, California when we were visiting her, and I saw they were selling “word rocks”—basically just rocks with words like LOVE and PEACE written on them. I wanted some, but they were pricey, so I decided to make them myself. Here’s what I came up with:

Word Rocks

word rocks 2

Every morning before yoga, I reach into a bag and grab a rock at random. Then I spend my yoga session and the rest of the day thinking about ways to positively reflect that word, and let it seep into my behavior. If I can’t master it, I stick with that word for the next day as well until I feel comfortable with it. The only word I’ve had to repeat so far has been PRESENT. As in, staying in the present.

If I haven’t bored you yet, there’s another little project that has been taking up my time. I have an unofficial 2013 resolution to master as many useless skills as I possibly can in 12 months. It’s a play on the idea that you have to set a resolution to improve your life and really make a positive difference. What if I just want to hang out and learn useless crap? I’m hoping to prove that’s a worthy goal as well.

On the list are things like:

  • Learn to juggle
  • Learn to skip stones
  • Learn to be ambidextrous

But in the end the joke is on me because I’m finding that these “useless” skills are actually quite beneficial.

I bought a Rubik’s cube because I thought solving one could be a useless skill. Then I realized that they have championships and records for the Rubik’s cube. I saw a freaking 20x20x20 Rubik’s cube that took five hours to solve on youtube. I watched in awe. The Rubik’s is just one small example, but I learned that it helps my mind work in a different way, forces me to practice patience, and brings people together (everyone wants to try it). Not useless at all, but pretty cool.

I love the nerd convention here:

Direct YouTube link HERE

Then I started trying to do a handstand, thinking THAT might be a useless skill. But my core is improving, I’m getting stronger, and it’s pushing me into yoga. I feel great. So again, actually quite useful.

At the end of the year, I’d like to put these projects together, record videos, or even write something up about what each of these useless skills have taught me, and how important it is to acquire a new cool skill every so often… just because.

On top of that, we’ve been doing RV renovations to our Rialta. We got a great heater put in, converted our microwave into a storage area, and converted our old TV into a kitty playground. We still have a few final touches to make, then I hope to be posting photos/video soon.

These are exciting times and busy days. Stay tuned for more!

Direct YouTube link HERE

RELATED ARTICLES:

How I Retired By Age 30

A Call to Embrace a Wild Life

5 Keys to Enjoying All the Benefits of Money Without Having Any

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,342 other followers

%d bloggers like this: