The End of an Era: My Yearlong Road Trip is (Almost) Over

This is a post I’ve been procrastinating all week. As a storyteller, it’s my duty to my readers to keep y’all updated with my journey every step of the way – but as a human, it’s kind of heartbreaking. I’m struggling to put things into words, and incredibly stressed with the logistics of what comes next, because –

This is it: I am officially in the last week of my yearlong climbing adventure.

Seriously? Already? Didn’t I just move into my big yellow van? Have I really lived outdoors, climbed, camped, and adventured for 52 weeks? It just doesn’t make sense – I refuse to wrap my head around this reality that seems to have been suddenly thrust upon me.

It’s almost February 1st, the technical one-year anniversary of my trip (although I started living in van sometime in early January last year). After that milestone is ticked, Niko will begin working full-time managing Tallahassee Rock Gym, and for me, well, the future is very up in the air at the moment – but you’ll just have to stay tuned to find out more about that one.

Bo Durham crushes The Price is Right (V8) at Rocktown in GA.We’re spending the final days of the adventure in our favorite place in the world: the southeast. We’ve been holed up at Rocktown in Georgia for quite a while, but were forced to retreat back to Chattanooga when the polar vortex reared its frigid head and made climbing absolutely unbearable. The temperatures should be (at least somewhat) warming up by Friday, so we’ll be returning to the no-service zone to enjoy our fleeting opportunities to climb, camp, and explore.

The good news? This year has been the most transformative, educational, inspiring 365 days of my life – and the adventures have only just begun for me. The bad news? We’re selling the van. That is the worst part of all of this, and Niko is taking it the hardest. I also have a feeling that Amble is going to go into some sort of identity crisis once we moved into a four-walled dwelling. Oy vey.

I’ll try to update at least one more time before we head back to Florida, but I’m not making any promises. I only have a short time left to enjoy my van life freedom, and I intend on soaking up as much as I can. There will be many thank yous, heaps of gear reviews, and probably a lot of tears shed – but first, adventure.

2013: The Year I Decided to Live in a Van to Travel, Climb, and Adventure Across America

Last year while looking back at my biggest adventures of 2012, I started the post by saying “I already know that after my yearlong Simply Adventure trip, I’ll be claiming that 2013 was the best year ever” – and I was so right. This year has been the most incredible, outrageous, challenging, inspiring, beautiful year of my entire life.

A crew of Stonelick crash pads out at Red Rocks in Las Vegas.

When I started writing this post, I fully intended on it taking the shape of the traditional month-by-month, adventure-by-adventure, mishap-by-mishap retelling of my year. I made it as far as March before I realized how incredibly futile it is to attempt to condense the experience of living “the dream” into a single blog post. For goodness sake, I want to write a book about it – how could I possibly belittle this year into a measly blog post?

I traveled well over 35,000 miles across the country, exploring 26 states (two by plane/train – hello, New York and New Jersey!), and even popping up into Canada for a few weeks. I slept in barren deserts, snowy mountains, forests thick with mossy trees, and on the side of busy streets in big cities. I have seen and done more in this year than many people will accomplish in a lifetime. I am incredibly lucky – and incredibly broke.

But every moment, every victorious climbing send, every piece of all-you-can-eat-sushi in Vancouver, every exploding tire on the interstate, and every I’ve-been-wearing-the-same-shirt-for-a-week realization have been 100% worth it. My savings account might make me cry a little when I look at it, but I have no regrets. I am richer now than I have ever been.

View from the top of Pistol Ridge in Indian Creek at Red River Gorge.

This year has been transformative, both physically and mentally. I used to be a cute girl, with (at least occasionally) matching outfits and make-up and long, well-kempt hair. Today, I am barely above bum status. My mismatched clothing is worn for days on end until it reeks, my hair has been chopped into a short bob that is slowly morphing into a mullet, and I shower once a week. Fortunately, what this trip has ruined of my exterior it has compensated for internally with a renewed adoration for being outdoors, a profound understanding of what I want to do with my life professionally, and a deeper love for Niko than I ever could have imagined.

Seriously, if you ever want to test a relationship, live in a van with that person for an extended period of time. If you can survive that, you can survive anything.

Will 2014 be able to compare to the rollercoaster of ass-kicking adventure that I experienced in 2013? Probably not, and I’m okay with that. I don’t really ever want anything to be like this year – 2013 was special, it was an adventure unlike any other. Even if I do spend another year (or many years) living in a van and traveling again, it will never be anything like my first. And that, is wonderful.

Cheers to all the breathtaking landscapes in America, to the hospitable and generous people we’ve met along the way (Spenser and Vikki, I’m looking at you), to chasing the perfect climbing weather, to giant boxes of TimBits, to my big yellow van, and to many, many more years of adventure. 

Van Life Update | Happy 7 Month Van-aversary (and hello, autumn)!

Today marks another milestone: it’s our seven month van-aversary – and it’s September, double whammy. I can’t believe we’ve been on the road for this long, or that summer is finally on its way out. We’ve spent the last three weeks in the Denver area, but we’ll be back on the road soon, and cannot wait!

