Category Archives: Uncategorized

Think I’ll walk off my steady job today. Just like that old Merle Haggard song goes.

But it’s not that easy. I’ve worked there eleven years and it’s become a part of my identity. I’m always thinking about my programs, my processes, and the people who depend upon them. It’s what I do. I design computer systems. I write code. I deal with passionate users. I keep them happy. I am “the person” when things break. And I love being that person for them.

Or…I loved it. I love so many other things now. Sailing, writing, photography. I published my first book a couple months ago and have begun painting again for the first time in over a decade. Something in me has been awakened. It’s time to leave those computer programs alone for awhile.

It’s been a good run. I’ve worked nearly twenty years as a self-taught computer programmer. But I knew something had to give last summer as I desperately tried to fix a serious data corruption problem, from a bungalow, using slow $30/hr wi-fi in a remote part of the South Pacific.

Our sailing dreams are taking us too far afield, life is expanding too much, and my job doesn’t fit anymore. I’ve already begun my next career, publishing adventure memoirs, and will soon start another career as an ocean videographer. I’ll be busy. I’ll be pursuing my passions. It will be great, and I am excited.

But today, I’ll be reminiscing about the beautiful places I worked, and the fantastic projects I did during my eleven years as a Senior Programmer Analyst for the University of Idaho. There may be a few tears and a bottle of good wine. Like I said, it’s been a good run.

Category: Uncategorized

Amistad is Spanish for friendship. I just returned from a short and intense burst of Amistad in one my favorite cities in the world, La Paz, Mexico. I used to live on a sailboat in La Paz and during that time I made many wonderful friends. Brian and I sailed our boat across the Pacific last spring, which meant we would not return to La Paz by boat anytime soon. Now, to see this beloved place I would need to visit by air, car and hotel.

I haven’t taken a solo trip since Brian and I got married, but buying a ticket and flying to an exotic place on a whim is something I used to enjoy pre-marriage. I have pulled off big solo adventure trips to Thailand, New Zealand, Belize, Guatemala and Canada. Not to mention Alaska. I enjoyed reconnecting with my independent travel self in Mexico. It was a thrill to pick up my rental car at the Cabo airport and start driving around by myself. Cabo had nothing of interest so I headed straight to La Paz.

Soon the feeling of Amistad would fill my heart and make my feet feel light as air. I drove to the marina where Brian and I used to spend a lot of time, Marina de La Paz, and met up with our dear cruising friends Jack, Leanne, Ally and Patsy. Hugs! Champagne! Dock Party! It felt like home, chatting so easily under a colorful sunset sky. The hours pass quickly with these friends. We laugh, share, and remind each other this is a safe place to tell the stories of our lives.

The next morning I went to Zumba with Leanne and Ally and as soon as I walked into that peach colored concrete building I felt the same excitement, love, energy, and strength I always felt before. Zumba was a special ritual for me when I lived in La Paz, and it felt like nothing had changed.

Zumba is great because of the people. The Mexican instructors are excellent. After all, they came out of the womb shaking those hips. This white girl had a lot of trouble keeping up at first. I also look quite out of place in the class due to my towering stature: I stand 5’11” tall. There are few Mexican ladies above 5’5”, and most are closer to 5’0”. Just imagine my big blonde head, bouncing a foot above the rest of the ladies, slightly out of step, with sweat pouring down my face. I love dancing at full intensity to the loud, energetic Mexican music blasting through the speakers.

I picked up a little Spanish along the way, but still cannot conjugate a verb or form a complete sentence. I must have sounded pretty stupid when I spoke Spanish with these ladies.

But none of that mattered. They always gave me so much love. They hugged and kissed me with gusto when I walked into Zumba, invited me to their homes, fed me, let me meet their families. They included me. My heart felt so full after spending time with them.

That feeling kept me coming back. I would do whatever it took to attend the Zumba class at 8 AM, even if it meant an early morning dinghy ride from our boat at anchor and then a thirty-minute walk. I would find a way. It was always worth it.

And now, flying to La Paz to immerse myself in this delightful ritual again felt completely worth it. Sara, one of the instructors, planned a going away party for me at the end of the week with homemade empanadas. Wow. I cannot remember the last time a party was thrown in my honor. It was at least ten years ago.

Friday came and it was a special day I will never forget. Before the class Sara gave me a beautiful yellow lotus flower symbolizing the belly chakra. My heart soared. I love little presents. Dancing and Zumba had never felt so good, and Ally shot a video of all of us dancing together with the Mexican music blasting and all of us shaking our hips with big smiles. I love watching this video over and over!

After class Sara’s husband, Manolo, showed up with a basket of the most delicious chicken empanadas. Everyone had so much fun looking at my Crossing the Pacific book that I ended up giving Sara my only copy of it. After all, she is in it and was so excited to see herself and our friends in the book. I wrote about preparing to leave my friends behind when I crossed the Pacific, and how can I ever find friends like this again?

