No matter where you are, what you’re doing, or how you’re doing it—Life happens..
I know this. You know this. There is no escaping it.
This is a given.
The last 31 days have been…interesting. Intervals of ups and downs until I eventually surrendered myself to it. Whatever it is. I’m still not entirely sure even as I write this. Feelings and emotions mixed with a hint of unintentional expectations, perhaps?
Did you know that according to a study done by the University of California, Berkeley in 2017, there are 27 human emotions? (Anwar, 2017) Robert Plutchik, a psychologist, developed the Wheel of Emotions which outlines 8 basic emotions which branch off to form 32 emotions in total (Donaldson). I’m not sure but I think I hit at least a dozen of these over the course of the month. Thankfully, the rough start had almost nothing to do with van life. The van was just the icing on the cake (more on that later).
The Displaced Seed
After months of planning, building, and downsizing (how does a minimalist downsize? I can write an entire blog on just that!), the time had come to leave Boise. It was August 1st at 9:36 a.m. when we buckled ourselves into the van and drove a mere .04 miles to Esther Simplot Park to make some coffee. It seemed a fitting place to spend a few more precious hours in a city that I’ve grown to love more deeply than I ever imagined. Eric and I have always been wandering spirits. Between the two of us, we’ve lived in over fifty places throughout the years. Boise is the first place that I feel like I could call “home” and I know Eric felt it too.
Mentally, I’m not 100% positive that either of us were ready to leave Idaho, but we want to have these adventures. Not an easy choice, but I think it’s important to remember, life is whatever you want it to be. When we’re ready to return, indeed we will.
Emotion #1: Sadness. After years of planting seeds in places I wasn’t meant to grow, I uprooted myself from fertile soils where water was plentiful and the sun provided everything I needed to flourish.
Transitions can be difficult even with a head filled with dreams and an opportunity with endless possibilities.
Setting the Pace
The drive to Missouri felt much like a race against time. My mom was there visiting with my brother and sister and we had only a few days to catch her before she left. Then, it was off to visit my dad and Eric’s parents, all in various locations around the state. So, basically, a lot of driving was lumped into a short period of time.
Hindsight is 20/20. No truer words have ever been spoken. Looking back, we should have slowed our pace and made the trip slightly more enjoyable (well, as enjoyable as a trip like this can get considering the health issues surrounding our loved ones right now). There were so many factors that influenced the string of decisions we made over the course of the month, I couldn’t even begin to explain even if I tried. I find that no matter how much knowledge you have, it’s difficult to implement what you know to be true during times of stress. Just 2 weeks prior to these experiences, I mentioned that, “life is what you want it to be”. Those same words now felt impossible to embrace in a positive light. I was making life what I didn’t want to be. Shame on me.
The storm cloud was brewing. On top of everything else, it was hot and the humidity was anywhere from 80-100%. I was exactly where I didn’t want to be both physically and mentally. It took some time, patience, and a whole lot of effort but eventually I reeled my spiraling emotions back to shore. Deep breath. I knew it was all going to be ok, no matter what. Sometimes, you just have to learn to let go.
Emotion #2-14: Anticipation, Optimism, Annoyance, Trust, Disgust, Grief, Disapproval, Fear, Remorse, Sadness, Anger and Acceptance.
I’m not going to even attempt to explain why I felt all of the things that I felt over the course of those 3 1/2 weeks, but let’s just say it was a bit overwhelming to have that many emotions in such a short period of time. There is a lot going on in my life and the lives of those I love.
One day while reflecting on my thoughts and feelings, I decided to listen to a podcast entitled, “A Gratitude Journey” by Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman. It wasn’t mind blowing, but, it did offer a reminder of the importance of practicing gratitude. It totally helps! So, I made it a point from that day forward to focus on what I was grateful for every single day as sort of an attitude adjustment.
Before coming to that conclusion though, most of the month was spent in an emotional whirlwind.
