Our happiness is dictated by the people surrounding us and our experiences, not within material things.
Welcome to ManVanDogBlog!
My name is Joe Hawley and I’m currently traveling around the country with my rescue pup Freedom in my new sprinter van. I started this blog so that I could share some of my experiences and hopefully have a positive impact on this world by inspiring people to go after what they want in life. We all have the ability to find happiness, we just need the right tools and direction. By following my journey, I hope to leave you feeling inspired to find what makes you happy. The best place to start is from within.
When I decided to walk away from the game of football in 2017, I thought I was ready. My body was beat up from a variety of injuries – bone spurs in both my ankles, MCL/ACL reconstruction in my right knee, dislocation of my left knee cap, twice, torn labrum in both my shoulders and a bulging disc in my neck, along with some minor issues that I will have to deal with for the rest of my life – but I found out that nothing could really prepare me for the void I felt when I decided to give it all up. I played football for 16 years (4 HS, 4 UNLV, 5 Falcons, 3 Bucs). I never really put much thought into what I would do if I didn’t make it, not very smart, I know, but thats the kind of commitment it takes to get to the top. I put in the time and all the hard work, I made all the sacrifices and I don’t regret any of it. I played in over 90 NFL games and started in 54 at both center and guard, I competed at the highest level, and although I will never be considered one of the greats, I was able to make my dream, a kids dream, a reality.
There are a lot of factors that go into being successful on the football field; physical ability, mental toughness, leadership, athleticism, the ability to make decisions in high stress situations. I could go on and on, the point is, the road to success was always laid out in front of me.
“I knew what I had to do to make it and for the most part, I excelled, reaching the pinnacle of one the toughest sports in the world.”
What I wasn’t prepared for was trying to figure out who I was with out all that structure, that purpose, that dream. I was always working to get better, to reach the next level, to be the best football player I could be, I always knew my purpose, what I had to do, each and everyday. Now that it was over, I needed to figure out how to fill that void.
With a little bit of money in the bank and a whole lot of extra time on my hands, I began to think about what I wanted to do next. I needed a new dream to pursue. Ive always wanted to start my own business and with the passion to help people, I began to brainstorm different opportunities. I started to feel overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to start or what I was doing, I began to get a little stressed out. Thats when I first realized that I needed to take a step back. When you play football your entire life, you develop a certain work ethic, one that makes sure you are constantly pushing yourself to become the best you can be and if you aren’t working on getting better at whatever that is, you feel like your going to fall behind and with football that could mean losing your job. Developing this mindset was one of the greatest gifts football provided me but now that I was done, I needed to refocus that energy into something new. Before jumping into another career or starting my own business, I felt it was my responsibility, to take advantage of the unique opportunity in front of me. I realized that I worked so hard to make my dream a reality, it was time to really enjoy the fruits of my labor. So I decided to do a little traveling.
I think everyone, at some point in time, has dreamed of just hitting the road and exploring this beautiful country. I know I have. So I decided, if there was ever a time to do it, that time was now. So I started my search for the perfect vehicle. I came across a 2007 Ford E350 diesel 4×4 pop-top conversion van for sale. Because they are so customizable, it is hard to find exactly what you are looking for, I knew this was the one, so I pulled the trigger. (This is not the van I am currently traveling in. I’ve since upgraded to a new custom 2019 MercedesBenz Sprinter).
I knew the road might be a lonely place, so I decided to hit the local rescue shelters in search of a new travel companion as well. After a few failed trips – I’m a guy that trusts his gut and intuition – I just didn’t connect with any of the dogs. After visiting three different shelters, I circled back to the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center, and after spending some personal time with a couple different pups, I still didn’t make that connection with any of them. That was until I came across this cute little boxer mix, curled up in the back of one of the cages, sulking. I tried to get her attention but she just looked away and curled up even tighter. I asked one of the volunteers if I could spend some time with her in one of the playdate areas and while we were together she just walked around the cage sniffing, looking for a way out. That was when I looked at the volunteer and said, “I’ll take her.” For some reason, I knew that this dog would be grateful to get out of this place and as soon as we got home, she jumped on me and continued to lick me for the next 30 minutes.
“I knew that I had found the right dog, better yet, I knew that she had found me.”
We connected right away, all that was left to do was think of a name. With the transition that I was going through, about to hit the open road, and in honor of my new travel companion escaping the cold, dark cage that she was curled up in, I couldn’t think of a better name – Freedom.
With my new van and travel companion, I was ready to hit the road.
Because of this unique opportunity, which I know a lot of people just don’t have the chance to experience, I felt responsible to share it. So I started a blog, this blog, ManVanDogBlog. When I started, I had no idea what I was doing. YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, starting a website, all of these were foreign to me but I knew that it would be a good learning experience and the fastest way to learn is to just go for it. So I set out to share my experience a little over a year ago, I traveled for over 8 months, drove over 22,000 miles, passed through more than half the country, visited 6 national parks and watched games at 13 different baseball stadiums, was able to connect and share some wild experiences with some cool, like-minded people, I learned and grew more in the last year than I have my entire life. The best part about the whole thing – I was having a positive impact and influence on people’s lives by sharing my story and experiences. Because of this impact that I was starting to have, I decided to reorganize my blog, buy a new van and hit the road again this year with a new focus, trying to inspire people to live their lives to the fullest. Whether that be changing their diet, exercising more, reading books, learning new things or just getting outside their comfort zones. All of these things have had a positive impact on my life and I know that they can help others as well.
I took off on this trip last year trying to find out who I was without football and what I found was exactly what I needed, a purpose to help people in ways I never thought I could. After spending the last 4 winter months in Tampa, I’m ready to hit the road for the second time. I have no idea where this trip is going to lead, and to be honest, I’m not really trying to figure that part out, because life isn’t about the destination, its about the journey. So let’s make it the best damn journey possible. I’ll see y’all out on the road..
The best way to follow along on my daily adventures is via Instagram. Please reach out, I would love to connect. I will also be posting videos on my YouTube channel. So many thanks to everyone who has shown support. Y’all are amazing.