Summer Vagabonding

Summer Vagabonding

Vag·a·bond (ˈva-gə-ˌbänd)
1: moving from place to place without a fixed home: wandering
2: of, relating to, or characteristic of a wanderer

My life changed a lot in 2014. I completed my year as the Rotary Club President, my responsibilities at work had shifted, my marriage dissolved, and I spent the first half of the year couch surfing and minimizing my life. It was perfect timing for a change, and some vagabonding sounded perfect..

I wasn’t running away from anything. On the contrary, I think I was running toward something…to what I really wanted in life: family, friends, travel and stories. Simplicity. I wanted to find it on the open road and time spent where it was most important. Wait, no. I didn’t want to “spend” my time, I wanted to “invest” it.

In the spring of 2014, with no real material passions, no rental lease, no bills, and no local commitments, I was ready to go. The “living mobile” bug bit me during my 136 day trek along the Appalachian Trail. Since then, I have felt most at home on the move. I sold my Datsun 280ZX sports car, bought back my Honda Element, and made sure I could cram all of my worldly possessions into it. Now, to figure out my one real obligation, work. (paychecks sure are nice…)

The anticipation was all consuming. I wanted badly to hit the road and visit family and friends, I just had no idea what my manager would say. But alas, if you don’t ask you’ll never know.

The last Wednesday in June my manager asked me to email him my goals for the month of July. I added this to the list:

Working Remote: I’d like to work remote for a few weeks between July and August, visiting my family and working from their homes. As long as I have my cell phone, laptop, and internet I can do everything there that I can do in the office. Is this possible?

Holy crap…I really did it! I asked! Oh no…I hope I don’t get fired.

Later that night he sent me a message granting me permission to work remote. He said as the company grew, working remote wouldn’t be an option, so I should take advantage of the opportunity now. Well, you don’t have to tell me twice!

The next morning I was in the office, planning my trip. Mid-day my manager sent out an email saying “Chris will be working remote for a few weeks/months this summer” and that was it. I’d already packed everything that I owned in my car and had moved my surfboard and bicycle into the office basement the night before. I was ready to go.

Summer Vagabonding - Leaving Santa Barbara
Everything I Own in a Honda Element

It was July 3rd and I left the office early to celebrate with friends over a few beers. Friday July 4th, 2014 I climbed into my car, and my home for the foreseeable future, filled up with fuel, and left Santa Barbara in the rear view mirror (kinda, my car was so packed I couldn’t actually see out of the rear window).

I wasn’t truly vagabonding the way I see the lifestyle. I had defined destinations, a loose agenda, and a full time job with a 40 hour workweek. Not exactly complete freedom, but at least I was on the road!

Summer Vagabond - Arizona

I spent the first 3 weeks in Prescott, Arizona, visiting my Dad’s side of the family and living and working from my Grandfather’s condo. I quickly settled into my new daily schedule, in bed by 8:30 PM and up by 5:00 AM for coffee with Grandpa, which turned out to be an ultra productive work schedule. Outside of working from dawn til dusk I actually did get to enjoy my time in Arizona.

My first weekend in Arizona Maria Walton and I ran 20+ miles around beautiful Sedona while Dad and Kathy hiked several trails before meeting us at a brewery in the afternoon. The following weekend I ran in 2 different 6-hour timed races at the Cool Your Ass Ultramarathons, ultimately winning 1st place overall (which has never happened before). To make sure I wasn’t getting homesick for California I spent my third weekend on the road in Death Valley with Tyler Clemens and Gregorio Ponce, helping crew Luis Escobar and Mauricio Puerto on their successful Badwater 146 adventure. Standing on top of Mt. Whitney with close friends was an awesome feeling, until we almost froze to death (read about it here).

Summer Vagabond - Indiana
Back Home Again In Indiana…

My fourth weekend on the road was a little less eventful…if you can call driving 1,800 miles from Arizona to Indiana in less than 2 days uneventful. My biggest concern in this whole adventure was my Mom’s house. She lives 10 miles out of town on an old family farm with a quarter mile driveway. Our nearest neighbors are Amish and they visit every now and then when they need to use the phone to call the vet or order concrete from the Berne Ready-Mix. When the corn is up in the summer you can’t even see the house from the road. My Mom has a quote hanging in the living room, “Behind the times on purpose”, and that’s the way they like it.

That’s all fine and dandy, but part of my working remote agreement was that I would work full business hours from high speed internet and in cell phone reception. My Mom’s connection was a little closer to dial-up and my phone hardly had one bar of service. Luckily it all worked out just fine.

