It is 4:00 in the morning, the sun is a couple hours away from rising, your heart is beating fast, there is a sense of freedom in your bones, redemption lingers all around you, and your fingers clutch the wheel, eagerly anticipating where you will end up in the morning.
Does this sound familiar?
Well, this could be a typical morning for Sampson Gaglione, the bearded, cheap-beer loving, self acclaimed “dirtbag” who has been wandering around the United States in his 1970 something Volks Wagon Van.
About a year ago, I stalked Sampson on Instagram and decided I needed to meet him. We were both living in Breckenridge, Colorado and social media told me he was prepping to live his life exactly how I one day aspired to.
“I’ve lived in Breck for the last seven years” Sampson responded to my Instagram message. “I bought the VW [van] a year ago and have been building it since so I could travel and live in it. I’m almost ready to leave”.
I asked him where he was headed and when.
“It’s taken a lot of work to get the van ready. But I think I’m heading to California for November, maybe longer. Who knows after that. I’d love to drive to Alaska next spring!”.
After harassing Sampson on Instagram he agreed to meet me for a drink, which ended up being a walk around town, talking about living life in adventure mode.
That was a year ago. And he went on his way shortly after that.
Today, a year after our aimless walk around our little ski town of a home, Sampson resides in the mountains of Jackson, Wyoming, and yes he is still living in his van.
Reconnecting a year later, I asked him what he has been up to.
“I was in California, working out there but I was miserable and wasn’t making any money. I panic left at 4:30 AM one morning with $200 in my pocket. I called my friend Regis and he said he was in Jackson and that it was a pretty rad place. So I B lined it here and ended up staying. Found a kickass job as a ski lift mechanic for a local ski resort and decided that im going to stay and bear the winter in my van”!
I told you he was up to no good at 4:00 AM.
“I was in Calaveras County, CA” he said. “I wasted 3 months of my life working for free there. It was a very soul damaging experience to say the least. I left out of pure desperation to keep my sanity and what little shred of happiness I still had”.
A common fear people have is not being able to find a job they like, or a job at all. Not making money scares the crap out of people. And not making a lot of money makes people even more afraid. So we take the first opportunity we have, it becomes comfortable and we work our way up. Before we know it the thought of leaving seems impossible, and again the fear of finding a job lingers.
Sampson is a perfect example of taking a chance on possibly not finding a job, following his gut feeling and getting out of a bad situation, even if running into an unknown oblivion felt like his only option. Typically, if you take a chance on yourself, with a positive mindset, no matter how risky it feels, it will work itself out.
Driving away on his “escape from California” Sampson says, “I felt like a liberated man! Like I took back my dignity. I was running off of pure self preservation at that point”.
That was about month ago, and today he really enjoys where he is at, thanks to his 4:00 AM getaway.
“Currently I’m working for Snow King Resort as a Lift Mechanic. And its a pretty badass job. I get to hang from 100 ft towers, work on the heart of the mountain and Im surrounded by like minded outdoorsy type folk. I really couldn’t have asked for a better job right now. Plus I get my ski pass for free, I get paid decent and I’m on the mountain surrounded by insane beauty all day”.
Sounds pretty great to me. Could it get any better?
“Tomorrow? I think I’ll drink beer all day and throw some flies on the river, see if I can catch some of the local Cutthroat trout”.
Okay, I guess it does.
If there is one thing Sampson loves more than wandering around in his Van and not having to pay rent, it is definitely fishing. And not just any fishing.
“If I could fly fish the rest of my life I’ll die a happy man” he says. “It brings a lot of joy in my life. There’s nothing like being on the river, surrounded by mountains, tossing a fake bug on a string to what I consider some of the most beautiful creatures on the planet”.
Okay, I’m ready to go fishing now.
“Seriously, trout are one of those things that are way too beautiful for no reason at all. It’s amazing such vibrant colors can come from brown bugs, gray rocks and clear water. Landing a pretty native trout on a fly rod is one of the most exciting and enjoyable things I have ever had the pleasure of doing”.
Not to take the spotlight away from Sampson, but I once had somebody tell me, “I wish I could find the joy in such simple things the way you do”.
That was after telling them I woke up at 4:00 AM to drive to the beach and watch what was probably the most incredible sunrise of my life before work that day.
Sampson’s appreciation for the simplicity and joy of fishing, reminds me of that comment. It takes a certain person to really love and find true happiness through something that may seem minuscule and under appreciated by most people. In the chaotic world we live in, I admire those who can look past not only the ruckus but the normalcy and monotony of daily life and substitute simple joys for “What everybody else is doing”.
Not only does this grizzly guy love catching fish, he also loves to eat it. I asked him to pick one food he could live off of forever.
“Sushi. Hands down. Needs no explanation”. He said.
You and me both, Sampson. You and me both.
I mentioned this before, but this guy loves beer. And not just any beer, the cheap stuff.
“Death before craft beer” Sampson told me. “Give me a Coors Light or Montucky Cold snack anytime and I won’t say no”.
And that is where you and I differ, my friend.
Our free spirited, fish loving boy is not much of a coffee drinker but he says “I’ll take some Green tea or some Lemon Zinger sun tea like mom used to make any day”.
Speaking of mom and the rest of the family, Sampson is from Woodland Park, Colorado. He explained his hometown as “a tiny little place that lies in the shadow of Pikes Peak. Nothing special about it except that I’m from there”.