It was Saturday, August 24th when Eric and I officially set out. We didn’t really have a plan, just a few basic ideas of a route. Initially, we had the idea of going north into Iowa, cutting east into Wisconsin, up and over to Minnesota and working our way west back to Idaho. For various reasons, mostly weather related, that never happened.
I think Eric and I were both to a point where we were ready to get away from the humidity. Sleeping on wet, sticky sheets and being moist in places we didn’t even know existed was getting old. Don’t get me wrong, we had some great times too, but it was time to move on. That’s what being mobile is all about!
One of my favorite things to do when visiting Missouri is head out to Eric’s second parent’s house which I simply call, “The Farm”. Since I was raised mostly in a city, this place feels as farm as farm gets! There is always something see.
Animals of every variety can generally be found lounging in the mid day sun and if you’re lucky you’ll witness Mrs. Mary talking to her favorite donkey. It’s quite a sight to see! I promised her I wouldn’t post any pictures of her, but this is her ass 🙂
Mary loves her donkeys! There are 3 more in another pin and TWO more were born about a week after our visit! The one below was my personal favorite. How can you not love that face!
There was also a pig, sheep, loads of cows, a rooster, 2 dogs and 2 cats (one of which we wanted to bring with us SO SO bad!
MEET ADVENTURE KITTY!
It was love at first sight. This cat latched on to Eric and I and followed us around the farm for most of the day. She even hopped on the Gator and rode down to the river with us (hence the name Adventure Kitty). It really was more like a dog than a cat, which is probably the only reason we thought long and hard about bringing the cat home with us. Ultimately, we decided that we needed to get used to van life before inviting a fur baby into our home. It was such a tough decision because we miss having an animal in our lives, but it just wouldn’t be fair to him/her. One day!
The other cat was actually pretty cool too! She was so sweet and loving and would have made the most excellent furry friend.
There were also so many beautiful flowers scattered about and old farm equipment with a personality of its own. Have I mentioned how much I love visiting the farm!?!
Eric and I rode down to the Quiver River which was full of life! We saw multiple frogs in and around the water and millions of grasshoppers and insects it seemed. My favorite though were the friendly butterflies which seemed to hover close by putting on quite the show!
I have about 20 more photos, but I suppose I’ll stop now. Otherwise, this site will never load no matter how fast your internet is!
We spent some time in the quaint town of Kirksville which has a population of approximately 17,500 residents. It is home to Truman State University, Thousand Hills State Park, and our favorite lake which shall remain a secret.
Downtown was quiet for a Friday night. I think we were right on the cusp of school starting back up so we missed most of the college crowd. We strolled through the streets, took lots of photos, and ate Ronzas at Pagliai’s (the local pizza joint). This is when I learned about “Missouri Gravy” as Eric called it. Basically, it was REALLY greasy and I got a bit of a stomach ache from what seemed to be a pound of pepperoni inside of that thing!
We also took a bike ride and a stroll through Thousand Hills State Park. There is a nice bike lane around the lake which is also easily walked. We talked. We listened. We watched four hungry raccoons terrorize folks trying to eat dinner on the benches nearby. We drank a beer while watching the sun go down. We discovered there is a 10.5 mile trail that can be hiked, biked, or horsed. Best part: We found this super awesome tree!
I’ll never forget the first time Eric took me to his secret lake, which to this day, seems like a million miles away from anything and anyone. Even on a Saturday we encountered only a handful of people and most of them were fishing off the bank. We eagerly pumped up our paddle boards and off we went! We paddled, took pictures, meditated, and enjoyed every morsel of solitude the day had to offer. It was pure bliss filled with millions of dragonfly kisses!
That evening, we took the kitchen outdoors and I made my famous tacos as the sun was just starting to fade away. Van life is hard work, but it’s also amazing!
Later that evening, we shared the sunset with one other small craft at the other end of the lake which was visible only by a small white light that glowed softly from their bow. It was an extra special moment because we’ve never been able to stay late enough to catch a sunset. But now, we have our home with us!
