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  • Writer's pictureBriana Halliwell

The Breezy Bus Blog: A Busy Month of Travel

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

Written by Briana Halliwell

The anniversary of our first month on the road aptly coincided with another important holiday - Mother’s Day. We lived with my mother for a little over a year while building the bus, since we couldn’t afford to pay rent anywhere with a driveway large enough for the bus and a garage space that could double as a workshop.


Susan graciously opened her cozy three bedroom home to us in early January 2022, inviting us to stay as long as we needed and offering to care for Kali when we went out of town. I feel immense gratitude for my mom’s boundless generosity and unfaltering acceptance of our shared leading to convert the bus into a sustainable tiny home and adventure-activist-mobile, as I know we wouldn’t be where we are today were it not for her support (and the help of so many other friends and family members!).


We’re also feeling a tremendous amount of gratitude for the generosity of both of our families and the village of friends that helped make this bus dream a reality. We truly couldn't have done it without all the love, support, and generosity of our community! And we are especially grateful for my father’s generous financial donation to our journey, which was gifted shortly before our departure along with the entertaining story of his own cross-country road trip where he and his girlfriend nearly ran out of money before making it to California, where they both hoped to find work back in the ‘70s.

 

Green mountain vistas swim languidly through my memories of our first month on the road, colorfully intermingled with the blank canvas of endless highway. In our second week on the road, we wove our way carefully down the East Coast through the steep and winding mountains and valleys of Shenandoah National Park on Skyline Drive, feeling invigorated by the gloriously green mountain scenes and valley views spanning as far as the eye could see.

Overjoyed by the luscious green mountain views on Skyline Drive!

We spent a few magical nights in a faery forest at Willow Run Farm in Harrisonburg, Virginia where we were delighted to experience goat yoga for the first time. Our gracious hosts, Cornelius and Amelia, assured us that the baby goats would enthusiastically clamber all over our folded bodies if we went into their pen and struck a pose, so of course that’s what we did the first chance we got. The kids’ little hooves massaged our sore muscles from the long days of driving and their darling bleats were like music to our ears after the incessant din of road noise.

After we left Willow Run, we careened intrepidly down the Blue Ridge Parkway, shifting into lower and lower gears as the heft of the bus propelled us down the mountain roads like a bowling ball dropped from the top of a steep slide. The rolling blue-green hills of hemlock and pine interspersed with newly budding oak, birch, chestnut, and poplar invigorated our senses with a long-awaited thrill of vibrant spring energy, awakening the dormant dreamers within and inspiring us to continue following the lead of Mystery, wherever we were led next.

Gnarled Tree Perched above the Shenandoah Mountains

We followed the meandering rocky spine of the Blue Ridge Mountain Range until we crossed the border into North Carolina, my home away from home. I graduated from Guilford College in Greensboro, NC in 2015 and worked at a small non-profit zoo in the same area for a couple of years before moving back up to Maine in 2019, so I was excited to introduce Zoli to the people and animals who comprised my community while I lived in the South for about 8 years before we met.


Our first night in North Carolina we stayed at an alpaca farm called Minro Acres that was located just 10 minutes away from the Animal Park at The Conservators Center, my old stomping grounds. We excitedly said “hello” to the resident alpacas, miniature horses, goats, and a big, shaggy Great Pyrenese dog named Betty who let herself into every enclosure with us, even when we tried to keep her out. Even our dog Kali greeted an alpaca through the fence, which was a memorable experience for us all!

We drove to The Conservators Center as the early afternoon sun baked our bones and the humidity dissolved our resolve to seek warmth from the bitter cold of the long Maine winter. We longed for air conditioning in the bus, even though neither of us particularly like the smell or feel of faux arctic air. Fortunately we found a shady place to park once we arrived, and with the MaxxAir Fan running and all the curtains drawn closed, the inside of the bus remained cool and comfortable for Kali while we set off on our tour of the Animal Park.

The visit to the Park reignited my passion for wildlife conservation and reminded me of the community I once loved and considered myself an integral part of, comprised of both human and more-than-human beings. Introducing Zoli to the people and animals I used to work with was a joy and a pleasure, especially as I watched the awe and wonder sweep across his face as he encountered exotic species he’d never seen in-person before like bearish-looking binturongs and African lions who “oofed” in response to our guttural roars.

