The Music of Thacher Island


Bon to the jour, my friends. Bon to the jour. Today, we’re stepping into the Wayback Machine all the way back to the summer of 2016. Can you remember it? Hope was in the air. Bruno Mars was on the radio. The kids all wore these crazy things called “shorts” which are like pants, but shorter. You remember. This happened back in July of that year. Ready to time travel? Here we goooo…

I was breezing through Massachusetts and I decided to swing by Gloucester, on the coast. My dear friends Eileen and Nathan live there, so I wanted to say hi. Little did I know my van would live in their driveway for the next month. Long story short, at one point Nathan said, “Hey, there’s this small island just off the coast with some lighthouses on it. I’ve been given permission to have a musicians’ retreat on the island for a few days, where we’ll all be writing music, catching lobster, testing the acoustics of the lighthouses, and generally having a good time. Would you want to come?”

This was an incredible offer, and it immediately brought in a flood of insecurities. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 18 but I probably plateaued around age 20. I added ukulele to my bag of toys about two years ago, but I don’t practice all that often so I still don’t know a ton of chords. My understanding was that Nathan was hoping I’d document the workshop, but I could participate in the music if I wanted, which, if I was going, I felt like I had to do. I hadn’t written a song in years, and I had some ideas. I knew I’d be the worst musician of the clan, easily, but I decided that somebody had to be the worst and it might as well be me, so I’ll just own it and try to not psyche myself out. Let’s do the damn thing.


When the day finally arrived we headed down to the dock. I had my guitar and uke, camera gear, mics, drone, and surfboard (just in case), and yet I seemed to have packed the lightest. The tiny boat was piled high with musical instruments, food, and whiskey, and we headed out into Cape Ann to Thacher Island.

While a small island, Thacher has two lighthouses on it: One at the north end and one at the south. These are sometimes referred to as Ann’s Eyes. Since they glow. And there are two of them. And they’re in Cape Ann. Get it? There’s a small museum on the island that gave us a history lesson. Shipwrecks with two survivors, Fresnel lenses, and an at-the-time revolutionary lighthouse technology called the Funck Moderator Float Lamp. We decided immediately that would be our band name.


Days on the island were idyllic. We’d putter out on a small dinghy, checking the lobster traps for bugs (that’s what the locals call lobsters, y’see). We’d swim in the ocean, with the water so clear we could dive down and inspect some of the traps before we even pulled them up. On the island we’d meander off on our own to pick away at the songs we wanted to work on. We’d paint the stairs of the lighthouses with Rustoleum and sing as we went. Everybody had these incredible voices, and they all knew how to harmonize. I did my best to keep up, but mostly I just listened and drank it in. I would hike around the island, looking for old relics, while trying to avoid the house-sized bushes of poison ivy.


The only constant on the island was the sound of birds. I’ve never seen so many seagulls in my life. Or heard so many. At times, it was deafening, and it was a twenty-four hour affair. Earplugs were mandatory for sleep. Not that there was a lot of that.


At night we would make the long climb up the southern lighthouse, into the room with the spinning red light. It was a 70 foot tall and very narrow spiral staircase. And yet, somehow, we lugged all of our instruments (and, in my case, cameras and microphones) up there. Most impressively, the bass player, Joe Cardoza, lugged his massive stand-up bass up and down those stairs every night.


There was something magical about those nights. And it wasn’t the whiskey. Or the tequila. It was the sound of those voices and those instruments, so high off the ground, echoing downward into the darkness and back up at us. It was the openness of the group. The support, even for me, whose playing and pipes clearly weren’t of the same caliber, was moving. We sat in the circular room at the top of the tower, illuminated only by the red, rotating light. The music that vibrated through the tower was full of passion, and deeply personal.


When our eyelids grew heavy and our throats were dry, we’d begin the long spiral back down to Earth. I was exhausted, and at least a little drunk, and all my body wanted was a bed to flop into, but the stars were calling. It isn’t often that you get a dark and fairly clear sky with something as striking as an old lighthouse for the foreground, let alone two lighthouses. So Nathan and I would venture out into the night with my camera and tripod in tow, hunting for the perfect shot.


The Milky Way wasn’t nearly as pristine as I might have hoped for. Clouds, haze, and some light pollution from the mainland made shooting tough, and editing them took me forever. In fact for almost all of them I had to do way more post-processing than I normally like to do, which makes the scenes look surreal. But all things considered, I got some shots that I really love.


