Winter Life on a Homestead (Photo Essay)

SONY DSCLife at the Wolfestead has brought me back to a time when people didn’t exert energy for the sake of exercise. They moved their bodies to play or to work, and often because they needed to survive. The winter has introduced a dimension of discomfort but also a satisfying sense of reward when work is finished.

I came to the Wolfestead with a long distance trail running background and found farm chores more difficult than training for a 100-mile race. Also, farm chores offer no rest days. I have found this exertion to be functional, simple, and in many ways more rewarding than an endurance event.

I am still challenging my body, except now I have something to show for it: logs for the winter and fresh eggs for breakfast. These things I can savor more than a medal. The end result is more modest than crossing a finish line, but it feels pure.

I grew up with the myth that manual labor is something people do when they can’t go to college to escape the rigors of a menial, repetitive life. In reality, working with my hands has been one of the most mentally stimulating and creative things I have ever done–more so than higher-paying office work complete with brainstorming innovation meetings. These photos are a product of that inspiration.

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The chore of felling trees, cutting up logs, hauling them down off the mountain, and chopping them into firewood is never-ending. We use the wood to burn a fire and heat the house. In exceptionally cold weather, the fire burns all night.

“An authentic life will be built, at least in part, of ordinary verbs: wake, plant, dig, mend, walk, lift, listen, season, note, bake, chop, store, stack, harvest, give, stretch, measure, wash, help, haul, sleep. And verbs bring nouns, what doing requires: shovel, needle, basket, axe, seed, pencil, boots, match, handle, bucket, knife, ear, saw, tape, bowl, barrow, boat, level, soil, wedge, hand.” – Christine Byl, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods


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Each bale of hay weights around 50 lbs. A few days after we arrived, we restocked five bales and 300 lbs of chicken feed. It would have taken me all day just to move this stuff, but with Nate’s help it only took a few minutes. The hay is fed to the goats and the leftovers are raked into the chicken coops. Once the chickens have soiled it, it goes into the compost to feed the garden.

“I was headed away from physical work, toward the education meant to save me from it… Boys took shop. Smart kids went to college… Sports after homework is done… Exercise must fit into the workday. Nature is where we go to escape our ordinary lives… until we start to wonder, Who would I be if I chose the opposite?… Can’t our work bring us pleasure?… What if manual tasks are mentally rewarding?” – Christine Byl, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods

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Chicken feed bags weight 50 lbs each. Every night we scoop out a daily ration of food and the chickens come charging. Evening feeds ensure that the chickens come back to the coops for the night, since they forage all day. As the temperatures drop, a roaming chicken might not survive the night.

“I’ve been working at farms the last two years and everyday at the end of the day I felt like I’d run a 50-mile race. I thought it was just me being weak. There’s no way farm work could be that hard, right? Well… farm work is hardcore. I verify it and have been verified by this. I also have always prescribed to the Teddy Roosevelt philosophy of leading a strenuous life.” – Sarah Willis, farm crew at Trogg’s Hollow

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There are four female goats on The Wolfestead: Lola, Dora, Hilda, and Tasha. Their offspring will be used for food, but these four will live out their lives on the farm. The goats do an amazing job of keeping the property clear through foraging. Sometimes goat owners hire out their animals to walk trails like the Appalachian and eat down the overgrowth to keep the paths clear. If there is a better job than taking a goat on a long trail hike with unlimited snack breaks, I don’t know what it is. Their favorite food? Poison ivy.

“Most of us are raised with preconceived notions of the choices we’re supposed to make. We waste so much time making decisions based on someone else’s idea of our happiness–what will make you a good citizen or a good wife or daughter or actress. Nobody says, ‘Just be happy. Go be a cobbler or go live with goats.'” – Sandra Bullock, actress

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Pip is the resident poodle puppy. He is the most thorough face-licker I have ever met, even taking his time to stick his tongue up each nostril (it’s the details). Pip is full of life and enthusiastically horny. He always wears a bow tie because bow ties are cool. Here he is after a romp in the snow.

“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” – Bernard Williams, philosopher

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Eido is the old resident husky full of wisdom and patience. If an animal is dying anywhere on the property, Eido finds it and drags it over to us. He is a fan of playing in the snow and howling with his daddy Nate. Most mornings he sighs patiently while Pip humps his leg.

“Dogs come into our lives to teach us about love. They depart to teach us about loss. A new dog never replaces an old dog; it merely expands the heart. If you have loved many dogs, your heart is very big.” – Erica Jong, author

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One of our daily chores is to start a fire. I was surprised at how fast the wood stove heats up the house. On cold days, we run in here between chores to warm up before heading out again.

“From my first day on the job, tools have met me as a student and made me into a learner. Axes, saws, rock bars, and sledges taught my body how to swing and sharpen and carry and stow, and they taught my mind that over time, in a place you open yourself to, competence will come” – Christine Byl, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods

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Average temperatures have been hovering just above the freezing mark, but we did have a cold spell and a power outage. Colder weather means going out more often to break up the water for the animals to prevent it from freezing solid.

