Today I learned a really tough lesson.
Last night Simone and I went on a walk. I wasn’t feeling well, but forced myself to get out because I thought it would help. We were about 30 minutes into our walk when this little brindle pitbull with a partially white face and paws started following us. She had seen us from a distance and froze until we got closer and when I greeted her, she hung her head low, wagged her little tail and had a big smile on her face. She had a pretty oval face with floppy ears. Probably about 30 pounds. She didn’t look scrawny, so I figured she belonged to the house we were passing. But she kept following us. For another 15 minutes until we were back at our spot. She kept running into the road at points and even forced a truck to stop for her and she refused to get out of the way. She didn’t seem to have the street smarts that I would expect of a stray. So I tried walking her back to the house were we found her and shoed her into the yard, telling her to go home. It looked like she had turned a corner out of sight, so we went on our way.
Sure enough, a few moments later, the little pup was right by my side again, happily trotting along next to us. So I began asking some of the other people walking their dogs if they knew who she belonged to. I talked to the neighbors. No one recognized her. Since she did not have a lot of awareness of the busy road, I decided to keep her with us for her own safety. We were staying at an Air BnB in a town in Arizona and it had a fenced in yard, so I brought her in, gave her a bath and played with her and Simone in the yard. It was so cute how she licked Simone’s face and every time I sat down, she wanted to cuddle up with me and be pet. She was such a sweetheart.
I called around to try and figure out what to do with her and there wasn’t a great option for turning in stray dogs. Besides that, she looked like a pit and I knew how that would probably end even if I did turn her in. So I started toying with the idea of keeping her. I let her into the house and she and Amelie seemed to be ok with each other. There was the initial spiked-up hair greeting, but she didn’t seem that interested in him and he just rolls with things, so it felt like everyone adjusted quickly.
I made her a little bed, which she quickly stuck her nose up to and stole Simone’s bed instead, and we all went to sleep.
The next day, after everyone was fed, I was working from home and the kids were sleeping in various spots around the kitchen. It was very peaceful. The reception wasn’t great at the place I was staying, so I decided to leave and drive to the next town over to find a better signal for a client call. It was mid-morning and I figured the pups would be tired from playing last night.
Mid-way through my call I started getting text messages from the woman who owns the property saying there were complaints of barking from my place. She said she was worried but couldn’t get home to check on them. She asked if her boyfriend could stop by and look in and I said sure. He went over to the house and claimed that Simone wouldn’t let him in. He also said that he couldn’t deal with this right now because he also works from home. The text exchange was stressing me out, because I was on a call and there was nothing I could do other than rush home when I was done. Which is what I did.
It took me ten minutes to drive back, but it felt like hours. The whole time I kept telling myself that Amelie is a tough kid, he has his claws and he knows how to hide and get away if he needs to. He’s bullied Simone before and can hold his own. More than anything, I was worried about the house. What if they knocked over all the beautiful lamps? Or what if Amelie had climbed the drapes? My mind was racing and my heart was pounding. There are not a lot of things that make me anxious, but this was definitely one of them.
When I opened the door, there was cat fur everywhere. The dogs immediately greeted me and I shoved them outside to assess the situation. Big clumps of hair covered the floor. One of the yellow kitchen chairs was turned over. Some of the food from the counter was on the ground. I walked over to the sink and there were kitty prints all over the counter and the ledge behind the sink.
I started calling Amelie’s name, but knew he must be hiding somewhere and was not likely to come when called. I looked into the bedroom. I was worried that furniture broken and that I would be in big trouble with the property owner. Everything looked disheveled, but intact. There was no question that there had been a battle in here. When I turned the corner into the bedroom, I saw Amelie. He was laying in Simone’s bed on his right side. As I moved closer I realized he wasn’t moving. His side was completely slashed open.
I ran out of the room as fast as I could and collapsed on my knees into the dirt driveway. I wept.
The woman who owns the house came out from next door to see what was going on. While I was in a pile of tears on the ground, she asked me what happened and then went into the house and took Amelie and the bed out and put him in her car. She came over to me and talked to me very calmly and told me what we were going to do. She was going to take Amelie to a nearby vet where they could freeze him until I decide what to do with him and the other neighbor was going to take the dog that I found to an animal shelter. I asked if they were going to kill her and she said it was a no-kill facility.
