The Ugly Truth About Long-Term Travel – The Grass Really is Always Greener on the Other Side

When people find out that I’ve been living in a big yellow van, traveling the country to climb for seven months with my handsome boyfriend, they always have the same reaction: “Wow, your life is perfect. I wish I could do that so bad, *insert grumbling comment about how much it sucks to have a job and a house*

My response? “The grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side, trust me.”

Niko sits proudly atop our new yellow home.Don’t get me wrong: I’m living the dream.

I get to wake up (most days) surrounded by thickets of trees, powdery red dirt, hauntingly steep canyons, commanding collections of the country’s finest boulders, and more fresh air than my lungs can possibly ingest. Those days, when I’m climbing all afternoon, cooking hot meals at camp, and snuggling up in my sleeping bag in the confines of my van are absolutely the best.

But life on the road isn’t all carefree camping and successful sends – even though that’s what most folks see and would like to believe. Most folks don’t think about the moments of long-term travel when your van won’t start in the middle of nowhere; those moments where most of your loved ones are cozied up in an air-conditioned house, and you’re sweating in your sleep at a crowded interstate truck stop.

How about the times when you realize you don’t have enough money left to do anything other than put gas in your tank and cheap food in your belly? Or when it’s raining for three days straight, but you have nowhere to go but sit in your van? Or worse, when you get sick? Have you ever been sick in a van? It ain’t pretty. Picture all the misery of food poisoning, all the fluids being spilled from all ends of your body, and you’re just curled up in a hot van. (It happened to me in Vegas, it sucked. A lot.)

Every single moment of my adventure across America has blessed me with life lessons and unforgettable experiences that will continue to shape me for the rest of my life, but I just have to set the record straight: this is NOT some sort of romantic journey full of sunshine and forest fantasy. This is still real life, and sometimes, it sucks.

Sometimes, you just want things like a house where you can spend the whole day loafing on a couch, a kitchen to bake cupcakes in, a shower whenever you crave one, and a desk to get some damn work done with a steady internet connection. Some days I find myself longing for the comforts of a steady lifestyle, a paycheck, and a properly sized closet (My boot collection takes up about half of my van storage, it’s out of control).

But then again, after a few weeks of house-sitting and staying at friends’ houses in Colorado – I’m itching to get away from all the concrete, away from the succubus of the internet, and away from this damn couch I can’t will myself to get off of. I’m sick of sitting inside all day, I long for hours of endless driving through farm land, and I am so over the stagnant routine of just being ‘around’.

And you know why? Because the grass is ALWAYS greener…

So keep adventuring, keep enjoying life as you have it, and for heaven’s sake, don’t complain to dirtbags about how horrible your air-conditioned, financially-secure life is. Adventure is always out there, so make it your own. And if you really want to “live the dream” like me, quit your job already! Just remember what I warned you about when you’re broke, dirty, and longing for a couch.

/endrant

Happy six month van-aversary to us!

Our van, our home for an entire year of adventure.On February 1, 2013, I set out in my newly acquired big, yellow Sprinter van in pursuit of spending an entire year traveling around the country while climbing with my co-pilot in adventure (and life) Niko. Looking back through the scribbled pages of my daily planner, it’s hard to believe it’s already been six months since we first hit the road. Whoa.

Here are some fun facts about our journey thus far:

  • We’ve visited 9 National Parks, from the wandering through prickly cactus forest at Saguaro National Park in Arizona to backpacking in a rainforest at Olympic National Park in Washington.
  • I have taken 31 showers in 180 days.
  • More than 80 days have been spent climbing. (not enough, if you ask us!)
  • Our van has traveled to 15 states, and up to Canada – I’ve been to an additional 4 states via air travel.
  • Niko and I still like waking up next to each other every morning.

A lot has changed over the course of half a year, including our car battery and a new EGR valve. We’ve learned so many lessons about living on the road. I learned how to embrace the idea of being wholly disconnected from social media (seriously, that was tough), Niko learned how to trad climb – and climbed to his first big peak in Yosemite, I chopped off all my hair in the name of adventure, and we’ve grown to love a new family of climbers whom we’ve journeyed with from Joe’s Valley to Squamish.

