The road before us is never straight. Jen, my wife, broke her arm in late January, so the plan to spend February riding, running, and chasing barbary sheep in the desert scrub of southern New Mexico morphed into multiple commutes back and forth from our chaparral campsite south of Roswell to our home base in Santa Fe for doctor’s appointments. Meanwhile, we’ve rented our brick-and-mortar house, so at home we’re anything but. Between specialist follow-ups, we’ve been sneaking into our driveway and surreptitiously camping in Artemis the Airstream.
Almost a decade ago, Jen and I spent a year of our lives building a house in Santa Fe. We made a modest, modern place that embodies our characters and is as meaningful to us as a child. Renting it felt like a betrayal. “I don’t know why you’d trade that house for a little trailer,” my mother exclaimed when I told her we’d moved out. Truthfully, there were times as we boxed up and moved our things that I caught myself wondering over the decision.
We’ve all heard about the benefits of downsizing and simplifying, but it’s difficult to understand how freeing it can be to move from 1,800 square feet to 200 until you do it. When you walk away from the closets full of extra clothes, shelves stacked with long-ago-read books, and piles of high-tech gear and bikes in the garage, you realize just how extraneous and stress-inducing it all was. On the road, there are two bikes, a few pants and shirts, the shoes we need, and little else. I packed for a trip overseas a few weeks ago and was shocked how quickly the process went. Rather than consternating over what to bring, I simply transferred everything from my one drawer in Artemis to a suitcase—and the bag still had room to spare.
There’s plenty of science that tells us that a life in the outdoors is a happier, healthier existence, yet back home it’s hard to find the time and space. In Artemis, however, with just a little bit of space inside but a fold-out patio that opens onto stunning wild spaces wherever we park, Jen and I spend most of our time cooking and eating and reading and working outside. Since there’s no TV, restricted cell coverage and data, and limited electric power, evenings mostly consist of sitting under the stars and talking, then going to bed earlier than we would have at our house. One of my favorite things about camping is getting up to pee in the night, when I usually skip the inside toilet and go outdoors, where I can take care of business under a spray of constellations.
Jen and I have learned all of this over the 10 months we’ve been in Artemis, but it snapped into sharper focus after coming back to Santa Fe. It’s slightly disconcerting to pull into your driveway, and then, rather than open the garage door and go inside, pull out the red, 30-amp cord and plug into the outdoor outlet. Watching others come and go from the space we created for ourselves was weird and slightly wistful, and we felt like interlopers in the town where we’ve lived for over a decade. But seeing the boxes of our things that we packed up and stored so long ago made me realize how much of what we had and did in Santa Fe was extraneous. I thought I’d be excited to dig through those possessions and swap some out—a refresh for the road. Instead, I just found myself loading up more boxes for Goodwill.
Once the appointments were done and it was time to head back down south, I was surprised how good it felt hitch up Artemis and drive away. That red, 30-amp cord felt like an umbilical to a past life that we no longer needed. We found a new site in the parched Sacramento Mountains with all-day solar gain and an empty, sage-filled view to the horizon. We glassed far-off deer, ate dinner outside, and drank bourbon until the last glimmer of daylight had drained from the western horizon. That first night back, when I clambered out of the trailer for bathroom duty into a dark night brimming with a tapestry of stars, it felt like we’d come home.