All I could do was sit in the dirt and cry.
Right before she left, she looked me right in the eyes and said, “I know this is so hard. You haven’t had two dogs before and didn’t know what pack mentality is like. You’ve learned an important lesson.”
I sure have. A lesson that cost my baby his life.
The next 24 hours were dark. I tortured myself with guilt. I should have known better. I should have locked Amelie in the bedroom and left the dogs in the other room. Or I should have left the stray in the yard. I should have known not to trust a dog where I knew nothing about her history. How could I put my baby in danger like that? What kind of mother puts her child in harm’s way? Not just harm, but a violent and gruesome situation.
Then I would take a step back and try to retrace my steps. The dog seemed to not even care about Amelie. She was quiet. She didn’t bark a lot. She didn’t go over to him many times. How could I have known she would be a threat? Of course if I had sensed something in her, I would have been more cautious. But I trusted my gut. I always go with my gut and now my gut has steered me wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. Can I even trust myself anymore?
Of course, I also blamed the dogs. How could you do this? How could you be so evil to kill another creature? Simone, why didn’t you protect your brother? You’ve lived happily together for your entire life, six years, and you just let this happen? What kind of soulless being does that? Why are you such a monster? How can I ever love you again?
I didn’t stop crying for twelve hours. I sat outside the house for hours and couldn’t bring myself to go back in. When I finally did, I noticed the blood all over the bathroom. All over the floor and toilet. He must have jumped up on the back of the toilet to try to get away. But that wouldn’t have been high enough. Why didn’t he stay in the kitchen in the windowsill above the sink? I saw his paw prints there. If he had just stayed there, they wouldn’t have been able to get him. He probably thought they were playing and wanted to be cashed. He always pretended to hate when Simone played with him, but I knew he secretly loved it.
He didn’t know he was prey.
I still don’t know everything that went down. Part of me is grateful that he passed quickly and I didn’t have to find him yowling in pain. He could have grown old and gotten a disease or cancer or gone blind. He could have lost his mobility. He lived a happy, rich and healthy life and got to experience a lot of different things. That’s not always the life that cats prefer, but I think Amelie enjoyed the adventure. Anytime we stayed in a new place, he wound wander around curiously and even when he met new animals, he didn’t show an ounce of fear. He was a little punk. He knew how to hold his own. Until he didn’t…
That night I wanted something to drown my sorrows, so I drove into town to find a restaurant where I could eat a big burger and a milkshake. I kept driving from place to place, but every time I thought I was done crying and could get out to go in, I would burst into tears again. I was a mess. So I decided to go into a little diner and order food to go. A diner where I could keep my sunglasses on and my food would be ready quickly so that I could get out of there. As soon as I got back into the car, I was back to sobbing.
I started researching pack mentality in dogs and got a better picture of how it really can change a normally docile dog into something brutal. It was eye-opening to say the least. If you don’t understand pack mentality, please, go look it up.
The next day I felt more at peace. I had my day of deep heart-wrenching mourning and now I was quiet sad. I was glad to have work to distract me and I actually felt ok most of the day because of that. But nights are always the hardest. Every shadow or any patch of black, I thought it was him. All night long, I heard a noise outside that I thought was him scratching in the litter box. I often still think I hear his faint meow. Remnants of his hair would show up. I still periodically find a nail of his here or there. I tried to clean up as best I could, but couldn’t bring myself to get rid of his things, like his litter box and food bowl.
This precious little creature meant the world to me. I know that anyone could say he was just a cat, but he wasn’t just a cat to me. He has been my companion for eight years. Some of the most formative years of my life. I got him when I was in college. He went through my tumultuous twenties with me. He went through my divorce with me. He’s been there for all of the other men I’ve dated. I cannot tell you how many people who didn’t like cats told me that they loved him. He was a spit fire. He had personality and spunk. But he was also sweet. And he and I had a special bond. Unlike any bond I’ve had with any other animal. You cannot brush off that kind of intimacy and loyalty. He was my world.
I’m still processing the whole scenario. I’ve wondered why the property owner’s boyfriend didn’t just suck it up and charge into the house. He could have saved Amelie’s life. I’ve kicked myself saying that no client call or anything work related is as important as my pets and I should have left immediately when I got those texts. I’ve wondered how it all went down. Did she bite his throat? Did she claw him to death? But it’s only torture for me to think about it.