We headed further north to the small town of Memphis which houses 1,800 people. There isn’t much there, but it is home to a quiet lake and a really nice disc golf course. When we arrived, we met a couple from Illinois (despite the Pennsylvania plates) that said they had just completed a 4 state loop through IL, IN, CO, and MO in search of some of the best DG courses. Not long after they left, a large group of 20 Mennonites arrived and the men went out and played for about 2 hours while the women sat under the large oak tree tending to the herd of children. They were a bit stand offish, but friendly and the children stared with not so subtle curiosity as we unloaded the van and reorganized (AGAIN).
That evening, the sky was magical and we sat outside watching the sun fade into night. We talked until the stars came out in full force. The sky was clear and the stars bright. For the first time in days, I truly felt at peace. That was the night Eric and I got naked and showered under the light of the moon (separately of course). I was giggling like a school girl as I doused my skin with that cool water. A good memory indeed. Loving van life.
We had several good days here despite many of them involving rain and thunderstorms. We went exploring by bike one day and discovered a horse trail which made for some fun riding.
It was nice to get back on the bike again!
The rain eventually went away and we were able to find some wood that had been left behind. Despite the wood being damp from all the rain the fire did eventually lite. I give all credit to Eric for his Eric’s skill and persistence. So thanks to his hard work, we enjoyed the vibrant sunset with S’more-in-hand.
The Slow Roll
Wanting to get away from all interstates and highways, we opted for Route 2 which stretches east to west across southern Iowa. I’m so glad we decided to do this. First of all, if you think Iowa is flat, I urge you to drive this road. With large rolling hills and a strong headwind, I watched as we zoomed past fields filled with various shades of green. It was here that I saw the largest buck I’ve ever seen! There were so many points on his antlers that I couldn’t count them all despite a significant reduction in our speed. He crossed the road and met his family on the other side. I whipped my head around to watch them gracefully skip across the field and was met with the view of our backpacks hanging from the bathroom door. Oops. I forgot, we live in a van now!
You never know!
You never know when or where you may stumble upon something special. We stopped at a rest area to stretch our legs and stumbled upon a Swallow’s nest with 3 small chicks. Their personalities were apparent from the start and immediately I spotted the bully (Biff), the wise guy (Marty), and the wimp (George “McFly”). Yes, a Back to the Future reference if you’re wondering. I stood quietly and watched Biff beat up on his siblings while Marty moved around between feedings hoping mom wouldn’t notice he already had his fair share of grub. All the while, George was getting stepped on, pushed around, and knocked over. They must have sensed that mom was near because every so often they would stop fighting and chirp loudly each beckoning to be heard. Then, out of thin air, mom appeared. Upon her approach the opened wide while she decided which one to feed.
After driving all day, we were beat. It was late afternoon by the time we arrived. After sitting most of the day, it felt good to get out and walk around. We spent about an hour relaxing and checking out the Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park which offered a spectacular view of Omaha, Nebraska and featured one of my favorite sculptures ever.
The area was immaculate. There was large grassy areas perfect for a stroll or picnic, a 2 story pavilion with restrooms, charging stations, and large seating area perfect for a rest stop, and a pedestrian bridge that crossed over into Nebraska. It seemed to be utilized mostly by a few seemingly homeless guys on bicycles, a small group of teenagers, and 2 strange people with uncombed hair who appeared to live in their van (that was us by the way).
The area was surprisingly quiet considering it was at the heart of congestion from the major interstate and bustling city. It looked like there were some construction projects in the works designed to bring more people to the area. The 65 mile Wabash Trace Trail starts near here and travels south along much of the river.
After eating dinner and spending the evening walking the streets of Omaha, we drove back to the Tom Hanafan Park. I had one objective: walk across the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge at night. It was spectacular. I mean, how can you say no to ever changing lights, a bridge, water, a chance to be in 2 states at one time, and hardly any people! Eric was a bit nervous about leaving the van, so I ventured out solo. It’s amazing how dark the night can feel when your walking alone in a new area despite a glowing city looming over you and a bridge which lights up the black sky! It was exciting and quite beautiful.
