Well… lots of reasons really.
Stephen has always had an adventurous spirit and his desire to experience new places and people was considerably squelched with our standard suburban commitments. I have less adventure in me, but enough to be jealous of friends and family who have had big adventures or traveled extensively. And enough to know I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in one place without seeing the beauty of America.
Additionally, I’ve always had a love of small things… Whether camping in a tent, or commuting on my bike with “everything I need on my back,” I’ve loved the idea of small. I can remember times as a little kid when I’d be stuffed in the back of our station wagon, and we’d pass an RV on the road and I’d be completely enthralled at the idea of traveling that way. I used to collect tiny boxes for goodness’ sake. Why? Because tiny things must be kept in tiny boxes of course! Even travel sizes… I LOVE travel sizes! A tiny salt container? Need it! A tiny dispenser with slivers of soap in it? How useful! Imagine my glee then, when I stumbled onto tiny houses. Ergo, imagine my utter euphoria, when I stumbled onto people TRAVELING with their tiny houses. Alas, some dreams die quickly… The idea of navigating America’s mountains and curves towing a house got a big N-O from Stephen. I get it.
But then, on one of the tiny house blogs I followed, someone featured a couple living in a van. The dream lives! Since my family had never Westyed or RVed, the idea of living in a van not in the year 1969 was new to me… But this, this could work! We knew we both had potential to earn money on the road, so we started scheming as we found build after build that brought van living to life.
Typical of many people, we were burned out from stressful jobs (Meghan), or miserably unhappy in very good jobs (Stephen literally said all the time that he had the perfect job). We were $100,000 underwater on our mortgage (thank you housing bubble), and the thought of being chained down digging ourselves out of that hole for 20 more years was, well, numbifying.
Stephen was wrestling with severe depression, descending into alcoholism, and needed to make a radical change. As the story goes… he woke up one morning and whispered in my ear, “I think I’m going to quit my job today.” I replied, “okay, that’s lovely dear.” Then he whispered again, “You know…if I do this…we might lose the house.” I looked him in the eye, told him I had peace about the decision, and I loved him. Not being one to do things in half measures, he walked away from his perfect job, got snipped (tmi), and we stopped paying our mortgage. In the space of two weeks we’d exploded our lives without the faintest clue of what we would do next. Radical change begun.
After researching and having all (so we thought) available options denied, we acquiesced to the idea of foreclosing on our house, which, in Illinois, can take up to 18 months. Throughout this time, my mom needed (typical to aging) help and we were the closest family in proximity, so our plan was to look for an apartment between my work and my mom. However, within the span of 9 months her health took an unexpected turn and she passed away a few months later. Our need to stay in Illinois evaporated, causing us to re-evaluate the timeline for our vanlife dream. Serendipitously, we also learned that we were able to do a short sale on our townhome. Hmmm. Interesting… but our vanlife dream is still just that – what to do? We made some short-term living plans to finish out our time in Illinois with friends and family, spent more time with family in South Carolina, and took advantage of the ability to spend extended time with Stephen’s family in South Africa. Then, we headed back to the Chicago area, and within a week were the proud owners of a Sprinter cargo van – our future Ubu.
And now, let us jump off together, into the unknown, and see where we shall land…
What’s an Ubu anyway? Good question! Ubu is short for Ubuntu. But that is just too many syllables when you’re yelling at (or praising) your van… so Ubu it is. Ohhhhkkkkkk…. So what’s… Ubuntu? Ubuntu is part of the Zulu phrase “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu,” and means, quite simply: a person is a person through other people. We believe that we all belong to each other, and our shared humanity is worth striving for, and, well, driving around America for. As Desmond Tutu states: “Ubuntu… speaks of the very essence of being human…. you are generous; you are hospitable; you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have…” Ubu helps us both honor Stephen’s home, and serves as a constant reminder of how we want to live. As others will tell you, having your ideals encapsulated in your van, well… it keeps you on your toes.
What’s a Meghan?
Well, she’s a miner of hope. She loves to laugh, especially because she can tend to take herself too seriously at times. She loves to see new vistas, new wildlife, and new bike paths. She is a recovering cleanaphobe, and, while Ubu appreciates her efforts, Stephen has to get involved when her OCD takes a nasty turn… “Meghan. Put. The Sponge. Down.” She is trying to embrace being a 2 on the Enneagram. Nothing like vanlife to get you over your issues. After recovering from the build, she is now pretty smitten with Ubu and the adventuring life, although she keeps trying to convince Stephen that a puppy might enhance the experience. (Oy! But the dirt!) She loves bagpipe music and men in kilts. Good thing Stephen is such a man (I mean the kilt part, not the bagpipe part – ain’t nobody got space for that in a van). You can find out more about what makes her tick at her website: Hopeminers.com
My friends refer to me as a BFG — “Big Friendly Giant.” I have a soft heart, a soft tummy and sometimes, a soft brain. But I love hard and am a passionate 8 on the Enneagram. Accordingly, my greatest weakness is lust; I struggle to mitigate my lust for life and don’t quite understand the idea of moderation. This intensity has expressed itself in many ways throughout my life – some healthy, and some very unhealthy. Only now, in my early 40s, am I beginning to learn the value of non-dualistic thinking. What it boils down to though, is that I’m a fiercely loyal and passionate human. I love my wife Meghan with all my heart and am ever thankful for her partnership and unwavering belief in me. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love our new life in this van and what it’s meant for me. Suffice it to say that I feel like my entire life experience has led me to this point. Professionally, personally — every single thing that’s happened in my life seems to have given expression to this new life. My cup overflows.
In my previous life I was an art director at a publishing house where I designed book covers for a living. (Actually I still do that today, just as a freelancer.) Here’s a smattering of some of my favorite book covers. I also do photography – mainly portraiture – my website is here.
Thanks to Stephanie McLaughlin for this awesome picture of the two of us.