Reading to Cats, Playing the Ukulele, and Turning 32

A few weeks ago someone asked me what my long-term life goals were. In the past, I have been vocal about not really setting any, about the value of spontaneity and adventure, and the importance of getting lost sometimes.

Still, I thought seriously about the question and it took me a few minutes to realize that all of my “wildest dream” goals, I have already accomplished. I always dreamed about writing a book and running 100 miles. I wanted to travel and live off my art.

I am 32 today and I am so proud of the way my life has turned out. In the past 12 months, I have traveled more places than my first 31 years combined. I’m thrilled to be doing exactly what I want, exactly how I want it.

It’s time to set some new ambitions and explore new limits. How exciting!

Here are some “lifetime” goals I came up with in answer to my friend’s question. They seem far off and distant right now, but who knows… maybe in a few years I’ll be checking this list off and adding more?


  • write more books, maybe 10-15+
  • set some OKTs (Only Known Times… being the first to do crazy stuff)
  • remain nomadic (as long as I care to)
  • remain independent (not in a position of needing to rely financially on another)
  • travel internationally
  • learn to play 5+ instruments over my lifetime + sing
  • at some point, travel alone and get comfortable with it
  • thru hike the Colorado Trail. Pacific Crest Trail, Arizona Trail, Colorado Trail, John Muir Trail, among others
  • train for and finish the Mogollon Monster 100
  • learn a martial art
  • read at least 100 books/year every year
  • play every day of my life (never all work)
  • Run Across El Salvador
  • learn one new word every day (vocab)
  • learn the art of farming
  • recite various poetry/song/stories from memory
  • learn 5+ languages in my lifetime
  • volunteer everywhere and all the time
  • continue to maintain and develop relationships with my family

In the immediate future:

  1. We will be working at a turkey farm in Colorado this August.
  2. We will be setting a date for a Run Across El Savador in the next couple of weeks. The plans have been in the works for most of this year and we’re looking at February 2015. It’s about 160 miles across the country! It will be a stage race.
  3. Traveling into Mexico next year (Copper Canyons, here we come!)
  4. 20 hours of volunteer work this month so far (at races). I tried a gig volunteering at an animal shelter and it was terrible because I wasn’t allowed to adopt every single thing. I heard there was a position for reading to cats though… To Kill a Mockingbird, anyone?
  5. I am on my four chapter of my next book. It’s about females and endurance. I’ll do a post about this later – there’s too much to tell. I also plan on writing something about all our travels (book #3?).
  6. I am learning the ukulele (banjo next).
  7. I am practicing and improving my Spanish (French next).

Thank you all for your birthday wishes and THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for being part of my life. You are all so special to me.

This is gonna be a good year.


You May Also Enjoy:

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Ontario, Canada: Finding Home Right Where It Always Was

Seeking Dispensers: A Call to Embrace a Wild Life


Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

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.


Direct YouTube Link HERE

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Ontario, Canada: Finding Home Right Where it Always Was


“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” – Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

The first time I held a living monarch in my cupped hands was in a eucalyptus grove in Oceano. By California standards, the morning was chilly even though the sun was out on this late January morning.

The grove, owned by the nearby city of Halcyon, was believed to be land on which Native Americans thrived. I walked in awe under the towering trees with my friends Pat, Caity, and Colin. The dogs, Nigel and Ginger, ran circles at our heels.

I spotted the monarch lying motionless on the ground. Fearing it was dead, I picked it up and squealed with delight when it twitched against my fingers. Then I spotted another one nearby. And another. I looked up and noticed the eucalyptus above me was covered in butterflies, but they were barely moving.

When monarchs get cold, they lose the ability to fly. They rely on the sun to warm their flight muscles and give them mobility. Most monarchs can crawl at temperatures of 41 degrees Fahrenheit, but need a temperature of 55 degrees to fly. These orange and black beauties were chilly.

Later that year in October, I was on the other side of the continent. It was a lovely day by Canadian standards in Cobourg, Ontario, even though I was shivering. The wind off the water whipped sharply against my skin, but the monarchs didn’t seem to mind. They fluttered playfully with the wind, weaving their fragile bodies in figure eights across the shore.

What are they still doing here? I wondered. Shouldn’t they be heading south?

Two years ago, local resident Sue Hedgedus carried out her vision of a monarch way station in Cobourg. With the help of volunteers from the Cobourg Ecology Garden, Sue built the monarchs a safe place to lay their eggs.

Could I really blame them for lingering? After all, I was also clinging to my northern home past the shorts-and-t-shirt season. I was here to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving with my family. It had been two years and 40,000 miles since I had last seen them.

