The sun is still asleep and the room is black. I can see the light coming down the hallway and under the door as I feel Alana move into consciousness next to me. Check my phone: 4:45 am. My eyes squint as I look around trying to make out their shapes. The boys, no longer on the floor next to our mattress, are both already up and moving - no surprises there.
I'm not sure why we decided to all sleep in the same room that night. It wasn't a discussion really; it was just the way it unfolded as the evening went on. One by one as the sleepiness set in we each retired to the room at the back of the house. Maybe it was kindness thing, to avoid making our send off party feel like they had to go before they were ready. Maybe it was a closure thing, needing to physically shut the door to bring our time in Austin to an end. Or maybe it was a comfort thing, hoping that waking up to our last Austin morning would be easier together.
Because the truth is that we did do it together - both physically and emotionally. They say there is strength in numbers and I think this was the case for us. Some people didn’t understand the desire to move across the country with three other people, but we didn’t need them to. Maybe we could have done it alone, maybe not, but either way it didn’t really matter. We each had our own reasons for going, and looking around there was a sense that we understood each others need for movement from this place that had given our souls so much rest.
It wasn’t easy to leave a city where we all felt so rooted and surrounded by community. A community that cared deeply and took care of us, that taught us that we aren’t alone and we aren’t weak. Austin had taken each of us and built us into new humans. The city pulled and stretched and molded me into someone almost unrecognizable from the person I was when I showed up all alone four years prior. It was our home and it was our comfort.
But the truth is that too much comfort can lead to being content, and being too content can quickly lead to becoming stagnant. We loved our comfort but we feared becoming stagnant. As humans, I think it is when our fears begin to overlap that we realize we aren’t alone. We were together in our fears and together in our comforts, which made it easier to take the leap
So with three cars and a U-haul we went. The days that followed were long but full. 3,000 miles of laughs through Walkie Talkies, pick-up truck tears in the middle of the desert, and late night mountain talks about our new soon-to-be home. Finding a new place to breathe was something that we each wanted for ourselves, but as we each sought that out there was no shame in admitting that we were stronger together.
Turkey (Based on a standard sized cast iron dutch oven you'll want a bird that is under 7 pounds)
3 cups of chicken stock
4 coves of garlic
1 red onion
Herb blend (Rosemary, Thyme, Sage)
1 stick of butter
3 sweet potatoes
(salt, pepper, chili powder to taste)
1/2 pound of green beans
1 pound of bacon
Cast iron dutch oven
Aluminum pie tin
Camp stove and propane
Cast iron skillet
Cooking an entire Thanksgiving feast while camping isn't as daunting as it sounds, it really all comes down to having enough wood to keep a fire going for 3+ hours while the turkey cooks. Other than that it actually might be easier to cook a holiday meal in the great outdoors rather than in a cramped kitchen.
The only "trick" I can think of comes into play right at the beginning.Take an aluminum pie tin, poke a few holes in it and put it upside down in the bottom of the dutch oven. This will keep the turkey off of the direct heat and allow the stock to steam the bird a bit.
To start with the actual food, chop up the garlic and half of the red onion. Take those along with half a stick of butter and stuff them inside the cavity of the turkey. Then place your bird atop the pie tin in the cast iron dutch oven. Now pour the 3 cups of chicken stock over it and place the rosemary, thyme and sage on top. Make sure you have some good coals ready and then place the dutch oven in the fire!
To keep the turkey at a consistent heat you'll actually want to keep the fire burning in a separate part of the pit. As the roaring flames die down push the coals underneath the dutch oven. Cooking with the coals rather than the fire itself will allow you to have much more control. It will also keep the turkey cooking in something more like an oven rather than being scorched with a blow torch.
You'll want to periodically spin the cast iron to make sure all sides of the turkey are cooked evenly. Other than that it's really just a waiting game, the inside of the turkey should read 180 degrees before you pull it off the fire. While you're waiting you can start to prep some of the other parts of the meal.
Sweet potatoes should be cut up into small cubes, and can be mixed any other veggies and spices that suit your taste. We decided to just use what we had and throw some diced onion, salt, pepper and chili powder on them. To cook the potatoes fashion a foil packet and add a little bit of water before sealing. Place them on a cooking rack or directly in the fire, they'll take about 20 minutes to become tender.
Once you're turkey is done pull it off the fire and turn to the camp stove so you can get started on the last two side dishes. You want the turkey to sit for 20 minutes before you carve it anyways.
