Yurt Years: Early Digital Nomad Life

August 2000 – Ava, Missouri, Biloxi, Mississipi, Panama City Beach, Florida

As my current job ends and I start to look at how my new life might look, I am leaning very strongly toward a work life like I had when we lived in the yurt – a life that I saw summarized in a quote by Tim O’Reilly just this morning:

“Money is like gasoline during a road trip. You don’t want to run out of gas on your trip, but you’re not doing a tour of gas stations.”

After a year in the yurt I had a pretty good system down despite lots of challenges. We had a reasonably new laptop that we would charge in our friends’ house along with a couple of extra batteries. To avoid the necessity of going in to their house so often we set up a primitive wireless LAN that could stretch about 100 feet outside so as long as I had battery I could check my email as needed. The Internet speed wasn’t great – 24kbps dialup was the best we could hope for as far out as we were but we put it to good use. I found an online service that would give me a free voicemail box – an 800 number and extension and when someone would leave a message, it would email me an mp3 of the message. I even had a rather conventional greeting:

Hi, you’ve reached Todd Tyrtle. I’m either on the phone or away from my desk at the moment so if you leave your name, number and a brief message, I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

I’m sure they had a pretty boring idea of what was actually on the other side of the message: a multi-line phone, a cubicle, a desk with a large beige desktop PC on it and a big CRT monitor on top. In their minds, I wasn’t at my desk because I was sitting, bored, in a conference room somewhere trying to stay awake while someone cycled through Powerpoint slides, reading them verbatim.

What really was on the other side of the voicemail was less a desk and more a hammock strung between two black oak trees about 50 feet from the yurt. And I most likely wasn’t in a conference room. I was probably doing this:


I was careful not to take on more than I could handle – that meant no more than 10 hours per week of paying work. With no bills to speak of and lots of time for me to cook food from scratch, this was enough to give us a really comfortable living.

The only challenge was that my office didn’t have A/C. And as the middle of August approached, the temperatures were approaching 40C (104F) and going higher. The humidity was high as well. It was not a comfortable working environment. And so my days would start by making breakfast and doing whatever work I needed in the cool part of the day and then I would make a large pot of pasta, add a few veggies and Italian salad dressing, put it and the rest of the family in the car and we’d go here until it got close to sunset.

In the summer of 2000, we were invited to Sage’s family reunion in Florida and so I took my digital nomad life on the road. We got a dial-up internet account we could use anywhere in the US, and hit the road. The day we left was predicted to be 120F (48C).

I would do some writing in the hotels on the way to keep up with my deadlines but otherwise spent it like a normal vacationer – having Cajun food in Mississippi, taking Daegan to swim in the ocean for the first time in Biloxi as the planes flew right overhead.

We were ahead of schedule for our arrival at Sage’s family’s house and I was ahead of schedule at work and so, tempted by an ad in a coupon book we found at a rest area, we headed for Panama City Beach. The hotel would be about $30/night – a bargain even then.  When we arrived we found out why. The hotel was clean and right on the beach, but the room itself was small and completely windowless. Still, we weren’t in Florida to see a hotel room, and off we went to the water.

Sage and I would take turns swimming alone while the other of us would hang out with Daegan. Our second day there an older couple who was leaving, left us a small inflatable pool float and we pushed Daegan around on this. It allowed us to go out a little deeper to stay cool and Daegan to feel like a king being pushed around by his attendants.

One beautifully sunny afternoon we were out in the water. Sage and I were out nearly up to our necks, and Daegan was sitting like a prince on top of the raft, occasionally pointing in the direction he wanted us to go. The water was the perfect temperature – just cool enough to make being out in the hot sun pleasant but not so cold that you ever wanted to leave. We had been in the water for almost an hour until all of a sudden, I felt a stinging sensation all down one side of my chest.

