It’s now been a year since we eliminated more than 90% of our belongings, loaded what was left into the Element and the Scamp, and left our house in Ogden forever. The idea of being able to climb full time seemed utterly fantastic, even as it was becoming a reality. The first few months were spent adjusting to a new rhythm, de-conditioning and refocusing. It still feels pretty strange to wake up every morning to either a climbing day or a rest day.
We both lost our fathers this year. We both left goals unfulfilled. Together we faced unfamiliar stresses and helped each other keep them in perspective. Each day is an opportunity to observe and take stock of fluctuations in our energy levels, responses to internal and external conditions, and strengths and weaknesses. Existing in this mind/body state, it’s as though we’ve stepped back in evolutionary time, re-connected to primal areas of our brains that were buried under daily siege from computer screens, phone calls, and responsibilities. Living out in nature, the acute awareness that we’re a mere microscopic element of this one big “thing” keeps everything close.
Anywhere can become home.
As climbers are generally social creatures (although many will claim otherwise), we have a lot of opportunity to talk with people from all walks of crag life. We get asked a lot of questions about our lifestyle. Here are some of the most common.
So, you guys must have a van, right?
Nope. We have not joined the “Van Nation”. We have a 13’ Scamp trailer. Alexander SuperScamp has taken good care of us in the oppressive heat of a Wyoming summer, early autumn downpours in South Dakota, the gusting winds and torrential rains of New Mexico, and winter nights below freezing in southern Utah. Since we stay in places long enough to grow shallow roots, we don’t want to have to put things away and take them back out every time we run errands. We try to find free camping wherever we go, which usually means commuting to the crag. Alex gives us a place to come home to after a long day of climbing, where we feel grounded and stable.
Do you climb every day?
Hell no! Old people need to rest! We climb Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, avoiding weekend crowds. We’ve made the occasional exception to that schedule when weather has dictated it, or we’ve felt the need for an extra rest day or two.
What do you do on rest days?
We rest. Novel idea, huh? We drink coffee, read, do yoga, maintain our camp, make trips into town to restock and do things on the interwebs. Once in a while we’ll go for an easy hike to check something out. We do not: run, mountain bike, go to the skate park, bowl, or shoot guns.
How long do you stay in one place?
No less than two months, and no longer than four. It takes us at least a couple weeks to get the mojo of a new area and feel out a goal. Putting a cap on the time helps keep us motivated to focus our efforts, plus most places aren’t in season much longer than that.
Where’ve you been? Where are you going?
We’ve been to a steep cave near Ten Sleep, the VC (South Dakota), Last Chance Canyon (New Mexico), Moe’s Valley and the Hurricave (Southern Utah), and now we’re in Maple Canyon (Utah). We’ll stay here until the end of September, then head to our new home base in the Red River Gorge (Kentucky). No house, just our own private lot to camp on. Then in February we go to Kalymnos for five weeks. That’s planning far enough ahead of time for now.
How long are you on the road? Aren’t you afraid you’ll burn out?
We’re aiming for five years, then we’ll reassess. Ideally we’ll continue to travel and climb a muerte! We see ourselves in our 70’s and 90’s, respectively, climbing all those 5.6 trad classics we never got around to. We’re living our dream; the fear of burnout is non-existent.
Some folks out there have the pleasure (?) of meeting Frankie, our min pin, at various crags in the past. She was usually leashed, muzzled, and hiding under the safety of her cat bed. She is nervous and protective, so now she stays home and guards the camper. We tried for a long time, but I’m fairly certain she’s much happier without the muzzle, able to hide curled up in her burrow bed, only coming out to hump the stuffed moose. Lola, our heeler mutt, comes climbing with us to give Frankie and the moose a little privacy.
Why do you spend so much time and money replacing all that gear?
Ok, no one ever asks that question, at least not that way. They usually ask what we’re doing when Charlie goes in direct and backs himself up so I can take him off belay to drop a loop and haul the gear up. When we explain that the existing gear is shitty and dangerous, we get a lot of blank looks. We’ve even shown a young climber a razor-sharp carabiner that was worn more than halfway through, and he didn’t seem to think anything was wrong with it. Accidents close crags. And hurt or kill people. Check it before you clip it. If you don’t have anything you can replace it with, remove it.
What do you do about mail?
We found out that state and federal governments don’t like it if you don’t have an address. You can do a lot of things online, but there are still items the powers that be will only send to a physical address. General Delivery is one of the few services of the US Postal Service that still truly serves the people. We’ve checked into PO boxes in places we’ve posted up in for longer times, but they cost more than they’re worth to us. Fed-Ex and UPS hubs and some of their retail locations accept packages for pick-up. For things we can’t get around using a home address for, we use Charlie’s daughter’s and she forwards the important stuff to us wherever we are (Thanks, Sierra!). Next year, we’ll begin using the address of our empty lot in Beattyville, Kentucky and hope that there’s nothing we need to actually have in our hot little hands.
Are you sponsored?
Charlie is the token old guy on the Petzl North American Team, and we’re both on Five Ten’s Grassroots Team. We’ve also had support from ClimbTech and Goal Zero. These relationships exist because we LOVE the products these companies make. They don’t pay the bills, so to speak. We’re grateful we get to help get the word out about the gear we choose to use, but overall, self-sponsorship has always been the smartest approach.
How can I do what you’re doing?
Live in a cheap house in a lower cost area, eat out rarely (if at all), and drive an inexpensive vehicle. Don’t drink a case of craft beer a week. Be realistic about your needs and wants, now and for the future. Every time you make a decision that has a cost associated with it, ask yourself if the result will bring you closer to your goal. If not, is it worth it? Sometimes it might be, but more often it might not. Had we wandered into the office of a random financial adviser and laid out our cards, we would have been told we were crazy and there’s no way we could retire on what we had. When Charlie sat down with the guy who handles Petzl’s retirement accounts and explained exactly how we intend to live and for how long, the response was, wow, that should work with what you’ve got. You don’t need half a million dollars to retire if you can live without most of what people think you need to have.