This is actually a short story of my slow traveling through Wyoming with five full grown adults. I heard a well-being expert say that the happiest people in the world don’t care to buy things — like actual tangible stuff — you know the shit we buy from Walmart, or Amazon, or Mercedes, or Tiffany’s when we get bored. The happiest people don’t buy stuff, they buy experiences.
But I think only certain experiences help us shift our perspective and grow. Without connection, peace, or growth, I know I can’t be all that happy.
You don’t need tons of money to share experiences. Or travel. But can we buy time to travel with those we love?
Our RV’s name is Thor. It’s huge, about 30 feet long, with faded grey and white exterior paint. Thor was born in 2005, has 40,000 miles and Neil, his owner, shows us how to use the pump out. But when he does, dark piss and brown goopy shit spill out of the slinky-like tube onto his open-toe sandals.
Luckily, he is styling some bright white gold-toed socks.
“Aye, my God, these people didn’t wash out the lines with fresh water. This happens, you must wash — ”
Neil speaks decent English with a Middle Eastern accent, smiles graciously, and leads us next to the generator. He points and cranks and pulls and shouts and then brings us to the side door to climb into the belly of the beast. Thor is full of what-used-to-be-luxurious, but is obviously fake, beige marble countertops, creamy shag carpet, and golden oak.
Neil said it fits eight, but my first night (more on that later), I slept like a young geisha, my legs and feet bundled by the shortened beds stacked next to each other like matchsticks.
Thor doesn’t fit eight unless you’re a pack of rabid gymnast children shorter than five feet tall. Or maybe a circus contortionist.
“Pinky, I love this.”
“Me too, Treasito.”
“You two friends?” Neil asks, overhearing us.
“Yes. Since high school.”
Neil glances over and winks at us like we are gay lovers. But we aren’t gay lovers. We are old high school chums cherishing the chance to travel together again. Some of my lowest points and happiest memories have been traveling with Pinky. But this time is different. Our lives are different. Changes have been made and Pinky has asked three of his friends that I don’t really know that well to come with us.
“You sure you can drive this? Last time we rented the motorbikes, you almost died. Remember that hill in Rio Dulce?”
“Oh, I remember Treasito. I was REAL lucky on that one.”
I blankly stare, grin, and then grab Pinky’s shoulder with an enthusiastic chortle, “Rahh, we’ll be fine won’t we? If we survived sailing, we’ll survive RV-ing.”
Pinky had been first mate on a sailing trip through from Guatemala to Cancun for six months. The time with Pinky changed my life forever. I’ll always look back on that travel adventure as one of the most inspiring times and challenges of my life. My new mantra after that was: “Say yes and live your life responsibly crazy.”
“Pinky, I’m not sure I can drive this RV.”
“Oh Treasito, ye of little faith.”
“No, I’m serious man. This thing is huge. Look at it. Would you look at it? It’s fifty feet long damn near.”
“I’m looking all right. Would you look at it!”
“Thor is made of bull’s balls.”
“Yes. Thor is made for the open road, for the — hey Neil, we’re ready,” Pinky yells from the master suite. Neil pokes his head in from outside.
“Yes. I think you are.”
“Thanks for the tutorial. We’ll see you Tuesday.”
We all shake Neil’s hand and take a picture together against the backdrop of Thor. The beast. The gargantuan lumbering taxi for five (to eight) adults. The lurch and screech of the tires and Pinky driving over the curb didn’t stop us from heading out into the world. None of us had ever been in an RV we found out as we turned onto I-80 West, hurtling into the unknown.
“Jed, you know how to drive one of these things?”
“Seems easy enough. Turn. Push gas. Push brake. Repeat.”
“True,” I said.
Jed was from Denver. He lived in an unfinished house and the exterior had bright golden paint. Michigan fans are ridiculous, I thought. But then again, the houses on his block were all pretty colorful. Unique pastels and open designs were something I could appreciate.
“Jed, what’s new in your life?”
“Well, I have some big things I want to do in 2019.”
“Cool. Where do we start?”
“Where I am, I guess.”
“Okay. What is luxury to you?”
“A shower in nature. Doing something for people. Building my idea.”
