As I write this we are just over a month into what promises to be at least a two-year overland journey from the United States to Ushuaia, Argentina.
Yes. Just one month in and I’m already writing this post.
I know many people who have done this type of trip and some of them have done it several times. It’s life changing, the say. It’s magical, they say. It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced, they say.
Deep down in my currently dehydrated heart I want to believe this. I want to know that, at the end of this journey, I’ll feel the same way. I crave that gut feeling that they’re right but my gut feeling these days is more about “Oh fuck, is there a toilet?” However, as a newbie overlander and a sometimes (most of the time) complainer, these are a few of the things I wasn’t exactly (at all) prepared for.
There Will be Bugs
Okay, look. I get it. Bugs are a thing. As I’m writing this something unidentifiable is crawling across my screen and its evil kin is buzzing my ear. I’m no stranger to bugs. I lived in Hawaii and New Orleans where the cockroaches play airplane at night and give zero fucks about you, eating your food, or parking themselves in your hair. I stepped in a fire ant bed twelve years ago and still have the scars to prove it.
What makes this different? I can’t really get away from them and repellent only goes so far. At night it’s not so bad as Moby is pretty well screened up but she’s a hot little number in the daytime so I sit outside and why do flies like me so much? And why does repellent never seems to faze flies? Or ants? And did you know that bees really, really like beer and if even one of them gets a taste they’ll inform their brethren and soon you’ll have a swarm on your hands?
Again, I hate to be such a baby but I’m really bad at dealing with climate extremes, and what seems extreme to me would probably be a blip on the weather radar to you. When it’s hot I drip sweat and feel faint for a few days until I acclimate. When it’s cold I shiver and shake and nothing short of a scalding shower can warm me up.
I’ve been very hot and very cold on this trip of less than a month. Las Vegas was so hot that Moby’s little a/c couldn’t keep up and we only stayed one night. Also, did you know that the west coast of Baja California is cold? In August? Hell, I took a university meteorology course and I couldn’t even figure that one out until I’m bundled in flannel in front of a fire, teeth chattering on a beach in Mexico in August.
I’ve met a lot of people over the last month and many of them stare at my salt and sweat smeared face and say, “Wow. You’re red,” as they flick a single bead of sweat from their upper lip. I don’t know if they’re superhuman or what, but when they comment on the 37-degree heat like they’re commenting on the most mundane of things I want to slap their sweat-free head.
Who’s got a red face now?
Bad Things Happen to Your Body
I’ve become all too aware of my body over the last few weeks, namely how it’s betraying me. You know, those pesky needs to urinate, defecate, eat, drink. One might think, “Hey! You’re just sitting in a truck driving around all day then camping at night. Just like home, right?”
I’ve found myself drinking way too little water because I don’t want to have to find a place to pee to the point that I’ve actually had brown urine one morning. Brown. Any doc worth his salt would have me on an IV immediately. After a night of picking through a kilo of local crab in a spicy paprika sauce, I found myself, exactly 24 hours later, stricken with diarrhea and scrambling across a rocky beach in the middle of nowhere to build a toilet from said rocks because my quivering thighs wouldn’t hold me up anymore.
Cue more dehydration. Did you know water intake is crucial? You’re going to sweat a lot.
And speaking of sweat, this one’s for the ladies. Try and perfect your from-the-back bra fastening skills. You might think that sweat-slick skin is the perfect surface upon which to slide your fastened bra around to the front but you’d be wrong.
Or just abandon all your pricey Victoria’s Secret lingerie altogether. You may as well throw all of your expensive makeup in that hallowed grave too because MAC foundation and sweat do not mix.
You’re Going to Stink, Badly
Weather plays a big part in any type of travel but something as far-reaching as overlanding means you’re covering several different seasons in some of the hottest and most humid places on Earth. Showers aren’t always available and baby wipes and deodorant can only do so much. You’re going to stink, your partner is going to stink, your clothes are going to stink, your hair is going to stink, and your shoes, if you wear them, will absolutely reek. And the combo of bug spray and rancid sweat is horrific.
DIY laundry solutions are always an option but let’s face it; dish soap and a bucket are poor substitutes for Tide with Downy and a proper washing machine. And a swim in the ocean does not constitute a bath, even if you take some Dr. Bronner’s in there with you.
You’re Going to Fight, Often
Most people undertake this kind of overlanding trip with a partner, usually someone you’re in a relationship with. That makes sense. It’s a lot of work and having a partner to share the duties with is a big deal. But no matter how strong the relationship chances are you won’t always be on the same page, or more likely even reading the same book.
You’ll fight about how one of you (me) is complaining too much. You’ll fight because one of you (me) really wants a toilet. You’ll fight about spending the night at a luxe yet pricey campground versus a free yet barren beach. You’ll fight because you’ve listened to the same 171 songs over and over for days. You’ll fight because your starter went out in a blast furnace somewhere near Barstow and you don’t even have any drugs that will kick in to ease the pain.
And one of you (me) will almost always cry.
You’ll Have to Learn New Words and Their Actual Meanings
Jerry can, boondocking, voltage, inverter, greywater, gross vehicle weight. What are these words and why should I care? Also, at the risk sounding less than feminist, aren’t these guy words?
Well, it turns out that if you’re part of an overlanding duo, regardless of your gender, you need to know these words and more, what they mean, and how they now fit into your brand new lifestyle and lexicon. I’ll leave the fun of exploring these words to you, but these words also involve a lot of work so I don’t know exactly how much fun that will be.
You’ll Wonder What the Fuck You’ve Gotten Yourself Into
I feel like an utter and complete asshole for saying this but I’ve questioned this decision more than a few times in a month. Why this? Why a trip that requires so much work and decision making and complications? Are we really ready for this? Who, in their right mind, does something like this when we could have just moved to Thailand or someplace in Europe for the same cost and half the hassle?
I’m a worrier and an over-thinker so I know my feelings are probably more extreme than most, but for fuck’s sake. Can I really do this? Two years? In a camper the size of the smallest kitchen in any of the huge houses we’ve lived in? Without killing each other? I also tend to be pessimistic (surprise!) so that only makes it worse.
I’m working on that.
You’ll Wonder Why You Didn’t Do it Sooner
So after every horrible thing I’ve said to this point I still think this was the best decision we ever made and I think we should have done it years ago when it first came up. I’ve found myself with a very deep level of respect for Will and the things he knows how to do. He is a problem solver of the best kind and has the skills to back that up.
He’s also been pretty patient with me and he’s not the most patient of people.
Some of the less attractive aspects of my personality have come roaring to the surface. I’m whiny, I’m lazy, I’m a creature of habit and comfort. None of these are conducive to this or any healthy lifestyle. I need to shed those habits and embrace more joy and spontaneity and learn how to be a truly active participant in my relationship and this journey. These are all good things to know.
And the pods of dolphins seen from deserted beaches and the skies so dark that the Milky Way slides across the night with a brilliance I’ve never seen before in my life help ease the pain.
Those things help a lot.