The Last Thirty – The first thing I had to do before writing this piece was take a HUGE deep breath, so much has passed in just thirty days. As the sun reflects off my keyboard, I sit in an open area of a little cafe, yellow and orange tiles spread out in makeshift patterns below me. The wind rustles the nearby palm trees and there’s a small hum coming from the cafe fridge lined with indiscernible ingredients. There’s ramblings coming from children playing in the open square next to me. I take a sip of an ice cold drink and catch my breath. I’m happy to be here and really glad the family is back at the RV park taking a break from the road we just came down. The many miles of road that led us to this paradise, Baja Mexico.
Let’s back up a few and really dive into what an undertaking this has been and how we’ve arrived at our long awaited mission. We began this particular journey in Bend, Oregon. We had just returned from a giant western tour with our new Four Wheel Camper sitting proudly atop my white 2016 Toyota Tacoma, in an attempt to introduce our newborn to our family and ride out the pandemic in isolation. Now we stand at our storage unit getting ready for what’s next. We have been through a lot at this point and believe we have a system in place. The mosaic puzzle that is our everyday existence in our rig is almost refined, so we thought.
A loud clang rings through the frozen morning air, the sun still low in the sky. I unlock the storage unit and lift the door with a horrible screech. All our belongings lay before me. An old International Scout that came from my Grandfathers dealership in 78 that was eventually sold to my Dad that I grew up in, parked just off to one side. Clear bins line the otherside filled with mostly kitchen pieces and parts, a few boxes of clothes, and a collection of things from our past that will most likely go away once we go through them again. In the front and on both sides stand three giant racks of gear, towering to the particle board ceiling. Everything we need to do what we do comfortably, the gear to capture it, and all the hard drives filled with the past. And then in the middle shines a dusty, but beautiful, custom Ducati Monster 750 I bought back in college to get around a little bit more affordably. At least that’s what I told myself when I went into debt for it. As well, my Santa Cruz Bronson CC, just begging to be taken on the next adventure. That’s it, that’s all we have and it still feels like too much.
The goal is to swap out our cold weather gear for warm, but still keep a couple layers for the last sliver of winter we drive through before we arrive in Mexico. As well, all the camera equipment I will need for the next three to four months. Therefore! Picture us in freezing weather, shuffling all our warm clothes and blankets out of the camper and packing them away in boxes. Then digging out all our summer gear and hustling it all back up into the rig. No quick task I’ll tell you that, with hungry, bored, and crying children, and a dog that wants to play. All the while a storm is brewing above us. The truck, running to keep the girls and Sequoia warm and to charge the batteries of the camper after spending too many days in cloudy skies, we were dangerously low on power. The snow began to fly just as we shut the door and hopped in, frozen and exhausted. With a few grumpy kiddos, snow flying, we aimed down icy roads for the southern Oregon coast.
Now for a quick blast to move us through time a bit faster, I’ll save every detail for my novel someday. Alright, so the first part of the plan was to rondevu with our friends at Four Wheel Campers in Woodland, CA. They would graciously install our new BFGoodrich KO2s and swap out batteries as we check a couple more items off our huge list as we prepare for two months in Baja. Following we would then head further south to seek out the warmest weather possible as we workout details of an upcoming photo workshop I had planned in Death Valley, and our film project we are shooting in Baja. Well as per 2020, the last California shutdown made us have to push back the photo workshop to 2021, so now we were marooned in the desert awaiting a suspension upgrade taking place in Las Vegas. This would mean that we live in the Mojave Desert for almost two weeks while we wait. We explored the area, dipping in and out of small towns for resources, then back to the desert. The weather was nice so no real complaint there. Finally the day came and we got word the truck suspension had arrived and was ready to be installed! Now, back in the moment from a day we won’t soon forget.
High above Las Vegas we woke to the nearby yipping of coyotes. The furnace was on all night with the temperature dropping to 20 degrees fahrenheit. I hit the remote start having set the heat in the truck to full blast the night before. As the truck began to warm up, the littles began to stir. The pillows were once again frozen to the edge of the camper, but the inside warm as can be. Nothing deters this crew, the girls sat up quick with their usual smiles and let out a lovely, “good morning Daddy, Mommy, and Sequoia!”. With an hour drive and a few things to prepare, due to us being without the truck all day, we had to move fast to shuffle in and roll on down the road. At this point our process is pretty dialed and it takes only moments to get everyone in, cereal bowls in hand, the dog pottied, the camper ready for travel, and we were off.
