Zen On Dirt


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A Year of Scamplife

It’s been a year since we moved into the Scamp for our long-term road trip. Ok, that’s not fair, it’ll be a year next weekend, but right now I have a rainy morning in Tucson at a coffee shop with good internet, so a bit of reflection is in order.

Working on the road and traveling had been a dream of mind since my good friends Bama and Tanesha bought a 32-foot Airstream to live in. I was smitten with the giant tube of aluminum and spent the next several years in a combination of ogling various trailers, living out of cars, minivans, temporary rentals before the circumstances finally lined up to buy the Scamp.

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Learning Scamplife at Gilbert Ray campground outside of Tucson a year ago. Still a favorite spot.

Scott and I both work by looking into a computer screen and could do so anywhere where we were connected to the internet. Phone tethering technology had finally gotten to the point where relying on cellular data was feasible. And probably most importantly, we’d lost the house that we’d been renting out in the winters in Tucson because the landlord decided that she wanted full-year renters.

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We were in the Moab area for six weeks. We camped alone only a handful of nights. We’ll be back this spring.

So we bought the Scamp and got rid of as much of our stuff as we could. For full disclosure – we both have some boxes of stuff at our parents’ house. We have a few bikes hanging out in Winter Park. I still have my backcountry ski gear should the urge ever hit again. 

But we got rid of pretty much everything. The 13-foot Scamp has inside dimensions of 10x6x6 ft, a two-burner stove, a propane-powered mini-fridge, a propane powered heater, lights, a set of bunk beds that can be converted into a couch that we use as shelving, and a bed that turns into a table.

We have one bike each. A bin of cooking stuff. My favorite cast iron pan. Two bins of bikepacking/camping stuff. A bin of clothing each. And a Soda Stream for fizzy water. Yes. We have a Soda Stream and use it nearly every day.

Sparse. But perfect. We love it.

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Mighty Scamp!

I’ve always tried to live simply and the Scamp embodies the simplicity while still maintaining a level of comfort that I enjoy. Every item we have underwent a rigorous assessment: Is it worth the weight and space?

But we have everything we need, and in a world that is being destroyed by over consumption, it feels good to enjoy having little. Every time we ponder buying something new, we think about what we’d get rid of in order to make room, so we tend to buy very little. We notice much more of what we consume since our electricity/internet/water are limited. We have to find places to get rid of our rubbish, so we try to produce as little of it as possible. There’s a level of awareness in this existence that I don’t get when living in a house.

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I do apparently have a shoe problem.

This small and simple living has endless advantages in my mind. For one, it doesn’t cost a lot. Sure, before we got our second solar panel, we ran our battery down in the forests of the North Kaibab Plateau and had to pay $36 for a night at an RV park because Tour Divide was starting and Scott needed his computer, and sometimes we pay for camping in order to be in a National Park, and we’ll pay for Forest Service camping as needed (but hey, I’d rather support the National Parks and Forest Service than a bank giving me a loan). And of course, there’s our propane bill which amounts to about $12 a month. But we have no mortgage payment or rent. We’re not paying interest in car loans. We have no debt and a healthy savings. We are also very lucky to both be healthy. I never take that one for granted.

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Kaibab Plateau. Not so great for solar power.

We’ve spent the past year traveling to all of our favorite places in the southwest. From Tucson to the Grand Canyon to Moab to Bryce Canyons to Winter Park to Salida to Moab to the Grand Canyon and back to Tucson.

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Transfer days are always exciting. The Sportsvan does good.

We’ve seen and adventured and made memories with far more people that we would have if we’d stayed in one spot. Since the loss of the existence of a stable social circle was one of my big fears when starting this experiment, I can’t believe how much I feel like my social experience has been enhanced. We place ourselves into areas of annual pilgrimage, Moab in the Spring, Salida in the summer, Tucson in the winter, and we make it a priority to see the people who are there right then. Instead of having regular relationships with people who we see often, we have much more intense encounters with people because we known that we’re just souls passing through, and we’ve got to make the most of the time we have together. I think I prefer it that way. At least for now.