Cobourg Ecology Garden

Thanksgiving was better than expected. The affectionate welcome from my family and the joy of reuniting with my sisters made me wonder why I had been in such a rush to leave.

Two years ago, I boarded a plane at Toronto’s Pearson airport with a dismissive wave and a “good riddance”. I was floundering in a dead-end relationship, overwhelmed by family drama, and frustrated with a lack of trail races. I needed space to breathe. Physical space. I needed mountains and single track and solitude. I needed to be miles away.

In San Diego, I found a surrogate family of trail and ultrarunning friends. I immersed myself in the outdoors. The mountains were a salve for my soul.

I disassociated myself with everything I had left behind in Toronto, and I lost touch. Canada had left a bitter taste in my mouth. I had only seen a sliver of it—a city where I didn’t fit in, and for two years I rolled my eyes at the thought of ever returning.

From San Diego, I had followed the west coast to Alaska. Then last September I asked Shacky if we could drive across Canada. Part of me hoped that it would be wonderful. Another part of me hoped it would be terrible—to prove that I had been right to leave.

Then Alberta happened. The Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, and Banff happened. My jaw dropped at snow-peaked mountains and crystal-clear waters and wildlife that didn’t know how to be afraid.

In Canada, we traveled through some of the most spectacular scenery my nomadic eyes had ever seen. More scenic still than the Alaska highway, the Columbia Gorge, or the lush trails of Oregon—especially beautiful to me, because it was home. This was a country I had always known, yet never known at all.

I discovered friends in Manitoba, enjoyed the hospitality of strangers in Prince Edward Island, and was humbled by the dramatic tides of the Bay of Fundy. Small towns warmed my soul and my heart began to swell with the pride of being a Canadian.

A few months earlier I had been nodding my head at Mark Twain’s account in Roughing It (1872). He, too, had moved to California in 1864 as a journalist, and was inspired by travel.

I posted the following Twain quote on my Facebook wall:

 “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

The first to reply was Michael Sean Comerford, a hitchhiker we had picked up in the Yukon. Michael had been on his way to Anchorage to work at a carnival, but he was a journalist by trade. For one year, he was traveling as a nomadic carny and surviving on carny wages. He was blogging from the road and gathering experiences for a book. Michael carried a tiny notepad where he carefully wrote down our names, and we have been friends ever since.

Expecting Michael’s comment to be pro-travel, I was surprised to read what he actually typed. He said:

“Twain simply did not meet all people or travel to all ‘little corners’ of the earth when he wrote this. I’ve met extraordinary people who’ve never traveled. And what does it mean that he traveled and yet became a misanthrope toward the end of his life.”

Michael’s reply made me pause and think of all the wonderful people we have encountered on our journeys. They were not nomadic. Many of them were 9-5’ers. They had families. They had communities. They had homes.

They offered us food and hot showers and hospitality, opening their lives and sharing everything they had. Far from narrow-minded, they have helped us reconsider our own prejudices and assumptions.

They are trees and we are butterflies. They are less mobile, but no less important, and it is lucky for us that they are rooted to the ground—a safe place to land.

I understand this now.

Our pilgrimage to Alaska is one that many people associate with Christopher McCandless’ journey described in Into the Wild. When Outside magazine posted an article about McCandless’ death, the comments lit up in heated debate between two distinct positions: those who supported McCandless and those who were disgusted by him.

McCandless’ supporters described him as someone who was really living and never hurt anyone. They attacked naysayers with the disturbing implication that people who hold steady jobs and stay close to their families are somehow not fully living.

The opposition identified McCandless’ travels as selfish and indulgent.  They insisted that he did indeed cause much pain to his family.

These days, I am forced to pause and re-examine my day-to-day.

Has my life become so much about mountains, trails, and summits, that I am neglecting the relationships that matter the most? Have I called my mom? Have I written to my sister? Have I Skyped with my friends?

In the end we are influenced—not by those who have seen the best views—but by those who have spent the most time with us, thought about us, and shared in our milestones.

CobourgPlaying on the shores of Cobourg, Ontario

Earlier this month I received an email from a lady named Camille who wanted to profile me for a feature she was writing. The topic was the evolution of the American Dream as it passed from parents to children. What did the American Dream mean to me, and what had it meant to my parents?

This was a topic I had been churning in my brain for some time. Over Skype, I told Camille about my dad’s immigration to Canada, his struggle to provide stability for me, and his quest to accumulate the possessions I grew to shun: a house, a car, and all the amenities of a comfortable life.

