Hitting the Road // Rolling with the Punches

Rolling with the Punches

By Natalie Jacobs

Five years ago, Wes and Michelle were fresh out of college, hopped up on the American dream and afflicted with the travel bug. They spent the early part of their relationship staying in hostels with questionable sanitation, surfing and exploring the far-away cultures of Bali, Indonesia, Thailand and Central America. In between, they worked full-time jobs, Wes as an energy engineer and Michelle as a scientist at a biotechnology firm, got married and moved into a big house walking distance from the shoreline in Pismo Beach, California. From there, stuff started to accumulate and the routine of grinding away at work began to wear thin.

“We were getting a little tired of it, getting a little restless,” Wes explains one afternoon on the phone.

He had been following Cy’s van conversion and Foster Huntington’s A Restless Transplant blog and he couldn’t shake the feeling that he and Michelle could do the same thing, in their own way.

On a recent trip to Nicaragua, Wes and Michelle were talking to a European couple about their 45-day trip through the United States.

“They just started rattling off all these places they had been that are less than 1,000 miles from my house … and they turned to me after they had said that and they’re like ‘you and your wife must feel so lucky to have all that in your own backyard’ and I kind of looked around embarrassed and admitted to them that I had never even been to the Grand Canyon, which is only seven hours away from where I live right now.”

At that point, they made a deal that they weren’t going to travel anywhere else until they put some serious time into exploring the country who’s value system had gotten them into this uncomfortable consumerist position in the first place. To fulfill their promise, they bought a U-Haul and moved out of their four-bedroom, beach-front home into a 32-foot trailer on a friend’s lavender farm.

“The downsize from that has been incredible,” Wes says. “It forces you to really simplify and only have what you need.”

As part of the transition, they sold most of their wedding presents on Craigslist and Michelle quit her biotechnology job to work as a cook in a local breakfast cafe, after realizing she really wanted to be a baker, not a biotechnologist. “We’re freeing up our lives and our minds from the pointless things we don’t really need,” Wes explains.

Just as he was getting ready to take the U-Haul for its cabinetry fitting, he noticed lower back pain that startled him enough to make a doctor appointment. A few days later, his doctor diagnosed testicular cancer and he was scheduled for surgery immediately.

“The only indication I had that something wasn’t right was physical, and I’ll just be honest with you: basically one of my testicles had grown. It didn’t get huge or anything, but it was definitely noticeable. The strange thing was that there was no pain at all and I didn’t feel physically any different. That’s why I didn’t go to the doctor. You know, I looked online and there are thousands of reasons your body can do that. So I waited six months and the only reason I went in was because I started noticing lower back pain.”

Wes is 27, exercises (surfing and yoga) regularly, and eats consciously, so cancer didn’t even strike him as a possibility. Also, he’s a guy who doesn’t think he needs to go to the doctor.

“I’d rather not know. I’d rather not go to the doctor unless I’m basically bleeding or something like that. And that’s kind of a dumb way to go about things. It helps to have a general idea of the things you should look for. And if you do notice something unusual, you should go to the doctor.”

Michelle studied pre-med in college, and ever since, they make a concerted effort to consider alternative healing methods based on consumption and the mind/body connection, but in the case of the tumor, it was too late for alternative methods and Wes needed to be entered into the Western medical system, fast. But he is still turning to alternative methods to help his body fight any mutations that still might be growing, or prevent any future growths. He says ever since the diagnosis, he has been eating massive amounts of garlic and kale, drinking tons of water and has completely removed meat and processed foods from his diet.

The day we spoke, he was waiting to get results back from the CAT scan to determine if and where the cancer had spread. Later, on his blog, he posted an update that the tumor was malignant but with no indication that it had spread. However, they are doing more scans to check neighboring regions for any signs of unusual cell division.

For now, Wes and Michelle proceed with their plans, because having something to work toward is the best reason to keep your body in fight mode. They are aiming to hit the road in the fall.

They will head up the west coast of California, to British Columbia then back down to Washington where they’ll take the I-90 across the Northern route, through the continental divide and into the North East, then head down the east coast to Florida and take the southern route across. They’ll be stopping in musical hot spots and writing about all the best bakeries. They’ll also be exploring and writing about the breweries they discover, as well as actively looking for permaculture farms to get involved with.

They don’t have a set time limit and they’re hoping to pick up odd-jobs to sustain the trip. The goal is to live in the U-Haul indefinitely, no matter where they are.

“I’m making it so that if we do stumble across a place that we’d like to stay for a while and explore and become a bit more involved in the community then we have a place where we can live and not feel short of anything.”

Knowing that some consumption is necessary, they are tricking out the rig to be as efficient as possible with the things it needs to take in. A friend is installing a dual tank to run on diesel to be converted to vegetable oil and Wes is installing solar panels on the roof. They hope to make it the whole way without buying gas or plugging into electrical grids.

They are blogging about the cancer battle, the van conversion and their plans for the trip at http://arollingfort.wordpress.com/.

“Since putting up the blog, I’m getting emails from a lot of people, and it’s been surprising that people are so excited about the idea. I think it’s just the general backlash with the American consumerism society.”

It is hard to buy a lot of stuff when you only have a van to put it in.  

Update from Wes: as of May 22, he was declared cancer-free and work on the van has resumed as planned. 

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