desert exceptions


If anyone were to ask me if I liked deserts, I’d reply with a resounding, “NO!” I have never liked the desert. I love trees and water. I love color and contrasts. I love cute, furry animals…even the ones who can bite your head off. Except I have caveats: I don’t like humidity. Or heat. Deserts, on the other hand, are all brown and tan. Monotonous. They lack “real” trees and water. And they are filled with slithery, creepy, stinging and biting reptiles, insects, and arachnids. No. Not for me. But I’d have caveats here, too. No humidity in the desert is a good thing. And lizards are adorable. This is what we do in life, as humans. We categorize everything, and paint with broad strokes the characteristics of members of each category, and then lump them into good or bad, likes or dislikes. When we run into a member of that category that doesn’t quite fit, we make exceptions or add caveats, while still maintaining that our neat little categories work for us, for maintaining our order and our perspectives on the world. We put people into categories based on religion, politics, ethnicity, skin color, economic status. Animals fall into cute and cuddly, dangerous and deadly, mammal, reptile, insect…or dinner. We put emotions and actions in simplified terms, defying the complexities at the roots of many of our actions and in the simultaneous and sometimes conflicting emotions we feel at any given time. 

But now I’m out traveling in the desert. I first made southern Utah an exception to my desert perspective last year when I traveled these parts and hiked in Arches and Capitol Reef on my way to my brother and now sister-in-law’s wedding in California. Now, however, my exceptions grow. I am finding it harder to paint the desert only in browns and tans. I am not just passing through, glancing at beauty that surprises me and runs counter to my idea of what makes a desert. I move more slowly. I spend more time. I am getting to know more deeply the desert, from northern New Mexico to here, in southwestern Utah. I am seeing beyond the surface. I am having to shift perspectives, to broaden my conceptualization of desert and desert life. The scene of red, white, pink, and rust rock against a blue sky is full of color and contrast. A river running through a canyon supports abundant trees, and trees grow in transition zones or cling to life on rocky heights, defying and adapted to a lack of rainfall. I have a new-found appreciation for tarantulas now that I see them in their environment and I know more about them and their struggles for survival. I don’t want to surprise or piss off a rattle snake by stepping on its turf, but I like knowing they are here. I no longer feel a stranger to this land because I know and understand it better. The desert and I are becoming friends, and I feel a connection I never thought I would feel. Though, I can’t say I’ve made peace with scorpions yet; but, then, I’ve not yet had an opportunity to get to know them either. 

common ground

I am finding the same out here with the people I meet. We are all in this together out here. I walk to the restroom past rigs older than mine; rigs new and ginormous and glamorously outfitted; tiny little trailers that I can’t, for the life of me, figure out how two people can possibly sleep inside (though I still think they are awesome little things); vans; and tents. All sharing this space, sitting side-by-side, with few delineations between neighborhoods or jobs or socioeconomic standards to determine who sits next to you. I’ve been in places where I am sure my neighbor has been forced into this situation because of hardships or where people have turned their rigs into more permanents structures because they’ve set down roots (whether out of need or desire is really irrelevant). I am sitting now in a National Park where some have no trouble affording the sites here, while others, I’m sure, save up all their pennies just for the opportunity to see this wondrous landscape. 

To be sure, not everyone out here escapes their judgmental tendencies even when escaping “real” life to come out into the “surreal” life of nature. It is also certain that there are those places where the artificial boundaries erected in society exist just as strongly. There are those RV parks I would never be allowed into, even if I wanted to because my rig isn’t bright, shiny, and new enough. But most of my experiences since arriving in the west have shown me kindness reigns when people shed their blinders. When they find themselves in a place where a majority have an awe and wonder of the space they are in. When there is a common ground of appreciation for this life and for travel. When you are in a space or engaged in an activity that erases stress and worry and anxiety, even if only for a time, and puts a smile on your face and a lightness in your step, you greet your neighbors with kindness without even thinking about it. You don’t ask or wonder about their politics or religion or socioeconomic status. You just smile, say hello, and receive the same in return. And maybe you strike up a conversation or exchange small talk. And sometimes you find yourself sitting next door to someone whom, after much conversation, you realize has differences that would have divided you in the “real” world, but, out here, you can still get to know them and enjoy their company and even have discussions around those topics that would have never been discussed under normal circumstances. And you discover you enjoy this person’s company, and a friendship is formed that will continue beyond the goodbyes of moving on.


