The following was written for a Feature Writing class and details the travels of Spartan editor Brendan Crowley’s cousin and her soulmate.
Issac Belloir and Eliza Orlando were driving in South Carolina when they started to hear a tinging sound come from the engine. The two had just purchased a 1984 Chevy G20 horizon camper van, which Belloir described as being on the brink of going to a scrapyard.
But this drive was not just a cruise through the neighborhood, or anything remotely close to that.
They just left from Florida. The destination? Rhode Island.
The tinging sound ended up being a spun bearing on the engine.
“We don’t even know if this thing is gonna make it 100 miles, let alone 900 miles,” Belloir said.
It didn’t stop them. Even though the bearing could not be fixed.
They gave the van an oil change and a magnetic drain plug, then took off with nothing but hope to make it to Rhode Island.
This particular trip up the east coast may seem like a lot to the normal vacationer, but for Belloir and Orlando, it’s their lifestyle. They consider themselves nomadic explorers, and they had already traveled thousands of miles across the country before reaching this point.
Their journey taught them many lessons. You learn a lot moving from New Hampshire to Rhode Island, down to Florida, out to Colorado, back to Florida and eventually embarking on this return to Rhode Island. One of those lessons prepared Belloir for these kinds of situations.
“I’ve learned how to trust the unknown rather than fear it,” he said.
Orlando had been dwelling in Henniker, New Hampshire where she attended New England College. She loves snowboarding and spent her fair share of time on the mountains, shredding through the wet, icy snow and working in the rental shop.
It was at Mount Sunapee where Belloir approached the rental shop looking for the proper skis. He grew up in Florida, and this was his first time in New England. He was new to skiing, and Orlando happened to be working that day.
“I noticed her dreads and I thought it was awesome that she had the kind of person power to do that,” Belloir said.
“I told him I liked his poncho,” she said with a smile.
Belloir was also working at the mountain as a snowmobile mechanic. The two talked about plants and their love for nature, and a relationship was slowly blossoming. But in the midst of it all, Orlando happened to give him the wrong sized skis.
“He tumbled down the mountain pretty good I hear,” she said.
So, that’s how it all began.
They started to hang out more and more. Orlando introduced him to her friends and taught him how to snowboard.
“We’re both very passionate about the planet and the plants that are inhabiting this beautiful world that we live in,” Belloir said. “We both had a collective vision that we wanted to explore more of the country. We wanted to go to more challenging mountains to snowboard.”
After six or seven months, they moved in together at a couple different places. One of those places was Breakwind Farm, which originally was an organic bean farm in West Hopkinton, New Hampshire. They helped run the Airbnb.
Eventually, the two moved back to Henniker and found work at Brookford Farms in Canterbury. After six months, it was time to embark on their journey out west.
“We had saved up enough money to pack what we needed into my Ranger and drive out there,” Belloir said.
They hopped into his 1996 Ford Ranger and hit the road. After a visit to Rhode Island to see Orlando’s family, they traveled down the east coast to Florida, stopping in South Carolina to visit a friend. The two stayed in Florida for 10 days where they attended a drum circle before saying goodbye.
Their next stop was Colorado.
“I’d driven up and down the eastern side of the United States probably five or six times at that point,” Belloir said. “Then starting to head west was a whole different feeling of, ‘Holy shit, this is real.’ All these plans to travel this far in a vehicle – like we didn’t even know if the truck was gonna make it or not. There was a lot of unknowns.”
To be a nomad means to live by traveling from place to place. You’re never permanently staying in one place, and you move with the seasons. Each stop was just that – a stop. There is never a true destination, just multiple different stops.
Some last longer than others. It may be one night or a few months. But for the next couple years, this was the life Orlando and Belloir were living.
As they traveled through the southern states, they’d spend most of their days driving and most nights in a tent camping. This is not the camping most families are used to though. There were no campgrounds or lodges or park rangers.
It was just wilderness.
They would park their truck, backpack to an ideal spot to pitch a tent, and stay the night. They’d sleep in national parks or somewhere on a mountain or in a desert. This is what they loved.
“I’ve been on a lot of vacations and I’ve been to a lot of places, so it’s something that I definitely felt comfortable with,” Orlando said. “Waking up in a new place every single day is really neat. You can fly anywhere, but then driving, you see a lot. You see so much more.”
One night, the two pitched their tent outside of a locked gate blocking entrance to a national park in Texas. They woke up the next morning surrounded by petrified wood. Other mornings would be spent soaking in the hot springs of New Mexico. If they stopped in a city, such as New Orleans, they’d have to resort to sleeping in the cab of Belloir’s small pickup truck.
