We’re almost done remodeling the RV. We’ve been slowly working on it for 5 years now, with the goal of living in it while on the Long Road still on the horizon somewhere, though clearly delayed. The most recent improvements were merely cosmetic, but aesthetics can play a huge role in one’s enjoyment of such a vehicle. With the help of my skilled aunt and uncle, I made the following improvements:
Replaced the old, non-insulated, rattly blinds with insulated custom black-out curtains that secure into place using industrial snaps, and can be removed and laundered.
Replaced the cheap-looking pressboard table with a new, larger table with oak trim and faux-granite laminate top.
Covered the front of the refrigerator and the backsplash behind the stove with laminate to match the table.
Bought new high-density foam for cushions and had them upholstered with new fabric (no more hideous pink!), and turned the old cushions into dog beds.
Painted the interior -walls, ceiling, beneath cupboards and around refrigerator.
Mounted the outlet above the refrigerator (was previously just dangling by a wire).
Covered the awkward joints between paneling in the cabover bed area that would not take standard trim using sewn fabric strips.
I’d say it’s looking pretty darn nice in here, which is great since we’ll be occupying it for the next couple months. I’m so proud of our work that I thought I’d share it in a regular post, since most readers probably don’t check the remodel page very often. Below are two galleries: finished “after” photos on top, and “before” photos on the bottom. There are more images on the vehicle remodel page, too. We’d love to hear your thoughts on our little RV’s new look! Continue reading →
Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest United States until the age of 22, the temperate coastal rainforests of British Columbia are deeply familiar to me. Towering fir trees sway in the the breeze, their canopy shading the spongy, humus-rich earth below. Crumbling deadfalls provide anchor for opportunistic hemlocks, moss hangs like dewy beards from their branches, and ferns blanket the forest floor beneath. Crows chatter from the treetops, audible but usually invisible, and frogs chirp from the many sodden ponds and streams. The interminably grey skies release an impressively continuous supply of precipitation, which somehow the earth absorbs. But the smell stirs me most: the combined rich, earthy scents of decomposing organic material, cedar bark, cold rain, fir needles, and fungus. Something about that smell fills me with some sort of concurrent joy and heartbreaking loss that I can’t even identify, and yet gives rise to a lump in my throat even as I smile. It’s confusing.
The damp woods of Pacific Spirit Regional Park in Vancouver, BC.
One might think that this bittersweet stirring is the distant draw of home—a place to which I have an abiding and meaningful connection. And yet, I cannot help but feel the exact opposite. I do not feel at home here, just as I never felt at home during our three years living in Colorado. Instead I feel a vague sense of unease; I am strangely unsettled, antsy, disconnected, yearning somehow.
But let me back up for a minute. I suppose I should mention that we moved to Canada. Yep. Canada. Many people joke after discouraging elections that they are going to move to Canada, but we really did that. Without getting too political here, we simply decided the United States was a difficult place for us to be in this cultural moment; divisions run too deep, there is too much anger, too much violence, too much shouting and not enough listening. There are many people suffering and many others who are uncaring. People have become (were always?) hard, tense, suspicious of one another and unnecessarily confrontational. I guess America just isn’t feeling very much like home these days. Canada is far from perfect, but we at least have a few years of psychological breathing room to reassess our life choices. Canadian society where we live is, for the most part, gentle, compassionate, and peaceful. I am finishing my graduate studies at the University of British Columbia (MFA), and my partner is continuing his job by telecommuting. Just like that: next chapter. Continue reading →
Oh, sweet desert rain. That smell of water evaporating off of sagebrush is intoxicating. They say that scent can evoke deeply ingrained emotional memories and, standing at the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge, the sweet mist swirls around me in the stillness and silence, conjuring what I can only describe as love. I know this response is nostalgic; some of the best times of my life have been spent in the high deserts of this country with the people I love most in this world. Central Oregon, Eastern Utah, Northern New Mexico… desert rain on sagebrush brings it all back.
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, like many New Mexico destinations, is a hidden gem. The Rio Grande, here still wild and relatively unrestricted, cuts a deep gorge through basalt and the desert plateau, plunging almost a thousand feet below the rim. The Red River joins its flow in this gorge, creating a peninsula-like mesa above. We were fortunate to have the place to ourselves this week, with no other campers in the entire campground, and only one group of hikers and llamas on the Arsenic Springs trail for a couple hours. Other than that, our two days in the monument were still and silent, with dramatic storm clouds racing across an expansive sky.
Between intermittent thunderstorms, we hiked down into the gorge and to the Rio itself. The Rio Grande holds some sort of sacred place in my heart that I cannot describe; plunging my hands into her milky chocolate-colored spring flow felt like a pilgrimage. I pressed the red clay beneath my feet, closed my eyes as the sun came out, and listened to the lonely calls of ravens and desert songbirds. And there was that smell again. Just like that, I was home.
It’s been six months since I have written a post here. For that, I apologize. But, to be fair, it has also been six months since I’ve done much adventuring to speak of.
It has been a long winter indeed.
Shortly after my last post, I started graduate school at University of Colorado Boulder. Everyone knows that grad school gobbles up hours pretty effectively, leaving little time for intrepid capers.
Not that I could do much capering anyway, given my current physical state.