But now we’re back together like nothing has changed. We feasted on great food and posed for dozens of photos together. Usually I try to be in the back row of the group photos so I don’t block anyone. But not today. I lined up in the back, and there was a chorus of “Lisa, Lisa, Lisa” and everyone pointed to the front. I posed in front of the group and everyone cheered.

It was a touching day which I will never forget. I managed not to cry, because I know I will be back to see them again.

You know that phrase, “you can’t go home”. Well, you can if home is La Paz, Mexico.

This trip was already a heart bursting experience, and friend fest part two was ramping up. Several friends who crossed the Pacific last year with us also returned to Mexico, and they were only an hour drive away. I had plans to head their way next. Mike, Katie, Rob and Nancy were staying in La Ventana, and I spent my last night at Mike and Katie’s beautiful vacation home overlooking the ocean. We went out for a delicious dinner and then Katie and I soaked in the hot tub for hours, talking under a starry sky.

Katie and I share the same birthday, and our many similarities are uncanny. I have never met someone so much like me in so many ways. I constantly find myself saying “me too” around her. Among other things, we both love baths. Recently I published a blog post about writing my latest book in the tub. Katie said she loved knowing I wrote my book in the tub because she read it in the tub.

The next morning we went out for coffee with Rob and Nancy, and it was wonderful to reconnect with these special friends. We have shared many amazing days in the South Pacific and we all share an enduring connection with Mexico now, too.

I’ve been living a nomadic lifestyle for eight years, and sometimes I am lucky enough to find friends who create that feeling of home. They feel familiar, safe, and supportive. We’ve spent enough time together we know we can rely on each other. These friends fulfill a longing for stability and home that will always be a part of me, no matter how long I’m a nomad.

Thank you, friends. My trip to La Paz was short but extraordinary.

Category: Uncategorized

Self-publishing a book requires work and commitment, obviously, but mostly it requires courage. Confidence. Which, for me, meant quieting the voices in my head:

“My book isn’t good enough.”
“I need a professional agent to help me write this; I have no idea what parts are worthwhile and what I need to take out.”
“Later on, I may be embarrassed by this book.”
“Oh no, another typo. This book is going to be full of mistakes; I am no English major.”
And the worst: “What if no one buys it?”

I overcame the voices and self-published my first book about a month ago. It all happened so fast, and now I’m riding a happy little wave of success. My book has sold about 75 copies and sales continue to trickle in. People find it on Amazon, buy it, and when they leave a review it either warms my heart or causes me a sleepless night.

My book has eleven reviews. Many of them make my heart sing:

Breezy, fun writing style…” Oh my gosh, I have a writing style!
So well written!” Oh my gosh, I CAN write!
author has a real knack for the narrative…” Thanks, Dad. Dad was instrumental in the publishing of this book, and a ruthless editor.

Then a bad review came in, and I spent most of the night thinking about it:
“the story is inspirational, but the format is horrible to read on my kindle.”

At least she liked my story and wasn’t trying to be mean. She had valuable feedback for me and she was right. I made a classic software developer mistake: not testing my product enough before deployment. I was excited. I was busy and burnt out from working so hard on it. I was a creative person who wasn’t being managed. I ran amok and had to learn better publishing habits.

I embarked on a considerable effort to test my book across all devices and fix the formatting problems. This would be tedious work which would take several days to complete, so I settled into the bathtub and got to work.

Yes, that’s right. I wrote and published most of my book in a clawfoot tub at our AirBnB home in Salt Lake. The tub was the most relaxing and focused place for me, and the purple walls may have helped. Somehow, I always managed to keep my computer from ending up in a watery grave, and never electrocuted myself (never plug in the computer while using it in the tub).

I estimated this project would take approximately four baths, with each bath being 2-5 hours long. You do the math.

I changed the Georgia font size from 16 to 20 and tested it across kindles, iphones, androids, and also used an application from Kindle that lets you see your book on multiple devices.

The limitations of fixed format publishing were apparent, and no matter what I tried the book had tiny font on smaller devices like kindles and phones. I made sure the text was readable but it was too tiny to be practical on something as small as a phone. I added a short warning to my book description about the text size on smaller devices so people would know what to expect.

One of the best things about the Kindle reading experience is the ability to customize the text, so from now on I will write my books in a flowing format and include a couple photos at the beginning and end to accentuate the story. No more of this text drama. I spent a lot of time formatting the book, and it wasn’t fun creative time. Uploading the book to Amazon and setting it up to sell it was an easy and solid process. The difficult part was formatting the many photos which I felt added to the story and needed to be included.

Using a flowing format next time was an important lesson. Another lesson was the importance of combating feelings of doubt which can halt a creative project. Publishing a book helped me learn to quiet those thoughts. Everyone has feelings of self-doubt sometimes which must be overcome. And the greater the endeavor, the greater the chance for these doubting thoughts to kill a creative project.

