I can’t believe it’s been four years already. Looking back on this whole journey has been a bit surreal, and if you are a person who likes a high level overview of events, you might want to read my previous annual emotional arc posts listed below before reading this one. If you want to skip all of the self reflection then you can scroll past all the text and look at the pictures of some of my favorite experiences of the year.
The year started out with us working at Amazon, completing the last of the “Big Five” work kamping jobs. From the very beginning I wanted to try all of the “Big 5” types of jobs and see what was a good fit for us, and Amazon was the very last of those. Ironically, Amazon turned out to be Lee’s least favorite, by miles. Just ask him, he’ll tell you why. He’s been pretty mellow about the different work we have done, but the extreme micro management at Amazon drove him absolutely crazy. Couple that with lots of time to think, and some personal family issues he was dealing with, and it was a rough couple of months for him. I was in pretty good shape though, once I got a decent pair of shoes and got past the physical demands of the job. We were both glad to be heading to Columbus to spend Christmas with some family members when it was all over.
As soon as Christmas was over we ran south to get away from the cold and started gate guarding again, and as soon as we were back in the west Lee’s mood improved. Our first assignment was just over the border from Jal, NM and the cold and wind was not the greatest, but we were glad we got a gate pretty quickly. Thankfully we were done with that gig in a few short weeks and then we moved to an awesome gate in south Texas where we hung out until March. While we were gate guarding I had lots of time to write and finished the first draft of a book about becoming full timers and wrote several reflective posts. One was called Phases of Fulltiming and does a nice job of summarizing the first three years and talking about my hopes for Year Four. Back in January I wrote “I would like year four to be about living a life that makes me personally happy and fulfilled, and I really want to focus on that. In the past, I have spent an awful lot of time and energy worrying about other people’s well being instead of focusing on myself. It’s a difficult balance, because I do believe that a good person puts others in front of themselves, but I also realize that ultimately I only have one life to live and I should definitely make the most of it. Hopefully I can maintain a balance this year by letting go of unproductive emotions and focusing on the positive ones.” Looking back on Year Four I think I made substantial progress in this area.
I also wrote a post called Do We Think About Stopping that talked about whether the challenges of the lifestyle made us want to quit. It was a fair question, because a few people we know have gotten off the road this past year, although most of our friends are still going strong. One of the main things I came to grip with this year is to some extent the lifestyle “ruins” you for a traditional life. Don’t get me wrong, people do successfully transition back to a sticks and bricks life (our friends Kat/Bert and Jo/Ben both successfully transitioned back to stick and bricks this year) but many of us have trouble visualizing ourselves staying in one place or getting traditional jobs again. The relative freedom of full-timing is pretty heady stuff and the vagabond lifestyle (for us at least) is addicting. I did do a follow-up to that post called Solo Strategy, where I took a hard look at what this lifestyle would mean for me if I had to do it alone and came to the conclusion that if something happened to Lee I would probably get off the road. This lifestyle works for me very well as part of a couple, but I am pretty sure I wouldn’t want to do it alone. After much thought and discussion I realized I am OK with that too, it just makes me more convinced that we should enjoy every minute of this while we can.
So January through March were soul searching months and we were both really happy when we were done. We were heading to the RV-Dreams reunion rally in Pahrump, Nevada and would be seeing a lot of friends we hadn’t seen in a long time. This rally had been on our schedule for over a year and we were thrilled that so many of the “Class of 2014” was going to be there. As a bonus our travel plans coincided with Jo and Ben, and just the four of us were able to boondock for a few days before the rally. Jo and Ben have been a part of our lives since our first RV-Dreams rally, before we even started, and after several years traveling and working on the road as nurses they had decided that they were going to come off the road and settle back in Colorado. Although I know they will be our friends forever, I was glad we got to reconnect in person with them prior to them settling down in one place.
After the reunion rally we were spending a month in Utah, and for the first time we were traveling for an extended period with no strict travel plans. We had a rough idea of things we wanted to see, but ultimately let weather and personal preference drive our travel. That went so much better than I think either one of us thought it would and we ended up boondocking for almost the entire month as well. Utah in April was an absolute dream and I loved every minute of it. The landscapes were better than even Alaska from my perspective and I left wanting to return as soon as we possibly could. I also for the first time got to experience what it might be like to be a travel writer and spent day after day putting out these adventure filled posts. Every day was so full of experiences that ultimately we needed to slow down so I could take a little break, which is really a wonderful situation to be in.
At the end of April we headed up to Mount Hood, Oregon, for the first time returning to the same company for the summer. I had been offered a lead position and was excited to see if I could find a way to meld my professional and my travel life together. Up until this point one of my major dissatisfactions with the life was my inability to find work that stretched me mentally and I wanted to see what it would look like to be personally and professionally fulfilled. The only downside was because I was in a lead position I couldn’t blog much about my life and I found that I really missed it. Turns out that the additional professional responsibility also meant more hours and less creative energy. I found myself working incredibly hard and taking my work “home” with me. There was very little time this summer for any kind of fun and even when we had those experiences it was almost impossible to put work aside. I kept plugging away at it, in the hopes I would find a balance, but ultimately never did.