This shot shows the south tower, where we would play music every night, and behind it the house where we slept. Unfortunately the haze really caught the light from the nearby towns of Gloucester and Rockport.


One shot that remains among my very favorite is this one I call Ghost House. It was one of those right place / right time things. The lighting was just so strange in that moment, looking back at the house we were all staying in. I decided to take a shot on a whim, and it turned out way cooler than I would have thought.


There were plenty of shots to be had during the day, too. A golden eagle had recently made its home on Thacher, much to the chagrin of the seagull population. We were lucky enough to see it one day, just behind the house. A few brave gulls would buzz its head, trying to scare it away. Protecting the chicks there, I’d assume. It was a stunning bird.


I also got a few shots from my drone that give a better sense of the island’s scale, and a few of the sunset, which lit up the island so perfectly.


All in all, it was an incredible few days. I did, indeed, complete my first song in years. A bluesy, silly, (sexy?,) ukulele tune. The perfect thing for a someone who’s never been able to take themselves seriously as a musician. I’d like to believe it will lead to more writing. We shall see.

The retreat culminated in a small lawn concert for a small group of friends of the island. Volunteers, mostly who live in nearby communities, who watch over the place. My friends Richard Thieriot and Chelsea Berry collaborated to write a song called Ann’s Eyes, which we all played and sang on. I recorded that one at the base of one of the lighthouse towers, along side a traditional song sung by Brian King. The recording, unfortunately, doesn’t do either song justice, but together they made a fitting soundtrack for the video I cut together from all the footage I shot there.

I don’t know why I waited so long to share this story. Or why I continue to wait to share so many others. It is what it is.


I want to thank Nathan Cohen (pictured above in the moonlight) for inviting me to step out of my comfort zone and into a place that I love. Our gracious hosts on the island were the volunteer lighthouse keepers John and Darlene Fulton.


Funck Moderator Float Lamp, from left to right, were Renee Dupuis (ukulele/melodica),Chelsea Berry (guitar/lead vocals), Brian King (guitar/lead vocals), Brent Rose (ukulele/guitar), Nathan Cohen (violin), Joe Cardoza (standup bass), and Richard Thieriot (guitar). Everybody sang.

As always, thanks for reading. See below for a few more pics.

-BR 10.14.17
On a flight from SF to Chicago


I Was Rescued by the People Trump Wants to Ban [Updated]

I’ve spent the last nineteen months living in a van, driving around the country, and looking for stories to tell. I’ve put more than 40,000 miles under my wheels, talked to hundreds of strangers, and taken many thousands of photos and videos. Yet I haven’t written anything about this trip since before last year’s presidential election.

I’ve accumulated a massive backlog of stories I want to tell, but it felt wrong to release them before I addressed the elephant in the room. It would have felt frivolous, and yet I struggled with how I wanted to tell this particular story. Then it just landed in my lap. Everything I am about to tell you is true and is presented without exaggeration.

I fired up my van (Ashley, The Beast) Friday, February 10th, after having not started it for a week or so. Within a few minutes some lights popped up on my dashboard. I was on my way to Berkeley for a last-minute passport renewal, and then I was supposed to drive to LA that night for a charity race in the morning,’s Trishredathon (snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing). When I got back to the van from the passport office, it wouldn’t start. I called my emergency roadside service provider but there was a long wait time, so I stood by the van holding a pair of jumper cables.

Many cars saw me, made eye contact, and then drove on. These were primarily white people, which wasn’t something I really paid any attention to until two Mexican guys in a pickup truck passed me, stopped, reversed, and asked if I needed some help. We popped our hoods, attached the cables, and the van came back to life. I shook their hands and thanked them, they said they were happy to help, and they drove off.

Not wanting to waste any time, I jumped back in the van and started to head directly to my trusted mechanic, Erik, at Precision Motors in Oakland. Google said it was only 15 minutes away. Unfortunately, five minutes was all the van could give me before it completely shut off in the middle of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way — a busy, three-lane street — just before a freeway entrance. It was 4pm on a Friday. Cars were honking. I managed to make it to the far-right lane, but it was clear that my alternator wasn’t getting power to my battery, so even my hazard lights were dimming. I stood behind the van and tried to wave people around me, holding the jumper cables again, and again calling for roadside assistance.