But it is always our choice to give in to this, or simply learn to counteract these thoughts and move full speed ahead in pursuit of our dreams. To publish or to postpone. To chase our dreams, or get stuck. The doubting thoughts fade away now with every book sale, and I know I did the right thing.

I’m glad I tossed my first book out there to see if it would sink or swim. Self-publishing was a memorable process and my goal is to publish another book this fall/winter. Stay tuned!

After some incredibly memorable last minute-ing, our engines were finally purring instead of clattering. Our big trip is going to happen. We’re going to sail 3000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. For a couple weeks we weren’t sure if it would work out. Our engines were giving us last minute trouble. As my friend Leanne says, you can only push a boat so far. Brian worked feverishly on our two diesel engines with the help of our skilled mechanic, Colin.

We had a time constraint to work around for this trip, which takes anywhere from 15 to 30 days. I need to get to an internet café in the Marquesas by April 14, which is the day one of my big programming processes runs at the University. Yes, my employer approved a month off from work for this trip, but requested that I “return” in time to support this important process. I won’t go into boring programming details, because this is a blog about vans and dreams, but suffice to say I need to be available for this.

At one point, desperate for the right parts and unable to get them in Mexico, Brian flew from La Paz to San Diego to get new shafts for Magic’s sail drives, then flew back to La Paz the next day. We hauled out the boat on a crane twice to work on Magic’s sail drives. But in the final hour, the most maddening job ended up being the injectors.

The injector system was like a house of cards, and every time one piece of it was touched something else would break. The most annoying part was a tiny, wiggly fuel supply hose. Each time it got tightened down too much, or its delicate feelings disrespected in any way (maybe someone looked at it cross-eyed?) it would sprout a new leak and Colin would whisk it away to his own personal Neverland to soothe it with more soldering. Each time it left the boat for another trip to his shop we grew more frustrated. By the fourth time this happened we were about to lose our minds.

Finally the delicate part returned and was installed successfully. We departed full of excitement, but with a sobering fact hanging in the air: we hadn’t tested all these changes to our engines yet. Our last minute-ing may have put our trip at risk. If we found more problems while motoring from La Paz to Cabo it could be too late to fix them. Our mechanic, a good guy with a big heart, reassured us he would drive to Cabo to help with more repairs if needed. He had become invested in our trip and wanted to make those engines work for us.

Luckily we motored all the way to Cabo and enjoyed great engine performance the entire time. Whales jumped near Magic and we were so pleased about our engines. With everything going so well, we knew we were headed off into the big blue Pacific. This is our someday.

Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ll never forget the time I met Sherbert the kitten. It was late afternoon and Brian and I had driven all day from Tucson, Arizona to reach our boat in San Carlos, Mexico. Our Sprinter van bounced into the marina parking area, which was just a dusty patch of ground adorned with a big green dumpster. This part of Mexico is pretty casual. There are no malls here, just the ocean, friendly Mexicans, and a kitten who needed a family.

We were elated to be here and anxious to see our boat. We opened the van doors to a wall of hot, humid air. We stepped outside and walked toward our boat, and then Sherbert appeared.

She was cute as could be with an orange coat and a furry white chest patch. She was small and painfully skinny, though, and kept her distance. She meowed loudly from a safe perimeter, around ten feet away, as we moved things from the van to the boat.

She must be hungry. What could I feed her? I searched my food supplies from the previous season and found several cans of Costco chicken breast. What kitten wouldn’t love that?

She did love it, especially the broth, yet remained skittish and ran away when I got within a couple feet of her.

My prediction was that Sherbert and I would be cuddling by the end of my 8 day stay and she would turn into a great boat cat. Brian wasn’t sure about that and called Sherbert “semi-feral”.

img_0898-largeDuring the first couple days I would simply set Sherbert’s food a few feet away and sit with her as she ate. On the third day I set the food close to me and sat down on the dock next to our boat. Slowly Sherbert realized she would need to expand her comfort zone if she wanted to eat, so she inched closer.

She began to lap up some chicken broth and I reached out my hand to sneak a quick pet on her back. Instead of running, she stopped and peered at me with a confused expression as I withdrew my hand. I waited a second, and then petted her again in the same manner. She looked at me, eyes alert and watchful. Then, the third time I touched her she actually rose up to meet my hand!

It was an exciting moment, and soon Brian came out to celebrate Sherbert’s first petting by taking some photos of us and enjoying the loving scene taking place on the dock in front of the boat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI grew to love Sherbert more as she took her first steps onto my lap and later let me pick her up. She came running when I called her name and enjoyed being petted as much as possible. Brian and I would walk to the beach with Sherbert trailing behind us. She played in the sand and we tried to teach her how to hunt crabs.

