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I now have 6 months of nomadic life under my belt, during which I've spent nearly every night sleeping in a tent. I know, I know, it sounds insane, I thought the same 6 months ago. Before this the longest I had spent in a tent was 5 nights in a row.
I'm often asked how long i plan to keep this up, I honestly don't know, I do know it won't be any time soon. When I started this adventure I committed to myself to stay out for one year, at the time this seemed utterly impossible and unsustainable. The road was frightening with all the unknowns, devoid of modern comforts. Now that I'm halfway through my commitment I have realized that one year is not nearly enough time. I have only scratched the surface of what the American west has to offer, not to mention Canada and Alaska, and then there's the rest of the world...oh my. I can't imagine stopping now, I would feel as though I've left something behind and neglected an important part of myself, leaving my calling.
You may be wondering how I cope with this lifestyle. Early on in my travels I read the classic book Man's Search for Meaning, in this book Viktor Frankl shares his experiences as a survivor of the holocaust. He was a psychologist who was fascinated by the way he and fellow prisoners adapted to their situation based upon their thoughts and how they reacted to their environment. After reading this I realized how adaptable humans are to any environment they are thrown into. If a person could keep their hope and spirit in Auschwitz, I could certainly adapt to living out of a tent in incredibly beautiful places. The life we experience is simply our thoughts about it, nothing else, we make the choice to be happy or not. I made the decision that I didn't need a house, at TV, bed, heck even a bathroom to be happy. It's not things that make us happy, not even experiences. We can travel around the world and still be miserable. It all comes down to living in the present moment and making the best of our lives no matter what our situation.
Here is a list of the locations I have been to so far:
Death Valley, Monument Valley, Navajo National Monument, Coyote Gulch, White Pocket, Lake Powell, Mono Lake, Bishop, White Sands, Guadalupe, Organ Mountains, Santa Fe, Ah Shi Sle Pah, Bisti, Phoenix area, Petroglyph National Monument, RMNP, Sangre de Cristos, Indian Peaks, Snowy Range, Tetons, Yellowstone, Columbia River Gorge, Olympic National Park, Northern Cascades, Vancouver BC, Grand Canyon North and South rim, John Day Fossil Beds, Wind River Range, I'm sure I've forgotten a location or two.
As you can see I hit a lot of locations in a short amount of time, at times I was going to a new location every day. I was excited to be on the road and I wanted to see everything, I had the vacation mentality. Within the past couple months i have learned to slow down and spend more time in one location. the frantic pace was killing me, I have logged over 20,000 miles already this year! Not only has the slower pace been healthy for me mentally and emotionally but it has also improved my photography. I've learned the value of immersing yourself in one spot to get a better feel of the weather patterns and constantly changing conditions. I've become more patient, and motivated to get out when conditions are ripe for dramatic light.
Some tips for those of you considering trying this type of lifestyle:
- Showers are easy to find, look for commercial campgrounds/rv parks, most will have one for around $5, truck stops have showers but they can be expensive. Also look at gyms, you can typically get a day pass for $5-10 where you can get in a workout, swim and a shower. You'll have to accept that fact that you wont be taking a shower every day, daily showers are bad for our hair and skin anyway. I average 3-4 days and 5 days is where I get uncomfortable and have to seek one out immediately. Remember to bring your own towel!
- Get used to the laundromat, they can be found all over the place and usually only cost a few bucks to do a load.
- What most would find uncomfortable is the lack of a bathroom, occasionally it's an annoyance but for the most part it is very easy. When near public parks there are always pit toilets nearby, and when on the road a McDonalds or Starbucks is a good choice. When I'm in National Forest or BLM land, often the only choice is digging a hole...it's not civilized but it's quite natural.
- Buy a nice gas stove and cooler so you can cook your own meals. Eating out will not only bust your bank, but it's also unhealthy and not sustainable in the long run.
For the second half of the year my plans include New Zealand, San Juans in Colorado, Zion, Eastern Sierras, Escalante again. There are some unknowns for the winter, December and January are up in the air right now, I may go up to Canada and Jackson Hole to actually experience winter rather than running away from it, time will tell.
Since I've written this I have purchased a large van to live out of from here on out. I will be converting the back into a bed which will be quite the luxury compared to the tent.
There were really only 2 things that bothered me about living in a tent, one was setting up and tearing down the tent nearly every day, I could do it very quickly but it was especially an annoyance when I needed to get up early for a sunrise and knew that I would be changing locations. This meant getting up a half hour earlier and tearing down the tent in the dark, I won't miss this at all! The other problem was weather, wind in particular. Many nights in the desert were spent in utter misery with 60 mph winds blowing the tent so violently that it would collapse on top of me, combine this with dust pummelling me for the entire night, I was not a happy camper. These were the low times, and quite frankly it was depressing. But, it was worth it. I wouldn't trade the experiences I've had in the past 6 months for anything. Living out of a tent made me stronger in every way.
David Kingham is a nature and landscape photographer providing workshops and fantastic insight through reviews and blogs.
More info can be found at his website.
He also has a night photography eBook that can be purchased here.