“What’s stopping you?”
Pinky abruptly jumps into my arms. “Anyone hungry?”
Thor bumps and lumbers to Lander and Neil calls to tell us the electric won’t work on less than half a tank of gas. I don’t think Neil has ever camped in his own RV.
“Neil, have you ever used this RV?” Pinky jokes.
“My kids are 20 and they very busy,” Neil says over the speakerphone.
“They’ll come back to you.” Tina shouts, pushing her long blonde hair out of her face grinning. “Kids always come back to their parents.”
“That’s not necessarily true,” I say quietly, sitting across from her in our RV galley area. Tina just shrugs. “Kids don’t always come back to their parents, but maybe they should try.”
“Don’t be difficult Trevor.”
“You’re right. Neil deserves better.”
We both grin and I realize I don’t know Tina that well. Just a tad from last summer when Pinky had her out on the town. She had traveled in from Hawaii. Pinky from Vermont. I had left from Chicago. Tina went to my high school and was good friends with Pinky, but we were all in our forties now. Coming from breakups, or heartbreak, or wondering what was next.
Twenty years is a lot of time and transitions never seem to get easier. A lot of change. We aren’t the same people and the pieces of our puzzles are different shapes and sizes now.
“Tina, what do you do?”
She tells me quietly that she’s here to get away and reflect, to turn 40 gloriously, and do something she has never done.
“Like a five-some?” I joke.
We laugh and she tells me how she wakes up at six and coaches until eight. She wonders things about Hawaii. About her job. About what’s next. I can see it stirring there, on the surface. Then she gets quiet and gazes at the tannish-green sage and snow-capped Wind River mountains and brownish-red earth rolling past us. Her light blue eyes flicker and focus as they meet the passing violet boulders and rocks — the geological creations that angle off into the cleanest of blue horizons. Thor shakes and sways in the wind and slows on the hills as pines and maroon roofs and lumber homes vanish into wide open spaces and valleys for as far as the eye can see.
Hours later, we change drivers. Jed jumps into Pinky’s spot.
“Tina, do you think you live the life you’ve always wanted?”
“What do you mean?”
“I guess, I’m saying, do you think you live aligned with your values? Do the people in your life value what and who you are and do and vice versa?”
“Hmmm. I dunno.”
“Well, do you feel like you are missing something?”
Tina puts her hand on her chin, “I’m going to have to get back to you.”
“Sure. We have six days,” I smile back. “Take your time.”
I wake up from a nap in the cockpit, the top bunk above the driver and I’m staring out the sliver of window into the Teton mountains that jut and shoot from the Earth like motherships.
Gorgeous. Just fucking gorgeous.
Then I wonder if my questions annoy people. At first, I just accept they do. But truthfully, I ask because I need to hear what other people think. It helps me. It calms me to hear people’s stories. Their turning points.
Their pivots and failures and perspectives, it all helps me put together the puzzle.
I realize how majestic it is here. Atop Thor, I feel like a gunner in a B-52 bomber. Pinky hands me his phone and tells me to order us burgers. We are all starving and Lander Bar’s kitchen closes at 9:00 p.m. “Tell Kep we are going to be late and to order four “Muy Bueno” burgers,” he says. “Our number one goal in leaving early was to make it for these burgers.”
Once in Lander, we meet “Kep,” a tan-skinned woman that is about 5'8 and talks with a gentle ease sitting at a table with four burgers. She laughs quietly at Pinky as he eats his organic “Muy Bueno” burger while chomping his mouth loudly telling her about Neil and the socks and the golden chains and the gold-toed poop sock and how “The Thor” is a golden chariot of sexiness and grace.
Later, we go back to Thor and have a “Shake the Thor” dance party and listen to Cherub. Kep says this the safest city around, but then as she leaves, she says, “But lock your doors. These days, the Indian reservation has caused some problems.”
We break in cackles.
“But Kep, you just said it was the safest city around.”
“True. But you know — you never know.”
“Isn’t that the truth.”
We snort and break up again, and as her footsteps grind away through gravel, I realize she is worrying about us. I decide to lock the doors, but as we get ready to fall sleep in the parking lot, I notice I’m giddy, like a little kid before Christmas, my feet halfway up the wall.
