Unsettling /ʌnˈsɛtlɪŋ/ adjective - to alter from a settled state; cause to be no longer firmly fixed or established
Unsettling, going nomadic, is trending like an idler pulley on a high single pivot bike. Perhaps the attraction is that the alternative is to settle, which sounds like an uninspiring, underwhelming compromise.
Everything happens in cycles. In the 1930s, motor bungalows and rolling homes were popularized as cheap portable living spaces for the poor, and as vacation wagons for the more fortunate. A nice Schult trailer could be had for just $275 in 1934. Returning from war, and through the Great Depression, many had trouble finding housing and jobs. By necessity, people were living on the move, trying to find a place with some work, or just a place to disappear and get by with as little as possible.
With fallout from the financial crises of 2008, people again turned to the home on wheels as a more affordable way to live, escape, or means to move from place to place where intermittent employment might be found. The current surge in nomad life is further fueled by images of cozy wood clad van interiors, draped patio lights, a steaming cup of coffee, and doors opened to panoramic views.
"And the earth becomes my throne" (Hetfield/Ulrich) If you're really into your job, this is probably the wrong environment for making career decisions.
"...with no home, and no job, the plan was to do a lot more with far less."
We bought a vacation wagon, and then it happened. There in the desert, thousands of kilometers from home, the sun’s last golden rays kissing the brush rustling in the autumn breeze. A feeling of contentment… Happiness! Leading up to this we had settled, life had become a comfortably familiar humdrum of work, paycheques, property, and possessions, all masquerading as happiness, but not delivering the elusive nectar. We were working more to have more, and subsequently actually doing less. I had recently sold my home, and in a matter of days I’d return to work to give my notice, retiring from what had been a career for a quarter-century. If you want your audience to think you're mature, you don't say you quit, you say you retired. Now with no home, and no job, the plan was to do a lot more with far less. Going full nomad is a simple enough idea. Rid yourself of most of your material possessions, leave your cares and worries behind, go where you want to go, do what you want to do, cruise the open road to perfect weather and idyllic destinations... oh... and bikes!
It's been a year since we began our nomadic wandering, since we left the stability of being settled. It's not all perfect weather and idyllic destinations, it's not all happiness. But 99% is, and we're not looking to settle again anytime soon. Here's looking back on a year of being houseless and chasing happiness.
Where would we go? What would we do? Hurricane Utah is a familiar shoulder season escape along with the surrounding communities and parks. That familiarity seemed like a comfortable way to begin an unfamiliar life. The fact that our rolling home was in storage in nearby St. George made the decision easy. It was the beginning of March when we maneuvered into one of the designate sites on the Hurricane Cliffs BLM. Our neighbours were a couple of women in a travel trailer that had seen better days a long long time ago. It wasn't sitting anywhere near level, curtains fluttered out of missing windows, and bits of trash were migrating across the desert from heaps of garbage piled against the sides of the trailer. Their favourite pass time seemed to be shouting obscenities at one another. Up the road was a newer looking unit. A couple pieces of plywood pretended to cover a massive gaping wound in the wall of the trailer. It had been completely ransacked. This isn't the nomad life that hashtags are made of. This is the reality of people who have run out of options.
Our time in Dixie was a lot colder and a lot wetter than our stereotypical assumptions of the Desert Southwest. Precipitation in the area turns the soil into the type of slick goop that would suck your gumboots off as a kid. While waiting for trails to dry after storms, adventures in Zion National Park and Snow Canyon State Park kept us plenty busy. One dollar Taco Tuesdays, and Enchilada Thursdays were something to look forward to regardless of weather. Long rough drives, with a wet bog or two mixed in, to the must-do mesas like Gooseberry, Little Greek, and Guacamole grew tiresome when done on repeat. Even though the JEM network lacks some of the flare of the mesas, it became a favourite go-to for us, simply because it was nice to pedal from home and avoid those tedious drives. If anyone is listening, an airy line from Gooseberry Point to the JEM network would be legendary.
Constant reminders that Grandma was right, "Life is tough and then you die."
Uprooting means leaving friends and family behind. So when you're in the desert in a different country and someone knocks on your door... they're almost certainly a stranger. If that stranger is Ryan Kremsater and he asks if you want to go check out some Rampage lines... just do it.
Ferda Girls... Just rolling around a past rampage venue is surreal!
Freezing temperatures, brutal winds, and snow squalls (yup that's snow) put an end to the fun.