 

While in North Carolina, we also met up with an ex-partner of mine who had courageously transitioned from male to female a few years after we parted ways, after siring two beautiful children and while attending Med. School at Wake Forest, in a state whose politics trend definitively red. My heart swelled with pride when I saw what a fantastic mother Kaylee had become. Her two young daughters charmed us with extravagant displays of show-and-tell, proudly presenting plastic animal figurines, colorful trinkets and treasures of all shapes and sizes, and, best of all, a miniature purple point-and-shoot camera that took real pictures and was chock full of blurry photos from last year’s decked-out Christmas tree.


My heart also aches with concern for Kaylee and her children, whose safety in this country is not even remotely guaranteed. North Carolina is just one of many states in the U.S. that is actively seeking to ban gender-affirming healthcare and trying to pass anti-trans legislation that would have a severe impact on a significant portion of the population. Kaylee is working hard to become a doctor in her home state so she can provide care in rural areas to her Queer and Trans community members, who are at high risk of falling through the cracks of the unjustly politicized medical system, just for being their true, authentic selves. If you’d like to learn more about how to support transgender people in your own life, TransEquality.org published an excellent article about how to be a good ally and offers a lot of different ways to support, even if you don’t personally know anyone who identifies as trans.


We stayed with my old climbing friends Wes and Abbey in Winston-Salem for two nights after visiting with Kaylee and her kids, and greatly enjoyed swapping rowdy road trip stories with them and discussing our hopes and dreams for the future. They both worked as NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) guides as well as wilderness therapy practitioners for many years before they settled down in North Carolina so Abbey could go to Med School (also at Wake Forest - turns out she and Kaylee work together, small world!) while Wes started counseling full-time.


After a lovely visit in central North Carolina, we decided to head west towards Asheville, stopping briefly to admire the breathtaking beauty of Linville Gorge on our way to the city. Linville Falls literally took my breath away as I teetered at the top of Chimney View and gazed into the mesmerizing flow, feeling almost hypnotized by the roiling water of the Falls and the 3,000+ foot drop to the raging river below.


We spent one pleasant night spent at a pull-off on the Blue Ridge Parkway that overlooked Linville Gorge and Table Rock where we watched the sun greet the day with a blinding ferocity, and then we wound our way down the dusky blue mountain range to the city of Asheville. We enjoyed a leisurely brunch at Sunny Point Cafe, one of my favorite restaurants in the world. Kali made friends with a man at the neighboring table and joyfully accepted bits of bacon from him throughout our meal without begging for a single one.


Sunrise Over Linville Gorge

Our first extended trip in the bus happened last summer when Zoli and I assisted in a week-long residential training called “Culture Change in a Time of Collapse” at The Possibility Alliance in Belfast, Maine. That intense workshop is where we met the couple we stayed with outside of Asheville, NC on this maiden voyage beyond Maine.


Chris Burris is an IFS (Internal Family Systems) therapist and trainer who is heavily involved in a movement called Black Therapists Rock whose mission is to “reverse racial trauma through collective healing.” His wife, Deena Burris, is an International Relations professor who actually worked at Guilford College while I was a student! We never met at Guilford, but when I picked Deena and Chris up from the Bangor airport last June, we immediately hit it off and knew we would see one another again in the future. We were delighted to overlap with them on our visit to Western North Carolina and greatly appreciated their words of wisdom and the gift of their co-authored book, Creating Healing Circles: Using the Internal Family Systems Model in Facilitating Groups.

Following our time with Chris and Deena we continued on to Nashville, Tennessee where we met up with Julie, one of Zoli’s friends from his time teaching in Vietnam. We strolled through the luscious woods of Percy Warner Park discussing our respective travel plans and reminiscing about pre-pandemic life. We let Kali run loose when no one else was around and she gleefully chased countless squirrels up wind-worn trees, hoping as ever to catch the fleeting wisp of a darting tail. We met our first fellow van-lifer in the parking lot of the Park that night, a solo female traveler from Canada who was full of stories and questions about our journey that we were glad to answer since we hadn’t encountered very many other full-time vagabonds before her.

