Moving Back into My Car (Just for a Night)

There’s no reason I can’t sleep in my car like I used to.

Several times after my return from life on the road I felt homesick. Initially, I was staying on a friend’s couch in the middle of “Suburbia”, Salt Lake. It was odd to be stationed in one area, especially in an area away from wild things. But I was stoked on the novelty of having fridge access and a full shower.

But novelty wears off (that’s pretty much built into its definition). When it did, there were many times that I’d lie on that couch, wishing I were back in my car. It was my own space; I could write, work on photos, talk to my family, sleep, contemplate life, and no one would interrupt.

It took me a few nights of sending wishes into the dark ceiling overhead to realize that if I wanted to sleep in my car, why shouldn’t I? Was there some reason (beyond social mores) that being in suburbia should stop me? I'm an adult, dang it. I'll sleep wherever I want. 

I grabbed my sleeping bag and headed out the door.

Minus the neighbors’ porch lights, it was dark. I fumbled with my keys, hopping from one bare foot to the other to keep them from freezing on the concrete. I felt like some weirdo sneaking into a banged up car in the middle of a driveway. A weirdo with a puffy down sleeping bag.

But then I was in and I didn’t care anymore. I assumed the position I knew was most comfortable for sleeping in my Mazda, rolled down the windows an inch and fell asleep in the driveway.

It was the best night of sleep I’d had since moving to the city.

Fast forward to living in British Columbia. I’m not in a city; the town I live in only has 10,000 people and it’s surrounded by mountains, lakes, streams, waterfalls, and sweet smells. It rains often. The air is cool. Birds sing. I can open my windows and not worry about people taking advantage of my trust in humanity.

Every day in four walls here feels closer to being in nature than it ever did in Salt Lake City — even in that city’s mountains.

But dang it, I still feel trapped at times. There are lots of reasons why, but primarily it’s because I don’t feel safe outdoors in certain times of the year. It’s not the humans.

It's the grizzlies. 

I live in their country and I don’t know how to handle that. Growing up in Florida, we had alligators. But they were predictable — they lived in the water, and we humans figured out how to avoid them.

But grizzlies? I’ve never lived anywhere with grizzlies. Unlike gators, grizzles live on land, same as me. They walk on trails just like I do. And I’ve heard they’re feisty when protecting cubs or getting their fill for hibernating season.

This pretty much means they’re feisty as long as they aren’t sleeping.

I tried to shake my nervousness about going out there alone in their territory by telling myself things like: “They are more scared of you than you are of them.” But then I contemplate how little that would console me if I actually did end up being swiped by a bear’s paw. I mean, there were kids were pulled out of tents just miles from where I lived in Utah — and that was by black bears.

I’ve got those and grizzlies here.

Then there’s rain to contend with. It rains here, a lot. Strangely, seems like folks don’t enjoy camping or hiking or doing much of anything in the rain. I’m not of that mindset; I love the sound of rain hitting the walls of my tent, I like how it makes the air sweet when I’m falling asleep. I like that it keeps things cool so I don’t wake up in the morning feeling like I’m roasting because the sun is turning my tent into an oven.

But people won’t camp with me in the rain, and it rains here a lot, and in grizzly country, I won’t camp alone. (Kids being pulled from tents — remember?)

As a result of all these conditions, in nearly a year of living here I’ve slept outside a total of once.

I don’t feel awesome about this number. In fact, with some external prodding that included statements that made me defensive about my independence, I got pretty upset.

I looked at my car. It’s a new one I’m having to lease (that is its own story). It's not the comfy one I lived in. This new car has also become a caveat against me taking off at will to camp because the lease dictates how far I can drive. 

So, as I was saying, I looked at my car. And as I looked at it — after being challenged about my independence; after realizing I’d only slept outside one time in a year; after realizing that if I wanted to do anything, I’d have to do it alone; I grew indignant that this car. This one thing, whose sole purpose was to provide mobility, was playing into my feelings of being trapped.

Leases are dumb.

Defiantly, I went back inside, grabbed my sleeping bag from the closet, and headed for the door. It was getting dark. It was raining. I didn’t roll down the windows. But I didn’t sleep in my driveway.

I drove away.

I spent the night in a place where I would have rather slept in a tent. But people are scared of the rain and I am scared of grizzlies. So I did the best I could and slept in the new car. Once the rain let up, I rolled down the windows an inch and let the sweet, cool air rush in. Birds sang. And I wasn’t worried about anyone (or any bears).

I was in my own space. I read without being online, I wrote using only the research stored in my head. I listened. I saw the last light leave the mountain. I felt myself get hungry and not have a way to do anything about it since I didn’t have a fridge.

And I fell asleep. It was the best sleep I’ve had since moving to British Columbia. 