If we're going to have some green vegetables on our plates you better believe we're going to add bacon to them. For the green bean dish start by frying up some bacon until it's cooked but still tender. Pat the bacon dry and then dice it into small crumbles, pour out most of the leftover bacon grease (but not all!), and then add the bacon and green beans back into the cast iron skillet. Cook until green beans are tender.
And last but not least, the stuffing. Now i'm not saying it's impossible, but making a stuffing from scratch without the luxuries of home seems like a real headache. If you're camping you'll need to cut corners every once in a while and this was one of those times. We used some good ol' boxed stuffing for this Thanksgiving meal, it's quick, portable and still tastes great.
Venturing into a thick morning fog and drizzle we headed north from Portland on our way to Mt. Rainier. Within twenty minutes we had already crossed into Washington state, if you've spent any time living in Texas crossing a state border is no small task so this was a foreign experience.
After driving alongside rivers and through forests like I hadn't seen since living in New Hampshire I was already in love with the landscape of the Pacific Northwest. As we walked out of the gift shop at the entrance to the park I heard my friends yelling my name and pointing for me to turn around. I swung around and there through the clearing clouds I saw the peak of Mt. Rainier. My face lit up like a child's on Christmas morning. What stood before me was impressively massive and I probably would have been just as excited if it was visible as soon as we rolled in, but the slow reveal was the icing on the cake.
We went on a few little hikes, a couple miles here and there, and drove through the park stopping at the easy accesbile waterfalls to snap some photos and make snide comments about how nothing in Texas even comes close to what you can see from a parking lot in Washington. But what we did with the majority of our time was just sit. Even writing that sentence has me scratching my own head; "Really? You just sat? Surrounded by trails and mountains you've never stepped foot on, in a state that you'd never been to before, and you chose to sit?" But there we were hanging out under a canopy of trees, something we could have done anywhere, and yet it somehow felt like exactly what we were supposed to be doing in that moment.
The reason this was possible was because of the group of people that came together for this trip. I've camped with large groups before, but something about this weekend seemed different. I knew everyone that made the trip to Rainier; girlfriend, best friends, friends from almost a decade ago, to folks who I met my very first night in Austin. Somehow all these people getting together made this "thing" that I didn't know. These nine people created something larger than just each individual person, the group took on it's own persona and it was a truly beautiful thing to experience. Everyone brought a unique perspective and personality to the table and no one held that in, which isn't always easy to do, especially considering some of these folks were meeting each other for the first time.
Smoke from our campfire filled the air all weekend, and so did laughter. We shared jokes and ghost stories, took naps, cooked amazing meals, practiced our wood chopping skills, ate more hot dogs than anyone should ever eat, and for once didn't get in trouble with park rangers.
On our last morning in Rainier we all stood around in a circle and made toasts to our time spent under the pines. The words that stuck with me the most were those about how all these people from all these places came together to make the most memorable weekend. How sometimes there are personalities in a group that need babysitting, and how that wasn't the case at all the past few days.
If you know me at all you know that I have a real problem sitting still, it's the reason why I travel the way I do. Franticly moving from one location to another, never spending quite enough time in any one place, but always seeming to satisfying my urge to see as much as I can during my weekends or short vacations. Even when I'm "doing nothing" I always seem to be fidgeting around with something, editing photos, checking my phone, getting up to poke around my house not looking for anything in particular. It's also the reason why it's taken me four weeks to write the few paragraphs you see above. My time in Mt. Rainier was the antithesis of my standard, I did not worry about seeing or doing as much as I could, I sat still, I enjoyed. Looking back if someone asks me what we did in Rainier I would probably answer, "Nothing, and it was glorious."
Shot On - Kodak Color Max 400
It was Friday at 2:00 pm and we were both still at work. Memorial Day weekend had finally arrived, yet here we were being forced to sit on our hands and watch the freedom time-bomb count down. It was unbearable.
Eventually, 5:00 pm and the weekend came. The first Friday in months Jeremy had been required to stay that late and it felt like the worst thing ever. As I walk through his front door, I can tell he feels bad for being the one that held us up. He starts to apologize and I cut him off "don't be stressed, no bad vibes, this weekend is ours." Ice down the cooler, load the truck, grab Piper's leash, don't forget anything, did we grab the pillows? (we always forget the pillows), open the Topo Chicos, and hit the road.
