Casey Sheppard lives at the intersection of art and adventure. She’s a self-taught metalsmith who specializes in the production of wearable art. When she’s not forging together pieces of jewelry, she’s a freelance writer, mountain biker and most recently, she’s a nomad. Earlier this summer, she retrofitted a Ford Transit Connect into a camper and left her home in LA to connect with art and biking communities around the country.
Casey is the creator of Case of the Nomads, a year-long exploration of America on the road and off the grid. We caught up with her during a pit stop in Montana to see what it takes to set life up for a year on the road.
We’ve got to know, what made you decide to pack up your life and hit the road for an entire year?
I was trying to make myself happy by searching for the perfect job and the perfect apartment (I even moved from Nebraska to LA), but nothing was doing it for me. Finally, it came to a point where I needed to get out. It was an epiphany moment - I woke up at 4am in the morning and knew that I needed a change. The idea of an epic adventure had been eating at me my entire life and a year was totally out of my comfort zone, so I decided to get out there and start exploring and connecting with new communities.
Talk to us about your mobile digs.
LA is full of Ford Transits -- they are everywhere. It’s become a fad to convert a Ford Transit into a camper, so there are a lot of people to learn from online. Building out your van takes a really long time and there was a lot of guess and check, but my brother and I just dove in and figured it out.
A few things you’ll find inside my van:
- One bench seat with cushions that fold out into a bed.
- One hand-pump sink.
- One cooler.
- One custom workspace for creative expression.
- Plenty of easily accessible storage space.
You’re a few months into the adventure, how is it going?
I can’t believe it’s only been a month -- it feels like it has been five. It has been really amazing though. I never expected to connect and relate to as many people as I have. People are so willing to help me out, providing me with a bike tire, dog treats or a shower. A few weeks ago, I coached at Rebecca Rush’s week long bike camp and she let me camp in her driveway and her roommate made me dinner. I’m excited to continue meeting new people, hearing their stories and getting to know their communities. (That is the premise behind the trip).
How does living out of a van change your perspective on the outdoors?
I was a bit nervous about animals, no toilet, and no running water but those aspects become so minuscule once you are on the road. I’ve gone places where I wake up to the most beautiful mountains and this nice breeze and you realize that nothing matters but this beautiful moment. When I’m not driving I’m outdoors camping, driving, hiking or walking, I can’t believe the beauty - I keep thinking of America the Beautiful. There is something about being alone in nature and getting to know who you are is really worth those few scary days because it just disappears.
On a side note: It is amazing how many things I took for granted. I remember going into a town after being completely off the grid for two weeks and thinking, ‘Woah water just comes out of the faucet? You can do your laundry? You can take a shower!’
How have the BioLite products been treating you?
I’m in awe of my CampStove. I see other people cooking over campfires and I get really excited that I don’t have all that waste. It’s a bonus that everytime I cook, I can charge my phone without running my car’s battery down. My NanoGrid is great too, I hung it inside my van to use as reading light before I go to bed.
Do have any advice for aspiring nomads?
There is never a good time to pick up and go, so just do it. You’ll only regret not taking advantage of that nagging feeling.
In case you decided to take Casey’s advice to heart, here are her top tips for a life on the road:
- Ease into your adventure. Go on mini-trips before you dive all the way in. Each time you go off the grid, push your comfort zone a bit further.
- Get to know your gear and let go of it. I made piles of what I absolutely had to have, what I wanted and things I didn’t need. I went through this process numerous times and still do almost every day.
A few of Casey’s must-haves:
- A Good First Aid Kit.
- Plenty of Water.
- An Atlas.
- A trusty companion, India the Boxer.
- Five Ten Hiking Boots.
- BioLite CampStove + KettlePot.
- BioLite NanoGrid.
- One Tent.
- GoPro and Camera.
- Goal Zero Generator.
- A good driving playlist.
- Nothing will prepare you except the real deal. Being a nomad is a full time job. It is a bigger task than I anticipated but way more rewarding than I ever thought. I wake up in the morning and have to organize. I put my bed away so that I can cook breakfast, feed and walk the dog, and then reorganize because my space is so small. It’s really cool, you start to feel a sense of accomplishment when you are relying on yourself.
- Your community is all around. I mapped out a route that allows me to connect with communities that I want to work with. Once you’re on the road, there is a sense of community that I didn’t expect. When you’re out in the open you’re more willing to reach out and ask for help and people are much more willing to help because they are in the same situation. Be open to this and allow yourself space to roam.
Casey has a big trip ahead of her, if you’d like to to follow her travels or share any tips visit her website.