When she realized that she wasn’t leading the life she wanted, Clare Maney sought to change course. She saved up, quit her job, and spent the next eight months on the road, living in her CR-V and traveling solo around the Southwestern United States.
I I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to live my life in a way that proves you can do it differently.
I I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to live my life in a way that proves you can do it differently.
“Searching” is how my family always described it to me. Getting over-involved and experimenting meant I was trying to find myself. Graduating and moving to Arizona alone, knowing no one, solely on the premise that I got a cool tech start-up job and I was ready to get the heck out of Nebraska. That was a big move (pun intended), and the one that catalyzed a series of more interesting ones.
The first six months of Arizona were pure misery, with some shiny highlights of palm trees, fancy clothes, flights to Silicon Valley, and late nights with flashing lights. I immediately entered into the wealthiest zip code in the state, without a clue about my neighborhood. Friends weren’t plentiful; the cliques at work were too much for me, and I sure as hell wasn’t about to spend all my time shopping in Scottsdale, booze brunching, doing lines in the bathroom, and going to all the hottest clubs.
So I subsidized my social life with my dating life. I met loads of interesting people of all varieties, and had a good time with most, until I was roofied on a date, a fourth date, with a person I thought I knew and trusted. I to this day have not heard from him, and not from a lack of trying to get in touch again. I woke up in the ER alone, confused, unable to identify myself or explain my missing belongings and bodily injuries. Day after, I was followed (stalked) by a man on my way to pick up a new phone at UPS, because I had asked for directions at a gas station. He knew exactly where I was headed and that I was without a phone. I had to file a police report to get this stranger to leave me alone after a two-hour chase.
A week after this, my car died in a cloud of smoke from the Arizona heat. I had to get a new one within a few days to continue living and working, and the salesman tried to sell the vehicle to my male friend, Chris, who had given me a ride to the dealership. When he spoke, he looked at Chris, and he finally allowed me to get a credit check after speaking on the phone to my dad, who verified that my savings account was indeed mine. The lack of respect for my autonomy as an adult woman was becoming astounding.
If I did mention any of the things I was going through, I was typically met with the ‘this girl crazy’ eyes. So it goes sometimes when a woman tries to voice her struggle.
When I realized that I hadn’t been happy in months, and burst into tears driving to work one morning through my bougie neighborhood, I knew I couldn’t continue living this way. I quit my job, got a much more fulfilling role at a local advertising agency, and met coworkers who became my Phoenix family. At the same time, I began a relationship with a mountain biking nature nerd who showed me the gems that Arizona held far outside of the fancy malls and juice shops and golf courses and resorts. Trails became my new best friend, and most times when I wasn’t working, I was hiking or biking my way through trails systems all over the state.
A couple years passed in this way, learning at work, learning in my relationship, discovering the outdoors, and encountering all the smallest and biggest adult life lessons. But throughout that time, I wondered if the advertising industry was really for me, or if I was another cog in a consumerism wheel, sometimes wasting a load of stress energy over things as small as a single Google ad. My email was a constant tether, and the only friends I made were because of work. I figured that was basically the way it had to be, that “work is work”, and it’ll never be perfect. The fear of not making enough money, of losing parts of the lifestyle I valued, kept me in the same place for a good while. Through a breakup with my mountain man, through a layoff of over 50% of the staff in our office (close friends), through a bankruptcy of our agency, through some notable alcoholic and substance abuse tendencies of myself and surrounding industry figures. I stayed, I became invested, and my mental health spiraled with the investment… Until I broke.
The fear of not making enough money, of losing parts of the lifestyle I valued, kept me in the same place for a good while… I stayed, I became invested, and my mental health spiraled with the investment… Until I broke.It took me reaching back to the same place that allowed me to move away from toxic people, toxic situations, the grit that got me out of much worse situations before, to face my fears head on. I wrote down exactly what I wanted. And then I wrote down what I was afraid of in the pursuit of that want.
Who will I go with? Where? How will I afford it?
To take a break from work
How will that gap in my resume present to future employers?
To ride and hike, camp, learn about nature, and all things outdoors-related
What if I’m not good enough at those things to pursue them alone?
To switch industries
What if nothing is actually better than what I’m doing now?
To work outside with amazing new people in amazing new places
How would I ever qualify for such a job? Who would hire ME to do that?
