Going from the rim of the Grand Canyon to northern Phoenix was more of what I had expected from Arizona: huge expanses of sandy deserts and giant cacti. It was pretty cool being able to roll out of bed and run through the desert, with no roads or people or signs of civilization anywhere in site, and then be at work only an hour later. But after the first week of the sweltering desert I started missing the greenery and trees I had always kind of taken for granted, and headed north to Flagstaff for the weekend, where (unbeknownst to me) my life direction would take a huge U-turn.
On Friday night Turtle and I trundled into Flagstaff, ending at a beautiful campground up a mountain a little ways off the interstate. The next morning I awoke in a totally different world than the baking desert I had left the previous day. A chilly, misty drizzle permeated the canopy of Ponderosa pines above the van, and I pulled out some rain gear and gloves for my run. After about an hour of wet, muddy trails, I finally crested back to the top of the mountain I had run down (legs suddenly remembering what hills at 7,000 feet feel like) and saw a bright blue VW camper parked just a ways down the trail from my campsite. As I approached I saw a young couple bustling around the bus, cleaning and organizing in a morning ritual I was all too familiar with. I veered off the trail over to them and shouted ‘Hey! Morning. I couldn’t help notice your bus; the green one right over there is mine. Where are you guys from?’
Turns out, Lola and Nicolas were traveling from Argentina to Alaska, and were 21 months into their journey that had begun way down in South America. They had dubbed their journey ‘Kombi pa’l Norte’, and had started quite a following for their journey (you can check them out at kombipalnorte.com, and on Instagram @kombipalnorte. I highly recommend it). I brought over my camp stove and substantial stash of oatmeal and we cooked breakfast in the chilly mountain air, chatting about traveling, some of their awesome destinations, and the struggle of keeping our finicky VW’s tuned up and running happy. We ended up spending most of the day exploring Flagstaff, topping it off with dinner at a backwater mountain pub with a VW bus club Nicolas had met online and off-roading for a few miles down a muddy dirt-bike tract. It was pretty awesome to see the caravan of eclectic old buses bouncing like rag dolls down the rutted dirt ‘short cut’ to the home of one of the bus club members (to show off his impressive collection of the battered old vehicles, of course).
Driving back down to Phoenix that Sunday, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much fun I had had that weekend, and how Lola and Nicolas made indefinite travel seem so—doable. Maybe not easy, maybe not glamorous, but nothing truly worth it ever is, right? Here I am, 23 years old, in a (mostly) location independent job, driving around a VW camper. If I didn’t do something now, I probably never would.
A couple weeks later I was headed back to Colorado from Phoenix, and I got a call from some of my relatives up in Ontario I hadn’t seen in years. Turns out there was a family reunion scheduled for July, and they were wondering if I was going to be there. ‘Of course!’ I said, without hesitating (or thinking things through. Not one bit.) I had needed a spur to get on the road. I had it. My lease ended right about that same time, and with our landlord’s failure to pay their mortgage, renewal wasn’t really an option. I knew I would be traveling for quite a while, but never one to do anything without a direction or purpose, I began planning how to turn what promised to be an epic, indefinite road trip into a project encompassing all of the things I was really passionate about. And thus was born the Green Footprints project.