There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you…. In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself.” – Ruth Stout, author

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This young hen didn’t survive an opossum attack. We arrived (at Eido’s prompts) to see it still kicking and struggling for breath. “Quick, message Nate!” I yelled to Shacky, half expecting to receive some elaborate chicken surgery instructions for a last-minute, life-saving procedure. Of course, that’s not the way things work on the farm. Although I had braced myself for killing hens for food, I hadn’t considered accidental loss of life. My past winters have been filled with flurries and snowballs and hot chocolate, but I am slowly adjusting to a new winter experience: Death.

“Death is a fact of life; it is a necessary fact of life. Death is not evil. Death is unavoidable. Death is actually quite fantastic when you think about it: it is the mechanism for new life. It is simply the cessation of a life for the continuation of life.  Every time you wash your hands, take a shower, or brush your teeth, you are massacring millions of micro organisms. If you drive a car, you are killing insects every day, squirrels and birds likely often, and if you live where I do, probably a few opossums… Of course I feel bad when I kill things accidentally. I would much rather my killing be fully intentional.” – Nathaniel Wolfe, homesteader

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As common as death is on the farm, the miracle of life is also everywhere. This is a litter of newborn bunnies born during our stay. While not all are likely to survive, the awesomeness of watching their tiny lives unfold is an experience I will not soon forget. PS – The bunnies are named after Dr. Who characters.

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” – Robert Frost, poet

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From my viewpoint last winter as a vegan jogging on the beaches of California, I imagined that those who killed livestock and hunted game probably had less of a love for animals. After all, how could you kill something that you love?

Now that I have spent time on this farm, I have come to understand how much these homesteaders not only depend on animals, but deeply love them. Chuck the Duck is a waddling example.

Chuck is tenderly cared for. He is fussed over and sleeps with his owners even though ducks will be eaten here (don’t worry, NOT Chuck). Similarly, Gnome the Chicken wanders indoors and nuzzles into the sofa where he is affectionately received, even though chickens are killed here. Abandoned cats and bunnies find their homes. Some animals live out their lives while others become food.

“Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” – Michael Caine, actor

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Barefoot living is a huge part of the Wolfestead lifestyle. Even through winter, Nate does his chores barefoot–adapting and building a resistance to the cold weather over time. For his day job of teaching yoga and kung-fu, he is always barefoot.

“The truth is, no one can live on the land without touching the land. And touching land requires old, unglamorous, sometimes artful, sometimes boring, dirty work.” – Christine Byl, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods

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Homesteaders not only work hard, but they also rest hard. Hours off are spent drinking, talking, laughing, and playing all night long.

“I think most people are willing to and want to work hard. But when you work on a farm you are very connected to the fruits of your labor and see a direct correlation between effort and reward, therefore it is motivating and feels good to accomplish something. Too many people in too many jobs are completely disconnected from the effort/reward equation. They get paid no matter what. Even if they work super hard it is rarely appreciated or rewarded, thus they tend to act in ways that are perceived as lazy. It is straight behavioral ecology from a biologist’s view. Effort is expensive and if there is no reward there will be no effort.” – Mike Miller, ultrarunner and traveler

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Thanksgiving dinner was prepared by hand and from scratch. We cooked two of the chickens that were born here, and the vegetables were canned in advance.

“Our culture is at once almost totally disconnected from the rhythms and limits of nature, yet obsessed with what is ‘natural.’ Some of the thinking about this is deep and critical: what should we eat? Where should it come from? What are things made of ? Who makes them? How do our actions affect this planet? How should the planet affect our actions? Other riffs on the nature theme are purely commercial: lanky magazine models loll in grassy fields with wicker picnic baskets. Log homes are status symbols, the ‘rustic look’ perfectly orchestrated by an interior designer. ‘Mama grizzlies’ are leashed for political fund-raising.” – Christine Byl, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods

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Gnome the Chicken is the only hen allowed indoors. She is genetically inferior to the others, so she gets perks and is kept more as a pet. Every morning when I open the front door, she is waiting to dash inside and peck at the cat food.

“This experience is what we’re attempting to get with our gym workouts and organized races… a real struggle to acquire resources. The more primal the activity, the more fulfilling.” – Jason Robillard, ultrarunner and author

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R2 and his brother D2 are the kittens of the house. They are curious and playful, sometimes to their own detriment. A few days ago R2 jumped on to the wood stove and immediately realized his mistake.

“The kittens will make your sad go away.” – David Wong, John Dies at the End

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Cinder is one of the oldest family cats. She hangs out on the kitchen counter and sleeps in an egg carton box. The family has a total of six cats.

“There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” – Albert Schweitzer, philosopher

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The living room is my favorite spot. It’s a cozy, communal place kept warm by a raging fire. Animals are scattered all over the floor and furniture while goats and chickens gather at the door.

