A girl and a dog get into a 1978 Toyota Dolphin…

Some days you just have to laugh.

Like one day earlier this week, in my case.

I pulled into a gas station after some 4-banger motorhome “off-roading” in the rain somewhere outside of Kalispell, MT. The back rung of my ugly old DIY kayak rack was hanging sadly askew, leaving my 100-pound kayak resting on my kitchen vent and a ridiculous piece of conduit sleeved with PVC, cushioned with foam pipe insulator and wrapped in duct tape dangling recklessly from the bent angle iron attached to my tiny, ancient Toyota camper.

This wasn’t on the agenda.

I had managed to make it only maybe a thousand miles or so in a little more than two weeks of exploring weird, lonely places in Eastern Oregon and Idaho and Montana since I’d picked the rig up to continue a trip I started 11 months earlier in Anchorage, Alaska. In that eleven months, I had crossed the Atlantic twice (by air and sea,) gone back and forth along the Panama Canal at least four times too many, spent three months during the holidays with family in the Deep South, and six in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, being a hermit by the sea, developing an over-fondness for tequila, and complaining about the heat and the incessant, barking dogs.

My truck, the Dolphin, had spent the eleven months parked in some dude’s yard in Vancouver, WA.

My parking plans had fallen through at the last possible moment, you see, and this guy just so happened to have a big yard and an ad on Craigslist offering parking at an absurdly low rate compared to the highway robbery being attempted at most commercial long-term parking lots. I had to risk it. I gave the little truck a kiss, unsure I’d ever see her again, as my Uber pulled up to take me to the airport. We’d already been through so much! A couple thousand miles down the Alcan just me and her, and me learning to drive a stick for the first time, no less. I hoped for the best but expected the worse. In this case, I found it necessary to manage my expectations.

So, eleven months later I arrive in Portland with my dog and my backpack and my fingers crossed. The old man has aired up my tires and made sure she started, checked the oil and everything. I could have hugged him. I felt so relieved and optimistic—bulletproof almost—and set out that first afternoon with high hopes.

Hopes that were abruptly dashed a mere ten miles down the road at our grocery stock-up location.

Turns out the idle was off and she kept dying on me every time I stopped, and finally…nothing. Dead silence when I went to start her back up at the main parking lot exit with a row of angry Trader Joe shoppers lined up behind me. Wouldn’t even burp a response when I turned the key.

A couple of construction workers were sitting in their truck nearby, enjoying their lunch and, apparently, the spectacle of angered soccer moms and be-spectacled academic looking professor-types that like to take care of their bodies. (This is a very specific type.) They helped me push the oversized paperweight into a parking spot and I got on the phone. Found a mobile mechanic right up the road, thinking I needed a new battery and it would be easiest to call on someone with tools and working transportation to correct this issue. A few hours later, he showed up, tested the batteries (both were good,) and wound up sprucing up the battery cables and connections, adjusting the idle, fixing some vacuum hose issues and generally getting us ready to go.

That first night in the Dolphin I parked between a bar and a feed store on the Willamette River in West Portland and had a minor panic attack.

I didn’t know how to drive this thing or fix it when it broke. I didn’t even know where I was going. To the coast? Down Highway 101? Turn East to escape the fires and start meandering back towards Memphis?

A few shots of tequila and a beer that night decided it. Everyone went on and on about Oregon, but it was always the part West of the Cascades. The foggy coast, the big dewy mountains, the verdant forests full of big trees dripping with…nature.

So naturey.

And crowded.

And smokey.

As much as I love the sea, I turned East and found myself following the Columbia River. It was an interesting thing to do, it turned out. I had read a lot about water conflicts in the West and was curious about this dry side of the state and all these dammed rivers, the Columbia being the most famous according to my knowledge-base. I checked out Cascade Falls and Celilo and felt sad at the things that had been lost and awed by what had been created and wholly conflicted by the place of man in the natural world.

I found Maryhill Stonehenge and marveled at how nice it must be to be rich and eccentric and visionary…but how sad it must be to die before any of your vision is recognized. That night on Maryhill set the tone. I’d never heard of this thing, this big concrete recreation fabricated to mimic what the real Stonehenge must have looked like before it got all jacked up with the ravages of time, etc. He was a Quaker, this Sam Hill fellow that built it all, owned it all. A conscientious objector and this was his monument of objection. It was dedicated to the fourteen soldiers lost from Goldendale County in “The Great War”.

I found it to be a soul-shaking place to sit and watch the sunset and watch the stars trace and shoot as the Perseids began to spit.

I wanted more of this. Every day I wanted that, for the whole trip I wanted THAT. That aloneness and that big open sky and that feeling that I had found something special. I wanted that freedom, and that accounting to nobody but myself and Porkchop. (The dog.)

Sure, this is all about finding all of that, but this last week? Instead of that awe and that gut-wrenching love affair with the world around me I had to rock back on my heels a bit and laugh. Life falls apart. You wake up with your keys lost and your kayak hanging off the roof of a jalopy that’s older than you are that you are driving across the entire North American continent with zero mechanical knowledge (and no tools, it turns out,) and the dog jumps through the window screen of the camper to follow you into the store and you check your bank account to discover all your clients thought they could quit paying you since you weren’t in an office anymore and hitch-hiking mice are slowly gnawing away at both some unknown roll of toilet paper and your fragile sanity.

You wonder WTF you’re actually doing with your life.

So a girl and a dog get into a Dolphin.

(And we’re still writing the punchline.)

How Freerange Rachel Got Her Name

Sometimes you need to go back to your roots to re-start something.

Like a blog.

