Written by Becky Sokoloski
When people on a trail or at a campsite ask me where I’m coming from, I say, “Massachusetts… and California.” In the time most people stop to chat on a trail (less than a minute), this answer makes no sense. But to me, it sums up my life. I am coming from the east coast, the west coast, the summit of a mountain, the canyon around the bend, and everywhere in between.
My adventure started in my head years ago. As a developing minimalist with a frugal personality, small living made complete sense to my teenage mind. I dreamed of having a tiny house on a plot of land, somewhere where I could have a garden and chickens, and hitch up anytime I wanted to leave.
As the years passed, I learned people converted old buses to live in and travel. What a way to live! While I occasionally would scour Craigslist for old buses, the notion of actually pausing life to be a traveling vagabond was far beyond my motivational level at the time. Besides, there was college to pursue, something every graduating high schooler knows is the epitome of parental pride.
I became enveloped in my education, which led to a Master’s and then an offer for a Ph.D. (gratis plus a stipend) on the east coast. Thoughts of buses and tiny homes became a thing of the past to me. I had to pursue a career! Make money! Have a family!
To move to the east coast, I decided to road trip there, and my dad tagged along. The journey was quick. Too quick. We flew through Santa Fe, paused briefly in Memphis and Nashville, and quickly drove through Shenandoah. However, by the time we arrived in my new apartment in western Massachusetts, I was torn. The journey I had just experienced reawakened my yearning to travel. But I had a job to do.
Two years into my program, I started to experience burnout. My dreams of living in a bus began occupying more of my thoughts. But I didn’t have the courage to make the leap, to give up my all expenses paid life.
One day, everything turned. A relationship I had been pursuing since my Master’s degree disintegrated when it became clear I wasn’t in love anymore. Two days later I spoke with my advisor to inform him I needed a break, and suddenly the world was wide open.
Within the past year, I learned that #vanlife had begun to dominate social media. I could live in something smaller than a bus!? Wow! I was hooked on the idea. I began immediately perusing Craigslist for vans until I found the one. He was dirty, had peeling paint, and an awful bed in the back, but I didn’t care. I had met Rico “Primetime” Suavesito.
With indispensable help from friends, Rico was transformed into a functioning van home. It really only took a bed and a stove on the door to complete his conversion. It was so simple, I wondered why I had waited so long.
Six weeks after the breakup with my partner and my program, Rico and I were off to California. We had to be home for Christmas, so our journey was, again, quick. Too quick. I am not one to adjust to things quickly. My mental reaction time is that of a sloth. Five days after flying from Massachusetts, Rico and I had reached Big Bend NP in southern Texas.
This out of the way park lies directly on the other side of Mexico, with the Rio Grande serving as a swift, coursing border. It is beautiful in its desolation. When one steps into the desert, it feels like standing in a photograph. No wind, no noise, no movement.
Rico and I were only there for the day, so I asked about a day hike. Hot Springs Canyon trail is what the ranger recommended, which is an out and back that follows along the Rio Grande for a 6-mile total trek. River trail? Hooked. I took plenty of water and headed out, giving Rico a pat goodbye.
With no one on the trail, I took my first hike in weeks slowly. I studied everything along the way, pausing when I could to find a side trail to the Rio. She was magnificent. I was stunned that Mexico was right there across the river. I could hear Vaqueros herding their cattle with commands in Spanish. Political thoughts filled my mind, and I contemplated if those who make decisions on border security had ever visited this spot.
While wandering through the desert, I came across a type of fossil right in the middle of the trail. I was amazed at how large it was, and how beautiful. I ran my fingers over its ridges and snapped a picture. I intended to ask a ranger about it if I had time.
The Hot Springs Canyon trail ends at a small hot spring, that is only deep enough to soak your feet in. Which is exactly what I did. I sat there with my feet in the hot water and my hands dangling into the frigid Rio Grande. I suddenly became emotional. On the border of our country, it suddenly hit me that I was living my dream. That I had no other responsibilities to myself other than to be happy, to travel, to hike until my legs fell off, to be free. My sloth brain finally caught up, but I was happy it was in such a beautiful area.
With such an indescribable experience under my belt, I knew my journey going forth was going to be wonderful. I made sure to save the trail in the Bivy app so I could always remember my first true adventure of my new life. My new life where I am from California, Massachusetts, and everywhere in between.
Check out the adventures in and around Big Bend National Park on Bivy.