Two years ago, I journeyed westward on my second and final RV adventure.
It’s hard to believe I once owned a RV or even did this trip. This second adventure was a turning point in my life and so it’s been difficult to write about those months. How do I value those months? Is it possible to encompass into a single story? Was it all a waste of time and money? Or a life-changing milestone?
I decided that even an imperfect story is better than none. In future posts, I’ll write about specific cities and incidents. But, in this post here, I am going to cover an overview of the entire journey; all of the background motivations, highlights, and conclusions.
Background Pre-RV Ownership
a prominent theme in my thoughts from the past year was the idea of achieving great success or great failure. i felt like i had played it safe out of necessity for many years. But lacking any environmental/institutional pressures upon me anymore and having enough resources to safeguard me, i should take some real risks to reap some great benefits or miseries.
in a way, i wonder if i subconsciously am testing my limits to the point of destruction and thereby knowing where my limits truly lie. at the same time, i haven’t really been taking many risks, i haven’t really done anything spectacular.
I looked back at my writings from 2010 to revisit my mindset of why I purchased this most expensive and terrifying piece of my life.
In those years, I was in a long, transitional crisis after my academia dreams scattered. All my life decisions had hinged on finances. I had chosen all of my schools based on the largest scholarship package. By the end of grad school, I wondered that maybe playing it financially safe had backfired. I thought maybe if I had gone to the right schools I would still be on the right track. But the “right” schools would of meant debt. I had played it financially safe but maybe my life and dreams suffered as a result.
After realizing academia wasn’t my future, a prudent man would of traveled the world, joined a new tech company, or maybe go to graduate school for a different career. But I couldn’t let go of my existing job which let me work from home. Instead, I experimented and challenged myself in ways I never thought before. I did Toast Masters for public speaking, took an improv class, hired physical trainers, did pickup for socializing, tried to startup a business, and of course, this RV. I wanted to pursue skills that would serve me in any field for the rest of my life. The very same skills that frightened me the most.
I sought salvation and purpose by forcing myself into challenging situations where my only option was to sink or swim.
I wanted to be capable of overcoming any obstacle. Which is to say, I never wanted to feel small, inadequate, incapable, or hopeless ever again. I thought I had to forcibly put myself into those hard situations where I had no one else to rely on. No familiar habit, place, or people to hide. In hindsight, I think it had its benefits. But, the flooding technique has its limitations. It provides a glimpse that change is possible. But it relies way too much on a fortunate, lucky environment rather than actual deliberate practice and skill.
Mark Manson has a good piece on this about traveling that encompasses my experience:
Many people embark on journeys around the world in order to “find themselves.”…
Whenever somebody claims they want to travel to “find themselves,” this is what I think they mean: They want to remove all of the major external influences from their lives, put themselves into a random and neutral environment, and then see what person they turn out to be.
By removing their external influences — the overbearing boss at work, the nagging mother, the pressure of a few unsavory friends — they’re then able to see how they actually feel about their life back home.
So perhaps a better way to put it is that you don’t travel to “find yourself,” you travel in order to get a more accurate perception of who you were back home, and whether you actually like that person or not.
But here’s the problem: Travel is yet another external influence.
The person you are on a beach in Cuba is not the person you are sitting in the cubicle in the middle of butt ass winter in Chicago. The person you are on a road trip through Eastern Europe is not the person you are at a family reunion in Toronto.
The self is highly adaptable to its external environment, and ironically, the more you change your external environment, the more you lose track of who you actually are, because there’s nothing solid to compare yourself against.
And rather than discover who you are, you begin to question who you are. One year you go to France and love it. The next you go and hate it. Taking that new job sounded like a great idea back home, now it sounds like a horrible idea, but then it sounds like a great idea as soon as you get back. One year you are a certifiable beach bum, the next beaches bore you and you have no idea why.
Is everything really changing that much? Or is it just you?
Frequent travel puts your identity into constant flux where it’s impossible to distinguish with certainty who you are or what you know, or whether you really know anything at all.
And this is a good thing.
Because uncertainty breeds skepticism, it breeds openness, and it breeds non-judgment. Because uncertainty helps you to grow and evolve.
And when you go long enough being uncertain of who you really are, what results is a form of subtle, long-term meditation — a persistent and necessary acceptance of whatever is arising…
And at some point, you just stop asking questions. And start listening. To the waves and the wind and the calls for love in all of the beautiful languages you will never understand.
