We Are Home

“Where do you live?” Simple question, right? Living on the road, we hear that question all the time but it’s complicated.

In the beginning of our Big Adventure, we didn’t really know how to answer. We’d say: “We used to own a home just outside of LA.” Or:  “We live in an RV as we travel around the US working on organic farms.” Now, if I thought people could understand, I’d just say, “Here.” Home, after all, is where you make it.

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We love dinner parties, and this funny lady notwithstanding, so do our friends.

The first home JC and I shared was a light-filled mid-century modern house in the foothills above the Rose Bowl, just outside of LA. We had terrific lives – great food, family, friends, parties – but we knew it wasn’t sustainable – not economically, environmentally nor emotionally.

And then we realized that we’d never be able to retire. So, we decided to start fresh and founded the Good Foot Project. We bought a solid 1990 Ford Jamboree motorhome so that we could travel the country and volunteer on organic farms and sustainable communities. Our goal was to gain first-hand experience in permaculture, planet-friendly building techniques, community governance and water and waste management in order to build and run a self-sufficient retreat center.

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Before

We moved into our new digs at the very end of April 2013 and our very first minutes on the road unraveled into a minor, hilarious disaster. Clearly, we had no idea how to live in an RV. Experienced RVers will tell you that on every RV trip you learn something new. Our learning curve was so steep it was straight.

We had planned to do a test camping trip in the Schwartz, as our RV was affectionately named, but the last minute decision to sell our house halved our schedule and our camping trial went bye-bye. We spent exactly one night in the Schwartz (in our driveway) before we tossed ourselves over the cliff and into a brand new life.

Of course we learned a bazillion practical things: use plastic not glass; close the roof vents before you roll; in fact, batten down absolutely everything before you roll; the refrigerator must be snapped shut not just closed; when you climb out of the loft bed in the morning, take the ladder steps one at a time. (Luckily when I fell, I only bruised an elbow. And a thigh. And maybe traumatized our dog, Mattie. But just a little.)

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After

Slowly, another transformation was making itself felt. Just as we had remodeled her interior, the Schwartz was remaking us, molding our lives and our understanding of what ‘home’ means. She forced us to face ourselves and each other in fresh, sometimes ruthless ways. Living on the road in the Schwartz stripped us of the crutches and escapes we had taken for granted in our old life. All of a sudden, we were exposed, forced to focus on the Essentials.

On the highways, JC was keeping our speed to a modest 60 mph but massive 18-wheelers were blowing past us making the Schwartz shiver and sway all over the road. One bad move and the RV could tumble, spilling out onto the blacktop. To be sure, the Schwartz was in good shape, but she was old. The captain’s chairs upfront had only lap belts, no shoulder straps. Any idiot in a pick-up truck could put us out of commission. Or in the ground. For weeks, every time we parked, I would breathe a sigh of relief.

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Week 3 of our expedition, one of our tires shredded on the highway. Luckily, it didn’t throw us off balance and there was a tire shop a quarter mile away.

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We held our wedding in the backyard of our house. That was the happiest day of my life…so far.

Back in Altadena, our house had provided security and more. It was not only a structure that sheltered us from the elements and dangerous people, it was a whole life, a place for our friends to gather, a comprehensible framework to mitigate Life’s chaos. Perhaps more importantly, it buttressed our fragile egos, slapping us on the back like a blue ribbon that proclaimed:  “#1 American Dream Achiever!” No matter what else happened in the day, we were homeowners.

On the road, in our old, sun-bleached, ass-dragging Schwartz, there was no blue ribbon. In fact, it was the opposite. We did not have a schnazzy new RV with earth-toned swooshes and pop-out sides. Nor did we have a stylish vintage Airstream nor a hipster-tickling Westie with its angled roof and trim fashionista backside. The Schwartz did not say: “Retired and loving it!” Nor “Follow me to the best craft beer gastropub in the state!” It was more like: “Go around! I drive 55 mph because I can’t afford to go any faster.”

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Light art on the road.

Back in LA, we cycled through the days in a series of easy bubbles. We would get into our mini-bubbles and drive to meet friends in another bubble. Shop in another bubble. Go to hear music in another bubble. Sure, LA is a melting pot of cultures, our bubble was not monochromatic by any means, but we had mastered the navigation of our world – places, people, situations. On the road, everything we needed – gas, food, post office, propane, vet, dog food – had to be tracked down. Thank God for Google Maps! And every time we were unsure of what we’d be getting. We were masters of nothing.

