Interview: Tree and Stevie, SprinterLife.com

Meet Tree (John Trujillo), Stevie, and Kiki (the pooch), nomads and authors of the excellent websiteSprinterLife.com. This engaging pair are heading vaguely south in an '06 diesel Sprinter, after literally selling most of their possessions and embracing the full-time overlanding life in 2009. Part of what nudged them forward, literally, was Stevie's lucrative but miserable job and Tree's climbing accident, which landed him in a wheelchair for a good part of 2008. Life is precious, and they decided to embrace it. They share a little of their life with us here: 

TELL US WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO DO THIS: Stevie: Within a few months of meeting, Tree and I were already fantasizing about driving the Pan-American Highway together because we both love to travel and agreed that the trip to Tierra del Fuego would be amazing. Through the years, the fantasy morphed into a discussion that eventually shaped up into an actual plan. The tipping point of when the trip became a lifestyle, though, happened shortly after we sold all of our possessions, moved into the Sprinter, and started living like nomads . . .

Once we had a taste of this freedom, we knew we couldn’t go back. The broadened consciousness and deepened compassion that come from traveling and communing with people from around the world is too inspiring to ever give up for a couch or a TV.    

ARE YOU RETIRED OR DO YOU WORK ON THE ROAD? HOW CAN YOU AFFORD TO DO THIS? 

Stevie: Before the birth of Sprinterlife, I worked in sales, and although the job was lucrative and respectable, it seemed to suck the marrow from my bones, leaving me less of myself everyday. I felt anxious about always having to produce more, buy more, and look better—and, then I’d get depressed about how meaningless that was. Basically, I saw myself as Sisyphus, except the rock and the hill kept getting bigger while I kept getting smaller. So, Tree and I sat down together and examined our life path and values, and we decided that we preferred living simpler in a way that honored our heart’s intention instead of our egos. In other words, we gave up the expensive apartment, the cushy household items, my beloved car, and most extraneous spending (we make exceptions for wine and chocolate). Now, we live on the road, and I write, which is what I’ve always dreamt of doing but was too afraid to try. And, even though I make a whole lot less money, we’re happier than ever before. Of course, the fulcrum of this whole financial structure is Outdoorplay, Tree’s online paddle sports business.  Without it, none of this would be possible. Tree started ODP in 1995 out of his garage, and with the help of an amazing team of people, the business has grown into a vibrant company that provides a great life for all those involved. These days, Tree runs the company from the Sprinter so we’re always chasing the Internet. 

TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR VEHICLE AND WHY YOU CHOSE IT?

Tree: When you choose a vehicle to live in, you’ll quickly realize there are pros and cons to every option. We live in a 2006 Mercedes Benz Sprinter Van. We had it converted by Sportsmobile, and we love it. They do a great job of making small spaces livable. We installed a refrigerator, a two-burner stove, a sink, a Tempurpedic bed, inside surf racks, a shoe rack, closets, and a custom roof rack with a rocket box. Even with all that, the Sprinter gets great gas mileage for its size, and it’s stealth. We can camp undetected just about anywhere.  That being said, our next overland vehicle will have a toilet and a hot shower.  

Stevie: Hooray, a bathroom!  

YOU HAVE HAD A COUPLE SCARY INCIDENTS IN MEXICO, INCLUDING PASSING THROUGH ACAPULCO AT THE TIME OF THE RECENT DRUG-RELATED MURDERS. MANY PEOPLE ARE TOO AFRAID TO TRAVEL THERE. WHAT IS YOUR REACTION? 

Stevie: Like most other people living in the U.S., before we crossed the border and experienced Mexico for ourselves, we were afraid. The headlines in the U.S. media have been unnerving, to say the least. Once we crossed the border, though, real experience gave way to sensationalized fears. Yes, there is in fact a drug war going on, but it’s between the drug cartels and the government. The truth is that most of Mexico is very safe, and the hotspots are well known and easy to avoid. There’s no need to be afraid of traveling through Mexico. For example, we were in Acapulco when, sadly, the heads of 15 young narcos were found in a popular shopping center, but that was also when, sadly, twenty people were injured, 6 of which were fatally shot, at a popular supermarket in Arizona. Should I warn my Mexican friends now that the U.S. is a failed state, overrun by mad, militant people full of such vitriol that they will shoot women and children at will in public spaces? Or, maybe I should never shop at a supermarket again, just to be safe. That sounds crazy, right? When we look in our own backyard, our domestic violence somehow seems more innocuous. We’re willing to deny, and write-off as a fluke, the homegrown, cruel consciousness that creates it and perhaps is far more menacing than any drug lord abroad, which, ironically, is again only satisfying the demands of US appetites. So, my thought is this: don’t let your life be defined by the fear that is created by other people’s bad thinking. Instead, live in a way that expresses your passion and promotes good thinking. Or, just go to Mexico. It’s great.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE EASIEST THING FOR YOU? 

Stevie and Tree: Meeting great people

WHAT HAS BEEN THE HARDEST THING? 

Tree: Topes (Mexican speed bumps, learn more here) and public bathrooms. 

Stevie: Helplessly watching as my loved one suffers from Post Traumatic Tope Disorder, full well knowing that our horizon line is studded with topes, as far as the eye can see. 

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE PLACE SO FAR? 

Stevie: Cuba. It’s kind of funny, the U.S. has depicted this tiny island as Castro’s boogieland for over fifty years now, so it was shocking to arrive in Havana and be greeted by all these smiling, bright and warm people, who literally salsa in the streets, at any given time of the day. Even more fascinating, we learned that Cuba has a 100% literacy rate for men and women, free University education, free healthcare, and one of the lowest crime rates in the world. And it’s fun!! Great rum, music, architecture, sights, beaches, museums, nightlife, you name it. We highly recommend visiting Cuba. It’s not too often that you get to go to a country that has been insulated from McDonalds and MTV for over fifty years, brewing its own brand of magic. It’s literally like visiting an alternate reality off the coast of Florida.  

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST INTERESTING EXPERIENCE? 

Stevie: Discovering that we are not alone. When we set off on this journey, we thought we were Lewis and Clark. Now we realize that we’re just two people joining an ever-growing community of conscious, compassionate overlanders hell bent on living their own dreams and doing good along the way. We feel honored to join the leagues! And, more importantly, we’re excited about exploring not only new lands, but also new ways that we can make a positive impact on our surroundings. 

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING OVERLANDERS? Stevie: One of our favorite quotes is by Toni Morrison, “Wanna fly, you gotta give up the shit that weighs you down.” First get rid of the irrational fears, the allegiance to other people’s dreams, and especially the voice in your head that makes excuses about why it can’t be done, because it can be done, and you can do it! Then, start telling everyone about your upcoming journey while you slowly get rid of everything that doesn’t fit inside your vehicle. As much as possible, stop spending; step outside of the consumerist cycle of ownership and debt because it weighs you down. Start reaching out to other travelers through websites like Overland Expo, Facebook,Twitter, and blogs to keep you inspired. Then, set a launch date and go!!!