They say, when you travel, go far. However, traveling in Europe for three months changed my perspective. It is embarrassing to be from a country I’ve hardly visited. I decided that this is the year I travel throughout the United States.
I’ve also never considered myself an outdoors person. I like nature — from behind a window in a bug-free structure. While I love being in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Miami, I’ve never even considered rural trips to America’s Heartland. I haven’t taken the time to appreciate the country’s majestic landscape apart from the Grand Canyon. I like beaches, what can say?
Welcome to the Bunker House
This past week, I lived with a group of people aptly self-dubbed the Bunker Crew. Meeting Jay*, the owner of the house, through a travel website, I flew to St. George, Utah with canyoneering aspirations. He left one of his cars at the airport for me to drive back to the property.
“I think I’m here,” I said into my cellphone to Jay.
“You are,” a female voice shouted from the open door of the free-standing garage.
Jay responded, “Come on in. We’re down the hall.”
The Bunker House has 18-inch cement-pour walls, bulletproof windows, and solar panels. To the left of the front door is a sign with an altered Emily Dickinson’s quote:
“Because I could not stop Death,
he kindly stopped for me:
The cube had food and may be ammo.
The Bunker House is comprised of the ‘Upstairs House’ and the ‘Downstairs House’. Upstairs on the main floor is a large open-concept kitchen, living area, and dining room. In the corner of the space are two queen-sized beds suspended from ropes tied to the exposed wooden rafters. Rather than a conventional fridge are two industrial/restaurant-grade coolers.
Besides Jay’s master bedroom ensuite, the upstairs also has two other bedrooms and a full bathroom. One of the rooms has a hand-built “Viking-sized” bunk bed and a cot for CouchSurfer occupants. The other, which would be mine for my stay, has a queen-sized bed and a nicely crafted handmade desk. I would find out later that Ben built the desk as well as many other furniture pieces.
The downstairs is home to the Bunker Crew, the group of people that work for (or with depending on how you look at it) Jay. Down the carpeted spiral-stairs is a faux bloody handprint and wording warning those who enter the basement. With a shared kitchen, each person (Ben, Annie, Sol, Craig, and Maverick) has their own room and bathroom. The common threads that bond these individuals are their love for climbing and exploring the beautiful wilderness that surround them.
Meeting the Tribe
Inside the master bedroom was Jay, who I recognized from his photos on the site as well as a prior FaceTime conversation, and Ben, who had an uncanny likeness to Tormund from Game of Thrones. Although I had already started a rapport with Jay, Ben’s extroverted personality took charge as he offered me a seat on a modern, beige chaise shaped like a comma. The boys informed me its great for different sexual positions as I laid down on the leather-bound sex chair.
Ben had an infectious personality, and from that introductory moment until the end of my stay, he pulled information and personal details from me as if we were old friends catching up after a long hiatus apart. I regaled Jay and Ben about my long weekend in Charleston, South Carolina that resulted in a severely bruised, cut, and swollen foot.
Just seconds into my tale, a younger, short-haired girl, Annie, came in and recommended gluing any gaping wounds with super glue. After telling me she is the daughter of a doctor and that crazy glue is basically the same as the product they use in hospitals except for clear, I agreed to have my wounds glued shut.
Fortunately, my description of “gaping” was an exaggeration and the medical procedure did not need to be performed. Ben made several attempts to fool me with bullshit like Annie having short hair because she just beat cancer and that they had met on Craigslist’s Missed Connections. The energy of the three was good-humored, jovial, and weird. And, I felt an instant sense of belonging within just the first half hour.
Doing Something New
Although I’ve never been an outdoorsy person, something called me to Utah. When I drove across the country from Los Angeles to Miami, I had intended to go to Zion to see the star-studded sky, which is amazing since there is zero light pollution. However, my plans were deterred by my travel companion.
Just a couple years later when my lease in Florida was ending and I was figuring out my next living situation, again some little voice in my head said Utah. So, when the opportunity to visit the state and stay in a house just 30 minutes away from the national park presented itself, I felt a serendipitous pull to go.
Southern Utah is the most beautiful place I have ever been to. Even as a self-proclaimed ‘City Girl’, I can’t deny the unbelievable views the topography offers. A prairie-blue sky, red and white mountains marked with clusters of green plant life as well as desert flowers.
This trip gave me the opportunity to hike in Zion National Park and Bryce National Park. On my first day, Jay took me to Taylor Creek Trail and inundated me with a wealth of knowledge about the rocks, formations, foliage, and everything in between. One of the only things I took away from this first venture is that I’ve been wearing my backpack wrong for a decade.
Although I run (on a treadmill in an air-conditioned gym), I wouldn’t consider myself particularly athletic. This became abundantly obvious as Jay encouraged my huffing-and-puffing, red-faced ass up Angels Landing in Zion the next day. I have been instructed to get tested for asthma.
What I Got Out of It
It had taken longer than an hour and several breaks to reach the top of Angels Landing, a 2.5-mile strenuous trail with long drop-offs. Gasping for air, the view was literally breathtaking. Like the Grand Canyon, I felt small overlooking the vast open gorge.
Jay’s random fact-spewing noting new formations (as in less than a thousand years ago) reminded me of how insignificant 33 years is. How young I am, how little I’ve seen, how little I’ve experienced. Even though I was out of breath, I felt young.
In addition to the hiking (sans canyoneering until next time when I have an asthma pump), the conversations I had with the Bunker Crew expanded my awareness. Along with book and other media suggestions, Jay gave me a new outlook on my cousin’s lifestyle, Annie and I spoke the effects of exploring new cultures, and Ben asked personal questions that, in themselves, made me question my opinion on relationships.
The people from the Bunker Crew are just a few of the more than 100 in this group curated by Jay. They meet up for climbing trips as well as those relating to music festivals. “[The Bunker House] is made for transient,” Jay explained noting that almost everyone I met wouldn’t be there in a month.
Commune living has always appealed to me. The ability to work and live together with a group for the collective benefit is the epitome of tribe culture — our roots. It is refreshing to see it working as cohesively as I always hoped in real life and to be a part of that environment.
* All names are changed for privacy reasons.