After the rather unfortunate blown-tire and snapped brake line situation a few weeks ago, Niko and I hit the rock bottom of our trip. We were very much out of funds, and our adventurous spirits had taken a bit of a hit. There were a few “well, I guess we’re going home” moments, but things quickly turned around.

Tals and I taking a stroll around Lake Standley in Colorado.Niko has been working in Boulder delivering organic mattresses (yes, seriously, people will pay a lot of money for an organic bed), while I’ve picked up a few freelance writing gigs to help us balance out all the van repairs and prepare for life back on the road. This was all perfectly timed with a week of housesitting for my dear friend Heather while she was out packrafting in Alaska. Every morning, Niko heads off to work, and I spend my day writing and exploring a nearby lake with Heather’s adorable pup, Tals.

It’s been relaxing to slow down in Colorado for a few weeks, but as Niko’s last week of work winds down, I have started to constantly daydream about the rest of our trip – and you all have been asking a lot of questions.

So where are we headed next? What are final five months of our yearlong adventure going to look like?

The southeastern United States.Well, it’s all still a bit up in the air. What we do know is this: We’re leaving Colorado by the 10th, and then we’re headed in one definitive general direction: the southeast – aka, home.

The major destinations thus far include Red River Gorge in Kentucky, visiting our potential new home in Carrboro, North Carolina, and making the rounds at our favorite climbing spots in Tennessee and Georgia. We’ll also be revisiting the home state: Florida. I want to spend the holidays with my family in Miami, and we can’t wait to return to Tallahassee to relive the glory days at Tally Rock Gym.

As the adventure winds down, these next few months are going to start moving a bit more slowly, and we’ll begin to slowly transition from life on the road to “normal” life. I’ve heard so much from fellow long-term travelers about the struggles of ending your trip and settling down, so I want to make sure we take our time and do it right. The first half of our trip was all about seeing new places, meeting new people, climbing new routes, and discovering what we want from life. Now, the trip is a return to the familiar: back to the southeast where we’ll tackle unfinished projects, reunite with friends and family, and stuff our face with good ‘ole southern comfort food.

I’m excited to bring you all along for the ride as always! Cheers to another five months of adventure, exploration, and discovery. I’ve got a lot of great content coming up on the blog, including a comprehensive climbing shoe guide and a few posts about moving towards a healthy outdoor lifestyle. 

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! 

Farewell, Florida – Missing our departure date, and (finally) beginning the Simply Adventure journey

For over a year, I’ve talked about this yearlong climbing trip, schemed up some hype around the Simply Adventure idea, and dreamt about the day I’d finally hit the road – and that day is today.

We were actually supposed to depart last night, but a series of unfortunate van mishaps kept us up all evening working on the interior of our new “home.” Nearing midnight, we decided to throw in the towel and abandon our goal of hitting the road before the sun rose. At first, I felt kind of guilty about not leaving; so many people have been eagerly awaiting my official departure. Ultimately, a friend offered wise advice that soothed my apprehensions about leaving a day late:

“A year of adventure can wait a day.”

And he was right. After giving ourselves a few extra hours to put the finishing touches on the van to make sure everything was perfect (and a quick pitstop to grab my last pint of corn nuggets from Lindy’s Chicken), we hit the road feeling 100% ready. Had we rushed through the night and attempted to leave “on time,” we would have woken up miserable with ourselves. I think we made the right choice, do you?

Right now we’re cooped up in a Mississippi rest stop with free wi-fi, scoping out our plan for tomorrow and catching up on e-mails. We drove through the Florida Panhandle and picked up a new bike rack, paused at a Walmart in Alabama, and crossed over into Mississippi – all in a fairly relaxing day. Tomorrow, we’ll continue on through Louisiana, and plan to make it out to Houston, Texas by Sunday!

Beginning this newfound van-dwelling lifestyle has been an oddly calming experience. I was expecting some big epiphany, some momentous occasion when we finally hit the road – but it’s all just peaceful. This is all really happening, and I think I am ready for it all. We’ll see how it all evolves, ha.

Want to know where we’re headed?
Stay tuned for the full itinerary (through March) on Monday! 

Your questions about the Simply Adventure trip, answered!

Seriously, ask us anything about our yearlong Simply Adventure climbing trip! Whenever we talk to folks about our Simply Adventure trip, everyone seems to be bursting with questions about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and why we decided to spend a year living in a van together to travel the country. We appreciate all the curiosity and support, so we reached out and asked people to send us their questions. Here’s what you wanted to know:

Where do you plan to go?

Everywhere. We plan on hitting up basically every state within the continental United States – except for Kansas and Oklahoma, because really, those states are no fun for climbers who have already driven through them a dozen times.

Here’s a very rough idea of it: on Thursday, we’ll drive until we cross out of Florida – finally! We’ll stop in New Orleans for lunch, since Niko has never been, and then we’ll move on to Houston and Hueco. After a few weeks of climbing in Hueco Tanks, we’ll move on to Taos, then J-Tree, then up to Salt Lake City and Moab in mid-March. After that, the plans are less ironclad, but we’ll pass through Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, travel up the pacific coast from San Fransico to Washington State.