After a few minutes, a man driving a small Toyota Matrix pulled up and asked me if I wanted a jump. I said, sure, if he thought it was possible. He pulled his car in front of mine, but there was no way to get our two batteries close enough. So, we put my van in neutral, and together we managed to push the five-ton Beast 50 feet back until it was lined up with a driveway, which he was able to reverse into. We attached the cables, and we waited for my battery to charge we started talking.

His name is Ismail and he came from Afghanistan. He has been living in California for more than 20 years. He’s married, he has four kids, and he is a devout Muslim. While we were waiting there another Muslim man, this one from Eritrea, walked up and decided to offer his opinion about what might be wrong with the van. He waited around until the van started and stayed running and then he bid us a nice night. Ismail, however, insisted that he follow me all the way to the mechanic, just to make sure I got there safely.

Our tiny caravan took off, and again, after about five minutes the van limped to a dead stop in the middle of MLK, in an even worse position than the last time. Ismail again, pulled up along-side me, and we began coupling the batteries again.

A horn started blaring behind me. It was a young white man in his mid-to-late twenties. He shouted, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” and gave me the finger. Baffled, I gestured to my popped hood and he sped into the intersection as the light turned red, nearly hitting someone making a turn. In the car directly behind him there was a young Middle-Eastern couple. I said I was really sorry for blocking them. The woman, wearing a hijab, gave me a sympathetic look and told me not to worry. The man smiled, gave me a thumbs up, and said “Good luck!”

I know this is starting to sound like a made-up liberal fable, but I swear to you on everything I have ever loved that this is 100-percent true.

I thanked Ismail again, for the tenth time, which only seemed to embarrass him. He said, “Look at it this way: I should be grateful to you, because you gave me an opportunity to help somebody.” I was so overwhelmed by this that my throat started to tighten.

Another start, another five minutes of driving, and another breakdown. This time I managed to coast into a parking lot on 29th Street in Oakland. We were only half a mile from my mechanic, but by now it was after five, and my calls were going to voicemail. I thanked Ismail again, and said that the van would be safe there until Monday, and that I would be able to jump it later. I didn’t want to take any more of his time.

“Listen,” he said. “It is part of my religion. God commands that we help each other when we can. I can’t always help people with money or anything, but it’s a Friday afternoon, I’m finished with work, and so I have plenty of time. Let’s drive to your mechanic and see if they’re still open.”

I hopped into his car. As we drove he pointed out a mosque that he used to attend. I asked him if he was worried about what is happening in the country, especially with sentiments and policies around foreigners and immigration. He said “Well, worrying never does any good, and besides, God protects us,” but then he reconsidered. “It’s like if you were going to a national park, and there are a few bears in there. I could be eaten by a bear, and that’s okay. I’d be dead, I don’t mind. But my kids… I worry that something could happen to them, and that I wouldn’t be able to protect them.”

My mechanic (also an immigrant, incidentally, but from Switzerland) was still there and said he would wait for me. Ismail and I drove back and jumped the van one last time. This time it made it all the way into the mechanic’s bay. I ran back out to thank him again. I gave him my information and asked him to please be in touch. He wanted to know how I was getting home and he said he wanted to wait so he could drive me. It took me a solid two minutes to talk him out of it. I promised him I would be okay and I thanked him over and over. We shook hands and finally said goodbye.


In my time of need, the only people who stopped and helped me were the very people that our new administration seeks to keep out of the country. A pair of Mexicans and a Muslim from a “terror-prone” country. Without them I might have been stranded for hours, liable for who-knows-how-much in towing fees, and in real danger being hit by another car. They really rescued me today. Ismail, especially, put himself and his car in harm’s way to help a complete and total stranger. A white man in a white van. It didn’t matter who I was; he just saw that I was another person that needed help. I can’t help but think: Isn’t that the exact kind of behavior that we want to encourage? Isn’t that what we want to teach our kids? Isn’t that what the platonic ideal of a U.S. Citizen does? For the Christians out there, isn’t that what Jesus would do?