She would be a wonderful boat cat and I’ve always wanted a cat who would enjoy travelling on the boat with us. But we had plans to fly back to the US for the holidays and there are strict laws about crossing a border with an animal. We wouldn’t be allowed to bring Sherbert until she’d been vaccinated and then cleared a 30 day waiting period. We also plan to sail the South Pacific which is not pet friendly, either. Imported pets are subject to lengthy quarantines.

Sadly, Sherbert couldn’t become part of our family but she was starting to get a little plumper. She was getting pretty friendly, so I hoped someone would want her as a pet. I asked a couple people who walked by and they just laughed. Leaving her at the marina was a heartbreaking idea. One day she would come around looking for us and find only an empty dock, not a big white boat full of love. She would continue to meow at people, but no one would know she was more than just a stray. She had become used to sitting on laps and eating regular meals. I had given her a taste of what it was like to belong with someone, and now I couldn’t take that away from her. What was I going to do?

I started calling and emailing the local animal rescue organizations but none of them were taking cats. One lady I spoke with offered to list Sherbert in a newsletter, which was great, but then a couple quiet days passed with no calls or emails.

Then I got a very exciting phone message from a lady named Gwen. She wanted Sherbert. Her home was a cat sanctuary and it was just a few miles away.

I cried and felt so happy. Sherbert wouldn’t continue to return to an empty dock; instead she would have a better life. Gwen’s call came just in time since we were scheduled to leave the next day.

I prepared a fabric covered box for Sherbert’s transport, and cut several holes in the top. It was easy to get Sherbert into the box, and she was fairly mellow as Brian drove to Gwen’s home while I held her box. She poked her tiny nose out of the holes in the top of the box a couple times, but otherwise settled in for the ride.

When we arrived at Gwen’s house we knew we were in the right place. Several cats lounged luxuriously in front of a tall iron gate. Gwen stood in front of the gate, waving at us. Pink walls and green trees framed the front of the house, high on a hill near the ocean. We entered through the iron gate and then walked in the front door. A gentle rottweiler and a smaller, elderly white dog greeted us, along with three cats. The entry way had high walls painted with a brightly colored jungle scene.

img_0241-largeWe handed Sherbert’s box to Gwen and she gently lifted the lid, cooed at Sherbert and placed her in a kennel. Sherbert immediately began eating dry cat food from a small dish. I sat down next to her and said goodbye. A friendly cat rubbed against me, welcoming me immediately into the fold.

We walked outside and chatted with Gwen for awhile as cats rubbed against us. Brian enjoyed watching a very acrobatic black cat who jumped skillfully from a tree to a fence to a car and back again.

Gwen said she wants a kitten and may keep Sherbert as a permanent resident in her home. Gwen also sends cats to the US to be adopted and Sherbert may be adopted in the US someday. Either way, Sherbert is in loving, competent hands and is hopefully being petted and fed at this very moment. It was sad we could not keep her but I helped her find a better life, and I can’t remember feeling better about anything.

Gwen was absolutely lovely, a bundle of blonde energy with a thirty year history of helping animals. I still get misty eyed thinking of our conversation about providing dogs and cats with vet care from the back of a car in the desert, Gwen’s battle with cancer, and her desire to be well and travel the world with her daughter.

Bless you, Gwen, and may all your dreams and wishes come true. You deserve it. Meeting you reminded me of the vast amount of good just one person can do in this world.

And thanks for helping someone I love. I’ll never forget it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been bouncing around all summer long. Like a pinball. Bing. Ding!

Sometimes the pinball would hit good things and lots of happy lights and sounds erupted. Other times, it missed its target completely and fell down the chute, feeling lost and not sure where to go next.

This summer was a mixture of these two pinball states, and we remained in motion nearly the entire time. I lost the balance and simplicity I enjoyed about nomad life. My life lacked stability and there was no element of simplicity anymore. Somewhere I crossed a line I did not even know was there, and I felt it deep in my bones.

2016-07-27-14-12-02-largeA sense of belonging is a basic human need, and I moved around too much and spent too little time with loved ones to feel like I belonged anywhere this summer. I need a community, at least part of the year. I need to belong to something larger than this isolated, nomadic, fervent life. In the past, I always found a balance between relaxing and adventures. But this summer we tried to play catch up from six months on the sailboat, and had a very long list of things to accomplish. A few of the items: buying investment property, taxes, mail, preparing for the biggest sailing trip of our lives, attending my 20 year high school reunion, selling a van, and then buying that van right back because the sale (to a friend) was a miserable failure.

We lost the simplicity of van life. Instead of enjoying peaceful time in nature, we grabbed zealously at big dreams while living in a tiny enclosure. Sometimes we stayed in short term rentals or hotels, but they always had problems and we never felt truly comfortable. We had two work trips, both of which required driving and flying. Exhausting, those trips were.

We did it, yay, and supported and loved each other along the way. But it was difficult. And the van was full of stuff and never clean. That really stressed me out, and there was no good way to fix it because we had a big life raft riding with us, waiting to get serviced. Also, part way through summer we got some things out of storage to move to a fourplex we thought we were buying, but the deal fell through.