I am not blind to the issues that exist in this world right now. They are plentiful. I know and understand they are out there, and I realize that these problems did not go away just because I moved into a new space. But it seems to me these very real issues stem from artificial sources we humans have created in our society. Can we fix the problems by continuing on paths that offer up divisiveness and anger, anxiety and fear, a me before we mentality? Or would we be better served to loosen up the strict and confining bounds of our categories, to allow for the possibility of more exceptions to the characteristics we assign members of any given category, to get to know those whose differences normally keep us separated and find the common threads that tie us all together, and to let kindness reign? I don’t know what the right path is, but the path we are currently on doesn’t seem like it leads us to any positive outcomes. I don’t believe there is only one right way, just that the way we’ve chosen creates a much harsher and cruel reality. It seems to me a smile and kindness for your neighbor or the stranger in the shops or the person you see as you leave the voting booth today does more to start healing what ails us than a scowl and angry words. And a walk in nature soothes the soul and quiets the mind more than our screens do. What I do know is that we really are all in this together. And time spent in the desert teaches us that there are more exceptions than our confining category of “desert” can allow for when we slow down and take the time to get to know and understand it.



Ute mountain Moments


The last day of our friend’s visit brought us yet another taste of adventure with finishing notes of peace and gratitude. Our friend had an unasked-for upgrade on her rental car for her visit. It was a beast of a vehicle, with high clearance and 4WD. How could we NOT take advantage of the opportunity such a contraption would allow? 
We had read about middle-of-nowhere Ute Mountain, sitting alone at the northern edge of the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, brushing up against the border of Colorado. Ute Mountain is an extinct volcano, its cone top long rounded out and smoothed over by time and the elements. It has historically been an important location for Native Americans. It has long been a place noted for the peace it engenders within, between, and among those who stand within her shadows or upon her slopes. She sits alone, off unpaved roads and at the end of misguided directions from map apps. It takes effort to get there. And a vehicle better designed for rough roads than a Hyundai Sonata Hybrid doesn’t hurt, either. 
Upon leaving the maintained and paved portion of the National Monument, we punched in our desired location, Ute Mountain, on the map, and I pointed the nose of the beast down the first dirt and gravel and rocky road, with the mountain sitting in the distance beckoning us onwards, looking tantalizingly within reach. We bumped along stretches of grasslands and fence rows, past occasional adobe or faded and worn wood structured houses. And landed, after a time, at a gate, with a sign warning against trespass and indicating Chevron’s rights of ownership. Yet, clearly, the map app indicated we go just this way. Nothing to do but turn around and opt for an alternate route offered in the faded blue lines on the map directions. 
More bouncing, more jarring, more testing of bladder strength, and a couple more turns brought us past this:

At last

A piece of art in the desert that apparently also served as somebody’s home, and with a wide view of Ute Mountain in the distance. Who lived there? Better yet, who designed and painted such a brilliant splash of color out in the middle of almost nowhere?
The road (of sorts) led us by other creative, architectural marvels, though I’m not sure these others would qualify as art. Like the house someone made from a short bus built out to create extra rooms. A hybrid of sorts between a school bus and a wooden home. Quirky and fascinating. Creative and amusing in its clever use of materials. Maybe some would call it art. A short distance beyond the bus house, it looked as if we were nearly to the final turn that would take us to the road leading to the north side of Ute Mountain. But, in reality, it led us to another dead end, at a house this time. With bones hanging from a fence post at the end of the driveway. No other warning needed. Time to turn around again and seek out that third alternative route.
The third route took us all the way back out to the highway, down a stretch, and at last onto the unpaved road that appeared to take us to the turnoff we needed to reach our destination. But, in this case, the third time was not a charm. We would hit one more wrongly indicated turn that led into the gates of someone’s ranch. Perplexed, we drove on, thinking maybe it wasn’t for us to reach the peaceful grounds of Ute Mountain. We were all satisfied with the exciting drive and succumbed to the idea that we might just have to give up and head back. We opted first to cruise down State Line Road as a last-ditch effort, for which we were rewarded a few miles down the road when the BLM sign rose into view. At last!


