Mars to Earth

 Our neighbors camping at Lake Powell.

Our neighbors camping at Lake Powell.

They say that re-entering earth’s atmosphere from space can be hard. If you come in too quickly, you burn up, like a meteor. The trick is to enter at the correct speed, matching your trajectory with the rotation of the earth — as much as possible. Even then, it’s a balancing act that could result in a ball of fire, and could hardly be described as “easy”. It is similar returning to “normality” after 2 months of living day-to-day in our RV.

Fortunately, we live in a beautiful town and have wonderful friends and family here, so re-entry was something we didn’t dread, like burning to a crisp. That still didn’t make it any easier. I think that the lessons we learned made such a meteoric impact on us that our normal way of life seemed all the more ripe for improvement.

Our trip was instigated by an invitation to teach at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. Our youngest son was also simultaneously leaving to do a semester of high school in Japan — making us temporary empty nesters. The day we sent our son off to Japan, we packed up our RV and hit the road to explore the Southwest, but not without a little cry fest at the doorway to his empty room. We figured the trip would keep our minds off missing him, and it did help quite a bit.

The trip took us through Idaho, to Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and finally to California before returning us to Oregon. We continued to work from the road, as much as feasible, despite unpredictable internet service and being distracted by beautiful national parks. As we continue to process our experience, we’ve realized a few things that are pretty poignant to us.

Our RV is not that big, and we packed as minimalist as we could. Even so, we never felt that we really lacked anything we needed. We had food, basic clothing, hiking gear, bicycles, my motorcycle, cameras, good books to read, and our dog. Our joy came from experiences each day, not from stuff. We found that having fewer choices to make — like deciding what to wear or what to make for dinner, left so much more room in our thoughts to focus on being in the moment, and truly enjoying it. Decision making causes some amount of stress, no matter how basic the decisions are. When we eliminated the clutter of extra stuff and unnecessary decision making, we experienced a profound reduction of our daily stress level.

Clare and I developed a beautiful synergy while squeezing past each other in our tiny RV kitchen. She had her tasks, and I had mine, and we performed them like a choreographed dance — her instinctively swaying her hips away from the utensil drawer while she cooked, as I’m reaching through for the silverware to set the table. No words, no collisions, just a wonderful flow of give and take.

Setting up camp, and packing to move each day, took on the same efficient flow. Like a Nascar pit crew, we each had our tasks and performed them with tuned precision – making it a simple, quick, and enjoyable process. We learned to harmonize like we never have before, and it worked really well.

We learned that the act of traveling can unlock the traveler's mindset. This is an interesting phenomenon where we are more friendly and curious — perhaps because of feeling vulnerable and out of our element. We make time to simply talk to strangers we meet, gathering insider tips or making new friends out of them. We take the time to see each person, place, or thing as new and exciting; because it is — and life becomes filled with wonder and joy. By embodying the traveler's mindset, we naturally open the door to amazing experiences, each and every day.

One of the most profound realizations, however, came to us near the end of our trip. We did not plan very much at all — instead living day-to-day, and following our intuition or the leads from random people we’d meet. We didn’t reserve campgrounds, but found places to camp on the fly, as the evening approached. Most nights were spent boondocking (free camping in remote areas) in beautiful forested spots, with trees and mountains filling our RV bedroom windows. As we reflected back on our adventure, we realized that everything worked out perfectly. We had faith that it would, and it did. We faced each day with positive affirmations and the confidence that the Universe would take care of us, and it did.

This, by far, was one of our most valuable lessons — or validations, more precisely. When we reduce stress in our lives, and live with confidence that our needs will be taken care of, and have faith that our paths will be perfectly guided — amazing things just happen.

As we slowly re-enter our hometown atmosphere, we are trying to be very mindful of keeping the lessons we’ve been given close at hand. We remember to embrace conversations with perfect strangers (and they all ARE perfect). We look at the beauty surrounding us with the wondrous eyes of a first-time visitor. And, we have faith that our spaceship will always land in the right place, the right way, each and every day.