So, I got the name of this blog from chatting with one of my absolute favorite wonderful old men in a bar. (A lot of amazing things have happened in my life this way. The rest of the good things have happened because I spend too much time on the Internet.) I happened to be working at JJ’s Lounge on Muldoon Rd. on the north side of Anchorage, Alaska when a commercial came on the TV about a free-range chicken. This chicken was no freezer chicken kickin’ it in your local Trader Joe’s, though. The sassy hen featured in this football interruption was struttin’ out. She was packing her bags and hitting the road and seeing America.

He said it reminded him of me, after all those days of us sitting across the bar from one another and me regaling my captive audience with wild tales from my adventures in urban (extremely urban) subarctic solo dirtbag homesteading and constant chatter about agriculture and food and making it all happen in Alaska, and beyond.

A lot of those tales, especially the ones from the home front, happened to include chickens.

I showed my friends at JJ’s photos of baby chicks like a new mom shows off their crotch spawn. (Please take no offense, moms. I just think that term’s hilarious is all.) I came in to work late when they escaped and I had to carral them to prevent their cruising of the alleyways of downtown Anchorage. I cried on their shoulders when my dogs ate almost all of them, and I shared the heartwarming stories of survival of the little Dominicker banties that outsmarted my wiley asshole dogs and came home to me, laying me little half-dollar eggs all winter long that would freeze and crack in the nest before I could even get to them.

To them, I was a “chicken lady”.

You’ve heard of cat ladies, right? Well, chicken ladies are next level weird. I shouldn’t even have to explain why. There is no good reason for any average American with a job and access to a grocery store that lives in an urban area with less-than-ideal chicken-raising weather to keep chickens.

And yet, we do.

There is a little-known cult of Chicken Ladies collecting hens and hiding roosters throughout the suburbs and the rooftops of America. Some even make their exit from civilized modern society in order to seek out more appropriate acreage to expand their flocks. Chicken Ladies, by and large, were not really raised on farms. In fact, many of them never had a chicken until they were well into adulthood.

But the little bastards stick. They stick to you just like their chicken shit sticks to everything it touches.

Here’s how it goes: After checking around for a bit, you plan to start out with three or so hens, just enough to keep the family in Fresh Home Grown Free Range Organic Corn Free Eggs. (So you’re told.) You do your research and have your husband build a coop and he gives up and buys one off Craigslist and then you set out to find the little Chicken Family that will live in this thing in your backyard that your kids are trying to turn into a playhouse.

But you don’t know any other Chicken Ladies yet, so you Google where to get chickens and you find a place that will ship you a whole box full of chickens right to your closest post office! The catch? (Because of course there’s a catch.) You have to order 25 of them or they’ll die in transit because they’ll get too cold.

Ok, fine. You will find someone to take the extras. No big deal. Lots of people you know want their own Fresh Home Grown Free Range Organic Corn Free Eggs too. They’ll be easy as pie to off-load.

But then you realize there is another problem.

The hatchery only has the breed you want available as straight run. (That means boy and girl chickens all mixed up as they come out of the shell instead of just getting girls.) And you REALLY WANT this breed. You did all the research and you just know they’re the absolute perfect breed for you and honestly you really probably could be happy with nothing else so it’s not even an option and…

Ok, fine. You will get 25 straight run Perfect Breed chickens and you’ll just find someone to take the roosters to put in their freezer or maybe you’ll get really brave and put them in your own freezer? Afterall, the only thing better than Fresh Home Grown Free Range Organic Corn Free Eggs is FHGFROCF Chicken. (I just couldn’t bring myself to type all that out again.)

So that’s what you do and then the 25 chickens get there and you’re so excited and then they start dying. Dropping like fuzzy little flies.

THIS is when you meet the other Chicken Ladies. You seek them out, they’re all over the Internet, and you ask them why your Perfect Chickens are dropping like fuzzy flies and they all tell you about fifty different things and there’s some coconut oil and apple cider vinegar involved and they’re probably too hot AND too cold and might have a scary thing called Marke’s and you’re worried you’ve brought the Bird Flu into the sanctuary of your home but, alas, you have not, and eventually the walking puff balls quit dying (probably because of the Apple Cider Vinegar,) and life goes on as they grow from cute to dinosaur and then you’re left with about 15 birds and you don’t know which are boys and which are girls but they ALL shit too much and eat too much and the coop for three hens is NOT going to cut it so hubby has to go expand the whole shebang and you keep talking tot he other Chicken Ladies and find out that maybe your Perfect Chickens aren’t the best chickens afterall because some other Chicken Ladies all seem to agree that This Other Breed is the Best Chicken of Them All and now you want some of those too…

Whew.

So at this point, you have a passel of gawky teenage Imperfect Chickens and some are starting to crow and you can’t tell which but you’re narrowing it down. You fend off a visit from Animal Control and try to figure out which of your neighbors ratted you out. Your surroundings feel suddenly hostile. The chicken shit is amassing rapidly, as is the feed bill.

None of this is what you imagined when you did a Pinterest tour of bucolic chicken coop settings in semi-urban backyards.

Finally, you root out the cocks, (I had to say it at least once in all of this,) and you’re left with five hens of the Imperfect Breed but you realize that in the time all this has taken your crotch spawn have become teenagers and eat three dozen eggs per day and five hens ain’t gonna cut it, obvs, so YAY! You get to start all over with some of those Best Chickens of Them All and add to your happy little flock.

This is called chicken math.

It sucks.

And that is how this blog got its name. (Minus all mentions of crotch spawn and husbeasts, because I ain’t got time for any of that.)

Maybe tomorrow I’ll tell you why this is all becoming relavant again.