We turned into Monument territory and wound around until we hit the place where the road continued up, and onto a surface where nothing more than high clearance 4WD would do. Not another soul around. No cars. No people. I stopped the car at the place I felt no longer brave enough or skilled enough to drive. We got out and climbed up. There is supposed to be a trail, of sorts, heading to the top. It isn’t an official trail, and it is one that is necessary to bushwhack for each person who happens to locate it. We did not locate the trail and just made our own way up through low-lying sagebrush and other desert plants. We did not go into the trees, where the way gets harder, and the path gets steeper. That would have to save for another day. Instead, we climbed to a rise about a third to halfway up the side of the mountain. 


Looking back from where we started, the beast had become an insect, the rock-strewn road simply a trail drawn out behind the insect’s path through the dirt. The quiet up there bound us to the mountain, to the earth beneath our feet, the air drifting across our faces and arms on its way up the slope, and the sky above, with dark clouds forming a moving edge leading from the distance up to just above our heads. Yes, there is peace up there. A peace you can feel resonate from the mountain itself. A peace that speaks of a place’s long history, of all she has witnessed over the millions of years of her existence, of all the heartbeats and breaths of the people and animals who have sidled up to her sides and across her surface, of the secrets she would whisper in your ear if only you’d listen close enough. 
We peeled ourselves off of the surface, reluctantly, when the first drops of rain dropped languidly from the clouds beginning to drift overhead. We saw our second rainbow of the day when we reached the insect-turned-beast again, gave a moment’s pause to take it in, before climbing in and heading out again to State Line Road to begin making our way back. Except that we weren’t quite finished yet. From on the mountain, Gail had spotted what we made out to be the canyon that held the Rio Grande on this northern edge of the National Monument. We had turned right, to head back, but began pondering whether or not we could reach the rim if we turned around and followed the road west. We could not resist this temptation. 
Much to our delight, the road ended at a path that led a short distance to the rim of the canyon. We stood on its edge, in a place that felt far from everywhere. The wind was less than gentle here, serving as a reminder that nature ruled, and if you did not heed the caution in her roar, you could be taking a quick trip to the bottom of the canyon. The power of nature is palpable here, and while you know that she can quickly dash you to the bottom to meet your end, she also makes you feel alive in her energy. And she continued to deliver as we made our way back down State Line Road.

ribbons of color

Rainbows began revealing themselves to us along our way. A full double rainbow spread itself from a distance on the north side of the road to a distance on the south side, linking New Mexico and Colorado in ribbons of color so vibrant touching them seemed possible. We saw so many rainbows, we lost track, each one reflecting back to us the joy felt at the turns of this day. The peace offered up by Ute Mountain and our gratitude for this offering, and the opportunity to experience it together, three friends bonded now by a mountain, with a canyon to remind us we are all alive, and ribbons of rainbows wrapped around the whole package.  




Peak Time


Medicine Bow Peak. It’s the coup-de-gras of hikes in the Medicine Bow National Forest. And for good reason. At just over 12,000 ft in elevation, the 360 views at the top are just reward for the rigor of the climb up. The vistas on every side show a variety of landscapes and you can see for miles and miles and miles. If you hike the loop, you see very different scenery on the way up from the way down, and it’s all captivating.


Though all of the reviews I read of the hike said to go clockwise in order to have a more gradual ascent, saving the steep grades for the descent, I opted for the reverse. I’d much rather climb steep inclines than descend them, and my knees thank me for it! The decision to go against the herd was a great decision for the company I had the good fortune of keeping on the challenging 0.8 mile switchback, boulder climbing press to the peak.


