Tag Archives: career break

Sharing a Story: Life on the Road

This post is part of the “Sharing a Story” series where I use a picture to reflect on our year on the road.  Click on the “sharing a story” tag at the bottom of the post to see more of the series.

Seeing our sandwiches in a boots box reminds me of life on the road more than any other picture.  A road trip is filled with beautiful sunsets, starry skies, and breath taking vistas.  In between, you are spilling crumbs on your car seat cushions as you try to pull together a sandwich without getting out of the car because there is a downpour outside.

We developed this boot box storage system in the 2nd half of our journey.  From the passenger’s seat you could barely access the fridge and barely access the non-perishable rubbermaid food box.  After near shoulder dislocation, we stored some snacks and non-perishable lunch fixings in the boots box and had it rest on top of fridge for convenient access.

Having easy to reach snacks on hand saved us from what Brad and Sheena have termed “Hanger”.  This is the special kind of angry that arises when someone (usually a woman) has low blood sugar.  When hanger surfaces in the middle of driving when there are no restaurants for miles and no nice picnic options, a boots box full of nuts, chips, and raisins is a life saver.

Whenever possible, the boots box became a lunch box for transporting our sandwiches to a picnic table overlooking a lake or valley.  Just as often though, we sat in the car, eating silently as we restored perspective through sugar and protein.

Recently Jay met me at my work and we headed outside for a picnic lunch.  He had made sandwiches and brought out the plastic cups for juice.  It felt like a moment of normalcy in an otherwise surreal couple of months.  Maybe if we pull together a picnic lunch and take it out on the lawn in a boots box, we’ll be able to eat peacefully, gather our thoughts, and be ready for where the road is taking us.

Working for AmeriCorps Youth in Action

As of today I have spent two months in my new job as Program Coordinator for the AmeriCorps Youth in Action Program at Northern Arizona University.  On the road I occasionally missed work.  I know that sounds like heresy, but it’s true.  I missed the opportunity to work on a project or program with other people in order to make a difference in people’s lives.  Working in a community garden or preparing meals at SAME Cafe, Jay and I made a direct impact and it felt awesome.  Serving meals to people who are hungry is important and meaningful work.  That said, when you have the opportunity to look at the whole picture and reduce the line at the door, that is truly meaningful.  I missed that.  I missed getting around a table with other people who wanted to create lasting change and figure out creative solutions to social problems.  

In my current position I lead a team who coordinates approximately 60 AmeriCorps members, serving at 28 different organizations in Coconino County.  By designing training for our members, providing them with support to be successful at their sites, and by improving our systems to improve the experience of members in our program, I hope to have a lasting impact on the community.  Our AmeriCorps members are doing a variety of different jobs, from thinning the forest to reduce the threat of fire to educating children about the environment.  The work that they do on a daily basis has far reaching effects and the potential for lasting change.  It is my job to help them be successful.  When I hear a site representative talk about how much they have accomplished thanks to the AmeriCorps member, I am so happy to be back at work.

This week we brought eight new AmeriCorps members on board.  To officially become a member they recited the AmeriCorps pledge.  As AmeriCorps alum, I felt renewed purpose in my work as I listened to the chorus of optimistic young people taking this pledge together:

I will get things done for America –
to make our people safer,
smarter, and healthier.

I will bring Americans together 
to strengthen our communities.

Faced with apathy, 
I will take action.

Faced with conflict, 
I will seek common ground.

Faced with adversity, 
I will persevere.

I will carry this commitment 
with me this year and beyond.

I am an AmeriCorps member, 
and I will get things done.