I clearly don’t know what happened. I never will. I have decided to believe that Simone had nothing to do with it, because that’s the only way I know to move on. It’s still hard interacting with her. She, of course, knows that I’m upset and for the rest of the day after it happened, she slept in the corner in the kitchen, rather than the bedroom where I was. That was the first time in her life that she chose to be away from me. I still don’t feel very affectionate towards her. I talk to her and try to explain why I am sad. I hope we can get back to a better place. But I also know it will never be the same.
This is a dark post. But I believe it’s important to share the hard things in life just as much as we share the positive experiences. I believe in vulnerability and truth. If nothing else, hopefully this post helps someone out there learn this lesson from me before it’s too late for them.
You may have seen my post about things that are hard about van life. Admittedly, that was written during a time where I was still getting used to this lifestyle and was annoyed more often than not with the challenges. There was a day where I was texting a friend about how hard things were and thinking that I couldn’t do this and I remember saying to her, “I just need to climb a god damn mountain.” I was suffering through all of the planning and process of getting to where I wanted to be and hadn’t yet seen many of the rewards. The benefits were not outweighing the tribulations and I was questioning my decision to live a mobile life. But sure enough, as always, time always helps and slowly but surely, I began to feel comfortable living in a van. The benefits have been shining their little rays of sunshine in the most unexpected places. So in efforts to bring some more positivity to what I am doing, here are some of the best things about living on the road:
I really enjoy the silence
I have never gone such extended periods of time with such unpredictable cell service or WiFi. Of course I need to be around civilization for work, but on the nights and weekends, I never really know if I’ll have service where I am going, which limits communication, social media and even listening to music at times. This has proven to be a lovely surprise in many ways and I have grown to really enjoy the quietness of nature. Peace. Nothingness. If I close my eyes, all I can hear is the soft crunch of Simone’s paws on the gravel pathway and the gentle whistle of the wind behind me. As I walk, I begin to hear the buzz of a stream and as I move closer, the chorus turns into a roaring river, beating against the rocks without remorse. There is such power and force in nature and I truly appreciate being able to tap into the depth of it on my hikes. The sternness of the mountains speak to me. The squeak of the chipmunk delights me. I notice details that I wouldn’t otherwise because all of my senses are alert and ready for whatever beautiful surprise lies around the corner.
It is never boring
Whether that means I am getting kicked out of a parking lot in the middle of the night by the cops or because I stumble upon the most adorable little sustainable cabin along a river at the edge of the mountains, there is nothing boring about this lifestyle. Every moment is full of surprises and adventure and newness. Change is the norm. New experiences emerge every hour. As someone who thrives on adventure, this is a dream come true. I soak up the stories of the people I meet like a sponge, it’s like going to the cinema and watching a documentary about your favorite hero, except that every person you talk to is a brand new script. I glow at the sight of their weathered skin and bask in their kind and gentle hearts. I love watching people’s eyes as they tell a story, you can see so much about what they are feeling by looking at the expression in their smile lines. I can’t help but want to consume every single one of their words and memorize what they are telling me. It truly is a gift.
Every morning is different
If you know me at all, you know that I love mornings. I love the lighting. I love how refreshed I am at the beginning of the day. I love that when I jump out of bed, anything is possible. Anything my heart desires can be reality. There is nothing so pure and fresh and abundant and full of hope than the morning light. It breathes life into everything it touches. It inspires. It refreshes. I want the morning light to possess my entire body, run through my veins, light up my skin and warm into the depths of my soul with its goodness. I cannot accurately express what it does to me, it’s one of the most magical things I have ever experienced, and lucky me, it happens every day. Part of what I love about mornings is that each one is different. It doesn’t matter where you are, each one is unique, but the differences are even more exaggerated when you are in new places as well. To sit and sip my coffee on a deck with the Rockies hovering authoritatively over me or to open my eyes and see a bumbling stream joyously singing to me good morning… there are no words to express that satisfaction.
