Anywhere But Here

The weather has cooled to the perfect temperature and I can finally relax. My mind has quieted. So much, that I’ve already begun to plan my year long hiatus from society and the traditional nine to five. I’ve come to realize that public service and working for others is a lot like running full speed into a brick wall with a padded suit and helmet. I constantly ask myself (while running into this metaphorical brick wall)- am I prepared to work this job and live in DC for another 3 years? Can I handle the inefficient system, the bureaucracy, the office personalities and the rising cost of housing- not to mention the difficulties of searching for my life’s purpose in a soulless city?

Okay I know that’s harsh and that I probably sound like a stubborn, impatient millennial that just needs to deal with it. But for reals, I don’t know how you all do it every day and keep a straight face! Some of you all even seem to be enjoying yourselves-totally oblivious to the heavy suit of armor that now adorns your heart. Do you feel safe in that shiny suit of metal armor? I feel like taking a risk-getting out there to do something amazing with my life, is way better than living life in shackles disguised as a shiny suit- one that you have to pay off with interest, might I add.

One thing’s for sure-I’m starting to check out. The honey moon period with my job is over and I feel unfocused, unprepared and  unmotivated. My patience with people is growing thin and I’m withdrawing. On the other hand, Fall is finally here and every thought feels crisp and clear. Living in my car has become a breeze, having mastered the bathroom routine and landed a second job. Yet still, I can’t help but think about what it would be like to work for myself or have some low key telework position that allowed me to get away from it all. If only I didn’t have this job tying me down, I would be any where but here. Exploring the deliciousness of life, traveling or homesteading and spending a lot of time doing nothing in particular at all.

Just when you think you’ve hit rock bottom, you discover that what you’ve really hit is a treasure chest. And with a little muscle, sweat equity and a plan, it’s more than possible to unlock it’s mysteries. This is what I keep telling myself, that this is part of what I’m doing with my life-typing in the dark lot of a library, trying to figure out how I can stop fighting the things I like least about society and discover for myself what life is like on the other side.

 

 

9 Month Update: If Not Now, When?

It’s been an interesting two months, and I’m sure you’re all dying for updates. So even though I have some pressing rants and raves regarding my ongoing existential crisis, I will start with the practical updates so as not to lose the interests of those of you who’ve been following my car living journey.

It’s been an interesting two months, and I’m sure you’re all dying for updates.  So even though I have some pressing rants and raves regarding my ongoing existential crisis, I will start with the practical updates so as not to lose the interests of those of you who’ve been following my car living journey.

So here is what you missed since my last post….

  1. I finally got my car back. It doesn’t drive nearly as well as it did before and now the A/C isn’t working too well and there are still some random whizzing noises I cannot even begin to describe. The stress of the previous repairs is still heavy on my heart so I have given myself a week to not think about it before I take it in for more repairs.|
  2. I completed filming for my upcoming clip in the documentary on Americans struggling to pay off debt, entitled “Just Getting By”. Not only did I make $500 bucks from the opportunity, proving my daily craigslist job search was not pointless, I get to share my story and blog with everyone who will visit their website. I believe filming should be wrapped up by the end of October and I will definitely share the details with you all.
  3. Me after the #bigchop

    I cut off my dreads. I have wanted to do this for several years but loathed the idea of yet another big chop (I have done two in the past 15 years). But after cutting off the back row of dreads two months ago and battling with frequent hair loss and intense scalp pain, I decided to take the plunge. Immediately after, I felt a huge weight off my shoulders- almost as if I was releasing years of depression, anxiety, expectations, limitations and fears I had been carrying with me. A physical and spiritual weight lifted from my shoulders after realizing I wasn’t the same slightly obese 17 year old that chopped off my hair after a failed perm in High School. As a result, I felt stronger and freer- being that my physical appearance seemed a more authentic expression of myself and my lifestyle. Amazingly, I did all of this in what can only be explained as a perplexing, quiet rage that took place at 2 am, over 3 hours in a random hotel outside of Philadelphia. Up to the last second I was doubting myself, and then I became so angry at the back and forth and the fears that I just grabbed the scissors, asked myself “if not now, when?” and then started cutting. It was a quiet act of desperation, which left one part of my hair (the first cut) shorter than all the rest. Nonetheless, it was one of the best decisions I have made in the past year for sure.  I have told myself my hair doesn’t grow and that it will never be long- what a terrible limiting belief shared by many African-American women today! I absolutely love my short hair, and the beautiful, growing soul it adorns. I can’t wait for it to grow past my shoulders.

