Colorado to California

1/9 Crested Butte, CO

“The easiest way to describe this kind of cold-weather camping is a constant shuffle; sometimes I feel like I should start selling my professional Shuffler services. Since I need so many more things (clothes, bags, boots, sleeping bags) to live in the winter… the cab of the van is constantly piled with stuff. Everything from the roof boxes is inside now. I’m having to take many deep breaths as I deal with this transition; I have a strong inclination to get cramped in the 75-square-feet… claustrophobic with all the gear that must be out. As of night 2, I’m already feeling pretty comfortable with the mayhem. Laughable… my challenge in the summer was keeping food cool, now it’s keeping it from freezing. Every night, I tuck my water and crucial food under a thick wool blanket… content to let everything else freeze. However, I’ve discovered at night temperatures below 10-degrees, my tucking method fails - my water, my veggies, my toothpaste… everything will be rock solid in the morning.”

1/15 Chaco Culture Nat'l Park, NM

“… the San Juan Basin hit like a punch in the gut, the kind where you lose all your air. Probably the real beginning of the Southwest. The only thing to hold onto in the woodlands ‘scape are a few pinyons, junipers, and a whole sea of sagebrush. The feeling of aloneness immediately sets in; it takes a sturdy mind to find companionship in a landscape of little. It’s as if the mind is wired to feel sad and vulnerable when the color green goes away and leaves nothing but a scattering of green bottles. But because of this wide-open space, fewer things are competing with the color spectrum and the sun and the moon and any noise Nature chooses to emit. The faintest flapping of the raven’s wings, followed by the swooping sound once it favors gravity… these are things seldom heard outside the woodlands and the desert.”

1/26 Ojo Caliente, NM

“The days of roaming with little plan & companionship will be coming to an end this year. I know what that feels like now, and while it has led to crucial self-discovery and insights, I don’t want to go on alone indefinitely. In no way does this mean I still won’t spend long bouts alone, for I need this to maintain sanity, it just means these times will come with purpose, not as the assumed baseline for how my journey works. However, without this year of roaming and scouting, my interests may have remained hidden to me. This year has been the most crazy, mind-resetting, educational year of my life. And if I had to go through stints of loneliness to get here, I feel that is a fine tuition for the fuel that will drive a lifetime of curiosity, learning and work.”

1/29 Taos, NM

“I, of course, revered the Native women… there is no doubt I am a romantic on the Native ways, or the indigenous science (which we now call environmental science). The Tiwa women invited me back to the Pueblo for a conversation about the Land and their history. The first thing that struck me about the Pueblo was the enduring beauty of their homes, adobe homes, now over 1,000 years old… and also the cleanliness of their stream, the only clean source in the area (you can drink straight from it). It is profound looking at the vast acreage of the Pueblo in contrast to the surrounding land. The Pueblo has literally done nothing with the Land… they have just let it be.”

2/1 Mancos, CO

“One year ago today, I bought the van. It was 27-years-old and unnamed, and I was fearful of the decision I had just made. Today, many things have changed. His name is Donnie, and he’s one of my best friends. He takes care of me, and I take care of him. We both get cranky when the adventures don’t come steadily, so it’s onward down the unknown Road we take each other. It feels like it’s taken a year to even begin to understand how to live on the Road… a year to communicate with Donnie… what he’s capable of, what he’s not, when to charge forward, when to stay put. I like that whatever he needs, I need too. We took it slow in January, only spending $298.07 on gas! That number is always an indication of how deep we’ve gone into a place, how connected we are… and January has been one of the most connected, healthy months of the journey. Thank you Donnie for all you’ve taught me… Happy 1-year Anniversary, brother.”

2/2 Telluride, CO

“I knew it was cold, but I was surprised…  -11 inside the van, -20 outside… ice crystals on nearly everything… the wood surfaces, the wool blanket, not just the usual crystals on the metal things. I walked outside… the snow even seemed to be frozen - not in the obvious way - but in the way that makes squeaking sounds as you walk over it, like even the snow is cold and wants to be left alone. I said hello to my fellow cold-weather camper in our warming hut… the community bathroom that opened at 7AM. He was already into his first Tecate to get warm.”

2/7 Moab, UT

“Friday. Down by the Colorado River. It was a comparatively warm day… with a fire going, I could sit around the van in near comfort, very few thoughts drifting towards warmth, for the first time since mid-August. I can’t even believe those words to be true, but somehow they are (no day over 50F since then). I chose a high route (latitude-wise), and since August every other thought has been about warmth… not always overtly, but always simmering along in the background. Today, I was going to get back to one of my past times, staying put. Do a little writing, write some letters of thanks, get a few beers in town… an idyllic vanlife day.”