“Farm work beats all. It creates a strong mind, strong body, and happens for the greater purpose of survival.” – Margaret Schlachter, professional athlete and obstacle racer


This is a small family homestead in Landisburg, Pennsylvania (The Wolfestead). The land is owned and run by Nathaniel and Melanie Wolfe. Nate also works as a yoga and martial arts instructor. Melanie is a full-time nurse. They own and manage 8 acres of land and 100+ animals. Our chores for the winter include felling trees and gathering wood, setting up a hydroponics system, starting a greenhouse, and feeding/raising/processing the animals. Follow Nate’s blog at Shifting Strands.


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10 Overlooked Rights Worth Fighting For

rights worth fighting for

As a Canadian living in the USA, one of the first things I noticed upon moving here was how gung-ho Americans seemed to be about fighting for their rights. Issues like gun control, health care, and other common themes are sure to raise blood pressures and trigger heated debates.

Yet the greatest inhibitions in life are the ones we place on ourselves, and that has certainly been true for me. These past few months I have been attacking the obstacles that have been preventing me from embracing true freedom, and I’ve discovered that these are rights many of us have overlooked. And unlike many major political issues, these things affect us every day, several times a day.

Exercising the following rights has freed me in many ways, and I hope they will also inspire you to live better:

1. I will exercise my right to take my time.

Do you know what the worst part of a minimum wage job is (I’ve had several)? It’s not the crappy hours or the pathetic pay. It’s the 30-minute lunch breaks. Lunch in 30 minutes?! That’s unheard of. I’m a one- to two-hour lunch girl. I’m also a slow eater.

I’m slow at chewing. I’m slow at swallowing. And when I’m done, I’ll probably want dessert. God help you if I make tea—I’ll just sit there sipping until the sun goes down.

When I lived in Mendoza, Argentina, I quickly adapted to their European model of eating lunch. Everyone went home at lunchtime, prepared lunch, took their sweet-ass time eating, and then took long naps. They went back to work at around 3 p.m., and worked until around 7 p.m.. Now there’s a decent life.

The truth is, I’m slow at most things. I’m a slow runner. I’m slow at waking up. And I’m slow at thinking my thoughts and writing them down.

But I like to think that these things are worth the wait. Great things need time to just sit around, like wine or sauerkraut or cheese (more about cheese later). Slowing down also gives me time to make sense of my world, and write posts like these.

Ever since I left the corporate world to bum around the country in an RV, I’ve been less apologetic about taking my time. I’ve exercised my right to move slowly. As a result, I’ve noticed a drastic boost in creativity. I get more and better ideas. My thoughts have time to develop and intertwine. I write better, with more clarity, and I can make better connections.

If you operate in a rushed environment, I strongly encourage you to slow down. I was always afraid to try this, especially at work because everyone around me was moving so fast and I worried I would get left behind. But I wish I had been brave enough to slow down sooner. I would have been better at my job, better at relationships, and better at life.

Practice saying these amazing phrases:

“I need more time.”

“I’m not finished with that yet.”

“Please come back later.”

And every once in a while, take a long lunch. A REALLY long lunch. Make a cup of tea and drink it slowly with a friend. Yes, life is short. But these are the simple pleasures that make life worth it.

2. I will exercise my right to sing and/or dance.

A few weeks ago we were shopping at Trader Joe’s. Shacky was looking for some eggs and I found a little corner where they were giving away cheese samples. CHEEEEESE!! I love cheese, but I’ve been on a mostly-vegan diet since May (plant-based is a more accurate description). It was really good quality cheese though, so I decided to make an exception and try a sample.

I hadn’t eaten cheese in quite a while and it was so freaking good that I wanted to hop up and down and do a little dance. But I didn’t. Cause I was at Trader Joe’s and it was crowded. But I should have.

This wasn’t the first time I suppressed a little dance. I usually feel like singing on the trails, but sometimes Shacky says, “Do you really have to sing This Land is Your Land again??” Still, I don’t want to suppress stuff anymore. If I’m happy, I should do a little jig.

I love cheese.

3. I will exercise my right to make a joke.

When I was trying to be a cool kid back in the age range when being cool was important (Jr. High), Yo Mama jokes were in style. So were any other insult-jokes.

Like this:

  • Yo mama is so stupid that it took her two hours to watch 60 Minutes.
  • What’s the difference between three penises and a joke? Your mom can’t take a joke.
  • Learn from your parents’ mistakes—use birth control.

I loved jokes. I would go to the library to read joke books, but they weren’t insult jokes. My favorite joke of all time was this:

Q: Why was the math book sad?

A: Because it had so many PROBLEMS!!”

HAH. Still a damn fine joke.

But I never got to tell it. Because the exchange below never quite seemed like a natural flow:

Other kid: Yo mama is so fat that when she gets in an elevator, it has to go down.

Me: Why was the math book sad?

As the years passed, I never really grew out of my silly sense of humor. I always had a quirky funny bone, and I would often find myself laughing alone at things that nobody else thought were funny.

I grew up with a sarcastic and teasing sense of humor. In my family, if someone teased you until you cried or until you became raging mad—that meant that they loved you. I have vivid memories of my dad making me cry this way. I can’t say I always enjoyed it, but his sense of humor did seem to rub off on me.

