River of Time

A swift river, time sweeps away each day, each life event, and moves us from one river bend to the next.  Oftentimes we would prefer to linger a little longer to relish a special moment, or be better prepared for change. While we have no control over the speed of the current or when our time will end, each day we make choices that we hope will bring fulfilment and joy.  

As we have traveled these last five months, we have spent time in and near rivers and lakes, and I have found them soul-soothing, thought-provoking, and a metaphor for life.  We kayaked on the Jefferson River near the headwaters of the Missouri, retracing some of the Lewis and Clark journey; rafted on the Clark Fork River; backpacked along streams and swam in Alpine lakes in the Sawtooth Mountains; collected and drank water from springs trickling from the ground on a backpack trip through Zion National Park; and traced ancient dried stream beds from the Triassic period in the Petrified National Park, where our footprints will be blown away by sunset.  

While I’m eternally grateful for the incredible adventures hiking, backpacking, cycling, kayaking, and sightseeing, I’ve found that I am most grateful for the gift of time.  I’m grateful that D chose to spend 5 months living with me in a very small space, dedicated to ensuring that even small details of van life made our trip efficient and pleasant. Every adventure was more meaningful for having him by my side.   

I’m beyond-words-joyful that both my daughter and my son gave me the precious gift of time and chose to meet us for backpacking adventures (Christina in the Sawtooth in Idaho, and Ryan in Zion).  These trips made indelible memories that I will cherish forever and always.  I am so proud of the people they have become, and admire their outdoor skills – both were expert packers, and excelled in setting up and breaking camp with efficiency and without complaint.  Being with them on the trail and in camp made my heart sing.  

Our final two weeks of adventure in Zion were made complete by not only my son joining us for a week, but also for having friends give to each other the gift of time – six of us backpacked 30 miles over 4 days (and Rob of course went 5 miles and one day more), and then were joined by another six friends for an additional week of hiking and cycling.  We were also blessed to spend time with Teri and Alan who moved to Utah several years ago, Rob’s parents, and to meet Ami and Rick (PLU – what they call “people like us”). The gifts of time, attention, loyalty, and effort from friends are priceless and make life magical.  

I have always loved the lyrics from the song from Disney’s Pocahontas: 

“What I love most about rivers is:

You can’t step in the same river twice

The water’s always changing, always flowing”

D and I will be forever changed by this first big journey, and have grown from the experience. We have learned patience, discernment, and how to live without accumulating things. We don’t know what lies around the next river bend, but look forward to new opportunities for adventure, growth, and service. 

(Written as we head East from Utah to Virginia, where we will spend November and December and share the holidays with family and friends.)

From Here to Here – Lessons from a Wyoming Sunflower

Journeys have been defined as a “trail of experience from here to there.”  This sense of journey as having a start and finish, a trail’s end so to speak, fails to capture the essence of journey as taking us from here….to here.  Journeys take us to new starting points – from where we can say “here I am!”   As D and I travel on this journey, each section of our trip starts us anew and I realize that as we go from one location to the next that we go from “here to here,” always in the present.

Born in Wyoming to a family with generations of history in the state, I lived here for two periods in my life, birth through age 7, and ages 12-14.  During 7th grade, my parents sold everything they owned, including our house in Phoenix, and cashed in their retirement accounts to move back to Wyoming and buy a herd of dairy cows and attempt to build a sustainable dairy operation.  It was a shock to my system to be uprooted from a suburban life in the desert and placed on a cold and windy prairie with a lot of stinky cows. 

At age 12, I learned to drive a 2-ton pick-up truck, herd cattle, throw bales of hay, milk cows (with machinery), shovel manure, and bottle feed baby cows.  While I resented the disruption to my pre-teen life, upon reflection I realize my core values were being instantiated during this period of my life.  I witnessed tireless physical labor on the part of my parents and relatives, self-sacrifice, and love of family.  Their legacy will never leave me. 