2/8 Arches National Park, UT

“This place was the remnants of water’s playground, and I had it all to myself. The hike to Delicate Arch was treacherous because of ice, and once I rounded the corner to be with it, the wind let me know I wouldn’t be staying long, hitting me with 50 mph waves… enough to unsteady the legs and the mind on such unsteady terrain. The arch that must be the proudest arch in the world - based on the number of times it’s posed for a photograph - seemed to want its space today… so after working with the sun to offer me a few good shots, I waved goodbye and was on my way.”

2/9 Canyonlands National Park, UT

“Loren said, 'Keep living the dream.’ I smiled; I never know how to respond to that… I feel like I’m living no dream, I’m simply living. And so here I sit writing this, slider door open, diffused sun hitting these pages… an occasional raven letting me know he’s here too. Otherwise completely silent. At some point, I’ll cook, make a fire… and then watch the moon pass over. Damn, did I miss these warmer days.”

2/12 outside Zion National Park, UT

“… gonna get the chance to sharpen my mind tonight at Virgin Camp, one of those BLM sites that has the sad remnants of others’ lives… trash and cans and glass this way and that. No one’s been here in awhile (I can tell by the rain pockmarks in the fire ash… who knows the last time rain graced this country?). When people haven’t been to a place in awhile, it can make it feel a bit spooky, or you can just get on enjoying the nearly full moon, the burp of the stream, the slight whisper of the dead cottonwood leaves, and the smell of burning hardwood. Ahhhh…. tomorrow we go explore the Subway.”

2/13 Zion National Park, UT to Joshua Tree, CA

“I walked away from the Subway… smiling. I thought again about the deep deep connection I had felt over the last 7 days with the Land, and I thought about every time on this journey I have felt this way. They all have one thing in common… No Service. What we should really call that state is No Distractions. In Nature, and everywhere else too, I suppose, No Service allows you to be there, to notice things, deeper things, like the dances of the butterflies and the hiding spots of the rainbow trout. It also allows you to be fully self-reliant, at first a strange and scary experience to cut oneself off from help, but if one stays with it long enough, the fear eventually morphs into strength and confidence and a tapping into the creativity of the instincts. A sharpening of the Self. In using your phone and technology less… your life will only become more connected, more real.”

“As I pranced over the rocks, a thought that had been forced into dormancy re-entered my mind. I rounded the corner that took me out of the shade and aligned me with the sun… 'holy shit, it is warm enough to swim!’ That thought hadn’t been exercised since August. The next pool I found, I stripped down - proudly white - and stood for a moment, dedicating this swim to Donny, the man who taught me 'anytime you have a thought of swimming, you must swim.’ 'Donny, this one’s for you'… and I wiggled in. Ice cold, so ice cold I couldn’t leave, I didn’t want to… an old forgotten feeling pinged my skin and made my lungs go Waaaggghhhh again. That guttural noise that you emit, without control, when dunking your head in 40-degree water. I lingered on the sandstone after, naked, naturally drying, feeling that this remains our preferred state.”

“The drive to California was uneventful… except noticing all the sad desert towns overrun with people and ambition, and hence great wealth and great poverty. Las Vegas, City of Sin… there couldn’t be a more contrasting place to the beautiful Nature I just left. Do this: drive through Vegas and open your eyes to its future. What about it can endure? The 50x markup on a bottle of booze. No. The watered grasses. No. The incredible amount of power used to keep all those slots buzzing. No. Someday only its buildings will be left, studied by the thing that replaces us on this earth (as I studied the Chaco remains). And my, will we leave many artifacts. I wonder if the thing that comes after us will be interested in looting all the Bud Light bottles along I-15, as we loot pottery today.”

29 Palms, CA

“After a run-in with some deep deep sand that tried to capture Donnie, we wiggled our way out and had an entire plain of desert all to ourselves, so peaceful you could hear the dog’s bark 4-miles-away. As I slipped into sleep, I thought a few thoughts: it was the first night not in a mummy bag in 7 months, the first time barefoot in 7 months… to swim in 7 months. The ending of the winter physically and in metaphor. The bittersweet thoughts of a winter’s end. The beginning of the spring. Old learnings cemented, new lessons being whittled. My first time in California in 9 months. Bullshitting with old friends tomorrow. Good good night old moon. I’ll see your last light at sunrise. Silence.”

An ice climber ascends a solo ice fall deep in Ouray Canyon
Chaco Canyon and what is left of the civilization that made it home
Taos Pueblo in fading evening light. 
An artist paints in the middle of the street in Telluride, Colorado
The Subway in Zion National Park
Delicate Arch in winter in Arches National Park
Buttes at sunset outside of Ojo Caliente, New Mexico