I wake up startled with my face smooshed against the curved side of the van wall. Matt is twitching in his sleep again. Our bed is only slightly wider than a twin-sized mattress, which means every now and then we disturb each other’s sleep. I push myself away from the wall and Matt rolls over, giving me enough room to stretch out my legs. Awake now, I groan at the inconvenience of having to run across the parking lot of the 24-hour Superstore we are camped at to use the restroom, instead of staying snuggled up inside our cozy bed. I know the temperature outside has dropped well below freezing, so of course the bed wins. After all, daylight is only a few hours away. It’s hard to believe its so warm inside our new van, but I can still see the glow coming from the wood burning stove as it heats the small space. I smile a little, thinking that I am living a life of luxury compared to the previous year.
We moved into our rusty, old Volkswagen bus the day of our second wedding anniversary in early November 2014. At the time, I had little to no motivation to make a career out of the art degree I earned the previous spring, and I married Matt knowing he wasn’t a career driven person. It was his spontaneity and passion for life that drew me to him in the first place. In truth, we had only one thing on our minds – a life in the mountains and the freedom to climb, ski, and embrace adventure as much as humanly possible. After a few months of planning, I quit my job and we dove head first into van life.
We had no savings and no real plan. With only a few odd jobs to pay our minimal bills, we trusted that opportunities would come from committing ourselves to this new lifestyle of freedom.
Winter in the VW bus was cold, especially living in Utah without a heater, but we stayed bundled up and positive even through months of leaky walls and frosted windows. It took more motivation to go out for a day of skiing when we knew that all we had to come home to was an ice box and damp sleeping bags. But with effort, we enjoyed our time in the mountains. Each day it seemed we grew a stronger system of living – we learned where to park without being woken up in the middle of the night by a bored police officer, and we improved our skills of cooking and organizing in our tiny space. By the time spring came, our system developed into habit, and life couldn’t be better. We spent each day in the mountains. Worried family members counseled us about the importance of building stability in our lives, but the relationship we were developing with each other and the experiences we gained through this life of freedom felt far more important than a retirement plan. We were travelling farther from home and climbing bigger objectives than we ever thought possible.
Winter in the VW bus was cold, especially living in Utah without a heater, but we stayed bundled up and positive even through months of leaky walls and frosted windows.
Matt spent the month of June in Alaska climbing Denali via the Cassin Ridge, a prominent climbing route he had dreamed about for years, while I spent the month living alone in the Volkswagen bus that felt more like a friend than a machine. When summer turned to fall we knew we weren’t ready to give up this lifestyle, but we hesitated at the thought of enduring another winter in our bus so full of limitations. Sure, we could head south for the winter where a heater and 4WD weren’t necessities, but we loved the cold. Ice climbing and skiing are our favorite mountain activities, after all. Although heartbreaking, we sold our Volkswagen bus and bought a new, empty cargo van full of possibility.
Without any formulated plans, Matt borrowed an angle grinder and with confidence cut out the metal roof. Looking at the exposed interior walls, I wondered if we would stay ahead of the weather, as we did not have a space tall enough to house the van during construction. We looked into purchasing a fiberglass topper to extend our headspace, but decided the expense was too great for our meager budget. Instead, we built a roof from wood beams much like the framing of a house and bolted it down to supporting beams of the van’s skeleton. Somehow my trust in Matt paid off as our home started coming together. His craftsmanship shone through as the cabinets and bed were built without wasting a square inch of space. We worked with the kind of passion that only comes from unrestricted creativity. No rules. No boundaries. Freedom to build a new home like we were building our lives.
We worked with the kind of passion that only comes from unrestricted creativity. No rules. No boundaries. Freedom to build a new home like we were building our lives.
I’m usually the first to wake, and I nuzzle into Matt causing him to stir. Four months after the completion of our new van, we have comfortably survived the abuse of a severe winter. We are heading out for a ski tour as soon as we can shake off our sleepy covers and gear-up for a day in the snow. Backcountry skiing is a new sport Matt is teaching me, and I can’t get enough. Every day I’m developing mountain skills through Matt’s patient instruction, as I’ll be accompanying him on several international guiding trips scheduled throughout the next year.
Family members counselled us about the importance of building stability in our lives, but the relationship we were developing with each other and the experiences we gained through this life of freedom felt far more important than a retirement plan.
A simple life of daily adventures – the life we always wanted.
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