My uncles were the same way. They would torment each other, and that was how they showed love. But at school, they called that bullying.

In Junior High, I had a good friend that I teased in music class one day. I told him that his new haircut made him look like he had cancer. My teacher heard me, and lost his mind. He threw his music stand across the room, screamed at me, and made me leave the class. I was shocked. What did I say?

At that time, my mom was dying of leukemia and it was actually something we joked about at home. Humor was a coping mechanism and I genuinely had no idea that cancer was a sensitive issue.

After that outburst from my music teacher (who I loved and admired), I learned to heavily sensor my humor. Even now, I have a sarcastic, dirty, and hard-hitting funny bone. I still sensor myself a lot.

But I’m learning to let go. To just be who I am, even at the risk of offending others. Yes, I can seem callous and inappropriate. But there’s something to be said about humor as a tool for healing. We are hurting, but it hurts less if we can joke about it. We are starving, but our stomachs can be filled with laughter.

One of my biggest reliefs in life is when I hear someone else make a highly inappropriate joke that I also think is funny. The realization that they have the same sense of humor—and that I can be myself with them—is so liberating.

I can tease others mercilessly, but I can also roll with the hardest of jokes when they are directed at me. The best thing in life is to be able to laugh at yourself. And when someone laughs at me—I still feel loved.

Last month, I took Shacky to meet my uncles in L.A. I was a little worried because I didn’t know how they would act around Shacky. As soon as they opened the door, the first thing they did was tease him about his beard. And they continued to do so for the rest of the night, as new beard jokes occurred to them.

To me, the thought of teasing someone immediately after meeting them, before “feeling them out”, is a huge risk. I think twice. But to see my uncles do it so naturally, I had to smile. They were being themselves.

4. I will exercise my right to look you in the eye.

“EX-CUUUUUSE ME! Do you have a staring problem??!!”

This was said to me by a snarky little black girl in my elementary school class. She scared me a little. But she was right—I had a staring problem. I like to look at people.

What can I say, people are pretty interesting. Faces are cool. But direct eye contact was considered rude.

  • Don’t look at strangers.
  • Don’t stare.
  • Keep your eyes to yourself.

All of these were things I was taught in school and in other social settings. So I stopped looking. Until eye contact seemed weird and uncomfortable. I lost my childlike courage to stare.

But I don’t really believe staring is a problem. I think I have a right to look you in the eye. You left your house this morning. You went out in public. We’re in a public space. So I believe I can look at you quite freely. I can wonder about you or think you’re pretty, or admire your clothes. And who knows, I may even say hello.

I’m tired of averting my eyes. I want to see you and notice details about you, and maybe even recognize you the next time we meet. And if you look back, maybe we can share a smile.

5. I will exercise my right to be silent.

My ex-boyfriend was a talker. I was always more of a listener, so I learned to perfect the art of acknowledgment-noises. Like:





Shacky doesn’t have any acknowledgment noises. So when I tell him something, sometimes he doesn’t reply at all. “Did he hear me?” I wonder. So I tell him again. No response. Again?

Eventually he just says, “I wish you’d be quiet.” And I have to laugh.

He DID hear me. But he exercises his right to be silent, and I’m learning to do the same.

Sometimes when I’m running in a group, I feel pressure to talk. It’s pressure I put on myself, thinking I have to fill every silence or people will realize I’m actually pretty boring to run with.

But silence is awesome, and I have a right to shut the hell up. I don’t have to make shallow, meaningless acknowledgment noises. I don’t have to rack my brain for something to say. I can just listen and talk when I want to.

Silence doesn’t mean that I’m mad. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong, yet often that’s what we assume. We think everything is cool as long as someone is gabbing.

In journalism school, one of my professors gave me a valuable tip that I never forgot. I’ve used it often with tremendous results. It’s this:

When you’re interviewing someone, ask them a question and let them reply. After that, there’s a lull. A short silence. The interviewer’s instinct is to fill this silence with a response, or by asking the next question. But if the interviewer is brave enough to remain silent, the interviewee will start speaking again. They will answer the question a different way. Because they’re out of their standard reply, what they say next is usually genuine, raw, and often the blatant truth. More often than not, they reveal something truly insightful and fascinating in an effort to fill that silence.

My professor was an expert with this technique, sometimes staying silent long enough for the interviewee to provide two or three answers. The key is for the interviewer to be comfortable with silence. They must perfect the ability to look at someone and just smile, knowing that they are waiting for you to say something, but refusing to utter a word.

I have been trying to eliminate wasteful words from my daily life. I want to stick to words that come from the heart and that mean something. Words with intention.

And if I have nothing to say—I will exercise my right to say nothing at all.

6. I will exercise my right to get excited.

Getting excited is never cool, especially when you’re a teenager. As a teenager, I would get excited about most things, so I was a pretty big nerd.

I would get excited about books, about nature, about learning, and even about homework. I would wonder how things were made, and I would get excited about that too. The cool kids were indifferent and unimpressed. That’s what made them cool. They would roll their eyes at me, so eventually I learned to stop showing my excitement.