At times, I’ve felt guilty about my choice to abandon all the things my parents worked so hard to give me. I reconcile those feelings by reminding myself that my parents didn’t struggle to give me a physical house, but rather freedom—the freedom to educate myself, to write exactly what I think, and to take the unpopular route. I am free to define success on my own terms.

Still, I feel a pull when I am away from my family, and I attribute that to a newfound sense of maturity. It’s that moment when you’ve wandered enough miles to know where your family lives and why it’s important that they know where you are.

After Thanksgiving dinner, it’s already dark outside. I button up my winter coat and follow my family out to the car to say our goodbyes. After hugs and promises to stay in touch, my sisters pack into my mom’s green mini van and make themselves comfortable in the backseat for the long drive back to Toronto.

Kayla, my ten-year-old baby sister, is squashed in the back corner of the van. I can barely see her little limbs as she wiggles herself back outside at the last second. She races toward me and throws her arms around my neck for one last hug. She sobs into my shoulder while my family waits in the car.

I smooth her hair and hug her tight. I tell her how much I love her and how beautiful and strong she is. She can barely catch her breath between her tears.

Kayla’s outpour surprises me. I am as surprised as McCandless might have been to learn that his parents loved him deeply—except I have lived to see that affection firsthand.

I am more than a nomad, a trail runner, and a mountain bum. I am the big sister who sends postcards but rarely calls. And Kayla is the ten-year-old who misses me so very much.

And that’s when it clicks. I know now why the monarchs have not migrated.

Their loved ones are rooted to the earth, and they must linger until the last possible second before flying away.

1383794_10151627805596922_1817614738_nFrom L to R: My sisters Eli, Naty, Emma, Kayla, and me

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road


Monarch populations have been receding at an alarming rate due to the disappearance of the milkweed they depend on. Please consider planting a simple monarch way station in your own garden. Here’s how.

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape

Task from this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge:

Share a picture that means ESCAPE to you.

Here’s mine:

angels14To understand the significance of this photo, we need to rewind to one year ago today. I was days away from permanently leaving my cubicle job in San Diego, spending my last few office days wrapping up paperwork and training my replacement. We had just bought the Rialta RV, our new home, and Shacky was nervous about quitting his job.

There were so many unknowns in our future. We had no idea how to live in an RV, how or where we would shower, whether we would run out of money, or how the animals would handle our travels. It took Shacky another couple of weeks to quit, a move that was far from easy for him.

Fast forward to the day this photo was taken. We are climbing Walter’s Wiggles to get to Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park, one of the most beautiful areas I have ever seen. I look up at Shacky and catch his reaction as he first spots the tight, steep switchbacks going straight up.

Pure bliss.

We are so far removed from where we were one year ago. We have escaped everything.

No longer financially secure, contributing members of our modern society, we have managed to escape “real life”.

An escape from rush hour.
An escape from cubicles.
An escape from crowds.

Now we fall asleep under thick starlight and wake up to glorious sunrises. We set our eyes and our feet on rugged landscapes–sometimes water and sometimes mountain, but always new and secluded and wild.

We’ve escaped.

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Alaska-bound and Other Adventures


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.


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


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Annual Performance Self-Evaluation Assessment for Hobos

It’s that time of year again. All the spiffy worker bees are filling out their employee self-evaluations, looking back on a year of growth and progress. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here in my dreads with the cat attacking the string on my hoodie. I may or may not be wearing any pants.

But fear not Team Hobo! This year will be different. This year we can measure our progress. This year… we have self-evaluations.

Last year, my boyfriend Shacky and I walked away from our office jobs to move into a Rialta RV with our dog Ginger and a stowaway kitty who appeared on our doorstep (pregos!) as we were getting ready to leave. Our life since then has been one trail adventure after another, and we are very much enjoying a life free of the 9 to 5 grind followed by the 6 to 10 chores and housework.

Here are some videos to give you an idea of what our life is now like:

RV Living and Traveling in the USA

Direct YouTube Link HERE

Quitting Our Jobs to Live in a Rialta RV

Direct YouTube Link HERE

Trail Running Adventures In Utah

Direct YouTube Link HERE

Although we are carefree, we are still growing and learning. When our days become a blur of mountains and beaches and furry animals, it can be difficult to measure our progress. Especially when we don’t know what day it is.

Here to help, are six main categories of hobo living, followed by a series of statements to help with our self-evaluation. I would like to tag the following hobos and invite them to fill out this evaluation on their own blogs:

And you can fill it out too! If you’re at all interested in living simply, embracing minimalism, and love to travel, feel free to see how you stack up and post on your own blog. Find out if you’re ready to join Team Hobo! Any suggestions for additions or edits to the evaluation are welcome too.