My Place Here

Finding your sense of place after moving can be a confusing process. How do you deal? By @ginabegin

I don't know this place.

Its hills, its further mountains, its farthest glaciers. I don't know them. I want to.

I'm in an in-between place, a place where I'm not sure if I'm a permanent part. I question if I mean anything to anyone here, or if I'm just a tiny fragment in passing, an unclear memory someone will recall a few years from now while they struggle with my name.

"You remember — that girl! She came from Utah, or Florida, or somewhere—"

It doesn't matter too much at times. I was alone before I came here. Then again, it matters because I want it to matter. I want to care about a place. I want to be tied to it, to see people on the street and hug them. I want to be connected to the land of a place. I want to understand it, to have a give and take relationship with it, to be challenged and comforted by it.

I want to go away but be ready at the end to return to a place.

But then moments of memory stab into perspective and I remember: I remember waking up to my breath frozen on the car windshield, stuffing my clothes in my warm sleeping bag, then trying to dress while still wrapped inside. I remember filling gallons of empty water containers, each simultaneously providing what I used to wash and to drink, and feeling the water run over my scalp and drip off the ends of my hair while I scrubbed it clean, trying to keep the drips from falling onto my toes. I remember flicking my headlamp on and reading, alone, in a black area of a black somewhere, hoping it was safe. And I remember sometimes turning on my computer to watch a downloaded show just so I could hear people's voices before falling asleep.

The wildness is gone; there are responsibilities now. During the wild time, I told myself I'd never live like this again — paying rent, paying bills, paying another for my life.

And now I do. There's comfort in it, and there's a painful longing in it, too. When I remember the wildness, I want to be back in my car and be free.

I stay in this place because there are reasons more important than running. Besides, I already did enough of that. I know what nearly three years of it was like: lonely.

But is that loneliness any different than being in a place I don't know and that doesn't know me? Is it a worse loneliness than being in a place with people who could forget my name as easily as an item added as an afterthought to a grocery list?

I don't know. I don't allow myself to think of it much. I'm trying to take hold of this place and understand it. I hope in the process to find my place — where I belong — and create memories that keep me grounded. I want to look back and remember the people of this place, the way they hugged, and how the land comforted me.

Work Until it Happens: (Even Major) Setbacks Can't Keep You Down

Never Give Up: A post about getting past major setbacks & keeping on. By @ginabegin
My 1st adventure back.
Photo: Brent Malysh

I don't always have pretty things to say. Forgive me.

2014 has seen a smile on my face for the majority of it. It wasn't fake; I felt it in my soul. But at the original time of this writing (time has since passed), I broke.

. . . 

I spent over 2.5 years on the road, living in my car, going where I wanted. Time was spent skiing, climbing, mountain biking, and hiking; the latter if there was nothing else to do. 

If I had to label what I would call the perfect childhood vacation, this was it. 

Except, unlike childhood, I had to make ends meet. It wasn't easy, but I did my best to find internet connections so I could record personal perceptions of my journey and, from that, gather enough gas money to take me to the next location. 

Somehow, it worked. So I kept writing and traveling and living. My "work," as I was fond of calling it, required that I develop a very minimalistic lifestyle — but I was happy.

Things change and that's okay. We stretch, pull apart, then learn how to become whole again because of it. We adapt. But 2014 chimed in and I watched as the plans I had lined up — outdoor skill courses, going back to college, additional income I thought I could count on — fell almost in sync with the New Year's ball dropping over Times Square.

January 10, 2014: Only 22 days of skiing into the season, a ski accident ripped the ligaments apart in my right knee, somehow managing to bruise the bone marrow in the process (I'm still not clear on how that occurs). Just 3 days shy of my lead ice climbing course, 4 days before my on-snow training to recertify as a PSIA Level II Instructor, and 2 days before getting my car fixed (for which I'd been saving since October), I was suddenly confined to a couch with no answers on when or how I'd be back on my feet. 

This was the first time I actually had the money to put major plans into motion in my life — things I'd been saving to do for as long as I loved the outdoors — and then, this. 

My winter plans of traveling, learning new skills, and testing them out with willing friends slammed into a brick wall. My car repair savings were forked over to cover health insurance premiums. I helplessly watched as my account dwindled each month without the income I gathered from adventure writing.

After all, what adventure could I write about from a couch?  

Yet, there was optimism. I felt in my insurance-paying American heart that things were going to be taken care of soon enough. I mean, the injury was somewhat standard for skiers, especially females, and the only reason I wasn't up and walking already was due to a misdiagnosis during my initial exam at Canyons resort. I was certain that only a couple of weeks and a few obstacles (like two surgeries) stood between me and my normal life. 

Oh, the optimistic trust of youth.

