An in depth review of Tiare Vincent’s experience with Run Like a Girls’s adventure and yoga retreat to Costa Rica.Read More
My love and respect for the outdoors has followed a pattern of venturing further and further into territories about which I’m unfamiliar, uncertain and honestly, a little afraid. I was never a Boy Scout, I was never a huge outdoor nut growing up. I went on hikes with my family, I was a proud member of the Choctawhatchee Indian Guides tribe at the YMCA, and I hosted a few camping trips in my backyard.
When my grandfather passed away two years after my college graduation, I found solace in the wilderness. I decided I wanted to show my love for him and honor his life, so I undertook a 25 mile hike in a day out near Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. While menial to the experienced hiker, it pushed me to a limit I had not yet endured and it exposed the beauty and benefits of nature.
Three years, almost to the day, later, I returned to Harper’s Ferry, and led my first rock climb on the Maryland Heights Sign Wall, steps from where I first set off into the natural world what seems like an eternity ago.
In the last three years, I’ve stood on 20,000 foot mountains in Ecuador, driven across the vast playground of Iceland, played with grizzly bears in Grand Teton National Park, boarded a brush plane and solo hiked across sections of the Wrangell-St Elias wilderness and taken far more chances of which my mother would approve.
11 months ago, I decided I wanted a new challenge. I live in Washington, DC, so backcountry skiing was probably out. High alpine mountaineering was fun, but the highest mountain within three hours of DC tops out at 3,000 feet. So, I settled on rock climbing. I bought a harness and helmet at REI, and asked for money to join my climbing gym for my Christmas presents.
In February, I climbed in Joshua Tree with Ryan. Then in April, I climbed in Zion. May, I climbed with Ryan again in Acadia. In late July I went to the Bugaboos with Alex. Then I visited Paul and Laura in Smith Rock. September- Yosemite. Early October was a rock climbing course at Seneca Rocks, where I learned how to place gear, build anchors and lead. Then it was Red Rock Canyon on the longest route I had ever done with Lindsey.
Two weeks and lots of dividend earning purchases from REI later, I stood at the base of a multi-pitch route at Maryland’s highest rock wall. I checked my gear alignment on my harness and started upwards into the unknown.
Most people who climb would look at the route as a lighthearted warmup. Some of my guides would probably not place gear if they were on lead. For me, it was the hardest and scariest thing I had ever done in the outdoors. I legitimately fought back tears at the top of the first pitch. I wedged myself through a chimney on the second pitch and burst into hysterical laughter when I found the anchor above.
It’s been less than a year since I decided I wanted to learn how to rock climb. I never would have imagined within that time I’d build up the confidence to take the sharp end. I couldn’t have done it without support all along the way. Without a non-rock blocking partner, my friends and family, my newfound guide friends across the country, and everyone in between, I wouldn’thave been able to find my first hold last weekend. I’ve got big things planned for my next steps in rock climbing, and I’m excited to share my journey with each of you.
Learn to love what you’ve been taught to fear. It’s amazing where it’ll lead you (in more ways than one)
I vomited 4 times en route up to the Conrad Kain Hut last Monday. Maybe it was the seventy pounds of food, clothing, camping supplies and rope pressing me down into the Earth. Maybe it was the scorching sun beating down on meas I climbed switchback after switchback up over 2300 vertical feet in the span of three miles. Or maybe it was the fact that I’m not in great shape and haven’t been on a run in over two months. Three hours after leaving my car behind, I stumbled onto the picnic table next to the Conrad Kain Hut, perched at the base of the Bugaboo Provincial Park, dumped my pack, and smiled. And then I vomited again.
Last fall I had the opportunity to assistwith the social media presence for the release of REEL ROCK 11. One of the feature films was the documentary called Boys in the Bugs, which chronicled the first free ascent of the Tom Egan Memorial Route by Will Stanhope and Matt Segal. Ever since, I’ve been obsessed with the Bugaboos. It always seemed like such a magical place. So unique. So unlike anything in the lower 48. It’s the poor man’s Patagonia, cheaper and easier to access, but just as beautiful. I knew that I had to visit.
