In late March Rachel and I departed southeast Utah and made the trek to Denver, CO. We spent a week house sitting for friends and enjoying the luxuries that life on the road doesn’t provide (read: a private bathroom to use whenever it’s needed). We had a good time exploring the neighborhood, visiting local breweries, and mindlessly watching Chip and Joanna on HGTV and Queer Eye on Netflix. I’ll admit, though, that toward the end of the week we were both homesick for our clunky old van.
At some point during our time in Denver we decided to browse Craigslist for short-term jobs we could pick up for a week or two. The van recently needed some pretty major repairs (new EGR valve, brakes, and battery), and our bank accounts took a big hit. The ad that caught my eye was titled “2018 Dandelion Project – Participants Needed” Rachel and I laughed as we read the description: “Love being outdoors? Join a team of dandelion pickers to remove those pesky weeds from the campus of CU Boulder before Commencement in mid-May!” This must be a joke, right? Or some weird Boulder thing? Maybe so, but we contacted the staffing agency responsible for hiring just to check it out. A couple days and an interview later, we officially signed on to be dandelions pickers for six weeks.
A little background: the University of Colorado Boulder is an herbicide-free campus, meaning all weeds and unwanted vegetation must be removed by hand. There are hundreds of acres of grass on CU’s campus, and come springtime, LOTS of dandelions. Pretty little sunshiny, happy dandelions. In my opinion, they’re lovely. But I’m not paying $50,000 a year to attend CU, so my opinion doesn’t matter.
Our first two days on the job were borderline miserable. We literally spent 8 hours each day squatting in the grass digging up dandelions. Our 30 minute lunch break was spent running to and from the van to let Lucy out and shovel food into our mouths. When we weren’t working, the image of dandelions haunted me every time I blinked or closed my eyes. Flowers, leaves, and roots were burned into my retinas. Thinking about keeping the job for six weeks made us cringe.
On the third day, Rachel and I were adopted by CU’s Head Flower Dude (aka HFD, aka Director of Horticulture), and things began to turn around a little bit. Since then, we’ve spent every morning shoveling compost, spreading mulch, and planting flowers. Afternoons are still reserved for dandelion removal (and generally goofing off, listening to podcasts, and eavesdropping on the conversations of college kids) but that’s a welcome break after several hours of hard work. We became quick friends with the HFD and love talking with him about life, travel, politics, and landscaping. He is from Iran and has many stories to share from his past, as well as seemingly endless knowledge about plants and flowers. He is a significant character in our journey and will remain a friend when we travel on.
We are now approaching the end of our time on the dandelion crew, and we’re thrilled to depart Boulder and return to life on the road. Despite our initial dislike of the job, I think we will both leave having enjoyed many aspects of it. I especially love using my body and doing physical labor, and a new excitement for learning about plants and gardening has been ignited in us. We’ve begun researching WWOOFing opportunities and will hopefully be working on several farms this summer.
On Fridays, we hop in the van after work and escape Boulder as quickly as possible. I lived here ten years ago and loved pretty much everything about the town. The beauty of the Flatirons, great food and coffee, and bike-friendly culture amazed me. Coming back a decade later, those things still appeal to me, but as a whole the “Boulder Bubble” has lost its allure. Everything seems pointlessly expensive, people are always in a hurry, and van life is difficult. In short, we can’t wait to leave.
We’ve had a great time visiting other Front Range towns and exploring their trails by bike and on foot. Fort Collins, Denver, Manitou Springs, Salida, and even Pueblo have offered welcome weekend respite from Boulder van dwelling. We especially loved Salida and agree that it’s a place we’d be happy to spend some significant time exploring.
We fall more in love with living in a van every day. Our space is comfortable and welcoming, and we truly feel at home…even in random parking lots. I’ve had to slow down a little bit because I fell during a trail run last week and fractured a rib, but I’m doing my best to honor the healing process so that I can be back on my bike as soon as possible. Rachel is getting over a nasty cold and excited to return to the warm desert next week. And Lucy is enjoying all the changing sights and smells and the old tennis ball she recently found at a trailhead.
Until next time, a reminder my mom often shares with me: “Be swift to love and make haste to be kind.”
With Gratitude, Liz & Rachel