The difficult thing was I really enjoyed the work itself and felt good about what I was contributing. The politics, personnel issues, and red tape wore me down though, and reminded me of exactly why I had left my former job. I think the major thing I walked away with this summer was that for me at least I couldn’t have one without the other. The same drive that made me good at what I did, also brought the cost of more stress and difficulty unplugging. Before I started this life I just accepted that cost as a necessary evil and thought someday when I retired it would be different. I knew there were jobs with less stress, but I also knew I found them unfulfilling. My experiment in trying to get both in one job that fulfilled both things was a bust and I really didn’t know what to do about that. I started seriously looking for a regular job, updating resumes, talking to head hunters, but despite the low unemployment rate the jobs I was interested in weren’t interested in me and the ones where I thought I had a shot were not a direction I wanted to go. I was left feeling angry and frustrated and really I was emotionally a hot mess.
It didn’t help that while I was looking for a job we had an expensive trip to Vegas to see family and a variety of other things coming at me. I had a biopsy that was clear but came with a $4K bill (ultimately I negotiated the costs down) and a series of real life issues during our travels that were stressing me out. Towards the end of October, we limped into San Antonio to see our friends Cori and Greg, and all I wanted was a break. I wanted to unplug, forget about everything, and give myself time to deal with my emotions. Turns out Cori and Greg are pretty good people to do that with. As I am writing this post it is the four year anniversary of the day we closed on our house, left home, and immediately drove to see Cori and Greg. They were there with us on day one of our journey, and are with us again today. Being with people who understand that this lifestyle is a process is invaluable. This year we have been with some very good friends (Kelly and Bill, Steve and Deb, Howard and Linda, Jo and Ben, Rick Raab and Georgia and Jim to name a few) at critical times and always through word and deed they give us permission to figure it out. What I mean by that is we don’t have to have all of the answers. None of them do either, and they are pretty honest about that, they just make the best choices they can and live their lives the best they can, being aware that the one constant is things change. For someone like me, who leans towards wanting a life blueprint, that understanding is a huge gift.
And surrounded by people who support me, my husband being the largest piece of that, working through my feelings really didn’t take that long. As often happens to me, there was one encounter that more than anything else really put things in perspective. Back in 2016 we went to a Reunion Rally and met a couple named Mikki and Jay. It turned out they were on a break from gate guarding less than an hour from us, so we met halfway for lunch one day. Over the last two years, Mikki and I had stayed in virtual contact and since we had started before them, she had reached out a few times to ask me some questions. I was really excited about seeing her in person and finding out how the life was suiting her when we had our lunch. The conversation was great and they were obviously kindred spirits and as is so often the case we learned some things hearing about their last two years. One story she told really got my attention. She told us about a summer job she had gotten working at McDonald’s. Before going on the road, Mikki had a high profile management job, but she really loved her time as a cashier at McDonald’s. She found it relaxing and really fun and I could tell from looking at her when she told the story she meant every word of it.
That moment really stuck with me and I kept coming back to it over the next few days. She had started in a similar place as I had, but she seemed to have skipped most of the internal conflict and more importantly seemed better for it. The best way to describe it was she was totally zen about the work thing in a way I really wished I could be. And for the first time, I really thought, if she can be zen why can’t I??? It was clear to me for the first time that it was a choice and she was making it and it was working for her. Don’t get me wrong, I have met tons of people who are perfectly content doing these type of jobs, but I have never before felt that could be me. I have no doubt part of that was my being in the right head space to accept it, but it was also partly her. You just can’t fake being that comfortable in your own skin. So Mikki thanks for that. I don’t know if I will ever get there, but I appreciate you being you!
After the lunch with Mikki and Jay, Lee and I had a series of conversations, we had decided to accept a different position with the same company for next summer and as nice as it was to be “locked in”, a huge part of me was struggling with giving up on going back to my profession. This was not a new internal argument, but this time it seemed more final somehow and I decided to turn the argument around and focus on what advantages there could be to having a regular route and set jobs in place. The one thing that kept coming back to me was the fact that if we had somewhat regular jobs and route based travel it would make it easier to have a dog. I missed having a pet and had toyed with the idea a couple of times while we were on the road, but this time I was pretty serious. Lee to his credit, despite serious misgivings, took a step back and let me play it out and I spent a ton of time researching and looking for a dog. I wrote a post about the challenges I had during the search recently, but I only lightly touched on the emotional turmoil I was in. It was a statement of sorts and a commitment to exploiting the positives of the simplified life we live. I had a good enough handle on myself to make sure that I didn’t make a bad decision, and was completely aware that it was a living being we were talking about, but adding a dog to our travels was definitely about more than just getting a dog.
And it turned out that getting Jack has brought me a ton of joy. I didn’t realize how much I had missed a dog’s presence in my life, until he came into it. I know it’s early days yet, but we have been super lucky and Lee has been really happy with Jack so far too. Aside from the fantastic puppy kisses and snuggles, he has reminded me that life is about more than work. Fulfillment comes in many forms and I was doing myself a disservice by so narrowly defining how I could provide value in this world. As I am writing this, I realize that this whole thing may sound sort of nuts and melodramatic. I’ll just say that on some level I have been struggling with who I am without my old career for the last three years. I won’t say that I am totally “cured”, but I will say that getting a dog and actually having time to spend with it, reminded me of a younger, simpler self and I think that is a good thing.
And finally, here are some pictures of my favorite experiences of the year. As always, I judge my life to some extent by the pictures I take and experiences I had and it’s always fun to look back and see what we did. As you can see, despite my personal challenges, we had an amazingly full year with loads of experiences. As I look at these at the end of Year Four, more than anything else I feel very blessed and look forward to seeing what Year Five brings.
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