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  • Writer's picturecassie stern

may recap


Our second month and Arizona is the first state on our map. We explore the smoke stacks of Chiricahua National Monument, navigating the compressed gray rock formations and counting the endless number of lizards that pass in front of our feet. We summit a peak shrouded in tree cover, then stumble upon a field of geode rocks begging us to crack them open. It makes the 13 miles and 4,000 foot climb worth it. We sleep in a vineyard that night, underneath the almost full moon drinking wine from the grapes that cast shadows around us.

We stop in Bisbee, a city recommended by many, which lives up to every expectation. It’s quaint and overflowing with art, maintaining a small town feel that welcomes us after days in the desert. We venture into a retired mine from 1927 and then navigate (some) of the 1,000 steps that line the streets of this historic town. We sleep on the literal side of a cliff with boulders beneath our tires to ensure we stay on top…

I’m amazed by the saguaros. I’d first imagined they only remained in the National Park, but much to our surprise, found are rooted in abundance across the desert in this area. They’re flowering when we arrive, small green bulbs like brussel sprouts blooming with silky white petals, some already plucked by birds. It’s astonishing timing by chance. We sleep beneath them in my favorite camp spot of the trip thus far, in a desert field of various sized plants all begging for our attention, curving their arms to offer a better view of their flowers. We explore the Desert Museum, confirming and reiterating all the species we’ve identified with our Audubon Field Guide for the Southwestern States. The inner nerd in us shines brightly. Before leaving Tucson, we stop in front of the home Sam was born in, his first time back since those early moments of his life.

Our first view of red rocks in Sedona is breathtaking, a welcome change from the sandy desert shades of tan and brown of late. We spend time with family here, at their home nestled below Bell Rock, enjoying their deep knowledge and appreciation of the surrounding landscape.

We're eager to set up camp outside the Grand Canyon before Sam attempts a marathon length trail run in its depths. We walk through dense pine forests before the ground drops out below us, revealing millions of years of history in its rocks. It’s hard to peel ourselves away, but comforted that this first viewing is just the appetizer. The next morning, I meet Sam more than halfway through his marathon, he on the trek back up the cliff, I on the descent down into the basin. We end the evening on the Rim, watching what little sunset was offered with the cloud cover, but relishing in the way the colors change. The descending sun reflected off the rock, painting the Canyon in darker shades of blue and indigo, interspersed with brushed strokes of orange through the clouds.

The temperature rose drastically as we descended from the canyon elevation back into the desert red rocks. We find a watering hole outside of Scottsdale, jumping off rocks into the basin down below, hiding in a cave from the afternoon rainstorm.

Mid May, we cross the border into California and spend our first night watching a flash flood form a river next to our camper. A snake crawls out of his hole beside us, finding

safety above the flooded underground. We’ve planned a trek into Joshua Tree to celebrate Sam’s 27th birthday in this strange “forest”. We begin hiking early to avoid the debilitating sun and end up hiding for hours with books in hand in what little shade the baby yuccas provide. We sip warm whiskey and watch a pale pink sunset in the distance, clouds shielding us from the star speckled sky. In the morning, caterpillars with thorned butts crawl across the sand and grasshoppers dive onto the trail like popcorn, scattering with each close step.

Our first taste of snow is in the San Jacinto Mountains, a trail called Cactus to Clouds that Sam begins at 4am. I taste my first “stealth camping” in a parking lot before riding a tram most of the way to the top (hehe). I see his smiling face 5 miles into my solo snowy trek to the peak before lightning storms turn me around. Cactus to clouds to beach - we finish the day on the rocky shore of San Diego, salty air filling the camper after a month of dryness. We treat Sam to a belated birthday dinner, our first dinner out the entire trip, to make up for the freeze dried meal he enjoyed on the 20th of May.

LA treats us well, my cousin Mike treats us even better. He’s the perfect tour guide, filling each day with the city's must-do excursions. Food, sightseeing, museums, picturesque roads… it’s a well rounded trip and we’re thankful for his hospitality. We stop at REI to purchase ice axes in preparation for Mt. Whitney, our next stop on the itinerary. *Note* I’ve never held an ice axe in my life.