As way of background, I’ve been climbing for roughly 5 months. I’ve hired guides and climbed one off days here and there prior to that, but it’s only been five months since I really decided to launch into trying to improve and learn more about the sport. I’d definitely put myself into the beginner category. I probably had no business going to one of the climbing meccas of the world. But, luckily, I’m foolish enough to disregard practicality and bought a plane ticket to Calgary, hired a guide, and started hitting the climbing gym, hoping to get just good enough to not embarrass myself.
On Friday of last week, I stumbled back down the Conrad Kain Hut Trail, absolutely destroyed. My hands looked like I had spent the last five days punching a brick wall. My legs were cut up, my arms covered in rope burns, my face peeling from sunburn and every part of my body throbbing. Every time I removed a layer of clothing or adjusted a strap, I found a new bruise, a new welt, and a new badge of honor.
During my time in the Bugs, I climbed McTech Arete, the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire and the Kain Route of Bugaboo Spire. These are some of the classic climbs in the Bugs, and to most, probably not that impressive. But to me, it was as if I had sent some of the hardest pitches in the world. And every time I topped out, I couldn’t help but be in absolute awe. Awe of the pioneers of the sport, those who had come before and set the standard for climbing. People like Conrad Kain, without whom, the Bugs would have been entirely different. Conrad Kain first did the Kain Route in 1916, in steel toed boots, leather pants and without any protection. While guiding three tourists! He stood at the crux pitch for an hour, looking for a way around the gendarme, before finally launching himself into the unknown, over the edge and around to the summit. He called it his greatest feat in mountaineering. As I smeared my high tech rock shoes against the rock, wedged my fingers into the horizontal crack fault and cleaned the cams placed for protection, I realized just how impressive those who came before us truly were. They were the true warriors, the true pioneers, the true adventurers.
None of it would have been possible without the support of the other people I met while in the Bugaboos. It became a common theme throughout the trip. The climbing was amazing, the scenery almost impossible to believe, but it was the people that really made the trip worthwhile and special.
People like Alex (@gearysguiding), my guide, a native Australian who had been transplanted to Canada in search of better rocks. A guy who put up with my cursing, banging my head (and sometimes fists) against the wall, grunting thru crack climbs, cleaning my blood off of his rope, pushing me down a glacier so I would be forced to practice my self-arrest techniques, all the while keeping a smile on his face and telling me to “stop right there” so he could snap an epic photo of me looking like I was competent. People like Morty, Pat, and Jeff, guides that were working their own clients in the Bugs, but hung out with us at night, sharing stories, swapping jokes, planning for the next day. People from every reach of the world- Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Spain. People who, just like me, had been drawn to this mythical place.
Maybe I should have waited until I was more proficient of a climber to visit the Bugs. Maybe I should have trained harder. Maybe I should have been more aware of what I was getting myself into. Or maybe I did it exactly the right way. We all have our reasons for taking risks, for jumping without looking. I found mine- the desire to push myself, to get outside of a zone of comfort and get into a place of controlled fear.
On several occasions since I’ve re-emerged from the woods, battered, bruised and beaten, strangers have stopped me mid conversation to ask about my hands. It happened on my ride back to the hotel in Calgary after dropping off my rental car. “Oh my god, what happened to your hands? You did that climbing? Why would you do that to yourself” a couple with whom I was sharing a shuttle with asked. I smiled “Oh, sometimes it’s worth it.”
The pursuit of something wild and free. To go where you want without regret or restraint. How my life has been in the last 20 months of vanlife. Where I have traveled, what I have learned and what I plan for the future.
A 1995 Chevy G30 Sport Van is home. I didn’t actually know it was a G30 for over a year. I thought it was a G20. That ended up being really important as my transmission slowly died. But that’s for later.
How was my first year? It was beyond exciting and fresh. I went everywhere. It started in Washington St in August of 2015; I had been in the US Navy for 8 years and was in major need of a change. For some reason the road called to me. Not another career, not school and certainly not anything normal. I couldn’t come up with anything better. So I left.