There is no pressure
One of the best things about being mobile is that there is no pressure to find the “best” place to visit. I have hardly researched anything at all on this trip because I would rather go where feels right and discover whatever that place has to offer. I have even stopped searching for coffee shops or stops along the road, because I would rather pull off and wander around a little town to see what I find. This has proven to be a good strategy because I have an aversion to touristy areas, so I often discover simple hidden treasures that are off the beaten path instead. I have still experienced some of the great beauty of the more populated places, but the ones that really dig deep and touch my heart are usually the quieter spots. I have no regrets about anywhere I have gone or not gone, because you know what? I can always go back. Time is on my side.
My free time is always spent outside
I have always loved nature. I grew up camping, playing sports, walking in the city, canoeing, hiking, traveling, etc. My parents took us all over the world as kids and we got to discover everything from the rain forests of Australia to the ski slopes of Korea to the cobble stone streets of London. Thinking back, the things that I remember the most are the outdoor activities. I am not sure if that is just because that was what we mostly did as a family or if I have a selective memory, but either way, nature has always been a force that has an incredible power to move me. Even to the point of tears. I remember when I was twelve years old, we were in Australia as a family, it was the middle of the night and we had gone out to watch the turtles hatch on the beach and run towards the ocean. To this day, I couldn’t tell you a thing about the turtles. But I do remember staring into the sky for what felt like an eternity and getting lost and even dizzy by the beauty of the stars. I had never before in my life seen such a thick layer of stars, sparking, dazzling, mesmerizing. I remember being so in awe that it brought tears to my eyes. I will never forget that moment. That moment solidified that I wanted to be an astronomer when I grew up. (which obviously turned out… lol). I couldn’t imagine a better life than to stare in the stars, study them, learn from them, analyze them, and maybe even go to space one day. There is no doubt in my mind that I am at my best when I am outdoors and I am so grateful that this lifestyle allows for me to do that.
I forget to look in a mirror
It has been incredibly liberating to not give two shits about what I look like for the last three months. I put on whatever outfit is at the top of my drawer. I don’t wear makeup. I’ll wash my face if I’m feeling fancy, but hey now… let’s not get too crazy. It’s amazing that I am still able to brush my teeth twice a day. I have embraced the fact that on most days I look like a homeless hippy who doesn’t own a hairbrush and you know what? I am totally ok with that. I am MORE than ok with that. It is freeing and beautiful and has opened up a whole new way of thinking for me. I used to always say that if someone didn’t find me beautiful, it didn’t matter because there were plenty of other people who did. But I was also so careful about my appearance before. I did dozens of different things to make myself look a little bit “better” than what I looked like naturally. But this new life is a whole new level of that mentality. Sometimes I don’t shower for a week. Sometimes I have broccoli stuck in my teeth and don’t realize it for 48 hours. Sometimes I forget to shave. Most days my hair is tangled and I struggle just to put it in a ponytail. I am not polished. I am not pulled together. I am disheveled, but I am so happy. I find it so beautiful. And I love this new me. It takes away the vanity and creates an environment where I can truly focus on what brings me joy instead.
This is sort of a no-brainer, but the freedom has been incredible. I get to wake up every morning and not know where I will go next. Every weekend is like opening the greatest present of your life and it never disappoints. I have no events that I need to attend. No activities. No appointments. Outside of work responsibilities and making sure my pets are alive, I can literally go anywhere or do anything. This could mean staying in bed for a week because I have a fever. But it could also mean waking up one morning and deciding to drive 6 hours to another state. It is such a thrill. There is so much to be seen and I love the feeling of being called in a giving direction and just being able to go. I love that I am on this adventures. Challenges and all, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I made it to a perfect little cabin at the edge of the foothills in Colorado. I unpacked my things from the car, got the kids into the room and started to run the water into the Jacuzzi tub that welcomed me. Once the water was a few inches up, I climbed in and hugged my knees, feeling the warmth rise around me.
As I turned my head, I noticed a tiny little spider trying to climb up the side of the tub. I watched it. Its tiny legs struggled to grasp the ceramic walls. It didn’t take long before another spider climbed out of the jet, a larger one, and began accompanying the smaller spider up the side of the tub. I imagined that it was a mother and a child. The mother trying to encourage the child to carry on, don’t get discouraged, we can make it to the top. As I watched the two spiders, I found myself rooting for them. I wanted them to get out, feel the accomplishment of their feat, and live a long and prosperous life.
