Eating a burger sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwiches from a food truck in Portland, OR

Eating a burger sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwiches from a food truck in Portland, OR

Starting back around September, about 7 months in, I was starting to get really worn out. All the driving and traveling was really starting to take its toll on me. Not only that, but all the adventure and thrill was starting to throw my adrenals into constant overdrive and my nervous system was feeling pretty shot. The idea of going all the way up into Alaska, doing another 2,000+ miles in the name of having an intense adventurous winter full of snow and cold and long winters and mountaineering was, at this point, starting to sound less and less appealing,, though I am still very much interested in doing that eventually.

Nevertheless, I pressed on, heading on up into Canada, despite the fact that I was growing progressively more hesitant to make the long drive north. When I was in Vancouver, life dealt me an unexpected twist, totally knocking me off my bearings, and today more than a month later as I sit here and write about these events, I’m still trying to figure out what to do next. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea…

Alright, so instead of focusing on pretty pictures and adventure stories from the road, this post is gonna be a bit different. I feel like going in behind the scenes a bit and talking about more than the gogogo mode of travel.

Arriving in Canada and Having my Car Broken Into

Driving onto the Ferry to Canada

Driving onto the Ferry to Canada

So long story short, after taking my car into Canada via a pair of ferries (the first from Port Angeles, WA, USA to Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada and the second from Nanaimo, Vancouver Island to Vancouver, B.C., Canada), I was meeting up with friends in downtown Vancouver when my car was broken into. The guy managed to unlock my car door somehow so there was no physical damage to the car, thank goodness, but he did snag my camera gear, lenses, video camera, laptop, and camping backpack… which is one of the reasons I haven’t been able to easily post to and update this blog the past month or so. The break-in happened on Sept. 11 (oh sweet irony) and I’m posting this in the second half of October.

In any event, I was actually pretty okay with my gear being stolen, much to my surprise. If it’s gone, it’s gone. So be it. The main thing that messed with me was the feeling of being violated, and the feeling of being sick to your stomach that comes with it. See, when you’re living on the road like this, your car is not just your vehicle to get around. It’s also your home, your private space, your sacred space.

With my camera gear and laptop now gone, did I really still want to go up to Alaska if I couldn’t be taking pictures?

Canada is beautiful. I really like it, especially the areas of B.C. that I drove through. I mean it’s utterly spectacular. At the same time, it also felt surprisingly foreign and unfamiliar, something I didn’t want to experience much of anymore by this point. Sure they spoke english, but they use Canadian currency, their accents are different (which I liked), speed limits are in km/h, and the cars are measured in L/100km rather than MPG… and even trying to convert between litres to gallons, for some reason a Canadian gallon is different than an American gallon… go figure! In the States, the higher the mpg, the better… you get more miles for every gallon you drive. In Canada, you want a lower number, meaning that it takes fewer litres (not liters) of gas to drive 100 km.

Everything just felt all weird, and at this point I was really starting to crave some basic comfort and security, especially after having my car broken into and feeling like I was constantly in danger and so I had to be constantly vigilant and alert for threats.

So with my sense of adventure and passion for travel feeling like it had been ripped out of me, I decided to turn back and return to familiar territory. I wanted to go home… the thing was, I no longer have an idea where that is… (I grew up in Georgia, my family is there, and that’s where I left from, but I’ve been gone for so long that it honestly doesn’t *feel* like home anymore. It feels like a distant past life or something.)

No pictures. No more wanting to travel. Out on the other side of the country… so now what do I do??

Returning to the Lower 48 and Spending Time in Seattle

Crossing the border back into Washington

Crossing the border back into Washington

When I reentered the US and got American cell service back on my phone, I gave my friend Matt Kahn a call. I didn’t really know why I called him, but I wound up breaking down into tears and he really helped me process a lot of the emotion that I was going through. It was such a big help… and it was nice to be able to eat again after having felt like I had been kicked in the stomach.

For the next week and a half or so, I was able to stay in Seattle with Matt and Julie, and I can’t begin to tell you how nice it is to have a place to kick back and relax, to be in the company of good friends, to eat some healthy, delicious, nourishing foods, to have someone else drive when you go places, and to live like a regular ordinary person again.

Julie, Ariel, and Matt at Puget Sound, WA

Julie, Ariel, and Matt at Puget Sound, WA

Julie’s training to be a yoga teacher and one evening when she was guiding me through some poses as part of her training, she had me lying down on the ground and just totally relaxing for a few minutes. When we finished that pose, I brought up the fact that doing that really pissed me off. Surprised, she asked me why, and I responded that even though I could physically relax my body, mentally I was still on high alert, like a snake ready to strike in any moment. Relaxed but a hair away from snapping on a moment’s notice. It’s like I couldn’t totally let go because of the possibility of danger, of someone jumping on me while my eyes were closed and I was vulnerable, of someone trying to break into the house, and so on.

