In my experience, building yourself a cage doesn’t happen all at once. It happens slowly. Piece by piece.
6 years ago I met someone. He had brown eyes, brown hair, a sweet smile and a great laugh. We fell in love, we learned to climb together, we built a life around each other. We were children. As we grew up we decided to move into a van. We sweat and bled and cried and covered our life in saw dust and duct tape. In the end, we had a tiny house on four wheels that we hoped would become our home.
It’s a great story. It was an amazing journey.
And of course it is not that simple.
The fist time I had something to drink I was 12 years old.
I stole two beers from the cooler at my dads 40th birthday party, a Heineken and a Corona, ducked away from the adults at the party, ran around the side of the house and up the ladder waiting for me to the rooftop. My two best friends were waiting for me.
Walking around the valley floor on my first day of being a climber steward, a guy in a black Prius speeds up to the cross walk and tears around the corner.
He never slowed or even looked at me as I crossed the crosswalk, I was inches from his bumper as he sped through.
City driving and no city in sight.
The best day of climbing I ever had, the air was on fire.
It was summertime in Squamish, a small town just north of Vancouver in British Columbia Canada. This town, up until recently had been known as a sleepy kiteboarding destination and—to those who cared— a place where you could find some of the best bouldering in the world.
At 7:00 each morning my alarm goes off.
‘World Spins Madly On’ by The Weepies plays through the blown out speakers on my iPhone. The accompanying rattle and buzz of the vibrating phone alarm against my wooden countertop can be felt more so than heard through my pillow.
I roll over and flap my hand in the direction of the sound until the alarm stops. Mike makes sleepy puppy noises next to me as I slowly sit up and get ready to make coffee.
It did pretty well, but I looked at it again this year and I have a lot more useful things to add to that list, so here is my Christmas gifts for Vanlifers 2018! Enjoy and make a vanlifer in your world happy this holiday season.
Kate and I are cruising down highway 191 headed back to Indian Creek after getting rained out of Castle Valley.
We had been planning on climbing the North Face of Castleton and Fine Jade, two excellent (and challenging) climbs, but the weather decided otherwise.
I was lying in my bed, half asleep, when I heard the first knock.
It wasn’t so much of a knock as a bang. Someone was pounding on the side of my house. In the large metal box that is my van, it reverberated around the small space and startled me awake.
I had been half asleep when it happened. Just in that place before sleep, where you aren’t quite awake but you can still sense what’s happening around you. My heart rate skyrocketed.
I blink and it’s morning.
My shoulder hurts so I roll over onto my other side.
I blink again and the sun has risen higher in the sky. I’m on my back. I look over to see Mike with his puffy jacket covering his face.
I never thought I would be bored at 500 feet off the ground.
Standing on Ahwahnee ledge on the West Face of the Leaning Tower, I pace back and forth in anticipation. Or what amounts to pacing when you have less than 3 feet of space to move around in.
Big wall climbing is the culmination of all of the climbing skills I’ve been honing over the last 5 years.
It takes technical skills, mental toughness, physical endurance, and good communication with a partner. I borrowed gear from friends, grilled them on the terrain, looked over maps that climbers before me had drawn, and scrolled through comments people had left on the mountain project to try and prepare myself mentally and emotionally for the hardest thing I had attempted to date in climbing.
Turn the key. Hear the rumble of the engine. Beep, beep, beep, beep, click. Roll the automatic windows down. Feel the warm breeze on my skin. Smell the wet grass and the still damp asphalt. It’s hot outside.
The circuit is the pathway between climbing areas for a year. It takes you round and round, from Yosemite to Red Rocks, to Indian Creek, to Joshua Tree, back to Indian Creek, Red Rocks, Smith Rock, Squamish, Index... It chases the good weather (read: sunshine) and the sending temps (read: mildly cool). When you jump on you typically meet a few people who are riding the same wave as you. You’ll see them in Indian Creek, lose track of them for a few months and then see them again in Squamish. The circuit brings you around and around, like a merry-go-round of climbing destinations. After getting on, it can be difficult to get off.
I’m standing on a hollow flake,
about 150 feet above the ground, and only 20 feet from the summit. Hidden Valley Campground is spread out below me, people are cooking around their campfires, chatting about the day and playing music. The pinyon pines and Juniper trees create shade in the late afternoon, while the orange white boulders create stools, tables and playgrounds for the park visitors. Normally I would be down there with them, enjoying the sunshine, stretching and talking, but right now I'm more focused on not dying. My palms are sweating.
"How do you just show up to a new town?"
"Where do you park?"
"How do you know where to shower?"
These are the first 5 things I do when I get to a new town!
I have, over the last year and a half or so, developed a method for arriving in a new town that helps me get settled into a new place.
I’ve been living in my Sprinter Van for a little over a year now, and during that time I continue to be surprised by the little joys of living in a van, the ones I didn’t expect when I moved in. I expected the freedom and the flexibility and the beautiful scenery, but I didn’t expect the pure joy of a nice parking space or the giddy feeling I get when the wind blows through the curtains on my open door.
Each day in the van is different. Like drastically different.
Some days I wake up at 6 am, knock on a friend's door, shower, slap on some makeup and drive to the nearest coffee shop for a work meeting. Then I spend all day on my computer getting shit done and finish up the day with a climb and sauna at my local (or sometimes local) climbing gym.
I wake up every morning in a memory foam queen sized mattress, my down comforters wrapped around my legs to the sight of my small but tidy kitchen. My counter top is a beautiful slab of madrone with a live edge and gold paint inlaid into the knots in the wood. My coffee is ground by hand (by me) and typically from a local coffee roasting company. I cook my breakfast of organic (if I can get em!) hardboiled eggs and a grapefruit to the sound of my favorite music playing out of my iphone or laptop. Today it was 'Love Love Love' by the Mountain Goats.
Your clothes no longer smell like the campfire of the last place you called home.
The first time you sweep your floors in a new place, you see all the old dust from the old place being wiped away, like a clean slate. For me, the memories of all the boots that tracked mud into my van go through my mind. I remember all the feet that walked here and all the people attached to those feet. I'm sweeping the memory of them away and making room for new feet, new boots and new dust.