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    The Liberty  Bell

    I crossed some more items off my bucket list- two more World Heritage Sites- the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was written, debated and adopted. I also finally visited NYC again where I wandered the streets aimlessly with my niece looking for good eats, urban treats and cheap karaoke. Mission accomplished.

  5. I found a job. After applying to more than 10 jobs, I happily accepted a position today with an outdoor gear company I LOVE. I will only make $11.50 an hour, but I will be eligible for a raise in January and will get metro benefits and 50% of any gear I buy. Most importantly, I will be able to use the estimated 850 dollars a month working 20 hours per week to drop a whopping $3,000 a month on my student loan debt. Amazingly, this combined with my go fund me, could be JUST enough to end my journey on time. And for those of you who don’t know, or can’t recall, that means I will have paid off $33,000 dollars in 12 months.
  6. My go fund me page has received $794 in donations! My goal is to raise 5,000, $1,000 of which will go to whoever donates the most if I raise the full amount. I’ve also pledged $200 to whoever gives the most, regardless of whether or not I reach my goal. So far the number to beat is $219 dollars and like a Lannister, I always repay my debts.
  7. I am 2 months into to intermittent fasting and estimate I have lost almost 8 pounds of fat since the end of July. I began by cutting out breakfast and slowing removing dairy, starches, most grains and carbohydrates, with the exception of bread and the occasional rice dish. Just 3 weeks ago, I decreased my eating window from 1pm-9pm, to eating just one large meal a day around 4 pm. As a result, I have become fat adapted, meaning my body has learned to use stored fat for energy instead of carbohydrates or sugar. I don’t get hangry and I no longer suffer from incontinence. My toenails have also begun to grow in clear and my skin is clearer than it’s ever been. I have also discovered that dairy and alcohol give me free floating anxiety in even tiny amounts and intensifies both the premenstrual dysphoric disorder and the incontinence.  Most significantly I know exactly when to eat, when to drink and what foods my body needs. It’s actually ridiculous how more in tune I am with my needs. I also feel sharper and more focused right before I breakfast joining the ranks of Michelangelo, Einstein, Isaac Newton and other greats who ate minimally or once a day. Did I also mention I have significantly chopped my food budget by about 15% and no longer rely on “healthier” fast food options? Who knew living off less and eating less could feel SO good?
  8. I am officially 3 months off my Zoloft and still experiencing sub-clinical levels of OCD!! That’s right, after a scary year where I almost lost everything, I am happy to say I am (mostly) walking  like everyone else. I barely think about it now, but it’s a HUGE victory that I plan on writing about more! Exposure Response Prevention therapy, along with my parents, saved my life!
  9. I’ve re-framed my minimalism lifestyle to include a physical, financial, spiritual and emotional transformation. The eating, self-care maintenance, reduction in things and commitment to reducing my emotional energy output have been just as life changing as my car living experience. I now know that I require far less than I could have ever imagined, and the more I give up, the freer I feel. I’ve also realized that many of the activities I put my energy towards- relationships that don’t uplift me or are unstable, emotions that drain and drag, foods that poison and paralyze, words that fall on deaf ears, aren’t just first world problems I’m privileged to experience, but symptoms of an oppressive society and culture I cannot support.

So yeah, this is me right now- sweaty and slightly overheated, typing from a random 7-11 parking lot in the middle of nowhere, with a bottle of water, 20 more minutes of battery on my laptop, a big grin on my face, and thoughts of all the many things I hope to accomplish in the last 3 months of my car living journey.

A Few of My un Favorite Things…

I’m tired. It’s been 6 months of car camping and I am utterly exhausted. And it’s not so much from physical exhaustion as it is from mental labor. I never thought about the psychological effects always planning my meals, bathroom breaks, shower, laundry, etc. would have on me. I spend most of my time operating in tunnel vision to maximize efficiency. As a result, my mind is never at rest.  I am constantly strategizing, searching for a way to save time or money or trying to mitigate the loss of either.

For example, when I do laundry it is essential I re-organize my belongings in separate bags, less I want to lose 20 minutes searching for a matching pear of work socks and the correct color undershirt before work.  So I plan outfits the night before and try to place them in my daypack bag. I wear undershirts that allow me to change without exposing the ladies in public. Those undershirts will then transition to night wear when I sleep in my car, and will serve as a shirt when I work out the next morning and use the bathroom at my gym. See how I just saved myself from three awkward clothe changings in a cramped Hyundai Elantra? And that’s just the beginning. We haven’t even talked about what I do to keep my technology charged, what it takes to pack everything I sleep with, along with everything I own in my trunk every morning  so it doesn’t look like I am living in my car, where I pee when I’m managing Zoloft withdrawal induced incontinence late at night or how I kill time when I am exhausted but it’s 10 pm and still 80 degrees at night, too hot to sleep in my car. |

These are a few of my UNfavorite things.

