We just celebrated our 2 year anniversary of living in the van–of living Sprinter Life! Here’s the story of how and why we chose to be homeless:
Two years ago, I was dragging bags of clothing and food from our Venice apartment out onto the boardwalk and giving them away to the first homeless people to cross my path.
At the same time, Tree was packing dry-bags full of splash jackets, headlamps, sleeping bags, neoprene booties, and all of the countless base layers we were going to need on our upcoming twenty-one day, private raft/kayak trip down the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon, with fourteen other family members and friends.
We were both so overwhelmed by the tasks-at-hand that neither one of us quite realized the transformation that was underway—namely, that we were becoming homeless people ourselves.
At the time, I was on the precipice of getting laid-off from my corporate sales job that I hated with a fanatic intensity–and, yet, I was aggressively interviewing to get another one just like it. In any case, without my added income, we would no longer be able to afford our expensive beachfront apartment, so we were moving out of it to “stay in front of” our finances. Beyond that, we had no plan.
But all of those handwringing, hair-graying, silly socioeconomic concerns like paychecks, places to live, and job titles had to be put on hold for three whole weeks while we went on, what Tree kept calling, “A Trip of a Lifetime!” He was insufferably excited—like a little boy about to go camping in the wilderness with all of his best friends or something—while I, on the other hand, was on my Blackberry afire with pissed off clients, cursing the failure of some modern technology with too many acronyms, as my signal cut in an out the whole way to the put-in.
How the Grand Canyon Changed Everything
Finally, the time came to leave it all behind. Bye-bye cell phones, emails, traffic jams, alarm clocks, clients, and my passive-aggressive prick of a boss. We got in our big yellow boats packed with enough food and supplies to sustain us for twenty-one days. Once we pushed off, there would be no easy way out. We were going off the grid, completely self-supported, shitting in ammo cans—pack it in, pack it out—the whole nine yards.
Now, at this point, I could wax poetic about how relaxing it was to sleep under the stars and drift downriver through billion year old schist and granite walls, but that would not be telling the whole truth. Running the Grand Canyon, as a self-supported trip at least, is not always relaxing, comfortable, or particularly ‘safe.’ It’s not three weeks sipping Piña Coladas in a luxury resort in Cancun. It’s foot blistering, cuticle cracking, backbreaking hard work, and sometimes I feared for my life.
But that’s what makes it so…rewarding. Working hard for the right reasons is a good thing.
I was happy. VERY happy. Happier than I had ever been in my entire life.
Why? 1) Tribal Connection and Relevancy to the Big Picture, and 2) the Read-and-Run.
Tribal Connection + Relevancy to the Big Picture
In my corporate job, I spent countless hours attending team meetings, updating Salesforce, creating Excel spreadsheets, troubleshooting technical problems, and presenting Power Points, after all of which I would ask myself, what does this have to do with my life? Contrarily, there is no irrelevant job on the Grand Canyon, and there’s plenty to be done. Every person has a chore to do, and each chore is equally important. We all worked together towards a common goal–mostly to eat, drink, have fun, and make it to the next camp alive–and I felt a peace in knowing that my contribution mattered, that I was more than a replaceable cog in a capitalist wheel, that I was truly valuable.
I felt more fulfilled rolling up my sleeves with a tribe of peeps to whom I was emotionally invested, doing grunt work that was relevant to the big picture of my life, than I ever did working for the man.
I learned to paddle an inflatable kayak, called an IK or a ducky, through some easy, read-and-run rapids while we were on the river. Read-and-Run is a term used by paddlers to both describe a rapid and to indicate how it can be run. It means that you don’t have to get out of your boat and scout; you can “read” the water by locating the obstacles from your boat and simply “run” the rapid.
Here’s what you do: You point your ducky straight downriver on the V-shaped tongue that leads into the rapid and paddle hard. You avoid big rocks called ‘pour-overs’ and big churning mosh-pits of foamy water called ‘holes.’ If you get pushed sideways, you straighten out.
The trick is to relax, stay present, go with the flow, paddle hard, and not worry about swimming or the next rapid or anything else for that matter, because if you do, you invariably do everything you are not supposed to do. You have to stay calm and in the moment so you can respond with ease, clarity, and precision.
The payoff is exhilarating. To be frozen in motion, existing fully one nanosecond at a time, living in technicolor with your life stop-framing, senses on high, sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste…oh to taste thin tinny fear mixed with the bloody iron of courage–to taste living–that is happiness.
Life is a Read-and-Run rapid, not by virtue of it always being easy, but because there is no way to get off the river to scout it. The more present and aware you are in it, the smoother your line will be as you navigate your way through the obstacles. I was anything but ‘in the moment’ back in my ‘normal’ life. My mind was constantly elsewhere, running circles around some hypothetical stress exploding in the ether—always thinking about the next rapid. It’s no wonder I felt like I was being cycled in a rabid hydraulic, barely able to catch a breath before being sucked back under the foam.