Cotton-top Tamarin Monkey

The next morning we drove a short distance to the Nashville Zoo where we encountered animals from all over the world that neither of us had ever heard of or seen before, including the Rhinoceros Hornbill and the Cotton-top Tamarin.


I “ooed” and “awed” at every enclosure until we reached Tiger Crossroads, where my heart shattered like dry clay in a fiery kiln. Around every bend of the recently remodeled Sumatran tiger exhibit lay a damning admonishment of how humans have been the primary driver of the destruction of tigers, painfully juxtaposed with well-intentioned encouragements claiming that humans also possess the power to protect the few vulnerable tiger species that still remain.


The crowded indoor space of the exhibit felt tortuously claustrophobic as I clawed my way through the throng of destructive humans to the front, where I hoped to catch a glimpse of Frances, the regal tiger ambassador herself. The closer I got to the floor-to-ceiling glass wall, the less inclined I felt to see Frances. No one else seemed to be reading the writing on the wall and I felt deep-seated devastation creeping in like an old friend as I slipped silently out of the indoor space and gulped lungfuls of fresh air while the sorrow sank in and settled like silt in my aching heart. 400 Sumatran tigers left in the world. 90% of tiger habitat lost to human destruction in the last 100 years. I am the culprit. I am the savior.

Zoli held me tightly while I shed the tears contained within the Third Gate of Grief, the “Sorrows of the World,” according to Francis Weller’s Five Gates of Grief from his book The Wild Edge of Sorrow. I walked away from the Sumatran tiger exhibit feeling a fierce mixture of heartbreak and resolve. I’ve known since before I could speak that I am meant to work with animals in this lifetime in one way or another, and the harsh reminder of the imminent extinction of the Sumatran tiger, one of the most iconic and personally meaningful species in my life, carried me to a place of renewed and resolute purpose. I will do everything in my power to protect the wild ones with the help of Spirit, no matter what.

Me & Blitz at The Conservators Center

At the Wild Works Animal Show, I had the opportunity to be part of the show by standing in as a tree limb for a medium sized Toucan called an Ariçari along with a half dozen other volunteers, all of whom knew nothing about what to expect before offering to take center stage. I also got to meet an Ambassador Animal Keeper who used to work with Blitz, a Eurasian Lynx who retired at the Conservators Center and arrived shortly after I started working there. Blitz and I shared a special bond from the moment we met while I was working as a Keeper at the Animal Park, so meeting his former handler at his original home was an unexpected blessing of our visit to the Nashville Zoo.

From Nashville we continued heading West through Arkansas instead of going South to Georgia like we’d originally planned. We initially felt a strong leading to offer our support at the Stop Cop City Movement in Atlanta, but after reaching out to a few people in the area and hearing about the lack of organized leadership in addition to the domestic terrorism charges that many out-of-state activists were being charged with simply for being present in the area, we discerned a mutual shift in our sense of leading and chose the more prudent route this time around.

Our campsite along the turquoise-colored Illinois River

We explored the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest in northwestern Arkansas and found a remote place to boondock (camp off-grid) along the spectacularly turquoise blue Illinois River for a night before continuing our journey westward the next day. In the morning on our way to a hike to Pedestal Rock in the Ozark National Forest, we encountered an injured box turtle in the middle of the road.

We scooped them up, placed them in a box with a towel loosely wrapped around their shell, and continued on, searching for a wildlife rescue service as we drove.

Fire Ceremony for the injured Box Turtle

Unfortunately we were unable to find someone who could rehabilitate the injured box turtle, and after calling around and sending a photo of the turtle to one rehabilitator, we were led to believe that the turtle was unlikely to survive the night due to the severity of its wounds. We had already driven about two hours away from where we’d first picked the turtle up, so sadly we ended up releasing the turtle into the woods at our campsite, trusting that Mother Nature would take her course with grace. We held a fire ceremony that night to honor the turtle.


As we were looking for a wildlife rescue service for the turtle, we came across a place called Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge near Eureka Springs, AR. Turpentine Creek doesn’t rehabilitate turtles, but the website claimed they were one of the largest big cat rescues in North America. After doing some research and seeing that the organization was accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), I insisted on visiting even though traveling that far north in Arkansas wasn’t accounted for in our original itinerary. Fortunately Zoli was game for the spontaneous change of plans and excited to meet more lions and tigers (and ligers and tigons) after whetting his appetite for big cat encounters at the Animal Park in North Carolina.