After exploring the pacific northwest, we’ll trek through Montana and Idaho before heading back to Salt Lake City. Then we’ll visit Wyoming, Colorado, and head up to the Dakotas before journeying along the border states like Wisconsin and Minnesota. We’ll be at Red River Gorge in September, North Carolina for the Hound Ears competition in October, and then up the northeast for fall.

Did you ever name the van?

Yes! When we first got the van, we asked readers to come up with some potential names for it; Mike from Mike Off The Map came up with “Craggin’ Wagon,” and we loved the name.

Who drives better?

Niko says, “Obviously, I do.” But really, we’re pretty even. Niko is better at parking, tricky maneuvering, and driving at night (I hate driving in the dark), but he also tends to get a little distracted and fed up with driving. I can go for long hauls and am a bit steadier on the road.

How do you each plan to have your own space (in or out of the van)?

Niko sits proudly atop our new yellow home.

At least once a week, we’ll be taking solo hikes/adventures. To give each other a little breathing room, we’ll take some space for a few hours to do our own thing.

In the van, there isn’t much personal space – but we’ve divided up shelves and drawers. We also have two fabric bins we’ll use as a “catch-all,” so we can dump each other’s junk in our respective boxes when we’re sick of it being strewn all over the van.

It’s going to be a BIG learning experience for our relationship. We definitely want to end this yearlong trip still wanting to be together, so we’re putting a priority on keeping our relationship healthy and balanced.

Are you planning to post inside pictures of the van before and after the trip?

Yes! We’ve been doing before-during-after photos of the van retrofit, but we love the idea of taking a picture of the van on the first day, and another one of it one our last day of the trip.

Where are you going to use the bathroom and shower?

We got this question a lot during our going away party in Miami – some of my Cuban family didn’t quite jive with the whole “living in the woods” concept, haha! The answer? The bathroom is right outside the van door, and the shower is down the trail in the nearest river. The van is stocked with an arsenal of baby wipes and dry shampoo to help keep us clean in between proper showers.

We’ll also be stopping occasionally at truck stops with showers (haven’t tried that yet, we’ll see how it turns out), staying a night or so at campgrounds with showers, etc.

What’s your plan for accessing the internet?

Staying connected is a non-negotiable requirement for me, so I’ve been thinking about wi-fi since the beginning of our planning process. The current plan is to use my iPhone as a tethered hotspot, but if that doesn’t meet my internet needs we’ll invest in an air card.

Bonus: Spending an afternoon holed up at a little coffee shop to use their free wi-fi doubles as a great little escape from van life.

Where do you plan to camp/park each night?

The costs of paying for campgrounds each night would add up astronomically, so we’re planning to minimize our lodging expenses as much as possible by finding free places to spend the evening.

We are seasoned pros at spending evenings camping in Walmart parking lots, but we’re really looking forward to checking out BLM areas once we get out west.

My smelly old coffee container has now been replaced with a sweet new mug from The Crash Pad!

How do you get power to make coffee in the morning?

Our trip is being powered by Goal Zero Solar – and so is Niko’s addiction to coffee. We’ll have a french press to brew coffee each morning, and will use a combination of our solar power and a gas-powered stove to heat up the water.

The only foreseeable coffee-issue is that Niko could down an entire french press of coffee by himself – so it’s a good thing I like to drink tea sometimes!

How did you get the funding to do this? Are you living off savings?

Saving enough money to support this trip has been a yearlong process. We are both planning to live off our life savings, and I moved back to Florida from Denver to save money while I was working with LivingSocial. We have enough money to support our adventure on just the basics, but I plan on using my freelancing work to help us with “luxuries.” Niko will be picking up temporary jobs when he can, like working at Miguel’s in Red River Gorge.

We are also incredibly blessed to have the support of our sponsors, who are supplying us with everything from solar gear to camping food.

How did you decide what was a reasonable amount of money to save?

Honestly, we just saved as much as we could. We calculated some basic costs, gathered support from gear sponsors, and limited our spending (and traveling) during the year before our trip. We won’t be living lavishly during 2013, but we’ll have enough to get by.

A very rough map of our trip outline so far.How long was the planning process?

The Simply Adventure trip has been in the works for over a year. We came up with the idea for a yearlong trip last winter in late 2011, and throughout the year it evolved into a more defined experience with a strong mission. In March of 2012, I left Denver to move back to Florida and begin the saving and preparation for the trip. We bought the van in October 2012, and once we had the van, the trip planning went into major overhaul.

How did you decide what to bring/not to bring?

Niko has always been a minimalist, but I’m admittedly a bit of a hoarder. My purging process has been going on since I moved back to Florida from Denver, but I somehow constantly accumulate stuff. We limited our clothing to last about two weeks in between visits to laundromats, and pre-packed gear for the various seasons to be shipped to us during the trip.

Will you be at summer OR?

We will absolutely be at Summer OR show. We had to miss the winter market due to trip preparations, but we wouldn’t miss the summer gathering at Salt Lake City for anything. See you all there!

Got more questions for us? Leave ‘em  in the comments!