We start our hike at 3am in pitch darkness, the sky still littered with stars. We call 911 for a stranded hiker in the distance who’s blowing a whistle and waving a fire engulfed log back and forth. We cross an avalanched landscape and climb a wall of snow in makeshift bootpack steps. I try not to look below me. The exhaustion of altitude attacks just before we reach the peak... I’ve written a separate post on this experience that you can read HERE.


It’s become a monthly activity of ours - at the start of a new month on a light, “recreational walk,” heart rates and mileage numbers ignored, we recap out loud the details of every day from the previous thirty or so days. It’s an informal version of the detailed daily journals I’ve been keeping. The memories flow as we feed off of each other's spewed details. He names the trail we hiked, I tell of the animals we saw. He pinpoints the camp sites, I remind of the rainstorm that battered the camper that night. But it scares me how easily some of the details fall away. How when I ask myself where we slept three nights ago, I can’t bring to the surface the view outside our window. It’s there. Once I check a photo or Sam describes the hike we did earlier that day, I can see it. But I never had to remember where it was I slept each individual night for 30 days, let alone 6 months. It’s always been my apartment or his, or maybe Windy Hill. A rotation of a few options. Now, it’s rare if we make camp in one location for more than one consecutive night. During this month’s recap, the time passes quickly and when we finish the recall, we’ve walked for 90 minutes and 4 miles past the old mine we initially intended to explore…

The shear magnitude of everything that we’ve done! Each and every single day. But it’s all more than just naming the details. It’s a calibrator of time, a way to relive all the moments, some that we simply happened upon, others we’ve been planning for months. To see what revealed itself quickly, begging to be remembered and what fell through the cracks of our brains, requiring more to be brought into the present. When every day is an adventure, with beautiful mountain views, endless desert highways, and countless wild flowers lining the dirt roads, we’ve created a way to distinguish it all from one another, without letting time blur the spaces we’ve already passed.

This life is starting to feel normal, that other life we lived so far away. Family and friends often pop into my thoughts, but the coffee shop I used to love down the block, the walks through Prospect Park, and our little cozy apartment on Franklin Avenue never cross my mind. I was so careful to spend time in all these places that felt like home just before leaving New York City, but I haven’t given them any time of day recently, not until this very moment. I’ve settled into this nomadic way of life, feeling the urge to leave a place once we’re parked more than one night, like there’s so much more that I need to see just miles down the road. I anticipated feeling ungrounded not having a solid place to plant my feet, but having wheels under our 13’x5’ home has simplified life in a way that New York City could never offer.

Sam and I have settled into our roles, where setting up and breaking down is a choreographed routine. He readies the peripheral environment, while I place each item in it’s designated travel location - the silverware tray snuggles up against the spice container under the dinette, the wire shelf flips upside down and gets tucked beneath the weight of my yoga mat, the fan caddy corners against the window, the hand and dish soap hide beneath the sink - secure places where the jostling of truck against rocky pavement won’t cause damage. He finds our next camp spot in the woods, I research a coffee shop along the way.

This routine has become important, the familiarity grounding us in this life of constant motion, though we’re enjoying the expanses of time where nothing needs to be done. The lack of deadline, the lack of requirements, the freedom to think in the empty space. Simplifying life to the necessities but finding enjoyment in it all the same. We must feed ourselves, but let’s cook over a campfire, letting the flavors soak up the smoke from the logs. We must sleep, but let’s snuggle in when our bodies tell us to and use the sun as our alarm. We must exercise, but let’s find a trail to explore and spend time overlooking the mountain at the top. It’s exactly what I hoped, what I craved and what I needed.


  1. Don’t trust the propane gauge. It’s always wrong.

  2. Put all belongings in the same place every single time. Patagonia Houdini jackets are named that for more than one reason.

  3. Sunscreen daily - even when there’s snow on the mountain and your hood is up.

  4. Cougars are rare and elusive, but rattlesnakes are everywhere. Fears have shifted.

  5. Sam dances when he likes what you cook. He likes everything, but when he shimmies, you know you did good.

  6. I rescind my earlier statement. Sam does not like when Cassie puts desert sage from the plant outside the camper into his potatoes.

  7. It’s okay to spend a day inside the camper. Sometimes, you just need a roof over your head.


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