“That was rough,” Belloir said. “It’s not like we were sleeping in the back, we were sleeping in the bench seat.”
The two would have to curl up together in the small cab basically on top of each other. Orlando used a blanket as a pillow on her door and Belloir used her head as a pillow.
But one morning in particular was unique.
Orlando and Belloir pitched their tent by the edge of a gorge in New Mexico. Orlando woke up to what sounded like a propane torch just outside their tent. It was just around sunrise, about 5 or 6 a.m., and she went out to investigate.
Just across the gorge about a mile away from their tent were hot air balloons being inflated. Some were already in the air, moving down into the gorge and then reappearing as the sun was rising.
“It was just really cool to see them do that. You know, it was like an every-morning thing, and it was something cool to wake up to that you wouldn’t get just staying at home,” Orlando said.
Eventually, the two made it to Colorado. They had rented a small place to stay at the ski mountain they would be working at. Colorado was their home for a few months as they worked the winter season, continuing to save money for the next leg of their journey.
Oh, and they snowboarded a lot too.
When it was time to return to Florida, they did the whole trip over again. This time around, they came head to head with Mother Nature.
It was snowy and windy when they departed Colorado. By the time the two made it to New Mexico, there was a massive group of storms coming at them. Texas was covered in tornado warnings. The two had a decision to make – they could either travel along the southern border of the country, which would extend their mileage, or they could wait it out in New Mexico.
They chose the latter and ended up staying in a Hindu ashram in Taos, a town in New Mexico, which they are very fond of. An ashram is a spiritual monastery mainly in Indian religions. The one in Taos is a Hanuman Temple in the Hindu faith.
What began as a place to stay to wait out a storm turned out to be “one of the biggest examples of humanity” Belloir said he had ever seen.
There was a Hanuman celebration on the Sunday they stayed there. The ashram invited anyone who wanted to come to join in the celebration. They cooked over 150 pounds of food and fed every person who came without asking for anything. And that’s not even the moment Belloir was referencing.
“Obviously, after they fed 200 people there was a mountain of dishes, and people that have never been to this Ashram before, of all genders and colors and races and every walk of life, people that came in a Lexus and people that came on their feet, all just hopped in and made a train and everyone knocked out these dishes,” he said. “It was all done without anyone asking each other, it was just intuitive. It was a very intuitive and powerful moment for the humility of people.”
These are the moments that inspire Belloir to travel.
“Every moment paints such a permanent picture in my mind,” he said. “The moments when you’re on the road and you’re truly experiencing what cultures are and what places are rather than reading someone else’s interpretation … is absolutely beautiful to me.”
Belloir and Orlando returned to Florida safely. Upon their return, however, they knew they would need an upgrade in vehicles in order to continue this lifestyle. They decided to go from 1996 to 1984, saying goodbye to the Ford Ranger and welcoming the van.
Venturing Beyond Travels
In addition to their nomadic exploration to the west, Belloir and Orlando embarked on another new adventure around the same time. They decided to create a business together.
“The website and the business is a way for us to sustain ourselves on the road,” Belloir said. “We’re doing this as a form of education. We’re doing this as a forum to understand different climates and how different regions provide different medicinal plants, different geology. Every region has its own unique biodiversity of minerals and plants and that’s the true goal to understand.”
Belloir does leather work as a side-project by order. Orlando, who collects rocks, minerals and crystals as a hobby, turns her findings into jewelry. As they travel across the country, the two sometimes will set up a table at markets or festivals. Eventually they decided to move online as market profits were hit or miss.
“The market for me though is the most fun because it’s personal. You get to talk to people and share your ideas,” Orlando said.
People ask her questions about where she found the crystal, what properties it has and how she made it. Sometimes people take a business card and give her a stone to make into jewelry.
She includes where she found the stone and a story that goes along with it, if there is one, in a short bio about each product. Belloir is responsible for much of the information about the plants.
“It’s been a massive learning experience. We’re very new at running our own business and we’re working out the kinks but we’re just trying to take it day by day, learn from it and grow from it,” Belloir said. “We’re creators. We love creating. This is a way for us to create our reality.”
The website also serves as a place where they can share their stories of their travels. People often ask about what they do, and when you live the life of a nomadic explorer, the stories are endless.
“This journey had a lot of like really powerful, amazing, synchronistic moments with amazing people that we met and places we had seen. But it also had moments where her and I are looking at each other like, ‘What are we doing right now?’” Belloir said.
“We just pushed through all the fears and all the fears that people projected on us and went out there and did it.”
Belloir and Orlando are just weeks away from completing the van project, and a new engine was installed last weekend. Once it is finished, they plan on traveling to New York for an internship opportunity at Arc 38, a sustainability and environmental education center.