Climbing into the driver’s seat perched high upon the lifted frame of our rental Jeep, I used my thumb to clear the dust from the gauges. Once strapped in, I stomped the clutch and fired her up. It had been several years since I had driven a stick, so as we began to roll along the washboard that serves as street in the old mining town, I might as well have been 15 again whiplashing us through the gears on the way back to the cabin.

We were in the 4 Corners area for the first time and planned to stay the entire month of August. One early lesson was that I will never again visit that part of the country without a 4 wheel drive vehicle. We had taken the #CariVan so we’d have a place to sleep on camping excursions, but there were just too many places we wanted to go that were high clearance 4×4 only, and the spot we had in mind for this outing was just such a place.
A little online research awarded us the opportunity to rent the last and least expensive 4×4 to be had. There was no extra charge to pick it up the evening prior, so we made the short walk along a street of packed earth mixed with a small ration of crushed stone. After a quick walk around to assess and inventory the multitude of scratches scrapes and bruises that marred the outside of the 15-year old Wrangler, papers were signed and she was all mine! Well, at least for the next 24 hours.

A couple of years ago, we were awarded the unique opportunity to spend the Christmas holiday along the US-Mexico border just in time for a government shutdown spurred, at least in part, by a political dispute over that very border. Feeling the gravity of that situation as we explored the ruggedly beautiful terrain and the river that runs between our countries offered a unique vantage point from which to contemplate the situation.

The following piece was written shortly after that trip. Much has changed since it was penned. But our current challenges seem only to have widened existing fissures and opened up fresh ones—between countries, states, neighbors, and even families. It is with a little melancholy that I entertain the idea that the upshot of this message might be evergreen.

JP Ross is thoughtful guy. I’m not talking about the “oh, isn’t he nice?” kind of thoughtful, though he’s probably that, too. I mean to say that from what I can tell, he approaches everything he does with focus and a great deal of thought. As though it matters. Because to him, it does. He’s also a rod designer and builder who believes, passionately, that a fly rod is more than merely a tool to catch fish, it’s an instrument of zen. Which is probably why we hit it off from the start.

My interview with him meandered from a doctor’s office parking lot in Utica, NY, where he was first introduced to fly fishing as a child, to his experience owning a fly shop and designing fly rods, and ultimately, to a discussion about the human and Devine forces that compel him. Terms you don’t often hear in conversations about fishing came up—like happiness, belonging, and believe it or not, even enchantment.

I stood at the open slider of the #CariVan feeling the late afternoon sun warm the back of my neck between my hat and my shirt collar. As I worked to clear the Tetris level that was getting my gear to fit into my favorite pack, I wondered for a moment if this little excursion was even worth the trouble. It was a fleeting thought born of the traditional values one picks up as a young angler where the proportion of the effort is weighed only against the size of the catch. Old habits die hard, I suppose. But this outing would be nothing like my youthful pursuits f   or either glory or groceries. I had a very particular goal in mind, driven by curiosity more than conquest. The plan was hatched last time I had visited this favorite TX State park, and I was bound to see it through.

In this installment, I have a heart-to-heart with Kate and Danielle Nolan of DNK Presents, Brown County Bikes, and a nonprofit called Live Adventurously. Like Episode #4 of my recent conversation with fellow van camper, Stephanie Burks, there wasn’t a set agenda for this interview. I wanted to just allow these ladies to talk about what they are passionate about. And believe me, there’s plenty. But the main thread that runs through our exchange is a focus on empowering and educating others, especially women, to embrace their sprit of adventure and self-reliance. To reconnect with themselves be immersing themselves in nature. Sound familiar? 

Earlier today, guided by a cobbled-together plan consisting of basic knowledge, general guidance and personal perseverance, I ventured eastward from Portland, Oregon through the shadow of the Mt. Hood National Forest. After an hour or so winding through old-growth redwoods, I rather abruptly emerged onto the straw-colored expanse of high desert. Windows down, I caught the whiff of woodsmoke even before catching sight of the mounting haze that had visited often on this trip. Though I hadn’t encountered a live burn at this point, distant wildfires have a persistent way of making their presence known.

When I heard that an old friend was having her MINIvan professionally outfitted for camping, I was intrigued—about the mechanics and the motivation. So when fate found me both 2000 miles from my home and 20 miles from hers within weeks of her taking delivery of her shiny new coach, I was determined to find a time to camp together. She was equally excited. So as the sun began to descend on a warm September evening, we headed out of the city and into the forest.

The sun was setting farther in the distance than this little Indiana girl had ever seen. Between me and the rugged, mountainous horizon was a scene of variegated green that seemed to be rolling my way. Foothills rose in the faded yellow-green of drying grasses, giving way to stately stripes of blue-green pine. Bright green bursts of cottonwoods shedding their wispy down offset the gray-green of Russian Olive and Silver Sage. And all served as backdrop to the stars of the show, the reintroduced bison lumbering their way across an expansive meadow made lush and vibrant by the late-season runoff.

Have you ever had a brush with fame? At the airport, at a restaurant, on the streets of New York or LA? It’s one thing to see a celebrity on television or in a movie. And I think most of us would agree that it’s yet another, even better thing to attend a live taping, movie shoot, or concert. But if you’ve ever had that “brush with fame” in your daily life, you know that experience is in a category of its own. Now imagine you happen to run across that same person and instead of walking away, they come over and strike up a conversation with you and then ask you to rub their back. Well, that’s basically what happened here. Only the airport was a Florida spring head and the rock star was a vegetarian with flippers.

When I was 10, my parents acquired a 70-acre, mostly wooded slice of paradise. And while our prior residences had big yards and afforded me access to creeks and farm ponds full of bass, bluegill, tadpoles, and turtles, it wasn’t until we moved to what local old timers’ referred to as “Pikeville Holler” that I began to find myself in the forest. I was tempted to say “lose myself” there, but that’s not really what happened. When I would stuff a PB&J and a few fig newtons into a tattered backpack with my canvas creek shoes and trek into the shadow of the hardwoods, something simultaneously came alive and settled in me. There was no agenda, no goal. There was only to explore.