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This should be two thumbs way down, but I needed a hand to take the selfie

It’s a lot for anyone and it takes lots of big adjustments. Even with the budget I realize I go through certain things a lot faster or need a lot more than I anticipate. I feel like I am always buying bottles of water, overusing my data charges, charging my laptop, filling up my car tank or trying to figure out when I should buy new clothes or shoes or stretch things out a little further so I can continue paying 2,000 a month on my student loans. I totally forgot to calculate interest charges on my loans which will add another month onto my journey no matter what. There’s also the extra parking tickets, damages from general wear and tear and toll fees and notices for days. There’s also so many other things that have drastically reduced my quality of life. I don’t eat nearly as much fresh fruit and vegetables as I would like and I’m sure sleeping in semi-comfortable positions is going to wear on my body. I also miss just lounging around, cold water, buying in bulk instead of day to day, and having my own place to entertain company, cook and properly waste time. All of this has added up emotionally and financially. I’m 2 months behind on my journey and I crave simple comforts so much that I have not been adhering to my budget or personal exemptions and rules (more on this later).

And all this on top of everything else. For those of you who have been following along since the Mexico Prelude, you know that this has been and extraordinary year for me. Apart from overcoming unimaginable suffering from a bout of obsessive compulsive disorder triggered by prolonged ssri discontinuation syndrome, I am officially 7 weeks Zoloft free.  Despite my slow self-taper over the last 6 months I don’t think I have escaped scratch free from the throws of my brain attempting to re-calibrate serotonin levels with the aid of medicine. The past few days I have been having radiating pains in my right arm and last night I experienced  joint pain in my fingers. Today I was MUCH more emotional and agitated than usual. To seal the deal I went from hot, to cold, to hot for 3 hours straight. These are all classic ssri withdrawal symptoms. Thank God they aren’t anywhere near what I experienced from cold turkeying before. Nonetheless, its daunting knowing that you could experience a huge mood swing without any preceding event and that the very thing you prize the most, your intelligence and insight, can turn on you in any moment.

I didn’t get a chance to write about it on account of me having limited access to a power source and spending critical time and power blogging about Mexico and applying for second job so I could meet my original timeline, but I reached out to a psychiatrist in attempts of having someone monitor my taper. And so following the recommendation of my AMAZING behavioral therapist, I made an apt with a Doctor who specializes in anxiety disorders and women’s health- the perfect combo to objectively evaluate the depression, anxiety and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder(PMDD) while I tried, yet again, to wean myself off the Zoloft.

We spoke over the phone and I explained to her my history of long term ssri use from the age of 14, to the taper and misdiagnosis of Bi-polar II disorder and discovery of PMDD. I explained my stance on not treating the imbalance, but getting to root of the problem by changing my brain anatomy with behavioral therapy, which has become my entire life with me living in my car and all. She agreed to see me and for a minute I thought my prayers would be answered.

I was wrong. After 45 minutes of re-explaining my history, she agreed that the dose of Zoloft I had been on for 3 months was too low to treat either the depression or OCD  and that the behavioural therapy was making the difference.  But she still recommended I stay on medicine my entire life to reduce the risk of a relapse. I asked her if it was kind of like when you get an infection in your tooth and they pull it immediately instead of treating it with antibiotics, keeping it clean and just monitoring it, so that you can keep your original tooth. She nodded her head and I wanted to scream at her. Did I mention I once had an abscess in my front tooth and a doctor recommended I pull both of my front teeth because they already had crowns from major trauma years before and she thought they were bound to fail at some point? Well I got a second opinion and the other doctor said we should just monitor my teeth because there is nothing as good as the original tooth!

Well I still have my front teeth and haven’t had any issues since. I am vigilant about flossing now, but what if I die with these teeth as the second doctor mentioned was possible? What if I could live a normal life without antidepressants and learn to manage the PMDD with diet, exercise and behavior changes? Don’t I owe it to myself and to my amazing body to try?

These are the things I thought while tears rolled down my cheeks when the psychiatrist said that she would not be able to supervise my taper because I would be going against her medical recommendation and she refused my pleas for just one follow appointment. I even told her I would get back on medicine if the depression or OCD comes back with a vengeance, but she refused and then proceeded to take$500 cash from me. Did I mention behavioral therapists and psychiatrist for OCD in DC don’t take insurance? Essentially I paid $500 for a good cry and a nocebo. That whole experience speaks monuments to the “care” a handful of doctors gave me from the age of 14 when I was misdiagnosed with bi-polar II disorder and begged to not be medicated anymore when I realized a cocktail of powerful medicine was only making me sicker.