Touring Wyoming this July, including what remains of our old dairy, has reminded me of my roots, refreshed by visits with family and time for reflection.  One day while on our bikes, we rode by beautiful sunflowers blooming on the side of the roads and billowing wheat fields, and they reminded me of some of life’s lessons:

  • Bloom where you are Planted.   In Wyoming, sunflowers grow by the gravel roadside, having been spread by birds, and manage to thrive on the edges of fields, outside the reach of irrigation.  They remind me to draw nutrients / inspiration from my environment and grow wherever I am. 
  • Always Face the Sun:  Look to the light – God – for your source of inspiration and fuel; seek and choose JOY.
  • Embrace the clouds and rain – they provide growth, nourish our roots, and help us appreciate the sun.
  • Be strong and flexible (but unbreakable) – With deep roots, we can be both.

And most importantly for me: Remember your Roots.  Being in this state has been a homecoming in many ways for me  – spending time with family, visiting our old dairy, and being awed by the rugged beauty from one side of the state to the other.  Part of my heart will always be here.  From here….. to here.

Big Horn Mountain – hike to a lake
The Dairy – the calves were kept in the corner on the left. The field beckons.
Wyoming’s Table Mountain – view from my cousin’s home west of Cheyenne.

SWAT TEAM OPTIONAL – RV Selection

by D Clute

When looking for an RV, size and amenities are generally the principal considerations. When we started seriously contemplating extended travel in an RV, we already had an idea of the size of motor home we wanted (compact). As we planned our “Mountain and Mission” journey, during which we planned to adventure with purpose, we had to consider not just what we wanted in a coach, but also what we wanted to get out of one. At the top of this list was “Adventure” — Lewis and Clark expedition kind of adventure! This demanded a level of accessibility, mobility, and maneuverability that would be difficult for larger RVs to achieve.

We determined a smaller RV would be most effective for the “mission” aspect of our journey, as the humanitarian volunteer work we support is generally organized in residential neighborhoods. It is equally effective for the “mountain” aspect of our journey, as it would not be subject to vehicle length limits imposed on some state and national park roads, allowing us unrestricted access to roam and explore.

Simplicity also guided our decision. Service accessibility for chassis and drivetrain maintenance while on the road was an important factor, especially in remote rural areas. Our coach is built on a Ford Transit 350HD platform, which makes service as easy as finding the nearest Ford dealership.

We selected the Coachmen CrossFit class B for its practicality, quality, cost, floor plan, and amenities. It comes standard with nearly every feature found in a larger RV, just more compact. It also sports adventure supporting conveniences like an on-board gas generator, 200W solar panel, two heavy duty 12V batteries, and Sumo springs and suspension. OK, admittedly, its cool, tactical appearance helped! SWAT team optional!

Of course, there are always trade-offs. Our tow weight is limited, which precludes us from pulling most cars. That was easy to resolve. We decided that if we need one, we can rent a car or use a car service. The more obvious and more complicated consideration for us was available storage space for two adults, including cycling, hiking, backpacking, and camping gear. With the help of some specialized manufacturers, we have installed or applied several innovative storage solutions to enhance our RV experience. We’ll share more on these in a future post!

Live Small: Decision to Adventure with Purpose #vanlife

It’s hard to explain how one comes to the decision to sell nearly all one’s belongings and choose to live small, in order to serve and travel without being encumbered by home-based obligations. It involved soul-searching introspection, long discussions with family and friends, and prayer. It was not without tears and a measure of anguish. In the end, the call to serve our fellow man and pursue adventures that require physical stamina won over the static comforts of home. We chose to retire a little early (57 and 59) and pursue a life of service, travel, and adventure.

We spent our lives working to buy things we needed (cars, home, clothing) in order to work the jobs that provided the salary to buy those things. It’s circular – we spent so much just to pay for working. Like many Americans, we spent time and money accumulating things — travel mementos, decorations, furniture, photographs, clothing, shoes, art, jewelry, sporting goods, tools, crafts, and electronics.

In the end, we can’t take these things with us, and they serve as anchors to a sedentary and stationary lifestyle rather than adventuresome and legacy-building.