Up to this point, it hadn’t struck me just how wired I was. When taking care of your own safety on a daily basis becomes the norm, you pretty much go down into survival mode and it’s hard to get out of that mode, even when you’re in a safe space.

It’s like… I’d love to be able to just sit in a place, to be still, to relax, and to feel safe, but that can be the hardest thing to do at this point.

The Grass is Always Greener

It amazes me how many people tell me I’m living some sort of dream life, and perhaps I am to some degree, but there’s much more that happens behind the scenes that you see. Can your entire life be summed up in one word? Can the word “delicious” transmit the fullness of the taste, flavor, and texture of your favorite meal? Can a few pictures and stories give someone the feeling of freedom that can come when there’s nothing but open road before you, or the intimacy one feels in the woods when navigating by moonlight, feeling the texture of the various soils and pine needles beneath your feet, listening to the sounds of the wind rustling through the leaves all around you? Some things have to be experienced to be understood.

But is this lifestyle some sort of ideal life for certain types of people? Well I suppose the grass is always greener on the other side. For example, from this perspective, I’m finding so many things to be grateful in a traditional civilized home-based life that I used to take for granted… things which to me make the grass look greener on the other side just the same. For example…

  • Having your own comfortable and safe place to sleep tonight
  • Not having to worry about check out times in the morning or breaking down a dry tent in the rain and needing to dry it out somewhere
  • Having no issues with police or security coming up to your vehicle at night when you’re trying to sleep in it
  • Being able to use your phone during the day knowing that you can recharge it overnight, rather than only being able to sneak in power while driving or stopped at a coffee shop
  • Having a place to brush your teeth in the morning and evenings (Thank goodness Starbucks’ are everywhere and many of the smaller ones have single-person bathrooms with lockable doors. You could also shampoo your hair in there. Just saying…) 😉
  • Having your own private space to relax and do nothing, or to have some friends over
  • Being able to receive mail and packages
  • Having a home to put things such as a computer, perishable foods in the fridge, clothes in a closet or drawer, or books on a shelf
  • Cell phone service
  • Internet
  • A stove that you can turn on with the flick of a switch and not have to set up or monitor the fuel levels of
  • A hot shower every morning readily available
  • and perhaps most importantly, a safe space you can call your own to let down your guard and RELAX

Relating to Others

Parking my Subaru Outback (left) next to two other green Subaru Outbacks

Parking my Subaru Outback (left) next to two other green Subaru Outbacks

Having spent some time in cities recently, I’ve found it’s actually become surprisingly tough to even relate to people and answer basic questions that come up in conversation. For example:

“Where do you live?”

“Nowhere really. I’m don’t live in this area… just traveling and passing through.”

“Oh cool, where are you from?”

“Well I don’t know really. I tell people Georgia since that’s where I grew up and left from at the start of this journey, but now that I’ve been gone for so long and don’t plan on moving back, it doesn’t feel like home at all anymore. I’m just here.”

When they ask about what I do for a living, this opens up a whole ‘nother can of worms. Sometimes it’s easier to just say “I’m a photographer” than to give the more authentic answer about being supported in every possible way by following my passions to the best of my ability, about passive income streams, about how miraculous things keep happening, about surrendering to a higher power and trusting that things will be taken care of, about how you can find ways of doing things you wanna do having money be the avenue necessary to get you there… Sometimes it’s easier to say, “I take pictures of cool stuff.” :p

I’ve also noticed a really common response to where the discussion on living a nomadic traveler’s lifestyle leads… You see, most people find it really interesting and fascinating, and they want to do it as well, but eventually it brings into their awareness the distance between where they are and where they want to be, and seeing that gap can be quite painful for people when they don’t know how to bridge the gap.

Seeing that gap, people tend to shut down as a sort of defense mechanism. Perhaps they’ll bring up one of the typical excuses about money, job, house, kids, etc. (and these are all totally valid reasons that I can completely understand), or they’ll emotionally shut down and withdraw from the conversation, but just seeing people start to feel bad in response to me just sharing who I am and what I’m doing… well, it doesn’t feel good for me or for them, y’know?

and it’s not about “look how cool I am and how much your life sucks.” If anything, I just want to be myself, live as fully as I can, and be yet another example of what any one of us can do.