I’d only seen one person up to that point. When I reached the sign that indicated the way to the peak or the way down to another lake that is a common starting point for a relatively quick (but steep) hike up to the top and down, the wind was insane. It is Wyoming. The wind is always insane. But it made me contemplate the wisdom of heading up a steep climb on the side of a mountain where I did not know the trail conditions and all I could see was rocks and boulders going up. I like adventure, but…safety first (you’re welcome, Mom!). At that moment, I noticed a group of five heading up from the lake towards me. Maybe I was in luck…


Once they reached me, I asked if they were going to the top, and after some discussion, they decided they were going to go for it. And they welcomed me to tag along. This, it turned out, was to be one of my favorite parts of the hike, keeping the company of this delightful, international family. So many overlapping interests and histories. We were not lacking for conversation on the way up. It turned out that not only did I feel safer (at least if I blew off the mountain, there’d be someone there to get help), but I also had camaraderie and new friends. It made the climb up seem  much less grueling. 


We had to part ways for the trip down, however, as they had a very important and exciting appointment to keep at the university in Laramie and would not be making the loop. While at the top, there had been two other couples, they were making the loop in the opposite direction. I had the trail to myself once I left the peak, seeing only one other individual in passing on his way up, until I had Lake Marie in my view again near the bottom. From good company and good conversation to quiet solitude, I had it all on this trip to the top and back. I could not have asked for a better day for the end cap to my time in Medicine Bow National Forest. 




Of earth, wind, water, and sky


The Lost Lake Trail was supposed to be my “warmup” trail for Medicine Bow Peak. The app I was using said 3.6 miles. This was an out-and-back trail, and I’d assumed that the 3.6 miles was for the distance going out and back. That is what the other listings had been, and this trail wasn’t noted any differently than the others. I had planned to tack on a bit more and turn it into a five or six miler—to see more lakes and because the peak loop trail is supposed to be seven miles. This trail was to go past several of the glacial lakes that make this area one for scenic peak vistas and quiet water views. I anticipated that I’d be stopping often to enjoy the views, to sit down on a rock by the water in quiet contemplation, to catch my breath after a steep climb. So, off I went, with layers and food and plenty of water weighing down my backpack.
Gail and I had done a 3.5 miler that started from the same parking lot as this one but headed in the opposite direction. Beautiful hike, but about half of it went through pine forests devastated by the bark beetle. There were at least as many brown or needleless trees as those still standing green. What is happening here in the west is difficult to observe. It’s painful. I remember the first time I witnessed a forest overcome by bark beetles. My family was camping in an area west of Rocky Mountain National Park. The forest in the campground had almost no healthy trees left. It made me wonder then what was to come of our other forests. And now I see. The beetles are unstoppable with the changes in seasonal patterns. They are leaving in their hungry wake large swaths of denuded forests. Dead wood. Tinderboxes for the ever-increasing wildfires. Evidence of which can be seen in the Medicine Bow National Forest as well. Just three months ago, there was a large wildfire here, and daily the horizon—and sometimes even overhead—takes on the yellow-orange hue from the haze caused by the burning west. 
I signed into the registration box and noted only two other groups of two had signed in ahead of me. I’d pretty much have the trail to myself. Lovely. The forest was changing quickly with altitude gain. Fewer beetle trees. Eventually, trees gave way to shrubs and then to alpine tundra. Prior to reaching the higher elevations, I landed at Lost Lake. Turns out that the trail’s namesake lies halfway along the out-and-back trail. At this point, my watch said I’d already gone 1.9 miles, which meant that if the entire trip out and back was 3.6 miles, I should have been turning around now. But I still had at least that much further to go to get to the end of the trail. I didn’t mind. After a snack and a sit on a rock, onwards I went.
My eyes could not absorb all I saw. Something about this environment spoke to me. The contrasts between the rocks, trees, and water, the shifts between ecosystems. The wildness. And even the wind. When I get in these types of environments, I feel a part of it all. I sense the connection we all have to the natural world around us. I am as filled with contrasts as this space as I see around me. My own internal space is shifting. The more I am out here, the more I want to be. The more I am out here, the more I feel that this journey has so much to do with reconnecting with natural spaces, both in the world around me and in myself. Even my fears are different out here. Fearing confrontation with a bear or fearing an incoming storm while above treeline is somehow less stressful than the day-to-day fears encountered in our modern live-to-work, xenophobic, consumerist society. I fear the bear, though I want to see him. I fear the storm, though witnessing the power of Mother Nature is also exhilarating. At one point along the trail, looking out over several lakes and up at Medicine Bow Peak, with the wind whipping around me, I thought: If I die out here, I’d be okay with it. I would die happy. Of course, on my way back down, as I was racing that incoming storm to the car, I thought: I better not get stuck out here above treeline in a thunderstorm. I better not f@*king die out here! You see? Full of contrasts. 
I did see that bear. Or its backside as it scampered away from me and into a clump of rock and trees. It took a moment to realize that a bear is what I was seeing. I did not fear it, as it posed no real threat (and I had my bear spray within easy reach, though I’m not entirely sure I’d be as quick and adept at using the contraption as I need to be, should I ever need to be). The bear was not as enthralled with seeing me as I was of seeing her. I was happy for the brief glimpse, though I do wish she would have been just curious enough to turn around and look at me, so that I could see her face, look into her soulful brown eyes, and see a bit of myself in this magnificent creature before she disappeared into the safety of trees and rocks.
At the end of the Lost Lake Trail, I did not turn around, in spite of the tell-tale cumulonimbus clouds growing above and edging over the peaks. The trail intersected another, and I decided to walk on another half mile to the next glacier lake. It wasn’t until this point that I’d encounter more people (I’d only seen two forest workers and a woman and her four Burmese mountain dogs up to this point). I’d enjoyed my solitude, but did not mind now seeing others out enjoying the beauty. It was also a bit of a comfort to know there were others out there as the winds picked up and the clouds rolled in. I had planned on eating lunch at the next lake but was unable to dally long. The clouds were truly beginning to look ominous. Though I longed to keep walking, to discover what was over the next rise, to see the next vista and the next lake, and to continue onwards from there, it was time to turn around. I lost the people again once I hit the Lost Lakes Trail. My heart raced a bit as I raced down (and up) the path heading back to the trailhead. In spite of the fear, I still had to stop and take in the views and take some photos to mark my time here. To wonder at the power and the grace of wind, weather, and earth. The power and grace (lacking in those moments I stumbled over roots and rock) of me as a part of it all. 
I made it back to my car, just as the raindrops began to plop down on my head. I still had an hour’s drive back home, during which I witnessed two rainbows, cloud-to-ground lightning, and a wind that could lift a person off her feet if caught off guard. I felt lucky to be just there. Just here. Satisfied. Content. And yet ready for more.