But that was 7 weeks ago and now I am writing this to you in my car, utterly exhausted and already scheming how I can sneak into Planet Fitness unnoticed to pee before bed. The gym I usually go to is closed for repairs so I will be in the yeah- I-just-came-in-a-second- ago-and-now-I’m-leaving awkward phase with the new staff for the next week. Maybe I will try to charm them. Highly unlikely though, they will probably just ask me if I have seen the new X-Men movie after I tell them I live in my car. I will probably just walk right in and walk right out and let them sit with their own awkwardness because I’m tired, I’ve been at this for 6 months, and the time for formalities has long since passed.

Frequently Asked Questions…

When I tell people about my life style, I typically get 1 of 3 reactions…

A) Are you serious? I don’t believe you. I’m really worried about you. Are you safe?

B) That’s interesting (sideways judgement face before conveniently changing the subject). Did you see the new X-Men movie?

C) Wow that is super cool! I have so many questions…do you mind if I ask you a few?

As a result I have put together this short list of frequently asked questions. I hope to add to it over time as I share my journey and story with others.

Where do you shower?

For some reason this is the #1 ranked question I get. The answer is, I shower in lot’s of different places. I usually end up at my 24 hour gym, but also shower at work and or friends house. Occasionally when I am out camping I will freshen up with a wash cloth.

What do you eat?

Right around the corner from work is a Harris Teeter’s so I often get away with a piece of fruit or oatmeal for breakfast and a cup of soup with an avocado or a sandwich for lunch. For dinner I usually eat out, and have established a list of go to, healthy places.

On average, I spend around $15-$20 on food, which sounds like a lot but is relatively nothing compared to what I would pay for an apartment, utility bills, etc. Plus it gives me the opportunity to try a boat load of eateries, farm to table restaurants and catch up with friends every now and again over happy hour.

Where do you sleep?

Typically I sleep in my car because it’s exhausting and cost prohibitive to camp in the nearby parks. I sleep in the passenger side and prop my feet up on a bog of clothes- it’s actually pretty conformable. Very similar to when you are at the dentist getting your teeth cleaned. I would say it’s about 87% comfortable.

What kind of car do you have?

A lot of people assume I have  huge sports vehicle or a truck, but I have a small, 2006 4 door Hyundai Elantra sedan. Nothing fancy, but I own it outright and we have been on many adventures.

How long do you plan on doing this?

My journey is tied closely to how long it will take me to pay off my private student loan debt. I estimate it will take me 12 months, which means I should be finished before January of 2017. In reality though, I may just winter for a while and car camp again when Spring comes around to save money for traveling. I have also thought about buying a Winnebago or trying to find someone who will let me put a tiny home on their property.

How do you get mail?

I originally rented a mail box (not a P.O. Box) from UPS for 3 months, but opted to continue having my mail sent to my sisters, which is cheaper and easier than switching all my billing info to another address.

How do you do laundry?

I go to a laundry mat usually. Sometimes I do laundry at a friend’s house over beer or at a hotel when traveling.

What do you do when it gets cold?

I layer up and I also have plenty of sub zero camping gear. Generally I can stay pretty comfortable around 11 degrees if I bundle up in my sub-zero mummy sleeping bag. Eating before bed also helps.

How do you get to work?

I typically drive a mile to the nearest park and ride metro station and take public transit into the city. I sometimes park in residential areas as well to save money  on parking but always take public transportation whenever possible. It’s cheaper, better for the environment and makes for a less stressful commute!

Xenote Magic

iphone pics 2807It felt SO good to sleep in. I didn’t have to be downstairs at the hotel lobby for the Xenote Maya tour bus until 9:00- perfect opportunity for me to grab an extra hour of sleep and enjoy a calm breakfast, beach side. The remnants of my hangover where completely gone and I felt back to my old self- restored and ready for action.

It was good to be back on a tour with a small group.  Our guide was a tall thin, athletic looking man who ran a lean operation. Not only was he serving as our guide, but the van driver as well. He even explained that we would be visiting four xenotes, each for the four elements (wind, fire, water, air) in less than 5 minutes, and provided safety information in both Spanish and English, while driving.  The tour began rather uninspiring with our guide being a tad bit detached. Nonetheless, I felt so grounded and comfortable that day having realized it was my last day in Mexico.