My fifth weekend on the road was actually the catalyst for the trip in the first place. Maria Walton and Jess Soco joined me, Tyler, Ryan Stemen, Jon Weaver, Tim Davis, and Mom and Tom as Team Clemens for my first 100 mile race, the Burning River 100. After a weekend of playing (read as “surviving”) on the trails everyone went home and I headed back to Indiana. I was rocked pretty hard with a nasty cold from the race and spent most of the week and my sixth weekend on the couch, although I was able to make it out to a family wedding on Saturday night (they had an open bar with Yuengling beer, how could I miss that!).

With my 100 mile race out of the way, it was time to visit friends. My seventh weekend on the road I spent in Indianapolis with friends, fraternity brothers, and even Mike Lovette from Santa Barbara. Jon Weaver and I tried to run 26.2 miles, but I had to cut out at 15 miles, totally destroyed from the 100 miler. Jon went on to finish 26.2 rainy miles, his first marathon distance ever. I also got to see fraternity brothers Jim Vandy and Justin Bates before heading back to Berne.

Summer Vagabond - Indianapolis
Not yet recovered from the 100 Miler

Another work week complete and I headed up to Chicago for my eighth weekend on the road. I stayed with my college roommate J.D. Ostergaard and hung out with my other college roommate and fellow Appalachian Trail thru-hiker Ryan “Meat” Simko. On Saturday I even laced up my running shoes and finally stomped out a 26.2 mile recovery run around the city.

I spent my final week in Indiana on the farm with Mom and Tom, frantically working to build my new urban camping home in my Honda Element before heading west. My ninth weekend on the road I covered another 1,800 miles in less than two days from Indiana to Arizona, sleeping in a rest stop in my new Home Sweet Honda. I arrived in Arizona on another holiday, Labor Day, and spent a day relaxing with family and enjoying the crisp mountain air.

Boys Night Out with Grandpa Clemens
Boys Night Out with Grandpa Clemens

Back at my Grandpa’s kitchen table I settled into our routine of going to bed early and rising even earlier. We visited the casino (I lost all of Grandpa’s money) and later played bingo at a retirement home (Grandpa and I both Bingo’d on the same number and came home with $2.25 each!). I had one weekend left on the road and wondered what to do. Take a weekend off and sit on the porch to read a book, watch football, or catch up on writing? Nah. There was an Aravaipa night 50K scheduled just outside of Phoenix, I couldn’t miss that! I spent the tenth week on the road running a very hard 31 miles through the Arizona dessert and then volunteering as the photographer at the finish line for the next 5 hours until the sun rose and the race was over.

And with that my summer vagabonding was done. All that was left was to pack everything I owned into my car/home and head back to the Pacific Ocean, or so I thought. Patrick Sweeney was hanging out in Phoenix on his own 6 week summer vagabond and he said, “You are here next weekend? You should really run the Water is Life race before you go home.” Registered.

I spent the eleventh and final weekend on the road camping out under the stars Friday night, running a 50K race hosted by the Hopi people in Northern Arizona on Saturday, and then driving the bittersweet 500 miles back to Santa Barbara on Sunday. As my Bridgestones rolled up the 101 and turned onto the PCH along the Santa Barbara coast I was happy to be home, happy to have spent time on the road, and filled with the joy of the important things in life. Family. Friends. Travel. Stories. Simplicity.

Summer Vagabonding - Santa Barbara
Back in Santa Barbara, California

So what did I learn? In the end, time is all we really have. It is the great equalizer. Bill Gates, Barak Obama, and I…we all have one thing in common, a minute is a minute is a minute. If you waste that minute you never get it back. Fortunes can be won and lost, spent and saved, but once a moment is gone, it is gone, and time is a finite resource for everyone, no matter who you are. I learned to make sure to spend life’s most valuable currency wisely, because you never know how much time you have left.

There was a lot left to do, I had planned to visit friends in Canada, swing by the Appalachian Trail headquarters in Harpers Ferry, stay with my cousin and friends in Florida, not to mention all the people I didn’t get to a chance to see in Indiana. I returned to Santa Barbara content, but with the burning desire to do more. As I sit here, toes in the sand, enjoying the California sunshine and cool ocean breeze, all I can think about is life on the road. I don’t know how it will work, or when it will work, but I’m looking forward to my next adventure and the people I’ll see, the time I’ll spend, and the memories we’ll make.

But for now Figueroa Mountain Brewing is open. My friends are there and my mug is way too dusty. Cheers my friends, live life to the fullest every day!

Some good advice...
I am trying to slow life down. To soak in every moment like it could be my last. No more rushing from meeting to meeting, event to event, or paycheck to paycheck. Now its watching the breeze, listening to the changing traffic patterns, smelling the dropping temperature, and feeling the shift of the day. Living deliberately to take advantage of every moment that I have, with the people I share them with, and the memories that I will carry with me until there are no more breaths, stories, or adventures for me in this world. – Chris Tarzan Clemens, 2014

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