all creatures great and small


We are going to take the time in this post to retrace our footsteps from our current home near Medicine Bow National Forest back to Custer State Park and Black Elk Peak. In the ensuing week and a half following our departure from Custer, we have come to understand more fully how important the role of nature in this journey has become. Yes, the people we have met out in these parts have been warm, welcoming, and interesting. But as we have found ourselves walking paths through woods and along passes and up peaks, the draw to the natural world has increased. The power of nature to ground and to heal as it challenges and inspires has become increasingly apparent to us.


A Hike Up to where spirits soar

Even before we started, the hike up to Black Elk Peak seemed important. Important because of what it is and what it signifies. It has historically been a place of spiritual significance for the Native Americans, and, given each of our reflective experiences on the history and current conditions for Native Americans here, a hike up Black Elk Peak seemed fitting. The peak is also the highest point east of the Rockies and west of the Pyrenees. We knew it would challenge us. We knew it would inspire us. It did not disappoint.


A turning point

We had done one other hike, deemed strenuous. That hike had some beautiful pieces, but we were ill-prepared for it. For Black Elk Peak, we’d done a bit more research, and were thus much more mentally and physically prepared for what we would meet on the journey to the top. What we were not prepared for, however, was the pleasant surprise of the realization that this hike marked a turning point for us on our life’s journey out here on the road. We had understood that natural spaces would be important to us, that we would find beauty in the North American landscapes. We had not fully grasped until this point how much we would utterly need those natural spaces, to connect with them in order to connect with ourselves.


a greater connection

The connection is about more than what we view from the windows of Knight, or from our wanderings around the campsites we inhabit. It is about more than pushing your body to get to the top, though there is that glorious sense of accomplishment in discovering what your body can do and that sense of wonder at the views from above. It is about truly being present where you are. Not just looking around you, but truly seeing what you are a part of, taking in the grandeur of broad views along with noticing the tiniest of wildflowers still blooming among the trees or the spiders that crawl across your path, and everything in between, and realize that they, along with you, make up the Big Picture that is our world.