I don’t know why, but I was comforted by the drive into the jungle. The car was moving so fast that I could barely take anything in. It reminded me of the last 6 months of my life- and somehow I was okay with that. After a short 20 minute ride, we arrive at our destination.

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Xenote Tierra or Land Sinkhole

The first xenote we arrived at was what our guide referred to as a young xenote. Much of the top layer of limestone was intact.  So the xenote appears as a cave with a lush jungle covering the tiny bit of light that hits the blue waters. Underneath was 150 feet of crystal clear blue water, tiny catphish and a colony of bats. The only way to the bottom was repelling 55 feet straight down.

Our group was a mix of Americans and surprisingly a large number of visitors from Mexico City.  We all walked slowly together to grab our life jacket and wait in line at the repel point. There two men with ropes informing us of descent options. We could go fast, slow, or upside down like spider man. There was another tour group ahead of us with two girls who were terrified of repelling. They screamed and hollered between shouts of “slow, slow’’ while the crowed cheered on… “you can do it, puedes hacerlo.”. It was a beautiful moment. I felt like I was at a team building trip, only we were just random people united by the Cancun Kumbaya effect, which was still in full swing.

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Upon entering the first xenote I realized one of our travelers was bleeding. I felt the urge to want to point it out to her, but I figured if I did she would wipe it away with her hands and then I would be resisting the urge to track everywhere her fingers touched. I opted not to say anything, and hoped I wouldn’t have to sit in the same harness as her and that eventually her wound would be cleaned by the xenote waters.

Like usual, I was the last one in. I opted for the fast spider man descent, realizing how stupid I must have looked reaching my lands towards the xenote floor like I was some super hero. I wish I actually could have pushed myself away from the rocks and repelled like real people do.  This was obviously a contrived experience- the repel landing zone, xenote entrance and exit had been excavated, reinforced and replaced with plastic structures- giving you the allure of an adventure with all the safety and convenience of Water World theme parks. I didn’t mind though. I knew what I was signing up for- as my first solo trip after nearly losing everything- easy breezy was the main idea.

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I repelled down without the least bit of anxiousness, excited to be crossing yet another item off my bucket list. Right behind me the photographer shouted my name to get my attention.  For 60 dollars I could get custom photos of my xenote tour-something I struggled with considering I was over budget with my trip and had purchased some water proof hollister in hopes of taking my own pictures during this and other watery excursions.

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As soon as I hit the xenote water, I remember thinking three things. One how can I avoid brushing past the swimmer with the cut on her leg. two, why do I still get terrified a shark or prehistoric creature is going to come up from the depths and eat one of my legs and three: how ever would I manage to avoid the bat feces which was probably in the water and being dropped on me in the dark? But these were load grade fears and I embraced them fully. It helps when I realized that this could totally be a movie. and I would probably be the main character who is crazy and knows how to survive, despite being the only black person.

I wandered to the dark edges of the cave, listening quietly to the high pitched hum of the bats. I left the safety of the few rays of light that reached the xenote and swam towards the dark shadows of the cave’s edge. Up above and below, stalactites encroached us like the jaws of a jaguar. They looked as if they were frozen in time, and that any moment it could drop like a  frozen icicle thawing  from the morning Sun.

 

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I considered pushing myself to try and touch the cave wall, but it was time to exit this xenote and head to grab some Mexican cookies bread and coffee while our guide pulled up the car. The whole thing was low key and slightly anticlimactic but the rush of repelling and thrill of bats buzzing around you made the 20 minute memory feel like forever.  To seal the deal I made sure I jumped off the diving platform into the water- popping my signature thumbs up in case I chose to splurge on the pics.

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Crystal blue waters from minerals

After bread and tea we all scurried back to the bus. I threw my shorts over my wet bathing suit and tried snag a few selfies. Surrounding each of the xenotes were tiny gargoyles which offered protection to those who entered. These were nothing like the original guarding built by the Maya, but I was totally digging the tourist experience and quite surprised at how I didn’t mind the Universal Studios feel to everything.  The next stop was yet another xenote where we would have the chance to zipline into an open xenote before grabbing some lunch.

We travelled a short ways away and arrived at a beautifully landscaped preserve. One of the cool things about this tour was that the xenotes we visited were private nature preserves. I assume that our proceeds went to grounds maintenance and upkeep of the science, which were better than many preserves and museums I have visited in the States.