But then, suddenly, the larger spider crawled back into the Jacuzzi jet, and sure enough, brought another tiny spider out to climb up the giant wall. As she was trying to get herself out of the jet, the water had rose higher than she anticipated and her back legs got stuck in the water. I froze. I didn’t know what to do. She was struggling to climb with only her front legs and it wasn’t going well. The water continued to rise. I almost started to tear up watching her. She fought hard and eventually her back legs started to gain traction again. The three spiders continued up the side of the tub.
Then, completely out of nowhere, the larger spider fell straight into the tub. All hope was lost. I cringed at the site of the two little ones climbing alone. And then the two smaller spiders fell also. I was shocked and appalled. Then, suddenly, an even larger spider, double the size of any of the others, floated out of a jet from the opposite side of the tub. With a moment’s notice, my introspective and pensive moment turned into a scream and before I knew it, I was standing on the edge of the tub, covered in soap, staring into a tub full of dead spiders.
Needless to say, I finished washing my hair in the sink.
When I tell people that I sold all of my possessions and am going to be traveling the west for a while the most common response I get is, “Wow, I am so jealous.” I know that those people have good intentions. It’s encouraging to know that people support what I am doing. And many of you reading this probably said that very thing to me.
First of all, you don’t need to be jealous. There is a path for your life that will make your heart sing. And it will be unique. It will include all of the awful, painful heart breaks as well as the beauty. I was recently asked the question if I would choose one person’s life to live, would I choose my own? I thought about it long and hard. I thought about it for days. And I finally concluded that, yes. I would choose my life over anyone else’s. I created my life into what I what I want it to be. I didn’t get to choose all of the circumstances that affected me, and hell, there are a lot of them that I would gladly do without, but in the end, I do get to choose what I want my life to look like. So no, don’t be jealous. Create the life that you are in love with.
Second of all, living on the road is sure as hell not easy. I get frustrated at times when I hear over and over that people are jealous, because there are moments where I just want to shake them and say, do you even know what it’s like?? There’s a reason that not a lot of people do this. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to be whiny. I love this trip and I wouldn’t take it back. But in efforts to ease your mind just a little bit, let me tell you some of what it’s been like to live out of a van for the past several months:
You wake up every morning grateful that everyone is alive
The first few months in the van I was living in Minnesota in my brother’s backyard. Yes, it was April. Yes, it was 20 degrees some nights. Amelie learned pretty quickly to crawl into my sleeping bag to stay warm, which of course I welcomed, since it was like adding a little tiny heater to my sleeping bag. Simone, on the other hand, is slightly too big. There were nights where I would wake up and feel her shivering and not know what to do. She doesn’t really like blankets, so I didn’t know how to help her stay warm. I am not kidding you when I say that every morning I wake up and look around at my pets and feel an incredible amount of gratefulness that, yes, we made it another day.
Nothing goes as planned
NOTHING. Ok, that is a little dramatic, but it often feels like that. Even on the days where you wake up with the best laid out plan that you thought you could have ever created, it will most likely all go to shit. You have to be prepared for the unexpected at every moment. Including losing solar power and having your entire fridge full of food rot. Or the weather changes and all of a sudden your plan of keeping the pets in the van goes out the window because you are paranoid they might die in the heat. Expect the unexpected.
Sometimes you pee in a bucket
There’s not really a lot more that I need to say to explain this. When you are in a parking lot and can’t find an open bathroom nearby (or maybe you are just really lazy), you pee in a bucket.
You “shower” in a Starbucks bathroom
Wake up in the morning, find the nearest Starbucks, grab my cosmetics kit and spending a solid 10 minutes in the bathroom freshening up. Brushing my teeth, washing my face, putting on makeup (if I am feeling extra snazzy), etc. Maybe I get weird looks or maybe I am just imagining it because I feel like people should be giving me weird looks.
If you forget to lock your car, your whole life is gone
As someone who has lost their house keys more times than I would like to admit, or locked herself out of her car too many times to count, I am constantly paranoid that I will forget to lock the van and someone will steal my entire life out of it. It’s a reality. It could happen. My whole existence is in one tiny 100 sq. feet space.
