“When two people meet and fall in love, there’s a sudden rush of magic. Magic is just naturally present then. We tend to feed on that gratuitous magic without striving to make any more. One day we wake up and find that the magic is gone. We hustle to get it back, but by then it’s usually too late, we’ve used it up. What we have to do is work like hell at making additional magic right from the start. It’s hard work, but if we can remember to do it, we greatly improve our chances of making love stay.” -Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker
We met on a hot summer night. We climbed a mountain in the dark, slipping on loose rocks, to drink wine under a sky full of fire. Late in the night, or perhaps early in the morning, depending on how you measure, we made a pact: that we would live an unconventional life together, that we would make the road our home. We sealed it with a kiss and left it for a while. But, before long, it came up again, and this time we decided it was time to act.
We searched for some time for a van. After some serious planning and discussion, we decided that a van simply wouldn’t do to house both of us and our sweet little puggle, Tori. If we were planning to live full-time in a vehicle, we would need a little more space and comfort. We considered step trucks and buses, but neither felt right. They would be too expensive to operate and too difficult to drive. Where we landed feels like the perfect middle ground. Not too large, but plenty roomy. Not an absolute gas guzzler, but also no Prius. Not the easiest vehicle to drive, but one that still fits where cars are meant to fit. This one feels just right–our van-front short bus that we’ve come to call Sweet Bea the Treehouse.
And now here we are: two kids without a whole lot of experience doing this sort of thing trying our best to turn sweet Bea into our dream home, so that we are free to follow our wanderlust and truly live everywhere.
Growing up in Boulder, Colorado is a weird thing. I grew up learning to love the mountains–hiking, camping, snowboarding. You have constant access to stunning views, and top of the line nature, but what’s missing is perspective–real life. After I graduated from High School I decided to take a gap year. Nothing develops perspective like travel does. My journeys to Europe, South East Asia, and India breathed real life into me relentlessly, for which I am forever grateful. It is in search of this real life that I now find myself wanting to live in a bus, traveling from place to place, in a state of constant flux and new perspective.
Upon returning to Colorado I began college, not really because I wanted to, but because I felt I could no longer be blindly dismissive of opportunities that had been offered to me. I graduated four years later with dual degrees in Molecular Biology and Philosophy.
College really wasn’t for me though. I still longed to be exploring, adventuring and living more fully. Post-graduation it was clear that joining the workforce was not going to bring me a sense of satisfaction or fulfillment, so I got a job nannying. I have spent the last year and a half playing, learning, and growing with kiddos, and I have realized what a passion I have for working with children. Kids are such a beautiful, demanding reminder to live in the moment, and to appreciate the little things.
Minimalism was not something that was really on my radar until graduation had happened and I was left sort of flailing. It’s amazing the changes that unhappiness can incite. Like so many of us who are drawn to buslife or vanlife I longed for a sense of freedom, the freedom I felt while living out of a backpack. Freedom from a mortgage, from a traditional 9-5, and from the depression that (for me) accompanies the rat race. It was as simple as that, and one day I decided that I was going to buy a vehicle and live in it, so that I could craft the life I desired and not spend my days dreaming about it.
It took all of 2018 to find a vehicle, and half of 2018 to find sweet Andrew Forget. Our first date was on the 4th of July and we spent the whole evening watching fireworks, drinking champagne, and dreaming. “Do you want to live in a van?” I asked him. Even I was surprised when the question came out of my mouth at 4 am.
In that moment, I didn’t quite know whether I was asking him if he wanted to live in a van with me, or in a van at all. I’m sure he didn’t quite know either. He didn’t answer. By his account, he didn’t have to, we just “made out about it” instead. Although he is a man of few words, his words are chosen carefully, and supported by unwavering truth and integrity. I have never known a man who is more trustworthy or deserving of unconditional love.
Fast forward, and here we are working together to create Sweet Bea the Treehouse, in the hopes of fulfilling our mutual desires to live simply, fully, and well. The adventure is just beginning.
Looking back now, as someone who is about to move into a bus, I can see clearly the path that led me here, though it was not always so obvious to me. Until one or two years ago this was not something that had ever crossed my mind, but now it seems like this is what I was always looking for.
I have, throughout my life, been driven by a powerful wanderlust. When I was young, maybe four or five years old, I was impossible to keep a handle on. I would do things like empty my piggy bank and walk two miles alone to the store to buy candy. I was never afraid to be on my own and I loved to explore.
When I turned sixteen and got my first car, I remember the world shifting in such an amazing way for me. Suddenly I could go anywhere I wanted. And I did. It started with driving around Virginia Beach, where I grew up, but soon I was driving all over the country–by my mid-twenties I had visited every state in the lower 48. But this wanderlust also was not exclusive to my leisure, it was also one of the primary factors that drove me to start working as a wildland firefighter.
There are many reasons that I loved wildland fire, one of the most important being that I loved all the places we worked. In those six years I was based out of National Parks in three different states, but I fought fires all over the country. When fire danger was low at home we would load up our trucks and drive to where they needed us.
Living out of a truck like this taught me a lot. I have always been naturally somewhat minimalist, but this strongly ingrained that nature. When you are packing that many people into a truck with all their gear for a two-week assignment you learn that you don’t actually need to change your socks every day. You learn that maybe one pair of underwear is enough for the whole assignment–you probably aren’t showering, so there isn’t a whole lot of point in changing them anyway.
Beyond the minimalism and organization necessary to live out of a truck with three or four other people for two weeks, wildland fire taught me to be happy on the move. Or maybe it didn’t teach me that, but rather I fell into Fire for that reason. There is something really wonderful to me about the movement through the world. Sure, I like to settle sometimes for the peace that can be found in it, but nothing matches the excitement of transience. I feel most like myself when I am on the move. There is a quote from Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon that I think speaks to this:
“When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”
With my eyes opened to this new lifestyle of life on the road, I started experimenting. I would drive long distances to beautiful places and when night fell I would climb into the back of my Prius to sleep. In this way I explored the deserts of California and Arizona. I fell in love with the simplicity of life lived with only the things that I could carry in my Prius with me while still maintaining room for a bed.
I fell in love with it so much that when I took a fire job in Arizona I didn’t lease an apartment. I got myself a room for the first two weeks that we were in town for training, and that was it. When those two weeks ended I was living in my car. In Arizona. In the summer.
It was immensely hot at times, but I worked most days anyway. After work I would drive to the coffee shop down the road and get something to drink while I used the internet. When it was close to dusk I would drive back to the parking lot of our office, out in the desert on the edge of town, and eat a cold dinner while watching the sun set. The desert has the finest sunsets, and during this time I watched every one of them. When the sun was down I would crawl into the back of my prius and read until I went to sleep. It was a simple, peaceful life.
Perhaps that, more than anything, is what I love about living on the road: it is enormously peaceful. To live a transient life is to separate yourself from society to a certain degree, and it is amazing to discover what life is like out there. There is a peace and a freedom that I have found nowhere else.
And now, after a lifetime of searching, I have found a partner that really fits. I’ve had many partners that fit with portions of me and the life I wanted to live, but now I have found someone that clicks neatly into all the gaps. It is like that feeling, after trying to force thirty different puzzle pieces into a tricky spot, when one drops seamlessly into place. There is a realization that accompanies it–oh, that’s how that is supposed to go. I didn’t need to push so hard.
So, here we are. We have a bus, we’ve started work, and all is well. There are surely many struggles ahead of us, but I could not be more excited to overcome them with this sweet lady. Here’s to a wide-open future full of freedom and adventure!