Three hours down the road and it's time for a pit stop. We walk into the truck stop and Jeremy immediately hands me a bumper sticker "Cowboy Butts Drive Me Nuts." It's funny because I grew up in a little country town. I hand one back, "Monica Lewinsky's Ex-Boyfriend's Wife For President." It's funny because Hillary Clinton.
Use the bathroom, joke about buying cheese curds, and back out to the gas pump we go. Already 10 pm and still two hours to go until we get to Fort Stockton. We're used to driving long and late, moving fast to not waste time, but this time is different. Don't be stressed, no bad vibes, this weekend is ours. We sit in the truck for a bit, check out a giant mural of running horses on the side of the building, I pretend I'm one of those running horses, Jeremy records it. It's getting late and we're getting goofy.
Back on the dark highway the quietness within the truck tells us we are getting tired. We listen to an episode of The Dirt Bag Diaries and agree that in some bizarre way it sounds as if the girl in the podcast is talking directly to me. Jeremy puts on the new Lumineers album. I crank it up, roll down the window, and throw my face and arms out into the cool air. I usually do this when I'm tired in some sort of attempt to let the fresh air bring me back from the dead. But in this moment I feel rooted in my alive-ness, in my being. It was if the night was dancing around me in celebration and nothing could stop us racing down that highway. The wind running through my lungs whispering sacred secrets only I was meant to know, while the Lumineers were screaming back with affirmation, "I was not born to drown."
Finally at midnight we make it to the campsite. Jeremy grabs our information and we throw up our tent by the light of our headlamps. I try not to disturb the sleeping tent next to us, but sometimes peeing in the dark is really funny.
It's hard for us to sleep past daybreak when we camp. 6:00 am the sun comes alive and so do we. We hung around this little campsite just long enough to watch the world wake up and let Piper pee on a fire hydrant - then its back in the truck and back on the road.
Our trip continued on past this night. It took us to places and things that most would consider bigger and better than a Friday on the road and a night in a tent. Sure, almost falling over at the vastness of Carlsbad Caverns, camping in Bluff Springs, and running wild in White Sands are things I'll never forget. But it's these little moments of my man and me celebrating our freedom and taking all the damn time we please that make up the memory highlight reel from this trip. Don't be stressed, no bad vibes, this weekend was ours.
“The free exploring mind of the individual is the most valuable thing in the world.”
I’ve heard that sometimes, the beauty of a blog can be the scrambled thoughts and feelings that form when we write with no real direction in our minds. So this blog post is exactly that; snippets from three months of my trip to southern Chile and Argentina.
This trip became a reality after one of many late night conversations with a friend while I was working remotely in a city that wasn’t Portland, OR (my home). They always came at the perfect time, and involved topics that people in their mid 20’s seem to discuss; he was loving his work, and I was having trouble finding direction within mine. However, I think my struggle was more than just the routine of everyday life in a job I didn’t love. I had spent weeks and months, maybe even a year coming to the realization that I hadn't ever REALLY traveled. I hadn't tested myself in a place foreign to my consciousness. I hadn’t ever been truly uncomfortable with my surroundings, or tested my abilities in those situations.
With each passing day, the intentions for the trip became clearer. I wanted to understand and get to know the best version of myself, and in my mind, that version is found in the woods, alone with my thoughts.
"And this I believe; that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for; the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against; any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserver the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.”
My situation before Patagonia is hard to describe. It was a clusterfuck of thoughts, feelings and emotions that were difficult to sort through. I had a job that allowed me vacation time, paid well, and provided me with a comfortable life. Sounds great, right? Well I was miserable and unfulfilled. It’s always bothered me, this idea that someone, or some god, or some mythical creature riding a unicorn with a trident in hand created a master plan for our lives. I’ve never accepted this as a reality, and I don’t think I ever will. Writing this now I can only imagine how many people feel just as unfulfilled as I did. But there comes a time, at some point, that we have to take back our lives and own up to our feelings. What it came down to for me, was looking inward at my heart, and outwards to friends and family to validate the feelings I was having. It’s both surprising and comforting to realize the amount of people that have felt similarly, and have gone on their own vision quests to find direction in life. When you’re honest with yourself and the people around you, life becomes more clear.
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”
The collection of quotes referenced in this post came from Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.” I, along with three others read it during our travels, and I wanted to end with this;
“I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one…Humans are caught - in their loves, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too - in a net of good and evil…there is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: was it good or was it evil? Have I done well - or ill?”