For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an affinity for “Native American Culture.” As a child, I was drawn to something I did not (and still do not) completely understand. I’m not even exactly sure what it was back then that pulled at my soul. I’d like to think it was an understanding that Indians had a deep-seated love of nature, except that as a child I didn’t really fully understand that I even had an inherent love of nature myself. Perhaps it was the depiction of the Indian understanding of animals as beings with spirit. I think I got that about myself then, that I had that same understanding. Whatever the reason, my attraction to this idea, this mythology, of Native Americans was without an understanding of the reality. We like to lump Native Americans under one nice and tidy label that is somehow supposed to sum up the numerous cultures and histories of tribes that currently and historically inhabited North America. Whether we identify the Indian, or Native American, as savage or as the bearer of wisdom, our label allows us to neatly categorize and compartmentalize many tribes of people with their rich and deep histories and their presents. It allows us to gloss over the realities of the lives of people. Real people. People who love, laugh, learn, make mistakes both great and small. Who have great strengths and great weaknesses. And, yes, who have cultures, beliefs, and traditions that continue to thread through modern lives.

We recently visited the Crazy Horse Memorial. I REALLY wanted to see this memorial. You see, in addition to this great attraction I have, I have an equally great feeling of guilt and sadness over what we have done (and continue to do) to those we conquered. Because, while our family lore has always identified us as part Native American, that doesn’t excuse my mostly European ancestors from participating, even if indirectly, in the decimation of countless men, women, and children who were here long before us. So, I had been excited to see this symbol that is being constructed to honor the Native American tribes in South Dakota (and across North America). I was wholly unprepared for the reaction I had upon walking around the museum, grounds, and gift shop.

Conflicted. Gut-wrenching sorrow. Honored. Doubt. Curiosity. They were all there, taking turns rolling through heart and mind, each staking it’s claim on my conscience, each vying for prominence. It was a busy day, with tourists meandering through the museum, briefly glancing at the artifacts and photographs on their way to the gift shop or out into the courtyard to watch a Lakota family play traditional music, dance, provide a brief synopsis of some tribal traditions, and invite everyone to hold hands and move in a friendship circle. The words and the song we heard of the husband and wife were beautiful and moving. They held out the hope of peace, friendship, and understanding. I was moved to tears, while also wanting to cry because I had to wonder: what is it these tourists are here for and what are they getting from this experience? For how many is it just spectacle and entertainment? A check mark of “things to do” on a tour of the Black Hills? How many feel the tug at their hearts of the hope in the words and music of this family who is willing to share a bit of themselves? How many are curious to know more of the story? To know what other experiences embody the life and traditions of this modern Lakota family? I myself had so many questions, so much more I wanted to know about what else holds true for this family and why they put themselves out there for tourists to see and what else do they dream for the future of their family, their tribe, the nation, and the world? But I kept quiet, even when I saw them in the restaurant afterwards. I was too afraid to be intrusive and too afraid my motives would be misunderstood. 

I still feel an affinity for “Native American Culture.” Yes, perhaps somewhat for the mythology, but, I think too for at least some of what I understand to be a common thread of love and respect for the natural world around us, for the understanding that we, as humans, are all a part of this natural world, not apart from and above it. But I feel that the connection is more than that. Perhaps it can be chalked up to empathy as well as admiration. For the endurance and strength of people who have been beaten down for centuries now and, yet, they carry on. Whatever the connection is, I can still say that it is for a way of living that I still do not, and will not ever, fully understand because I do not walk in their shoes. But I can sure try.



Act One: It’s a funny thing about shifting space, one minute you’re taking to the open road to begin your exciting new journey, and the next minute you are muttering to a black walnut. Our first week on the road was all about acclimation for us and the rvcatsquad. Then Thursday morning arrived, and we loaded up our excitement and were ready to roll, except we made an error that cost us a few hours and a bottle of bleach. Ok. No sweat. We knew we would have a few newbie mistakes. This was a 

we will laugh about this experience

. A few hours later, we were ready to start. Again. As Gail strolled perkily to the car, she noticed the windshield of the car had a spiderweb looking sheen. Quite lovely, were it not that the windshield had been shattered by a black walnut that took on missile-like proportions from a 40-ft free fall. What does one actually say to a rogue black walnut? Something like, “we may never leave Illinois.” 