I still get excited about a lot of things, but I’ll also still catch myself suppressing my excitement (see section above re: cheese dance). It’s a bad habit formed over time that I need to shake off.

I miss getting really excited about stuff. I miss jumping up and down and clapping my hands. I miss high-fives. I miss lingering at a rock formation or a sign, to examine them thoroughly and then get excited about them.

In my mind, I still see the rolling eyes of those judgmental teenagers, even though they’re no longer part of my life. It’s time to exercise my right to excited about dumb stuff.

7. I will exercise my right to experiment.

Jason Robillard has just written a book (to be released soon) on trail and ultrarunning. He calls it a “Guide for Weird Folks” because it contains a plethora of lessons and experiences he has accumulated over years of experimentation and doing the opposite of conventional running wisdom.

As a result, his book is full of tips that you will not find anywhere else. Jason has experimented with various forms of sleep deprivation training, stomach training (how to run on both a full stomach as well as an empty one), and even when it’s best to wear cotton instead of tech clothing. He has done everything from running in a sun hat to duct taping his gonads (sans instructional video). He even covers grooming in the nether regions for endurance runners (hair, no hair, or some hair?). It’s quite a read.

The success of Jason’s blog, and the pending success of his book, is a great example of the power of experimentation. I’m a big fan of guinea-pig-style writing, and I’m strong advocate of experimentation.

It used to be that ultrarunning was such a niche sport that participants HAD to experiment to find what worked for them. These days there is so much written about training and race tips, that you could easily follow conventional wisdom and, in my opinion, miss out on valuable knowledge.

Our society isn’t set up to encourage experimentation. We are consumers of the tried and true. We want someone to tell us what works so we don’t have to try new things. But experimentation is still the best way.

My ultrarunning experience can be summed up by stating that I’ve had great success by doing all the wrong things. I increased my distance too fast. I don’t taper. I almost always try something new on race day, including shoes. One thing that experimentation teaches me is the incredible skill of adaptability.

And really—what is an ultramarathon finish if not a successful adaptation to all the challenges faced throughout the day? Experiment, experiment, experiment. In this sport, there are no rules—same with life.

8. I will exercise my right to do my best.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?… Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you… As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

– Marianne Williamson

This is a quote that resonates with me. Often, I seem fearless on the outside. But my deepest fears are rooted in the fact that I’m afraid of what I could become if I did my absolute best.

It all started in elementary. I would do well in class, and get labeled a nerd. So I learned to hold back. I learned to do well, but not too good. I learned to never do my best.

When I started running ultras, I quickly learned that I was pretty good at it. I ran my first sub-6-hour 50K early on in my ultra career. I jumped from the 50K distance straight to 100 miles. I finished 100 miles on my first attempt. And in that same year, I finished four 100s.

Even so—I still hold myself back. During races, if I’m running fast and feeling good, I think:

  • I shouldn’t feel this good. Something must be wrong. I should slow down.
  • I don’t deserve to finish this strong. I should move slower.
  • People with more experience are further behind me. I should slow down.
  • I’m not hurting, but everyone else is walking. I should walk too.
  • I’ve had a really good running year. I should finish this, but not push too hard.

Deep down, I’m afraid of what I could become if I truly did my best. Like that elementary student, I want to do well but not stand out. I’m terrified of my limits. Not because they will hold me back, but because I may discover that I actually have none.

Little by little, I’m conquering those fears. I’m signing up for harder mountain races. I’m starting to expand my training: more core and strength work, with the purpose of getting stronger. I’m experimenting with more uphill running, instead of just power hiking. It’s a slow process, and sometimes I’m still very afraid. But I know that I don’t have to measure myself by anyone else’s standards. I can do my best, and soar to new heights.

And yes—I do deserve it.

9. I will exercise my right to fail.

From an early age, we set up our children for success. We try to give them every advantage, every head start, and the smoothest road possible to an easy and profitable life.

But don’t we learn better from a face full of dirt after a hard fall? From scrapped knees and bloody hands and hot tears? We learn from our failures, and we learn fast.

That’s how I grew up: with the face-full-of-dirt technique. That’s how I learned to ride a bike, to run on trails, to attack life’s challenges. Yes, some things were harder, like fitting in at school, but there was one thing I learned from growing up this way that has brought me great success: I lost my fear of failure.

I’m not sure it’s after your 100th time, or after your 1000th time of failing that you lose the fear of failure, but eventually it does go away. Failure just becomes a way of saying to yourself, “Try again another way.”

I have said before that when I registered for Chimera 100, I knew deep inside that I could not finish it. I embraced the possibility of failure, and started training my ass off. Had I been terrified of failure, I never would have registered. I never would have finished.

You know that feeling right after you register for a race, or take on a huge task where your blood pressure starts to rise and you think, “Dear God, what have I just done??!!” That’s good. That means you’re exercising your right to fail.