Upon hours and hours of reflecting, I realized that nothing was really holding me back from doing those things I wanted besides myself. As long as I saved money, had a plan, and prepared well, I could do exactly what I wanted. So, I made that plan. It was a 3-month road trip around the West to ride bikes and hike and camp and see all the incredible Public Lands our country has to offer.
My creative center was on fire figuring out ways to make my vision happen. Mostly I kept it to myself, and only a few close friends were aware of my plans.
How I made it happen:
Saving money: I split most meals in half, and found as many ways as possible to get food for free or at a discount. I did this through various networking events, using coupons, and trying new cooking techniques. I began to rent out my apartment on AirBnb, sacrificing my bedroom to sleep on the couch, at a campsite, or at a friend’s place. Beyond that, I also didn’t buy clothes for an entire year and sold a large portion of the clothing I did have.
Planning: I began making a list of all the things I wanted to see and do, following people who were doing similar things, figuring out how to camp for free, how to eat on the cheap, and where all the coolest spots around the West were. From the seed of my idea to the actual implementation, at least two years had passed.
Preparation: the more I prepped the more I wanted to stay on the road longer. I converted my CR-V into a mobile home unit. It had a memory foam bed built on a plywood platform, a little library, gear and clothing storage, solar power at the ready, twinkle lights: you name it. Piles of snacks and sunscreen in bulk were organized into bins, clothes were pared down to just what would be useful outside, and all other gear was well researched to see what was truly essential to carry in the CR-V.
I took miniature trips to prepare, most memorably my first solo camping trip to Moab. Anticipation for this first solo trip helped to get me through the days when I felt I couldn’t wait any longer for the big trip. The very first night, I drove down a forest service road in the middle of the night and parked in a short canopy of desert brush. What I had planned to do was remove my bike from the back of the CR-V, set up camp, sleep in the tent next to the bike and view the beautiful stars. What happened instead was me shaking in fear at where I was, alone in the middle of the desert, with no clue who was nearby, and deciding to sleep in the front seat: Doors locked. Seat upright, blocked by the bike in the back. I think I slept maybe two hours that first night. Fear had overtaken, but I recognized that it was happening and found a way to turn it around. I drove through Arches in a blanket of darkness, straight to the trailhead for Delicate Arch. I armed myself with a camera, bear spray, and snacks in my pack, and made it to Delicate Arch just before sunrise to capture some of the most beautiful photos and timelapse, and redeem my sense of outdoor prowess. By the end of that first mini Moab trip, I had seen amazing scenery, went on some crazy bike rides and hikes, and made friends with other cool dirtbags on the trail.
Remembering the brand new, anxious, unsure feeling I had then makes me smile in retrospect as I’ve now made it through the other side, living in that CR-V for 8 months and camping alone more nights than I can count. I slept on top of the car under the stars in Texas, backpacked into the wilderness of New Mexico all alone and ran out of water, got stranded with a dead battery in the-middle-of-nowhere, Utah, swore that a mountain lion was about to attack me in the endless expanse of Southern Arizona. I was escorted through the dense smoke of multiple wildfires in British Columbia, crossed waterfalls in Colorado, stayed with complete strangers in Idaho, and was solicited on the side of Hwy 1 in Oregon. Through the 240 days or so that I lived on the road, there were only a handful of moments that were truly frightening, none of which were too intense to handle.
Fear was present through so many of the days that led to my favorite adventures and even during many of those great adventures. My stubborn nature and refusal to give up on my vision taught me that my fears were the guiding signs of where to go next. Whether it was to leave something completely in the past and move forward with a lighter heart, or to dive head first into something that seemed impossible and prove myself wrong, those fears were the sign posts that pointed out my next direction.
How has that played out for me in the longer term? I have one guiding job that has two seasons per year that I can work, and am about to head back to California for three more months to guide kayaking and snorkeling trips on the Channel Islands, as well as climbing and backpacking in Pinnacles and Yosemite National Parks. I’ve worked in a climbing gym, helped write curriculum for outdoor trips for my alma mater University in Nebraska, and worked at a Beer Bikes and Coffee shop. I also relocated to my dream city of Flagstaff, AZ, where my boyfriend/favorite adventure partner also lives. I have a very simple lifestyle full of free time, a lack of obligations and bills, and the ability to pursue many of the things I love to do. After I finish my guiding season this November, I have no idea what I will do next – which of course brings up a number of fears and anxieties – but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Follow along with Clare and her upcoming adventures on Instagram at @mountainskirtz.
All photos provided by Clare Maney.