I’m sure we’ll settle down someday.

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Kait puts her feet up after a full moon-lit overnight Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim crossing of the Grand Canyon with me. We were on our way to Tucson. Kait on her way to Australia. Flexibility was key in making this one happen.

But when it comes down to it, what have I missed about “regular” living? Sometimes it would be really nice to lay down on a bed while Scott needs the table to work. If the weather is dismal, it sure would be nice to have more space to move around inside. I would love to be more involved in community activities that require a longer term commitment than I can offer. I’d love to have a garden and a dog (or two) and a cat and chickens. I’d love to have a property on a long trail and act as a trail angel. An oven to bake bread would be amazing.

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Back in Southern AZ for the winter, where sunsets are platinum and the coyotes sing us to sleep.

But here’s my thought: Someday I’ll have all of those things (or at least some of them), and when that time comes, I’ll appreciate them all the more. A house and property ownership won’t be something that we fall into, it’ll be something that we choose.

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Every sunset it a cause for a pause in life and a moment of celebration and appreciation. 

But for now, as plans for spring season in Moab are starting to take shape, I’m pretty excited to have the set up we have right now. It’s not a life for everyone, but it’s the life we’ve chosen and made work with some level of grace. And I love that.


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Reintegration after a month back

The full moon came and went a few nights ago. We watched it from our Scamp site near Picket Post Mountain just east of Superior on the Arizona Trail. I’m not particularly good at knowing the date, or often what day it actually is, so I measure the passage of time by the size of the moon in the sky. And the passage of the full moon means we’ve been back from New Zealand for just about a month.

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Wow.

I’ve always struggled with reintegration after a big trip or big event. The whole ‘the higher you fly, the farther you fall’ idea. And trust me, I was flying high throughout most of New Zealand. I freakin’ loved New Zealand. I loved our trip. I loved the food. I loved the people we met.

But as it turns out, I’m polyamorous.  I really love the desert and Tucson too. And the food here – how I missed bottomless diner coffee and tortillas made with lard.

And after a full month here, and most people in this Great US of A would agree, a trying month on many levels, I haven’t fallen. I’ve spent some time thinking about why this is because I’d like to integrate these lessons into my life as I move forward on this path of being human.

I, historically, am prone to depression in the winter months when I have no big plans on the horizon and have just come back from something big, exhausting, and semi-epic. Scott and I actually made a half-assed bet, sometime riding through NZ, that when we returned home, I’d struggle.

But it hasn’t happened.

So here are some of my theories on my newfound enjoyment of days when traditionally I’ve wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear.

1)We live in a Scamp and have minimal stuff.

After 28 hours of travel, Lee picked us up at the Tucson airport and brought us back to the Scamp that he’d brought back from its storage spot in Tubac. Everything was exactly where we’d left it (not that we could remember where everything was, but we found stuff eventually), and we hooked it up to the van and towed it out to Gilbert Ray campground, one of our favorite spots.

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The past several years, when we’ve come back from summer adventures, we’ve moved into a house and had to deal with a shed full of stuff that somehow we believed we needed. There was the unpacking, the dusting off of crap, the wondering of why we needed so much stuff if we’d just spent the summer not missing any of it.

Stuff is stupid. Stuff weighs me down. I love our 360 cubic feet of Scamp and every useful item in it.

We spent almost a week at Gilbert Ray, charging our dead battery and playing on the nearby trails.

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2)The weather went to shit, which was really funny.

Every time it was cold in NZ, which was often, we joked about changing our tickets to go back to Tucson. So the joke really was on us when after three days of good weather, it started to rain.

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The crummy weather, to me, was actually funny. And it made me feel like I wasn’t really missing out of much while we recovered from travel and a big final two weeks in NZ. One of the big triggers of my sadness is if I don’t feel like I’m making the most of the days and opportunities I’ve been given.

