I open with words from Travels with Charley (John Steinbeck, of course): "When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. ... Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship's whistle will raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, I don't improve; ... I fear the disease is incurable."
A year ago I thought I would settle in a dwelling that could not be more grounding–my brother Rick's Earthship--and I moved there last October. By April I was gone, moved to live temporarily in Albuquerque with Catherine, my co-author on a new book project. But the plan, from the beginning, was to go back eventually to living on the road.
Yesterday, someone asked if I was back in Albuquerque (read to live permanently). When I described my plans, she said, "You might as well just say you're a nomad." I don't know exactly why I've been reluctant to say it. I think it's in reaction to people saying things like, "Oh, you're moving again? How many moves is it this time?" "I hope you're going to stay here for a while. A few years, at least." "You're a just vagabond." I always hear a criticism in these comments, though the person who told me yesterday to embrace being a nomad was laughing with pleasure at the idea. So some of it is my own opprobrium. Why can't I just settle down?
When Steinbeck took his trip in 1960, apparently there weren't a lot of pickups fully outfitted with self-contained campers. Before he left his home on Long Island and all along the way, people asked to see it and were impressed in a way that suggests it was a novelty. And it seems the wish to wander dwells in the hearts of many, at least in some form. People told Steinbeck longingly that they wanted to leave too, from wherever they were. One small boy offered to do all the chores along the way, if he could just travel with John and Charley, the standard blue poodle.
When I started off on my book tour, friends wanted to check out the van I'd made into my home in much the same way. I planned to live in it for the next two and a half years, which were ultimately truncated, but that's an old story. As they perused my cozy little home, folks got a faraway, wistful look in their eyes and applauded my adventuresome spirit. But they left the adventuring to me.
I suppose some of my hesitation to embrace the nomadic appellation is the fact that I haven't always felt that I was adventuresome. My peregrenatious tendency seemed more like a complulsion, a disability, almost, or an inability–to settle. An incurable disease, as Steinbeck put it. I'm getting closer to accepting and loving being a nomad, and I'm feeling excited about my–yes–upcoming adventure.
Steinbeck writes about all the preparations, deciding what to take and what to leave behind. By his own admission, and I agree, he took far too much. The vehicle I've chosen this time, still wearing the faithful YODA plate, limits what I can take, but so does my minimalist mindset. I got rid of all my big possessions except my art, my mattress, and my Lazy Girl this time. What is left fits into a 5'x10' storage unit with space to spare.
And now I'm reveling in the great pleasure of outfitting my little RAV4. The above photo represents the first stage, and on Wednesday I'll be doing a trial run, which will help me decide what else I need. I do know that when I return from this short trip, I will build an over-the-foot shelf to add storage capacity. So far I've gotten the mattress (4-inch memory foam), bucket for nocturnal use, privacy tent for changing clothes & showering, Solo Stove that burns twigs for fuel, back of seat storage pockets, solar laptop & phone charger, solar fan, and a comfy folding chair. Things I already had: folding aluminum table, cooler, camping kitchen stored in a clear plastic boot box.
I do recommend Travels with Charley, which I'd long been meaning to read. I'd forgotten how beautifully Steinbeck writes, so that was a simple pleasure. I found his way of engaging with such a variety of people along the way fascinating and admirable. He always came from a place of genuine curiosity about them–their thoughts, their way of life. He made observations in 1960 about the growth of cities in the US and our practice of using migrants for the jobs US citizens don't want to do and the inherent potential harm, showing astonishing foresight. His return to the Salinas, California of his birth and youth was poignant. There is a fair amount of overt sexism that he could likely not get away with in a book by someone of his stature today, but I could think "1960" and "travel stories" and thus be able to bypass those instances.
Stay tuned for more photos and my travel stories as things progress.