My year in travels. (12 min read)
Today is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day and I’m feeling rather melancholy for the nomadic life I have been living this past year. One year ago today I officially began my journey when I left behind the traditional life of sticks and bricks and checked into my first campground with Cal, my trusted Ford, and my tiny house on wheels.
I have been incredibly fortunate to see just a tiny fraction of this earth and all the magnificence it offers in this short time—traveling throughout California and Oregon mostly, exploring the coastline, mountains, and deserts. I have made some amazing people and friends that I will have for a lifetime. But just two weeks ago I high-tailed it home from Palm Desert so as to not get stuck in SoCal during a pandemic without a safety net. And so it is that I am watching the Minnesota spring unfold while (gratefully) camped out in a good friend’s driveway till the crisis subsides —wondering when I will get back on the road again.
I decided to put my sadness in check and focus on how appreciative I am of this planet and all the beauty I was able to experience this year, instead of wishing I was back hiking through the forests. So I opened up my photos and took a visual trip back through the last 12 months—focusing on each image to remember how I felt in the moment of capture.
I close my eyes and return.
I feel the the warmth of the sun as I walk along the red clay trails in Palo Duro Canyon on a hot summer day, stare in disgust at Cadillac Ranch and all the garbage lying around, revel at the ever-changing colors of the painted desert, and find myself—appropriately—standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona.
I see the sorry existence of what remains of old, dilapidated businesses along Route 66, feel the nostalgia of Americana in Tucamcari, and the dejection of the once-thriving towns along the route—and the folks who still reside here.
I suffer the intense heat of the desert in the middle of July and wonder why there is a fence full of shoes on the side of the road— in the middle of nowhere.
I yodel off the side of a mountain with a group of hikers on Mt Jacinto and drink delicious wine in Idyllwild with new friends. I feel the love of a community for the first time since leaving home and I am content.
I notice the coolness of the pacific ocean tickling my toes the day I finally arrive in Oceanside and sob when I drop my husband off at the beach. I explore every inch of this community and promise to visit on my return trip. I head up the PCH with the windows rolled down, Jack Johnson on Spotify, and the warm salty wind blowing through my hair; Laguna, Malibu, Ventura.
I have never felt so free in all my life.
I’m climbing up gigantic sand dunes in Oceano to watch the sunset over the Pacific, and get stuck on Pismo Beach on my first attempt at beach camping. I find myself falling in love with this little town. I am exploring a light installation in Paso Robles, meeting a handsome and witty man at a local pub (who resembles Chris Pine), and walk around the Thursday night farmers market in SLO.
I buzz along on my e-bike in the Yosemite Valley where John Muir once explored, and I truly understand now why he kept returning here. I am astounded by its beauty. I realize the closest I’ve come to El Capitan is via the operating system on my Mac and promise myself to never forget how good it feels to be here.
I’m feeling all the feels when I spend the afternoon at Klinker Brick winery and toast my late husband (Klink) at sunset, thanking him for our time together. I join their wine club because a) I love their zin, b) I have a good story to tell about it, and c) there’s something special about seeing Klinks name in print on a cork.
I save them all in a jar.
I enjoy time with my Minnesota friend who now lives on the top of a steep hill with a million-dollar view of Clear Lake. We hike up Mt Konocti, get invited to the ranger station and learn of the area. The panoramic view takes my breath away.
I feel the cool mist of Multnomah Falls on my skin while I drive down the historical highway through the Columbia River Gorge. I walk across the Bridge of the Gods and think of Wild and Cheryl Strayed and all of the PCT hikers that have passed through this way. I explore Chinatown in Portland on a rainy afternoon and am heart-broken by the homeless population here—something I will see quite often on my travels.
