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Back in the States

It’s weird and unsettling, being back in this hyper efficient, completely polarized, barely functioning democracy, a country on the edge of denying women freedom over their own bodies.

And though we have a lot to look forward to on this next leg of our trip, as we make our way back to MN, I’m missing Baja. The funny thing is that Baja wasn’t even on my radar as a place to overwinter, but it turns out it was exactly what we needed, a fabulous treat inside the Kinder Egg, a Golden Ticket, a magical place that surprised and delighted us at every turn. Hasta luego, Baja!

Nearly a year ago to the day, our youngest and I drove home from Granite Falls, MN, driving a massive 31 foot RV we had just purchased and had decided to (somewhat cheesily) name YOLO (You Only Live Once). Juliana and our oldest were driving right behind us, in our Honda Fit, as we’d all driven to Granite Falls together. I couldn’t believe we’d pulled the trigger on this purchase and that we now owned this multi-ton beast! In March and April, we’d dreamed of the freedom of the road and had explored dozens of different RV options. Actually buying an RV seemed like an impossible step in a high demand market, but we’d done it! As we parked YOLO in the storage lot that day, we took pictures of ourselves, happy and smiling next to our new rig.

A few weeks later, these happy dreams seemed to shrivel and reshape themselves into a nightmare of sorts, a buyer’s remorse malaise that had us asking, “What have we done? What were we thinking?!”

In fact, during this time of uncertainty, and a new monthly RV payment, I kept hearing the voice of our youngest in my head. Several springs ago, in an effort to replicate the natural cycle of a wildfire burning through the grasses and flowers of the plains, I set fire to the dried stems and leaves of the native prairie I had planted on the hill in our front yard. On a cloudy, wind free day, I warned our neighbors what I was up to, so smoke and a few flames wouldn’t frighten them, and I burned the fifteen by fifteen foot hill section by section, with a garden hose running nearby, in case anything else caught fire. To this day, I can hear the voice of our youngest, insistent and shrill, as he stood at the top of the hill, watching, proclaiming to all who would listen, even as he had trouble pronouncing his words: “Dad, this is a ‘toopid idea, a ‘toopid idea.”

Buying an RV was a stupid, ridiculous, colossal, catatrophic mistake. We wondered if we should just sell the darn thing, and return to the life we knew.

But we didn’t sell YOLO.

We accepted that we’d broken the safety seal on our life, and had moved across a threshold into new and unmapped terrain. YOLO was ours. We slowly rekindled our passion for a year long road trip, but left room for lots of escape routes, saying things like, “If it’s not working on the road, we’ll quit, we’ll come home, we’ll sell the rig.” And, “Let’s try it for a few months and re-evaluate.” And, jokingly, “This may lead to divorce.”

So with excitement and apprehension, we spent the summer preparing the R.V., planning a route, and then launching on August 1st. That first day, we made it to Montrose, South Dokota, without a hitch. It was an awesome day, soon followed by plenty of difficult days, days we didn’t post about.

As we did a reset in mid-November and early December, we honed in on and remembered what we knew was good for us: we wanted community – kids and other adults to be with. We’d met and travelled with some families in the early winter, boondocking in the Arizona desert, and we knew that that was a key ingredient in the secret sauce as far as living on the road. So when the Fulltime RV Families trip to San Felipe, Mexico, came across our radars, we were in. We thought our happiness meter might tick in the right direction if we set our compass toward Mexico, toward community, toward playmates for our kiddos.

Toward the end of our time in San Felipe, when we met with a few other families interested in going further South in Baja, I thought, “Ok, we’ll do it for a week or two, at most, and then turn back to the States and winter in Southern California and Arizona and connect with the families we know will be there.” I wasn’t really feeling Baja, and it took some nudges and encouragement from Juliana to say “yes” to more Baja. But then the magic of Baja started working on me, and “yes” was all I had to say to Baja. Yes, let’s see Grey Whales. Yes, let’s do taco nights. Yes, our kids love each other; let’s keep travelling together. Yes, yes, yes!

After we crossed back into the United States and we said our final goodbyes in Yuma, Arizona, tears flowed freely from my eyes. I realized I was as happy and at peace as I’d been in years, and it couldn’t have happened without the rig, or this long detour into Mexico, or these people. Apparently, the happiness equation is more organic, clumsy, and trial-by-error than exact science.

In fact, buying a rig, and travelling on the road has reminded me to hold multiple truths at one time. Back in the fall of 2021, the truth was that we weren’t happy on the road, but that the seeds of potential joy were planted in the midst of our unhappiness, hiding in the corners or our rig and our hearts. I didn’t know that our path would lead to Baja, nor did I anticipate how much I needed Baja, nor did I have a clue about the kind of relationships that would develop and unfold there.

Does holding multiple truths at once allow happiness to emerge? Possibly. A few years ago, my deepest truth was that I loved ministry. In fact, I couldn’t imagine leaving ministry, until one day I could, and I knew that it was time to leave. It was absolutely the right vocation for me, until it wasn’t anymore (but it may be, again, in the future). Both things are/were true. Along those same lines, I’ve always been a financial saver; a healthy amount of savings makes me feel secure and happy, because it gives me a margin against uncertainty. This is just an illusion, I’m certain, but it’s comforting. Now, oddly, as the saving account ticks lower, as the miles travelled add up, I feel my happiness and joy ticking steadily higher. It’s paradoxical, and honestly, there’s fear lurking about, too, crying out, “What are you doing?! Don’t spend all your money!” but for now, happiness has put fear in a gentle headlock.

What this year has taught me is that in my relationship with Juliana, and with myself, happiness often emerges from pushing into new spaces, taking risks, trying new things, and holding tight to a few core values. In the funk and the muck and the hard moments of life – there are often other moments of joy and possibility waiting to be born. I know it’s not always a straight line to happiness, and it doens’t always happen, but joy hatched in Baja, was nourished, and took flight in our lives, and I’m grateful, so grateful, for the wonder, delight, magic, and pleasure we experienced there.

———–

I’m curious: What’s your experience with happiness? Are you any good at predicting what will make you happy? Does holding space for multiple truths create a more fertile soil for happiness to grow?

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Sunrise photo near El Tecolote Beach

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