In Search of the Fifth Gear

January 2020 | Words and photos by Sean Jansen

Join Klean Ambassador Sean Jansen as he shares a vulnerable embark on a road to recovery, in search of his "fifth gear" to life. What started as an exercise, would soon become a vital escape.

The shift into fifth gear is an easy one in Montana. A state of only a million people and the fourth largest by landmass, there is space and public lands as far as the eye can see. For the first time ever, my five-speed manual began shifting into gears I metaphorically didn’t know I had. For the last ten years, my gears were first or reverse. I didn’t know there were four other gears. I only knew of one gear, alcohol. Reverse was one constant relapse trying to get sober after the next.

I went nine days for the first initial time getting sober in late March. Relapsing by choice, being proud of the fact I didn’t drink that long and wanted to prove I could be a responsible drinker. But that wasn’t the case. The next time I went sober was April 13. A special day as it is the anniversary to the start of my journey on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015. And until recently, my longest stint in sobriety.

With each relapse in the following year meant binge drinking to make up for the time spent sober. Ranges varying from a week or a few days, to 17 days and even a month, but I couldn’t find it for a lasting amount of time. I did however notice patterns that could help me achieve becoming sober. I began to develop a mindfulness practice in meditation. I began drinking teas and even apple cider vinegar. Green smoothies in the morning and keeping count of my water intake throughout the day. Staying busy and waking up early drove me to be grateful for the days without a hangover.

In the afternoons however, demons crept in. Where the excitement of the morning faded to a dark depression of staring at the wall later in the day. Living with my parents at 30 and beginning to really beat myself up for my situation and actions, a dark future lay ahead and drinking always seemed to be the very temporary band-aid for how I felt. I needed a new bandage and trail running became my beacon in the storm.

Trail Running

Coming home from work around five, my spring, summer and fall seasons were treated with afternoon coffee and running the last hour or two before sunset. Always outdoors and always on trails.

Listening to the birds chirping and the wind blowing through the trees. Each run offered snowcapped alpine views, flowers swaying with color, and my feet crunching with each step in the dirt. The endorphins post run were an irreplaceable feeling no dunk or form of substance could replace. Lacing up the shoes were often the hardest part. To this day I still battle putting on my shoes, but with each lace tied into place was like putting on the boxing gloves and getting into the ring with my demons. With each relapse a battle had been lost, but in my heart I knew a war could be won. Repetition is of order. If I could repeatedly pour poison down my throat for ten years and more, there is no reason I couldn’t lace up my shoes and fight on.

Fishing in the mountains
Trail running
Mountain top

I began journaling. Writing about when I run, the endorphins lifting me above the clouds. Above the highs and lows that alcohol and substances give. Above the rain storms and lightning bolts that shock my world while my alcoholic self sits huddled into a ball in the rain beneath. Running alleviates the heavy bricks and darkness of depression and raises me up shooting me to my desired passions and dreams. All I must do is lace up my shoes and battle those demons.

I knew I needed to prioritize this and thus my dream of doing a van life was realized. Being able to wake up and fall asleep at trailheads sounded like the answer. However upon searching for my dream rig, the pandemic struck. But the dream stayed alive and my Subaru became my sober chariot. With summers eve creeping in, the car was packed. Road map by my side and my wanderlust and exploration powering me down the road. Running shoes were stowed at an arms length and a trailhead telling me of my destination. That destination being Montana. Based out of Bozeman I set out from my parent’s house shortly after summer broke.

Mountain goat
Camping with rainbows
Running in the mountains
Klean Kanteen travel bottle

Trail running may have saved my life. Shortly after I began running, the clarity of other gears began to be recognized and the haze of ten years not being myself was unveiled.

Sparking the idea to hit the road in my 2010 Subaru Forester and explore every trail in the state I could. Healing with each step of dirt into the thousands of acres of national forest, parks, and lands. Casting into its streams and backpacking to remoteness, gorging myself on Mother Nature therapy and recovering with every minute spent outdoors.

The sleeping platform was easy and cheap to build. In fact, it was free. The discard dumpster out back of the local department store had all the necessary framing needed to build a space for me to fit into. That along with enough wood to build out a drawer for a stove so I can cook and boil water for the two most important liquids in my life: coffee and tea.

With priorities now set in place for sleeping and cooking, the Yakima rocket box on the roof was stuffed with all appropriate gear: backpack, fly fishing gear, and an air compressor and tow straps. The space underneath my platform has enough room for a small cubby to put clothes and a space adjacent to it for an axe and fire wood.

Behind the passenger seat is a 7-gallon water jug along with several 2-liter Klean Kanteen water bottles. Behind the driver seat is where the dirty clothes hamper along with extra storage for some fly fishing gear and a space for my laptop. The front seat has my old Nikon D200 with the 200-500MM lens for passerby wildlife along with my toiletries bag and my, “Go,” pack with my other camera, GoPro, bear pray, etc…

My Subaru has five gears, and for the last three years living at home drinking, I have sat in neutral, despite shifting into first and reverse. Since hitting the road, I have discovering the shift into second and even third gear. I do know that there are two more gears to explore and sadly know that first and reverse are always going to be there in the rearview mirror. But I do know that second gear is the start of breaking through the storm and third is me riding the clouds with views of what lay ahead. The way I see it, is that my front windshield is a lot bigger than my rearview mirror and that if I keep looking forward, the less I’ll need to look back. I guess I just have to keep dreaming and working hard to discover what fourth and even fifth gear may bring.

Am I perfect? Far from it. But each day I get stronger with every new run into nature. I have looked into rehab, attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and sought therapy, but all have led me back to the bottle. Somehow running and being in nature has led me to where I am today, confident enough to write this piece and hopefully inspire others to find there path in nature and recovery from whatever may be holding you. All we have to do is lace up those shoes and get out there.

Trail in Montana mountains



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