As I walk to work I follow the same path. Walk by the same trees. I see many of the same people. As I cut through the park, I walk through the same grass and smell the same smells.
Try to picture the last time you traveled. Be it on the cobblestones of your favourite arrondissement in Paris or a boardwalk in Southern California. My last travels were in the mountains of British Colombia so I will lead this metaphor through my eyes. In these mountains, I had fresh eyes. Every snowcapped peak captured my undivided attention. Each log cabin felt shrouded in a delicate magic. In those moments, everything is new. When I brought my attention to an object, it vibrated in its own existence. This is how we travel; in a state of perpetual newness. ‘Sameness’, has not yet entered our mind.
I bring this up because whether it is our walk to work or the newest location we explore, we can train ourselves to do this with new eyes. For many, this idea may be enough for now. Walk through your city and try to recreate that magic. Observe each building, person, or tree you walk by as if you’ve never seen it before. Deeply sink into yourself and this new experience. Fully bring your attention to everything you see as if it is the first time every day. Do this deliberately as often as you can – you will be amazed at how quickly your perspective changes.
Let us dive deeper into this water. Take a moment to close your eyes and look inwards. Watch the feelings in your body. Watch how quickly you jump from thought to thought. Do you observe any stability? Are there any constants thoughts or feelings in your life that persist through time? Is there a ‘you’ that has remained undisturbed since your youth?
When you look at me I appear to be the same. We now must see, analogously to the tree, I am similar but not the same. Your brain turns me into a symbol. Nat is like this. I know Nat, this is how he is. This distinction, especially when it comes to relationships, is extremely important. I, like you, am never constant. We feel different emotions from one moment to the next. One minute my arm may be itchy, the next my leg may be uncomfortable. One day I may feel strongly about putting pickles in a tuna sandwich, the next day I may not care, instead too baffled by the complexities of modern existence to entertain the thought of a tuna-pickle sandwich. These examples are trivial but I hope this is beginning to illustrate the fallacy of ‘same’.
When we treat each other as ‘same’, we stifle one of our amazing freedoms; to change from moment to moment. If everyone treats me the same as I was yesterday, and the day before, and the day before, it quickly impedes on my ability to be as I am right now. More dangerously, if we treat all others as ‘same’, be begin to view ourselves as ‘same’. We adopt phrases like ‘that’s just how I am’, or ‘I’m just not good at this’. These are very restrictive ideas we allow ourselves to believe. In doing so, we create invisible restraints that lock us into "yesterday’s us", the "us" we used to be as opposed to the us we are Now. Further, this creates the feeling of having to “figure out who we are”. This is an impossible mission, to figure ourselves out, as we are constantly changing. We can perhaps learn how we change, or create a better understanding of how our individual mind functions, but there is no stable “us” to “figure out”. This type of thought creates limits to our freedom to be however we are at that given moment.
In relationships, this manifests as expectation. “You usually do this” or “I just thought you would do that.” With expectation, comes disappointment, but more importantly with expectation comes restriction and lack of freedom for both partners. The moment we think we have figured someone out, we begin treating them as a stable ‘self’. As a self that persists through time; one that is the same over time. In doing so, we become less curious about others. Unfortunately, just like the trees on your walk to work, instead of treating others with an open curiosity, the fascination of new eyes, we begin to take them for granted. What else do we treat as same? What is the depth of the implications of treating others as consistent personas? What are some tricks that may allow us to exceed such a universal and limiting human behaviour?
Where to begin. As most of you know, we were supposed to leave a few weeks ago. As with all old vehicles, they come with their problems. We're cautious and patient: making sure we find all issues before we make it far. Many times we've wanted to rush this process but we have to keep in mind that we're hopefully driving 40,000km. That's equal to the circumference of the earth.
This past week, we discovered an annoying issue with the rear-differential. For those who don't know cars (including myself), I'm told the "rear-diff" is what connects your engine to your back wheels, but more importantly, it handles certain stresses that allow cars to perform the way they do today. For example, when you make a turn, the outside wheel in the turn needs to move faster than the inside one. This may be difficult to visualize, but essentially if it wasn't for the rear-differential then your back wheel would hop off the ground every time you turn in order to catch up with the inside wheel.
