A great deal can change over the course of 365 days. In 2016, the biggest change of all was moving out of my van and into a house. For the past four and a half years I had lived full-time on the road. I had happily given up indoor plumbing and eight foot ceilings for the flexibility of climbing wherever I wanted. Seasonal jobs filled my pockets with enough money to satisfy my gas tank and my belly. I chased sunny weather from the mountains of Wyoming to the deserts of Nevada. I climbed in California’s golden sunshine and on the blushed sandstone walls of Utah. For so long, my life was in this crazy orbit, revolving around rock climbing; climb-eat-sleep-repeat felt so embedded in the marrow of my bones. I defined myself by this lifestyle, so, with the transition from van to house, it was hard to ignore the subtle fog of self-doubt and uncertainty that settled over me. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that a small piece of my identity had been lost in orbit.
The bitter cold of winter seemed to penetrate deeper into my body than previous years and the spark of excitement lit by the open road seemed to be burning out. Most people who have lived out of their vehicle for an extended period of time will agree that it’s challenging to sustain over the long haul. I grew tired of spending 25 minutes seeking out WiFi to send a single work email. The constant worry of where you’re going to sleep tomorrow night and the permanent kink that forms in your neck from ceilings 3 inches too short wear on you mentally and physically. It takes sacrifice to make this lifestyle work, and, at a certain point, you begin to wonder if it’s worth it.
When I first began living on the road, it was the only way to live on my own terms – to own my time. However, over the past few years I have learned to work for myself – to make my own schedule and be my own boss. This new root of independence opened up a whole new realm of possibilities. I was no longer bound to a transient life in order live passionately. I could take my job with me anywhere, whether it was living in a van or living in a little house in the foothills of the Sierra.
There’s no mistake that living on the road has taught me invaluable lessons about what’s important in life – about living simply and fully. It has taught me to appreciate the little things – hot showers, soft pillows, and quiet sunsets. It has taught me that the incredible memories I create will always be worth more than any paycheck. But perhaps it was these lessons I learned that began whispering to me, “it’s time to move on”. I found what I had been looking for on the cusp of all those endless horizons. I had become the person I needed to become. Rather than continuing to skim the surface of so many beautiful places, I felt ready to immerse myself in a single, special place. I felt ready to not merely enjoy these remarkable landscapes, but to become a part of one.
I will never regret my time spent traveling down dusty western roads. Memories of brisk desert evenings spent simmering stew over an open fire. Memories of warm summer days spent soaking sore muscles in cold snowmelt rivers. Living in a van has been my ticket to freedom. It has been a way to simplify life in order to spend more time doing what I love and less time on superfluous work. It has allowed me to live like tumbleweed in the wind, my longings and dreams blowing me from one incredible place to the next. But, emptying the bed and shelves of the van doesn’t make me any less of a climber. It doesn’t mean I’m giving up my freedom or throwing in the towel. It merely means that I’m growing and, somewhere along those winding mountain highways, I grew slightly too big for that little van.