“When a crisis hits, whether it’s in a small community or on a larger scale, the best thing to do is to just be kind. Be a good neighbor, lend a helping hand, and realize that you are not alone. We are all living different lives and have different stories. But we are all human and we deserve compassion and respect.”
Stephanie +Sarah come as a family of four — two Humans + two Dogs: Stephanie + Sarah and Sophie + Zoey. “Collectively we are 91 years old!” Stephanie beamed during her interview, even though we’re not in the same room (or even state, for that matter) I can feel the sunshine radiating off of her.
Stephanie is from Wisconsin, a true Midwestern in love with her family roots, cheese, and craft brew. Sarah is from North Carolina, in love with the smell of the ocean, the authenticity of southern shrimp n’ grits, and Duke basketball. They met at the University of Notre Dame where Stephanie taught health and wellness in the First Year of Studies, and Sarah worked in Campus Recreation and Athletics.
After a rough battle with mental illness while living in North Carolina, Stephanie needed something to get her life back together. As a married couple, they were 100% on board with overcoming this challenge. They wanted to live a more meaningful life and educate people on mental health, so they founded a nonprofit, and headed out on the road as full-time nomads.
“We live, work, and play, right from our tiny home on wheels,” said Stephanie. Read more about the couple including Stephanie’s battle with mental illness, the challenges of a nomadic lifestyle during the pandemic, working remotely, and facing the coronavirus from their own set of wheels below, in their COVID Chronicle:
Where are you living right now? Is this where you permanently reside or is it a temporary living situation due to the pandemic?
“We live in our converted shuttle bus aka T.H.O.W (tiny home on wheels). We sold our house in 2019, had a massive yard sale, donated the rest, and set out on this adventure. We try to stay at least two weeks in most places before moving on. Seeing new places and traveling is a part of this lifestyle, so home is wherever we go together! The four of us have been quarantined together.”
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced during quarantine/the COVID crisis?
“At the onset of COVID, my wife Sarah was actually in New York for work. Luckily, she was able to get a flight out and get back to our tiny home. She then got sick and was bedridden for almost four days. It was scary not knowing if she was going to be able to get out of New York. I was alone in the bus with the two dogs in Little Rock Arkansas at the time.”
“We chose this life after I went through a rough struggle with mental illness. I was first diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder in 2009. I struggled long before that, but never sought the help I needed. In late 2017 early 2018, I was in bad shape. I was in the ER twice, arrested once, and voluntarily left a career I had once loved [You can read Stephanie’s entire experience on her personal blog stephanieryckman.com].
My wife had to take care of me. She left work early, took care of the dogs, cleaned, cooked, did everything. She supported us financially while taking on the responsibilities I once had. Her perspective is different, but just as important. We had to navigate it together. It led us to where we are now: happier and healthier.
My point: we know people are going through a rough time right now, especially if they’re trying to manage their mental illness on top of other struggles. WE HEAR YOU. We are here for you. Our nonprofit is new, but we are working hard toward a positive societal shift in the way we all view mental health.”
How has the pandemic affected your lifestyle?
“As nomads, you have to learn to be resourceful in finding places to stay. We were fortunate to get out of Arkansas quickly, and ended up landing in New Mexico for the bulk of COVID. We were very isolated on BLM land, but we still had access to a small grocery store and water. A lot of travelers try to hit up the national parks, so that definitely put a cramp in our route, but we learned to be OK with it.
The health and safety of ourselves and others comes first so we will just end up trying to figure out the national park situation at a later time. They are starting to open up so we will visit some as we go along and whatever we don’t get to we’ll do another time.”
Is there anything you feel that this experience has taught you that you’d like to share as inspiration?
“When a crisis hits, whether it’s in a small community or on a larger scale, the best thing to do is to just be kind. Be a good neighbor, lend a helping hand, and realize that you are not alone. We are all living different lives and have different stories. But we are all human and we deserve compassion and respect.
It was inevitable that we would run into people during COVID, so we did our best to follow the stay at home/six foot guidelines, but we did meet a few people who needed human interaction and socialization.