If anything, I can only hope my lifestyle inspires others to follow through and live their lives more fully, however that appears, if that’s what they prefer. But whatever they choose and no matter what they choose (and I’m getting better at this, fortunately), I want to be in a place of mentally and emotionally totally allowing them to be who they are, to live the life they choose, and to make decisions to the best of their ability, without any negativity or judgment on my part. Just because I’m doing something a certain way doesn’t mean I need to go to war within myself against others who aren’t living this way. Perhaps this sounds silly in text, but I’ve noticed it’s a pretty common tendency when you’re genuinely wanting to (what you think is) help, thinking that you’re doing something right or you have something of value to offer.

That whole thing about being of service without beating people over the head because they’re doing something wrong. That… doesn’t work. That only leads to turmoil within me, and I probably spew that energy all over others when I’m in that space.

Look within yourself.. but don’t be surprised when you start seeing a lot of unhealthy crap in the way. Yeah…

Living in Portland, Oregon

A find that gives me a huge feeling of relief, knowing that there's people here who understand...

A find that gives me a huge feeling of relief, knowing that there's people here who understand...

So I’m currently living just outside of Portland, maybe 20 minutes outside of downtown, in a town called Tigard, curious to see if I can get a job at one of the local REI’s. I love the place and have been to enough of ’em. It’d be cool to make money being there, eventually getting into adventure guiding and/or product reviewing. I’ve been couchsurfing here with some really chill guys for something like 2-3 weeks so far. I had no idea it was even possible to crash with people for this long… 🙂 and it’s the longest time I’ve spent living in one place after leaving home, not including the month I spent camping on the side of a mountain in California. So perhaps the longest I’ve spent in one civilized home. heh

In a nutshell, Portland is pretty sweet. Downtown is surprisingly small and there’s a river that runs through it. Lots of great food, microbrews, and coffee, like Seattle. There’s a bunch of tattooed and pierced people here and a common bumper sticker here is “Keep Portland Weird.” I like that. Outdoor-wise, you’ve got loads of opportunities for beautiful views. There’s loads of hiking nearby, and if you’re willing to drive 2-3, hours, you’ve got the Oregon coast (which I haven’t been to yet but I hear is amazing… apparently even people from Washington come down to the Oregon coast because it’s supposed to be better than the Washington coast. Oh, they also call it a coast here, not a beach, because it’s not very sandy and the water is typically too cold to go swimming in). You’ve also got Mt. Hood to the east for climbing, hiking, skiing, snowboarding, and mountaineering, some nice national forests south of here, white water rafting in the rivers, and east of the Cascade mountain range you’ve got deserts.

It rains here quite a bit most of the year (apparently they’re having a late summer or something because it’s been bright and sunny the vast majority of the time I’ve been here these past few weeks, which isn’t typical from what I understand), but nevertheless the clouds I see here make for some spectacular sunsets. One of my favorite photographers ever, Marc Adamus, is from here and Oregon. I’ve always wondered how on earth he got the lighting he gets in his images. Elsewhere in the country, that kind of lighting just isn’t possible, but here in Oregon, it’s like, “Oh yeah, of course. The sunrises and sunsets are amazing out here. No wonder he can do what he does.”

That said, even though the fall colors are turning, I’ve done exactly zero hikes since I’ve been out here so far. Seriously. I’ve just been in R&R mode, doing my best to relax, to be still, and to destress. It’s still pretty common for me to feel like letting go of stuck emotional energy through crying, and to be perfectly honest I’m not really enjoying myself these days, but I guess that’s part of the experience too. Lots of internal resistance I’m working on and emotional releasing to go through.

So yeah, that’s that. I’m finally all caught up on this photoblog. Cool.

One Comments

  1. Erica
    on November 17th, 2010

    Dear Ariel,

    That one word would be…heaven. You know it was heaven because you found yourself innocent (again). And then, much like finding yourself standing with nothing beneath your feet but thin air when just a split second ago you’d been standing on solid ground, the weight of the world came crashing down on you (again).

    Isn’t it amazing how quickly we can be robbed of not only our possessions, but of our sense of peace; weightlessness.

    Somethings to keep in mind when sharing about your lifestyle:

    1. Offer as little or as much information as is comfortable for you; you don’t owe anyone, anything.

    2. It seems that many, if not most, of the people we encounter regardless the circumstances, simply do not how to be in the moment. They, without thinking about it, have to compare. It’s unfortunate, because I have no doubt the joy you feel/felt in your experiences is readily available to those you’ve shared with. That much is obvious from what little I’ve read so far.

    Passive income streams…love that!

    Sounds to me like perhaps the ideal setting for you would be a ‘base camp’ to operate out of. A place of your own to return to, to process your experiences in ‘The Unknown Zone.’

    Wonderful images you’ve captured. What do you shoot with? I look forward to whatever you choose to share.

    All the best to you, always…

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