Happy Wife, Happy Life – Keeping It Together On the Road

Columbia River Gorge in the fog

Some people get cranky when they’re hungry. I summon NARG.

NARG is an ugly, surly monster. He lacks empathy or logic and excels at blaming. Slumbering most of the time, this Creature From the A-Hole Lagoon climbs out of the depths and controls my being when my stomach grumbles too long.

Chelsea created this all-caps creation to separate the venomous devil of a cranky person from her usual (awesome, sweet, playful…HA) husband. That raging maniac telling her she’s the hungry one? That’s just NARG, not her husband. Feed the slavering beast and I return to Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde’s shadow disappearing into the foggy swamp.

Along with keeping me fed and subduing my alter-ego, we have a few other coping mechanisms for traveling together. You might wonder how our marriage survived eight months in 75 square feet of a camper van, not to mention weathered the 4,000 mile bike tour last summer without the van. It’s a good question, as I seldom write about our travel ethos or discuss practical advice regarding surviving (enjoying!) our travels.

Well, I’ll say this: there were no pre-established ground rules. They evolved. Slowly, in some cases, and immediately in others, usually after I was overly controlling and tried to tell my (always stubborn) wife what to do. Some practices evolved via discussion, others from necessity. It’s still a work in progress.

It's all about balance!

It’s all about balance! Chelsea and our friend Brooke demonstrating perfect form on a hike in the mossy Oregon coast range.


To wit (I’ve always wanted to write that): we recently did an excellent interview over lunch with my friend J.D. Roth, founder of the popular finance site Get Rich Slowly. The interview discusses many of our thoughts and philosophies related to staying sane and happy while exploring the world together, with ideas that apply to any kind of travel, whether by van, plane or bicycle. The discussion began because J.D. is about to launch on a long RV trip around the U.S. and is interviewing inspiring people along the way. I’m honored to be included.

We talked about many things, but one of my favorite quotes from our chat came from Chelsea. It totally sums up our current approach to travel (and life, for that matter). “I guess the bottom line is to be easy-going and adaptable,” she said. “When you’re nomadic, you’re open to serendipity. It permeates your whole life. You find yourself saying ‘yes’ a lot more. It’s a very ‘yes’ experience.”

When NARG isn't around, C and I get along. :) Here we're enjoying a walk on the Oregon beach. Always sunny in the NW!

When NARG isn’t around, C and I get along. Here we’re enjoying a walk on the Oregon beach. Always sunny in the NW! (Photo courtesy of Nicole B.)

You CAN Go Home Again

Empty chairs in the Adirondacks

You can’t go home again, wrote Thomas Wolfe. He means we can’t return to “the escapes of time and memory,” those days of youth we reminisce about, a happily tinted past filled with cotton candy and water slides. I think he’s right.

After 15 months on the road, we scooped up the van from its summer parking spot in Idaho and drove to Portland, pulling in for landing earlier this week. Our trip, initially planned as a four month jaunt, finally hit a juncture where no location beckoned us more than planting our feet back home…so here we are. Our tenants’ lease was conveniently up, so we don’t even have to park the van down by the river!

The map! Starting in Portland in the top left, we headed south...and just kept going.

The map! Starting in Portland in the top left, we headed south…and just kept going. Each dot represents a place we stayed the night. The part along the top was our bike tour, and I ended it with our flight from Mexico to San Diego.

In a way, it feels like giving up. The traveler ego inside claws at my logical, time-for-a-break side and yells at me to not hang up the cleats, to keep going because we can! Well, shut yer stinkin’ yapper, ego. It’s time to rest up, wash off the dirt, and lace back up for the next run.

Part of pausing is to reflect. We’re both different people compared to when we left at the end of 2013, and we want to see how it feels to be home. Pre-trip slashing through the jungle of possessions and obligations and the subsequent travel afforded us the opportunity to be emotionally light, grow bedrock-strong in our relationship, and cultivate a sense of inner confidence that we can accomplish whatever we put our minds to. Rather than cement blocks of comfort solidified around our feet, there’s a fresh foundation under us that feels steady yet springy, a launch pad for whatever we aim for next.

Stepping over the threshold of our house made us feel like honeymooners moving into our first home. After three sets of tenants during our absence, it was a pleasant surprise to not see punched-in walls and broken windows, just spotless floors and gleaming glass. We left the house furnished, so the move was easy. Hauling a few armloads of gear and clothes in from the van, plus all the bikes, felt like a fresh slate and a new beginning. I’ll say this much: simple amenities of home attain a fresh sparkle when you’re on the road a long time, that’s for sure. Hooray for washing machines and dishwashers!


A fun number that I calculated was that the rent from our house during our time away more than paid for the Sprinter van. Considering my company allowed us to save money AND our tenants paid for our van, I’d say the “four month winter getaway” worked out nicely. Maybe we should do more of them? Twist my arm…

It’s only been two days, but I already am glad to be landed. I’ve only had one short freakout (while setting up internet, but who doesn’t hate talking to CenturyLink?) that I quickly solved by going for a run up a local mountain. Missed you, Mt. Tabor. More importantly, I’ve connected with a number of close friends and it feels like no time at all has passed, a mark of a great relationship. Seeing them reinforces why we invest so much into our community and friendships. Heck, I ran into three friends just on a walk to lunch on our first day back – it was practically an episode of Cheers!

On top of the memories of this trip, I’m grateful to call many places across the U.S. home. Comfortable friendships and feeling at home in cities all over the place is a gift we are lucky to have received. So while you can’t go “home” to a place the way it thrives in your memories, we can cultivate new homes, even in places we’ve lived before, and I’m finding a new appreciation for old haunts as we touched down during January in San Diego and Idaho before picking up the van.

It will be exciting to hit the road for another adventure when we do. (Utah in April, anyone?) In the meantime, our schedule is filled with time with friends, a plant-based nutrition course for Chelsea, short trips to the mountains and coast, volunteering, yoga, and making sure my employees still know what I look like. Life is busy, but totally on our terms these days, and we’re going to make the most of it.

As a framed print on our dining room wall says, “Wherever we are together, that is home.” It’s great to be here.


P.S. The blog doesn’t die here, don’t worry!

Rolling toward Portland after our reunion with the Sprinter!

Rolling toward Portland on a foggy day after our reunion with the Sprinter! Seven months away from my buddy the van is just too long.