A Year on the Road: By the Numbers

Lake at Oak Mountain State Park

Lake near our campsite at Oak Mountain State Park in Birmingham Alabama

Hours volunteered: 550 hours, an average of 10 hours per week

Shoes covered in Black Prairie Soil

Jay’s Shoes Covered in Black Prairie Soil at Community Garden

Organizations We Volunteered for: 

  1. Byrd Elementary School, Richmond, VA
  2. Plano Community Garden, Plano, TX
  3. Garden of Tomorrow, Phoenix, AZ
  4. The Wellness Community, Phoenix, AZ
  5. Flagstaff Cultural Partners, Flagstaff, AZ
  6. Grapevine Mesa Joshua Tree National Natural Landmark, Meadview, AZ
  7. National Association of Volunteer Programs in Local Government
  8. Sparked.com
  9. Scottsdale League for the Arts, Scottsdale, AZ
  10. Vilonia Fire Department, Vilonia, AR
  11. Disaster Response, Phil Campbell, AL
  12. Salvation Army, Guntersville, AL
  13. North Country Trails Association, Allegheny National Forest Chapter, PA
  14. Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation, Hungry Horse, MT
  15. Muskoka Foundation and Napi Friendship Association, Pincher Creek, AB
  16. Banff National Park, Banff, AB
  17. Materials for the Arts, Astoria, NY
  18. Meadowood Recreation Area, BLM, Fairfax, VA
  19. Ronald McDonald House, Falls Church, VA
  20. Prescott Mountain Bike Alliance, Prescott, AZ
  21. Grand Canyon National Park, employee bike sharing project, AZ
  22. Capitol Reef National Park, UT
  23. Grand Canyon Trust, Kane Ranch and Utah
  24. Muskoka Foundation & Chinle Junior High School, Chinle, AZ
  25. Wabi Sabi Thrift Store, Moab, UT
  26. SAME Cafe, Denver, CO
  27. Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO
  28. COPMOBA – Fruita and Montrose, CO
  29. Grand Canyon National Park Vegetation Program, AZ
  30. Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona, Phoenix, AZ
  31. Phoenix Mountain Preserve, Phoenix, AZ
  32. Fresh Start Foundation, Phoenix, AZ
  33. Arizona Trail Association, Patagonia, AZ
  34. Trips for Kids, Tucson, AZ
  35. United Way, Valley of the Sun – Project Connect, Phoenix, AZ
  36. StartingBloc, Los Angeles, CA
sharon and jay at the red balloon picnic

Jay and Sharon at the Red Balloon Picnic volunteer project with Phoenix Philanthropists

States & Provinces: 3 Provinces and 32 States, and the District of Columbus (note, we traveled through New Jersey and Delaware, but didn’t stop.  Every other state we actually stayed in for at least one night).

administration building, Banff National Park

Administration building at Banff National Park where the event was held

In the order in which “they appeared”.

  1. Virginia
  2. North Carolina
  3. South Carolina
  4. Georgia
  5. Alabama
  6. Mississippi
  7. Louisiana
  8. Texas
  9. New Mexico
  10. Arizona
  11. California
  12. Nevada
  13. Oklahoma
  14. Arkansas
  15. Tennessee
  16. Maryland
  17. West Virginia
  18. Pennsylvania
  19. New York
  20. Ontario
  21. Michigan
  22. Wisconsin
  23. Minnesota
  24. North Dakota
  25. Montana
  26. British Columbia
  27. Alberta
  28. Washington
  29. Delaware
  30. New Jersey
  31. Washington, DC
  32. Washington
  33. Oregon
  34. Idaho
  35. Utah
  36. Colorado
view of Coke Ovens colorado national monument

view of Coke Ovens, Colorado National Monument

Miles on the car: approximately 20,000

flooded road in Arkansas

the view out the windshield of the flooded road we drove through

Top Posts (most views):

  1. The Accident: Service Driven is on Hold
  2. We are Alabama: Tornado Relief and Recovery
  3. Photo Review: Overland Expo 2011
  4. Photo Review: Dismals Canyon National Natural Landmark
  5. At Your Request: Our Engagement Story
  6. Photo Review: Wedding #1
  7. 25 Years of Life Saved – Celebrating My Sister’s Survival
  8. 18th Week in Review: The Big Announcement
  9. Wolverine Clarification
  10. 6 Questions That Can Make a Stranger Your New BFF
dismals canyon

Dismals Canyon, a National Natural Landmark near Phil Campbell

Top Posts (most comments):