I am in Bend, Oregon, to visit my two friends, Jessica and Jodel and I feel so good when I get to hug them. I am sailing on a boat named Swallow, in a lake created by a volcano, on a not-as-chilly-as-we-thought-it-would-be Saturday. I am soaking up the sun and sitting on a dock with my feet dangling in the Deschutes river, watching folks float by on a lazy afternoon. I hear the rattle of a poisonous snake while we hike the Tam-a-lau trail and I marvel at the view from the top of the butte. I volunteer to serve breakfast at a local soup kitchen and have lunch with some adorable pre-schoolers at Miss Jessica’s Montessori school. My heart smiles at how capable and intelligent these little humans are.
I feel little Ruby’s hand grab mine as we cross the street to the playground.
The next three months I am in a constant state of awe and wonder. Dumbstruck by the everlasting beauty of the Oregon coast, I simply get in Cal and drive for hours—exploring and experiencing everything I can. I observe a pod of whales along the Oregon cliffs during a morning feeding frenzy, hike in an old-growth Sitka tree forest, watch the ocean put on a magnificent show at Cape Perpetua and explore solitary beaches that extend for miles and miles. Every curve, every pass, every scenic point, every hike, brings me to my knees because of its beauty.
I am a temporary local here; Cape Kiwanda, Newport, Florence, and I fall in love with each of these towns and the folks I meet here. I hear sea lions barking in the bay while the fresh catch of the local fishermen lingers in my nostrils. I see tide pools of sea creatures and watch surfers bobbing on the ocean contemplating the next wave or— perhaps and more importantly—life.
I witness the rage of the ocean after a violent storm.
I nosh on several pounds of freshly caught crab, taste the salty air on my tongue, watch an octopus feeding, and stand at the top of many a lighthouse wondering what it must’ve been like to be one of the first settlers here. And then wonder what it must’ve felt like for the Natives who were forced out.
In the town of Florence I notice a van down by the river, and then a few days later become friends with the man who lives in it. His name is Michael and we contemplate what #vanlife truly means. We have dinner and drinks and he shows me the photos he shot of Ringo Star and the young mourners at Kurt Cobain’s memorial service many years ago, when he was a photographer for Spin magazine. I feel joy when I help to feed 650 homeless and hungry folks on Thanksgiving day—the third anniversary of Klink’s passing.
I’m gaping at the giants in the redwood forest on the north coast, and sipping wine from grapes grown in picturesque Sonoma county on a rainy day. It is late December and I have been experiencing a perpetual state of fall for four months now. I see the magnificent colors of an autumn vine and appreciate the stillness of a winter vineyard.
I am privileged to experience this beauty.
I connect with a Sister On The Fly, Lisa, and park my rig at her sweet vintage campground back in Clear Lake while I go home for the holidays. I learn more about this interesting area as she is an amazing tour guide. I remember that things are not always as they seem and to not judge a place until I spend the time to experience and understand it.
I’m California dreamin’ along the winding road from Carmel By The Sea, Big Sur, the Rincon, and then land in Santa Barbara for a few weeks before heading back to Pismo Beach for more oceanfront camping. In the four days I am camped here, I wake up to the surf underneath my trailer, a dead battery, no heat, and a gully to cross over in order to get my rig off the beach.
Damn, I love this life..
I’m experiencing the extraordinary Santa Ana winds in north LA county while rustproofing my undercarriage and caulking my roof. I feel like Wonder Woman. I help a neighbor, Chris, caulk her roof as well and we become instant friends. We will end up being neighbors once again during self-isolation in Palm Desert.
I keep my promise and come back to Oceanside, but beach camp at Del Mar Beach inside Camp Pendleton this time. I feel so privileged to have this benefit. I see tanks drive by daily, hear explosions throughout the night, and am in constant wonder and amazement of these men and women who are the foundation of our freedoms. I watch Marines jog past my trailer every morning.
I extend my stay another week.
I am in Laguna Beach visiting my friend, Susan, whom I serendipitously met in Idyllwild last July. She and her friend, Donna, hiked down from Mt Jacinto to Idy and we hit it off. I have a heavy heart when I learn Donna died tragically in a hiking accident just two weeks before I am to arrive. We leave a tribute on a trail she loved to hike. I feel so much love for my new friend and enjoy our short time together. She shows me the perfect SoCal day as we ride our bikes down the boardwalk to Balboa Village listening to Bobby Darin sing “Somewhere Beyond The Sea.” It is a day forever etched in my memory bank.