This project, Connected States, was designed to be apolitical. It was built on the premise that we have more similarities than differences, but that we’ve gotten too caught up in our political division to see it. Politicians certainly helped to seed the divide, the media exaggerated it, social media amplified it, and before we knew it we were doing it to ourselves, too. Dividing ourselves into camps. Preparing for war. Good vs Evil. Sane vs Out-of-Touch. Real Americans vs Fake.

I didn’t think that those differences were as stark as we as a country had been led to believe, and I set out to prove it with this project. When I met strangers in restaurants or bars or trains I very deliberately didn’t bring up politics. I would ask about their lives and their families. What were their favorite places they’d ever been, and to where did they most want to go? I asked for food recommendations and for tips on local beers, sights, bands, parks, and campgrounds. There were always a lot of laughs, and I found that if I was friendly and genuine and asked the right questions, people would open up no matter which state I was in, or whether I was in a big city or a minuscule town.

One of the few times I talked politics with strangers it instantly backfired. It was a good experiment, and it supported my hypothesis. I’d just pulled into Nashville, TN and had accidentally landed at a dive in the middle of nowhere called Santa’s Pub. It was a karaoke bar inside a trailer way out near the fairgrounds. I figured this couldn’t be where “it” was happening, so I decided to have a beer while I figured out where I actually wanted to go, but within just a few minutes a stranger came up to me because she liked my T-shirt (“I Hella Heart Oakland”), and she dragged me over to her table to meet her husband and their friends.

They were two married couples from Nebraska, just in for the weekend as a mini-vacation away from their kids and jobs. We spent the next two hours buying each other beers and laughing until our cheeks hurt. And then I started explaining the trip and how I was purposely not talking politics. They all thought it was a great idea. And then one of the guys couldn’t help himself and asked, “But just out of curiosity, which way do you vote?” I hesitated, but we were having an honest conversation, and besides, I wanted to see what would happen, so I cautiously admitted that I lean left. “Ah, that’s funny,” he said. “I guess we kind of lean right.”

And nothing was the same again. We remained civil. We pretended it wasn’t a big deal. But we only talked for another ten minutes or so, and the color of the conversation had changed. I could see them leaning back a bit more, looking at me through more skeptical eyes, and I realized that I was doing the same in return. Burgeoning friendship: ruptured. And for what reason? We were the same people we’d been for the last two hours of laughter and camaraderie, but now we viewed each other through different lenses.

All that is to say that I was convinced that for the majority of us this perceived great divide between us was imaginary. It was what we projected onto each other. And to some extent, I think there is still a lot of truth in that, but I realize now that I was naïve in allowing myself to believe I was seeing the whole picture.

* * * * *

Well, now that I’ve broken my own rule, I might as well break it all the way. I would like to talk to you, Trump voters, if any of you are still reading this. I offer my hand. I come in peace, truly.

I think I get it, why so many of you chose Trump. I think you felt ignored by our government, and I think you viewed Clinton as the status quo, which hadn’t been working for you, and you couldn’t imagine being swept under the rug by the system for another four years. Trump promised to change things, and I think desperation persuaded you to believe him. I don't believe that excuses voting for him, because so many of his stated intentions were always so fundamentally un-American and unconstitutional that any one of them should have been an automatic deal-breaker, but I think I understand, at least.

But here’s the thing: I get that you think our political system is broken. It is. I get that you see the growing gap between rich folks and poor folks and you feel like it’s impossible to get a leg up. The great majority of Americans agree. But what I don’t get is how you could believe that Donald J. Trump is the person to fix these problems.

Do you remember how you called Obama an elitist because he liked arugula lettuce and Dijon mustard? Well, you just elected a man who literally lives in a golden tower, who prides himself on not just being elite, but on being the most elite. This is the man you elected to take care of the working class. A man who put himself in that golden tower by exploiting the very workers he says he’s going to help. I’m sorry, but personally, I think you’ve been tricked by a legendarily shady conman. I think he took advantage of your desperation, and I think he exploited you to get into power. I promise I would love to be wrong, and only time will tell, but in the meantime, we as a nation, as a group of citizens, as Americans, need to come together if we’re going to try to make our country truly great.

The problem (or, one of the problems) is that we’re still caught up with who won the election, specifically whether it was “our” team or “theirs,” and that is counterproductive for all of us. You know how when you’re watching a basketball/football/hockey game and your team commits a foul, you kind of pretend that it didn’t happen or that the refs were being picky? Well, when politics become a team sport we turn a blind eye to the truth in just the same way. We decide that something isn’t true because we don’t want it to be true. Because it doesn’t line up with our side’s world view, or with our desires.