Jay and I at his brother’s wedding last year

Budget: Well, this one is hard to figure.  We have money left in the account that we had set aside for this trip, but we also spent more than we expected to spend due to Jay’s accident (which came to about $6,000) and our car repairs ($2,000).  In the end we were able to make a little money along the road and were given gift cards which helped offset our costs.
crab cakes and bacon breakfast

crab cakes and bacon breakfast

We tried to track our spending along the way, but we weren’t consistent.  We generally stayed pretty close to our goal of spending less than $2,000 a month.
Of what we recorded, mostly things with receipts, it broke down to:
  • Food: 37%   –  >$6,500
  • Automotive (mostly gas and parts): 29%   –  >$5,200
  • Health care: 14%   –  > $2,500 (this is regular medical, doesn’t include all of Jay’s emergency expenses)
  • Household (mostly consumables): 7%    –  >$1,300
  • Personal (clothing, bike parts, etc): 6%   –  > $1,100
  • Entertainment (fees to parks and museums): 3%   –  > $600
  • Other: 4%   – > $700

We toasted this new milestone with tequila shots as the sun set

Nights under the stars: 113, most of those nights were spent in our 3 person Marmot Aeros tent in free campsites on federal land

Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, Idaho

Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, Idaho

National Parks & Monuments Visited: 

We also visited a lot of state, city, and regional parks and camped on Forest Service and BLM lands.

  1. Congaree National Park, Hopkins, SC
  2. White Sands National Monument, Alamogordo, NM
  3. Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, Gran Quivira, NM
  4. Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs, AR
  5. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND
  6. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
  7. Natural Bridges National Monument, UT
  8. Arches National Park, UT
  9. Canyonlands National Park, UT
  10. Zion National Park, UT
  11. Capitol Reef National Park, UT
  12. Lake Mead National Recreation Area, AZ & NV
  13. Death Valley National Park, NV
  14. Great Basin National Park, NV
  15. Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, AZ
  16. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, AZ
  17. Canyon De Chelly National Monument, AZ
  18. Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
  19. Juan Baptista de Anza National Historic Trail, AZ
  20. Saguaro National Park, AZ
  21. Joshua Tree National Park, CA
  22. Tumacacori National Historic Park, AZ
  23. Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, ID
  24. Oregon National Historic Trail, OR & ID
  25. Colorado National Monument, CO
  26. Banff National Park, AB
  27. Jasper National Park, AB
  28. Waterton Lakes National Park, AB
  29. Yoho National Park, BC
  30. Glacier National Park, BC
  31. Mount Revelstoke National Park, BC
Jay looking at Island in the Sky, Canyonlands

Jay looking out on the Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands 

Breweries Visited: 60 different breweries in Alberta, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington

Jay at Brewery in Atlanta

Jay at Brewery in Atlanta, GA

Going Back to Work After a Career Break

Sharon volunteering at Fresh Start Treasures

An earlier picture of me that looks similar to how I will look today headed to my first day on the job.

On the bad moments on the road, Jay and I would say that instead of feeling like we were on the adventure of our lifetimes, we just felt homeless and unemployed.  Well, this week, in only one week we went from a life on the road with vague ideas of where we would be the following month, to sleeping in our own bedroom and getting dressed in blazer and nice shoes for a day at the office.  The fears associated with being homeless and unemployed are gone.  They have been replaced by new anxieties about the world of work and living in community.

So now, on most days I feel incredibly lucky and fortunate for my new life.  I can’t wait to get involved in the community; make a commitment that lasts longer than a week.  I’m looking forward to baking and cooking in a real kitchen.  With all the time I’ll save in not having to plan where our next campsite or volunteer opportunity will be, I can read and write and volunteer.  At work, I’m excited to see how I may be able to fit into the team and really make a difference.

And in the down moments of stable life I worry about the new job not meeting my expectations, or that I will not meet their expectations as a team member.  I worry about gaining weight again as I go back to sitting for long periods everyday.  And I know that I will miss all of the time I used to have with Jay.  For a year we were almost always within speaking distance of one another and now we will be doing separate things in separate places.  I mourn the loss of freedom that comes with the open road.  The freedom to change course midstream and follow good weather and opportunity.

Time to get ready to go to work, thanks for all the warm wishes as we go through this transition.

