Getting Real From the Road

Gina Begin driving
What some days feel like on the road
Dark snow-covered country roads where GPS navigation fails and my cell reception is lost. Long nights with cramped legs huddled up against the steering wheel trying to sleep but waking every few hours to readjust my sleeping bag and my aching knees. Just wanting a few bites of hot food and not another handful of almonds and craisins. Watching every dollar to make sure there's enough for gas to get to the next location or handle a some technical failure in the car if it happens.

But mostly wanting to talk to the people I love and not just tiny profile photos online. Get a hug and not just shake hands with new people.

If you really want to know, this is how it feels to be traveling in the car by yourself. Sometimes. It can all make you feel a little lost in this great big world.

There is the other side. The part that everyone else sees is definitely glamorous... skiing at different resorts, meeting new people, taking photographs of some of the most beautiful places in North America. Being free to go where and when you please, within the limits of the road system. I know it looks amazing, and it is. But there are times when I wonder: Why I am doing this? Why am I sacrificing deep relationships and security for life in a constant unknown?

I don't want to put it as though this is the worst idea ever. It may very likely be the best thing I have ever done in my life. The answer to the aforementioned question is, I think, because I can't stop seeking. Like a hiker who just wants to see what's around the next bend, or a skier holding out on the traverse til they see what's on the other side of the mountain, I know there is going to be something spectacular waiting for me. I don't want to miss out. There's an insatiable hunger to know, to understand, to discover.

When I hit those points in my travels the high is so intense. I feel like the luckiest girl in the entire world. I'm living my dream, to an extent, and creating the most amazing life I could imagine.

Gina Begin view from Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
Lucky moment: topping out on a boulder problem over the Atlantic, NS
Photo: Chris Surette
But then I have no one to share it with. And that's the hard part.

It's not that I am alone out here. I meet up with people from all over, people I've never met and people I've known from past travels. But these people are new. We know little about each other outside of the love of the outdoors. They don't understand why I am excited about a snow covered forest, or a sunset over a sleepy New England ski town. They don't get why I can't tear myself away from an ocean choked with ice floes or chandeliers of frozen water dangling from granite.


All the newness is absolutely incredible. But it's also taxing on the soul. Familiarity brings comfort and in my life, there is little of that.

Yes, this is my decision to do this. I could change course at any time and give it all up. But to tell you the truth, I wouldn't. This journey has helped me discover what is really important to me. Who is really important to me. Downsize even...maybe.

These thoughts came from talking to the few people with whom I've had the opportunity of spending more than a few hours — a rare blessing in my life right now. In our conversations, through their questions and our shared experiences, I realize this trip has become more than just my discovering eastern skiing. It's more than just me taking time to get over things that I don't need anymore. And it's certainly not just me chasing fun.

It's changing my life. It's one more step towards being who I really am, or at least who I envision myself to be one day.

It's about not waiting anymore for anyone else to live the life I have. 

So I'll take the lonely dark roads and the handshakes with new faces and forgo the hugs and hot meals until I feel I've made the most of this part of my journey. The sacrifices are far outweighed by the beauty of this incredible world and the discovery of every potential I have. And because all these sacrifices are temporary, with this one life I have, I will not sit comfortably to simply wish and wait.

By the way, neither should you.

. . .
Addendum:
For more, see a past post I just stumbled upon. A few wise words on choices. Interesting where life has lead from the time that post was published.





30 comments:

  1. Hey Gina -

    As one who left it all behind once, and struck out on my own: yes, it can be lonely at times, scary, and uncomfortable, but enjoy the freedom of the road, the newness of the new, the people unmet, and eventually, come to know who you really are.

    And, when you are done --- and, if you are like me, you will be done with it someday --- you will find that Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again.

    Speaking of Wolfe: “Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly, but keep on going."

    Good luck with your adventure!

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    1. It's comforting to know that there are others out there who have done this and have been able to return to some semblance of "normal" (whatever that is, right? :) I appreciate your words and the words of encouragement!

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  2. I remember feeling the same things after backpacking around for so many years. I don't regret it and I loved every second of it, but I started to miss familiarity. My friends. My family. My bed. My pillow. My cereal. My coffee in my mug every morning. It took me a long time to want those things as much as I want to adventure, which is how I ended up where I am today, somehow trying to balance the two :)

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    1. That's how I feel, Heather. And then I wonder if I life in my car will be the thing I will miss when (?) I do go back to a settled life. Will my sleeping bag be the familiar thing I miss over bedsheets? Will making breakfast from my trunk be more normal than from a fridge?