But that’s not how truth works. The truth is that while it seems that we are divided into two teams, in reality we are just one big group of people: Americans. Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and Libertarians alike should want to know about Trump’s finances and his conflicts of interest, not because it aids one team’s argument over another, but because it’s in the best interest of every single individual to make sure the government isn’t screwing them over. And the same holds true for the way we must protect our so-called American Values. Well how about this for one of our most-American values?

The poem on our Statue of Liberty reads:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Those words, written by Emma Lazarus in 1883, are the United States at its greatest, at its strongest. It says we are unafraid. We are brave enough to have an open door. So, tell me, how does that jive with banning the families of the men who helped me last week?

When you see your government acting against the very things your country stands for, it’s your responsibility to do something about it, regardless of whether or not you voted for that particular administration. I hear so many say they voted for Trump purely over economic reasons. Personally, I think his ideas are bad for the economy, but time will tell, so let’s focus on right now. I say that you, as someone who voted for this administration, have a greater responsibility to hold it accountable. It doesn’t matter if that means you find yourself in agreement with “the other side,” because if you see your government doing something that you know is wrong, it’s up to you to say something. As Trump’s constituents, your voice matters more. You have more power than the liberals who voted against him. It’s in his (and the others who were voted in) interest to keep you happy. And I know that many of you aren’t happy with some of his decisions already, because I’ve talked to a number of you who voted in hopes that he would help the economy, but disagree with a lot of the other things he’s doing.

And so when the administration attempts to ban Muslim immigrants and refugees from seven of the most desperate, war-torn countries, I want you to let them know that that’s not what you want, or why you voted for them. When they plan to spend countless billions of dollars on a wall that is nothing more than a symbolic gesture, I want you to tell them that’s not why you put them in office. When the president attempts to appoint a billionaire with no experience as the Secretary of Education, or a White Nationalist political advisor to the National Security Council in a role typically reserved for generals, you should be every bit as outraged as the liberals, because these foolish choices impact you every bit as much. When he puts a gag-order on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) you are just as at risk as Democrats. We all breathe the same air and drink the same water.

* * * * *

I’ve harped on this point a lot in these stories I’ve been telling from the road, but I’m going to repeat it because this truth keeps revealing itself to me over and over again: Our commonalities outweigh our differences by a massive margin. It doesn’t matter whether I’m talking to a white born-again Christian at an evangelical church in Texas or a brown Muslim at a Bangladeshi wedding in Michigan. We all want prosperity and opportunity. We want health and safety for our kids. We all want the United States to be great, to be a beacon, and to light the way for the rest of the world in freedom, in justice, and in the way we treat our people.

If we are going to achieve that we need to come together and look out not just for our own, but for each other as well. That was the lesson I saw so clearly again the other day, when strangers went out of their way to help me, a person who looked and talked differently from them. A person who, for all they knew, may have voted to keep their families out of the country. They put humanity first, and that is America at its greatest.

* * * * *

Ismail and I, the first of three times he jumped my van. Oakland, CA. Friday, February 10, 2017.

Ismail and I, the first of three times he jumped my van. Oakland, CA. Friday, February 10, 2017.

I honestly didn't think I'd ever hear from Ismail again, even though I'd given him my card and begged him to get in touch. He seemed so genuinely embarrassed with my gratitude that I thought he wouldn't write out of fear of me thanking him some more. Luckily, that wasn't the case. Well, he admitted to being embarrassed, but he reiterated how happy he was to help and he only wished I would have let him do more. It was a short, sweet note and I hope it's the beginning of a long friendship.

So now I've finally got all that off my chest, and I hope that will release the blockage of updates. Thank you for indulging me. In my next entry I'll resume talking about adventure, vans, and life on the road. In other words, now back to our regularly scheduled programming. 

Brent Rose
2.16.17 in Los Angeles, CA

UPDATE: 3.5.17

I expected, and was looking forward to, some feedback from this post, and I knew not all of it would be positive. And it wasn't. Which is alright. But then a good friend — a Muslim woman, as it would happen — reached out and said, "...your last piece, while I know it came from a very good place, was trafficking in a lot of problematic tropes and affected me in a way that I'm not sure you would understand. But as your friend, I want to help you understand. Can we set up a time to talk soon?" Of course I wanted to hear what she had to say, and upon hearing her out I felt compelled to write this update.

