Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I have a confession: I suffer wildly from wanderlust.
I don’t ever remember it not being there. I think it has been part of my DNA from the start. I am, and always have been, a restless spirit. Growing up, we traveled whenever possible, piling into the car on trips to who-knows-where. I didn’t need to know the destination. I just needed to know I was on my way. So it’s no surprise that I am now an avid road tripper.
A few years back, I started to add up the cost of a three-week vacation for five people, plus a kennel for one dog, and discovered that the price was outrageous. I needed to think of an alternative to a hotel and an airline ticket for a family of five. So, on a whim, I pitched the idea to my new boyfriend that we buy a cheap but sturdy trailer for $3,500 from Craigslist. By some stroke of luck, he wholeheartedly signed on. I got a lot of questions about my sanity and how we would make it work with a mixed family (three kids between us, two of whom were then 12 and had barely met, plus one large dog). We kept our fingers crossed that our kids wouldn’t kill each other and that we would still like one another at the end of the three-week road trip.
Luckily, we made it and are now preparing for our next big trip. This year it’s Montana, but in the three years since we began, we’ve covered the Dakotas, Idaho, Wyoming (twice), Utah, Nebraska, Colorado, and several states in between, not to mention somewhat-local extended weekend trips. We upgraded to a new trailer with two bedrooms and added another dog to the brood, just to keep things interesting. All in all, we spend about three and a half months out of the year on the road, fitting in as many adventures as possible.
I still get some questions. Mainly, WHY? This one’s easy. It all comes down to time. I know that time is not mine to control. I am at its mercy, something I have no illusions about. Eventually, my now-15-year-old daughter will get a job and a boyfriend and pick a career or a college. My boyfriend’s son will be committed to a summer job to earn money for a car to drive a girl around in. My 8-year-old boy will not be 8 forever. I need to take advantage of these moments while I can, and for me, there is no better way than living closely, working together, and seeing sights that most people will never get to see.
We have a couple of rules for successful road tripping, though. No sleeping the days away or hanging around inside unless it’s raining. No electronics. No bickering, arguing, or unkindness. Teamwork is paramount when living in a 36-foot trailer with five people and two large dogs thousands of miles from our home base. Therefore, everyone helps.
Through it all, simplicity takes over. The kids go out and start the campfire or hop on their bikes and explore the campgrounds. They eventually return with sticks for roasting marshmallows. We spend the days exploring national parks and seeing what grows at 14,000 feet. We discover the land of our ancestors and discuss its importance. We hike waterfalls and eat lunch at their bases, surrounded by nature in all of its grandeur. We learn about one another as people rather than just bodies we live side-by-side with while passing the time. We have built a history cemented with rich memories. The teenagers lose track of how cool they are and remember how to be kids, even hugging and holding hands with us when they really forget themselves.
As the long, beautiful days come to a close and the sun sets over the mountains or the plains, we sit by the fire then retire into the trailer. Inside, we pile onto the fold out sofa and watch Dumb and Dumber and laugh out loud often, or we play Scrabble or Life and make up stories. At the end of the day, I enjoy my most content moment. The kids all fall into their beds, exhausted from the day, and soon they’re drifting off. I stop by their room and see a gaggle of legs and arms hanging over their bunks: the small hands and dirty feet of the little boy who stole my heart eight years ago. Pink painted nails and song lyrics written on the skin belonging to my beloved teen girl. Hands that grow every year while becoming a good man, like his father, on the teen boy I am so lucky to know. I see sun-kissed faces and faint smiles, and I know that this is the best of life.
I recognize without a doubt that, while my wanderlust is ever present, there is contentment now, too, and a quieter soul. I still want to see everything that’s out there, but I’ve grown more patient. I’m in no hurry. I’m soaking up dashboard sunsets and kid giggles from the front seat of a Ford truck, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Although she’s something of a newbie homesteader herself, Michelle comes from serious pioneer cred: Her great-grandmother literally wrote the book. It’s this legacy, in part, that led Michelle to trade in her high-stress life several years back for a home on the grounds of a Pennsylvania CSA farm. You can read her monthly posts on beginner homesteading with kids and more here in HOMEGROWN Life, and sometimes you can find her popping up in in The Stew, HOMEGROWN’s member blog.
PHOTOS: MICHELLE WIRE