At my second 100-mile attempt, I failed. It was Nanny Goat 100. I only made it to 55 miles, and I felt pretty dumb because it was supposed to be an “easy” course. But the course was a 1-mile loop, and after 55 miles, the loops really got to me. I just gave up mentally. I just didn’t care anymore.

I learned so many things from that failure. I tried a few more looped courses, like Across the Years 72-Hours (1-mile loop for 3 days), and confirmed what I learned at Nanny Goat: I’m not really built for these types of courses. Give me mountains. Give me water crossings. Even give me mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and bears. But if you give me a loop where I’m going nowhere, I’ll want to shoot my brains out.

I still love the challenge of looped courses and greatly admire the folks who can buckle up and knock them out, but my failure at Nanny Goat taught me what my strengths were.

Failure is a shortcut to learning. The greater the failure, the stronger the lesson is reinforced. Embrace it.

10. I will exercise my right to dream ridiculously big.

“What the hell are you trying to do, run 100 miles someday??”

The biting words of my ex-boyfriend still ring in my ears. His tone was one of such deep disgust, and I knew he meant for me to be offended at his suggestion. It was right after I had come home from a long run, and he couldn’t understand why on earth I needed (or wanted) to be out running all day.

But I did want to run 100 miles. And how do you even begin to explain that to someone?

In life, I have learned that there are dreamers and there are dream-killers. Associate with dreamers.

Dreamers will not care WHAT your dream is or how ridiculous it sounds. They think you can do it, and will cheer you on.

  • You want to run a 50K on little training, Trisha Reeves? Oh ya, you totally got it.
  • You want to run across the country with no money and no shoes, Patrick Sweeney? Easy peasy. Go for it.
  • You want to backpack across Central America by yourself through dangerous places, Jess Soco? Totally doable.

It doesn’t matter how ridiculous your dreams are, or if they’re even about running. Dreamers will cheer you on. That’s because dreamers know just how possible the impossible really is. And they’re often right.

Despite what others think of your skills, capabilities, or experience: You have a right to dream big. Not just a little big. Ridiculously, that-makes-no-sense, you-must-be-insane big. The kind of big that everyone—except for dreamers—will scoff at.

It’s your right to hold on to your dream. To nurture it, protect it, and grow it.

I threw myself unreasonably into my first 100-miler after only a small handful of 50K finishes. It was senseless and crazy and unheard of. But the dreamers in my life said: “You want to race 100 miles after only a few mediocre 50K finishes? You can do it.”

And so I did.

I have to smile whenever I read ultrarunning how-to articles that caution you on going slow, staying safe, and “never do anything new on race day”-type advice. Of course, this is all very reasonable advice. I cannot deny these tips, and it is your right to follow those wise words.

However, it is also your right to take a huge chance. To be reckless and completely crazy and just dream big. Really really really big.

You can do it.



Seeking Dispersers: A Call to Embrace a Wild Life

East Jesus in Slab City: Finding Community in the Desert

Alaska-Bound and Other Adventures




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

Mogollon Monster 100 Trail

This year, my boyfriend and I took the dog, the cat, and walked away from our home and our jobs. We moved into a tiny Rialta RV, relinquished our possessions, and gave up many of our luxuries. In exchange, we opted for a life of endless travel, complete freedom, and all the time in the world to do exactly whatever.

Neither of us had ever lived in an RV before, and we’ve both worked hard all our lives. We had “normal” office jobs with 9 to 5 hours, and lived for the weekends just like everyone else we knew. We believed that to enjoy some aspects of life, money was required. We didn’t have the financial luxury to do what we wanted 100% of the time… but oh, if we ever won that lottery… THEN we could really live!

What we’ve found after some time on the road is that everything we wanted was there all along, and it didn’t come with a price tag. Here are the principles we embraced to retire into a wealth we didn’t think was possible for us.

1. To be twice as rich, halve your expenses.

The 9 to 5 rat race is a bum deal. It requires you to work yourself thin to afford things that you never have the time to enjoy. You kill yourself to own a big home that you can never spend any time in. Your PTO piles up with vacation time which you never use because work is too demanding. You’re too busy climbing the ladder, earning money to afford those vacation. Which you never take. See the pattern here? You live for the weekends, except by the weekend you’re so exhausted that you have limited energy. So you mostly just rest. It’s an awkward cycle.

It doesn’t work this way for everyone, but for us it did. We decided to opt out by drastically cutting our expenses. Giving up the home was a big one. Mortgage was a money suck. So was maintenance, things to fill our home with, and cleaning.

I gave up my cell phone and replaced it with a free Skype number. By installing solar panels on the RV (in progress), our electricity expenses will be big fat zero. No money spent at RV parks either, since we need no hook-ups. If we don’t feel like driving, we can self-support at a remote trailhead with no amenities for weeks at a time.

We use free wifi, which we can find on pretty much any corner these days. And when we want to, we disconnect by parking on a mountain trail somewhere, embracing isolation. Our water use is minuscule, as we use creeks and waterfalls to rinse off or hand wash our clothes with biodegradable soap. We have no cable or television, but we like going to the movies!

