In a couple weeks I might laugh at this column. Or, I’ll have even more conviction by then.
I’m setting off on a 10-day mountain biking vacation. The plan is to load up the truck with bikes, a cooler, a sleeping bag and a Dutch oven and head to the hills. I want to wake up every morning and sit on my tailgate drinking coffee and figuring out what trail we want to ride that day. Then I want to go pedaling up and down hills until it’s time to eat and drink beer. Repeat.
Clearly this isn’t everyone’s version of a vacation. And, to be honest, I’m not sure it’s my idea of vacation either.
Lately I’ve been thinking this might be more along the lines of a life I’d be happy living.
Is this my own version of #vanlife, or tiny homes? It’s true that I’ve felt susceptible to the ideals embodied by those trends. I like the idea of having fewer financial burdens, which would give me more control over my income. I’d also like to have less stuff. Sometimes I look around and think, while I like most of this — furniture, houseplants, art on the walls, etc. — it’s a lot to manage. What if I wanted to pick up and move tomorrow? There would be this array of things somehow attached to me that I’d need to figure out. It sounds exhausting, and kind of pointless.
On the flip side, I love spending time outdoors. I don’t mind all of the “stuff” out there — the trees, mountains, animals, bodies of water. Sometimes I mind the other humans, but there is usually plenty of room.
When I think about the setup for my ideal life, the space I fit into is small and compact but my access and opportunity is expansive. I crave a sense of peace and connection that, somehow, I don’t get from my phone pinging me every other minute. The straightforwardness of having fewer Google calendar invites or utility bills and more time to take in the world around me is heart-wrenchingly appealing. For me, this could mean living out of a van or a small trailer, doing a long-term bike packing trip or, sure, buying a tiny or at least smaller home.
The common theme is less stuff to manage, meaning more time spent outside, with people and on projects I truly care about. And maybe more time to just fully experience these things in a way that doesn’t feel bound by an alarm ready to go off.
Still, it’s hard to parse out what is my actual desired future and what is a daydream. My stepmom used to tell me that when you break off a relationship, all of a sudden the things that were terribly lacking go to the top of the list for your next partner. Is that the same here?
Is this escape fantasy somehow related to the world feeling upside-down and on fire, and the frenzied pace of a 24/7 life hooked up to the Internet?
But is it crazy to think that as a living, breathing human, perhaps the conditions that allow me to be at my best are not the world in which we currently live? When I think ahead to when I’m 90 and looking back on my life, I don’t think I’ll care whether I had a bigger house or that I succeeded in paying last month’s auto payment. Both of those things should add up to a good life, and neither should detract. At its heart, for me, life is both about fulfillment while also trying to make the world better.
I imagine I might be more fulfilled and more effective with less static. As a 90-year-old, I think I wouldn’t mind having spent more of my life outside, connecting with people or giving back to the world. I could see myself having regrets if I realized that I spent a third of my waking hours gazing into a laptop.
This brings me back to this idea of living smaller, in a way that is deeply connected to being outside.
I’ll get a real-life dose of it this coming week. I predict that if it’s nice weather and good biking, this idea will live on.
But if it rains, who knows. I may trash this vision and keep the stuff.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.