“OW OW OW OW” I screamed and headed for the shore, dragging the young prince on his aquatic palanquin behind me while Sage ran behind me saying “What’s happening?!??!” and possibly on some level worried that Jaws had decided to come visit sunny Florida instead of Amity for a change.

When I got out of the water I had a couple of big red welts on my chest. I didn’t know what they were and so I ran in to our dark cave of a room, got out the laptop and dialled in to the Internet. After a few minutes, we got a pathetically slow connection.  I thought it might be a jellyfish so I looked checked on Google while Sage entertained Daegan in the room. Slowly the jpeg images loaded – one line at a time until I saw that I was probably right. I’d been stung by a jellyfish.

Next question: What happens now? Am I going to die?

More searching. I get to a page filled with images that all had to load before the text would show up. Finally I concluded that if death was imminent I’d probably know by now as I’d likely have had more indication than just a bit of anxiety in my mind.

Next question: How do I treat this? Is it going to get worse? Are there stingers or something to remove.  More searching.  Apparently urine is good for treating jellyfish stings but as much as it hurts I decide that there is a point past which I will not go for pain relief. The rest of the page tells me that the pain should fade soon and I am resigned to that fact. But to be on the safe side, for the rest of my time at the beach I don’t go in above my knees and watch the waves like a hawk lest they bring another nasty surprise to me.

Despite that drama we spent a delightful four days there before going to spend another week with Sage’s family and then, when we saw that the temperatures were still really hot back home, headed to visit a friend in Tennessee. We finally returned to the yurt in early September when the weather was only a little hot, not unbearably so.

And so, with memories like that, it is hard not to look forward to the idea of going back to consulting – even if the occasional jellyfish sting is involved.

Want more stories about our adventure leaving suburbia and moving with our baby to a yurt in the woods? Visit this page.

15 thoughts on “Yurt Years: Early Digital Nomad Life

  1. Such an interesting read and that’s a dream life. I hope you get to do that and even better than you did before given that you Daegan doesn’t need to be looked after anymore. Let the jelly fishes come all over again 😉
    BTW, loved the first quote!

    1. We lived in the yurt until he was 2 1/2 or so and doesn’t really remember anything. We lived in the area (moved in to the village) after that and lived there until he was 4 so he remembers the area (his granny lived in a rural area for much of that time). Then we moved to New Mexico for work and then after that, when he was about 5 1/2 we moved to Canada.

  2. What an interesting story, and life that you lead. I’m at the stage where I’m looking to do something similar, where my time is my own, and I can do things that I really want to do.

    1. When I look back at that time when we lived in the yurt it almost felt like I was a gardener of my own life. I pulled the weeds of unnecessary distractions from my life and used the time to grow other things. Our life is different now – we live in a high rise tower instead of a tent in the woods but the principle is the same: focus on the necessary, discard the rest. I hope you’re able to do it soon.

    1. When I was living there I mostly did technical writing – particularly related to how to test pharmaceutical manufacturing equipment. I’m doing similar work now but more related to the software side and taking on more project management.

      Glad you enjoyed the story. It was scary at the time, of course, but such a good lesson also.

      1. Interesting! It kind of reminds me of the time I left NY City and was living in a shot gun shack owned by my family on the Gulf Coast. Simple but livable. The funny thing is they redid the shotgun shacks after my father sold them and they sold them for quite a profit as they were across from the Gulf of Mexico.

      2. Wow – that does sound very similar – right down to the fact that in 1999, yurts were not all that common. Now they’re used for expensive “glamping” destinations and yoga retreats. Ours was not nearly so trendy 🙂

  3. Wow, such interesting life you have had Todd.
    I have lived a routined life and so your seems so much fun life.
    I know ups and downs are there but still you could sail your boat 🙂

    1. Thank you – it’s been interesting so far. I’m lucky in that the three of us make a good crew for our boat. We travel interesting places but also know how to handle the boat in even the worst of weather.

Leave a Reply to Todd Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.