We rose and rested with the sun. We rotated between two breakfasts and dinners—egg tacos and oatmeal, coconut curry and burritos. We savored each drop of our six-gallon water cube and changed our shirts every few days (pants stay clean enough). On the surface, living a nomadic life out of my partner’s 2002 Toyota Tacoma was brave, simple, elegant.
City-dwelling friends would offer words of admiration: How counterculture! What a cool, conscious choice to fight consumerism. You’re choosing simplicity. You’re acting with intention by taking your own path and refraining from the conventional school to job to marriage to house to babies to job to retire to die. How easy it is to romanticize the virtuosity of a choice to live with less, when really, for me at least, it was a choice coming from a lot of privilege.
I think fondly of my evenings in the truck. How I had to lay diagonally in the bed in order to fit. How perfectly flat Jake would park each night so that we’d sleep well and the stove would be even when we boiled water for rice on the tailgate. How quickly I could “move” from one home to another because nearly all of my belongings fit into two dufflebags. The way my breath would fog up the windows and the moisture would form perfect crystals near my face.
I too think fondly of the mornings. The warmth of the sun streaming through the windows, making the truck bed into a greenhouse. Or the small thrill of facing the morning chill and hoping the water cube hadn’t frozen overnight. Or when we would pull the foam mattress out of the truck next to the highway in rural Nevada and hear the footsteps of wild mustangs in the distance and hope they wouldn’t come too close.
There were plenty of good, soul-filling times.
But there is an unspoken truth of this glorified version of life on the road. No friend gets too close. Fleeting moments in different locations allowed me to coast in my relationships, float along on the giddiness of seeing people I liked a few times a year. Just enough distance to stay charming, likable, flawless. I could get just close enough to be liked, welcomed, and cared for, but not so close to show my ugly side. And sometimes it’s easier for me to be really vulnerable with people I’m not that close to. The stakes are low when you share the scary things with someone you see twice a year.
I worked for an outdoor school on month-long wilderness expeditions, which meant I invested a lot of relational energy into my one or two co-workers and twelve students. It was safe—the magic of a challenging, shared experience casts a flattering light on competence and hard work. And there was a timeline. After those thirty days, the group dissolved, and we only held onto fond memories of our accomplishments.
After a few years, it began to feel hollow. The job, trucklife, everything. I don’t mean that I didn’t have good friends, because I certainly did. But real community felt impossible. A lot of intimacy for me comes with time and the mundane, simple, unflattering experiences. It was challenging at best to cultivate the kind of community I so craved.
And so, after six years of leaping between contracts and states, we made the choice to put down roots. I toiled for months. Is this the right town? Is this the right time? Sticking around meant commitment—to a place, a landscape, a community. We made an offer on a house, and I crossed my fingers that we wouldn’t get approved for the mortgage.
We did. Maybe it won’t appraise at the right value? It did. Are we really going to go through with this? We did.
Within weeks of moving in, however, an unfamiliar ease washed over me. Of course building community takes effort and time, but I had made the most critical, foundational step—being in one place. I’m sure that others can thrive in a life on the road and in the field. For me, it was taxing. Keeping relationships surface level with a few pop-ins per year felt lonely. And it was all too easy to ignore the loneliness in the constant bustle. If I wasn’t in the field, I was getting ready for it or recovering from it or planning a personal trip or on a personal trip. Who has time for feelings? And what loneliness? I’m surrounded by people 24/7.
A year after closing on the house, I feel incredibly grateful. Leaving a life on the road and committing to a town has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. I get treasured time with my precious toddler nephews. I can make soup for a friend who tells me she ate a cookie for dinner. I’m here often enough to have a weekly walking date. I can go to my favorite workout class twice a week. I can walk my neighbor’s dog when she’s at work. Does it still feel scary? Less so. Turns out people are pretty freaking cool when you make space for them.
Do I still feel lonely? Sometimes. And I’m coming to realize that much of that, like Janet Finch says in the novel White Oleander, is forever: “Loneliness is the human condition. No one is ever going to fill that space. The best you can do is know yourself…know what you want.” I know that I feel brave for trying and for committing. I know that, for me, stillness and presence are what I want. And I know that in this beautiful, rural, mountain town, I have found it.
Kathryn Montana Perkinson is a writer living in Lander, Wyoming. Find more at kathrynmontana.com and @kathrynmontana.