Travel Thoughts 2.0

So, here I am almost a month into my adventure. I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve learned even more.

Since I sold my place and left Florida, I’ve put almost 7000 miles on the van. Of course, this included driving it back to Missouri and then back to Florida before officially getting started…..I’ve been in the following states on this journey:

  • Missouri
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Tennessee
  • Georgia
  • Alabama
  • Mississippi
  • Louisiana
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • Arizona
  • Texas
  • California

I’ve been to the following National Parks or Monuments:

  • Carlsbad Caverns
  • White Sands
  • Joshua Tree
  • Big Bend

I’ll say it again, after all this driving and exploring, though I’m just getting started….People are in too much of a hurry (as a whole, not necessarily every individual). You see it on the roads with the traffic accidents caused by one car cutting in front of another or driving too fast to be able to safely stop. You see it in the way people speed on the highways – when the speed limit is 70, they often go 75 (and yes, I’m guilty of that at times myself). Increase the limit to 80, which is in effect on some Texas highways, and they go 90 (not me!). They’ll still get so close behind you that you could reach out your back window and touch their hood, and they hate to be kept waiting because it’s SO important to get in front of you or another car, only to be stopped in a traffic jam right up the road because someone was careless, or texting, or in a hurry…..

Another thing I noticed – and it’s ironic, really – is we are often so fixated on getting there, wherever “there” is, that we forget that “here” is part of there. We rush and rush to get to our destination, failing to take time to enjoy the sights and adventures along the way, and then when we do arrive, all we can seem to think about is moving on to the next place or attraction or city. Even in the National Parks people can’t seem to slow down. Now a lot of them are a bit off the beaten path, and they have posted speed limits. There’s a reason for this: they want you to take some time to appreciate the beauty of the landscape, notice the different plants and animals, and relax a bit. Many folks just can’t seem to to make that happen. If the posted limit is 35, you’ll have people going 45 or even 50 in their rush to arrive. If the limit is 45, and you’re going the limit, you’ll be passed by cars hurrying to get to the next spot so they can rabbit to the next one. I get this mentality in the city, though with a bit of foresight and thinking ahead it wouldn’t need to be a routine occurrence….what gets me is when they drive 3 hours from a town to get to a national park in the middle of nowhere and tailgate the cars in front of them or pass them like they’re sitting still. It’s not a contest, folks. We need to take more time to enjoy life instead of wolfing it down like a super-sized value meal after a day or two of eating nothing. There’s so much beauty in life, whether it’s in the landscape around us, the animals and birds, or the stars in the night sky; life’s too short to shoot through stuff at 90 miles an hour (down a dead end road) just so we can say we’ve been there and done that.

When you live in a vehicle, different things take on a special importance. These include showers, bathrooms, hot food, and quiet. Sleeping in truck stops and WalMart parking lots with the occasional treat of paying for a campsite so you can have electricity or visiting a friend or family member and taking advantage of their refrigerator, TV, and wi-fi is a real eye opener. I’m doing this kinda by choice….had I waited much longer, it could easily have become a necessity. I was in over my head. I had too many bills for my income, though I was being careful. Being the owner of a 40-year-old mobile home isn’t cheap. There’s maintenance; things break and need to be fixed; upkeep and replacement of old parts and components can get really expensive. I had a 40-year-old air conditioning unit, 40-year-old windows, and the plumbing and water heater needed help. Those items alone could have run into the tens of thousands of dollars had they all needed to be replaced, in addition to my monthly expenses. Yeah, I will have some costs associated with living in my van, but they’re a lot less than $5000 for a new AC unit, $3000 for windows, $10,000 for new flooring, and $500 or more for the plumber to unclog the washer drain. Heck, for that kind of money I could get a nice newer van or fix this one up to run another 200,000 miles. I got a Planet Fitness membership for exercising and showering. I use wet wipes between visits if I need to clean up. I have a bed, and food, and things to drink, and I’m dry when it’s raining. I have blankets to keep me warm, the kitties for company, and my kids call now and then to check up on me.

I’m meeting fascinating people here in our country….today I was at the Texas Flag Monument and a small group from a nearby church showed up with food, drinks, and clothes for the homeless in the area. They spent about an hour here just loving on those others might look down their noses at and judge for where they are, forgetting that many of us are only one missed paycheck, one lost job, or one injury from finding themselves in the same position. The volunteers don’t ask for anything in return or demand recipients go to their church or pray with them, but they do offer a ride to the Sunday service if someone wants to come. This is Jesus in action, people. Meeting simple needs in a simple way for those around us who just need a little compassion and love does more to spread the Gospel than all the preaching in the world from a fancy pulpit in a church with 300, 3000, or 30,000 members. It’s not about us. It’s about them and what we have to offer because of who we are and Who we claim to believe in.