One of the first things I learned on the road was I like to talk a lot more then I thought I did. Everyone always said I was a talker. But I didn’t realize how much I liked to talk so much till there was no one to talk to. That makes sense? I was by myself, I still am. For almost two years now I have traveled in a van solo across the US. I have driven to the East Coast. Up and down the center. North to South; South to further South and so on.
In my first 11 months on the road I traveled to:
- New Mexico
Traveling alone has been really testing yet absolutely beautiful. I set out in my first year to attempt everything I previously believed was impossible. I could surf, but not well. So I spent months on the coast. I had rock climbed as a really young kid, only a handful of times. So I went to Yosemite. Then Utah. Then Nevada. Then Oregon. Then back to California. I went surfing again, then backpacking again and again and again.
I drove from Arizona to Montana in 2016 non-stop after a slightly intoxicated conversation with my good buddy. He and I share a birthday week. That’s a thing right? We are 3 years apart in age but his birthday is the day before mine. Two days before his birthday and three before mine he asked me a simple question: What is my excuse for not being in Montana? That was a damn good question.
Well let’s talk about vanlife at then end of year two. What have I seen that has changed me? Where do I still intend to go? How long do I think I will stay on the road? Dose “vanlife” work for me?
I have a quick topic I would like to clean up before we go too much further. Camping isn’t free, at least not everywhere. Also you CANNOT camp anywhere you want. The impact you have on environment should be on your mind, Leave No Trace. You should be extremely conscious of what you’re doing while you are driving around. There are battles going on in grassroots groups, the Senate and Congress to protect our public lands. People have dedicated their entire lives to protecting the very lands we choose to frequent.
Being apart of the problem by driving your van wherever you want, making a mess and not obeying the laws is a negative impact. That’s not what I believe the road is about.
I was raised in the woods backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. The AT has designated camping spots; it took some years to understand why. It took me years to grasp or even find out why camping is limited to certain spots or areas. But I got it and then I used it to my advantage.
The beauty spots you see on television are typically crowded. So then what? The National Forest is a good start. The NFS has legitimate dispersed campgrounds all throughout the US. The rules are simple and the spots are secluded. It’s a beautiful thing.
You may have to drive a little further to go from that beauty spot or that trailhead to get to a legal place to camp. But why can’t I just camp here? Living in a van to me is all about the freedoms. The ability to go and do whatever I want. Where I want and when I want. However there are a few rules to follow. Meaningful ones. Like cleaning up after yourself.
My window has been knocked on. Police Officers and Park Rangers have told me to leave or face ticketing. But every time I learn a little lesson. I find ways to avoid certain places like National Park Service trailheads.
It is not legal to camp at a NP trailhead in your car. Also it is dangerous for the Rangers. Why? Because backpackers have to leave their information about the car, make, color and model they left at the TH. The reason for that is if a backpacker gets lost and someone calls Search and Rescue asking if they have returned. The Rangers will go to the trailhead first and see if their car is there. So if 10 hippies are living in the parking lot that can make there job a lot more difficult. Be nice to the Rangers they could save your life someday.
In the first year I slept in the woods every single night. I stayed out of town for as long as I could. I would eventually have to venture back into town for food (Normally beer it is a food group). But once you’re in town camping gets hard. That topic is worth its own novel. If you choose to live in a van I highly suggest avoiding urban camping with everything you have.
So I went on. I climbed every day I could. I flew back to the east coast to visit family for the holidays. Ended up back on the southern California coast surfing again and then back up to Washington.
I learned a lot of life lessons as I traveled. I grew and I lived as best I could. Life on a slower and more beautiful path can truly teach you a lot. Like, I have to work to stay on the road. There are lucky people who have found ways to make money from their laptops, property, investments or inherited money so they can stay out 24/7 - 365 days a year. I am neither.
