First things first. What is a mold sabbatical?
It is a time dedicated exclusively to recovering your health by carefully controlling your environmental microbiome. The nature of this illness is an over activation of an immune response. The only real remedy is to allow it to calm down on its own by being away from the triggers. How do you stop a swirling pool of water? You don’t swirl it the other way, you allow it to stop. Sure, there are things you can do to support your immune system’s healing along the way. But the main factor by far is getting away from the mold, mycotoxins and chemicals that are making your system go haywire. This is impossible to do in the same environment that made you sick. Moving to a different setting with different mold and mycotoxins might give you a short break until your system gets sensitized to those. There are lots of half-measures you can do to try to support your functioning if you are unable to move or leave your family. But this blog is about the fastest, safest bet for kicking this insane illness and getting back to health.
You have to get away from human civilization. Why? Because the problem is actually us, not the mold. Mold has mutated over the last 40 years in response to the chemicals humans are proliferating, particularly the fungicides in house paint and agriculture. It’s doing what it is evolutionarily designed to do: trying to clean up and decompose things that are not natural. These new, mutated molds are producing chemical by-products, mycotoxins, that are novel and neurotoxic to about a quarter of our human population. When you go to the wilderness, you are going back in time to when mold was relatively benign. Most outdoor molds are not problematic for people with CIRS (although there are exceptions.)
When to go
The ideal time to start a mold sabbatical is probably March in North America (or just as winter is ending in the Southern hemisphere.) Erik Johnson dubbed November to February as “Suicide Season” because of the extra challenges of trying to stay warm, clean and dry all at the same time when you are trying to avoid mold. During November to February, you often have to choose 2 out of 3. Sometimes you only get one.
November to February is a time when you simply try to not get worse. If you make any progress, it’s a bonus.
Obviously, people are getting diagnosed with CIRS at all times of the year. In my case, I was diagnosed in April. I spent the whole summer trying to fix my house, hoping I would be able to stay. It didn’t work and by mid-October in Maine, it was clear I needed to go somewhere where I could still live outside. I don’t recommend starting your mold sabbatical right before suicide season. Stay where you are and just do your best. Or you go somewhere warm.
Where to go
People say you can’t heal from mold illness east of the Mississippi River. I believe that’s true. The east coast is too densely populated, too full of chemicals and too moldy for a person’s system to calm down. Here’s my advice;
Take a look at a cellular service coverage map and find the blank spots. It’s either a wilderness or very sparsely populated. They are getting smaller every year. Find the place where there is no cell coverage nearest to you and go there first. The more far flung, the better. Look for “end of the road” communities. That means that it’s not on the way to anywhere, it’s at the end of a long road. Look for campgrounds that don’t offer electricity at first. Then explore boondocking, which means camping in places where you are off on your own with no electricity or services. There are lots of National Park Service and Forest Service roads that are designated as OK for boondockers. You need to go to the Ranger Station to find out where they are.
While you are there, pick a Ranger’s mind about the 450 Park Service locations around the United States. Ask specifically about wilderness areas. Juxtapose maps of wilderness areas with cell coverage maps and then try to find hot springs in the area. They are all over the western states. If you are lucky, you will meet “through hikers” who are hiking either the Continental Divide Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. You’ll see how happy these people are with an ultra-simple life and you will feel lucky about all that you have instead of all that you have lost. Plus they know where all the secret hot springs are. 😉
You will notice that there are a LOT of RVs on the road and lots of RV parks. RVs can be notoriously moldy because they aren’t designed to accomodate condensation issues well. The danger of staying at places that offer electricity is that you might be packed right in next to moldy RVs. No bueno. RV parks also often have vented septic ports at each site, which can be problematic. Occassionally you can find RV parks that are on city sewer systems. Those are better because it takes sewage “away.” Particularly avoid RV “dump stations” as some super-toxins travel in sewage. There are some RVs that aren’t moldy. Interestingly, it seems to be the boondockers.
Hot springs are good destinations. Often the water is alkaline or contains minerals that help restore your health. They have unlimited hot water, possibly saving you fuel and helping with your laundry. When it is scary and problematic to lie down to relax (unless you wash yourself and every stitch of fabric) hot springs offer a place where you can literally float and relax completely. As a bonus, interesting people find them and you have an opportunity to socialize in a setting where everyone has washed their spores off. Lastly, they help you feel lucky for a sensual, healing experience in an amazing setting when the rest of your life feels like it’s in hell’s handbasket. Getting into a hot springs pool feels like getting a hug. And boy, do we need a few hugs a day.