I finally got the nerve to try out my water proof iPhone case after encouragement from several other tourists. I was super annoyed though because we were supposed to be snorkeling and I didn’t have the chance to make sure my case was water tight before trying it out. Thankfully, one of the photographers opened the case and placed my phone in with dry hands after I ran the plastic cover under the cenote to check for any leaks. Thankfully my phone was safe and I was able to snag some pretty cool snorkeling pics.

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Okay well some of them are kinda awkward cause I didn’t have my phone oriented the right way, but it was still super amazing to be able to capture the stalactites and underground root system on camera. I was pleased with my last minute splurge and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the xenote. It was good to not have to worry about sharks, plus it was comforting to be able to see what was below you in the xenote. Not as many fish as snorkeling near the sea, but the tiny little catphish, tiny little dead skin eating fish used in spas and tree roots were enough to keep anyone interested. It was about this time that I realized that although I enjoyed water sports, I wasn’t too keen on being underneath the water, but instead loved to feel the power and motion of the water beneath me. I cannot stress enough how awkward and exposed I feel in water.

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Due to the technology problems, I didn’t get to spend as much time exploring this xenote while snorkeling, but I was super happy I captured some up close pictures of the stalactites with birds and butterflies buzzing around me. It was such a treat!

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After less than 10 minutes snorkeling around, I emerged from the water in a whirlwind and headed through a hidden entrance to go kayakling. A long line of Mayan men in matching t shirts greeted tourist who paired two by two on bright yellow kayaks.

My kayak partner was a young recent graduate from law School in Los Angeles who studied drug law. She had just finished taking the bar and was celebrating with her family. She had never kayaked before but had no problem manning the boat so I could take pics. We laughed back and forth as we navigated our way through the open xenote- strange black ducks followed us as they quacked loudly and ducked away from our sloppy paddling.

It had been a while since I kayaked. I was glad to be steering and felt comfortable taking the lead with the less experienced traveler. She was easy going and didn’t mind speeding things up to pass some confused and paddling challenged tourists. It was all fun and games though and before every bend you could hear a slurry of “wow”, “look at that”, “que hermosa” from the paddlers ahead of you.

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Kayakaing on the Air Xenote

After 30 minutes of kayaking, we turned our boats around and headed back to the xenote entrance. There we were greeted with the same line of eager young Mayan guides. One spoke a prayer over us, while another squirted all natural water proof sunblock over us as we left the water. My arms were still peeling pretty bad from the day before and I was grateful to have a natural sunblock to protect my ailing skin- normally I would have been grossed out with us all sharing pumps, but instead I was relieved that they thought of everything  and grateful that the product was coconut based.

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After kayaking, we swam a short ways through a small man made system of xenotes and arrived at the ziplining xenote.  I was happy to report that I successfully managed to avoid the bleeding tourist both entering the bus opening and exiting the first xenote, and upon finishing kayaking.  Even though I was super annoyed that we would again have to all share harnesses, It gave me relive to think about the odds of all of us contracting Hep C or some other disease from the bleeding tourist.  Inviting the obsessive thoughts with me- I literally stepped up to the plate and decided to zipline in the same harness as everyone else.

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I remembered how proud and jazzed I was at my silent victory. To those looking at me I popped the thumbs up out of excitement to be ziplining. Really though, I was happy to be in a good enough place to challenge obsessions big and small. And oh boy, was it worth it. Zip lining. Was . Amazing. Looking back, I equate ziplinging with the closes physical experience of freedom. The speed of your own body flying straight in one direction, the weight of your collective experience being held by wrists and fingers clinging to autonomy, scraping up every inch of strength to take it all in. Zip lining was that and more. I enjoyed watching the tourist cheer on nervous travelers. The lily pads surrounded us and the sun beamed down on us. Everyone was happy and all was well.

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We spent 20 minutes ziplining at the open xenote. We took turns trying out the superman, the Spider Man and the Tarzan runs- laughing when people hit the water hard and cheering when anyone nailed the perfect landing. It was magick. I remember telling the guide that I had to have a xenote one day, and that I would open it up to everyone because we all could use a little more magic in our lives.

Lunch was phenomenal. We had sandwiches- the first time we were treated to picnic style American eats and I welcomed the departure from shitty Mexican inspired food. It was good to have fresh meats and vegetables. Plus we were treated to a delicious Mayan vegetable soup which I wish I knew the name of. I sat with a friendly group of young couples- all under the age of 31 and celebrating their recent nuptials. It was hard for me to imagine finding someone you could spend your whole life with. I had trouble living with roommates, let alone traveling with another.