Worst of all, our new nakedness revealed chinks in our idealism. There we were trying to create a new life built around a consciousness of climate change and a commitment to sustainability and we were sucking up gas like a five year old at a chocolate fountain. I knew that during the year ahead we’d actually use less gas than we did back home driving two cars, but I still felt like a hypocrite.

Eventually, living in the Schwartz would teach us a new appreciation for the management of energy, water and waste but, during those first few months I was awash in anxieties about daily living: What will the farms be like? Will we have to sleep in the Schwartz every night for the next year or more? What happens when we have to start “dry camping” with no hookups? Are we too spoiled to handle the inconveniences? I prayed that at the very least, our lone solar panel would prevent us from ever having to use the generator.

And what about the RV parks? Is it going to be like camping with REI-clad thirtysomethings or more like ‘Deliverance’?

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Lake Falling Star, Dale, TX.

In fact, our search for places to park the Schwartz exposed us to locales and experiences we never would have found: There was magical Lake Falling Star in Texas Hill Country where I fished for the first time ever under a raging pink sky. The nerve-wracking Wal-Mart parking lot in refinery-ridden Port Arthur, TX. In the Carrolton section of New Orleans, we had to park at a BBQ joint where we met a dapper man who hipped us to a neighborhood music festival and an airboat swamp tour. At Augusta-West Lakeside Resort in Winthrop, Maine, we finally had a chance to use our cast iron cook pot and sat in on some honest to goodness campground karaoke. “Backstage” at Music City Motorway in Nashville, we camped with fellow RV revolutionaries, Michael Cassadine and Heather Peters, founders of Voice for the People. And then, there was Utaaaaah!

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In a swamp byway, somewhere between Bayou Perot and the town of Jean Lafitte, LA.

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Mattie had a great time at her first music festival!

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How cool is that cast-iron cauldron? Augusta West, ME.

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If the Schwartz’ engine block hadn’t cracked, we probably wouldn’t have spent so much time in Cinncy (a.k.a Cinncinnati), nor seen the astounding Newport Aquarium.

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At a nearly abandoned RV Park in Dixie National Forest, UT, a small snow storm snuck up on us. In May.

We’d spent nearly a year traveling the U.S. when we decided to search Ecuador and Nicaragua for a location for our retreat center. After four weeks of speed travel, we’d not seen one place we were sure of.  But we also knew that the time to divest ourselves from the Schwartz was drawing near. The new motor we’d had to buy in Week 6 of our expedition had just two years left on the warranty. If we were going to recover of any of the $5,350 we’d spent on that motor, we’d have to try and sell her sooner rather than later. So, we opted for one last hurrah in the Schwartz and set it in southern Utah.

That hurrah was a magnificent three weeks chock full of wide-eyed wonder. In Southern Utah, the sheer diversity of rock formations and epic skies create a variety show of landscapes that light fire to your imagination. From Bryce Canyon where the ancestors of Native Americans are entombed in trickle-castle like formations of sandstone to Fruita where you feel like an intensely lucky pioneer amidst impossible lushness to Goblin Valley where you are transported to an alien planet and all of the tall tale spires and vast desert spaces in between. We became children again with nothing to do except marvel at the exquisite beauty of the world. Would we have ever explored Utah if not for the Schwartz? Probably not.

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On our way to see an ancient Anasazi cave dwelling. Navajo National Monument, Navajo Nation.

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A field of hoodoos. Bryce Canyon, UT.

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A red slot canyon just outside of Boulder, UT where we visited the remains of an Anasazi village.

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Hiking to Cassidy Arch. Capitol Reef, UT.

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A stunning view of the Colorado River from Dead Horse Point State Park (where they filmed the final scenes of “Thelma and Louise.”)

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“Dudes, we’ve seen the Grand Canyon already. Can we go now?”

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Moonscapes at Escalante National Monument.

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Creepy, kooky Goblin Valley.

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Monument Valley, Navajo Nation.

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The lush little enclave of Fruita was home to settlers as early as 1880, and to Native Americans for centuries prior.

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This little guy brings us so much joy. Every day. Every where.