A Year on the Road: and it’s over…

Pulling out of the driveway of our old house

One year ago we were cramming everything we thought we needed into our Rav4 and pulling out of the driveway to start our new life.  Today we are cramming everything we think we need into our Rav4 and driving to our new semi stable housing in Flagstaff, Arizona.  In 2008 we left our home in Flagstaff to moved across the country to northern Virginia.  I drove one car with my mom and our cat.  We made the drive in four days.  Jay followed in the second car with his brother for a week long road trip.  So we basically just made our way back, but this time it took us a year.  If I have learned anything this year, it is that some places have the power to pull you back or to keep you there.


unpacking at our new home

Tomorrow I start a full time job.  What’s so special about this job?  It is with an organization I already know, doing meaningful work that I am good at, and I will be working for someone I know and respect.  If I have learned anything this year, it is that finding both a place to live that suits you as well as meaningful work that pays the bills is very difficult.  When I got such a job offer in Flagstaff, I had to take it seriously.

So what’s next?  Well, we say semi-stable housing, because this job is a temporary position.  The position ends at the end of June at which time we hope to be chosen as the next IMBA Trail Care Crew.  As an IMBA Trail Care Crew we would go back to a life on the road for two years, traveling, biking, volunteering, and blogging.  For the next 6 months we’ll be in one place, biking, volunteering, visiting local breweries, and taking photographs.  Should we keep up this blog?  Should we start a different blog?  Should we change the approach to what we write about here?  Please let us know what you think in the comments.

Product of the Week:

Video of the Week:

This video, produced by Nina Tisara shows the new wedding venue that I picked out while I was in Virginia.

Next week we’ll do some total numbers and summary from our year on the road, but for now here are the regular weekly stats:

Hours volunteered:  Sharon volunteered as a Starting Bloc mentor (4 hours)

States: 3 – Arizona, Virginia (Sharon), and Colorado (Jay)

Budget: over

People Visited: Cindi and Morgan Holt, Nate, Nicole, & Laya Holt,

Jay: Pat & Cindy Kennedy, Steve Hendrickson

Sharon:  Melinda Bloom and John Tewksbury, Kelly Pugh, Terri Defazio & Phil Jordan, Dan Bloom, Steve Bloom, Hadyn & Soren Kihm, Stephanie & Natalia Kihm, Anne Bloom, Madelon Bloom & Chris Kihm, Mariel Tewksbury & Nathan Norton, Mariana Balgurevich, Salandra Fleming, ShaShauna Littlejohn, Marlene Mouanga, Tiffany Kudravetz, Kelly Corbally, Lisa Dorsey

Nights under the stars: 0

Best meal:  Jay: Beef tri tip made by Morgan Holt;  Sharon: Chicken Fajitas at Guapos

Best beer:  Starr Hill’s The Gift (Sharon) & Breckenridge Brewery’s Oatmeal Stout (Jay)

How To Pack for a Year Long Road Trip

We are counting down the days now until our 1 year anniversary of being on the road.  When we first left our home in Falls Church, Virginia we were cramming things in around the edges of our completely full Rav4.  For the first week we had to duck and dodge to avoid the avalanche of sh*t that would tumble out every time we opened a door.  A month in we re-evaluated the packing and were able to safely open all of the doors without fear of injury.  However, we were still stacking, restacking, and rearranging boxes on a daily basis.  I’m almost embarrased to admit that it took nine months before we had things arranged in an orderly fashion and had reduced the overall amount of junk so that we had a little visibility out the rear view mirror.  Finally, eleven months on the road and I actually like the way that things are organized.  So finally I am willing to share a few tips and this video tour of our Rav4.

Pulling out of the driveway of our old house

A few packing tips for the extra long road trip:

  • Arrange your belongings by how often you will use the item; organize items together that you will use together (i.e. kitchen box, “office”, and medicine cabinet).
  • Pack in a smaller number of larger containers (a reasonable weight and size to lift daily).  Originally we had our stuff in many many small boxes and bags, these containers just get lost in the jumble and are harder to keep organized.  Now we use crates that fill the whole space.
  • Pay attention to weight – both trying to reduce overall weight (we collapsed the rear springs on our vehicle right away) and distribute weight evenly and towards the front of the vehicle
  • Modify your vehicle to meet your storage and living needs.  When you are actually going to be living on the road you may need to modify the vehicle itself.  To see the modifications that Jay has made to our Rav4, check out this page.