We ended up becoming friends with a younger couple that had just taken off for full-time travel as COVID hit. They were unsure of where to go next and how they were going to make money. They were just not doing well. After spending a good amount of time with them, they ended up getting home safely with family. We saw it as a meant to be situation and we will be friends with them forever.”
Has this experience in any way changed the way that you order your priorities in life?
“Well, COVID has certainly changed the way that people do things. Some of the things that we do are for the sake of others and so it’s only natural that our priorities change. Seeing family and friends is always high on our list, but some of our family members are not ready for close contact yet. Some of them are also older and have existing health conditions. Because we are younger and mostly healthy, we prioritize others’ health over ours right now.
We’ve also always prioritized being outdoors, so there is a lot of positive for us. We are able to self-isolate, traveling full-time, while immersing ourselves in nature. We feel very fortunate. We wish we could bring everyone on a ride with us!”
“This sounds awesome, and most of the time it is, but it is not a vacation. It is a lifestyle and there have been plenty of hard and unwanted experiences. We try to embrace those days.”
What has the community you’re surrounded by been doing to fight the rate of transmission?
“Well since we travel, each place has been a bit different. The majority of places follow the same guidelines: masks, six feet apart, limited guests/customers, etc. We recently started seeing places requiring masks by law.
We didn’t have masks at one point so I actually made one while sitting in my car. I made it in four minutes. I had an old pillow case from a bag of items going to Goodwill, some twine, and a jack knife. Suddenly, I had a mask to wear in order to go into the laundromat so we could have clean clothes.”
What has been your general daily routine so far during the pandemic?
“Well, I’m detailed, So here you go:
- 6-7 a.m. the dogs wake us up. We take them out to go potty then they eat
- 7-9 a.m. We snuggle with dogs while drinking our coffee and watch an episode or two or three, of our latest binge.
- 9 a.m.-10 a.m. We have our morning walk with the dogs.
- 10-5 p.m. We enjoy the landscape we’re on whether it’s going on a hike, mountain biking, kayaking, etc. We also get in our individual workouts (TRX, running, yoga, etc). This is also time for us to work remotely. 5-6 p.m. the dogs are waiting for dinner and we eat as well.
- 6-10 p.m. We’re sneaking in phone calls, FaceTime with friends and family, reading, or watching a movie with some Sriracha popcorn.
- 10 p.m. we’re usually heading to bed.
This sounds awesome, and most of the time it is, but it is not a vacation. It is a lifestyle and there have been plenty of hard and unwanted experiences. We try to embrace those days.”
What have you been doing to keep your spirits up on a day-to-day basis?
“We laugh. We say funny things. We dance — though, not well. We have two dogs that do weird stuff so that helps. And if our spirits are low, we usually notice it in the other and take a few minutes to figure it out. Gotta talk about it. Also, most of the time we can walk out of our door and see something jaw-dropping in nature. That lifts our spirits instantly.”
Has this travel ban/quarantine situation impacted any important plans you had laid out for the near future?
“While we’ve been affected, it’s only minor when you compare it to the hardships that we all know others are facing. Things like attending weddings, visiting National Parks, and seeing family are things we had planned. And we’ll still get to do those things, but millions of people are suffering and that’s an impact we should all be mindful of.”
“We know people are going through a rough time right now, especially if they’re trying to manage their mental illness on top of other struggles. WE HEAR YOU. We are here for you. Our nonprofit is new, but we are working hard toward a positive societal shift in the way we all view mental health.”
Connect with The Sol Bus crew on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and watch their video feature on WSBT NEWS for more on their peaceful traveler’s lifestyle.
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2 thoughts on “Nonprofit Nomads, Steph + Sarah Ryckman via The Sol Bus, Everywhere USA”
Molly, we are so grateful that you included our story in your work. It is wonderful that you are helping others navigate through these difficult and confusing times. You are giving folks a platform to share stories. Such a wonderful part of humanity.
Your kind words mean so much to me and I’m so grateful to have been able to share your story. I hope you stay happy, healthy, and safe until we connect again <3