The marked difference in my level of happiness between the real world, where I felt irrelevant, alienated, and outside of life–and the river world, where I felt valued, a part of and in harmony with nature and my tribe–was too big to ignore.
The Pursuit of Happiness
Considering my own quest for happiness, I began to ponder the broader, more famous Pursuit of Happiness. The concept was first discussed by the philosopher John Locke before being modified and applied by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.
What exactly did Jefferson mean when he substituted happiness for property as an inalienable right? It seems to me that for many of us these days, Jefferson might as well have left property in place. Today the pursuit of happiness often means no more than the pursuit of wealth and status as embodied in a McMansion and a Mercedes. (Oh, wait. Don’t we drive one of those? :))
One thought is that Jefferson was inspired to make the imaginative leap from property to happiness from John Locke’s 1693 Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Locke explains that the pursuit of happiness is more complex than mere materialism or even hedonism. Rather, it engages our deeper faculties, requiring the careful discrimination of imaginary and fleeting happiness (the kind you get from drinking a six-pack and watching Friends) from “true and solid” happiness (the kind you might feel by doing something good for someone else, summiting a mountain, learning something new, or perhaps by watching your child takes its first step). Indeed, it is the “foundation of liberty” because it frees us from being enslaved by those base desires (say, for designer jeans and yet another surfboard) that may only fulfill us for a brief moment. In other words,
The Pursuit of Happiness is a manner of living that enriches our life experience and expresses our liberty–something consumerism (lust for property) cannot do.
The American Dream
I had not been living the happy lifestyle. In fact, mine was the opposite. I felt like Sisyphus pushing a really heavy rock called the American Dream up a really big hill, and it was time to let it go. The irony, of course, is that the American Dream is supposed to be about having the financial freedom and economic security to live “the good life,” but so often we spend all of our time and energy working to ensure our freedom and security, only to spend it on a cycle of debt and ownership that enslaves us and ends up costing us the time of our lives. The American Dream is an illusion fueled by always wanting more. It is the unattainable carrot that runs us ragged with the fear that if we stop chasing it, we will surely perish, and only if we catch it can we ever be happy.
The Birth of Sprinter Life
Clearly, it was time to say fuck the carrot and to reclaim the pursuit of happiness from the clutches of consumerism. It was time to give up the American dream to pursue our own dream. It was time to bring Sprinter Life into the world!
Tree and I had already discussed driving the Pan-American Highway, but after the Grand Canyon river trip, the deal was done. I was definitely not going back to corporate America, which suited Tree just fine. He lived in a van when I met him (I really know how to pick ‘em!) and was more than eager to get back to road-life. We decided that we were going to sell my car and move into the Sprinter fulltime. From there, the rest of the plan seemed to write itself.
Life On The Road
In the spring of 2010, we drove from Los Angeles to Canada on a self-led wine tour that took us to over 150 wineries. We also took a brief detour and went to Cuba (click for photos). During that time we learned a key lesson about living together in small spaces and how to appreciate The Time of Our Lives.
In the summer of 2010 we won another Grand Canyon permit and ran it for 14 days, this time just the two of us! We got engaged at the bottom of Lava Falls and had Epiphanies about how to stay in love as beings in flux.
In the fall of 2010, we crossed the border into Mexico, let go of the State Department induced fear and became open to experiencing ‘other.’ We started opening our hearts to the Have-Nots, declaring our Global Citizenship, and speaking out about the Drug War.
In the winter of 2010 we discovered that there are more of us out there! We embraced a community of expats, overlanders, backpackers, and adventurers, who are also living alternative lifestyles, reclaiming their own pursuit of happiness. We love you Jene, Miranda, Miguel, Ceci, Tanya, Eddy, Joyce, George, Emily, Chad, Dave, Ann, Espen, Malin, Alex, Monica, Zach, Natazha, Shaun, Paula, Guillermo, Mauricio, Nati, Nico, Charlie, Cami, Claudia, , Daniel and Marcela… The list goes on, and, if I did not write your name, please forgive me. Leave a comment, raise holy hell, and let your voice/my love be heard!
Somewhere along the way we expanded our Pan-American trip into a full-on lifestyle and announced our intention to Drive Around the World. But is the lifestyle specifically being nomadic? Or minimalist? Or RTW overlanders? No.
It’s a lifestyle of reclaiming the pursuit of happiness and how we do that will change as we change. For right now, slow travel is a manner of living that enriches our lives and expresses our liberty, but that is not set in stone either. It’s a lifestyle about being authentic and finding a way to express our souls’ unique purpose on this planet. It’s a Read-and-Run lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle that is relevant to living and loving and communing with nature and other beings on this planet.
It’s not a lifestyle about dreaming the good life; it’s a lifestyle about Living the Dream . -STEVIE