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The Journey Home: What We Learned From 35 Days in 36 Feet

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Before we left for our adventure, Jeremy and I sat down one afternoon together on the patio surrounded by the tall bamboo and potted plants and made a long list of all of the various experiments we wanted to run within the bigger experiment in the 36 foot RV.  We wanted to be intentional about what we were testing to make sure that each moment of the five weeks provided us with opportunities to collect data that we could assess to make a decision whether or not to RV full time.  From Baby’s size to what bike rack to use, to what kitchen appliances we would need, everything we did was somehow part of the experiment.  

A test that was particularly interesting to us was how flexible and spontaneous we could be driving such a big-ass rig.  We had originally thought a camper van Class B vehicle would be the best vehicle for us but when we tested it last year, we learned that while it was fun to boondock in remote spots, the challenges associated with living in a 21-foot space were not worth that freedom.  Because Baby is big, however, we were concerned we would not be able to adapt as easily as we did in the Class B vehicle if a campsite fell through or the weather changed. And as part of that need for flexibility, would it create conflict between us?  How would we navigate through this kind of challenge? We needed to test if living in an RV would bring us closer together or drive us apart? 

As we headed into the last ten days of the experiment, the Universe served up a giant test.  We had already canceled our original plans to visit Yosemite, choosing to loop back up into Northern California and explore the Redwoods after our much-anticipated visit to South Central Oregon’s Crater Lake.  Since the Lake is considered an out of the way destination, a place you have to go to with intention, we had to drive for more than three hours through narrow, winding mountain roads back into California before looping back to central Oregon where the Lake is situated. 

As Baby weaved back and forth through the mountain roads we began to smell the thick smoke from fires blazing in California and Oregon.  And, as the late morning begin to turn into the afternoon, the blue skies started to fill with smoke, the sun turning to a  faint orange as it tried to push through the emerging darkness.   Jeremy pulled out his phone to check the air quality app one more time to discover that Crater Lake now had zero visibility.  Making things more complex we had planned on being at Crater Lake by 4 pm so I could be on time for my virtual workout scheduled at 5 pm. And, I had meetings and a podcast recording scheduled early the next morning for which I needed solid internet.  As the minutes ticked by it became apparent we were not going to make it to Crater Lake, and there was now not a place big enough to pull over or park Baby to decide what to do next.  Jeremy continued to drive, the noise of the engine humming loudly, one hand on the wheel, one hand on his phone trying to navigate as silence filled the space between us. I tried to stay calm in the presence of feeling somewhat adrift driving down the freeway.  

While I considered my traditional navigation skills rudimentary at best, one of the main navigation tools I had been relying on successfully throughout this experiment was my intuition.  And so when I looked up to see the green road sign for Ashland, Oregon, a place that had originally been on the list of places to visit that had been omitted, I suggested to Jeremy that perhaps the “Universe” wanted us to make a change of plans and stop in Ashland.   We turned our rig towards Ashland, the skies becoming a little less dark,  and Jeremy identified a nearby state park nearby where we could pull off the side of the road to regroup and I could work out.   The Park he chose was nearly empty as we drove up the gravel road, ultimately finding a giant vacant parking lot.  We did a quick set up, put out the slides, plugged in the exercise bike and grabbed the weights and exercise mat from Baby’s “basement.”  And, while I peddled and lifted inside to avoid the smoke, Jeremy curated a few options to discuss once I had finished.

After the workout, I showered and changed, (a huge benefit of driving a rig like Baby – everything is operational all the time) and sat down in the seat next to Jeremy to figure out where we would stay the night.  Besides needing internet in the morning for work, we both were also scheduled to train so driving the three-plus hours back to the coast through the mountain roads at night, only to have to leave a new campsite before eleven a.m. (the typical checkout time) wasn’t going to work.   We were committed to maintaining our exercise schedule while on the road. It seemed we were stuck. 

“One option I thought of,” said Jeremy,” his calm blue eyes locked on the screen of his computer, “is this hotel.” He turned the computer so I could see it.  The Ashland Hills Hotel and Suites Convention Center. 

I had also been thinking of a hotel, except I had been thinking of something quaint, with a luxurious bathtub.  He went on, “I called them and they have a huge parking lot so they said we could park Baby.”  I realized then that quaint hotels have small parking lots, and quickly abandoned my fantasy, happy to stay at the Conference Center Hotel for the night.  Relieved to have a plan, Jeremy then called the campsite at the Ancient Redwood Forest we had chosen to stay at after Crater Lake to see if we could arrive early the next day.  It was nearly 6:30 pm, we were hungry and tired from driving seven hours.  We both felt that while we could pull over on the side of a road, or find a Walmart to park in, or drive through the evening, we needed it to be simple and easy.  To go with the plan that had unfolded somewhat naturally. The decision to stay in Ashland just felt right.  Within 20 minutes we had checked into the hotel, reserved an extra day at the Redwoods, and parked Baby just a few feet away from the hotel room in a vacant nearby lot.

We spotted a deer grazing on the side of the suburban road grazing aimlessly as we drove to dinner at a local restaurant, enjoyed fresh sheets on a clean hotel bed, and traipsed back and forth between the room and Baby to dig for pajamas and our toiletries before taking in Bachelor In Paradise before bed, agreeing that sleeping in a hotel without a suitcase a novelty in itself.  