13996150_10210373559994206_2908566252896338542_oOh, we’ll always remember that fourplex deal which fell through. It was a heartbreaker at the time, but we’re happy now that we walked away. It was contaminated with meth, had a rodent infestation, termite problems, structural problems in a couple areas, a tenant with a huge emotional support pitbull, 100+ year old plumbing and electric and no crawlspace or attic access. It was a hot mess and a real drain of our time and resources to inspect and try to come up with a plan to rehabilitate this poor building. In the end, it was overpriced and the rehab was too costly.

A good realtor would have been an asset, but I was in a hurry and picked a bad one. He showed up late and acted silly, laughed way too much, pointed out the strangest things, and took nothing seriously. First I gave him a “dad speech” via email about what we expected from him, then he blatantly screwed up again, and I fired him. I felt bad about it because he was a nice person, so we sent him some goodbye money and decided to represent ourselves in the deal. As you can probably predict, that didn’t go well.

P1140038 (Large)Those were some of the stressful times. You already know about the happy times, because that stuff is fun to share on social media. We did have fun this summer. We went to Alaska, learned to hike on glaciers, and did some great backpacking, sea kayaking and mountain biking. Those were the highlights of our summer. And when these things were happening they were truly glorious.

The rest is just sort of a blur. A blur of dream-grabbing, moving, doing, working and craving a place to rest.

We needed a solution. So, we’re buying a house to enjoy a couple months per year! Our closing is scheduled for Halloween, October 31.

Don’t worry, we’re not selling out or giving up. If anything, we’re turning up the intensity of our dreams. We’re global citizens now who spend half the year outside of the US on our sailboat. We need a peaceful place to go when we return to the US, and that is where the new house comes in. It will be a place to pursue dreams, store things, and cultivate a sense of belonging in a wonderful city where we already have so many friends.

Category: Uncategorized

DSC00820It was a big moment: my first via ferrata. A via ferrata, or “iron road” is a protected climbing route in the mountains. This promised to be an exciting adventure. It would be a dizzying traverse across a mountainside with nothing but an iron cable affixed to the rock to keep me from falling hundreds of feet. This via ferrata, one of the top ten in the world, is in Telluride, Colorado.

There are very few via ferratas in the United States. They are much more common in Europe, where they enable climbers to travel long distances through the mountains without specialized mountaineering skills and equipment. An iron cable, iron rungs, and sometimes bridges and ladders are the only protection provided in these steep and exposed places.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI used a special tether for the via ferrata which was designed to expand like a spring if I took a hard fall. It would prevent violent jerking at the end of my tether if I came off the rock. Two tethers were attached to my rock climbing harness, and away I went! I would also recommend a helmet and pair of gloves with a rubber palm.

I spotted a couple people doing the via ferrata with absolutely no gear at all. Unbelievable! No harness, no tether, no helmet, no gloves, no pack. They were treating it like a hike. I couldn’t imagine!

It was about 9 AM when Brian, myself and about a dozen other friends gathered on the side of a mountain in Telluride. Bridal Veil falls set the background for the via ferrata, and thick forest surrounded the tall waterfall.

DSC00704There was plenty of activity as everyone assembled gear and formed a colorful, excited circle. We did a little group cheer and headed up a steep and skinny trail. This trail climbed briefly and then leveled out as it traversed along the side of the mountain. The route quickly became more exposed as it threaded its way along the side of a cliff. Anyone with a fear of heights would likely go no further, and we hadn’t even seen the portions of the via ferrata secured with an iron cable.

DSC00770We hiked along the well maintained and easy to follow trail. This was no stroll in the park, though. There was a drop of several hundred feet right next to it, within stumbling distance. I moved quickly but carefully, mindful of the exposure next to me but not worried about it. After all these years of canyoneering and big rappels I don’t have very many feelings about big drops anymore. It used to make my heart pound but now if I have a secure place to stand I feel comfortable.

DSC00828Soon the trail was too dangerous to hike without protection. A sharp corner lay ahead of us with sketchy footing underneath. An iron cable was attached firmly to the rocks and curved around the corner. We got our tethers ready and I noticed how exposed the footing was on this first corner, and it would only get more difficult from here. I haven’t done any climbing in a long time, am I ready for this? Sonny was in front of me and encouraged me to continue.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASonny and his wife Calius had done many via ferratas before and felt completely confident. Sonny offered to stay right in front of me and Calius offered to take plenty of pictures to commemorate my first via ferrata. All photos in this post were taken by them. What great friends I have! Brian was right behind me and he had done this same via ferrata a couple years ago. I felt surrounded by wonderful, supportive people and it made it easier to clip my carabiner on the iron cable, then tenuously follow Sonny around the corner.

DSC00850I moved along the cliff, tethered to the iron cable with my carabiner. I couldn’t help noticing there was a real risk of a fall of several feet. The iron cable didn’t feel as secure as being belayed during a rock climb, since there was usually plenty of slack in the tether. Plus, in the event of a hard fall the tether will expand by an additional foot to break the fall.

