“Welcome! What’s your name?” a woman shouted, smiling up at me.
As I rolled down the window the brisk desert wind whipped my hair round and round my face, covering my eyes from the bright midday sun.
“Casey” I yelled down, louder than usual due to my nerves. My mind was flooded with its usual overthinking. Would I fit in? Would they be mean? I don’t always get along with women. Or do I?
“Here’s your info, Casey. Now Alice, drive your van to finish the circle.” The woman pointed to an open dirt area where a corral of mismatched campers, RVs, vans, and cars formed perfectly curated circles that settled into a backdrop of picturesque mountains.
“Ummm, I’m staying in a tent. Where should I go?” thinking to myself, I wish I would have driven my van. But do to time restrains I had to fly.
“You’ll see some cars and tents over to the side, you can camp anywhere.”
Alice, my dear friend and fellow adventurer, had invited me down to Taos for the first Women on the Road Gathering. She knew I was going through a hard time and thought it was exactly what I needed. I agreed with her and flew down to New Mexico.
“Women on the Road and Vanlife Diaries are teaming up to bring adventurous women and nonbinary people together in Taos, New Mexico for a kid and dog-friendly gathering. This is an opportunity for us to connect and learn from each other, partake in the outdoor activities we love, and meet the crew behind Women on the Road and Vanlife Diaries.
Ticket includes two nights camping on this property at Hotel Luna Mystica in Taos, New Mexico. Located right next to the Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership and tucked near the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, you'll experience a weekend outdoors sharing music, food, stories, and touring tiny homes. A portion of your ticket will be donated to HEART of Taos, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide transitional housing and support services for Taos women facing homelessness.”
While setting up the Jade Buddha, my Big Agnes tent I used during my New Zealand bike tour, I met my first gathers. I was nervous and dreaded the typical socializing questions people ask. Let’s just get this out of the way, I thought.
Moments later we were all laughing. None of us could really give an answer to questions of “Where are you from? What do you do?” and we found comfort in our connection of uncertainty of our lives and our determined desire for road life and adventure.
At dusk, we found ourselves, all 100-150+ woman of the road, gathered at our homebase, a metal beam spider-shaped dome. With the blues fading into the pinks, our hosts Gale, Hailey, Laura, and Kathleen warmly welcomed us. Our weekends MC, Laura, kicked things off by inviting us all to indulge in a group potluck. As we ate, the road life stories began to flow, as did the canned Union Wine. Everyone was open and eager to connect.
The first nights festivities continued as we made our way to a canvas tent to watch van life, singer/songwriter Ira Wolf perform. Looking around, the tent was snuggled with dogs and a few cats, along with some kids and a group of women enjoying Ira’s talented power of capturing the spirit of road life into song. I wished I could have stayed longer but my bed was calling.
“She gave me shelter on the coldest nights, Shaded me on summer days, So as we traveled across the country wide, Ruby set the pace…..”
Ira’s words walked me home and tucked me warmly into my tent. Settling into the cold New Mexico night, I slipped off to sleep only to be woken by car tail lights blinding me. “What’s that?”, I thought scrambling out of my tightly zipped sleeping bag. I popped my head out to see a car backing in between my tent and my neighbor’s. With only a few feet of clearance I wasn’t sure if the driver saw either of the tents. As fast as they had arrived, the car left. With a sign of relief, I got back to sleep but first, I turned on the two strands of tent lights. I was glad I remember them. The Jade Buddha lit aglow like a beacon as I drifted into dreamland.
At the crack of dawn, I woke from a full nights slumber to the warm desert rays that began to warm my frost-covered tent. Eager for some hot tea, I made my way down to the gathering area. Having just arrived from Utah, Mobile Mountain Cafe was set up and open for business. Once I got my piping hot cup of earl grey, I spent the early AM wandering around. Life was waking across the camp and the energy was jiving with excitement for the days events. A large group was practicing yoga. Friendly pups were walking their owners. Gatherers exchanged chitchat while washing away the morning’s grogg.
“Avoid looking in your stuff for your stuff,” said Angie, showing the more than an attentive audience how she lives a minimalist lifestyle and has only one bag of trash a YEAR!
The workshops for the day had kicked off. The floodgates of information, connection, and sharing had started. With the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as her stage, Angie Fernandez opened up and got real. She literally opened her car (which she sometimes stays in), the pack she always carries, and her travel kitchen in a suitcase. The hour was just enough time to crack open the vast and deep volumes of helpful information Angie was willing to share about minimalism, health, food, environmental impact, waste, passion, and living life.
“What is the biggest challenge to getting on the road?”
Hum…I really had to think about this question. So did the other gatherers. The tent was quiet yet filled with deep thoughts as the second workshop kicked off. Once we turned in our answers, we broke off into smaller groups according to our answers to discuss what keeps us from doing the type of travel we seek and why. We shared our personal stories and advice. It was nice to hear others insights. You could feel the bravery in the room step aside, welcoming the vast amounts of vulnerability.
The rest of the day we moved between smaller groups and coming back together as a large gathering. We chatted about topics from finances, relationships, logistics, sexism, safety, break ins, “the knock”, insurance, part-time/full-time road life. These are just a few of the many topics we got in depth with.
I gotta give it up to Gale, Hailey, Laura, and Kathleen for organizing an event that was more conversation, connection, sharing of stories rather than a lecture. Despite their vast experience, I was impressed with how they facilitated each workshop as prompters and timekeepers instead of instigators or experts. This allowed a safe space for us all to share our experiences. We became the experts, sharing what we knew with each other. The more we opened up, the more vulnerable and closer we all became.
The magic of the community continued throughout the day and as the sky turned to dusk we gathered into The Mothership at the Taos Mesa Brewing for the panel of Live Q&A. The panel was filled with the road life variety. Some full time, some part time, some newbies, some veterans. It was nice to hear the different insights on questions written by the gatherers. (which was recorded LIVE, click link below to listen)
I grabbed a can of wine, some tasty popcorn and stood around taking it all in. It was dark, the day was over and we were all back at the gathering spot for happy hour. My mind and heart were bursting! I could feel the deep sense of belonging and purpose among the gatherers, myself included. The conversations continued, along with the support, the laughter, and the love, which fell into the night leading me to bed.
Waking on the last day, I was filled with a bit of sadness. Emerging, once again from a frost-covered tent, I sat quietly taking in the brisk morning. I was preparing myself for a day of goodbyes. The new morning routines of sipping hot beverages, dog walks, yoga, communal tooth brushing were now over.
Before the sadness hit, a whiff of hot buttery pancakes filled the air. Following temptation, I made my way to the pancake feed but I found myself weaving throughout the caravan circles. Distracted by the open van doors, I peered into each unique and cleverly created home on wheels. I began to long for mine. Jones would have really dug meeting new friends and showing off her comfy insides. Back on track Casey, you have a feed to get to.
Feasting on a plateful of gluten free goodness we all headed to the final events that started with the swap meet. The gathering table was full of grand exchanges and excitement of finding new treasures as well as getting rid of the old ones. Donned with our new gear and garbs we grouped up to preserve this unique moment in time with a photo.
Piling together, we all hugged, and laughed. This was our final moment together. Looking around I thought, what a group we were. We were a bunch of ladies who dropped stereotypes and personas to come together to get real about our passions, dreams, fears, and the unknown. Even if we were alone, we no longer were and within a few days, we had gone from distant strangers to a vibrant, powerful, loving, badass community.