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“What a beautiful read. It is so special the gift you have to recognize, embrace and put into words these life moments.”

You Can't Cook a Dead Crab and Eat It

In 1990 I created a weekly cycling column at The Orange County Register that set a new direction in my journalism career.

What can I say? Debbie and I grew up in the Midwest, then lived in the West for most of our adult lives. Tennessee just didn't fit into our lives.

What do you do when something like this happens? In my mind, you realize you face the opportunity to extend a life lesson to your daughters:

You make your life what you want it to be.

I moved around a bit too much as a youngster, and I understand the impact it can have at certain stages in life. With my oldest daughter, Sierra, about to enter fourth grade, the time was now.

This is the story of us spending 85 days living and traveling in a pop-up tent camper as we searched the American West to find the right place to raise our daughters.


Change is in the air

It's time to formulate a plan. Each plunge into a river or creek seems more natural than shocking. Each time you dive in, you swim further from heated pools and Jacuzzies of modern life, and feel more in tune with yourself, and nature — like you've become part of the planning, not a pawn in the plan.

This summer slips by in a blink. July will be history before we know it. Back in Tennessee, the girls' friends start school in just three weeks. Time doesn't wait for us. It seems like we've been on the road forever, but then again, we're just getting started. Part of me wants to say we must do this right. That means it is probably impossible to really check out places and make a decision where to settle down in the next month or so.

I'm sure those who continue to set their agendas to the American Cynical Stereotypical Code would argue that wasting the better part of six weeks on a National Parks tour has done nothing to help find a place for us to live. Aside from a casual discussion or two about Santa Fe, and the confirmation that we could never return to San Diego, we haven't really touched on the issue at hand.

I would argue that the value of our method has been clearly chronicled on these pages. Then again, these days, who has time to do any reading and research when forming an opinion? Those same people raised their eyebrows when they learned of our plan. I'm sure what I'm about to say would totally be lost on them. The fact is, we had to get back to nature first and find our true selves again before we could find where we want to live.

 I'm a different person than I was on June 6. I'm not sure that anything has changed in the core of my essence, but I am sure that how I tap into that core has changed dramatically.

While I have explored that transformation and have chronicled it along the way, the more practical Debbie has simply allowed it to unfold naturally. I can see the difference in her, too. The light of her soul shines brightly again. Each day she takes that plunge into our future with the girls, rather than sitting on the shore watching. Measuring.

   I suppose if I had to grab one image from the past six weeks to take with me for eternity, it would be Sunday evening.

With the late afternoon light casting a tone of serenity and, well, pure love, over a sand bar and the quietly rolling Merced River deep in the heart of Yosemite, my three girls stand on the banks bouncing anxiously.


Holding hands, they sprint and leap into the brisk river, disappearing for a moment beneath the blanket of water, as if all three had become one. Three heads pop to the surface, smiling as they gasp for the fresh mountain air. They charge down the river, allowing the current to power them, yet each remains in control of her own destiny.

Taylor makes a quick bee-line for shore, not unlike the slick, playful muskrat of my youth. Sierra takes long, confident strokes, inching farther toward the middle of the river with a clever smile, knowing exactly how much she can push the limits to elicit feelings of pride, not fear, from us. Debbie takes a few relaxed strokes, allowing the experience to wash over her soul before peeking out of the corner of her eye to check on Sierra, and then a shivering Taylor emerging from the shore. They laugh together with an energy that hugs my heart.

  Our goal has been to teach our girls how to live life. For me, that means learning there are no scripts, recipes or blueprints for life. Worrying about being in the best preschool or establishing the proper foundation to impress an Ivy League recruiter 10 years down the road makes no more sense to me than losing sleep tonight wondering what will happen in the darkness of a movie theater on their first dates.

We've spent many years looking for a job first, allowing that to decide where our home would be. We've been lucky that it has landed us in some fine places, until we hit Tennessee. We could have settled in and accepted that as our fate. It would have been a lot easier than the next six weeks will probably be. What would that have taught our girls?

  Those adventures led us to this exact place in our lives. Six weeks ago this water would have been too cold. The current too swift. Our psyches too fragile. Today? Today it feels just right. Nearly perfect.