So in 2016 I worked for 5 months. My job was working for the National Park Service. It was awesome. I went on backcountry patrols for almost 30 days, and I got paid for it. I was still living the dream. I had found a job that I could afford to work with my living situation. Something to me that was a childhood dream, meaningful and fun.
From the start of 2015 till the summer of 2016 I lived off savings. My vanlife was an extended, long distance road trip. I learned a lot about myself. Yet I still have a huge bucket list. Many more places to visit in the US, Canada, Mexico and the rest of the Americas. But then there is also the rest of the world!
The chief lesson I have learned on the road is to not limit myself. I do really want to go surf that wave in Indonesia. So I guess I need to figure out a way to get there and do that.
Life is full of choices. Life living in a car is full of a lot of choices. Living in a house is full of a lot of choices as well. We all have the ability to do what we would like. So if you are living in a van or a house you have choices. Don’t make the choices that limit you from living.
After my season with the Park Service it was time to hit the road again. Back to climbing, surfing and camping 24/7! I was so pumped. After almost a full year on the move then somewhat of a break I was amped to hit the road.
But then I got sick. My van broke down and I needed a new transmission. I realized I didn’t even know what model my van was. Believe it or not my title says it is a G20. Well that was wrong. So I figured that out and got it fixed . I took off from Oregon and headed East towards Wyoming. But again I got sick. I climbed in the Sawtooth’s, hiked into a Moose in Grand Teton and then got sicker. I couldn’t catch a break. Then I broke my ankle.
Health is important. You need to look after yourself, living in a car can make that more of a task then you are ready for. Showers are hard to come by from time to time. Laundry can get expensive if you want to wash everything every single day. We all know people who run a load or two of laundry a day. I am here to tell you that is a total waste.
Warmth. Staying warm and dry is one of the most basic keys to survival. Well when your living room, bedroom and kitchen are the size of a closet that can become difficult. When it rains for a week straight guess what you do? Nothing. You sit in your van or a coffee shop and watch it pour. Yeah you venture out into the elements just like anyone else would and of course you can go out into the rain. But doesn’t everyone get sick? Do you think it is easy to stay comfortable when you’re living in a car and sick?
Lessons learned so far:
- Warm Cloths are beyond key. Like decent ones unless you plan on staying in the van at Walmart
- Mr. Buddy Heater. It gets cold.
- Spare everything that fits. You need backups for your back up if you want to do what I have. There is no help down that dirt road that goes on for 3 hours. If you drive down that road and brake down what are you going to do?
- Enjoy the slowness. If you rush yourself to do something every single moment of every single day you’re going to wear out. Also when working again you’re going to daydream about reading that book in your driver seat next to that creek. Slow down.
- Someway to charge your electronics. I use a solar kit I bought online. I need my phone. If you don’t, then cool. But I do.
- Patience. Again slow down. Take a breath when things get rough and enjoy the moment. Enjoy fixing the problem. Thousands of years of evolution have left us with an inelegant mind. Use it.
- Go. Just freaking go. Ignore everything I or anyone has told you. You only have this one-second, this one breath. It could all end in a second. Don’t hold your fear above yourself. Go.
Things I have not learned:
- How too make everything work. Vanlife for me has been about finding myself. Finding peace in my life and trading a career for a life well traveled. But there are still struggles. Life on the road is just another way of living. We are all going to struggle. Finding a way to live that makes our lives work best is key. But you and I will never master that.
- Fear. I have not conquered fear. Yet I have faced it and taken my life into my hands. Danger is real but fear is made up, it is in our minds. But it is within the power of our minds to overcome fear.
- In almost two years I have seen things I thought only existed in magazines or movies. I have conquered major mental and physical restrictions I previously believed stopped me from living. I have broke down mentally, physically and mechanically. I have loved and lost love. I have lived just like any other normal human. Vanlife works for me. However it is not always easy. It is also not a fairy tail and it is certainly not for everyone.
- The summer of 2017 is going to be another step in the right direction for me. If you are interested in taking off for a life of travel consider what you need. For me I require little to no creature comforts of a house. That may not be the same for you. Consider your health; mine sucked this winter. But I am alive and living the way that suits me best. Above all is positivity. Believe in yourself; trust in yourself.