“Tina, thanks for the big bed. Seriously.”
“I said I would sleep there.”
“I’m kidding. I think. I can’t handle that mattress you are on. And Pinky, it’s cold in here. Are we at half a tank?”
“No,” he sings back from his top bunk. “Thor’s electricCCCC is outttttt.”
“Damn dude, you serious? Your voice. Ouch.” Tina asks. I’m giggling uncontrollably now. My ribs hurt and water is pooling in my eyes. We are all laughing so hard, Thor is quivering.
“Jed, are you gooddd in the masterrrrrrooom?” I ask. “Jed?”
But he is already asleep and as the three of us titter and talk about our lives, what’s next up for our existence, and I gently fall asleep dreaming of the great wide open.
Dubois has an arch made of deer and moose antlers and a log cabin gas station. The locals on our route to Jackson have long hair, tightly foiled camouflage hats, and knee-high rubber boots. They spit into cups and eye us like aliens. I have sweatpants tucked into Nike socks. Pinky has a cowboy hat and a white collared shirt with green, red, and yellow stripes racing through the middle. Tina has on sleek sunglasses and Lulu yoga pants. Jed has a golden cape on and Kep has a Patagonia fleece and clogs. We all walk into the gas station and look for filet mignons and Pinky comes back grinning. He’s carrying those small reststop packets of salt and pepper.
We will eat like kings and queens now, he says.
We get back to Thor and I’m driving now. I’m alone with my thoughts and everyone is asleep after a few hours. I’m watching the natural world roam by me, the dark blue rivers snaking under the electric lines — the thick red patches of thistle and fern tracing the tree lines.
I wonder, staring through the window, will I drive off a cliff if I’m not careful?
Suddenly, the wind pulls Thor sideways and the wet cold rain hammers us. I grip and steady. Grip and steady.
“Pull off there.”
I pull over and stop at a place called Huckleberry Springs. We hike a mile or so and find a dark black river steaming down from the hills. Pinky strips down to his turquoise briefs and we all start laughing.
“What, it’s a pouch for the balls.”
“Sure it is,” Jed shouts.
I shake my head, proud. We take off our shoes and wade through a fast-moving river that goes up to our thighs. Everything is numb. It must be 35 degrees. The cold rainwater hits my face and I wince and remind myself: pain is weakness leaving the body. Pain is weakness leaving the body. Pain is — I’m the first out and instead of help, I get out my phone to video someone falling into the coldest river on Earth.
Kep is moving slow. Pinky has his underwear jiggling and it’s hilarious. Jed looks on solid footing. Tina is the smallest, so she is the one I focus on. She is the one that will fall.
No one falls unfortunately. I wanted to tape hilarity, but everyone stays focused.
A few hundred yards later, I’m in my underwear laying horizontal in 90-degree spring water. I find myself in a deep trance thinking about the wonders of the world, about the paths and pieces of a puzzle I have never really put together.
I’m thinking about money and careers. About love. About meaning. About helping others. About where that circle of circles all intersect.
How do I get there?
Why do I travel?
Because I feel growth. I’m learning about how “true freedom” is about feeling the connection to something that gives you meaning. On paper, life always looks a certain way, but how do you really feel?
For me, to share time with loved ones, or just adventure into the wild unknown with friends, is idealistically meaningful. I sit and dip my head into the hot water and let heat pour over my scalp.
“Do you guys ever think society has it wrong?” I ask.
“What do you mean?”
“Like why do we work from nine to five?Why do we all work so hard? If we just pooled our resources or lived simply, couldn’t we do more of this travel stuff, work together to create something we love, and then do more of that?”
“Sounds like you want to go back to 1903?”
“Do you think our world is happier with all this technology?”
Pinky nods his head, but no one says anything and we all slip back into the heat of the Huckleberry Hot Springs. I want to know why I do the things I do, why I work, why I play, why I love, why I use my phone to distract myself, why I spend three thousand dollars a month to live inside walls.
Here, all these things bubble to the surface and I let go.
Thanks for reading,