Throughout the week, Barry spent many hours trouble-shooting. As we've learned, when it comes to mechanics, there's never a textbook answer. After days of work, we got to a point where Barry was as happy as he could be with what we had - without using brand new parts. I'd like to point out; if we had more money, new parts would be available to us. However, be it the inside or the mechanics, we've used as much refurbished or recycled material as possible. In part because we're poor, in part because we wanted to minimize our footprint.
Yesterday, we got the green light to go for our longest test drive yet. About 400km. Josh and I excitedly hopped in the van and decided to go for a trip to the amazing Riverside Albert. If you're reading from New Brunswick and have never been, get your ass off the couch and plan a weekend trip. I'll give you a list of free camping spots. No excuses. If you're not from NB, areas like Riverside Albert are why I talk up this province so much. It's stuck in the past, in the most beautiful way. If it wasn't for the paved roads, one would truly have no sense of time. The never-ending coastline and trees almost exploding in their late-fall colours make this a truly unique area to explore.
On the way back, we ran into trouble. Shifting from first, to second was difficult, then eventually we couldn't shift into third gear at all. Next time you're in your car, test how far your second gear goes. Put simply, driving on the highway with only two gears is tough. We drove under 60km/h on the 110km/h for over 4 hours.
However, this post isn't a complaint. As I said in my first post, all we have going for us is patience. We've found problems, but now we have the chance to trouble shoot them with Ben's dad Barry, instead of in the middle of nowhere with mechanics who may not want to service an old van.
One thing is for sure: When we get on the road *fingers crossed* later this week, we're going to know that we've been patient and observant, and hopefully discovered most big problems. In everything you do, all you can do is your best. We're certainly trying.
As usual, click the photo to see it full size.
In my last post, I said we'd be gone by now I believe. We're not.
If you read that in a disappointed tone, read again! We'll be on the road by the end of next week now, two weeks behind our initial schedule. We made some design changes, added an additional window, replacing some mechanical parts... In the end, this delay will make our adventure more comfortable and more reliable. We believe a two week delay is well worth it.
What have the past few weeks been like? Josh, Ben, Barry, and I have been working almost every day, from sunup to sundown. Barry, Ben's dad, continues to be our saviour in every project, allowing us to make creations out of metal we never could have dreamed up. Or perhaps could have dreamed but never created. We've gotten better at wood work, continued to learn that there's ALWAYS an easier way to do something, and that Ben's mom is a saint for feeding us all. the. time.
The exciting news: We have three seats. We have three seatbelts. We have three beds. The inside of the vehicle is almost completely finished! Early this week, we'll be adding an additional storage unit and the inside of the vehicle will be complete. The two first points seem superfluous, but if you plan on buying a van, I HIGHLY recommend you buy it with the right amount of seats and seatbelts. You'd think putting in a seat is as simple as.. well.. putting the seat in and screwing it down. Depending on the vehicle, it will require getting metal machined and some precise welding. Seatbelts are a whole other thing. We ABSOLUTELY could not have done either of these projects if we didn't have a mechanic/welder on our team. I'd also like to thank Alex and Liam Matson for stopping by to lend a hand, as well as Andre Aikens who's helped us engineer our way through some interesting challenges. Finally, my dad for his woodworking knowledge. He helped us build some nice pine storage boxes.
This next section is going to be a bit boring. If you're not interested in doing such a trip yourself, this is probably not worth the read. Skip to the end if you want to see my favourite music right now or what book I'm reading! And as always, photos at the end of the post.
A big reason why I want to blog prior to leaving is to show people that this is doable for more or less anyone. I'd like to talk a bit about the other parts of van-life prep that one might not consider. For example, vaccines, health insurance, vehicle insurance, personal-goods insurance, and border crossing. The three of us have traveled to remote areas in the past few years, so to start we were more vaccinated than the average person. Boosters and new vaccines still cost us between $250-$400 each. On top of that, Medicare, our glorious Canadian medical program, only covers Canadians outside of the country for 6 months. One has to apply if you'd like coverage longer than that. We'll let you know if we end up getting approved for the 8 months we've asked for (though we realize we may be calling them again in 6 months to see if they'll cover us for a full year, we wanted to start small first). On top of Medicare, you also need health insurance. Our quotes are telling us that's another $600-$800 per person.