For me, this has been an incredible journey of personal growth and that whole “finding yourself” thing. I have never adored climbing so much, and started training for the Triple Crown Bouldering Series event at Hound Ears in October. I’ve also become endlessly inspired by my experiences – my mind is constantly bursting with story ideas, future book titles, entrepreneurial concepts, and big plans for the future. I’ll admit, I’ve had a few moments where I’ve wanted to stop moving so I could start focusing on all my ambitions, but I’m learning how to balance the thrill of adventure and career goals.

And to think, we’re only halfway through. Or is it halfway over? Either way, we still have what feels like an eternity of travel ahead of us, and we are especially excited for the next leg of the trip. We traveled as far west as roads would take us, crossed the border up into Canada, and are now finally headed back east. We’re in Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer show, we’ll head to Denver to see my sister for a week, then it’s up and around the northern midwest before finally making our return to our beloved southeastern crags.

We owe so much gratitude to everyone who has helped, supported, befriended, and loved us along the way. Some folks, like Vikki and Spenser from The RV Project, the Joe’s Valley family, our Squamish crew, and everyone who invited us into their homes across the country deserve an extra heap of love – our trip would not have been possible without you (and we’d never have been convinced to go to Squamish). Moreover, I can’t believe that I have a family who is so supportive and proud of a gal who decided that living in a van for a year was a great idea, and it always puts a smile on my face when friends tell me they’re inspired by my adventures. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I keep trying to think of a way to properly express my thanks to everyone who has supported us during the trip, keep coming up empty handed – there is no tangible thing that can compare to what the adventure community has given us. I’ll tell you this, the “acknowledgements” page in my first book is going to be very, very long.

Cheers to another six months of adventure! 

Happy Van-aversary! Reflections from Two Months of Living in a Van

Today is an anniversary of sorts: Niko and I have officially been living in our big yellow Sprinter van for two months. Officially longer than any other journey we’ve embarked on together, I’m proud of how easy has been to live on the road – and impressed that we still actually want to cuddle every night. Throughout our eight initial weeks of the Simply Adventure journey, we’ve learned a lot, made plenty of mistakes, and began to appreciate all that we have (and things that we don’t, but our friends do – like showers).

Here's the Simply Adventure route this far: from Florida to Utah! Here’s a little recap of our journey thus far:

  • We have traveled over 3,991 miles in 60 days.
  • The van has visited 10 states, including Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah.
  • 37 days have been spent climbing (minus a few for me due to a tendon injury). We’ve visited Reimer’s Ranch, Hueco Tanks, Joshua Tree, Red Rocks, Moe’s Valley, Joe’s Valley, and American Fork Canyon.
  • Our National Parks adventures have taken us to Saguaro National Park in Arizona, Joshua Tree in California, and Zion and Kolob Canyons in Utah.
  • I’ve managed to badly sprain an ankle (which still hurts), partially tear a tendon, and get miserable food poisoning.

The Craggin' Wagon perched on the side of the road outside of Hueco Tanks, Texas.It has truly been an incredible journey so far. There have been undeniable moments of frustration, but all have been greatly outweighed by moments of victory, love, and new discoveries. We’ve made it through blasting sandstorms in the desert, everything freezing on a nightly basis in the van, mountainous driving in white-out snow conditions, and the worst situation of all: running out of fresh avocados.

One of my favorite climbs of the trip thus far, Self Service (V5) at Joe's Valley in Utah.Living on the road teaches you to simplify everything in life, from the collection of “stuff” you need to be happy to the amount of water you need to wash a sink full of dishes. It has made us stronger in spirit, better climbers overall, more aware of our impact on the earth, and closer as a couple.

So what do the next two months have in store for our yearlong van-dwelling adventure? Well, we’re not exactly sure. We’ve hit a lull in our itinerary – after we leave Joe’s Valley and head to Rifle next week, our agenda is completely blank until we hit Yosemite at the end of May. We’ll likely just cruise around Colorado and Utah, following crisp climbing conditions. Got any suggestions?