We have one small pot and one small pan, which we use to make food in the RV. Living is simple and extremely cheap. With our family of two adults, one dog and one cat, we can live very comfortably like this on $1,000/month or less.

With our current savings, we could live for about three to four years without working at all. But I still do the work I love, which is writing. I’m currently writing books and articles. The life of a writer is more a labor of love than a way to get rich, but since our financial needs are so low, I can support us all through writing.

I have a laptop where I do all my writing, and then drop into town for a wifi connection to email things or make a post. I also have a Kindle with over 300 books on it, which I pull out before bed for some good quality reading. I get free Kindle books online on thousands of topics. Since everything interests me, I don’t think I’ll ever finish all the books I want to read. Without a 9 to 5 job, I can do more writing (potentially more income), more reading (higher quality research for writing), and more living (many more experiences with so much more to write about).

Want to be twice as rich? Halve our expenses. You’ll be surprised and how little you actually need to feel happy and fulfilled.

2. You don’t have to own something to enjoy it.

This principle blew my mind. There are so many things we can get for free, or for very minimal payment that others work tirelessly to own. Some of them I have already mentioned, like cable,  internet access, and e-books. But also other things:

Instead of owning a pool, we can park at the ocean for days of free water play.
Instead of a gym membership, we can spend weeks playing on endless miles of trails.

We can also enjoy activities like kayaking, fishing, or scuba diving (to name a few) via rentals, for a fraction of the cost of what it would take to own the gear for these activities. Not to mention that the things we value most – fresh air, travel, and the freedom to enjoy life, don’t cost us cost a single penny.

3. Lack of money buys freedom.

If you’re filthy rich, you can enjoy limitless freedom. But when you’re dirt poor, you can actually enjoy pretty much the same freedom. If you happen to be somewhere in the middle, that’s when you’re tied down. In the middle, you need to work to pay your debts and expenses. You’re not rich enough to stop working, and not “poor” enough to give up those expenses and luxuries. You’re stuck indefinitely.

When you’re too poor to afford a lot of the “luxuries” that are so common in that middle space (like, furniture and lawn care for example), you have complete freedom to spend your time doing whatever you want. Just as if you were rich. You don’t have to work as much, or not at all. You have no one to report to. You can come and go as you wish. No home to maintain. No rooms to clean. You can pick which opportunities and activities you want to be involved in, and you can actually be picky about it. Your range of choices in life is significantly wider.

These days, many people consider a good travel trip a resort vacation, which of course implies money. But I’m convinced the reason we crave resort-type spots is because we’re exhausted from working so much that we need a quiet place to rest and unwind. However, when you’re working less, you’ll be amazed and how much energy you have. Suddenly a resort vacation sounds boring. You want to run. Hike. Move. Swim. Travel. All of which we can do indefinitely, and free of charge. And if you still want to rest, try lying on a beach like a sand bum for… as long as you want. And that’s the life we’re living now.

4. There’s free stuff everywhere.

Sadly, we live in a society where so much is wasted. We waste food, products, and energy. Fortunately for RV bums like us, this also means we have an endless supply of free goodies at our fingertips. We can get our hands on anything from food to travel products to personal hygiene products… and the list goes on.

In this consumerist society, we could easily survive on samples alone. And if that’s not possible, we are happy to offer manual labor or personal service in exchange for the goods we need. No currency exchanged.

Between the two of us, my boyfriend and I have a wealth of bartering services at our disposal. He has an engineering background and is awesome all those “boy” things like manual labor and figuring things out and not needing directions. I’m more creative and great at anything related to writing, PR, editing, publishing, promotion, online, etc. This, combined with my journalism background, gives me additional access to limitless products in exchange for reviews or help with promotion.

For example, we don’t always pay for running gear or races (unless we want to, and we still do when we want to support certain products or events). I get free pet gear for our dog and cat – things like food, leashes, running harness or packs, etc. The most common things I get for free are clothing, running shoes, and sunglasses. These are the three things I regularly have to turn down because I either don’t have enough space for them in the RV, I’m not interested in the product, or I don’t want to put in the time to write a review.

The product benefits extend to my boyfriend as well, and this aspect alone has saved us thousands of dollars. I often joke that my boyfriend and I are the best dressed hobos out there, testing all the latest “stuff”. I should also mention that not having a job means I have more time to put lots of miles on all this gear, promote what I like,  and produce many more reviews and videos, making the freebies much easier to get. Yet another aspect of freebies we enjoy is sponsorships. Over the years we have been sponsored by SportKilt, INKnBURN, and GORE-TEX.

Despite the fact that I’m not currently “working”, I am definitely indebted to all my previous jobs in journalism in both editorial and writing positions. All of these gave me the skills that I am now freely living on. I smile when I remember my first day of journalism school, when my professor scared the crap out of everyone by telling us that there was no good living to be made in journalism, and we would be poor for the rest of our lives. If you’re an aspiring hobo, study journalism. I took a chance and studied what I loved, and now I have all the financial freedom in the world. And yes, I’m still money-poor.