Vehicle insurance is it's own beast. Getting coverage for the US and Canada was a breeze. However, South of the US is a different story. No Canadian insurance broker (in small town New Brunswick) could provide us with insurance past California. Some countries, insurance can be purchased at the border. Some we'll figure out while on the road. Overall, not as simple as we'd believed, but very doable.
You all know I like to take pictures. Naturally, I'll be bringing some of my gear with me. Those who know me well also know I've been robbed more times than anyone else I've met (if someone has had their apartment robbed more than 3 times, give me a shout and we can bond or cry together or something). So beyond being paranoid when it comes to locking up, hiding my things, etc. I'm also very on-point when it comes to getting insurance. So pro-tip: If you want to insure your goods while you travel, talk to your home-owners or tenant insurance broker. They're the only ones (I found) that can insure your personal goods while traveling. It seems for the most part that you'll have a $1000 deductible (which means that the first $1000 will come out of your pocket, then they'll cover everything beyond that). For me, this was necessary peace of mind.
Border crossing is a small concern we had. For one, the US can deny entry if they don't believe you're truly planning on leaving the country. So you must provide sufficient proof that you'll be traveling through. We spoke to a border agent and they recommended booking a hotel/hostel in Mexico, showing maps and an itinerary of the trip, overall just being prepared. For borders South of the US, all the countries we'll be visiting have simple Visa's for Canadians which we can purchase at the border. Most of them allow us to visit the country for three months at a moderate cost. Typically around $50USD.
These are just a few things that took longer than expected so I thought it may be useful for others, minimally to keep in mind as you dream up your own travels.
Back to the fun stuff
Ok so now that I've glossed over some logistical stuff, I'll briefly explain the start of our trajectory (though we're playing every bit of this trip by ear, so it is all subject to change as we go). We'll leave towards the end of next week, first to do a bit of rock climbing in New Brunswick. If you've never been to NB, you must visit some day. NB is over 85% forest still today. If that sounds like a huge percent, it is. Naturally, we want to start our trip looking over the NB forests from a rock-wall. We'll then make our way North to visit two good friends in Edmonston, before heading into Quebec where we plan on exploring the Gaspé Peninsula. Then to Montreal where we'll spend the last bit of our time in Canada before heading to Smugglers Notch in Vermont for more climbing. From there, we may take a little jaunt through New England before making our way to the West Coast! I wont bother explaining our tentative plans past that point because truthfully, everything I just said is still up in the air. We go where we'll feel like going.
Here are this week's albums, the first courtesy of my buddy Alex Matson, and the second is actually an old favourite that keeps coming back into my music rotation. Reachin' is a great 90's hiphop album reminiscent of Tribe, while Salt, Sun and Time is a Canadian album released in 1974 which didn't receive much acclaim at the time, but has found its place in my heavy rotation for the last 3 years.
Digable Planets - Reachin'
Salt, Sun and Time - Bruce Cockburn
This post I thought I'd add a book I'm just about to finish. This isn't for everyone, so ill give a brief idea of the book so you can decide if you'd like to read it. It is Carlos Castaneda's "The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge". The book is prefaced to be both ethnography and allegory. It is the story of Castaneda's time with Don Juan, who eventually became Castaneda's spiritual teacher. Don Juan presents Castaneda with the path to becoming "A Man of Knowledge", a path reserved for those with the steadfast desire to discover themselves and see the world clearly. The book is both a lesson in discovering yourself (through the path of the Yaqui people in Mexico) as well as a psychological look into the power people can have on us and how that can influence us (think doctors, the fact that you believe they know what is best for you bestows upon them great power). This book is for you if you're a curious reader. If you're not curious, this book will just be about a man who tries peyote in Mexico. If you're curious and paying attention, it is about the power of influence and the power of letting go.
Ps. click on the photos to see them in big!