Picking a car
Let’s talk logistics. You need a vehicle. If you are escaping from a moldy situation, you might need a different vehicle. If you can tolerate ozone, ozone the shit out of your car with a high powered (20,000 cfm) unit for 8 hours overnight. Allow a day or two to air out. If you do need a new vehicle, you might not be unmasked enough to pick a great vehicle, just know that actually driving a vehicle, particularly up and down mountains, actually cleans the vehicle. It helps to denature the mycotoxins and they fade. You will need to keep a car as spore-free as possible, but the toxins can fade while driving. The point is, you don’t have to pick a perfect car and you don’t need to worry (as I did) that as soon it gets mold in it once, it’s ruined. You can usually work with it. If it has too high a density of spores, has a colony in the air conditioning/heating, or has any Stachybotrys or any super-toxins, it might well be ruined, but usually in a partially masked state, you can sense these before buying. Check with your intuition, because often your body knows before your mind does.
Ford and Nissan make small cargo vans. These are good bets because they are all steel with rubber flooring and you can wash them down easily. It’s the upholstery and carpets that get hard to clean. So a car with rubber floors is safer. After starting out with a van to camp in, I eventually learned that I prefer a pick up truck with a cap because the driving compartment got contaminated every time I went into town. Now, with a pick up, I can hose down the bed of the truck easily and sleep in there, even if the driving compartment isn’t perfect. I got a 2003 Tacoma because Toyotas are awesome and reliable, but they also have problematic AC/heating systems for the newer models.
Newer is also safer, despite the outgassing chemicals. You can heat it up to make it outgas faster. Older cars are simply more likely to be moldy, unless it has lived its whole life in the desert. If you are looking at a car, make sure it has never gotten wet inside, has no leaks or holes in the ceiling. Some Subarus, for example, have a drain that goes along the groove where the roof rack goes. Inexplicably, this drain travels down a pipe on the exterior of the car to empty out in the rear tire wells. This drain opening can constantly get clogged with debris, in which case water would come into the interior of the car. People won’t think to tell you things like that, so ask specifically.
Attaching a tow-hitch has the advantage of allowing you to either mount a tray on the back of your car for items you don’t want inside, or later get a trailer.
If you want a place to live, I would recommend either a Casita or Scamp trailer, or better yet, setting up a custom cargo trailer to live in, with a Murphy bed, a kitchen and make-shift, no-plumbing bathroom and shower.
Starter Shopping List
3 sets of day clothes
3 sets of pajamas including hats and socks
A back up set of clothing (that you keep in a plastic bag in your car for emergencies)
Raincoat or Froggy rain suit, doubles as spore jacket.
Down coat or vest
Flipflops (for bathing), rubber clogs (for camp) and walking shoes (for town)
A main set of bedding
A backup set of bedding
A clothes box (with a plastic zip box inside for pajamas)
A bedding box
A utility box for
Cookware, dishes and cutlery
2 collapsible backpacks to carry electronics (so you can switch them out and wash them)
2 passport belts to carry wallet/phone
A wonder wash machine
A Nina spin dryer
A 400w inverter to attach to your car battery to run the spin dryer
A Berkey travel water filter
A Buddy Heater and/or a hot water bottle
Bronner’s castile soap (for laundry, bathing, dishes)
Downy Free and Gentle laundry softener (helps remove spores) (*see The Toolkit)
A full complement of plastic bags– green for day laundry, white for pajama laundry, ziplocs of all sizes for everything. You will use more of these than your environmental conscience can tolerate.
Mylar bags– plastic will sequester spores, but not toxins, which act as a gas. Mylar bags will sequester toxins too if you have something you need to keep clean in a contaminated space or something contaminated in a clean space. (Like town shoes.)
Keep in mind that spores love super fuzzy items like fleece jackets or blankets, so they are harder to get spore free with cold water. Smoother surfaces like nylon or silky type bedding are easier. Using a dryer can get your spores off, but unless you are the only one using the dryer, I can’t recommend you do that because of what else your stuff will pick up in the dryer. One trick is to leave your super-fuzzy items at camp and get a smoother jacket to wear into stores or town. But use Downy Free and Gentle in each wash/rinse to attract the spores and move them along.
Random tip* if you are buying multiples of anything (pants, boxes, hats, etc) get different colors. It helps to keep things straight that are clean or need to be cleaned.