After arriving in Vegas we prepared a couple backpacks for the urban adventure. You know the usual, diapers, a couple changes of clothes, toys, snacks, and don’t forget everyone’s masks. With Ende already off for the playground I hugged Erica and Ende quick and set off to drop off the truck. The plan: leave the girls at the park to have breakfast and play on the toys while I go drop off the truck a mile or so away. Then Sequoia and I would walk back and join them for a day in the park. Well like most things, things didn’t go as planned. While walking back I got word that it was too cold for Ende, so they were in a nearby Walgreens and were about to head to Home Depot so all of us, including Sequoia, could walk around and wait for it to warm up outside. It was 9:15 a.m., this means we only had 7 hours and 45 minutes to go until the truck was ready. That’s right, we only made it 15 minutes into our soon to be very long day. It wasn’t long until Sequoia and I caught up to them, the roads next to us booming with four lanes of traffic, me questioning what the hell we were doing and how we were going to pull this off. A quick dad ninja plan came into mind and I quickly dipped into a seven eleven to retrieve a selection of future ‘bribes’ for the young and unhappy Ende. You know, the oh so persuasive stack of junk food she never gets.
At this point we were pretty convinced we made the absolute worst decision and that there was no way this plan was going to work. Thinking we were going to lose the kids interest and fast, we couldn’t wear them out at the park and then expect a mile and a half urban hike back to the shop, so we decided to call it on the park and use our time moving towards the truck. The ground shook next to the sidewalk as massive semis lumbered on, cars jetting in and out of them racing to beat the yellow lights. Helie was bundled up like the boy from A Christmas Story strapped in her carrier to little Erica, also carrying a stuffed backpack. Ende was safely in my arms, as she already decided she’d had enough. With my backpack stuff and Ende in my arms I walked closest to the road with Sequoia on my right, while Erica and baby Helie followed just behind. “All we have to do is get to the next block and turn off this road and we’ll be golden family!”, I shouted over the exhaust-filled highway we carefully straddled. It wasn’t long before we crossed the highway that seemed to stretch on for what felt like a half mile, many onlookers giving us a confused look acting like they had never seen a person walk in their life.
We were finally down the next hill and it was a straight shot down to the shop. This road was almost dead silent, thankfully! With my back hurting and Sequoia pulling in every direction, it was time for the bribes to come out in an attempt persuade Ende to get back on her feet. Enter the little can of chips. Talk about the happiest kid in the world! The rest of the mile we walked, songs were sung, laughs were had, the sun came out, and by golly we were going to make it! The rest of the day went smoothly after hanging out at the shop with the job getting done faster than expected, we were on the road back into the desert. I haven’t been so happy to see our little home.
With a fresh new day the moral was high. Everyone was happy to have their home back and to be headed south to complete final steps before crossing the border. The new suspension is a dream and we were one step closer to Baja when all of a sudden, we had a huge problem. The new equipment revealed that my upper control arms on the Tacoma were completely ruined and the closest parts were in Seattle. To make matters even worse, with Christmas only four days away, we wouldn’t see the parts until after the new year. Not to mention this would completely hose our budget. My heart sank, my eyes filled with tears and I had to take a walk. Life on the road is so tough. You are always straddling disaster or dealing with one and it can wear on you mentally. I couldn’t let the kids or Erica feel my worry. We were so close to our goal! After a few minutes and a walk through the desert I began working on a plan. One that would eventually take an entire day of phone calls, the girls wandering through different stores as I bounce from shop to shop for help. Finally, just before the sun dipped below the horizon, we had conquered. We located new parts, found a shop with a bunch of amazing humans that banded together to make sure we had a home again. I’ll never forget those two back to back days of struggle. I know we are stronger for it and I’m proud of how nimble and strong Erica is when it comes to adversity. We are a pretty damn good team in the face of it, that’s for sure.
The rest well, calmed down quite a bit thankfully. We managed to top off all our resources, water, propane, groceries, and a crap ton of christmas lights before crossing the border. We have since taken a few weeks to recoup from a year filled with so many facets of struggle. I haven’t known this level of setbacks, with so many leaps forward personally in my entire life. I still am not quite ready to come up for air. In the meantime, I’m creating again, which heals my soul. The girls are doing so wonderful and the stress level is next to nothing down here in Baja. We have met so many wonderful people once again, one of the main reasons for coming back. It makes for a much slower paced winter and after a year and a half of our world crumbling around us we are grateful to have each other as we build it back up again. Happy 2021 friends, may your journey be rich with learning experiences that give you a better perspective of our world. We chose this lifestyle and seek fresh perspectives and boy are we getting it.
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