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Hood and Bayless Family in Hood River Oregon, owners of ROAMERICA Campervan Rentals

I’ve Lived with Lyme for Decades, and This is What it is Like

Updated May 2022

2.5 Decades of Medications and Treatments

My childhood was seemingly defined by periods of wellness and illness. After having bouts of sickness in my early years, I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at 10 years old. Years of medications and treatments followed, all with little success or improvement. Periods of illness that left me bedridden were followed by days of freedom as I pursued high school sports and other outdoor activities.

It took 25 years, countless doctors and medications, and a determined partner to finally arrive at a diagnosis: Lyme disease. Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time (and neither were the majority of medical doctors), Lyme and tick-borne diseases are prevalent across the United States with reported cases in each of the 50 states. The infection is powerful and can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system if left untreated.

Moving Through a Sedentary and Unsociable Life

The symptoms of the undiagnosed disease left me pretty much sedentary and unsociable for a good part of two decades. The soreness would come and go without rhyme or reason, so I was always on the lookout for the next bout of illness. It was very isolating, and when I met my boyfriend, Taylor Hood, in 2010, I decided that I’d rather feel unwell and do something anyway than feel unwell and be in bed. He also was determined to find an answer.

Gretchen Bayless - Complications from Lyme disease

In the hospital for total shoulder replacement surgery. Lyme symptoms completely deteriorated the cartilage and joints in my body.

Activity was never the cause of my soreness. We leaned into the “dirtbag” lifestyle that Taylor was already into. We camped in the wilderness, doing all of the things that we both loved to do. It quickly became apparent, however, that when I wasn’t feeling well, our camping trips, surfing adventures, and hikes were more arduous and less fun.

How a Van Changed Our Lives

A van was an easy fix. We wanted to be off the grid, but we needed that combo of mobility and comfort that only a van could provide. That first van changed our lives in more ways than one. On sick days, I could relax in comfort while Taylor explored the surrounding landscape. We were able to continue to enjoy the outdoor activities we both loved while adding a level of comfort that wasn’t possible when our only adventure vehicle was a Toyota Tacoma.

Lyme disease treatment

4 months since being treated for Lyme. Look at the difference in inflammation.

But it didn’t solve my illness. I truly credit meeting Taylor as a turning point in my journey to diagnosis. Taylor found my courses of treatment—the myriad of diagnoses I was given and series of medications I took over the years—confusing and illogical. He believes that there’s an answer for everything if you look deep enough. So he started to dig.

Solving the Mystery

Taylor stumbled on Lyme disease during a series of internet searches in 2015 and during the fall of 2015 during Taylor’s research, I became extremely ill. I was certain I was going to die. I was in the process of making peace with it. However, Taylor was not ready to give up. Thank the Lord he had the determination and grit to demand answers. He carried me into what I wanted to be my last doctor appointment. This new doctor was a Naturopathic Doctor but had studied western medicine as well. Taylor knew if anyone could solve the mystery, it would be her! She took one look at me and said “How is she still alive”? I remember so vividly the next 2 weeks. It was countless labs, tests but mainly just getting my feet under me again. I had lost over 20lbs and was unable to do anything. After 2 weeks, we had an official diagnosis of Lyme Disease. After years of being misdiagnosed, of being told that my illness was in my head, I was officially given an explanation of my lifelong symptoms. The world had opened up but also crumbled around me. So many questions surrounded my next few months but Taylor kept me focused on living and not dwelling on the past.

Coming Up with a New Narrative for Our Life

Over the next year, I regained my strength and was the healthiest I had been in my whole life. The possibilities were endless! It was in this moment of our lives that we launched ROAMERICA. We had come up with this idea in the fall of 2015 but my sickness quickly put it on the back burner. The goal of ROAMERICA has always been to help people access the outdoors with the added comfort that a van brings to an outdoor adventure.

Ignorance is really important when you’re starting a business. All you see is the silver lining, not your struggles. Taylor and I quickly ramped up to 60- to 70-hour weeks to handle the demands of launching ROAMERICA while juggling my ongoing graphic design work and health.

Fast Forward

While managing the symptoms of Lyme disease, I’ve had two children. The impact of the disease really hit home when Taylor and I were talking about what it would look like to have children. My doctor requested we give her 1 year to get me 100% and the healthiest state for my body to try to become pregnant. Mid-way through this year, my brain started not be brain anymore. I felt like I was loosing control of my thoughts. My brain felt like it was on fire. It was so hard to put into words what I was feeling but my doctor informed me that can affect the central nervous system in long-term, untreated cases. She put me on a round of antibiotics and for 2 weeks my brain felt like it was going to explode with craziness but they worked! By the fall of 2016 I felt like I had a life. A life I never thought would be possible. By December of 2016, I was pregnant with our first daughter, Piper.

My symptoms subsided during the pregnancy, and it was the best I had felt in years, but Piper’s birth brought the symptoms back in full force. I tried a new IV stem cell treatment that seemed to be working, but the physical, mental, and emotional side effects were too much. I stopped breastfeeding and started again on antibiotics and Prednisone, a steroid to control inflammation. I never wanted to be on western prescriptions but I also had a baby to care for and a life I knew was worth living.

After the birth of our second child in May of 2019, Taylor asked me if natural childbirth was the worst pain I’ve ever felt. I responded without hesitation: absolutely not. The Herxheimer reaction to treating the Lyme disease—a reaction that happens when the Lyme bacteria are actively being attacked and causes a worsening of Lyme symptoms, including fatigue, brain fog, muscle and nerve pain, and chills and sweats—was without a doubt the worst pain that I’ve ever felt.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned that it’s okay to hurt, and it’s necessary to process that in a healthy way. My outlet is the outdoors and work. Meeting customers, learning about their stories, and hearing about their adventures motivates and inspires me to persevere. We all have a story, and so far, mine has had a pretty good arc.

Owners of ROAMERICA Gretchen Bayless and Taylor Hood with their family

Healthy happy Hood/Bayless family in 2019.

This ROAMERICA journey has been unbelievably rewarding. During our second year of business, we rented a van to our first customer in a wheelchair. She and her partner said it was the best vacation because they saw and did so much, and the van made it so easy. We’ve had many customers with limitations since, and the van makes it much easier on them. Our labor of love has blossomed into a way for everyone to enjoy the outdoors. We even include a Lyme Disease Tick Kit.

A diagnosis doesn’t mean a cure. Lyme is a chronic illness and something that I will likely manage for the rest of my life. Therefore, in addition to opening up outdoor access, we are also committed to getting people out there safely and passing on knowledge and Lyme disease prevention techniques to help others avoid the pain of Lyme.
For more information about Lyme disease, treatment, and prevention, check out A Guide to Preventing Lyme Disease in the Great Outdoors and the LymeLight Foundation.

Camping as a family out of a campervan on the John Day River.

Camping as a family out of our campervan on the John Day River in April 2022.

  • Diana M.
    July 1, 2020

    Thank you for sharing your story! My boyfriend and I love to camp in his car too, but I’ve started having health issues last year (neuropathy that the dr’s haven’t found a cause for yet) and I worry about not being able to travel the same way. A van of our own is a plan for us in the future as well. Your story is so inspiring! Thanks again from Nola! 🙂

  • Nathan Yurkanin
    June 1, 2022

    thanks for the info. I have had lyme for about 7 yrs treating many ways, always looking for the cutting edge of treatment. One thing hard to find is a good doctor, i have always had to do my own research then ask my ND if she is willing to allow me to try things. It would be nice to hear whom you have found that have helped you. I know people are leery to divulge dr’s identities publicly but let me know if you are willing.

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