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    2. I spent 2 months (solo) living out of my truck and camping to drive San Diego to Fairbanks and back. In Talkeetna, I moved into a backpack and sled for a couple of weeks solo up on the roof of Alaska on the glaciers. It was like stripping life away to the minimum so you can find out what's really important. I got really good at living that way, but everything got forgotten pretty soon after getting to a place with a real bed, a real kitchen and people around.

      I've wandered a lot in the wilderness; spent weeks solo in the mountains and the desert. Some of us are more solitary than others and we shouldn't feel bad about it. My personal philosophy has always been that it's better to do it alone than not do it at all. Not many people can take long road trips or wilderness trips. Be open to everyone you meet. When you get back to normal life, it'll be a bit hard to establish boundaries and not "overshare" but it'll be fine.

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    3. Thank you for sharing your experience. It means a lot to be able to hear from and connect with other travelers; helps put things in perspective.

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  3. same. i feel like you just read my mind

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  4. Wow. If there was a blog-spectrum, you would be on one side, and I would be on the other! I'm writing about ADHD, marriage, and annoying soccer moms. =) I have really loved watching your journey. I won't say I'm jealous, because I actually love my silly white-picket fence existence, but I WILL say I'm in awe. Can't wait to see what you do next, regardless of which end of the spectrum you fall...

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    1. Thank you Kristen! And everyone has their existence which is what makes us able to appreciate each other. If we all did the same thing, nothing would stand out. I think it's great you have a white picket fence existence and one day may settle down for one similar to it. :)

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  5. Many hugs Gina. You always have your "fans" or people who really believe in you.

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    1. Thank you, Justin! Encouraging words are awesome. :)

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  6. Kudos to you for having the cojones to take the chances, pursue your dreams and live life to the fullest. I myself am not a solo person and at times I wish I could be. I admire you for living this life, being open about it and continuing on even though it is difficult at times. I certainly enjoy seeing your pics. :)

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    1. Thanks, Melissa! It's not the easiest. I wasn't raised to be a solo person and my mom is constantly worried about me, so I play it pretty safe for an adventurer. Still, I learn a lot and am experiencing quite a bit of the world, I suppose, from a perspective I wouldn't otherwise!

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  7. Hmmm... Sounds Horrible and Lovely at the same time. I would be a liar if I said my mind didn't have a DAILY debate amongst itself on whether or notI could, or should live this life when the time is right.

    There is something to be said about a good job that provides health benefits, vacation pay & security. Not to mention the ability to buy my very own home all by myself, have a warm bed & a hot meal...

    But then again, I do miss grand protions of life just zipping passed me at lightning speed. Watching others ski when they want, hike long grueling hikes like the AT, or the PCT. Go climbing at will, and gain strength that is unfounded to a man that gets up at 5:30 to prepare for another chunk of the daily grind.

    When I told you to heal the pains that hand been bestowed upon you, and make your self right before returning to life, I wonder if I should learn to heed my own advice..? Maybe I was actually talking to myself? After all, there is only 1 life to live, and you are living it. I dream of sand beneath my toes, gritty rock gripping my callused hands, and fresh powder below the weight of my board. My eyes long to be lost inside sight of this everchanging, beautiful world...

    But timing is everthing. That time is now for you, as for me... I figure my mind is made up, I'm just waiting for my moment. I envy this life you lead, make no mistake, more than a few do. The courage it takes to let go, be alone and find who you are, what makes you happy... It is unfounded. And that is a rare thing in this world. Safe travels

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    1. You will make it happen, I have no doubt about that. You have responsibilities now and it is a great person who stands up to take care of them. I applaud you in that.

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  8. I was just thinking last night that someone needed to write a piece about how hard living the dream is. Thanks for getting it done!

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  9. Nice Gina. I've been doing the same thing most of my life. Things are always better when there's someone to share and females feel this more than males, I think. Also, some of us are just more solitary than others and we probably shouldn't feel bad about it. My own personal philosophy has always been that it's better to do it by yourself than not to do it at all. This has taken me up a lot of mountains and down a lot of roads. In the en, it's all good. In the popular places there are always people around, but sometimes .... I remember two weeks solo in the Wind River Mtns in early spring, and a 10 day drive across Canada to Alaska ... Be thankful for everyone you meet.

