Living and working from the road means many things: witnessing the gradual wax and wane of the moon every night from our 1,000 Star Hotel (our tent, of course). It means hitting a trail in the middle of the workday. It means visiting national parks and wilderness areas that most people plan months in advance for.
Donielle caught feeling giddy during a hike to Black Elk Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Image: Aaron Hussmann
It also means driving hours for warmer weather so we don’t have to sleep in the frigid 20s, having more bug bites on my body than I do freckles, and insects invading your personal space, like having your tent infiltrated by ants at 3 a.m. or an earwig lay eggs in your sleeping bag.
But even on the hard days, I consider myself lucky.
A New Path
Since my boyfriend and I hit the road in our Subaru Crosstrek almost 10 months ago to tour the West Central United States (Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, New Mexico, and Texas) my senses have been overloaded.
I’ve learned how to minimize, since all of my belongings have to fit behind the passenger seat of our car. I’ve learned what my body needs, a good run every few days and never skipping meals. I’ve learned about my boyfriend and about our relationship, the kind of knowledge you only get from spending 24 hours a day with a person no farther than two feet apart. But I’ve also learned a lot about my connection to the trail.
A New Self
When I first started this trip, I was a newbie to the outdoor community. I followed my ultra-hiker boyfriend up trails in the Sierras and thought he might be trying to kill me. I was out of shape and unaware of my strength and ability.
When my boots hit the rocky trail, my mind would often spiral to the repetitive squabbling of “you can’t do this.” When I began mountain biking I felt awkward, my body would tighten over every curve, “you’re a fraud,” it would say. When I went spelunking I worried if I could keep up with the others on our tour, “everyone else thinks this is easy,” whispered the pesky voice.
Trying new things isn’t easy. Most the time I look stupid, I’m fumbling, I’m doing it all wrong, and I’m thinking I should just end the misery and go back to doing things I’m good at.
But I push on, ignoring the voices until I’m at the top of the 7,832’ Emory Peak in Big Bend National Park or finishing the 2,998’ climb toward Ice Lakes Basin in Southwest Colorado. Each time I hike I get better at quieting that little voice that says I can’t do it and closer to connecting with the trail beneath my feet. Experiencing the peaks and valleys, the winding switchbacks, the granite slabs or broken sandstone, the rock walls and water bars built by devoted trail crews, the packed soil from thousands of visitors, the scat from some wandering animal, and the thinning air as I climb toward my destination. The trail is an abundance of wonder and thrill, there is no room for that voice here.
Where to Next?
This year we’ll be exploring many national parks including Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Zion, Grand Teton, and Banff. We’ll be backpacking whenever we can in Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana.
We’ll find new campgrounds in California, Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Texas, and South Dakota and log well over 100 nights camping under the big starry sky. But no matter where our travels take us, I hope I look stupid, fumbling, doing it wrong.
Then I’ll know I’m trying something new. I’ll be working on quieting the doubting voices so I can get closer to the trail, feeling that wonder and thrill as I hike farther and climb higher.
Follow Donielle Stevens on Instagram at @findingwildplaces.