The next afternoon we left Ashland and headed to the Redwoods, driving back through the narrow mountain pathway to Northern California towards Eureka, California.  With more meetings scheduled within the hour, Jeremy pulled Baby into a Walmart parking lot where we feasted on excellent internet service, plenty of room to park, and the ability for Jeremy to run in and do some last-minute grocery shopping.  Perched on the passenger seat I ran an important strategy meeting on Zoom while Jeremy set up a camp chair in the parking lot to catch up on calls and return emails.

A few hours later we headed into the massive Redwoods where I immediately knew the Universe had served us the perfect plan.  The trees stood hundreds of feet tall, the branches spread wide, the tall, thick trunks emanating mystery, maybe even magic. The campsite at Ancient Redwoods RV Park Jeremy had reserved was butted up against the Redwood trees with plenty of open space between us and the other campers. As soon as we arrived I set up the internet and within minutes effortlessly logged into my final meeting. The day had gone smoothly, reinforcing the idea that if we could lean into challenges and follow intuition without being to bogged down by logic, magic just might happen.  That it could bring us closer together. By nightfall we decided to extend our stay at the campsite so that we could spend the entire day Friday exploring the Ancient Trees, choosing to drive seven hours to Santa Cruz on Saturday and then a shorter drive to San Louis Obispo on Sunday where we would rendezvous with our adult children.  We felt the trade-off to spend more time in the Redwoods at the expense of a long drive was worth any discomfort. 

Friday we explored the Ancient Redwood Forest buying fresh fruit and veg at a farm stand, and spent hours popping on and off the hiking trails situated along the Avenue Of The Giants.  It was while we were parking the car at the Founders Grove Trail that in the corner of my eye I saw a man that looked exactly like my dad who passed away in 2019.  Wearing a red baseball cap and grey khaki pants I pointed at him through the car, showing Jeremy my dad’s doppelganger.   

“Take a picture of him,” Jeremy said as he headed off to the restroom, leaving me to decide what to do.  I paused momentarily reaching for my phone, but I knew I had to speak to this man.

“Hi,” I said approaching the man and his wife as they locked their car.  “I know this might seem odd, but,” I stammered on,  “You look …..exactly like my dad, and he passed away, and I don’t know…. I had to talk to you.”

The man broke into a wide smile while his wife clutched at her chest, smiling up at her very tall husband. Tall, like my dad. We spoke for a few minutes, Jeremy joining us as they shared their love of these Trees, and told us of their life living in the mountains between Lake Tahoe and Nevada City.  They shared how while they were grateful their home was safe from fire, they decided to be spontaneous, get in the car, and come to the Trees for a few days, get refuge from the smoke.  We walked towards the trail entrance together, and I thanked him for chatting with me, for giving me back a little piece of what felt like my dad.

As we navigated through the massive trees I read from a little brochure I had grabbed from a Park Ranger which told the story of the Trees, specifically the fall of the 2000-year-old Dyerville Giant.  The tree had been the tallest tree from 1972 until it fell in 1991, and now it lay on its side in front of me, sprawling 362 feet across the forest floor.  The roots of the tree were wide, like thousands of thick fingers clawing at the air. As I craned my neck to look up over the trunk I read aloud from the brochure, telling Jeremy that the tree needed to fall, that the trees needed to die so that the other smaller trees would have a chance to grow.  Without sunlight, there would be no new Redwoods to repopulate this Ancient Forest.  And, even in its death, the Dyerville Giant is as important as the standing trees to the health and longevity of the forest.  That the fallen logs are part of the whole as the Dyerville Giant donates its nutrients to nearly 4,000 species of lichens, mosses, sword ferns, salmonberry, chipmunks, wrens, and more in the forest, giving life even in its death. 

I put my hands on the tree and leaned into it.  It didn’t ‘feel’ alive. I closed my eyes, thought of my dad, and how in his death I have become more alive in many ways, become more of who I am, of who I want to be.  That even though he is gone his stories and legacy nurture me and Jeremy, our daughters, and the people that my dad loved so dearly. 

His little forest.

I thought of the sunset I watched from the campsite the night before, and the meditation I listen to regularly that reminds me the energy of the West is the energy of birth and of death, beginnings and endings.  The cycle of life.  I felt whole.  Complete.  Our journey home would begin the next day, a series of long drives that would culminate in a weekend with my daughters before heading back to LA.  I knew then Jeremy and I were ready to say aloud what we had been avoiding for a week – that it was time to change the narrative.  Time to stop saying, ‘if we RV full time” and turn towards the future, to say it, aloud. 

We had decided. 

The old life we had —  as parents of young children, then teenagers – had come to its natural completion.  While we would always nurture the girls and remember that part of our life, of course, it was time for us to stand together in the sunlight of a new beginning. 

To begin the next part of our journey home.  Not the journey to the home I had known for 22 years, but a new one.  A home with wheels.  A journey outward to explore the beauty of America but also a journey inward.  To find a new home within each of us and between us. To begin the challenge of living radically — to live courageously, designing and creating a life outside the boundaries of preconceived norms — so that we could begin to live life on our terms, now.

About the Author

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MARNI BATTISTA

I am Marni Battista, entrepreneur, mom of three, wife, and lover of travel. My husband and I have spent the last three years being intentional about creating a life that feels like an authentic expression of us as individuals and together. We have a mutual love of adventure, nature, peace, and freedom which has resulted in a series of experiments in honor of our desire to experience a radical living challenge! This blog represents the beginning of this journey.
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