We enjoyed a lovely motorized tour around the park with a handful of other visitors where we saw at least 20 different big cats lounging in the shade in their spacious enclosures or being fed by the animal care staff. Afterwards we were allowed to walk around the center of the park for as long as we wished, so we had the opportunity to say “hello” to a few of the feline residents a bit closer than before.

Luna, a rescued white tiger from Florida making a "stinky face" (officially called the flehman response)
An example of a roadside zoo tiger cage

We spent a long time with Luna, a 7 year old white tiger who was rescued from a roadside attraction in Florida where she and other tiger cubs were forced to swim with paying humans in harshly chlorinated pools for hours on end without a break, and then squeezed into cramped and filthy cages to sleep at night. Unfortunately the phenomenon of roadside zoos is still a pervasive issue in the U.S., although the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Animal Legal Defense Fund have been working diligently toward eradicating them from the American landscape with the Animal Welfare Act.


One thing I appreciated about Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge is that their main goal is to go out of business once the Big Cat Trade is officially abolished. Their mission statement reads: “Through public education, and specifically the education of our children, we work to end the Big Cat Trade. Together, we can preserve and protect these magnificent and endangered animals making sanctuaries like Turpentine Creek no longer necessary.”

Zoli "swimming" in Beaver Lake

Although I personally struggle with the ethical dilemmas of keeping wild animals in captivity, I also recognize that due to human hubris, there exists a pressing need for sanctuaries to continue providing homes for rescued animals who cannot be released into the wild whose lives and deaths would be far worse were it not for wildlife rescue organizations such as Turpentine Creek and The Conservators Center.


After we left Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, we found the most amazing place to swim at Beaver Lake, which was just down the road from a gorgeous pull-off called Lover’s Leap in Eureka Springs, AR. Splashing around in Beaver Lake felt reminiscent of all the times we swam in Lake St. George down the road from my mom’s house in Liberty, Maine during the pandemic summers, especially since it was our first time submerging ourselves completely in a body of fresh water this year. We’d usually have to wait until at least July to be able to swim comfortably in Maine, so we were delighted to start our swim season early this year.

Lover's Leap overlook at Beaver Lake in Eureka Springs, AR

Our camp spot overlooking the pond at Equine Meadows

Once we’d cooled down enough to drive (and taken oodles of photos of the bus parked at the majestically beautiful overlook at Lover’s Leap), we drove to a Harvest Host called Equine Meadows in Oklahoma City for the night. Our host Matt was incredibly friendly and the location was so idyllic that we actually decided to stay for two nights instead of one. We parked the bus on the grass next to one of the two wildlife ponds and greatly enjoyed watching great white egrets skim over the water while the sun set in a brilliant show of color over the horizon.


Another couple with a tow-behind camper stayed with us the second night and I had a great time chatting with Dave, an older man and wildlife photographer from North Carolina. He and his wife have been traveling to all the national parks, monuments, and forests in the contiguous United States in their camper for the past several years - that’s over 400 national landmarks! They’ve already visited 380 to date, and they’re closing in on the final 20 this summer and fall.


We got on the topic of music and after I mentioned that my mom plays the hammer dulcimer with the Belfast Bay Fiddlers in Maine, Dave told me about Timothy Seaman, an acclaimed dulcimer player he and his wife met while they lived in Virginia. I ended up ordering one of Tim’s CDs called Virginia Wildlife to send to my mom as a Mother’s Day Gift, and I can’t wait to listen to it when we return home to Maine for a few weeks later this summer!


We had a great day catching up on computer work at Equine Meadows in our outdoor office overlooking one of the ponds, and that "zero day" also gave us time to plan the next leg of our journey, which included all of the Southwestern National Parks we planned to visit. Stay tuned for our next post, which will primarily be a photo gallery of the Grand Circle of National Parks in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado!

Our final camp set-up at Equine Meadows in Oklahoma before heading to the deserts and canyons of the Southwest

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