The traverse continued with big views of green trees under us and the city of Telluride far below. This was a place of incredible beauty. I was moving along quickly and enjoying the sights around me when I came around a corner and my breath caught in my throat.

P1020730 (Large)I had arrived at the biggest traverse on the route. I had seen pictures of it. This was the spot where people clung to little metal rungs and moved across a sheer vertical rock wall a full 500 feet off the ground. Moving my tethers correctly along the iron cable here was of utmost importance, otherwise a mistake would almost certainly mean death.

It’s essential to stay calm and mindful during activities like this. Every movement of the carabiner has to be right, every clip, every time. Fear only distracts you, making the experience more risky. Better to stay calm and place all focus on the gear and the process of moving it safely from cable to cable. I’ve learned to not even look down in situations like this. It doesn’t help.

DSC00783Sonny moved out onto the big wall, stepping from rung to rung, clipping and unclipping his two carabiners. Now it was my turn. I ventured out onto the first metal rung, which was secure and trustworthy. I moved over to the next rung, and using one hand moved my carabiners to the next portion of the cable and screwed the gates shut. I had to grip a rung with one hand and move the carabiners with the other, all with a 500 foot void below. This was the most intense part of the experience. My heart was pounding!

DSC00785There were two problems. First, my palms were sweating and it made my grip on the rungs slippery. Second, these rungs were not made for tall people. A couple of them were so close together I had to scrunch my body in an awkward position to keep my feet on one rung and my hands on the other. There were no other foot or hand holds so the rungs where necessary here. I was also forced to pause in uncomfortable positions while using one hand to move my carabiners onto the next portion of the cable. I just kept moving, rung to rung, keeping my full attention fixed on my next move. Feet, hands, carabiner. Feet, hands, carabiner. Soon I was back on solid rock and the big wall was behind me. Wow, that was exciting!

DSC00896There was still some challenging climbing ahead of us after the big wall. One section of the route was overhanging and required us to traverse a short distance while hanging from metal rungs using our arms. In the middle of the overhanging I had to rely on one sweaty hand to keep me on the rung as I moved the carabiner with the other hand. There were many surprises along this wonderful via ferrata, and soon we found a small tree right in the middle of the route! I put my arms around it in a loose embrace to grab the rock on either side, and felt almost as if I were dancing with it. We enjoyed ourselves very much on this fun route, and felt safe and protected at all times. No one took any falls that day.

P1020742 (Large)At the end of the via ferrata we found our last surprise of the day – wild raspberries! Calius and I ate many berries, Sonny ate a few, and Brian looked on with amusement. Eventually, we all headed down the mountain full of excitement over the great experience we had shared.

Category: Uncategorized

P1010174-1 (Large)Our 100 mile backpack starts tonight! We’re hiking the southern portion of the JMT in California. We’ve trained by doing a couple grueling weekend trips, but we don’t have any long distance backpacking experience (yet). Our training trips have been pretty painful at times, and we hope we’ve learned enough lessons on these shorter trips to help our big trip go smoothly.

Nothing gets you ready for backpacking like backpacking, so we dove right in. We started training by doing a popular backpack called the Northern Loop in Mount Rainier National Park. It was 33 miles and about 9,000 feet of elevation gain. We did it in three days.

P1010438-1 (Large)Oh, the pain. Each day we descended 3000 feet, and then climbed 3000 feet. I read about the Northern Loop years ago and always dreamed of doing it. It’s amazing and I highly recommend it. But not as your first backpack of the season. Oh my.

The scenery was breathtaking and it helped to distract us from the physical difficulties. We hiked next to the tremendous Carbon Glacier and felt the cold breeze blowing across. We swam in shallow, warm Mystic Lake. We crossed brown, violent glacial streams, sometimes on bridges and sometimes on sketchy logs. We hiked through beautiful forests and enjoyed wonderful drinking water from small, gurgling streams. We met two fun park service employees dressed in sparkly fourth of July outfits, and invited them to camp with us at Mystic Lake. We had a lot of wonderful experiences, but each day it got harder and harder to climb with my sore leg muscles.

P1010459-1 (Large)The pain eventually wore me down, and on day three we had a fight. Brian told me I was complaining and I burst into tears. We quickly made up and decided we will do our best to avoid backpacking fights because they’re awful. There you are, in the wilderness, with one other person. The last thing you want is tension between you as you hike through a beautiful place, trying to enjoy it but not really enjoying it at all. We agreed I should plan our next trip and gather all the information for it, so I don’t feel overwhelmed by the difficulty. For the record, Brian did not pressure me to hike the Northern Loop. I was enthusiastic to do it, but also a little too optimistic about my abilities. Our long Sierras backpack will not be as difficult as the Northern Loop, so that’s reassuring.

