How I Rewrote my Story and Got on the Road

How I Rewrote my Story and Got on the Road


How, how, how- that word is constantly streaming through my head these days.

How is this trip about to start? How did I even get here? How did I think I could do this? Before I get ahead of myself though, let me tell you how this all started.

My name is Alex, and I am a 26-year-old who danced between my 9-5 job, happy hours, and weekend warrior expeditions.  Like so many of my friends, I went to a good school, got an abstract liberal arts degree, and found a respectable job out of college. Unlike most of my friends, I’ve decided to throw all of this out the window in order to live out of my VW bus and search for wonder.

The thing about my story is that my life wasn’t bad. I had manifested a great life in fact. I had an awesome group of friends who challenged me daily, a job at the National Marine Mammal Lab that made me proud, and I loved living in Seattle. I had all of the pieces you think of when you imagine a 20-something living in a big city. Sometimes I think people assume that in order to leave something behind, that thing has to be broken, but that wasn’t the case for me.

The idea to move my life into my VW bus started to form slowly at first. It was just a passing idea, a “maybe when I have enough vacation accrued” musing. The more I considered it, though, the more compelling the idea became. It morphed into a full-fledged wish, one of those private desires I murmured into my pillow right before sleep so no one could hear. The idea kept returning and I couldn’t let it go.  

Then the opportunity to turn my work project into a Masters degree came about. It was exactly what I had been aiming towards for years, yet now that it was becoming a reality, my stomach fell at the prospect. I felt helpless within my own life.  My anxiety spiked at the thought of going back to school, going to work, all of a sudden every move seemed wrong.  

How I Rewrote my Story and Got on the Road

That was when I accepted that I had to make a change. I realized that if I didn’t listen to my instincts, I was going to settle for something I didn’t want. Sleepwalking through my days only to wake up with ten years gone and no idea how I got there.  The mundane is a part of life—we can’t possibly spend every moment on the edge of our seats—but I couldn’t make a life out of sleepwalking.  

So I told everyone of my decision: I was leaving my job, I was selling everything, I was moving into my van and wandering north towards Alaska and the Yukon. I didn’t ask for permission. I gave myself permission.

The responses were varied but predictable. People were concerned, fearful, elated, excited, confused – but the word that caught me most by surprise was “courage”. So many people told me how courageous it was to stop my life mid-chapter and start writing a new storyline. It’s funny when I think back on that now because at the time, my decision didn’t feel courageous, it felt more like survival. I was on the verge of signing up for a life that mimicked what I thought I was supposed to do and ignored what I really wanted to do. So, not without trepidation, I walked away from it.

How I Rewrote my Story and Got on the Road

Okay, back to the  how? How am I going to do this? Well, I’ll tell you where I’m at now… Four days ago I moved out of my apartment. All of my furniture is sold, I gave away two carfuls of crap to Goodwill, and I’ve moved back into my parents’ house.  

My van is parked in the driveway and the never-ending shuffle of repairs and alterations has commenced. My room is a mess, and my mind is not much better. I have three more days until I get on a ferry from Bellingham, WA to Ketchikan, AK. I have no real plan. I have no idea where I will go. The only thing I am certain of is this: it’s possible to rewrite my story. It doesn’t have to be drastic and it doesn’t have to be grand. It can be as simple as keeping a promise to myself, but it is critical that only I am the author. For the first time, I am not falling victim to expectations, assumptions, and stereotypes. And while this may not be perfect, it’s perfect for me. So there, that is the How.


What I’m listening to: It’s only, by Odesza


About the Author


Alexandra Ulmke