It all started when our generous friends, Meg and Ash invited us to look after their humble abode while they went away on their usual six month work shift to their respective fire-watch towers in Northern Alberta. We jumped at the chance.
Mat and I had just returned to Nelson, British Columbia from a life-altering, four month cycling trip across Canada, which had left my world flipped upside down. I was forever changed by the freedom I had experienced, the reflections I had had and the shift in values and priorities that it had brought about in my life.
As incredible as this unforeseen turn of events was, I was also deeply confused. Who was I now? How did I want to spend my finite time on this Earth? What did it mean to prioritize my new values and perspectives? How did I move forward from here? I felt lost in a desert of uncertainty.
Moving into a rent-free housing situation allowed both Mat and I the chance to reduce the amount of time we would have to spend working a job and freed up some time and space in order for us to attempt to answer some of the bigger questions that were appearing in our lives.
We took advantage of such an incredible opportunity by focusing more whole-heartedly on our health and well-being, taking a hiatus from alcohol and cannabis, spending more time practicing meditation and mindfulness and developing a consistent trail running practice in the mountains behind our new home. We knew that the better we felt, the better we would think and the more innovative and creative we would become. It wasn’t always easy, but it was always worth it.
We had greatly reduced the amount of items we owned, realizing after four months on the road that all we really needed to be happy, healthy and free was the items we had carried with us on the bikes. Without the extra expense and upkeep of frivolous material goods, our money went even further, we lessened our negative impact on the environment and our minds were liberated to focus on deeper contemplation.
With the space for introspection, reflection and discussion, I was able to settle into a new rhythm of being, to begin rewriting my outdated victim story into one of a warrior spirit, rebuilding my sense of self and confidence and reclaiming my ability to create whatever life I could imagine for myself. As it goes, I am a work of art, but a work in progress.
Meg and Ash offered us so much more than a place to live in return for mail collection duties and watering the house plants, they gave us the opportunity for growth, freedom and hope. Their abundant mindset and generous contribution to our lives has changed us forever and for the better and we are eternally grateful for their gift.
Knowing what we knew now, that house-sitting and pet-sitting were feasible options that would give us temporary lodging while helping people who needed to go away to work, or escape on holidays or visit family, we felt freed of the need to own a home, or home goods, or shell out our hard earned shackles on a monthly rental bill.
From that day forward, we spent every single summer bike travelling around Canada, living on the trails and sleeping in our tent and every winter (except the time we bought a sweet Ford E-350 and converted it into our home on wheels) house-sitting, pet-sitting and farm-sitting for an array of amazing people in the Kootenays.
It was the perfect trade off. People got to get away from the repetition of their lives, the ‘hedonic adaptation’ of their everyday environment that had left them feeling lacklustre, stagnant and at times, even unable to appreciate their beauty in their surroundings. They could trust that their furry friends were being looked after and their cherished homes were in good hands. They could relax, regenerate and come home feeling refreshed.
In return, we got to cuddle their cats, trail run with their dogs and collect their chicken eggs for our breakfast omelettes. We built fires in their wood stoves, shovelled their walkways and watered their house plants. We loved ‘trying on people’s lives’ for weeks at a time, meeting their neighbours, reading their books, exploring their community and the local trails.
They returned home just in time for us to move on to the next, novel adventure.
All this, in exchange for the shelter we most certainly needed in the deep frost of the winter months. The money we saved allowed us to put more time, energy and resources into the things we loved best, the things we had discovered we wanted to spend our finite time on this Earth doing. Adventuring, exploring, connecting, observing and uncovering more about our potential for growth, love, contribution and happiness.
The winter of 2020 started out no different than the others. We had returned to the Koots after a victorious (albeit, frosty) bike trip and scoured the house-sitting websites and online forums for places to call home. While we usually worked off word out mouth, this year we tried a different approach. We put out an ad on local Facebook group that read:
‘Need a worry-free winter getaway? We’re offering our dependable, trust-worthy and experienced house, pet and plant sitting services to great people in the West Kootenay area.
As a young, Canadian couple that loves to travel, adventure and freelance work, Mat and I enjoy having the flexibility to schedule our days around the specific needs or your pets, plants and property.
We love spending time with animals, looking after house plants and gardens of all kinds and are happy to keep on top of general housekeeping and snow shovelling duties. We prefer longer stays of 3+ weeks but are flexible to different situations. PM for more info and details.’
The response was overwhelming. Within an hour, we had thirty messages in our inbox and we were sifting through all the dates, locations and responsibilities to see which ones best aligned. It showed us that there was a need for our services as much as we had a need for shelter.
We spent the first few months in tropical Robson, looking after three cuddly cats in a beautiful heritage home. It was warm enough for us to gather groceries by bicycle well into January, pedal to the local rec centre and run in the trails behind the house.
At the end of our stay, we had a one week overlap with our next sit (as often happens) so we decided to divide and conquer. Living car-free encourages us to get creative about our commuting, so a combination of cycling (when weather allows), public transit and hitchhiking are the norm.
Mat made his way to the historic Doukhbour settlement of sunny Krestova to look after Kinnix the cat in a lovely, long log cabin with lots of dry firewood and plenty of snow to shovel. I joined him a week later to run the roads, clear the unrelenting snow from the roof and read lots of literature about Siddha Yoga and meditation.
We would walk a three hour round trip to Evergreen Natural Foods down the knee deep with snow ‘short-cut trail’ to Crescent Valley to collect groceries every few days.
If we were feeling lazy, we’d hitch a ride home, meeting a new local each time and sometimes even making a friend.
In mid-February, we were off to Nelson’s North Shore to look after two delightful dogs, the lovely Luna and Lokey. Our house sitting hosts were kind enough to leave us with their little SUV so we could take their German Shepherd on lots of grand adventures. No matter how far we hiked or how fast we ran, she was always up for the challenge. We bonded deeply.
Then, came the pandemic. In late March our house-sitting hosts were shaken from their relaxing vacation and forced north into the bitter end of winter. They generously offered for us to stay in their split-level home with our own kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, but we want them to have their own space. It was such a strange time to return to as it was, they didn’t need us around too.
Unsure of where we would go next, we pondered our options. It was a bit too early to take to the road on our bikes as nights in the tent would still be a bit too frosty for our liking. We could bite the bullet and look for a place to rent for a month or two until spring was in full swing. That didn’t feel quite right either.
By now, we were used to life in flux and had acquired the knowledge that the universe has a strange way of always working out. We packed up our bikes, hopped on the saddle and rode the shoulder back into town.