Act Two:  Talking to your insurance company from a picnic table next to your mobile home is far more relaxing than pacing in your kitchen. You actually laugh about the walnut. It becomes a story. A tale. The net effect is you realize that when control is not an option, you let go. We found that the work could be done on the car much sooner if we headed toward Gail’s hometown of Utica, IL. Two days later, we would be on our way. We had a great time visiting, and snuck in a trip to Duffy’s Tavern along with a Bianchi’s World Famous Pizza (for those of you in the know, this made the delay worth it. ;)) Sunday we were off, and promised Gail’s sister that we would not be back for a third goodbye. Because we had to leave Illinois, right?!? And leave we did. 

There is a moment you experience when your soul grasps that its free to sail. That moment arrived as we entered Lake Geneva, WI. The beauty spoke. 

And, thus, the curtain closes on our first week of RV living.  Peace. Des




Whew! It’s hard to imagine we’ve already been on the road for six weeks and have traversed four states after leaving our home state of Illinois. These first weeks on the road have been a period of shifting gears, both figuratively and literally! And a lot of movement as we’ve made our way west. We were certain that our cats were going to have a more difficult adjustment period, as they’d never experienced a life on the road. We knew we’d have adjustments, too, of course, but we never dreamed our cats would be the first to get the hang of this life! They act like they’ve been doing this their whole lives, and we now wonder how well they’d adjust back to a “regular” life, without the 24/7 entertainment outside windows in every direction.

We, on the other hand, are learning what it means to lose typical day-to-day routines, what it means to have “home” be a transient space, and what it means to leave our previous understanding of our lives behind. Because that is what you must do out here, and it is both terrifying and absolutely exhilarating. But this thing we are adjusting to is exactly the adventure we were seeking.

As we made the transition to the road, we knew we wanted a journey to discover the good things in both people and places, and through our travels we wanted an opportunity to spread kindness and promote a sense of goodwill. We also wanted to have an honest dialogue with ourselves and with you, our readers. And, to be honest, our first weeks on the road were not as we’d hoped or anticipated. We met with challenges, not only with the demands of learning this life, but also with people who were not kind, did not return our smiles and greetings, and were not welcoming to strangers, as well as with landscapes that were not as appealing to us as we’d hoped. We felt tested on every level. We knew we’d be tested and challenged on this journey, but we did not expect it to be in the ways we actually experienced.

And then something clicked and fell into place. We both felt such elation the moment we transitioned from the Midwest to the edge of the West. We became lighter. We began to feel a sense of joy. And as we did so, suddenly our experiences shifted from seeing challenges at every turn to seeing wonder and beauty in the places we saw and the people we met. We have been giddy at the sight of buffalo and pronghorn. Absorbed by the views of the rugged hills. Entranced by the waters of the Angostura Reservoir lapping against the sandy shores. And invigorated by the scent and feel of the cool, alpine air in Custer State Park. In our experiences with people, we have found that what was sparked by new friends, Paula and Troy, who generously invited us into a wonderful slice of their life on their pontoon boat, has now, in this place, grown into a broader experience of generosity and kindness. Here, we find people will look you in the eye and smile, they will offer up conversations, and greet you with open kindness. Here we met Brenda, who spoke to us of her life as a solo full-time RVer and offered valuable tips and information to help us out. And Vickie, who shared with us the history of Hot Springs, told us of her family’s roots in the area, and swapped stories with us of changes in weather patterns in our home states. Then there was the brief, but friendly and lively, exchange with Kelly, who runs a non-profit adventure bicycle touring association. And the shared wonderment with a woman, whose name we did not get, of the historical Battle Mountain VA hospital originally, and beautifully, constructed in 1902 as a sanitarium for volunteer soldiers.