105 days later: My crutches were finally taken away, but only after the discovery that my physical therapist had somehow forgotten to tell me, a few weeks prior, that I was ready to walk and should be well into a biking program by this point. Thus, when the doctor saw me that day for the first time since my initial surgery in March, he almost seemed accusatory of my using crutches. 

"No one told me," was my baffled reply. 

I hobbled out of his office, feeling an incredible amount of frustration overtake me. I wasn't some sloth who lived her life on the couch; if I had been, my not being able to walk would have made little difference. But lack of mobility changed my entire world. I couldn't work. I couldn't keep my physical strength up. And mentally, well, that strength was failing as well. 

Anger hadn't yet inflicted my mind, but maybe it should have. 

As I left the office, I came face to face with my physical therapist who seemed to have a strangely "coincidental" epiphany that it was time for me to start walking. My crutches were snatched from me and in that harsh transition from crutching to bearing my own weight, I was forced to regain the skills that once seemed as natural as breathing. Fear of my knee collapsing under my own body terrified me for days as I worked, alone, to make my way up stairs and through everyday normalcies, like showering — which frightened me much more than the mountains I've met in my life.

But it dawned on me that walking meant I could drive, so I sucked it up and walked. As soon as I could make it upstairs without slamming into a wall (this happened), I sat behind the wheel of my car for the first time in much too long. 114 days, to be exact.

It felt like home. 

That is, until I put it in drive and began to inch from the safety of the driveway toward the intersecting road. Suddenly, I became the 16 year old who was motoring all alone for the first time. 

Funny how only a few months of being out of a routine can radically increase the challenge of simple tasks. 

As I drove around the block a few times in the spring rain, testing my ability to move my leg in the most ridiculous ways — just in case a sudden driving maneuver required it — I immediately knew my next drive would take me to Canada. I'd been stationary and within 4 walls for almost 4 months; I was going to take full advantage of a limited window of freedom before a second surgery confined me to what had become a holding cell.

Then the crash came. Not to my car, but to my world. Two days before I was set to refresh my eyes with a view of the beloved open road and northern lands, the news came that yet another company I wrote for was slashing its payments to writers, making four times the same news had come in two months. It totaled a loss of 3/4 of my monthly freelancing income.

And my freelancing income is all I have.

It is what pays for my medical bills; to be able to walk again — eventually even normally. It is what would pay for my car to be fixed — what I had just saved enough for just before my knee got taken out. It is what was going to pay for me to move into a place and away from sleeping on a love seat in a living room or in the reclined front seat of my car. It is what was going to get me to Canada and to the land that I love.

And yet, time after time, 2014 was finding a way to stall my progress. A shoulder injury & loss of job occurred on the threshold of, and spilled over into, 2014. The knee injury & losing the ability to walk came just 10 days into the new year. Losing someone dear to me happened on the 12th. In March, there was the con artist who moved in where I was living and ran off with my things, including the pain medication I took when I woke up nightly at midnight with throbbing pains shooting through my knee. And then the least of my concerns: my clients' budgets being cut over the course of it all. 

But the year still found me smiling. "Life can be so crazy," I laughed at every instance.

When the final news of two writing gigs being slashed came within days of each other, I stopped laughing. 

And then the anger inflicted my mind and stung my eyes. 

. . . 

It's been three months since I sat down and wrote my reflections above. I tweaked it only to explain that it was written in a different time, to help explain the mindset and challenges that a small-time adventure writer can face in the valleys between the peaks. It's not always the glamor you see in the photos we post or the excitement we portray through exclamation marks and smiling emoticons littering our social media dialogue. 

Seven months later, I still don't have a leg that functions properly. But two weeks ago I limped beside a very patient boyfriend on my first hike. My eyes couldn't rest the entire time as they darted from alpine granite to rock-floured lakes, feeding the famine they'd withstood for months. 

Seven months later, I'm still missing an ACL and waiting to be cleared for surgery. But I'm in Canada and sleeping in my own bed, living independently in a place where the four walls are broken by windows filled with green peaks and sweet air. 

Seven months later, I'm still paying U.S. health insurance I'm being told I can't use. But I'm getting closer to a Canadian citizen's right to healthcare, where, no matter what they say just south of the border about the healthcare up here, I would never have had to pay so much money to wait so long. 

Soon, I'll never have to worry about that again.

Seven months later, I'm working with new and returning clients doing freelance writing and marketing work, opportunities that came knocking just a month after I lost my former income. These things have led to having a couple of pieces published by the Huffington Post and an opportunity to write for British Columbia's tourism board, amongst other happy chances to grab my dream.

Seven months later, I'm surrounded by wild, mysterious mountains and beautiful, friendly people, both here in Canada and remotely — all supporting me until my adventure resumes. 

In a way, it never stopped.

In spite of it being one of the most difficult periods of my life, I was able to reach goals of becoming independent. And because of all of this, I still have optimism.

(So take that, 2014.)

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