P1010766-1 (Large)I got to work planning the next training trip. It was my birthday weekend and I was excited to hike by waterfalls and eat berries on the Eagle Creek Loop in the Columbia Gorge. It was only 22 miles with 4000 feet of elevation gain, so overall it was easier than the previous trip. We were already in the Columbia Gorge living in the van at a nice $10 campsite and canyoneering the wonderful waterfalls and creeks of the gorge. This backpack trip was right in our “neighborhood”, only a 10 minute drive.

The side of the loop with the waterfalls (Eagle Creek) was really impressive. We saw a dozen waterfalls, and the best was Tunnel Falls. The trail went behind Tunnel Falls and through a short tunnel before it emerged on the other side. Small water droplets flew in the air and lush ferns surrounded us as we prepared to pass behind the thundering falls.

P1010654-1 (Large)Once in the tunnel, the sound of the waterfall became extremely loud. The black, rocky sides and ceiling of the tunnel were dripping wet and there were some small puddles on the floor. The tunnel was about 20 feet long and tall enough to stand in comfortably. Tunnel Falls was the highlight of the backpack trip.

We also hiked through beautiful forests and foraged for blueberries and raspberries. The climbing was still painful, especially one day where we climbed nearly 3000 feet. That night my back and legs hurt badly, but then in the morning I felt ok and ready to hike again. I might be getting a little more used to those stiff 3000 foot climbs.

I can do everything with relative ease except the 3000 foot climbs with a heavy pack. There isn’t time to train more, though. The big trip is here. Brian has agreed to help me by carrying my pack up some of the 3000-4000 foot passes if I’m in as much pain as I was during our training trips. On one hand, I feel ashamed. Why didn’t I train harder, lose weight, or do more to prepare for this trip? I hate the idea of not being able to do these climbs without hurting so much.

This is no time to question the past. We talked about the upcoming backpack and decided we both really want to do it. We will do whatever it takes to make it happen. Brian says if he were hiking solo he’d be hiking hard for 10-12 hours per day anyway, so to help with my pack sometimes is no bother. It’s still a tough concept for me to swallow. It requires me to examine my independent approach to life, that I can do anything I want, that I don’t need anyone.

We’ll be doing this backpack trip as a team, and I am trying to come to terms with that. If it means Brian hikes up some of the steeper parts of the trail twice to get both our packs and I swallow my pride while he does it, then ok. That may be what it takes to complete this hike.

We will hike a portion of the John Muir Trail from South Lake to Whitney Portal, travelling over 100 miles in 14 days. During the trip we plan to summit the highest mountain in the U.S. (Mount Whitney). We’ll have no resupplies for food, so we’ll start hiking with enough to last two weeks. Food alone will weigh over 40 pounds.

I’m excited, and sure we can do this together! I’ll let you know how it goes.

Category: Uncategorized

IMG_1506 (Large)You know that routine you go through doing the dishes, scrubbing them hard with hot water and smelly antibacterial soap? Stop doing it. It’s totally irrelevant. You’re wasting your time. I’m about to tell you why.

As I adapted to a nomadic existence, some of my routines had to change. I began van life clinging to standard rituals I learned indoors, like washing dishes. Washing dishes was especially challenging in the van with no running water and I couldn’t think of a way to do it that didn’t require carrying an extra container of water and a wash tub. So I got creative. I put my dirty dishes in my gym bag and after working out I would take them into the shower at the gym and wash them!

The showers were private and I never got caught doing this. I also never washed off large pieces of food into the shower at Gold’s Gym. That would be gross. I just did a quick soak, scrub, rinse as I was washing myself and then put the dishes right back in my gym bag before anyone could see what I had been doing. Easy solution.

I know, I probably just lost some of my blog readers. So uncouth, these things van vagabond does. Forgive me, dear readers, for I was just trying to keep my dishes clean and avoid getting sick. I truly believed something terrible would happen to me if I ate from a dirty dish.

During the next few years living in a van I evolved more and so did my dish washing routine. Every now and then I would just have to eat from a dirty dish because I hadn’t been to the gym in a couple days. Each time I ate from a crusty dish I was sure I would get sick. It was like eating from a petri dish, right? The bacteria were sitting there multiplying as the dirty dish sat in my van.

But you know what? I never, ever got sick from doing this. I never got any sort of food poisoning or intestinal distress from eating off dirty dishes. Due to circumstances and just a change of priorities that is bound to happen with such a drastic lifestyle change, I started eating from dirty dishes more and more often. My confidence grew and I realized this wasn’t going to make me sick.

Of course, whenever I would deal with raw meat (which was very rare) I would go through the proper washing procedures and then sterilize the dishes with alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel. I never wanted to test the limits of consuming raw chicken juice. I’m daring, not stupid.

Once I realized a dirty dish probably wouldn’t make me sick, dish washing became merely a matter of aesthetics. I didn’t want little pieces of granola intermingling with my salad so I would give the bowl a good wipe with a wet paper towel between uses. Still, no sickness, so I took it up a notch. I got even lazier.

