I have always loved the outdoors. I grew up playing outside. I spent my summers at my family’s cabin in northern Minnesota, where we didn’t have running water. That meant the only opportunity for a shower was in the lake, and the only place to use the bathroom was the outhouse.
I loved the time spent at the cabin. Taking long walks, or jogging to outrun the mosquitos, swimming, playing games in the yard, fishing, barbeques, sleeping in late and waking up to the smell of breakfast – the whole experience. I have gone to the cabin for at least a week, often more, every year of my life. I still go back to the cabin every summer, and it is often the highlight of my year.
In addition to spending much time at the cabin, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel quite a bit as I was growing up. Going to China in high school for 2 weeks was an eye-opening experience. For the first time I realized how big the world is, and just how many people are bustling about in it. Each with their own big, beautiful lives – just like mine. Every single person has a roughly equivalent number of experiences, memories, thoughts and feelings stirring inside of them. It is stunning to think of all of these lives walking past each other each day, sometimes interacting, sometimes not. All these lives I have never considered or thought of are existing, and thriving, all the way across the world. Travel allows us to feel connected to the world, and to appreciate human life in all the beautiful forms it takes. With the culture, the history, the infrastructure, the habits – so different from where I come from, yet at the heart it is the same. Travel allows us to appreciate people and their creations. And of course it allows us to appreciate the stunning natural world into which all of this life has developed.
I studied abroad in 2004 in Costa Rica for 6 months. I was really able to immerse myself in this different life, and see quite a bit of the country, travelling every weekend from the central city of San Jose out to the coasts. I enjoyed it immensely.
After college, I moved to London for 8 months. I had a 6 month work-visa that I obtained through Bunac, and found a job working as a receptionist in a law office. London was fantastic. It was a city of firsts for me: The first time I lived in a truly big city. The first real grown-up job I had out of college. The first opportunity I had to make my own money and support myself. To experience these things in the beauty of London – with it’s history, it’s charming parks, and so many people! I thought I was a fast walker until pitted against the other underground commuters – impressive. Not to mention the spirited office culture where drinking a pint at lunch and three pints after work is practically a part of one’s job description.
Now, some people are city people, some people are country people, and some are both. I am absolutely both. London taught me that I love being in big cities – the energy, the people, the opportunities, the variety of things to do, all of it. But I also have a deep appreciation for wilderness and the outdoors. When I returned from London, I ended up moving to Chicago, the largest city within 1000 miles of my home town of Ann Arbor, in 2008, to begin my “real grown up life”. Being in Chicago fulfills the city side of me, and I love Chicago, but I began to feel a distinct absence of the outdoors in my life.
As I continued my city life, I felt the allure of the outdoors more strongly every day. A week or two at the cabin each year was simply not cutting it. I found myself sitting at my desk at work, dreaming about being outside, and about taking walks and playing with my dog and getting away from the world.
In the summer of 2013, the company I worked for in Chicago for approached me with the opportunity to go on a 3-day retreat to Golden, Colorado with the Peaks Foundation, a charitable organization that aims to empower women worldwide through mountain-climbing challenges and raising money for local organizations. The company has had a relationship with the Peaks Foundation for a number of years. The CEO has served as an adviser to them and has always encouraged employees to get involved with the organization.
I attended the conference, which featured a roster of impressive women. The standouts for me were Janet Wilkinson, a professional mountain climber who decided to build a “shabin” (shack/cabin) by hand with her husband and live in the woods, and Majka Burhardt, another professional climber who has devoted her life to travel and education, including an initiative to help assist with scientific research in unexplored areas.
To hear success stories of women living outside of the box, blazing their own trails, and NOT spending 8+ hours a day in an office, made me realize how much I wanted my life to look like that. I made a vow to myself then and there that I would find a way to make it happen. I would find a way to live my life more in line with my goals, hopes, desires, and interests. I missed being outside. I missed adventure and exploring. I was completely sick of sitting at a desk all day. I knew I had to make a change.
But – first things first. I was so moved by the speakers at the Peaks Foundation event. I was so moved by everything the Peaks Foundation was doing, by their mission, by their strategy, by their successes. I wanted to be a part of what they were doing. I wanted to go on their next adventure. “3 Peaks 3 Weeks: South America” was their next upcoming trek – climbing mountains in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. It was a HUGE trip – a huge commitment. The trip itself cost over $10,000 (PLUS airfare) and each participant agreed to fundraise a minimum of $5,000 each to donate to charities in each of those areas. Not to mention I had never a) climbed mountains or b) fundraised in any real capacity.
Both of the Peaks Foundation’s co-founders , Chloe and Laura, were at the event, and I spoke with Chloe about my desire to go on the South America trek. She was happy to hear I was interested in doing it and recommended that I ask my company’s CEO if they would consider sponsoring me for the trip. I almost laughed in her face – like, RIGHT. They are going to pay for me to go on this trip! Ha! But I took the consideration to heart.
When I got back to Chicago, I wrote a long passionate email to the CEO explaining how inspired I was and how much I wanted to go on the trip, and is there ANY way they would consider sponsoring me? To my great surprise, he said yes. My emotional response to this news can only be described as… intense. Ecstatic? Very happy.
So in October 2014 I went on the trip. I kept a blog of the experience – Anna’s Mountain Adventure.
It was everything I had been dreaming of – travel, physical challenge, emotional challenge, camping, wilderness, living with less, simplifying down to basic needs, and also volunteering and helping out others in need. Needless to say coming back to work post-trip was difficult. I was happy to be back but ready for my next adventure.
Kelly and I decided that setting out in the RV was something we both really wanted to do. We began the process of transitioning to our new lifestyle – getting rid of a lot of things and learning everything we can about RVing.
Unfortunately, my employer decided this trip was not something they could not support. I argued my case for continuing my work remotely, but was told that it was not an option. Luckily I was able to quickly find another job that allowed me to work remotely. (To read about my whole decision making process on what type of job I should find, you can click here.)
I also learned that I enjoy writing and blogging, so I am going to keep doing that (obviously). We are incredibly excited about our adventure and happy to share it along the way! Thanks for reading!