© 2019-2020 Kayla Sulak. Photography & blog content may not be reproduced without permission.

An Odyssey Ongoing

September 5, 2017

 

Where have I been for the last two years?

 

It's a long story--one that I can't tell in entirety in one day, or even a week, but let's start with November of 2016. The weather changed in a day, and snow storms began swirling around the buttes. I was arriving back in Bend, Oregon from a quick trip to Portland and noticed it was darker than usual in Bend that afternoon. You couldn't see the tops of the buttes as the flurries began to move in. Luminous yet dark, gray clouds sagged from the sky as snowflakes fell. The streets were icy, but within a few hours the snow would start piling up, and that would be about the last time I saw bare pavement in Bend for a couple of months.

 

Everybody's advice about continuing to live out of my vehicle through winter was something like, "just don't." Even the seasoned "van lifers" would tell me, it's cold and gray and dark; "it just sucks, so I wouldn't do it, if I  

were you." If they were me... as it turns out, they would do it and have the time of their lives, if they were me.

 

I had been living out of my truck since March of that year. This change of lifestyle came after being laid off for a handful of months, roaming around with my camera in hand (including a whirlwind trip through California and Utah, where I first began perfecting the art of "truck life" to avoid paying for expensive hotel rooms). Later I accepted a job that would relocate me to Bend. Without any living arrangements in Bend, I resolved to sleep in my truck on public lands outside of town (e.g. in dispersed camping spots around the National Forest) until I could find a "real place to live." I would get a membership with a 24-hour gym to take showers, and figure out the rest as I go.

 

The pages on the calendar kept turning for nine months; spring turned to summer turned to fall. Winter was approaching, but I had yet to put any energy into looking for an apartment. I was content with the routine I had established thus far--and loved the extra freedom of having everything I needed on my person, without being tied to an apartment. That freedom wasn't taken for granted, either: not only did I have more freedom, but I was restless. I had taken a lot of road trips on a whim that year.

 

 

However, I went through a period of feeling blue as autumn approached. I needed to figure out some healthy ways to pass the idle time... you know, that idle time where someone might flop down on the couch, turn on the TV and zone out for a few hours? These kinds of pastime luxuries weren't available to me, as I had no TV, no WiFi and no endless flow of electricity. I wasted a lot of money on gas for aimless drives, or sometimes alcohol to pass the time, by the time autumn was rolling around.

 

Why am I doing this, living this way? Am I being clever here, or am I just fooling myself? It seems fruitless, all these miles I've racked up and all the effort I've made lately. Am I actually just a bum? What do my coworkers think of me, the homeless girl?  What does my family think...?

These kinds of doubtful thoughts flooded my head often. When people offered favors or wanted to give me things, I assumed they must pity me. If anything, as the winter approached, I had wanted to continue living out of my truck simply because it felt as though a lot of time had been wasted or spent poorly; I had been doing it wrong. I had yet to accomplish all the things I wanted to accomplish. What were those things, though? I didn't actually know.

 

"Faithless is he who says farewell when the road darkens." -J.R.R. Tolkien

 

After the snow storms began (which would be unrelenting for a couple of months, dumping several dozen feet of snow and beating the last few decades' snowfall records), everything was new. With four wheel drive, new snow tires, a lot of gumption, and some familiarity of my camping areas, I felt pretty comfortable navigating the un-plowed side roads in my truck. Sitting among deep pillows of fresh snow which sparkled in the moonlight, I began to appreciate the poetry of life.

 

Billions of snowflakes must muffle the world's sound waves, I often theorized, because it was incredibly quiet during and after a flurry. Almost every night, the clouds cleared out from the high desert, and the stars in the winter sky seemed to shine brighter. I was captivated. The other people who usually roam the area were gone, yet I was still spending my nights out there.

 

 

I began to notice how much my life revolved around the sky as well. Moonlit nights are much brighter than a "new moon night" where the moon never shines. On more occasions than one, I have been awoken by a blinding light shining in my eyes, only to realize it was the silver light of a full moon that was piercing my eyelids. In the winter, you can look up and observe certain constellations like Orion, yet you won't see the exact same when looking up on a summer night. These changes in the sky have become the things that mark the seasons for me. One might say I am more starry eyed than I was before.

 

After having endured weeks of long, stormy nights, winter solstice couldn't come soon enough... that time of year when the daylight stops getting shorter, and starts getting longer once again. Solstice is only the start of the winter season on our calendar, but all that mattered to me was that the daylight would start getting longer each day. It was a huge turning point. I had already faced weeks of snow and conquered the worst by then. Perhaps one of the biggest struggles of living outside is indeed how short the days are. This year, I will

need to get some more energy efficient lanterns to light up the winter darkness.

 

Now it is September again, but I don't feel the same lack of purpose that I felt at this time last year... although I admit, I am still restless and full of wanderlust! My goal this year was to find some healthy pastimes that fit my lifestyle--and, focus less on making road trips happen, and spend more energy on simply hitting the trails. Even if it's just outside of Bend, Oregon and not somewhere amazing like the Sierra Nevadas or Moab, I vowed to take more overnight backpacking trips this year. The snow had kept me out of the mountains for so long, and I longed to hike.

 

Another favorite part of the outdoors/mobile lifestyle, I have discovered, is the opportunity to be creative with food! It gets very expensive when you're constantly dining out for every meal, yet the whole point of my being rent free was to lower my monthly overhead expenses... so, it doesn't make much sense to have such an inflated food budget! This inspires me to prepare most of my own meals on a small propane stove, or over the campfire when possible (as I write this, there are campfire bans in effect). Although most meals are low budget and very practical, I have also enjoyed experimenting with more extravagant ideas, like "luau roasting" a pork roast underground, and splurging on special ingredients like oysters or boar meat for the sake of experimentation.

 

Instead of feeling like I'm wasting my time out here, it feels more like I have found my place in the "truck life" lifestyle. I've learned to embrace the seasons, evolved my artistic vision, brought passion and creativity to cooking/eating in the outdoors, and learned to let my poetry flow in written form. For every challenge or limitation I face with perfecting the mobile lifestyle, I am still excited to find a practical solution, even after eighteen months and counting! What a wild ride it has been!

 

All of that is what this blog is about! Life lessons, recipes, musings and more will be shared here in time... I'm excited to share it with you! Thank you for reading--now let's make it a conversation! Feel free to leave comments or fill out the contact form on my site.

 

Happy adventures!

 

~ Kayla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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