In October, I had surgery on my right hip. Turns out hip surgery is sort of a big deal, and managing school, work and recovery was a lot to cope with. Then, in January, I had surgery on my left hip. Turns out bilateral hip surgery is really a big deal. Long story short, I had bone spurs in my hips that, over time, had destroyed a lot of the soft tissues in my hips (ligaments, labrums, capsular tissue, etc.) Fortunately my cartilage was still in good shape, or I would have been in trouble (best case scenario: double the recovery time). Both operations caused my body significant trauma and some very unpleasant adverse reactions, but overall I came out alive and kicking on the other side.
Six weeks after surgery number two, I’m still using a crutch to walk more than a block or two. Ugh. That makes it pretty difficult to do much adventuring.
However, medical obstacles create another sort of journey, I’ve found (and no, this is not my first surgical rodeo). When we are faced so immediately with our own physical fragility, we are given a wonderful opportunity to journey within. Continue reading →
As a last hurrah before launching into graduate school, I took a two-week road trip in August with a dear friend, Jessica Kilroy. I met her in northeast Utah as she finished a five-day rafting trip on the Green River and, after a much-needed night’s rest, we packed up the RV and my three dogs and hit the road for north central Montana. Our destination: The American Prairie Reserve, where Jessica is participating in an intermittent yearlong artist residency (she is a recording artist).
I could tell many a hilarious tale about our journey, and perhaps I will elaborate in the near future. Suffice it to say that our trip was full of laughter, biker gangs (thanks to Sturgis), ghost stories, shockingly racist small town folk, gracious dog-loving ranchers, terrible books, incessant snacking, plagues of mosquitoes, welcome respite in unlikely places, intentional detours, awe-inspiring storms, and plenty of wide open spaces.
For now, please enjoy this video I made with footage from our trip. The music is by Jessica, composed using sounds she recorded on the prairie during her spring visit.
“Every time I slip into the ocean, it’s like going home.”
–Sylvia Earle, marine biologist, explorer, author, and lecturer
There is something magical about being underwater. Gravity is much less relevant here. You feel the swell of the tide gently push and pull as you float along the reef. You hear the clicks and pops and alien noises of the deep, and you watch as your breath rises in columns of bubbles toward a receding world of air and light.
Here time seems to slow down. Here your spirit grows quiet, pensive, present. Breathe in, breathe out.
Float, glide, rise, fall.
This video was filmed in Dumaguete and Apo Island in April, but I just now got around to editing it together. Enjoy!
“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
I quit my job today. After less than a year of employment.
Was it an awful place to work? Not really. Were my coworkers difficult to get along with? No, for the most part they are wonderful, kind, intelligent people. Were my job duties mind-numbing? Sometimes, but such is the reality of many office jobs, I think. Were the hours long and conditions demanding? Definitely not. In fact, I had a pretty sweet gig: part-time, good pay, telecommuting/flexible hours, and I could even bring my dog to the office.
Why, then, did I quit? Why would I give up on a job after such a brief term?Continue reading →
There are few places in this world that still hold vestiges of the distant past, where you can imagine yourself transported, transmuted, transfigured by the landscape and people around you. The far northern region of Vietnam is one such place.
Ha Giang province borders China in the northernmost reaches of Vietnamese territory and is often referred to as “Vietnam’s final frontier” — rugged, remote, and scenic. This region is also home to the recently designated Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark, a UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 2010.
The landscape is surreal: towering karst formations create a labyrinth of near-vertical cliffs and ravines, gaping caverns, and a few very sinuous roads. The steep hillsides are cultivated by colorfully-clad hill tribes such as the Tay and the H’mong people. While you might occasionally see the indigenous folk riding a motorbike to the market or making a call on an old cellphone, you will see no farming machinery here; water buffalo still pull plows, and tribespeople still tend every plant by hand. Continue reading →
Being told where to go, what to look at, when and what to eat, and being ushered around with a bunch of interminably obnoxious other tourists as a public spectacle is not our idea of a good time. We will not be herded.
Having said that, there are several instances when organized tours might make sense:
When the intended destination presents significant logistical challenges that the use of privately arranged transportation can solve,
When the site to be visited contains esoteric cultural information that would be difficult to decipher without a knowledgable guide, and/or
When a guide is legally required.
For us, Bai Tu Long Bay fell into the first category. We had read online that the journey there from Hanoi requires several transfers, and the relatively undeveloped tourist infrastructure exacts a financial toll on a cornered market. We only had two days before we wanted to head into the north country, and we just didn’t have the patience to hack our way through the DIY process for a two-day boat ride.
Manila was a tough end to our stay in the Philippines for several reasons:
First, it was hot. So very very hot. I am a person who likes the heat, even. I relished the 100-degree summers in the New Mexico desert when we lived there. But this was… oppressive, stifling, sweltering heat. Relentless equatorial sun, steamy humidity, and near 100 degrees that felt like 120. And we were out in the sun all day for two days.
Second, our arrival in Manila from Dumaguete simply underscored the fact that in the Philippines, everything runs late. Nobody gets anywhere quickly, it seems. Our flight was late (of course), and we had to sit on the tarmac when we arrived as well. Once out of the airport, we had to queue up for a taxi in a line more than 50 meters long, with taxis only trickling in every 10 or 15 minutes. We waited almost 3 hours for a taxi. We did well to resign ourselves to this fate, taking a cue from the locals who sat calmly reading books or playing games on their phones. This obscenely long wait, apparently, was no surprise to anybody except us. We didn’t get to bed until 1:00 am, and we were due for work rendezvous at 5:30 am. Ugh.