You just let it be. And keep moving.
At the time, I thought a lot about what distinguished the masters from everyone else. Why is it 99% of people never reach the pinnacle of their goals. Reading everyone’s success stories, it seemed the underlying theme was passing through a breaking point, sometimes facing death itself. All of them took significant life risks and committed themselves to a journey whether they were physical, emotional, financial, or otherwise. Ordinary actions lead to ordinary results. Only extraordinary actions can lead to extraordinary results. I had major goals I wanted to accomplish within a few short years. Rather than building slowly, I wanted to build fast and large. I thought taking significant, calculated risks was the way. That the reward is proportionate to the amount of risk.
So, I went ahead buying a used RV, initially for 14k and negotiated down to ~12k. I thought worst case scenario, in a few years, I make back my initial investment. If I lived in it full time for even a year then any gas, repair, or equipment cost would equal the rent I would of paid anyway to live in a major city.
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
“I was surprised, as always, be how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”
“I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.”
– On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Those three months felt like years.
- I volunteered and meet fellow Buddhist Geeks.
- I fell in love in Boulder.
- My RV transmission broke down in Portland ending my travels. On the same day, my RV got robbed.
- I gambled poker in Las Vegas for a week.
- I wrote my largest coding project in coffee shops in San Francisco.
- I meet the source of my RV inspiration, Tynan.
- I kept meeting friends, old and new.
I drove from Delaware to Oregon, down the coast of California, and back to Delaware in the span of three months. All the while working a full time job.
Post RV Thoughts
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
A month after returning home, I sold the RV via Craigslist to a grandfather in Washington DC. The following day, I drove to Boston to begin my new life.
By the end, my visions of wealth, success, and growth were shattered. I spent a year recovering and reorienting my life after years of obsessively focusing on visions of pickup, business, RV, and other ventures. I lived like a monk meditating every day. I started therapy. I didn’t interact with a lot of people. I moved to Boston telling my friends I looked forward to finally living a quiet. boring life again. And I did and I do.
That RV. The RV. My RV was special. I learned a tremendous deal traveling those three months. It also forced me to face some of my biggest inner demons. It forced me to really question what the hell am I doing with my life? Why am I doing this?
There were countless groundlessness moments both exhilarating and terrifying. Many moments of despair and doubt. Many moments of just wanting to break down and end this stupid journey. Many moments of just having to dig deep within me to keep going on.
But every day seemed like magic. There was no common pattern I could follow. Figuring out where to park, where to sleep, where to eat, and where to work were all daily difficulties, constantly changing.
Although sometimes I wish I still had that old RV, that I could go drive into the wild once again. Traveling forces a constant awareness of the present moment. It’s a great high to feel completely engaged with every moment.
I went west thinking the journey would change me for the better. To become brave, fearless, to let go. And I sort of did. Going west the challenge, the confrontation with life was whether I could let go of the old, of my identity, of my safety and comforts to engage with the unknown, ever changing, present moment? But that freedom was dependent on constantly moving. On never staying still. Never building a home. Always being a visitor. Coming back to the East Coast, to move permanently to Boston, I realized that the next, large challenge was to be free in the midst of building a home.
The greatest gift that old Rialta RV gave me was the experience. I ventured thousands of miles away from home, survived, and even thrived. After Florida, I was confident I could move anywhere, make friends, and develop a life. After the westward travel, I exhausted that dream that I still see in people’s eyes when they talk to me about wanting to travel. The grass is greener on the other side, but you have to keep moving to a new side. No matter where I go, there I still am.
Going west, I discovered new facets of myself. Returning east, I began the life long adventure of loving, caring, and enjoying myself.
In the end, the only way to travel is being free of expecting or wanting any particular experience.
Photo is from Oregon Coast, the beaches are quite different from the East Coast
I had a lot of difficulty writing this piece. It took two years to finally publish something. What kicked me in the pants was reading this story. It gave me a framework, a perspective to accept and appreciate my westward journey. I like his line, “You don’t get over the fear. You run towards it, with your knees buckling.”
My intention is to write several stories from those three months. Meeting post-modern Buddhist Geeks. Falling in love. Discovering how boring Las Vegas poker can be. Breaking into tears in a Home Depot. And so on. Then I can write some contemporary pieces about life in Boston. The meditation scene. Organizing a Dharma House. Doing a week long Mondo Retreat and more.