We thought long and hard about possibly spending the night at this park, but we’re still a bit timid on where we stay AND we don’t want to be those kind of van lifers who ruin it for everyone else, so we moved on.
As I mentioned, we spent part of the evening strolling the streets of Omaha. There was a different vibe there for sure. We walked down the historic Market Street which was home of some really old buildings with tons of character. The area was super crowded and the epicenter of consumerism at it’s finest so it seemed so we didn’t stay long.
We ventured off the beaten path and ate at the highly recommended Italian Bakery and Pizzeria, Orsi’s. The food was delicious, the service friendly, and the place was about as local as local gets! Situated right in the heart of an Italian neighborhood, the walls were covered in what seemed to be multiple generations of family photos. When asked, the old man behind the counter replied, “These are all people from our neighborhood, which are like family”.
The photo below was my favorite. I was told this was the 2nd generation owner who used to be rear gunner in WWII.
We ventured out with full bellies to walk off our meal. My curiosity was peaked by a spout of water that seemed to drift high above the towering buildings so off we went. We followed the mist which lead to The Heartland of America Park. There was a nice path around a small lake perfect for an evening stroll. We walked and watched the fountain, now turning colors with the darkening of the skies, shoot high in the air fin intervals of 20-30 seconds every few minutes or so. The park also offered excellent views of downtown Omaha.
The next morning we woke up and ventured off to the Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. Excitement was in the air, but after viewing what appeared to be multiple poorly managed enclosures and seemingly depressed primates, the mood went a bit downhill.
Perhaps it was just because I felt like I could relate to the feeling of being “caged in” that deflated my spirits. The look in their eyes was heartbreaking. They really seemed depressed! I became curious and did some research regarding animals held in captivity. I felt so naive while reading article after article about how many animals suffer from both infectious diseases and mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and even self harming behaviors (Leake, 2016).
On a more positive note, there were many wonderful things to mention about the zoo. The aquarium, butterfly house, and reptile exhibits were all very cool.
Pictured below are some of my favorites.
Our last stop this month was to the growing city of Sioux Falls. The one draw that brought us to this area was the 19.1 mile loop around the city. After our experience with the Greenbelt in Boise, I thought to myself, “this is a must!”. It was a very nice path, but was next to busy roads, 2 interstates, and an airport so it was loud and you always felt like you were in a city (unlike riding the greenbelt). It was still a great ride and it felt good to get on the bikes!
Speaking of loud. Loud defines this city. Everywhere we went it seemed the people were loud. This city also has the most expensive beer and food of any city I’ve ever been to! I’m talking San Francisco or NY prices! It was crazy ridiculous. Nice to visit, but this will not be making our list of places we’d ever consider settling down.
Overall, it was a good stop for stocking up on groceries, doing laundry, and trying out our shower at the local park on a rainy day! Funny story. Eric got his shower in, no problem. Me on the other hand, 1/2 way through the sun popped out and people came out of nowhere to the exact spot that I was doing my business—-naked and cold! This is an in person story MUST, so next time I see you, ask and I’ll tell you all about it!
We’re off to The Badlands, Wall Drug, and The Blackhills next so stay tuned for more adventures. I think I’m going to post a separate blog about the van life experience thus far because this one got a bit longer than I expected. And I’m going to try to start posting weekly when possible so that the blog isn’t so long!
Thanks for checking out my blog! If you have questions or thoughts to share, feel free to write in the comments below! Also, I added a new feature that allows you to get email updates when new blog posts come out, follow on Instagram and Facebook! Let me know if you have questions!
Anwar, Y. (2017, September 8). How Many Human Emotions Are There? Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_many_different_human_emotions_are_there
Donaldson, M. (n.d.) Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions: Resources for Understanding Emotions and Utilizing them as a Resource. Retrieved from https://www.6seconds.org/2017/04/27/plutchiks-model-of-emotions/
Leake, J. (2016, October 16). Unhealthy and Depressed, Captive Gorillas Die Early. Retrieved from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/unhealthy-and-depressed-captive-gorillas-die-early-gkwqcfkct