If you’re not a writer , these same freebie possibilities are still open to you. One common misconception is that you have to be an elite in order to get sponsorships or freebies. Untrue. All you need is to be noticed. To have some clout. To have a personality or an appearance or a following that makes you stand out from the crowd. Anything at all. You could wear a costume. You could cover yourself in tattoos. You could have a popular blog.

This only works if you do something that fits with your personality, and stay true to yourself. Staying genuine is key. It’s very obvious when someone is doing something outrageous just for attention. People don’t follow fake people.

In the world we live in now with endless blogs and the opportunity to self-publish, it’s easier than ever to “be a writer”. But keep in mind – you still have to be good in order for people to follow you. You have to offer something. Here is a great post by Jason Robillard to get you started on the road paved with freebies.

5. Movement buys happiness, not money.

We’ve all heard variations of the saying that money buys (or doesn’t buy) happiness. I don’t know too much about that, but I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that movement definitely equals true happiness. I have this epiphany every time I’m running on a deserted trail in the middle of the week when everyone else is at work. I am happy when I’m moving. And I don’t think it’s just me.

My boyfriend and I can indulge this thirst for movement on a daily basis and sometimes several times a day. The joy we feel in being able to physically move our bodies all day long is unparalleled.

I’ve watched our dog make a transformation as well. In her old life, she stayed at home and waited for us to get home from work. She got long runs on the weekend, and sometimes a shorter run or ball play during the week. We tried to take her out as much as possible, but her outdoor time didn’t compare to what it is now.

As soon as we put our dog in the RV environment, she transformed. She is more well behaved and, for the first time since I’ve known her, genuinely tired at the end of the day. She is no longer jealous of the cat (ha), and she used to be more skittish of other dogs. Now she wants to meet them. Her doggie self-esteem has improved too.

As soon as we wake up in the morning, Ginger and I step right out on the trail to run or hike. Then it’s breakfast. Then more playtime until it’s time to go to bed. Yesterday she was prancing through a creek with us, jumping and barking playfully while we all splashed around. Ginger lives a better life now than some humans do. And I believe that this is how all humans are meant to live.

The truth is, we belong outside. Our bodies, our skin, our organs, were built to be outdoors. We belong to the trails and the mud and the streams. Yet these are precisely the things that we have built walls to keep out. We sanitize ourselves agains the very things that scrub our souls clean, and then wonder why our bodies are breaking down along with our spirits.

Our minds were not created to be satisfied with the repetitive motions of menial jobs. We are not stimulated that way. We are not happy. But here on the trails is where we find ourselves.

All this is all free. I could run a new trail every day from now until my dying day, and never cover all the great space that this beautiful country has to offer. So much of it we will never seen. And yet during the week, we are all alone on this great land. We run and laugh and play and wonder where everyone else is. And then we remember – they’re all at work.

So What Can We Do?

I understand that not everyone wants to do what we’ve done. And some people actually enjoy their jobs. But there are small things that we can all do to live more richly and spend less money. Especially if you work at a company that is not your own, or in a menial job that is not your career and not your passion, try some of these tips:

1. Cut expenses.

No matter what your budget looks like, there’s probably something you can cut out that you don’t need. I can’t tell you what that is, but you may know. Trade that extra money in for free time and rest.

2. Take a vacation.

Screw work. You earned every single one of your vacation days, so don’t let them pile up into meaningless hours. Nobody will ever remember the extra hours you put in at work, but the memories you make on a vacation are truly priceless.

3. Take lunch.

Stand up. Get out of the office. Go for lunch. Literally – eat lunch. Go for a walk. Do not ever, ever, ever work through your lunch hour. Unless you own the entire company, you’re giving away your time for free. Your time is worth much more than what they are paying you.

Take the entire lunch hour, and don’t come back early. Take every break too, and make them count. Run around the block. Do burpees in the hallway. Run sprints to the lunch room. Do whatever it takes to make your body move and don’t waste a single opportunity to go outside.

4. Sleep soundly.

The worst thing you could ever do for your health and family and wellbeing is to lose sleep over work. Either by working later than you should, taking work home with you, or just losing sleep thinking about work problems. Learn not to give a crap about work when you’re not there. The world isn’t going to end.

Unless you are the president of the universe, they are not paying you enough to lose one single minute of sleep over your job. Your job does not own you. Take your full eight hours of sleep. Especially if you’re living for the weekends, you need to be well rested during the week so you can actually enjoy your days off.

5. Redefine wealth.

Remember that there are countless ways that you can be rich with no money. You can have a wealth of experience. A wealth of knowledge. A wealth of resources. A wealth of personal contacts. There is so much in this world that can be lived and experience and enjoyed with no money at all.

This is hard to believe for us because we are conditioned to believe that we have to BUY and OWN in order to truly live. This is a lie. Change your view of the world. It’s a big world out there, and we are truly rich when we can explore it.


How I Retired by Age 30

Why You’re Not an Elite Runner (Yet)

New RV Home, New Life


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