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  • Writer's pictureChris Penn

Alive With A Capital A

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

I was so excited to go to Utah. The beautiful state had been on my bucket list of places to explore long before I got my RV and decided to live on the road. When the day finally arrived, I was overjoyed. Tears brimmed the corners of my eyes and a feeling of accomplishment surged through me as the wheels of my rolling home carried me across the border. Little did I know, I was about to spend 5 months in Utah, most of which were the hardest months I’ve had in my year of travel.

My Utah experience started out great with a visit to Horseshoe Bend and a 2 ½ week stay outside Bryce Canyon National Park. I boondocked in a beautiful spot just a stone's throw away from the entrance of the park, which meant I could easily take my scooter in and out for daily hikes. The weather was perfect for camper living; warm during the day and cool at night. A few friends from Salt Lake City came to visit and we did an adventurous slot canyon hike in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.


Horseshoe Bend


Free boondocking spot outside Bryce Canyon

When I decided it was time to move on from Bryce is when it all started. I was doing a pre-drive check when I noticed a fluid leak from one of my back brakes. After much deliberation, I decided to limp to the nearest repair shop that would help me. With some stops along the way to check the fluid level and let the blood return to my knuckles, I made it safely to the repair shop with just a few new grey hairs.

Technically it was the slave cylinder that was leaking, but metaphorically it seemed to be the lynchpin that started the struggle ball rolling. Days, then weeks, then months, passed where I was covered in grease from head to toe from doing a multitude of repairs. One repair seemed to lead into another, all of which I had no idea how to handle.



Replacing the fuel pump

At one point, I was faced with the daunting task of pulling my radiator out to be cleaned and patched. I desperately tried to find a way around it but alas, it was the only option, so I got to work.


It took me 3 days but I did it!

I felt incredibly proud when I managed to get this decent sized job done on my own but even so, I was stressed, beat up and tired from fighting with my rig everyday. As if the mechanical woes weren't enough, one of my cats got sick and needed to go to a vet immediately. I felt out of control and my wherewithal was waning. I was losing my connection to what I was even fighting for and I started questioning everything. I thought about giving up more than once but the stubborness in me didn’t abide. I was surely being tested because the hits kept coming. When the repairs exceeded my abilities and tools, I was forced to move out of my broken home. This was my lowest of lows.


Contemplating my life choices with my rig’s transmission pan in my lap

Luckily, through a string of connections, I was able to move into a vacant house. I pulled everything I needed from my house, hauled my cats inside and set up my temporary room.


Temporary living quarters

From the outside looking in, this may not seem bad at all. What you can’t see is that there was no heat in this house and it was getting down to freezing temperatures at night. I bought a space heater to keep my room warm but the rest of the house was very cold. Since the gas was turned off, that meant no stovetop or hot water. My spirits were beyond low at this point and there was just something about being on a mattress pad on the floor of this partially functioning, vacant house that hurt my psyche even more. What was thought to be a week long repair stretched into another week, as new issues were uncovered. I sunk into a depression as the bill climbed and the days passed. The thoughts of quitting grew more real as the strength to fight for my dream dissipated. I toyed around with ways I could temporarily give up. I could get my RV towed to a trailer park and just live in it. I could hunker down for the winter, get a job and work until I regained my fighting spirit. Funny that what became clear to me through all the thoughts of “giving up”, was that this wasn’t over. Even in my darkest days, I still wanted to live this lifestyle. Going back to my old life was not attractive in the least bit.

It had been two weeks of living in the vacant house and the electricity was now shut off. I was bundled up in my winter jacket, waiting for a phone call from the repair shop. They were on a test drive to check the work they had done and I was on the edge of my seat to hear the results. In the past couple days I had felt a shift. Something was telling me I was nearing the end of this nightmare. The phone rang and just like that, new life was breathed into me. My RV was ready. I was moving back into my house! A house that was mobile again!

Although, I was a bit nervous about whether all the repairs my rig had undergone were going to hold, I felt more than motivated to get the heck out of Utah. The state I couldn't wait to be in, I now desperately wanted to see in my rearview mirror. More importantly, I needed to experience the good parts of this lifestyle again. I found the closest National Forest with a free campsite and made my way there. I turned off the key, listened to the sweet sound of nothing and looked at the building free skyline. A peacefulness swept over me and I was finally able to relax.


Heading into solitude

I spent days there mending myself, processing everything that had happened in the last 4 months and how I handled it. You see, along with the desire to travel to beautiful places, this lifestyle has been about personal growth for me. The way I see it, it almost has to be. If you are not willing to bend, the road will break you. This kind of freedom is not for the faint of heart and will make you face fears and challenges almost daily. But for how unforgiving this way of life can sometimes be, it is punctuated by the most unbelievable moments. Moments that smack you right in the middle of the heart and make you cough up wild, unadulterated joy. Moments of being incredibly proud of yourself and at the same time, incredibly humbled. Moments of feeling like a kid seeing things for the first time with your knowing adult eyes. Moments of feeling gratitude so deeply that you're positive everything is exactly as it should be. Maybe I wasn’t sure at the time, but now I know why I hung on for my dear life when the going got so, so tough. It’s because after all these years of existing, I am finally alive with a capital A. You don’t just surrender that without a fight.

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