Most significantly, living in the Schwartz highlighted what was actually important. Back in LA, our storage unit held the last 1500 cubic feet of stuff we had whittled down from the house – “only the most essential things”, we had assured ourselves. And yet, during all that time on the road, there were only a few items for which I had yearned. Yes, my small wardrobe had become threadbare and peppered with holes, but I had everything else I actually needed: love; family; a safe place to sleep; a full kitchen; a toilet; space to share meals; and, most importantly, a sense of self that did not require a facade of things to feel strong and good.

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Cooking meals in the Schwartz took a lot longer. Well actually, pretty much everything took a lot longer.

After Utah, it was time to say goodbye to the Schwartz. We had decided to take another big risk and try living in Spain for a year. The Schwartz could not come with. A sweet family with two young boys adopted her and a few days later, the Schwartz was gone as swiftly as she’d shown up. I was a bit sad to see her go, but the feelings were light, devoid of any major loss.

And that was something I couldn’t really understand. Early on in the trip, the Schwartz was like a giant backpack that made me feel safe and protected. We were fully equipped – we wouldn’t starve, we would never be homeless, we had a private place that was ours alone. Without our mobile house, we had entered a deeper level of exposure. We stood nearly naked in the world with no defined path. And yet, I felt fine, solid, confident even – We’ll just figure it out.

To this day, we still don’t know where we’ll end up. In the past, that lack caused me a lot of anxiety. I felt unhinged if I couldn’t look into the future and see a Plan or at least, an approximation of where we’d be going. But I’ve stopped worrying. Somehow, I’ve become comfortable in all of this exposure. Or maybe, it’s just that I know that we will always have a home in the here and now. Letting go of the Schwartz taught me that a home isn’t something we move into, we gather it around us.

I still feel wistful about our house in Altadena. We had such great times there. The thing is, it wasn’t the house that made those times happen. We made them with our friends and family. And we can do it again. Anywhere. Anytime.

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New friends, Sophie and Sylvain, whom we met on Root ‘n Roost farm in upstate NY.

(There are more pix of our travels on our IMAGES page.)

About Anastasia King Jaress

Anastasia is a former media producer who hit the road to sustainability in April 2013 with her husband JC and Mattie, the dog. She writes about food, community, sustainability, travel, family and the myriad questions that boggle them.

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7 Responses to We Are Home

  1. Sean Zigmund December 8, 2014 at 11:07 AM #

    Anastasia, this brought back so many memories, thoughts, feelings… of the travels I took in my camper, Bessie. Similar conclusions as well. Love it all, and so glad for you and JC. Congrats for everything, but especially the weeee little one, as Chey would say. 🙂

    Much love to you both. You’re always welcome at Root ‘n Roost! Peace.

  2. Shannon Ulrich Butler December 10, 2014 at 11:36 AM #

    Thank you once again for taking me along for the ride. You have graciously strapped me in the Schwartz and have given me shotgun. Love you my friend!

    • Anastasia King Jaress December 12, 2014 at 4:27 PM #

      Wow Shannon! That’s exactly the reaction I was looking for! You’ve made my entire month! So, thank YOU!

  3. Curtis Millsap December 15, 2014 at 5:01 PM #

    What a great post. I often wonder whether I am too bound to this place. It’s the blessing and curse of being a steward of the land; on the one hand you need to feel the weight of your responsibility to the place and people you have been entrusted with, but at the same time there is always the danger of mistaking our work and place for who we are… I’m glad to know you two, and I am glad to be reminded again that our place and possessions are not who we are, even if we are called to tend them at this time. We would love to have you all back sometime. I promise this time there will be more time spent playing; it’s my new mission to make the farm more fun and spend time with those who come into this community doing things out in the woods, like backpacking, canoeing, etc. We pray for the best for you both (three).

    • Anastasia King Jaress December 15, 2014 at 7:17 PM #

      Thanks for sharing Curtis. I’m honored that something I wrote got you thinking!

      And of course, we would love to come back! We thoroughly enjoyed seeing the camping / river pix you posted over the summer / fall.

  4. mary nesbitt February 3, 2015 at 4:31 AM #

    Just read your latest and thought I would reconnect. We are still puttering along in keachi, hosting wwoofers and trying to grow a sustainable business. Tom is still with us but declining. Are you in Spain now? Guess you are official gypsies now. All the best. Mary

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