On the Road
The sun melted into the horizon, molten from the long summer’s day. We were camped 25 miles down a bumpy dirt road in eastern Utah. The desert town of Moab lay 50 miles to the east, but there was no hint of bustling tourists. A still silence lay over the land. A pair of ravens flew overhead, exchanging local secrets in their foreign tongue. We cooked and ate dinner in the bus, basking in solitude.
We’d spent the day down in a red canyon, brushing up against Mormon Tea plants and pausing often under a pinyon tree for respite from the sun. Now, the stars poked out from the film of the sky and we relaxed our muscles as the air temperature dropped. Soon, we’d sleep up in our pop-top, but for now, it just felt good to passively watch the night conquer the great expanse of sky.
“Remember last night in Arches?” I asked James. “I was a Greek goddess under the Milky Way.”
He grinned over at me, dust in his teeth and sparks of life in his eyes. This is why we live on the road, in the bus: for soft moments like these, when we’re tiny under a huge sky of unknowable stars.
James and I have been on the road full-time for three years now. In late 2012, we paid rent on our studio apartment for the last time. We gave away our stuff, moved into our VW Bus Sunshine, and hit the road, longing for a deep connection to the natural world.
Ever since, we’ve been living out here on the backroads of America, seeking beauty and finding pieces of ourselves scattered across the mountains and deserts and plains. We work, play, and do nothing at all in remote and rural places, building a life that’s as simple as it is rewarding. As we travel, we find freelance video and content creation gigs. We supplement that income with migrant labor, harvesting peaches, grapes, and chestnuts with the seasons. Our passion comes from sleeping in a new place each night. Every day we own a different track of land, a prime view that belongs to us until we move on. There is wonder all around us; all we have to do is look around to see the beauty in every single crevice of reality.
When we left San Diego over three years ago, we were trying to escape the manic pace of modern life. The road has taught us how to slow down. We have traveled over 100,000 miles and learned that we’re meant to use our bodies as well as our minds to work and play. In the Sierras, we harvested tomatoes and hiked the John Muir Trail. Deep in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, we learned how to start a fire through friction. In Utah, we sat astounded before the red rock landscapes. Glacier National Park sparkled with a meteor shower and we couldn’t sleep a wink.
The road has taught us so much about the world and ourselves. We’ve forgotten to breathe during close grizzly encounters. We’ve gone two weeks without seeing another human soul. Once, we picked up a hitchhiker who looked into our eyes for a long while, then told us we were human Beings, not human Doings.
We have visited more than 30 national parks. As we travel to new places, we take time to learn about the flora and fauna in each ecosystem. We are avid birdwatchers, amateur food foragers, and tireless students of the natural world. We hike almost every day, keeping notes on weather patterns and tree species. To love a place, you must know it intimately. By observing and immersing ourselves in the patterns of the seasons, we have become happier, more responsible citizens. What we learn teaches us there is such power in a long journey, a redemptive and cleansing quality to a quest. You set out on a road trip, and it becomes so much more than just a road trip. Each destination reminds us to look deeper, for there is always something astounding to observe.
James and I follow a long tradition of nomads, hobos, and artists who have rambled the U.S., from singers like Woody Guthrie and Utah Phillips to writers like Jack Kerouac and Mark Twain. Last year, wanting to tell of our own experiences in a deeper way, we began putting together a long form project. We wanted to share our stories in a tangible book.
Orange is Optimism is a novel meets photo book. It contains some of our favorite stories from the road, some of the highs and lows and wildest moments of the past three years. As a writer, I looked at my collection of books from the American Road and found few female voices. So I set out to lend a female perspective to the literature of the road. To that end, Orange is Optimism contains my prose and James’ photography, with some illustrations smattered throughout. It is a multimedia experience that takes you right out onto the cracked old open road. It’s my hope that it is a continuation of the road trip canon, a new spin on stories from the American byways.
We hope this book captures the spirit of #vanlife, a modern movement of alternative living. There is a whole generation rising up, searching for more authentic and fulfilling ways to live. We know so many others choosing to live in small spaces, giving up the comforts of modern life for the adventure of life on the road. It’s important to capture this movement to spread its message. Life is short, and there are so many ways to get out there and live!