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The Road Journal

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

Home is where you park it.

Well, at least that’s what Instagram says about #VanLife.

Maybe "truck life” is just different.

But that seemingly innocuous phrase—an odd social media cliché—struck a chord with me on a pair of realizations:

1) It implies that home isn’t tied to a permanent location—quite the opposite, in fact.

2) It does imply that home is related to physical property or an act of ownership.

If home is where you park it, does that make this my front yard? (New Hazelton, British Columbia) 

For the past three and a half months, I’ve been “homeless.” Well, kind of. At least, that’s how some would describe it.

I live out of my Toyota Tacoma with a crash-pad mattress and a zero-degree sleeping bag. I haven’t slept in a real bed since mid-July. Ninety-five percent of my meals come from non-perishable goods. They’ve all been cooked in a one-liter backpacking stove… well, that's if they’ve been cooked. (Canned beans don’t need to be heated, right?) How’s that for home cooking?

What's on the menu today? Probably pasta, beans or oatmeal. Definitely oatmeal. (East Kootenays, British Columbia)

Home is typically concrete. (Ha, I see what you did there, Matt...) But actually—puns aside, I'm serious. Through the good and the bad, the sunny days and the storm, weekdays and weekends, you come home every day. It’s something we fall back on.

Maybe that’s why I find "home" so difficult to define. Along this journey, I’ve sought out situations where there is no fallback, where I’m dependent on my experience, my instincts and my own willpower to get by. I committed to this journey knowing I didn't have the means to turn around and get back to friends in Los Angeles or family in Vermont if things got tough. But for many, home represents the opposite—a financial, emotional and mental safety net. By definition, I'm avoiding the very pillars of "home."

I'm frequently asked why I don’t return to my parents’ place in Vermont until I get a “real job.” Those same folks are curious when I’ll be done “traveling” and what my plans are when I'm done.

Allow me to speak candidly—my patience is wearing thin with these people.

My friends, if you’re a member of that guilty party, I’m afraid you really have no idea what I’m doing out here.

This is my job. This is not just the equivalent of a post-grad Euro trip. This is how I intend to make a living, to feel satisfaction, to contribute to society. This is as much a job as consulting, engineering, sales or whatever pedestal you’re shouting down from.

Whew, I needed to say that.

WORK... and play. But isn't that the best kind of work? (Photo: Cameron Coppock. Hazelton Mountains, British Columbia)

So what does that have to do with the concept of home: well, maybe to a convoluted young adult mind, home has to do with independence. And a career, coupled with owning a place of your own, establishes physical and financial independence.

I understand that. But I also don’t see any problem with living with your parents for a bit after school. Traditional employment takes time, and sometimes it’s the convenient and economically sound decision until you can get the ball rolling.

My permanent address is still in Windsor. I cast an absentee ballot for Vermont. My mail still gets delivered there.

I'm not out here in the boonies because I'm scared or embarrassed to go back. There's no judgment. It's not about independence.

This is about chasing a dream.

I've also noted a general consensus that I’m running from something or trying to escape. (This is perpetuated by Instagram: photographers love to claim they’re “life-evaders / avoiding the 9-5 / escaping the corporate world”… you get the point.)

Listen: I didn’t run away to Alaska. I just, well… went to Alaska. 

Wandering. Searching. Exploring. Thinking. (Homer, Alaska)

And yet, Alaska doesn’t feel like home to me. But neither did Wyoming, British Columbia, Utah, the Yukon or Montana. It doesn’t mean I won't call one of these places home one day. But right now, something’s missing.

"Well then, what are you looking for, Matthew? What would it take to settle down? Photographers do that, you know. You can still have a home.”

I wish I knew. But maybe I’m not supposed to, yet.

Still looking... (Terrace, British Columbia)

***

I anticipated a surge in self-confidence over the course of this journey. But humility was an unexpected gift. I’ve learned that I don’t have all the answers and I’ve grown to understand it’s okay to not be okay. I’ve learned to ask for help.

Recently, I've been reaching out to friends, young and old, for a wide range of perspectives: Where are they at in their lives? What brings them satisfaction? What are they looking for?

I’ve been humbled by their responses.

Few people get to discover who they really are and get to know themselves alone.. [it’s] a very complicated, sometimes painful, beautiful, grounding gift.
— Nina

I knew Nina would be able to relate to the mental battle of feeling alone. She serves in the Peace Corps and is the only aid worker in a rural Panamanian village. But I didn't anticipate how much her words would resonate in my brain for the next week.

Complicated: Oh, how I love irony. My life is simpler fundamentally; there’s no doubt about it. But trying to rationalize my reasoning and motivation leaves me more perplexed than ever. Sometimes I can't even explain to myself what I’m doing out here. How do I tell others?

Painful: Blisters, stiff joints, cuts, frost-nip, tweaked muscles—there have been a slew of physical ailments, but they all heal with time. The emotional and mental toll has been FAR greater along this rollercoaster. (See my previous post, “Mind Games,” for a vivid, soul-searching personal account of dealing with stress and heartbreak alone on the road.)

Beautiful: Beyond the stunning landscapes and eclectic characters, there’s something intrinsically beautiful about this simplistic lifestyle.

Grounding gift: This was the most striking. And now, I find it necessary to remind myself every day: This journey has been a rare opportunity to really learn about my values, my character and my heart. For all the ups and down, I feel exceptionally fortunate.

Writing—whether it's in my personal journal or blogging for the public—has been extremely therapeutic. (Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming)

Passing through the Yukon, I made a friend in a fellow photographer and writer, Bruin. He spends months on the road, looking for answers, coming back with questions, but always delivering inspiration. I was particularly taken by this excerpt from his writing:

She asked again what I wanted, I guess I hadn’t given it much thought. It used to be ambitious goals, riches and fame. Somewhere along the road that changed, the lens I looked through became clearer, simpler. Now I just wanted a slice of world to grow old on and a house built with my own two hands, a son to learn about teaching and a daughter to teach me what love is. To be a father and find out slowly what it means to be a man. Most of all though, and it hadn’t ever really sunk in until now, I guess I just wanted all of it with her.
— Bruin

I’ve been dwelling on these words for weeks (and not just because I'm a hopeless romantic). They speak to simpler values and deeper meaning.

I entered this career with ambitious goals, peaks to climb and far-off lands to explore. I was a man on a mission. Obsessed? Perhaps.

But now, after sacrificing so much in pursuit of those dreams, I've started looking back, wondering if my values were misplaced.

Bruin's words speak to the value of companionship. In a journey that has emphasized solitude, I never expected to feel such a strong ache to be accompanied.

I guess I thought I could do it all on my own. Call it arrogance. Foolishness. Maybe it was fear? But now I know that the overwhelming pangs I've felt on this lonely road have come from a desire to share it with someone.

So maybe that’s where home is. It can be found in a house by the sea or a van in the desert. You’ll find it in a tent amongst the mountains or an apartment in the city. But it’s not the place and it’s not the property that makes it home.

It’s the company you keep. It’s the mindset. It’s satisfaction in knowing you found what you were looking for.

One day, I hope to find that. Could take months. Could take years. Who know, maybe I just need a dog.

I’ll keep looking—I can’t wait to come home.

“I have climbed the highest mountains, I run through the fields, only to be with you… But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

Tired eyes. (Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska)

Matthew Tufts