I was reading in Luke last night about Lazarus, the beggar overlooked by the rich man. He basically learned that if you receive your reward here on earth – money, possessions, favor – then you’ve gotten your due. On the other hand, those who suffer in this life but still believe will be rewarded in heaven. How many of us have become so materialistic, so enamored by the shiny trinkets this earth has to offer, that we’ve forgotten they are only temporary? This will all pass. We can’t take any of it with us when we die. What matters is how we treat other people, how we show God’s love in our daily walk, and how we utilize what He’s given us (whether selfishly, to fulfill our own desires for the trappings of wealth, or as a means to spread the love and compassion of Jesus by allowing Him to use us to bless others). When I die, it won’t matter that I lived in a van. What matters is how I treat people. What matters is my character and integrity. What matters is if I live what I preach, love who Jesus loves, and give whatever I can to help those I can help – whether that’s finances, food, a smile, a hug, or words of support and encouragement depending on the circumstances. It’s not about my personal accumulation of stuff or what I’ve achieved as far as education, career, possessions, or accomplishments. It’s about what I do with what God has given me – talents, abilities, gifts, finances, possessions – to make this world a better place and to touch others. There’s an old song called “You’re the Only Jesus Some Will Ever See.” It’s more true now than ever, with so many people never having even darkened the door of a church. Too many have never heard of the love of God, instead seeing Him as a vengeful being sitting on a throne doling out punishment for real or perceived infractions. We have the capability to show the world He is real, He cares, and He wants to be personally involved in our lives regardless of our circumstances.

And that’s where I am today.

Let the Adventure Begin!

I’m sitting in a parking lot in Red Rock Canyon near Hinton, OK. This is the beginning of my second week of van-dwelling. I’ve been driving all day and sleeping like a baby at night, but haven’t taken much of a break for anything. I did go to church yesterday in Houston, but other than that it’s been drive, drive, drive from the time I get up until it’s too dark to see and I can’t concentrate.

I’ve learned a few things already that may help others interested in this adventure:

  • You cannot park overnight at Love’s truck stops. They have signs everywhere saying customers can only park for one hour.
  • Flying J truck stops charge $1 for a cup of hot water. I can buy a whole bottle at many stores for that price. You can, however, bring a cup of water in and heat it in the microwave.
  • It’s not so easy to find things like 12v immersion water heaters for cups unless you order them online. I finally found one today after looking for a week.
  • Of the 3 nights I spent in WalMart parking lots, I was not the only person sleeping in a vehicle. This is not as uncommon as people think.
  • Don’t pin your hopes and dreams on your orders arriving at an Amazon Locker location on time. I sat for several hours waiting for a shipment that was supposed to arrive one day, and then at 9pm I was informed it would arrive some time within the next 2 days. If you have somewhere to be, which I did, this can be extremely frustrating.
  • Cats are extremely resilient. Mine have traveled very well. I had them in their crates for the first day, and then put them on leashes hooked to their harnesses and let them get used to the van for a day before letting them go. When I’m driving through a bigger place like Dallas or Houston I stop before we get there and hook them back up to their leashes in case one of them gets a wild hair and tries to help me drive. Other than that, they’re handling this like champs. They seem to really enjoy looking out the windows as we travel.

I’ve noticed a few things as I’ve been driving across the country.

  • It’s become apparent to me that many of us are in far too much of a hurry all the time. A simple trip on your local freeway will prove this. People cut in front of each other going 80 miles an hour, don’t use turn signals, and present a real danger to others sharing the road. We need to learn to slow down, leave earlier, and not try to do so much.
  • We all need to take more time to enjoy and appreciate the beauty around us. I’m one of those people who would love a way to take a picture while I’m driving – without having to stop and pull over, because sometimes you can’t. Just sitting here today and listening to the wildlife around me is refreshing and feeds a need in me to be still.
  • Possessions aren’t everything. I’ve gone from 4.2 acres of land with a nice mobile home, 3 outbuildings, a pond, and up to 54 chickens to living in a van, and I’m no less me than I was when I had all that stuff. In fact, this has been very freeing. There’s no pressure to keep up with the neighbors; I don’t have to hire someone to pressure wash the house, clean the gutters, or fix a kink in the plumbing. There’s no pruning or weeding to be done. I can clean this area in under 10 minutes, including sweeping the stray kitty litter out the door.
  • Silence is precious. We don’t get enough of it. In the city, it’s noisy all the time. Trucks, cars, neighbors, dogs barking, and the sounds of people doing what they do carries into everything. Learning to live in the quiet without needing constant outside stimulation is a good thing.

While it’s certainly not for everyone, and I don’t know for myself how long this will last, it’s been a learning experience I will take with me for the rest of my life.