After lunch we headed to our 4th and final xenote where we had the chance to ride a water slide and intertube down a mature xenote that had become and exposed river. Of all our stops that day, this xenote was the most open and expansive. In addition to a fabulous water slide and huge bathrooms, the entire grounds consisted of tiny little paths with open areas, hammocks and several displays. All around you was jungle, branches nipped at your feet and you frequently had to duck to miss a branch or dodge a bright colored butterfly. This was definitely a place I could call home, a place where my heart did not worry and my body felt strong. A place that I was safe-a place that I could call home.

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I’m mad at myself for trying to capture the perfect shot or video instead of merely enjoying my surroundings. As you can see, I tried (rather unsuccessfully) to take several videos of my ziplining and sliding. Instead I messed up my photo opp with the professional photographer and looked like those tourist who stopped every 5 seconds to take a selfie.

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Ugh I wish I wouldn’t have been video taping- I missed a great shot!

We had another chance to zipline and I admired all the hidden gnomes, gargoyles and animals around us. I can’t explain how safe and comforted I felt at this last xenote. Even the bathrooms had a homie charm to them. By the time it was time to inter tube down the river, I was barely fazed by the signs urging us to watch out for poisonous water snakes.

We floated aimlessly down the river in life jackets, stopping beneath a trickling water fall and then kicking frantically to keep up with our guide who ran back and for the ferrying  flip flops and corralling us to the final dive spot. It was such a captivating experience. I really enjoyed the group dynamics. Even though we were all strangers, we helped to guide one another in the water and offered to take pictures wherever possible. My favorite part though was the constant team cheering that happened when people were afraid to jump off the ledge.

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Although I wasn’t afraid to jump, I was burnt out and really enjoying just lounging around in the water. At the last minute, fear of missing out took over me and I deiced to jump of the cliff. After all,  it was our last xenote, and my last day in Cancun. I don’t generally enjoy the feeling of zero gravity, but I peeped some of the photos our photographer took during lunch and I already deiced I would be purchasing them, on account of me being so photogenic and all (which NEVER happens BTW) which gave me the last bit of umph I needed to jump off the cliff. So again, I took the plunge, even agreeing to let our guide take an awesome video, which I am happy to share with you all.

Despite me explaining to my guide that I couldn’t return to the hotel on account of my having lost my heart at the last xenote, we headed back to Cancun exhausted with huge smiles of accomplishment on our faces. We were treated to more tea, coffee and sweat breads which was the finishing touch of our trip. I snagged a few more selfies of the preserve, realizing that yet again, there was so much I missed.

It was only a 20 minute ride and I was happy to have been able to arrive back with the Sun still up and the beach still calling my name. I ate a leisurely dinner and enjoyed the last of my free beers on the beach. Hard to imagine that I did so much and soon would be returning to my other life, which now seemed even less relevant than before. Nonetheless, I was inspired and amazed by the Xenote tour and a was already spinning up dreams of moving to Mexico to start and ecological tourism hostel with my own xenote when I drifted pleasantly off to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

What Living off the Grid has Taught Me

Living off the grid was was always the plan-my path to self awareness, my offering to Mother Earth, my protest of the system, my end game. But looking back at how this journey unfolded, I realize there was always a part of me that chucked it up to empty threats from a clinically depressed and anxious idealist, turned young sustainability professional. And then somewhere between shuffling through unfullfilling jobs every 18 months, chipping away at $80,000 of student loan debt and re-inventing myself every three years,  a small part of me SERIOUSLY started to chuck this off the grid talk as nonsense.  I remember telling someone my intentions and then squirming in anguish when they responded, “it gets cold outside”.  Maybe they were right. Was this some illusive attempt to exert control over my life?  An easy out from the never ending perils of human interaction and interpersonal dynamics? Or perhaps the ultimate solution to ending the cyclical misery I experienced while living in a system that does not serve me, humanity or the Earth?

In truth, it was none of those things, but SO, SO much more. I have just always been a space cadet with my head in the clouds– one of those dreamers with an intense, unquenchable and often times annoying excitement about the world.  I’ve always been interested in the bizarre, the strange, the inexplicable, the experience–what lays beyond the boundaries and off the beaten path. And I’ve always admired, and been drawn to people who feel the same way– the people who live and thrive on the fringes of society with full body tattoos, scars and wild stories. The black sheep, the one’s who have that “I don’t give a fuck what you think” look.

