A few weeks ago a new friend contacted me and asked if he could drop by my camp and I said of course he could—I love to hear every person’s story! He was a young guy (34) who lived in his van and was a long-trail, Thru-Hiker. He told me he was determined to live his life now and not put it off till he was old. He knew that might make his old-age unpleasant, but he considered that much better than making his whole life unpleasant in hopes of a better old age!! He had already hiked the Appalachian Trail and was on his way right then to hike the Colorado Trail (CT). I was so impressed with him I knew I had to tell his story. I asked if he could email me his story and pictures from along the Trail and he agreed. So I am going to do a series of posts about his Thru-Hike of the CT.
You may be wondering how a young guy hiking the CT applies to vandwelling. But as far as I am concerned it cuts right to the heart of vandwelling and why you should be a vandweller.
“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of a man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. “ ~Jack London
Before I tell you about him, let me tell you about myself as a cautionary tale of how NOT to live your live. Then we will look at his life as an example of a life well lived. I look back at the first 40 years of my life with nothing but regrets. Every so often I would be headed for a good course and then I would listen to and follow the rules of society and my life would turn to shit. I followed their rules as well as I could and all I got out of it was misery. So when I met Venture I knew he was a living example of what I wished I had done with my life.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
My family drove to Anchorage, Alaska in 1961, when I was 5 years old. I grew up and went to school there from K-12, liveing there until 2006. Adventure is the living breathing heart of Alaska. Its history is full of men and women who were willing to risk everything to find out what is around the next corner, to strike it rich, or to become one with the earth. Its story is one of riches, ruin, tragedy and of life lived to its fullest, right on the edge of death. As a child I heard and read all their stories and got to meet men and women who were living it. Without knowing it, wilderness and adventure became part of my soul.
As I got older and became a young adult my circle of friends were all hunters, hikers and backpackers. Backpacking was exploding as a hobby in the early 70s and suddenly there was a huge amount of modern gear available to make backpacking much easier and more enjoyable. So my every summer was spent out in the backcountry exploring Alaska’s many trails. Winters were spent cross-country skiing long trails at -50 below zero. I have many, many wonderful memories of my youth actually living and enjoying life. They are my greatest treasures!
But reality interrupted and society told me I had to “grow-up” so I went away to college and started to live a “normal life.” I got a job, got married and bought a house. That’s just what we all did and we didn’t know there was any other way. For a while I tried to maintain some kind of relationship with wilderness but it was not to be. After a few years I sold my backpack, tent and sleeping bag, “grew-up” and became a good productive member of society. While having the kids was wonderful and I would do that over again in a heartbeat, everything else about my life was a horrible, miserable mistake!!
I endured the boring drudgery for as long as I could but after a mid-life crisis, changes had to be made. It was then that I discovered vandwelling and my life was changed forever. Eventually I bought a backpack and started seeing Alaska again. I began to bloom and thrive instead of being a living-dead, zombie, wage-slave. But by the time I was fifty, years old I had worked for Safeway for 35 years (I started on my 16th birthday) much of it crawling around on its floors stocking groceries. The abuse on my knees caught up with me and I needed knee surgery. That meant I could no longer go backpacking. I sold my backpacking gear for the second time. I retired early at 51 but my body was already wearing out and I could not fully enjoy the free-time I had sacrificed so much for.
I had done exactly what society had told me to do. I sacrificed my youth to being a wage-slave drone with the hope of finally being able to live fully when I was old. But here I was finally ready to start living and my body wouldn’t let me.
My mom lives in a retirement community in Florida, and I visit her often. There I see this story repeated continually! Older men and women who sacrificed their youth to their careers so they could finally be happy when they were old. You can watch them trying to finally have the youth they sacrificed. They go outside and play golf, shuffleboard or bird-watching—just like they should have been doing all their lives! They buy new toys and ride their golf carts or scooters all over town. Whatever their interests are, they start to actually enjoy them. They become happy and child-like.
But that usually doesn’t last very long before their health starts to fail. They get tired too easily or they break a bone. More likely, 40 years of stress adds up and they get cancer, diabetes or heart disease. They sacrificed 40 years of their youth and their lives for these few years of truly living and then their body betrays them and they can’t enjoy it. So they find themselves sitting in front of the TV all day, wondering where their lives went, waiting for death.
