Rainfall on a Caravan

Something like 45 million raindrops fall in fifteen days of rain. On the South Island of New Zealand and jammed in a single camper van, Courtney and Michael Adamo and their four children, felt like they were counting every one. Like a tiny submarine, their little craft drifted through all fifteen days down the winding roads. Six sailors wiped condensation from the windows, peering through to catch headlights bouncing off sheets of rain. The whole of New Zealand, its craggy peaks, jagged coastline and fabled sheep-dotted meadows, passed unseen, lost in the swell.

For Courtney and Michael, road tripping through New Zealand was no holiday gallivant. This was the halfway marker for a yearlong circle around the entire earth. A sidestep from the predictable path and a global search for a new home.

During the early days of their time in London, when the city was still new and powerful, before the big, brazen capital had been trimmed and tamed to the comfort of life in their neighbourhood, Courtney and Michael, in a still moment in a quiet café, had promised each other a gap year, a full year of global travel. The promise was made before the arrival of children, but predicted and included them. Dreams can lie dormant for a long time, the busyness of work and school, play dates and dinners with friends piling on top like blankets. Tucked in a corner of Courtney’s mind, the vision of a year on the road as a family cocooned itself and bided its time.

In the dizzying flurry of the Capital of the World the opportunity is endless, and so is the competition. The pressure to secure every possible advantage for your children starts early. Extra classes, language immersion, the best schools, the most competitive teams, tutors, more homework. The Adamo children grew and the pressure around them increased. The hidden dream of a family voyage around the world started to mean more than an adventure or holiday or a break from the usual. The thought that there may be another way to raise children, another set of questions to wrestle with or accomplishments to make breathed oxygen on the dream of travel. Deep in its cocoon, the glowing whisper warmed itself and stretched its wings. The children were growing. It was time to go.

They sold the family home, the car, the baby things, the stuff they’d been saving just in case, and headed to the airport. While on the road Easton would turn 11, Quin nine, Ivy seven and little Marlow would turn four. They would start on the American west coast, work south to the bottom, then Australia, New Zealand, East Asia, Europe and finally land back where they started, at the family beach house on an island near Seattle.

On the 16th day the sun came out. The little camper van flew down the road, with its six passengers tapping toes, clapping hands and desperately searching for a road that would let them down to the beach. Bump down the trail. Unload the surfboards. Wetsuits on and in the water with yelps and howls and laughter. And flashing through the waves the arcing fins and black noses of a school of Hector dolphins, catching rides alongside the surfers, sharing the moment. 

Of the four children the most reluctant to leave London had been, predictably, the oldest. Easton was 10 when the journey began, and the patterns of school and friends held an importance for him the other three had yet to grow into. When their travels were finally over, Easton insisted, they would be going home.

Towards the end of the journey, the Adamos made the jump back to England for a visit. During a walk in their old neighbourhood, Courtney paused at the windows of a realtor’s shop, curious about the apartments and houses listed in the window. The Adamos, each of them, had left London with their hearts loaded down; fears of how the trip would turn out, worries about losing friends, about losing their spot in line, about letting go of their home. Reflected in those printed sheets, photos of bedrooms and descriptions of appliances, was a life they had left and the worries they had carried. But at some point over the last year, jostled on a bus on a mountain road or tumbled in the cool surf of the Pacific, their grip had loosened, the weights had slipped from their grasp and been carried away in dust and foam. They had become, as Courtney puts it, lighter humans.

Easton tugged on Courtney’s hand, “MUM! What are you doing? We don’t live here… We are NOT moving back.”

Back in New Zealand, in the damp prison of their camper van parked on the side of the road, waiting out the weeks of rain, the lightness of the choice they’d made was clear to Courtney. In that vehicle, without home, job or country, with the future any one of a thousand jungle trails, everything she loved and needed was within arms reach. Close enough to hold. The rain and the miles had washed the rest away. What was left was family.

The year is over and the Adamos are once again watching raindrops on windows. Outside, a heavy blanket of cloud presses down on a pebbled beach and stony-white tangles of driftwood. Across the dark water of the Puget Sound the lights of Seattle blink weakly. In this most familiar of places, Courtney and Michael and the children plan the next chapter. In a few weeks they’ll move to Byron Bay, Australia, the clear winner of their global search. Of all the cities and towns they visited, Byron most captured their hearts with its relaxed, natural lifestyle, impressive waves and dynamic community.

When they leave for Australia they’ll fly from Vancouver direct to Brisbane. They’ve paid for six tickets, but there will be an extra passenger who, for now, will fly for free. Courtney is pregnant. Their fifth child, a grand but complicated surprise, was conceived in Italy and carried in utero on the last stretch of their journey. When they arrive in Australia they’ll add finding a midwife to the list of pressing needs.

The rain stops and out on the deck Easton, Quin and Ivy are sharpening pieces of driftwood with matching Swiss Army knives. Ivy proudly shows two cuts on her fingers, and explains how Marlow is still too little for a knife. Marlow nods her head and says yes, she’s too little.

The kids have changed in their wandering year. They were always good at playing together, laughing, fighting then working it out. But there’s a level of confidence and self-reliance that is new. They push and test each other, but work as a team. They care less what their friends back in London might think of their bare feet or their weathered clothes. Easton and Quin spent an evening guiding me through a list of Australia’s most deadly creatures, describing the ones they’ve seen in the flesh and pondering the rest in a way that makes me think they may actually seek them out on arrival, fulfill the list. They’re already planning the solo trips they’ll take in their teen years.

After a year of watching their parents guide the family through a rare and wild odyssey, when they look out on the world they see possibility, adventure, yesses and go’s. They see not one, but a thousand paths.

The kids disappear for hours, then return to announce they are ready to offer guided tours of the fairy house and Booby Trap Trail. But first we need to queue up at the ticket booth. Overlapping pieces of driftwood form a roof, supported by four long sticks and swaying slightly in the breeze. Predictions of collapse are dismissed by Easton. “We are great builders,” he says, slapping his chest. “Maybe we’ll sleep out here tonight!” We are sold two tickets each, a shell for the fairy house and a leaf for Booby Trap Trail. The tours begin, and we all turn back to look as the ticket booth collapses with a clatter. Easton throws his hands in the air, laughing, and we return to the tour.