When the weather is shit and work is plentiful, I can putter along quite happily making money and not going out to do big things. I knew I needed to recover, the weather facilitated the process.

3) I have awesome friends in Tucson, and there was all sorts of stuff going on all of the time.

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Wendi had a birthday, so we celebrated with whiskey and bikes. Starr Pass is chock full of new trails, and they got rid of the three horrid dips that I dreaded having to ride every time I went out there.

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Heather and Jeff from Fairbanks came down for their week in the desert. Alexis was in town for 9+ days. We all went on a massive group ride that actually kept moving fairly well for being nine people strong.

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Tuesday night girls’ rides were resurrected. Though they seem to have devolved into ‘Let’s ride bikes for a little bit, go get burritos, and then soak in the hot tub for longer that we rode bikes for.’ And I’m totally stoked on the new development.

4) We’ve stayed on the move without really leaving Tucson.

I’m not good at being in one spot. But I also know that I need time during the year to recenter and recharge. We’ve developed a routine of spending a week camped on the outskirts of Tucson in our various favorite spots, and then returning to our in-town campsite (which comes fully equipped with four dogs and a new kitty to love on) in order to run town errands, eat Seis burritos, and hang out with friends. After a few nights in town, we’re ready to head out to someplace new.

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We headed out to Willow Springs for some cold weather camping (the Scamp was 32 degrees one morning, it took 15 minutes of heater time to get it up to 50) and for me to race the Oracle Rumble 50k. I’d signed up for the running race a week prior because it was on one of my favorite sections of the Arizona Trail from the Freeman water cache to Oracle State Park. And really, I could totes pull a 50k out of my ass after nearly three months of minimal running.

And I did. The first 20 miles were great. The last 12…well, let’s just say there was some struggling and bargains of ‘If you run to the next course marker, then you can walk until the following one.’ Still, I finished in six hours and change and was pretty happy with the effort.

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There was an Antelope Peak make-up ride the next day, so a bunch of PHX folks came down to say Hi. Shannon and Sam also came up and conned me into riding a lap of the 24-Hour course. Good idea? Probably not, but it was nice to get out and spin the legs after my night of moaning and groaning from soreness.

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Kurt came up for a couple of nights of camping, and we got in a final ride with Alexis before she had to point back north to snowy Utah. This ride hurt. That 50k apparently caused some damage to the energy levels. Totes worth it.

We headed back to Tucson for our weekly recharge.

5) I’m learning to appreciate each situation for what it is.

I’m no scholar of enlightenment or the search for happiness, but I’m a firm believer in working really hard to appreciate the good in each situation. Sure, Tucson is a big city by my standards, the traffic can be trying when attempting to get anywhere, and the Ghetto Bird police helicopter seems to fly every night, but the people are fantastic, it’s amazingly diverse, and there’s no shortage of good food to taste.

And 10 minutes of human-powered effort from the Genser Trailhead puts you deep into Tucson Mountain Park and you can forget there’s a big city just over the horizon.

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No place is ideal. The Scamp has let me embrace the fact that I don’t have to call any one place home, I can appreciate each place for what it has and forgive it for what it doesn’t.

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Tucson has Cat Mountain, a beautifully rubbly scramble that lets you survey everything that is around.

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It also has Agua Caliente Hill, which provides as good of a kick in the ass as any big mountain in Colorado. Think you’re fit? Think again.

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And then there’s that whole sunset thing…New Zealand didn’t have sunsets like these.

I can’t say that it’s been all rainbows and unicorns since we’ve been back. I’ve had my fits of grumpies, but all in all, the days are getting longer, the temperatures are getting warmer, and things are looking up.

And while a part of me is surprised at this smooth reintegration, there’s a part of me that isn’t. #Scamplife has allowed me to exist in a manner that feeds my soul, keeps me engaged, and surrounds me with beauty. The temporary nature of our time in Tucson makes me appreciate it for all of it’s amazingness and put a high priority on spending time with the people who are important to me.

Some combination of all that, makes me happy. I love the desert. (And I love New Zealand, too.)