If that doesn’t appeal to you, you have a choice!
All you have to do is to have the guts to make it!
That brings us to my new friend Venture who refuses to follow society’s rules and is going to enjoy his life while he is young. He is a 34 year old man who is a Thru-Hiker. That means he hikes long-trails (like the Appalachian Trail, Continental Dive Trail or Pacific Crest Trail) from end-to-end all at once. For more info about thru-hiking see this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thru-hiking
He supports himself by living in a Ford Windstar minivan and working at whatever jobs he can. Living in the van allows him to save money and travel. He has already hiked the Appalachian Trail and about 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. And is on the 486 mile Colorado Trail right now. (For more info about the Coloraodo rail, go here: http://www.coloradotrail.org/ He plans to do the entire Pacific Crest Trail next summer. I interviewed him and learned these things:
Question: Tell us a little about yourself:
Answer: I am 34 years old and grew up in Winslow, AZ. I believe my father’s initiative in taking me backpacking in the Grand Canyon as a young boy has had a tremendous impact on my love for the outdoors. Hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) in 2008 opened my eyes to a whole new lifestyle. The reality of living out of my backpack and hiking long distances lead me to discover more about myself/others and the natural world around me.
Question: Tell us about your AT Thru-Hike
Answer: I was 29 years young when I did it! I completed the AT in exactly four months. That was not planned. I listen to my body as I hike and walk as far as I feel like hiking from day to day. I started April 1st and averaged about 18 miles per day. I forget exactly how many days I hiked zero miles, I’m remembering 7 to 9 zero days (days when no trail miles are hiked). There were days of course I would only hike 4-12 miles to get to my re-supply point and hike no further.
Question: Why are you choosing a life of adventure?
Answer: If you drop the ad off of “ad-venture: you get my trail name. I came up with this name for myself. As a young married man without children who was setting off to hike a 2,176 mile trail with a completion rate of 1 in 10 odds was in fact a big risk. I successfully completed the entire AT but was divorced later in 2009. Thankfully, my relationship ended amicably and we are still friends to this day. I have always been fascinated with the idea of simple outdoor living. Long distance hiking fits the bill perfectly. Tramping upright on my own two feet along a trail is my idea of the perfect adventure at the perfect pace. Trail development around the world has strung together some of our most historic sights, wilderness and park lands, tiny off the beaten path towns, along with bleak and unforgiving terrain. The adventure arrives in my own senses not vicariously through others. I want to touch, see, smell, hear, taste and feel all that an adventure has in store for me as soon as I take that step in the present moment. I enjoy how adventure spawns spontaneity and unpredictability even though it is uncomfortable at times.
Question: You said you are “front-loading” your life, living life to its fullest while you are young and able. Can you put that in your own words?
Answer: Even though our society demands monetary means, I do not want to feel defeated or oppressed by this part of our system. I’m alive with dreams and aspirations that can be discovered without a tremendous financial burden. I see it as a way to freely embrace my idea of a full and rich life while I have my health. I do not want to take my physical ability for granted either, I want to be present with it. I also have to make very different choices then what society and culture pressure me to make. I am so thankful to have parents that are very supportive of my choices! I desire to dive right in and experience living and learning now not later, assuming I would live through a life of expectations. Choosing to live my idea of a full life now comes with a unique set of challenges. There will always be hurdles, I’m just choosing to negotiate my own set on the path I have chosen.
Question: How much does it cost to Thru-Hike a long-trail?
Answer: About one dollar a mile for actual trail time expenses. I can break that up into more detail (Trail re-suply food, Town food, Lodging expense) in the post so readers will understand more clearly what money is being spent on. It might be important for me to touch on travel to/from trail beginning/end and equipment expense, although a broad subject, it is requisite for trip planning. (Editors note: that means it would cost about $2200 to hike the Appalachian Trail. By living in your van, and working 6 months of the year you too can save $2200 and spend 6 months a year out backpacking!)
In my next post of his story I will go into more detail of exactly how Thru-hiking works. But for now I just want you to become aware that there are other ways to live then being a slave to societies dictates. You have choices!!
“I think you really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.
The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” ~Jon Krakauer, “Into the Wild”