So here I was, this free spirited, self declared wild child who reveled in their stories, and aspired to be them, but couldn’t dare take the leap. So, I soaked up stories in between emotional breakdowns, passive aggressive managers and throughout a host of meaningless activities, until one day, my life became something I wasn’t interested in participating in, contributing to or living in. Lot’s of other complicated things happened along the way, but the repression of this dream and all the limiting beliefs tied with it, cost me big time.  I hit my all time personal low in May of 2015. And believe me I, have been to some pretty low places. This was the first time I  started to lose everything around me –my dog, my job, my family, my sanity– until destiny intervened.

And then BOOM!!! In less than 6 months I lost everything, gained it all (back and then some), AND managed to land in the driver’s seat of my life again. What started off as a rant became a dream. And then during my recovery process, that dream became a vision, and that vision became fused with value and meaning. In the course of a month, I started to integrate this new paradigm into my collective experience. Suddenly I realized I had re-invented myself for the last time. Instead of the usual pack up all my things, give notice and move across the country, I birthed myself anew– only this time when I woke, I stood firm in my path, content with my inadequacies and sensitivities- full of a renewed sense of spirit and an unwavering passion fueled by this cosmic intersection of dreams and destiny.

This is my story, so far…

off grid pic
Car camping and some Netflix time

I started my off the grid journey on December 16, 2015. I had been slowly getting rid of clothes and belongings over the past three years and thought I’d pursue a ‘non’traditional’ lifestyle in hopes of getting out of a stressful living situation and immersing myself in life affirming activities. At the time, a sense of freedom, travelling and financial independence where priority items on the get excited about life again list. So I set my intention to Airbnb, short rent and travel instead of signing a lease. and shortly moved out gifting everything I owned to my siblings in the process. So there I was– moving like a nomad through the gentrified streets of Washington, D.C. in hopes of renewing my sense of life and nurturing my adventurous spirit. To be honest, it worked too well. I spent the first week camped out in the backyard of a girlfriend’s house, praying I could hold my morning dump until I made it to work. Other than that, it was a sweet setup. I had wash station, some nice foliage for the occasional pit stop and I was less than 2 miles from a metro station.

But El Nino only lasted so long and eventually the cold of winter set in. I survived in my friends’ back yard until freezing rains led me to car camp in a National Forest. After deciding that sleeping in my car for $16 dollars a night was a bad deal, I realized I could probably find a chill residential area, sleep in my car, shorten my commute and save around $360 bucks a month. So I did, until a stranger came knocking on my door and freaked me out one night. Plus, public peeing in the rain and those DAMN street lights were killing me. I eventually settled on a private parking lot with 24/7 access to my gym AND a fresh shower. Alas, I had found my ideal location, which I conveniently named headquarters, or HQ for short.

Mekka house
Camping in a friends’ back yard!

I spent the entirety of January and February sleeping in that parking lot alongside another super secret hospital location that was amazing, but far away from everything. A few #urbanexcursions later to New York, West Virginia, Boston, Philadelphia and Virginia Beach as well as a stay in an AirBnB while winter storm Jonas decimated the DMV and a short stint at a friend’s office apartment that went sour, and I realized that this lifestyle was not only easy and inexpensive– it was incredibly freeing.  The awful depression ceased and the anxiety lifted. For the first time in a long time, I was in love with life again.

Today marks three months of cold nights in cars,  wet nights in random camp grounds and an array of AirBnB’s. So many times I woke up in the tender hours of the morning to the sound of rain, or birds bustling, or wind whipping my tent and that quiet feeling you get when you wake up and witness your own experience. Living off the grid has  strengthened my tool box for self improvement and taught me so many lessons, both big and small. I learned how to brush my teeth without running water, find the best places to shower and the cleanest restrooms to take a shit in. I learned that I can push my body to extremes with little food and water and I have become much more in tune with my own body. I’ve come to understand the true value of a dollar, a favor, a friend and an accurate weather forecast. I’ve learned how valuable time is and how closely my life is tied to the weather, the elements and the seasons.

In short, living off the grid has been a total mind fuck in the truest sense. It’s also taught me a helluva lot about my big, fat, complicated emotional life. It’s also shown me that I am stronger than I think and more resilient than I give myself credit for.  I’ve learned the freedom of flexibility and profoundly deepened my gratitude for shelter, sleep and sustenance. It’s also exposed some pretty unhealthy habits, limiting beliefs and thoughts I have about what is right and wrong, and who I am and ought to be.

Of all the things I have experienced and cherished most about the journey, the single most important lesson I’ve learned so far, is that there is NOTHING more exhilarating, fulfilling or life affirming than [walking] confidently in the direction of your dreams and living the life you’ve always imagined.

If you are reading this, I want to thank you for witnessing my journey. I look forward to sharing more with you, as I study the art of the tumbling weed.