What The Hell Are We Doing?
After our wedding reception came to a close and the van was packed to the brim with the possessions we thought we’d need, we drove off into the metaphorical sunset. We were headed to interstate 400 north towards Atlanta and a year of anticipation was finally happening. Our plan was to drive at least two or three hours before finding a place to sleep, so we pulled into a local Quik Trip to fill up the tank.
“Can you hand me my wallet?” Brandon asked.
I opened the glove box as I routinely do, but couldn’t find it under or around the pile of papers and manual for the van.
What followed was a long night of tearing apart the house, the perfectly packed van, and accepting that we weren’t going to be leaving that night. We’d have to wait for the Department of Driver Services to open two days later and bide our time until then patiently. It was disappointing, but reminded us of two different truths that kept repeating themselves throughout the month: one, that there are still good people in the world and two, that almost nothing is going to go as we planned it.
Long story short, a woman had found Brandon’s wallet the day of the wedding, but wasn’t able to get in touch with him until we had made it an hour out of town two days later. We u-turned to get his wallet, met the woman and her husband, and thanked them profusely for making the beginning of our trip even more memorable.
Two days behind, we consolidated approximately 24 hours of driving from Atlanta, Georgia to Boulder, Colorado in a 36 hour period. We were no strangers to being in the van for longer periods of time with two to three week trips under our belt, but weren’t sure what actually living out of it would look like. We plotted out the month’s destinations based on friends to meet up with, rather than just heading towards typical climbing areas. We started to find our rhythm; Brandon’s job has been to find worthwhile climbing spots and mine to seek out places to sleep and fill our fresh water tank up. He’s been in charge of meal prepping over the propane stove, sweeping out the van floor, and accessing storage on top of the van, a climbing feat in itself since we don’t have a ladder. On the other hand, I’ve taken over emptying the pee out of the compost toilet, walking and feeding the dogs, and folding the laundry.
Traveling between the Boulder and Denver area for the first part of the month brought us to Boulder Canyon, Clear Creek Canyon, and Table Mountain. We spent time climbing at “The Bowling Alley,” a crag in Boulder Canyon, where Brandon and I found short-term projects. I almost sent “Happy Ending,” a 10d and he has a 12a called “A Tall Cool One” which we both plan on revisiting when we circle back around in November, especially since these would both be the hardest grades we have ever climbed.
By the time we were headed to southern Utah to visit Moab, something felt like it was changing in me. For most of my life, I have been living out a narrative that I am shy and lacking confidence, but being on the road has tested every sentence of that story I’ve told myself. I’ve been forced to make uncomfortable phone calls to receptionists asking if they would please allow us to park overnight (turns out that the worst thing people will tell you is “no”), speak honestly in front of a group of people I just met, and let go of fictional standards for myself that don’t exist on the road. I guess the old saying is true that growth is found outside of your comfort zone.
Next was Moab, which features mostly trad climbing. We were able find two different crags to climb at over our three-day visit, named “Ice Cream Parlor” and “Wall Street.” We met up with a couple of different friends in the area. First were Woody and Jen who were in the area to climb “Castleton” and “Ancient Art” as well as Casey and Sharon, who also have a van and were spending the entire month in Moab. We spent most of our time at Wall Street which allowed us to park the van right next to every belay spot, stay in the sun, and offered run-out, technical slab climbing.
Logan, Utah was our next stop, specifically climbing in Logan Canyon. We spent two consecutive days at “Fucoidal Quartzite” and Brandon gushed over a 12a project named “Limestone Cowboy.” Our friend Drew lives in Salt Lake City and drove to climb the second morning since we were rained out that afternoon. Brandon wasn’t able to send, but will be back for another go.
We had planned to go through Idaho, but to avoid rainy weather, we rerouted through Nevada instead, making a one-day stop in Reno at a little-known climbing spot named Owl Rock. The rock was well-bolted, a little chossey, and completely deserted. The approach trail was faint, technical, and covered in feral horse poop, but delivered one of our best climbing days yet. Although we have been stoked to climb at famous spots, some of the lesser-known crags like Owl Rock have made for the best memories.
Through to California, we ended the month of October on the coast of Oregon, on time to drop Brandon off at a weekend retreat called Sacred Sons. The retreat marked the ending of the first chapter of the trip, during which we drove the United States coast-to-coast and didn’t kill each other after a month in the van.
Brandon spent three nights and four days where the forest meets the ocean, in connection with other men and immersing himself in uncomfortable conversations in an effort to grow. An intention of this trip for him has been to seek out a new way of life and take with him from the past what still serves him. Maybe we’ve already been out west for too long, but it seems that the Universe continues to provide whatever we’re looking for, whether it’s what we thought we wanted or not.
Living out of a van and forcing ourselves to exist as minimally as possible has forced us to re examine a lot of what we value and what we’d like to take with us forward; we have started to treasure campfire conversations over Amazon packages on our doorstep and slow meandering walks in the woods over shopping sprees at REI. Our showers are infrequent, but connections with other people we meet seem to be limitless. October asked the question, “What the hell are we doing?” and we’re psyched to figure that out.
Author: Trice Sweet