One year ago today, at 2:30 am, the smoke alarm in my apartment went off. The place was full of smoke, and there were flames at my back door, just a few feet away from where we’d been sleeping. We got up, grabbed essentials, tossed the cat in my car for safekeeping, and got out. Ours was the only smoke alarm on that side of the building. If it hadn’t, we might not have made it out alive.

That was the moment when we became houseless. I won’t say “homeless,” because our next home was already under construction in the back parking lot: the van that we would name Smokey because everything we owned was now covered in smoke residue. But it wasn’t home yet, and so began one of the most difficult months of my life — not only rushing through the end of the van build but also salvaging what we could from the damaged apartment, with property management making our lives even more difficult every step of the way.

It’s hard to believe it’s only been a year since then. The van’s gone through continuous incremental changes along the way. For that matter, so have I, though the breakup with Trisha was anything but incremental. That bombshell was at least as big for me as the fire, as it fundamentally changed how I live on the road. It also changed where I go, with me ending up out west instead of on the east coast like we’d planned. She’s still living that life now, but I’m not.

To say I’ve changed would be like saying the ocean is slightly damp. I’ve been to places, met people, and had experiences I never would have if not for this life-changing event. I’d like to think I’ve turned out to be a better person in the end, though I wouldn’t wish this difficult path I’ve taken to get here on anybody.

I’ve definitely learned to roll with the punches better than I used to. It’s not like I had a choice. When gas prices went through the roof, I realized my previous summer adventure plans were no longer affordable, so I scaled them back. Now that they’ve stabilized and started dropping, I’m reconsidering the original plans. I’m still not quite sure what the new plan will be. I’m making it up as I go along. That’s something I’ve also become much better at doing in the past year. Often I make good choices. Sometimes I don’t. Nobody’s perfect. But one bonus of living the way I do is that if I run into problems, I can usually just drive away from them.

I’m not sure what else to say about this. It’s been a crazy year. I hope the following year is not quite as crazy, at least not in the bad ways. Some crazy is good, especially the fun kind.

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