And of course his family, who all seem to be appreciative of his newfound lifestyle.
“My parents are totally cool with it. At first my dad wasn’t too sure about it but he has definitely warmed up to the idea and completely supports it now. Really I think my parents just want me to be happy, and they knew I wasn’t happy with my life before”.
We all go through times in our life where we are not happy, or we truly feel that we are not living our life the way we know we want to be, or maybe we aren’t challenging ourselves enough, stepping outside our comfort zone as often as we would like to be. Maybe we just know we are not as happy as we should or could be. Whatever it is, it takes a certain type of person to not only realize that a big life change needs to be made, but it takes a strong and inspiring person to act on it.
“I don’t remember the exact day, but I can nail it down to last summer. I wasn’t happy, I was always broke because rent, food and all other expenses. I hated my life. I was, in my eyes, worthless. My heart was broken cause my spirit wasn’t free” Sampson explained.
“I started planning my escape from that life. I worked only to get my van in shape. I planned only on things that moved me closer to my goal of living in my van. I worked endlessly. I would work on my van sun up to sun down. Constantly building and improving the van. And it paid off. It all came together. And now a year later I’m still doing it, still happy in my little mobile house on wheels” Sampson spoke about the time he remembers making his greatest life changing decision.
“Now they [his parents] are just stoked that I’m stoked” he said.
We often feel pressure from family members, especially parents and even friends or colleagues to live our life a certain way. But the truth is that the people who matter the most, the people who love you the most just want to see you happy.
People make judgements because deep down they are afraid to rustle up their own life. Sometimes it just takes one person [ie Sampson] to make that great and scary leap into a different life direction, and then others will follow, because they realize that maybe a choice that somebody else made was exactly what they needed, or it inspired them to follow their own dream.
“My friends think it’s cool, a few of them have even taken my lead and started living like this too. I’m glad I had an influence on other people taking initiative of their lives and living outside the regular life”. Sampson said.
Many of Sampson’s friends are in, or he met, in Breckenridge.
“I actually feel most at home in Breckenridge, CO” Sampson told me. “I lived there for so long and made so many great friends. Every time I go back it’s like I never left. In the end I’m sure I’ll end up there again one day. I still miss everyone there and all the great memories I made there. It will forever have a special place in my heart”.
Although he says he will probably end up there again one day, for now he has other places on the list. Sampson doesn’t usually stay in one place for more than a month at a time, but he plans to spend the winter in Jackson.
“Thats not a bad thing” he said. “I really enjoy it here and I feel very comfortable”.
As for future endeavors, Sampson plans to head North.
“Whitefish Montana has been calling my name for a long time. And I think it’s finally time I go up there and see what it has to offer” he said.
But that is still fairly short term, so I asked him the dreaded question.
“Where do you see yourself in five years”?
“I have no idea. Hopefully still living my life however I want” he said. “Not being free would be the ultimate fear”.
“I wouldn’t mind finding a lady to spend this lifestyle with. I’ve always travelled alone. Mainly cause Im kind of an introvert, an asshole and I like to do things my way or not at all. Trust me I’d love to find a battle buddy, a partner in crime, maybe even a girl that likes me enough to stick around. Or maybe I’ll buy some land in the middle of nowhere in the mountains and start my mini homestead. That’s really the end goal”.
Okay ladies, catch him while you can…if you can.
Actually it might not be that tough to catch him, as he explained to me that walking is his most used form of transportation.
“The shoelace express. The shoebaru. The heel highway. Seriously I walk everywhere I can. I like to walk, it’s good for you, and it gives you plenty of time to look around at everything and time to think. I’ve solved more problems in my head just walking around than I ever could sitting at a desk brainstorming”.
When I asked Sampson if there was anything he missed about living a less nomadic life he responded, “Not really. Sometimes I miss my own bathroom. Or being able to stand up while I get dressed. But those are pretty petty. I wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for anything”.
If you wanted to find Sampson today, he might seriously be tough to find, though.
“I just drove as far back into the mountains tonight cause a gnarly storm is rolling in. You should see this shit. Total chaos mountain storm and I’m deep in the thick of it. Surprised I even have service to fire these texts off”.
That is a message I got from him last night.
“The thunder is so loud right now it’s rattling the whole van. It’s sick”.
“I think the universe wants me to be alone for now” are the last words I will share from our risk-taking, mountain-loving nomad, as I wait and hear what he has to say after last night’s storm.
“Im 26 and I’ve been living in my van for about a year now. I grew up in the mountains and love everything they have to offer. Im a strange mix of hippie, redneck, nomad, introvert and party animal. I usually refer to myself as a spiritually enlightened conservative. Im a strong believer that you should never let the truth get in the way of a good story and you should never turn down free food”.
ADVICE from Sampson:
“Just go. The scariest part, for me anyways, was leaving for the first time. It’s hard, really hard actually to leave behind everything. Your home, your family and friends. But once you get past that initial fear of leaving it gets easier. And the more you do it the easier it gets. So just don’t be afraid, or even better be afraid. Accept the fear but choose to conquer it and set your self free”.
Please do yourself a favor and check out Sampson’s passionately written and soul moving stories at The Exploration Club (@theexplorationclub) and Slow Wide Turns, and follow his freeing and nomadic adventures on Instagram (@sampson_parker)!