My friend's concern was that, primarily owing to the headline of this piece, it could seem that I'm implying "these guys should be able to stay because they are good people." That the reason that they should be allowed in the country is because they might prove to be useful. My friend knew that that wasn't what was in my heart, or what I meant, but I think her point is well-made. So let me just state this unequivocally: Their being allowed to stay in the U.S. is not an issue of "goodness," but of human rights. 

Further, she pointed me to a recent article entitled "Muslims Shouldn’t Have To Be 'Good' To Be Granted Human Rights" which was a great read and which makes the point far better than I can. I suggest you give it a read.

Going forward, I'm going to strive to do a better job with the way I present things, but I think the moral of the story is that, as a white person writing about issues that concern minorities, the best thing you can do is listen. 

Onward and upward.


Where Does This Road End?

Today I’m going to talk about the dark side of #Vanlife. It’s easy to look though the lens of social media and see an idealized version of what this adventure really is. And I’m complicit in that. Most of us vanlifers are. We tell our stories through rose-colored Instagram filters. Well I’m going to try and set that aside for today.

Every time the 15th of the month rolls around I stop and reflect a bit. It usually begins with “I can’t believe it’s been X months…”. It really feels like I’ve just started. And maybe I have.

I originally said this would be “a year-long road-trip,” but here I am more than three quarters of the way through, and it doesn’t feel like I’m going to be ready to stop in a couple months. Of course, a lot can happen in 60 days, but that’s how it feels right now. There’s so much I haven’t seen, and there’s so much I want to see again. Places to re-experience. People to hug once more. Burritos to re-consume.

It probably helps that the trip keeps getting broken up by side adventures. I’ll be in the middle of the country then suddenly I have to fly to LA for a meeting, or San Francisco to shoot a video, or Colorado for a work trip. Each time I get to reconnect with good friends and/or meet new people. It breaks up the loneliness of the road. And there’s a good dose of that. But it is a good dose. It feels healthy. It feels right. Mostly. It gives me a chance to check in with myself. Where I’m at on this trip, in my career, in my life.

I continue to struggle to find the balancing point between work and play. This has been a life-long struggle, but on the road it’s amplified. I have constant, easy access to novelty and adventure. All I have to do is step out of the van and start saying YES to things, and I’ll be challenged, invigorated, stimulated, scared. Knowing that’s always on the other side of the door, it’s hard to stay inside with the blinds drawn and stare into my laptop. But that’s part of the mission, too. I’m not on vacation. I’m out here to share the journey. So here we are at last.

[Big Bend National Park, Texas]

[Big Bend National Park, Texas]

And what to say. I could do the traditional travelogue format, but it’s been too long since my last update, and I’d have too much ground to cover. Since my last update it’s been Marfa (TX), to Big Bend National Park, then New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Grand Canyon, Atlanta, Asheville, Raleigh, Miami, Sebastian Inlet, Jekyll Island, Savannah, Charleston, Wilmington, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington DC. Perhaps it’s best to save that for the eventual book.

Instead, I think I’ll talk about the hard things. Because to only show you pretty pictures and fun stories would be disingenuous. The simple fact remains: Even when your vehicle is a pimped-out van with so many creature comforts, life on the road takes it out of you.

You get tired of hitting your head on things. If I shaved off all my hair I’m certain that my scalp would be a topographical map of scars. You get tired of scrambling to clean up every little splash of water, because if mildew starts to form behind a panel your home will become a petri dish for mold, allergens, and stank. You get tired of cabinets inexplicably popping open while you’re on the highway, or finding out when you hit the brakes that there was that one goddamned thing you forgot to put away, and now it’s smashed on the floor.

You’ve always been a summer person, but #vanlife is undeniably more comfortable in cooler weather. You may not like bundling up or putting on the noisy propane furnace, but you have those options. In the sauna-like heat and humidity of the southeast there’s nothing you can do on days when you need to stay in and work. Unless you’re at a paid campsite with electric hookups, you’re not going to turn on your AC. It would kill your battery in 90 seconds flat, and you running the loud, stinky generator is rarely a good option. You’re also weary of bathroom rationing; trying to use your toilet and sink as little as possible so you don’t have to empty the holding tanks as often.