States visited by 2017:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
Hey tribe! When you travel with an open itinerary, you never know how adventure will unfold around you.
Spontaneity and openness tend to be my calling cards when it comes to international adventure. This held true, as I landed in Ecuador with only loose ideas of what I would see and do before an attempt on Vulcan Chimborazo (6310m), the point furthest from the center of our shared Earth and closest to the stars due to the oblongation of the planet along the Equator. I booked a night at a hostel and started adventuring with others. With Amy to Mitad Del Mundo and up the Teleferiqo Where I met Maren and Sarah who would quickly become centerpieces to this adventure when we all discovered, much to our surprise, we were staying in the same Hostel (Vibes Hostel, Quito). It wasn't until the next day that the craziness began, when these two, who would fill my ears with craziness from high school and loud music, walked in stating they were leaving for Baños.
They were planning on leaving with the next bus but, boy, you should have seen their faces light up when I mentioned I had a rental car and wanted to go to Baños. And so a chapter of adventure was born, "Ecuadorian Road Trip!"
Now, if you haven't heard about Ecuadorian driving, it is time...imagine triple passing, a double yellow, on a blind corner and you will see that and more in your first hour...a dozen times. It made me glad for my years of crazy-assed teen driving with my brother and friends, I felt comfortable amidst the chaos. With music blarring, and intermittent intellectual conversation (as you can't spend more than 10 minutes with me without one of these starting) we navigated the wrecking fields of Ecuadorian Highways (5 wrecks, including one we watched happen) arriving safely in Baños. It was Saturday night so we went out Salsa dancing, which, even at 27, was novel and wonderful!
Over our time in Baños, we shared dancing, breakfast on an ornately decorated veranda overlooking a waterfall, canyoning (USA friends think canyoneering/rapelling down waterfalls), and deep conversations on topics ranging from healthy relationship to living a meaningful life to the imperative of adventure in nature for human happiness (along with great coffee and a piece or two of chocolate cake).
It was while Sarah, Maren, and I were in full stride on this chapter of adventure that Avishai made his entrance by moving into my dorm room. Avishai [ah-vee-shah-eee], a courageous adventurer, deep thinker, and carrier of a wealth of experience from his years in the Israeli army, quickly made an impression on me to the degree that within the hour I invited him to be my climbing partner for Volcan Chimborazo. (And we like to say we are improving US/Israeli relations). We all went to dinner together, in the midst of which me and my rental car saved the day again when I proposed I just drive us to the iconic Quilotoa Crater (USA friends, think Crater Lake) instead of everyone paying $80 for the guided tour...and so our adventure of four was solidified, the shuttle door closed, fated to deep friendships and appreciation. The Choose Mountains Tribe was also grown as they each connected in their own right to the heart, spirit, and story behind Tiare beginning the tribe.
Oh Quilotoa, I can let the photos speak for themselves. For my stateside friends, I am sure it reminds you of Crater Lake, albeit smaller in scale, but imagine hiking around Crater Lake if it was instead at the top of Mount Shasta and then you understand the feeling of being here. We shared food, hiking, views, childhood stories, photos, and laid open our souls to share the moment in full joyous, playful wonder with one another. To which all of us astonished in our recounts to those back home, "it is amazing the depth of connect you can experience, out here, with all routine and distraction removed, sharing fully in the moment of the story at hand, letting the full colors of who you are shine, unrestrained, only to see them mix beautifully with the colors flowing from each other...... you feel as though you are as much friends, as deeply, with as much trust, as you can ever remember having...
To my tribe and friends, adventure with an open-heart, be self-reliant, but be confident, free, and excited to joyously invite those who are willing to share the fullness of adventure with you into your story as you never know the significance of the role they may play. Mountain blessings from "base camp" on Volcan Chimborazo as I write to you. Future write up to come.
With a full heart,
Choose Mountains Ambassador
A few photos from his trip! Photo Credit to @marendangeryoung