And now a video tour of how we have our vehicle packed these days:

How Meet, Plan, Go Re-Inspired Our Road Trip

Earlier this month we attended the Meet, Plan, Go National Event in Denver.  It was great timing for us since we had just entered our 9th month on the road and we’re looking for inspiration on how to finish out the year to the fullest.  Meeting other long term travelers and sharing tips helped us try a few new things and got us thinking about what could lie ahead.

For example, so far in our trip we had been about reconnecting with family and friends along the way.  After the Meet, Plan, Go event, we started making new friends and staying with people we have just met.  In fact, at the event we met Wendy and Jim Pearson and they were nice enough to host us the following night at their home in Arvada, Colorado.  This was particularly generous since they were in the last month preparations of an overland journey around the world.

After talking with Alonna and Ben at the event, we finally signed up for CouchSurfing.  Later that week we got to meet a couchsurfer in Fort Collins who showed us around Odell Brewery.  We got to stay with a couchsurfer for the first time in Montrose, Colorado and it was a wonderful experience.  This has opened up a whole new network of travelers and hosts.

The speakers at the event also got us thinking about what we want to do with this experience in terms of sharing our stories.  Over the winter we are hoping to work on a book and also relaunch our website with a new design and new features.  We have been blogging for a full year now and have created over 200 blog posts, so we have a lot of content to sort through and work from.

Meet, Plan, Go is a great organization for connecting people and ideas.  It was inspiring to realize how many people are like us.  At the same time I started to see how we are different.  I no longer see our trip as a “career break”.  This experience is redefining our lives and helping us see a different way to live.  This is not a break from regular life or a break from a career path, it is a 90 degree turn and we are still discovering where it can take us.

Our plans are wide open after Thanksgiving, so if you have suggestions for where we should go next or a cool volunteer project we could work on, please let us know.

Getting an Inspiration Boost – Meet, Plan, Go National Event

tent in living room

Getting excited for our trip I set up our new home inside the living room of our old home last winter

Tomorrow evening we will be joining travelers and wannabe travelers to share tips and inspire one another at the Meet, Plan, Go National Event in Denver (the event is happening in 17 different cities).  When Jay and I were sitting in our living room in Falls Church, Virginia last winter pouring over maps and googling travel websites, I stumbled across the Briefcase to Backpack website.  Here were people like us who had done what we were discussing.  They had quit good jobs and given up homes to travel for a year or more.  Now, they were encouraging others to do the same.  Not just encouraging, but offering training and a book.  We were far enough along in our planning that we did not need their resources, but if we ever took Service Driven around the world, I would definitely want to attend one of their boot camps.

There are still spots open at many of the events, so if you have been reading this blog and thinking, “How do I do that?”, I encourage you to attend tomorrow night.  If you can not attend in person, you can follow the conversation on Twitter while it’s happening and check back on their website for more events.

Media Mention: On the Air, In Canada! Eh

One of the highlights of our trip was the time we spent in Canada this Spring and Summer, first through Ontario and then in Alberta and British Columbia.  I was a bit surprised, but excited when we were contacted by a reporter with CBC Canada for a phone interview about our trip.  Click below to see the finished piece on CBC Canada’s Homestretch with David Gray.  It turned out pretty well, they even pronounced my name right!  One small correction, Jay is my fiance, we’re not married yet, but looking forward to making it official next year!  I was also glad that the segment included an interview with the co-founder of Briefcase to Backpack, Michaela Potter, someone I would love to meet.

CLICK HERE to get to the CBC website where the show is available to listen to online.

Media Mention: Service Driven Featured on Briefcase to Backpack

This past Friday, my photo from the alpine lake we hiked to in Waterton Lakes National Park was featured as inspiration on the Briefcase to Backpack blog.  I was honored to be featured since I discovered the Briefcase to Backpack blog right before we left for our trip and have referenced it ever since.  Today we got our tickets for Briefcase to Backpack’s Meet, Plan, Go national event in Denver on October 18th and we are looking forward to meeting other seasoned travelers.