And then there’s parking. Downtown—any downtown—is pretty much a nightmare. At roughly nine and a half feet tall, there are almost no covered garages you fit into, and most metered parking spaces aren’t 21 feet long. But worse is trying to find that spot to overnight.

Some Walmart. Some where.

Some Walmart. Some where.

I wish now that I kept better notes, but I would estimate that I’ve spent the night in roughly 40 different Walmart parking lots across the country since this trip began. But then you get to a very unfriendly city toward vans, like Washington DC, and even the Walmarts don’t allow overnighting, and what do you do? You find some quiet-ish residential neighborhood, you try to wait until after 10pm to park. You pull up the shades quickly, you keep your internal lights down low. You try not to make any noise. If you listen to music, you use headphones. If you talk on the phone, you use hushed tones, and suddenly you realize, “What the hell, man! This is my home! Why am I tiptoeing around my own home like some fucking burglar?”

Except you know that if someone calls the cops on you, the police will come knocking, and they’ll tell you to move, or give you a ticket, or who knows? It’s only happened to me once (in Santa Monica, CA), and though the cop was friendly enough I’ve never felt the same in the van. I’ve never slept quite as soundly. Every voice I hear outside wakes me up or puts me on guard. Every car that parks behind me and leave the engine running for a little while before they turn the car off has me sitting up, listening. I’m always waiting for that knock.

And realistically, spending weeks on end without seeing a familiar face begins to take a toll. You start feeling like a weird drifter. You start getting more agitated when someone doesn’t write or call you back. It becomes more personal. The pangs and longings—for past lovers, for friends, for family—all become more acute. More concentrated. It’s all trapped between the steel walls you live in and it gets reflected back at you. That’s when you start to wonder what the hell you’re doing. Where does it stop? How does it end? What’s next?

And yet these experiences are the things I wouldn’t trade for the world. All of them. The soaring highs and the soul-crushing lows. They aren’t just a byproduct of the experience that I came for, they are the experience I came for. When it’s all over, and I still don’t know when that will be, these are the things that on which I’ll look back and reflect. These are the things I’ll grow from. Be it staying up all night on the beach talking to wondrous strangers or finding myself alone in my van, in a parking lot, and suddenly realizing I’m on the verge of tears over seemingly nothing. It’s the same shit that everyone deals with in life, it’s just a concentrated version.

I started this entry at the eight month mark of the journey. Then I ran away from it. Then I picked it up again at the 9 month mark, then put it down again. The same thing happened at 10. So I’m sorry it’s been so long between updates. This will be going live just one week shy of the 11 month park. Some of the delay was because I finally managed to get my Cuba/Kayak story published. Some of it was because I shot a whole second season of the videos series I’ve been doing for WIRED. Here are a couple of those episodes.

Crashing NASA's Astronaut Training

Seeing how virtual reality porn is made:

But the big reason it took me so long is that I didn’t know how to process THIS—these feelings, and the larger emotional arc of the journey—in realtime. I guess I needed to take a little time to myself and just feel it. And then recover a bit from feeling it. And then repeat that whole process ad nauseum until I couldn’t take it anymore and had to say something about it. So I guess that’s where I’m at, because here this is.

We may be early into June, but it’s already a manic-feeling month. I said yes to a last-minute assignment to cover the Summer X-Games in Austin. Then I fly back to the van for two days, then off to Colorado for the GoPro Mountain Games. Then the van for a week or so and back to the Bay Area and LA to shoot some video. Back to the van, and then a wedding in early July back in the Bay Area. Meanwhile I’m hovering around Virginia and trying to make my way north. I want to hit Maine in July, if I can, and be back in Boston for my baby brother’s wedding in early August.

After that? I don’t know. I’ll probably start making my way back west. I want to see Michigan again, and Montana. I miss the west. I’d like to hit Burning Man this year (though I wouldn’t take the van; it would never be the same). But all that is past July 15th, which means I’m definitely extending this thing past the one-year mark I’d originally set for myself. How far past it I’ll go, I honestly have no idea, but I’m looking forward to finding out, with you.

As always, thank you for reading. If you’ve stuck around this far, you deserve some pretty pictures, so see below.


June 7th, 2016
Washington DC