Thank you to everyone who has been following the adventure online, offered us warm beds and hot showers, sponsored us with incredible gear that has changed our capabilities in the van, and to my mom, for insisting on sending me an Easter basket while I’m out climbing in Utah. I can’t wait to share the next adventures the big yellow van will lead me to – and I count my blessings every day for being able to experience all of this.

Want more from our trip? 

During these first two months, we’ve had a few interesting opportunities to spread the Simply Adventure love.
Check out this video of the van from Joshua Tree, and our interview with GrindTV.com!

The story of how a giant yellow Sprinter van became my home

From the moment Niko and I declared 2013 as our road trip year, we began dreaming of the vehicle that would serve as our home during our adventure. Living in a car is no simple subject, so naturally we explored multiple options.

The first “that’s the one!” idea was a Honda Element equipped with Ursa Minor’s E-Camper pop-up extension. It turned a standard adventure mobile into a livable space – perfect. I was able to play in the Jeep version during Overland Expo, and felt pretty smitten with the concept of turning it into my home for a year. But the price tag proved a bit too reachy.

And more importantly, we realized we needed some space. Niko and I are great at living together and sharing everything, but the idea of residing in a small car for an entire year started to feel a bit suffocating. I quickly realized that the more space we had, the higher the likelihood of us not wanting to throw each other off a cliff within the first two months of our Simply Adventure trip.

After storming up new ideas, being haunted by Niko’s proposal of living in his pick-up truck, and many conversations with Beth from 3Up Adventures, the choice was clear: We needed a Sprinter van.

Big, boxy, and good on gas mileage, the Dodge Sprinter is truly an ideal vehicle for the adventure lifestyle. The cargo set-up allowed us to create a functional space designed for our needs, but the diesel van still drives (relatively) easy. We agreed on the Sprinter, and quickly began our search.

Months of scouring the internet and local dealerships for used Sprinters led to two weeks in Miami to complete the search and purchase. After a handful of disappointing van visits, my father and I hopped on a one-way flight to Tampa, then drove out to Palm Harbor, to check out a big, yellow Sprinter that Niko had discovered in an eBay auction.

It was love at first sight.

Never mind that yellow is my absolutely favorite color of all time, or that I have an unusual tendency to affectionately personify inanimate objects – this Sprinter was the one. The dealership was closed during our initial visit, so we creeped on the van, and eagerly awaited the next day to (hopefully) finalize the purchase.

The waiting, haggling, and inspection process were absolutely agonizing.

We test drove the Sprinter first thing in the morning, and decided we liked what we saw. The next step was taking it to a mechanic at the Jerry Ulm Dodge dealership to get the lowdown on the van. I will forever be grateful for the extraordinary efforts by Brian Cummings to help me with my van buying process. He spent hours talking to us, offering honest advice, and ultimately suggesting that we should go for it and buy the van (even though it wasn’t being sold by his dealership). Brian, thank you a thousand times, you are absolutely wonderful!

Fast forward through some unsuccessful haggling, a “looks like we’ll have to walk away from the van” moment, a phone call saying “come back, we’ll take your offer,” and lots of paperwork – and suddenly I was driving my new yellow van from Tampa to Miami. Ain’t it a beauty?

Since purchasing my new home, we’ve driven from Tampa to Miami, and Miami to Tallahassee. This weekend we’re heading up to the Atlanta area for our first trail day with the Southeastern Climbers Coalition at Boat Rock – our first official Simply Adventure journey.

In the coming weeks, I’ll keep you updated as we outfit the Sprinter and transform it into a veritable home. It may have a shabby paint job, blown speakers, broken AC vents, and a busted headlight – but it’s our first home together, and we’re smitten. We’ve already gutted the interior; next up is tearing down the partition.

Soon, the blank interior space will be filled with a custom built bed, kitchen area, storage, and more. We can’t wait to show you our handiwork, so stay tuned! We’re also going to be holding a van naming contest soon, so start thinkin’ up some snazzy names for our glorious yellow van!

Want to help us make the Simply Adventure dream a reality? Check out our fundraiser, and DONATE to our mission to spread the good tidings of conservation, outdoor recreation, and climbing love across the country! 