Prime conditions on the Hurricane Cliffs as winter draws to a close.
Day or night, Zion puts on a spectacular show. At the right time of the year, at the right time of day, there's even serenity in this tourist mecca.
Looking to get away from the crowds? Secret Trail on Gooseberry Mesa might be your jam.
At the end of March, as the seasonal weather and temperatures improved, we pushed north to Moab. The jaw-dropping awe of vertical patina cliffs and towering arches never gets old. Dispersed camping outside of town again allowed us to keep our costs in check... Spring is notoriously busy and expensive in Moab. If repetition is the measure of favouritism, our favourite trail was Slickrock, followed by, Mag 7, Porcupine (from the Notch which still held some snow till late April), and Ahab.
Classic for a reason... Moab's iconic Slickrock Trail recently celebrated 50 years and is absolutely timeless!
When home is where you park it, you can get some spectacular views out the front window. Evening light on the La Sal Mountains soaring to nearly 13,000 ft.
Spring storms creating some drama in the desert.
Night life... Standing beside Corona Arch catching shooting stars.
Variety is the spice of life! Canyoneering in Arches National Park.
Sometimes it's nice to just hang out.
It's always nice to have friends around when you find yourself in a tight spot.
The hole in the wall places are always the best.
Stopping for another pic. Because it's Moab.
Crossing the border into Colorado's Mesa County. Sunset and that perfect single track ribbon synonymous with Fruita, rolling toward the Hot Tomato for a slice of pie before making the long journey back to Canada.
Home in Canada
Is home where the heart is or where you park it? The Bow Valley has been home for much of our adult lives. Returning at the end of April we were greeted in the customary Canadian Rockies fashion... with snow. And the snow seemed to just keep on coming in fits and starts, a brief reprieve mid-summer, and then more snow long before fall would officially arrive. With a climate portable rolling home, we often found ourselves fleeing the Bow Valley to bike parks and drier warmer weather in parts of British Columbia. For us, home is where you park it, preferably it's warm and sunny there, and for health reasons we hope our hearts come with us.
Early season at Panorama Mountain Resort.
Some grim July days in Canmore Alberta which typically sees its fair share of sunshine.
The Canadian Rockies looking rather coastal in the rain.
Growing up in Fernie BC, it will always feel like home.
Wood is good! Silver Star Mountain Resort.
"girls just wanna have fun" (Robert Hazard)
The ever popular World Cup trail at Silver Star.
Marcus Henry of Steedz Enduro proving freeride lives in Canmore
That embarrassing moment while exploring canyons when you realize that your biking clothes might look like Spider-Man pijamas.
Fall comes early to the Canadian Rockies signaling that it's time to move on.
Running From the Cold
Shoveling snow and chiselling ice off the home likely isn't on too many people's bucket list, and neither is towing a 16,000 pound home over snow-covered mountain passes that even sedans can't seem to successfully navigate. In early September heavy snowfalls and the associated seasonal traffic accident chaos had already begun in the Canadian Rockies. By mid-October we had enough and were ready to retreat south.
In part because we wanted to explore, and in part because unseasonable cold weather kept finding us, we were constantly on the move through the fall, from Moab to Hurricane, to Las Vegas, a couple visits to Phoenix, and some time in Sedona.
Back in Moab to sneak into the high country before the snows come.
Autumn awesomeness high in the La Sal Mountains.
Early snowfalls and freezing temps push us further south. Zen trail in St. George, Utah.
Autumn light on Goosebumps.
Vegas has a new slogan for 2020. "What happens here, only happens here." Not joking.
Just a few Alberta girls hanging out at Sedona's Seven Sacred Pools.
Finding some wilderness amongst the urban jungle of Phoenix.
Running Out of Options
Unsettling is to alter from a settled state or cause to be no longer firmly fixed or established. Living on the road can feel precariously close to being homeless. Especially as you realize how many of your neighbours have run out of options and are in that exact circumstance. This reality is driven home as I finish reading "Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century" while parked on the ruins of a long abandon community near Ryan California.
As winter closes in on the Desert Southwest, we're running out of options in a different way. The hunt for warm and dry weather nearby, with overnight lows that generally remain above freezing is getting harder. Why do we need it to be warm? Because nobody likes frozen poop tanks or pipes. Ideally, there would also be a good network of trails nearby. Not too much to ask, right? Adding to the struggle is the growing number of people flocking to free public land, the problems people bring, and subsequent loss of access to land. The popularity of RVing and loss of access to public lands means Campgrounds and RV Parks are commonly sold out and rising costs reflect it. With some loose criteria and running out of options we find ourselves in some unforgettable places.
