All Tamara “Pipes” Murck has is her guitar, her clothes, her sleeping bag, her spare tire and her hatchback, which she and her friend James “Hippie Jimmie” MacDougall are using to travel around the country.
The two are, in MacDougall’s words, “ambling” their way toward a hippie commune in Tennessee, though they said they may make stops and detours along the way, such as helping set up and break down a nearby traveling circus.
Murck and MacDougall wound up in the Golden Triangle this week to stay at a friend’s farm in Starkville and for Murck, at least, to play her guitar and sing along the roadside and at The Princess Tuesday night after MacDougall convinced the local patrons to let her have the mic.
They admit it’s an unusual existence, but they like it. Two years ago, Murck had corporate office job in Minnesota that she hated.
“I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me,” she said. “Because I had everything that I wanted. I had a really nice boyfriend, I had a really nice house, I had a really nice car and I had a really nice job.”
When she began being late to work and found she couldn’t write music anymore, she quit her job and traveled to Texas with the idea of working for a Renaissance Fair. A friend suggested they “hang out with some hippies for the weekend.”
That’s when Murck got “itchy feet,” as she put it.
At the same time, MacDougall was traveling with his 17-year-old son. The two of them saw 22 states in one year.
“Watching him blossom and gain the ability to communicate with anyone, to gain the level of confidence that you get from sleeping in a cow field next to an on-ramp, bopping through Salt Lake City with full gear,” MacDougall said.
MacDougall began traveling on his own in the 1980s, when he was in his early 20s. He took a break to raise children and work a mechanic’s job, but about six years ago resumed his wandering. So far, he said, he’s been to 43 states and a few other countries. A month-and-a-half ago, he slept in a ditch outside Arizona. It was 26 degrees, he said.
“Sometimes I feel like a cowboy and sometimes I feel like a pirate and sometimes I feel like a hobo,” he said.
During the year traveling with his son, he met Murck. Since then, MacDougall and Murck have traveled together off-and-on.
“It’s not smart to travel alone,” Murck said.
“It’s not as much fun either,” MacDougall added.
‘We are a communal species’
And the two have seen their fair share of the country. From a snow-filled Grand Canyon — which MacDougall admits he saw while tripping on LSD — to Las Vegas, where Murck said she’s been nine times though she doesn’t gamble.
“If you want to feel humbled, look at earth,” she said. “Go to the painted canyons and look at that mountain. What have we got to compete with that? Look at that redwood.
“But at the same time, then you go to see a metropolis,” she added. “And you see that huge thing that we made. We are a part of the earth. I dare you to build that building by yourself. We are a communal species. We can’t do this alone.”
The duo has also met plenty of people. Hippies and hobos who take up a rambling lifestyle like theirs are some of the smartest people they’ve met, MacDougall said. That includes entire families traveling in their own buses, from which they host art shows. One family Murck and MacDougall met had a herb garden in the front of their bus and a chicken coop on the back of the roof.
“Somewhere around 25 years ago, I was walking through Sedona, Arizona, and I met a guy who was wearing some sort of Jesus robe thing,” he said. “All his jewelry was made out of silverware. He was picking out of the trash can, which I’m not above, and I met him and he was so interesting and so articulate that I couldn’t stop talking to him.”
Most of the other travelers they meet create art or music, MacDougall said.
“I’m the exception,” MacDougall said. “Most of our kind really play music, dance and, through a plethora of spare time, get really good at it.”
The two also stressed they don’t expect to get things for free without working — MacDougall’s put his mechanic skills to use on other people’s vehicles and has also worked on farms, while Murck performs. Almost all of her songs are ones she’s written herself. She only knows four covers, she said, including “House of the Rising Sun” which she played at The Princess Tuesday along with many of her own songs.
They do all this because it makes them appreciate their lives more, they said.
“It makes everything taste better,” MacDougall said. “Almost every breath. It’s just a level of appreciation I don’t think everyone has for a good sunrise, a good sunset, a nice meal.”