Introducing “Simply Adventure” – Reinventing the art of adventure in 2013

In May 2011, Niko and I embarked on a five-week trip across the country to climb, explore, and gain a new perspective on living. My leg of the journey began along the Atlantic coast in Miami, and together we traveled across mountains, prairies, and forests until reaching the Pacific ocean. After over a month spent living out of my parent’s Pilot, waking up with the rising sun, and spending afternoons splayed out in the sunshine of boulder fields – we returned home entirely changed.

It was quickly realized that we needed more.

We spent the next six months apart, with Niko studying in Tallahassee while I voyaged out on a seven-week solo trip and moved out to Denver for the fall and winter seasons. Upon reuniting, we decided our lives were better spent together – but that togetherness had a purpose.

We were built for a life of adventure.

And so, the plans began to form for a yearlong trip across the entire length America. At first, we dubbed it “The 2013 Trip,” but this epic journey deserved a more proper name – and thus, Simply Adventure was born. 

What are we doing?

We’re two perfectly regular people, proving that adventure is within anyone’s reach – all you have to do is choose a trail and follow it. We’re selling everything we own, buying a used van and building a home on wheels, simplifying our needs, and traveling America to discover everything that the land of the free has to offer. Our strongest passion is climbing, and through our journey we plan to support and advocate for local climbing communities and organizations. We also want to revive a love for living locally, focusing on local eateries and farmers markets.

Why are we doing this?

The common thread in all of our passions? The land.  We’re going to spread an appreciation for the unrivaled nature that sprawls across our country, and we hope to inspire others to embrace the values of land stewardship, conservation, and taking full advantage of what the outdoors has to offer. Whether it’s working to ensure access to a climbing crag in Tennessee, or supporting local farmers in California, we want to give back to communities who love the land.

We also want to demonstrate that what we’re doing isn’t some special journey reserved for a handful of folks daring enough to break free. Simply Adventure is a journey for EVERYONE. This experience is accessible to anyone – and we want you to come along for the ride. We hope to inspire you to forge you own path, dream about your own epic trips, and hit the road towards your adventure.

Where are we going?

Frankly, we want to go everywhere. Our map is still evolving, but we have a rough idea of our seasonal destinations. The adventure begins in January 2013, with a few months of climbing around the southern states to avoid the brutal winter up north. Once spring has sprung, we’ll begin meandering towards the mid-west and Pacific coast. Summertime will be spent in the northwestern region, and across the northernmost states. As the heat resides and the colors of autumn begin to blossom, we’ll follow fall along the northeast, and back down to our beloved southeast. The trip will conclude with a circuit around our favorite southern climbing areas.

For Katie, this trip will be the cherry on top of a lifetime of American travel. With only a handful of state lines left to be crossed, Katie will fulfill her goal of visiting all 50 states by summertime. And Niko? Well, he’s always up for exploring new territory.

So, how can you get involved?

Without you, our trip is meaningless. Simply Adventure is about inspiring, challenging, motivating, and educating others. We want to bring you along during our adventures, and we want to provide everyone with the opportunity to take part in the journey. By sharing our experiences, providing valuable tools and resources, helping local communities, and spreading the good tidings of adventure, we hope to create a new breed of explorers. We want you to adventure.

You can keep up with us through social media, personal contact, the blog, and even joining us during the trip. We’ll be documenting the trip as we go, via The Morning Fresh, and will be collecting material for a series of books, including photography books and a guide for creating your own epic adventure. (Stay tuned for an upcoming Kickstarter to help us fund the dream!)

Check out all the ways to stay in touch with Simply Adventure and The Morning Fresh:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SimplyAdventure
Twitter: http://twitter.com/SimplyAdventure
Instagram: http://statigr.am/themorningfresh
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/themorningfresh/
Yelp: http://simplyadventure.yelp.com

The journey has just begun – and we invite you to travel with us during every step of the way. Updates shall begin flowing, plans will solidify, the dream will inevitably grow, and Simply Adventure will soon come to full fruition. Will you join us for the adventure?