My answers are included below.

FYI: We loosely define “hobos” as people who have either given up their homes or their jobs (or both) to pursue travel, a simpler life, and/or financial freedom. The “hobos” we know are nomadic, free thinkers, open minded, and are always grateful for a hot shower and a cold beer. They have all chosen this lifestyle.


The Self-Evaluation Assessment for Hobos

Please give yourself a letter grade (A, B, C, D, F) for each of the following six categories, and briefly describe your evaluation.

1. Embracing Minimalism

A – We have gotten rid of 95 percent of everything we own. Our RV is small enough that we can’t keep anything that doesn’t serve multiple purposes, even if we wanted to.

2. Feeding Hobbies

A – Our lifestyle revolves around trail running, our only major hobby.

3. Managing Expenses

D – Being new to hobo life, we spent the first couple of months eating out a lot. We now eat most of our meals in the RV and are learning where to buy cheap fresh fruit and veggies. This last month has been a huge improvement, but our annual performance overall is still low.

4. Learning New Things

B – I’m learning a lot about trail running, but I’m not reading as much as I’d like to on different topics. I have many unread books on my Kindle that I’ve been meaning to get to.

5. Personal Growth

A – The hobo transition has taught me so much about who I really am, and what I love to do. I’ve learned to stay true to myself.

6. Balancing Relationships

B – We have had the amazing privilege of developing new relationships and spending time with people we previously only knew via Facebook. We can still do better with this though. Both Shacky and I love our solitude as well.


Now for the following statements, please rate yourself as:

  • Below Average
  • Satisfactory
  • Above Average
  • Superior

Briefly explain your ranking.

I know how to discreetly steal toilet paper.

Satisfactory – It’s easier when you carry a purse, which I rarely do.

I prepare meals in under five minutes.

Satisfactory – We are eating mostly raw, which cuts down drastically on meal prep.

I always know the location of the nearest spot I can spend the night.

Satisfactory – Shacky is really good at this, but we’re still nervous about getting “kicked out”. We’ve only been kicked out once, from a Walmart.

I manage to find a hot shower at least once a week.

Satisfactory – When hot showers are unavailable, rivers and creeks and trailhead faucets are great substitutes.

I know who my boss is.

Superior – Kitty is boss. She sleeps wherever she wants and we dare not kick her off, even if our legs are cramping up.

I set and meet weekly goals.

Superior – Mileage and climbing goals for us. I track my goals weekly and monthly, hitting at least 200 miles/month. My mileage has been increasing for the past six consecutive months. Woo!

I know what my benefits are.

Superior – Fresh air, freedom, the open road, travel, adventure, and exploration.

I give back to my community.

Satisfactory – We are looking forward to even more volunteering in the coming year. We love to help out at races and fatass events.

My workload is realistic and achievable.

Superior – I only work on things that I love.

I have mastered the art of dumpster diving.

Below Average – We have yet to try this. But we’re intrigued!

I know where to find an electrical outlet.

Satisfactory – We can find outlets, but the trick is to find one where we don’t feel obligated to buy anything. Haven’t mastered that last part yet.

I know where the nearest wifi is at all times.

Satisfactory – We have a cool app that helps us out, and we continue to improve. Libraries are great, and we were thrilled to learn that the beautiful and quaint Old Temecula has city-wide wifi.

I keep every plastic bag I come across.

Superior – We use these these for garbage, dirty clothes, and plastic wrap. Easily reusable as well.

I re-use tea bags.

Satisfactory – I like my tea relatively weak, so it’s not much of a problem. But drying them out is a pain.

I don’t pay for salt and condiments. Packets are free at Taco Bell.

Satisfactory – The little packets are so cute! We’re still working through some older stuff from the house as well.

I don’t pay for forks and knives. They are free at Taco Bell.

Below Average – We still mostly use our own cutlery.

I raid Lost and Founds.  

Below Average – We have yet to do this! Seems a litttle like stealing to me though…

I always use public toilets to poop.

Satisfactory – We rarely poop in our own RV. Porta-potties, coffee shops, McDonalds… all fair game.

Actually, sometimes I poop in the woods.

Superior – Guilty as charged.

Thank you for time, hobos. You may now continue doing whatever you want, all of the time.

Coming Soon: My friend Margaret is having Team Hobo T-shirts made. Stay tuned!



How I Retired by Age 30

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

How to Spring Clean Your Second Wave Shit

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.


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