I stopped washing dishes completely. Now I will only wipe a dish between uses if flavors are strong and will ruin the taste of the next food to go on the dish. For example, a dish must be wiped between a curry stir fry and a bowl of cereal. However, I do no cleaning whatsoever between two savory meals, such as a salad and a stir-fry.

This has been going on for years with no adverse effects. I have tested the limits of crusty dishes, and can assert that you all can safely re-allocate your dish-scrubbing, hot-water-wasting, rubber-glove-wearing time to more important activities.

IMG_1008 (Large)We made the transition from sailboat life to van life on May 1. We put the boat into storage in Guaymas, Mexico and then took a bus to Phoenix to get our sprinter van out of storage. The last few weeks have been incredibly action packed. Wow, has it really been a month since we started living in the van again?

We had three main goals when we reunited with our beloved Sprinter:

1. Get back into shape. Life on the boat tends to be relaxing. It’s difficult to find tough outdoor objectives at sea level without a car or bike to go inland. We’re changing that this fall and bringing bikes onto the boat.

2. Finish customizing the van. We built out the inside of the van in December and all the main components were installed, but smaller things were saved for later.

3. Deal with mail. It’s been six months since I’ve picked up my mail and there will be a large pile to wade through.

P1000068-1 (Large)First, getting into shape. We had a canyoneering fest planned for Memorial Day weekend. Canyoneering tends to serve up big helpings of difficult terrain. I respect the physical demands of this sport and I’ve learned from personal experience that it can be brutal when I’m not in good condition. My last canyoneering trip was in Death Valley, one of the more challenging canyoneering areas. I didn’t train enough for it. I had been living on the boat and jogging at sea level but it wasn’t enough, and the off-trail approach hikes felt grueling at times.

photo (21) (Large)We got back to the US with three weeks to prepare for our upcoming canyoneering trip. We hit the ground running as soon as we arrived in Phoenix and drove straight to Sedona, a mountain biking paradise. The next day I rode one of my favorite trails, the Mescal Trail. Riding was hard but I felt on top of the world. I had been away from my mountain bike for 6 months and had missed it so much. Later that day we went swimming in Sedona at Grasshopper point. After months at sea I craved the feeling of water and even though it was ice cold I swam around in the aerated water below a small waterfall for several minutes. It felt good to experience an adventurous day on land again.

IMG_1053-1 (Large)We continued to bike as hard as we could at least five days per week. We went to Colorado and rode trails at higher elevations. We rode classics like Phil’s World and the Colorado Trail at Junction Creek. We rode every trail we could find that wasn’t muddy, and some that were.

There is nothing like pedaling a bike up the side of a mountain to whip your body into shape. After three weeks of hard riding we went on our canyoneering trip, and we handled the grueling terrain without much difficulty. The three weeks of mountain biking had worked! Canyoneering was still hard. It always is. But I had enough conditioning to perform well, and that felt great.

IMG_1215 (Large)During our mountain biking frenzy, we would use our spare time to customize the interior of the van. I set up a convenient van kitchen with all things in easy reach. Brian installed many accessories like a fan and a rack to hold wine glasses. In such a small space, everything must be done to add organization and storage. Brian dreamed up an idea for a wonderful bungee net above the bed, and it holds a lot of items. Soon I’ll write a post showing our new customizations in more detail.

P1000280 (Large)Ugh. Last topic is mail. I hate mail. After sifting through my mail I had a pile of junk mail three times as high as the mail I care about. I suppose I shouldn’t have let it go this long, but we’ve been busy cruising and scuba diving and the thought of mail was so far away.

The bright spot in my homeless mail situation is definitely the UPS Store. I have had a mail box at their store in Boise, Idaho since I started living in my van in 2009. This is a terrific service. They will send your mail to you wherever you are, and you just pay the postage for forwarding the mail plus a couple dollars. They will even sort out the junk mail beforehand.

P1000116-1 (Large)Having a consistent address is essential for us. When you own property and cars certain agencies absolutely insist on mailing you important things. They refuse to send these things electronically. If you miss mail there can be big penalties, like losing your vehicle registration for missing an emission test, or having your insurance cancelled because you missed a notice in the mail. Mail is a necessary evil.

Now that we’re back in shape and the van has been customized to our liking, we are looking forward to a summer of adventure. We have backpacking, kayaking, canyoneering and kiteboarding on our schedule. It’s going to be quite a summer!


About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van and on a sailboat with my superhero husband, Brian. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, scuba dive with sharks, dodge encounters with bears and wolves, and work remotely as a full time computer programmer.
Read more

About the Van

Hi, I’m Vanifest. I’m a big, 4x4, off-the-grid van complete with solar panel for power. I'm a 2000 Dodge Ram Van and Lisa has had me since 2009. Read more about me here.


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: