In 2018, my husband, Alex, and I moved out of our downtown apartment, gave away most of our belongings, grabbed our two cats, and hopped in a Class A motorhome to live and work from the road.
We traveled from the Appalachian Mountains to the Gulf Shore; from the darkest skies in West Texas to the busiest city streets; from the desserts of Arizona to the snowy Tetons in Wyoming.
We made Ponche Navideño amongst the festive lights in San Antonio and spent Easter Sunday grilling on a beach in Utah (yes, a beach…in Utah).
Alex and I ran our company and organization, spent time exploring, and repaired almost every leak, clog, or loose part along the way. Making it from Tennessee to Wyoming and back, relatively unscathed, was an accomplishment in its own right. However, one of my proudest moments occurred along the Mexico–United States border in Comstock, Texas, population: 475.
I wouldn’t call myself athletic, but I did spend my childhood in West Virginia where being outside was one of the only activities. I would help my grandfather with the garden, play in the woods, climb on piles of gravel or mulch, take long walks up and down rolling hills with my grandmother to pick wild strawberries. In the winter, I would sled and play for hours in the snow. As I got older, I would cheer, run track, and hike. After my RA diagnosis, much of that stopped until I got to college, where I regained my energy and picked up new activities. I moved toward yoga and dancing, and more recently, long walks along the Tennessee River. However, I would only do what was comfortable, sitting out on potentially challenging activities due to the shame associated with my arthritis or fear that the inevitable pain would not be worth it.
While traveling the country in the RV, my eyes were opened to new, breathtaking landscapes that are hard to describe and I still can’t believe that I saw them with my own eyes. I couldn’t sit by and miss out on opportunities to explore the beauty within this country. This realization hit me hard and fast in Comstock at Seminole Canyon State Park.
Seminole Canyon has a rich history from its founding to its elaborate pictographs; from the expansion of the railroad to the ever-changing landscape.
“Seminole Canyon received its name in honor of the U.S. Army’s Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts, garrisoned at Fort Clark. The scouts protected the West Texas frontier from marauding Apache and Comanche bands between 1872 and 1914. Known for their exceptional cunning and toughness, no scout was ever wounded or killed in combat, and four earned the prestigious Medal of Honor.” — Texas Parks and Wildlife.
There were no local restaurants or bars, no downtown streets filled with art galleries or shops. The nearest grocery store was 40 miles away. Where we would be staying, there was no electricity or running water, no hook ups for sewer. We were powered by our solar panels and the occasional running of our generator, paired with the water in our tanks and the food we had in our pantry and refrigerator. I felt free, untethered, and strengthened by our ability to care for ourselves and sacrifice enough to experience something so uniquely special.
We pulled our RV into the park, finding a primitive spot to enjoy the dark Texas skies. The peacefulness and perspective that comes from looking into the sky and into your own galaxy is infallible.
It was likely this feeling of pride, satisfaction, and clarity that led us to find the most challenging hike in the park—Canyon Rim Trail. On this trail, we would get to traverse the rim of the canyon, see various points of interest along the way, and finally reach the Rio Grande.
We knew this hike was nearly five miles one-way and while were camping just a few feet from a trailhead, we didn’t account for was the extra .5 miles it would take to get to the start of the Canyon Rim Trail. We were about two miles into our hike when the sun started heating up and we realized that we were not prepared for the distance and needed to turn back. We returned to our camp site and planned for an earlier start and more snacks for the following morning.
It was between the first attempt and the second that I started to doubt myself, well, doubt my body. I hadn’t been on a hike, or even a walk, that far from home, safety, and my arthritis rub in years. I’d always been a simple phone call away from a friend or an Uber picking me up and taking me home. I knew that Alex would carry me if need be, but my heart ached to make it there and back without pain.
All of the moments over the past five months since moving into the RV, small and large, where my body couldn’t do what my mind wanted popped straight into my brain. Doubt was rising up, slowly but surely. But then all the moments where we had triumphed since moving into the RV started to surface as well. The floor replacement that revealed a leaky shower on New Year’s Eve, the hood flying off our tow car on our first trip, the unintentional off-roading in Louisiana, all ending safely thanks to our quick decisions and teamwork. Nothing would stop us from getting to the Rio Grande.
After enjoying another gorgeous night sky, we settled in for the night, preparing for an early start and a big breakfast to help us on our journey.
Snacks and extra water in hand, we set out again. On our way to the Canyon Rim Trailhead we found the railroad bed crossing. It was built in 1882 and abandoned only a decade later. Railroad workers for Southern Pacific lived in full tent cities within what is now the park’s property. They even built their own limestone oven, reconstructed within in the park today.
“The nation’s second transcontinental railroad came by here in 1883, uniting the east and west coasts and creating an important route for commerce and settlement.” — Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Our next landmark was the appropriately named, Bridge to the Past.
“This wooden bridge passes beside the remnants of two rock rings that mark the locale of ‘wikiup’ structures inhabited by Native Americans 1,000–1,500 years ago.” — Texas Parks and Wildlife.
The Canyon Rim Trail was narrow and rocky, requiring Alex and I to walk single file along the edges of the canyon. We followed along its curves and let it show us the beauty of a part of the world that we thought we’d never see. The light, sandy desert plants and remarkably fine dirt contrasted with the darkness and the deepness of the canyon itself. It was easy to see the story, the history of the landscape unfold. You could imagine where people took shelter and made home in the crevices. You could see the layers of rock showcasing the erosion that formed, and continues to form, the canyon. We were the only people on the trail at that moment, quiet and observant.
Just past where we had turned around the day prior was the Presa Canyon (an offshoot of Seminole Canyon to the east) Overlook. This was our first glimpse of the aquamarine water of the Amistad Reservoir.
We continued on our trail, weaving in and out of the canyon, sometimes spying water, oftentimes surrounded by more desert, but always walking with the canyon and listening to its tale.
After a couple more miles, we could feel we were getting close. We saw something that one of the ranger’s mentioned to us when we checked in at the park—Panther Cave Pictograph Site. Even though a river stood between us, we could see the nine foot long panther image painted into the rock. The scale was astonishing. It was more than a memory of another time, it was a message, a reminder of humanity and our desire to communicate, to share with another. We stood in awe for a while before the sun reminded us that the day was creeping onward.
We knew we weren’t far and when we took one final turn, there we were. We made it to the Rio Grande. The Big River. It was more vibrant, serene, and vast than I could have imagined. Over the last several months we had seen body of water after body of water, but this was much more than that.
We could see Mexico, quiet and calm, almost a mirror of what we were experiencing on the other side. Separated only by the river, part of the Amistad Reservoir, ‘amistad’ meaning ‘friendship’ in Spanish.
“While today the river serves as an international boundary and recreational waterway, it meant survival to the Lower Pecos peoples — shaping their culture and providing resources that allowed their very existence.” — Texas Parks and Wildlife.
After hiking to get as close as possible to the water and dipping our fingers in it, we sat down for a snack. We chatted quietly, snacked on what we brought with us, listened to the water and the wind, and embraced the sun heating our faces. We stayed for a while in this magical place. It is a memory that I will never forget.
On our trip back, we took a different, more straight-forward trail, cutting our walk back in half. The trail used to be an old ranch road for sheep, goat, and cattle ranchers from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
We could see our RV getting closer and closer, and when we finally reached it, I expected to nap, but the feeling of accomplishment was too strong to shut my eyes. My feet ached slightly so I rested them, but focused on breathing in the fresh air and my victory.
The hike, the scenery, the solitude, the river, the border. It all reminded me that we are part of a story, no matter how long or short. It also reminded me that we’re not simply characters in that story, but authors, we get to choose our paths, whether we turn back or march on, whether we stay silent and resolved to our world or forge forward with courage. That day I picked up the pen and wrote an excerpt in my story, and I haven’t stopped since.