The Rocky Road to Freedom | Part Two

This is a continuation of The Rocky Road to Freedom | Part One.

I have seen a lot in my short years. Due to a lot of that I have had some personal struggles. Doctors call it one thing. Family calls it another. Society sure loves to give labels for everything that could be wrong with us.

What I craved by the start of 2015 was a new start. But I was not able to do so very smoothly. I had plans, they failed. I was in a relationship that failed. I was struggling at work. I was prescribed medication; I didn’t like them. I was planning to do one thing and it was becoming clear that wasn’t going to happen. I wanted to study mountaineering. I wanted to take off to Alaska or Argentina and learn how to climb mountains. I wanted to buy my way into the alpine world. I wanted to use my GI bill to get me the hell out of where I was and deep into the wilderness apprenticing an art I have always been infatuated with. I wanted to climb mountains. Lots of them. That hasn’t happened yet.

What happened was a slow and painful transition into living in a van. I was terrified. I come from a good family, raised by great parents. I had to have a career and mine was failing miserably. Then all of a sudden all I had on August 11, 2015 was a van. I had an ex girlfriend looking at me, a buddy there to send me off, and I was completely lost. A lot happened in my last six months in the Navy. I wasn’t ready to be on the road by myself.

At the end of my two years in Washington DC I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I had crammed boot camp, 3,000 military funerals, a marriage and a divorce all into two years. I was completely unaware of the burden of laying thousands of people in their final resting place. When I started deploying I was so angry. I could not fit in for a while. I was so used to an extremely high demanding, strict and very specific work life. It was nothing like turning wrenches on aircraft, and I was lost for a time.

When my second enlistment ended I was beyond ready for a change. I needed something and needed it quickly. I dove. But I wasn’t ready. 

Fast forward to the summer of 2016. I was working in a National Park. I had found a rhythm in life. I was bopping up and down trails, roads and riding waves from sun up to sun down. I had a huge smile on my face. I was working with some of the coolest people I have ever met. I finally met people who lived like I did and was stuck with them for five months. Those were some of the best months of my life.

What I gained from that summer would be hard to duplicate. I learned quite a bit about myself in those months. I enjoyed late nights with beers around campfires that didn’t lead to drunken brawls. I slept like a baby and rose early to surf sunrise and waited up to surf through the sunset.

It took me almost a full year to find my flow on the road. I found it, and I was happy as could be. I have climbed across the west and surfed across the entire west coast of the lower 48, explored the canyons of Utah, backpacked across the Cascades, Olympics, Sierra’s, Californian coast, and don’t forget my youth in the Appalachians. I found a way to see more joy in my travels with the Navy. I found a pride in myself I thought I had lost. I was strong and happier than hell.

But, it was short lived.

I was headed into a winter of travel, maybe six months, maybe another 11 or more months on the road. But I broke my ankle. In the fall of 2016 I was in Indian Creek, Utah with one person I knew and 30+ of his closest friends. We had been in the campground for a full hour max before I twisted my ankle...while playing frisbee. You can laugh; I have been since it happened.

What has happened since then has been a bit mind blowing. For over four months I have been seemingly going to battle with the Veterans Affairs. I have had to go outside of the VA for care, and I am still waiting for surgery. In everything that I have done it is hard for me to swallow that the VA is such a painful system to work with. I have lived in my van alone for a long time. Struggling with a broken ankle in a van is no fun.

I didn’t break my ankle in typical fashion. Much like most things in my life, this too had to be different. I had a previous stress fracture I was completely unaware of. While running to catch a frisbee I stepped on a largish boulder and bent my ankle in half. The stress fracture let go. It is now acting like a bumper in my ankle stopping full lateral and parallel movement. It’s a pain in the ass. In light of all of this I have learned something new. I found a way somehow with my past to turn the negative too positive.

Like I said, I was not aware of the path I was on. I also said something about being happy. I have mentioned challenges and triumphs, failures and complete busts. But what has happened in these last few months has given me a lot of reflection time; a physical break down, a physical slowing down. In all the things I have seen and done in life one of my biggest struggles has been slowing down. Even on the road I was moving quickly. I was in a hurry even if I wasn’t going anywhere.

I have a long recovery ahead of me; months of recovery to try and return to the strength I had. My hiking, climbing, surfing and even walking has all been at a stand still for 4+ months now. The VA is a slow system and that’s a battle I am choosing to persue. But the other battle is going to be to continue to live this wild dream I have had. I want to climb those mountains still. I want to live a life of simplicity and peace.

All in all, this winter has been full of good times. I got to come home and stay home for the first time in nearly 10 years. When I left Washington DC, which is only 45 minutes from my moms house, I was stationed in Washington State, a clear 3,000+ miles away from the closest kin. I have missed so many holidays and family gatherings, its kind of mind blowing. I have lived in a van those same 3,000 miles away. I haven’t been home in forever.

Getting injured sucks. There is no way to down play that. I want to be back out there getting after whatever my heart desires, but home is one place I have always missed. My family has been there for me through thick, real thick and thin. I can’t begin to explain the gratitude I have for my folks helping me through a rough few years. Almost two years of me living in a car out of cell service for most of it and then taking me back in while I recover.

I will be heading back west. I am going to continue to set my compass for places I have never been. Find ways to better days and sweeter nights. Life is one big glass and I intend on filling it with sweet memoires.