We chose to select our irreplaceable and precious possessions (based on sentimental, not financial value) to store until such time as we have a permanent home again, and jettison everything else. The cherry crib my Mother made for my son as well as her hand-carved stone sculptures, her cedar chest, ceramics and art that my children made for me, artwork that my husband collected that reflects our love of nature, and a century of printed photographs from 1900-2010 that pre-date iPhotos, were all put in storage.

We contracted with an estate sale company to handle a 3-day liquidation of our household. It was excruciating for me to have strangers in our house for 5 days putting a price tag on everything – down to the half used bottles of shampoo. We left for the sale and I cried….and even called a dear friend to have her buy something I had thought I could sell…so that it wouldn’t be sold to a stranger (I later bought it back from her).

Interestingly, my children wanted very little of the things accumulated during their childhood, and are choosing to not accumulate as they start their careers as young adults. It’s such a different generation – and I’m proud of them for this. I want to be more like them when I grow up.

It was cathartic to live through this process — we purged so much and when we returned to our home after the sale, with only the things we chose to keep in the house, we felt lighter, freer, and satisfied with our decision. We then put the house on the market, and a lovely young couple (the first to look at the house), was led straight to us. I know it was God’s way of easing me out of the home where I raised my children. One thing that made this decision easier is that I know we will build a full life in a new permanent home and community when the time is right.

One of the most difficult things of being on the road is missing the companionship of dear friends. We know that our friends will continue the activities that we used to share together, and hope there will be a way for us to re-integrate into their lives when we return.

Despite the challenges, I am grateful for having gone through this life-changing process, and to currently be living a life free of “anchors” so that we can adventure with purpose.

Our service projects include:

Habitat for Humanity’s Care-a-Vanners (bringing people together to build homes, community, and hope)

Samaritan’s Purse (disaster recovery)

American Hiking Society (trail work – since we love hiking so much!)

Red Bird Mission – Appalachian work camp to help those in the poorest county in the US

The Journey Begins

44F65773-C47C-47FE-A619-55AC989F3948

“The romance of my life began here.”  (Theodore Roosevelt, observing the Badlands of North Dakota in 1900). 

During the summer of 2018, Glacier National Park had a similarly profound impact on D and me as we honeymooned in Montana and Wyoming.   While we sat on the deck of Many Glacier we looked at each other and said, “What are we doing?  Why, when there are mountains to climb, lakes to paddle, and sunsets to absorb and ponder, are we spending so much time (and money) commuting to jobs that only sustain a lifestyle of frenetic activity and materialistic accumulation?”

Fast forward…after months of sustained reflection, we chose to retire early from our jobs with the federal government (at ages 57 and 59), sell 95% of our belongings, and adventure with purpose.  It was not an easy decision to leave my home of 19 years where I raised my children, but we felt called to two pursuits:  1) physically challenging adventures on our bucket list, and 2) service to people and communities impacted by natural disasters and in need of assistance.  

To this end, we bought a small RV (Coachmen CrossFit 22D), and have resolved to explore the US with an eye towards serving the communities we visit.  We have selected to serve with Samaritan’s Purse as they respond to natural disasters and be the “hands and feet of Christ” and follow his command to “Go and do likewise;” Team Rubicon, which focuses on veterans and disaster recovery; American Hiking Society, which helps maintain the trails we love to hike; and Habitat for Humanity through their “RV Care-A-Vanners” program to build homes for those in need.  

We are so grateful and humbled to have the opportunity to be of service to others. We selected “mountainandmission” as our blog name to reflect our dual pursuits – adventure and service, and hope to be a blessing as we travel.

This April we are on our “shakedown cruise” and we will be posting about our decision making process (for those considering #vanlife), the blessing of service to others, and of course – the adventures unique to this amazing United States of America.

Thanks for joining D and me on our journey!

#vanlife

#samaritanspurse

#teamrubicon

#americanhikingsociety

#mountainandmission