Quartzsite is a bit of a right of passage for nomads. Ask people why they go, and the answer is; "it's free". Ask what they do there, and the answer is inevitably; “there's nothing to do". This is Quartzsite Arizona... The spelling is indeed incorrect. And there's only nothing to do if you don't like doing anything.
Nope... nothing to do in Quartzsite.
Out of options... Depending on your perspective, Slab City is where dreams come true or where dreams come to die.
The last free place in America. Slab City is visually and mentally disorienting. To be surrounded by a community that has so little yet willing to give so much is overwhelming.
Bikes are fun. Life has ups and downs. The region has one of the highest unemployment rates in the United States, with nearly half of the documented population living below poverty, and a high school dropout rate of 30%. Yet Slab City is a vibrant community of people making it work in spite of the circumstances.
"If you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best." (Marilyn Monroe) While our stay in Slab City was brief, we're forever gripped by the beauty and kindness of the people in this community. Grateful to all who welcomed us into their homes and showed us unconditional love.
The Saltan Sea from apocalyptic Bombay Beach. One of the lowest points in North America at over 200 ft below sea level.
More than retirees and golf carts... Palm Springs delivers lung-busting climbs and breathtaking descents.
Spectacular high desert riding.
Hahn Buena Vista Trail is a must do when in the Coachella Valley.
The Palm Canyon Epic, with numerous options you can make it as epic as you want. Even in December, we were thankful for heavy cloud cover to keep temperatures somewhat bearable. Our route clocked in at about 27 miles with 6,300 ft of descending and 2,500 ft of climbing mixed in.
Off the bike days... With Joshua Tree just down the road from Palm Springs, there's plenty to do when the legs don't want to turn the cranks anymore.
Discovering unknown places you never knew you'd visit, when it's winter and your only criteria are warm dry weather and finding some trails. Ajo Arizona. Upon arrival we realize the trails we spotted online are actually roads. Regardless, we find community, friends, and adventures.
Lake Havasu City's SARA Park. You know there's not a lot going on in a place when they buy the actual London Bridge to make the city more interesting.
Keeping it legal... A flight home to Canada to get our winter fix and ensure we stay comfortably under the allowable days in the United States. Reset travel insurance, update vehicle registrations, and general adulting.
Not in our wildest dreams would we have imagined slot canyons with hot springs. But they exist. Complete with amoeba that will eat your brain!
Perspective is everything. The scale of Death Valley is mind-boggling... strolling across Badwater Basin 282ft below sea level with 11,000 ft Telescope Peak just out of the frame to the right. A bizarre environment the mind strains to grasp. Disorienting polygonal patterns in the salt crust exasperate the complete lack of familiar perspective.
You'll never go hungry in the desert, because of all the sandwiches there.
A three million acre expanse of some of the most extreme landscapes on the continent lit only by the night’s waning moon, we are greeted. As we wade aimlessly across the Mesquite Dunes a Kit Fox welcomes us, leaping, bounding in the darkness, as if we’re friends reunited. We walk together for another mile across the endless ripples of the dunes. The kit fox running circles around us, waiting atop each ridge crest vibrating with excitement as if to encourage us to hurry up so we don’t miss it. We are content, we haven’t missed anything, we’ve been welcomed unconditionally in an unwelcoming environment, and that’s all we need.
Dawn always means a new day ahead... even when you wish you could just keep reliving the same moment forever.
Celebrating a Year
In Sedona Arizona we celebrate a year since going full nomad, being houseless, and chasing happiness. One of our biggest fears as we ripped our roots from the ground a year earlier was leaving community, connections, friends and family behind. Leaving the things we associate with home. Like so many times in life our fears were unwarranted. We've been welcomed into some of the most diverse communities we've ever been exposed to, we've grown our family, discovered a nomadic tribe of friends, and old friends and family have joined us along the way. No matter where we've been we've felt part of a community and sense of belonging, we are at home as nomads.
Celebrating our first year of nomad life in Sedona.
Fun in the Arizona sun. Canyon of Fools (left), Hangover (right)
Something urging us on, just ahead out of sight.
"maybe tomorrow I'll want to settle down, until tomorrow I'll just keep moving on." (Bush/Crossen)