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    1. I love my alone time, but there are times I wish I could sound decisions out to someone else and not constantly have to make them on my own. I suppose I long for that more than someone to talk to, as I'd rather contemplate quietly most of the time than talk.

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  10. There is a definite theme going on in the outdoor groupie world the past 2 weeks. Maybe it's just time for winter to be over so we can all focus our excitement on the opportunities the new season brings.

    To address the post however, thank you for being so open about your life on the road. I can tell you, it is my dream to do what you're doing, but I'm not sure I'll ever do it. Someday, I hope to experience these things, knowing the challenges I may encounter.

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    1. Winter should never be over, Dave!! :)

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  11. Posts like this one make me feel like I'm such a pansy for traveling with my husband and my dog and still complaining about loneliness sometimes.

    But as I pondered your post, I realized that maybe travelers aren't so much lonely as missing the diversity of relationships that we're able to develop when we're more stationary. In a traditional "home" location we often have family (both parent and sibling type relationships), we have friends (of the work, go dancing, pour your heart out to, and hike that mountain type varieties), and can still (to a small extent) have those stranger relationships that travelers cultivate so easily. I didn't develop many friends when I was in North Idaho (for many reasons, some my fault, some not) and consequently I feel LESS lonely on the road right now, not more, while still looking forward to living in a place with a more complete social web someday.

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    1. I agree with you, Beth! There is definitely a different relationship dynamic that is forged on the road.

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  13. Ah, Gina. Not to sound like the grizzled old veteran, but I'd say there's a lot of adventurers out there who hear what you're saying. I've spent so much time on my own - both as a Backcountry Ranger in Yosemite, traveling through South America, and living out of my car for months on end while climbing my way around the Western US. I can totally relate to your intro about sleeping behind the wheel; or in the back; or anywhere in any car. I think there's two points here: one, the obvious that, if you have an insatiable desire to explore as you state, and as your commenters do, irrespective of what small regrets and troubles you have, you're going to do it. The trick, like much of life is to find the balance between the wilderness and "normal" life. All of life is balance, right? As for the second, all I can say is enjoy the 21st century that allows you to be interconnected with us, and the really important people. Sure, some places don't have internet or cell coverage - but overall, back when I started, there was nothing like that. I can remember weeks on the trail where I talked to myself to stay sane-r because I hadn't seen a person. Modern life, with its flaws, is great for remedying that. And, think about it in this positive sense: without it, we'd not have this erudite and witty post to read from you - unless it came by snail mail. Good luck, and keep on keeping on. :)

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    1. I love the simple life but have become accustomed to the modern world since I was so heavily entrenched with online doings before I started out on this trek. I think it's lovely when I don't have connection and don't want it, but maddening when I do want it and don't have it! ;) Slowly growing accustomed to it and accepting of it. It's taken nearly 2 years, but I'll get there. :)

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  14. Loved reading this, as it speaks so true to my soul. You aren't alone in feeling the way you do. I've dabbled with seeking constant adventure and sacrificing familiarity and comfort in the process. It is a learning experience and provides so much clarity. Do it until you don't want to anymore.

    Check out the song "Heaven When We're Home" by the Wailin' Jennys. It's my theme song and perfect for a life like yours, I think.

    Thank you for this. It's so touching to read something that feels so close to my core and spirit.

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    1. I love hearing from people that connect with what I wrote. Thank you for dropping in and recommending some music- a huge asset on the road! I think I will always have the travel bug because of all the roadtrips I took as a kid. One day, though, I know I will want to have a garden again and a little log cabin. Until then, I will keep on this road and try to learn all I can.

      Thank you Kari and I'm loving your photography! :)

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  15. The ups and downs of solo travel are what make it most memorable. I lived for 6 months out of my car. Six awesome months of chasing the climbing season and living the dream, and it was the best thing I could have done. Would I do it again. Yup. Right now. mmmm maybe. I love my wife and house and "normal life" has its own ups and downs. You're living the dream and it only happens once maybe twice in your life and it will be something you always remember. I made some great friends on the road and learned a lot by. Know that this too shall pass and enjoy every minute.

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    1. My 6 month rock climbing trip was how this whole thing kicked off! Where did you travel to? Awesome, Ling. And yes... so many new friends and so much to learn. It is truly an experience I feel grateful for, even with the harder parts mixed in. :)

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