I am back on the PCH and heading down to SanDiego. I stay at a campground 5 miles from the Mexican border with no cell service or wifi. There are border patrols everywhere and I struggle when I watch a worn down and sun-beaten young man get detained on the side of the road. I have no access to the news and am in shock when I go to the market Friday afternoon.
The coronavirus has exploded.
I pass through Slab City and Salvation Mountain on my way to Palm Desert. I am in love with the quirkiness of the squatters in the desert with their patched-together makeshift homes. I buy a $5 bracelet from Jamie the jeweler and meet Dr. Spencer who calls his shelter the “Church of Enlightenment.” He gives me a tour and I learn he has over 250 organic vegetables and herbs growing inside—along with a fish pond. I swing into the Bombay Beach Resort on the diminishing Salton Sea and feel as if I’ve entered the Twilight Zone. I struggle to find the words that describe this post-apocalyptic territory. Part artist community, part Mars colony.
My heart brightens as I enter Palm Desert on Monday night. The next day I am “shelter in place.” I am fortunate to have sweet and fun neighbors, Rich and Rhoda. They take me under their wing and we have socially-distancing happy hours while we self-isolate. Rumors of campground closings—and full-timers like myself without homes being displaced—weighs on me. My next stop was Texas for a Girl Camper event and to visit some friends but I decide to cancel. I am safe here till the end of April but begin to plan my escape. The desert is heating up and my trailer doesn’t handle 105* temps very well.
I am in a funk and uncertain about my future.
I feel Klink everyday during this. I miss him desperately right now and grief makes its dark return. He was always so good in a crisis, always knew what to do. I take a few days to process my feelings and get back to a healthy state of mind again. He begins to send me messages through various avenues. “Be patient”, “pay attention” “get ready”, “avoid the mountains.” And then a week later an urgent message through my on-the-road friend, Leslie, “get home Lorri Jean, get back in your community.” And so as I watch this pandemic unfold and my on-the-road community get displaced, I prep for the long trip home. I am fleeing the west coast which has been my home for the last 10 months and I am heartbroken to leave this way. I decide to leave my mark by writing my name on the campground in my 99 Walks app to always remember this historical time. It took me seven miles to do it.
On Saturday I watch the wine in my glass shake and feel the earth move under my feet. I am in an earthquake. I will experience several more on Sunday. I hear Klink say to me, “Last call Lorri Jean. Time to go.”
I am on the road Tuesday morning.
I drive 2000 miles in three days on near-empty highways with overly tired truck drivers. I sleep in Walmart parking lots with other weary travelers and homeless folks and wake up to Led Zeppelin blaring over the PA system at 4 AM. I drive 12 hour days taking naps at truck stops along the way. I pull into “Camp Prasek” just before 11PM, hook up to electricity and crash my exhausted head on my pillow. I am home.
I open my eyes and become present again. Even though this past year seems all a dream, I am grateful for this life I choose to live—uncertainty being a big part of it. I lived in limbo for so many years when Klink was sick and this is really a cakewalk in comparison. I know I will be stationary for awhile—not knowing when I can get back on the road—but I am still experiencing a journey . The journey now isn’t with me sitting on a mountaintop or exploring an old-growth forest. It’s being entertained by an amusing toddler shoveling oatmeal in her mouth, watching garbage trucks go by the picture window on Tuesday mornings, and hearing her tiny sweet voice call out aunti Lorri when she sees me. I’m experiencing a dog who is enamored with me and licks me to death every time she encounters me. I am eating fresh eggs from backyard chickens, and appreciating the love and graciousness of my “campground hosts.”
There’s no place I’d rather be right now.
Happy anniversary and thank you planet earth for allowing me to travel upon you and experience this incredible life. I’ll be back soon!