Gretchen Lush has spent the last four years living in a camper outside a gutted home on Swan Lake Avenue, earning just enough money to survive by breeding and selling mice to pet stores, collecting and selling sea glass and driftwood, the latter to a taxidermist.

She doesn’t cook, opting instead to eat soup from a can, or heat up a Hot Pocket in the microwave. This Spartan lifestyle, it becomes clear from talking to Lush, is by choice more than necessity. It’s about being independent, and to a certain degree restless.

One day recently, Lush recalled, she was leaving church when she hatched the beginnings of a plan to get out of town and have an adventure, making her way by thrift, resourcefulness and the kindness of strangers.

It was something she had done in one form or another many times before. Once, she had sold her possessions, bought a van, built a bed in the back and set off on an extended trip around the country, camping on beaches and selling dog biscuits to vacationers to earn a few extra dollars. Other times she had hitchhiked and camped, never with a destination in mind. Rarely with any money.

“The less I have, the more of a challenge it is. And I seize it,” she said. “A lot of people plan their trips: ‘We’ll drive this many miles, we’ll eat at this restaurant, we’ll stay at this hotel.’ That just sounds boring to me.”

By her own count, she has owned 15 campers and five vans in her life. Her four years in Belfast represent the longest period she has lived in any one place, and this fact weighed in her decision to leave.

Her current plan was partly inspired by an article she read about Dan McCrady, a retired federal worker who traveled by bicycle, towing his yellow Labrador retriever in a special trailer, from Maryland to Maine.

The two followed the East Coast Greenway, a partially-built series of paved trails (and sometimes automobile roadways) that supporters hope will one day stretch from Calais to Key West. McCrady rode the trail to raise awareness and money for the work in progress. Lush didn’t have a cause in mind, but the idea of a long journey sounded appealing.

It all came together quickly after that.

She found a horse-drawn carriage for sale in Uncle Henry’s Swap or Sell It Guide, and soon after, a donkey to pull it.

Ponies, she knew, could be temperamental, and she had briefly considered getting a pack goat, but they were only available from a dealer in Wyoming. “It seemed too complicated to have it flown back,” she said.

Lush had seen pictures in National Geographic magazine of people in other parts of the world using donkeys as pack animals and said she was fascinated by the idea.

She sold her car to pay for the carriage — a newly constructed but retro-style piece of equipment, looking equal parts Surrey and garden utility cart. It was small, but had enough room to accommodate a large crate on the back for Lush’s four small-breed dogs. She decided the old set of license plates from her car would be perfect for scooping dung off the trail.

Lush sold her camper to help pay for the donkey, and she planned to sell the rest of her worldly possessions and start on a journey following the East Coast Greenway south. She didn’t have any money, but figured she could give donkey rides along the way. Eventually, she said, she would probably come back to Belfast.

As her departure time drew nearer, Lush experienced a growing sense that everything would work out. She had the donkey and carriage. There were just a few odds and ends left to deal with before she departed.

The new owner of the camper did not take it right away, and on July 21, Lush was inside, lying in bed, listening to a ferocious thunderstorm outside and praying that lightning wouldn’t strike her. It was then, as she recounts the story, that a bolt of lightning hit a nearby tree.

The charge ripped a strip of bark off as it traveled down and blew a hole in the ground at the base of the trunk. Somehow the lightning got into the electrical system of the camper — at first Lush thought it had traveled underground, later she considered the possibility that it may have forked, striking both places — and blew out a light fixture in an alcove behind her bed. Failing to find a satisfactory ground, the electricity traveled through the extension cord that supplied the power for the camper, into the house, blowing up an outlet and setting a small fire.

Lush said local firefighters arrived quickly and put out the three fires — in the tree, the camper and the house. The next day, Lush found herself with a sold camper somewhat diminished in value, and a donkey as collateral. To Lush’s relief, the buyer was still willing to take the camper. Lush took $50 off the sale price. It was enough to pay for the donkey, a friendly animal named Molly.

Lush said the man who sold Molly to her offered to take Lush and her animals to the head of the trail. She hoped to start her journey Aug. 14. Along the way, she would camp outdoors, building an enclosure for the cart from bendable PVC piping and tarps, with a separate shelter for Molly made from a clothesline strung between two trees and fitted with a tarp.

As Lush was describing her plans, the sky became overcast. To the west, a swell of dark clouds was visible above the trees and a light rain started falling.

“We’re up on a ledge. I guess lightning likes the ledges,” she said. After a moment, she shook her head. “I’m ready to get out of here.”

But wouldn’t there be lightning anywhere she went?

“There is here, too, though, ” she said. After a minute, she continued. “They say that lightning never strikes the same place twice. I don’t know if they meant in the same storm or ever. I’m hoping it’s ever.”

For now, she is not waiting around to find out.