These no small wonders have opened to us a renewed sense of excitement about what this journey holds for us. We head to Custer State Park next, and then on to Medicine Bow, WY. There is much to learn out here about us, along with the people and landscapes we encounter. It’s a true statement that joy is found in the journey. So we move onward reminding ourselves that, as in any part of life, sometimes you find your place and sometimes, when you need it most, your place finds you. And so we go.




We have been living in the RV with the rvcatsquad for a week now, and what a week it has been! We had hoped to get this post up sooner on our renovations to Knight (formerly known as Ol’ Mater), but the adventures of the week prevented us from posting. And when we say adventures, we mean mistakes, mishaps, and a rogue black walnut (for real). More on that soon. 

But here we are, better late than never! It’s time to meet Knight. 

We found Knight after several weeks of looking at used RVs that did not come close to fitting the bill for what we were seeking in our home: solid, reliable, and within budget. We didn’t mind if it needed some elbow grease and actually expected to make updates. But, we had no idea that we would find something that so completely fit us. Desserae went out to see Knight with her stepdad, who knows a little (er…a lot) more about RVs. She knew immediately upon seeing Knight that this was “the one”…pretty sure it had something to do with the National Park decals on the back. Meeting the family who owned the RV and seeing the interior sealed the deal. Gail was on board immediately, before seeing any more than just the photos. The family who owned Knight had taken such good care of it throughout its life. Their story, their family’s adventures, and their kindness, and an easy connection with us sealed the deal and made the choice feel even more perfect. And the travel wallpaper, added by Abby and her daughters, well that made us love it even more and spoke to our own journey.

While Knight was in great condition, HE (because, like, now he’s ours) is a 1993 rig. He needed some updating and some new arrangements that would be better suited to a living space for two adults. And four cats. Comfort and functionality were key, and so the renovations began. First steps: ripping out the carpeting, couch, loveseat, dinette, toilet, and over-the-cab bed.














Next was to add paint, vinyl plank floors, a futon base (built by Desserae’s brother, with her niece’s supervision 🙂 ) with a custom mattress, a chair (the most comfortable ever), new mattresses for the beds, a kitchen cart (sans wheels!), solar panel system, LED lights, a backup camera, and a tire pressure monitoring system. 






























































And so here we are, home sweet rolling home!



This journey began first as a notion and then a dream, followed by ramblings on a giant Post-it note hanging on the living room closet door.

​Much of the input we receive from sources around us shows us a world divided, angry, and in despair. It would appear that we’ve lost our humanity. Though we ourselves have been caught up in this pervasive, generally negative atmosphere too, we don’t believe all is lost. We know there is more that connects us as humans than divides us. We all want to be heard and to feel loved. Our connections to people and our natural world are what provide us with a sense of joy, comfort, security, and peace. We have seen in the midst of the chaos and tension a groundswell of people who feel as we do: love is what will heal us. Kindnesses go further than confrontations. Nature grounds us. Beauty is out there, all around us, if we are open to seeing. 

We have both been wandering this world for a few decades, gathering experiences and sometimes hard-learned lessons. Some of the things about ourselves we have come to realize over the years: we both have a love of adventure; we are travelers at heart, happier when not tied to offices and traditional careers; and we both feel compelled to share stories through words and photos, and to–we hope–have a positive impact along the way. So we decided to leap. 

We began making plans. We shopped for used RVs in the hopes we could find something we might put a little elbow grease into (while still managing our full-time jobs), and that would still be reliable, comfortable, and large enough to fit two adults and four cats. We planned for when we’d leave our jobs. We weighed our options for what to do about all of our stuff, and came to the conclusion that we did not want a storage space; we did not want to plan to come back to our current way of life. If we were going to do this, we were going all in. No easy outs. We would shed all but the most meaningful of belongings. And thankfully, Desserae’s parents were willing and able to hold on to the few things we knew we’d want to keep. The rest of it? We have given most of it away. Whether to family, friends, neighbors, or charitable organizations, our belongings have landed where they will be put to good use. We hope the same holds true for us. 🙂

So here we are, less than a week away from this new adventure, from a new way of living in this world. Are we a little scared? Sure. But mostly, we are excited for how this new path will unfold before us and to share those experiences and those stories with you. And we are ready. Oh so ready.