A little over a week ago I sat behind the wheel of my Toyota 4Runner watching the endless miles of red desert that border I-70 disappear behind our little 13 foot trailer. This our home–once our dream of freedom, now our albatross. Lightning flickered ahead in the distance and I braced for one last desert thunderstorm as we crossed from Utah into Colorado. I couldn’t begin to guess when I’d be back out west of the Rocky Mountains to witness another one like it.
Today I’m literally right back where I started a year ago–in Massachusetts. Fewer dollars in my pocket–and fewer options to explore. It would be more cathartic to say that we went big and failed big–crashed and burned–but fizzled out is really more honest. The logistics of life on the road are all about trade-offs. Being able to negotiate those exchanges is a delicate process that requires a certain independence that we don’t have. Financial independence was the main culprit, looking back. Also looking forward.
Making a living is nearly impossible without time, resources and focus to create something valuable. After struggling to make enough money to pay for the trailer, gas and pay for RV sites to park where some semblance of work could still happen–with power and wifi–I tired of the tail wagging the dog. We were running ourselves ragged trying to make the lifestyle work but it just wasn’t giving back.
Instead of climbing, shooting photographs and hosting meetups I was doing cubicle style work to pay the bills at hot, gritty picnic tables where I couldn’t even see my computer screen because of the suns glare. It took me twice as long (and was half as enjoyable) to do the same work. This struggle came to a crux at the realization that our sacrifices to live this way were not building LivingVertical into a more authentic message. Somewhere in southern Idaho I woke up one morning and realized that I suddenly wanted to have a home where I could print and hang my own photographs. I have a smartphone and computer filled with digital images that have never lived in the real world. I wanted to have a desk where I could sit and edit and record. I wanted a place where I belong. A place to adventure from and return to.
Adventure is great medicine when it helps you return home as a better person. Trailer life became the child-proof cap on the medicine bottle and when I finally got it open I found it had been empty all along. I had been cramming all of the worst parts of a 9-5 job into the worst parts of living like a transient. Climbing had become an afterthought, a distraction wedged in between worrying about paying the next months credit card and deciding how to go down the road another piece. This, I realized, was not the plan we had set out to execute.
It wasn’t long after that that we decided to bail and start all over. Again.
Another cross-country retreat. Another series of blogs and Facebook posts trying to explain how and why failure set in again when I don’t even have answers for myself. I guess the simplest explanation for this repeated pattern is the fact that we tried–again. Failure is always the risk of trying and we knew this from the beginning.
Now I’m sitting in my mother-in-laws kitchen in the Boston suburbs which we are calling home for the foreseeable future. It’s a bit comical to be writing about potential next steps in my life at this point. I’ve become a millennial caricature. I’m 34 with a child, trying to set the world on fire from my smartphone–but I’m incrementally selling off my camera gear on eBay to keep that work (and my family) alive. I don’t know how to make ends meet and do the work that matters–the work that started all of this off in the first place.
Despite my choice not to sugarcoat the consequences of my situation I’m not despondent. The trailer has sold of course–and I’m playing hangman with the remnants of my future. I got some good advice about my situation from a good friend as we drove east: “Love it for what it is, don’t hate it for what it’s not”.
The choice to try something I’d dreamed about for years was still a good one. It’s a choice I’m thankful I had the opportunity to make. I still don’t know where it will lead me and what it has taught me–those are longer term investments that may take some time to mature. Being broke and out of options isn’t too far from being hungry and focused depending on how you look at it–and that’s how I’m choosing to look at it.
Full-time life on the road was an amazing experience. Seeing incredible places with my family–watching Lilo grow and adapt through that journey has been a wild ride. I’ve gotten more time with her than most parents get and that is worth all of the hassle and uncertainty that has come with it. I haven’t soured on adventure–I am learning to grow with it and live with the changes of life. There was a time in my life when living in the dirt was a great adventure that enabled me to do good work that mattered. Trying to go back down that road 5 years later is much different–and now it’s a vexing dead end. Adventure today isn’t adventure yesterday–and it wouldn’t be adventurous if it was.