It’s more expensive than you think
I spent less on the van initially than I thought I would. But the amount that I’ve sunk into converting the van has easily doubled what I was planning on and I am not done yet. On top of that, there are expenses that you just don’t think about as much, like park fees, buying a lot of bottled water, eating out because you are too exhausted to spend 1.5 hours cooking, paying for a place to crash when you need it, etc. So far, it’s not much cheaper than how I was living before, but maybe it will even out. knock on wood
People are thrilled for you or they judge you
I get two kinds of reactions when I tell people about van life. Either they are ecstatic for me (which is about 20% of the time) or they look at me very confused, which prompts a long explanation of how I got here. It gets tiring to feel like you have to explain your choices to everyone.
Everything takes longer
This weekend I was camping in Rocky Mountain National Park and I got up early (5:45am) to make breakfast and get out on the trails early. I wasn’t allowed to take Simone with me on the trails, so I wanted to hike early in the day before it got hot in the van. I got out my propane stove, ground and brewed my coffee, cooked breakfast, ate and cleaned up. Those tasks took me 1.5 hours. What would have normally taken me about 20 minutes in “normal” life took me almost five times as long. That’s part of the sacrifice.
You always feel like you’re mooching
Whether you are staying with friends, at an Air BnB or camping, there is something about being around people all the time that makes you hyper aware of how your life is affecting everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE being with people and wouldn’t want it any other way, but the feeling of always taking other people’s generosity weighs on me at times. I like to feel like I am giving back as much as I am receiving, so it’s tough to strike that balance.
Sleeping is hard: lights, traffic, cows, etc.
The other night I slept in Oakley, Kansas and barely got a minute of shut eye because of the cows. The COWS. Who knew that being in the middle of nowhere would be the spot that I lost the most sleep because the cows were mooing all night. You just never know…
Say goodbye to Amazon Prime
Yes, I had to cancel Amazon Prime. I have nowhere to ship to. As someone who does not like shopping in the first place, giving up my online alternative has not been easy.
You can’t decorate
This may sound superficial, but it’s really hard not feeling like I can have a tidy, well-groomed space where all of my things feel like “me.” No matter how much stuff I get rid of, the van still feels messy and I am constantly shuffling things around to find what I am looking for. No longer are the days where you pull a pan off the shelf to cook with. Now you have to open the back door, open the cabinet door, move a few containers, shuffle some other cooking items, and maybe you can find the pan… but is your stove set up? Where’s the propane? I can’t find the cooking utensils. I don’t even have cooking oil. Put it all back, let’s go to the store…
Having a routine is next to impossible
As much as I love adventure and new experiences, there are aspects of my life that thrive in routine. I wake up, make my coffee the same way every morning, eat my breakfast the same way every morning, work for several hours, eat the same lunch, continue working, drink my afternoon coffee and snack, finish working, run, and then have my evening to cook, run errands or visit friends. It is really hard to keep this up when every day is unpredictable. If I get out of my routine, it definitely takes a toll on mental sanity.
Every day is an unknown
Even if I have a place lined up for the next day, you never really know what lies ahead. That unknown brings with it a certain level of stress. What if I get to my campground and they don’t have any camp sites left? What if they don’t allow dogs? What if I get kicked out of the parking lot I’m parked at? What if I get a flat tire on the way there? I am generally not a worrier, but I have a whole new understanding of stress with van life.
This is not meant to be a pity-party, but I definitely have been learning the realities of this life style the past few months. But hey. Life is just one big learning lesson, ammiright??
Nothing was as bad as scraping insulation glue, however… if there is anything I learned through this process, it is that manual labor is hard. During no training season have I eaten so much, slept so much or been as exhausted as when I was working on this van.
Sound proofing material is expensive, but having installed this during the rainy season, there was an immediate noticeable difference once it was in. Definitely worth it.
Next was insulation. I taped this in with Gorilla tape and it went up fairly easily.
You know someone really loves you when they scrape insulation glue for three days with you.
You also know someone really loves you when they grid the hell out of rusted seat belt locks.
And… you know that you love your dream when you spend countless hours in strange positions to get to the next step.
Might not look like a lot to you, but this is a solid 40 hours, 3 person cleaning job.
So I woke up one Saturday morning and decided to rip all of this out of my new van…
It was in really good condition when I got it, so there was something sad about pulling it all apart.
Fortunately, I had the Gandalf to help me.
Also fortunately, I have a brother who enjoys destroying stuff.
So we did.
This is what I was left with. Yuck.