Hi friend, Happy New Year! Now that we are 8 days into 2020, I thought it may be time to do a review of our entire year living in the van! Yup, that’s right: it has been an entire year already! Our Vanniversary was on January 5th. We didn’t really celebrate or do anything different, but we did reflect on what a wild ass year it’s been and I thought it would be fun to write a blog with our favorite moments and photographs. So without further ado…
MILES DRIVE: 25,000 (on the dot!)
STATES VISITED: 6 (Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California)
NATIONAL PARKS + MONUMENTS: 15
on the 2nd “our notice was honored early” aka we were fired + decided to move into the van 3 weeks early. We hit the road on the 5th! Van hit 250,000 on the first day. We found natural hot springs in New Mexico and soaked for hours. Took our first long backpacking/hiking trip near Tombstone, AZ. Border Patrol raided our van and took our legal weed on the 9th forcing us to go West to Cali. Found the amazing Lake Havasu and soaked up all the laid back beach vibes. Went to Joshua Tree but it was closed due to the government shutdown. Left JTree and got a hotel in Las Vegas- ate at 2 different buffets LOL. Next was Sedona- we fell in love with this place, but we got a call to work the gem show in Tuscon and had to leave after 2 days. All 3 of us worked together for a day but we realized Rufio was bored and decided that just I (Ashley) would work but after 2 days of really mean co-workers- we decided we didn’t care about the money and left! That was the 29th. From Tucson we went to Colorado (cali weed prices are unbearably high even with a medical card).
We camped in Utah near Monument Valley at a place (we are dying to get back to) called Valley of the Gods. It was so rainy all of January though, so the road was too rough to drive the van through. We went south to Monument Valley and paid to enter the park. Found a ton of wild horses while we were hiking. Slowly made our way south camping a night or so at interesting places, found a couple areas we wanted to go back to. Made our way up to Agua Fria National Monument for Sean’s birthday and a long hike to rarely seen ruins, where there is no map or information, you just have to wander and search and use clues to find the ruins of a massive community. Celebrated our anniversary on the 13th in Tempe with a hotel room, eating all the good food + going the Desert Lights show at the Botanical Garden (HIGHLY RECOMMEND). As soon as the government shutdown was over, we went right to the BLM office, bought maps, and FINALLY found some BLM land to stay on. We spent a lot of time wandering the desert and finding wildlife, listening to coyotes howl and screech and celebrate, and just enjoying having space. It was so rainy across the entire country, there was no where we could drive to that was dry or hadn’t had rain recently (BLM roads are dirt/clay and often impassable after rain). So we stayed in a Walmart parking lot often, and wrote a lot of blogs, and explored many stores with Rufio. On the 25th, our van started leaking coolant and we had to rush to a Pep Boys to get it fixed- had to stay in a hotel for 2 nights- all together was over $1,000! We left Pep Boys happy and drove to a site we ended up staying at for over 2 weeks- a much needed break from all the driving we did in 2 months.
The beginning of March was mostly just hiking all the trails near our campsite. We only ever saw volunteers cleaning the trail- no other hikers for like 3 weeks- it was amazing! On the 5th we had a van tour recorded and afterwards both agreed that we don’t ever want to do that again haha. By the 11th, we were starting to head north for Moab and stopped at REI to buy climbing gear! I remember thinking how crazy it was to buy gear when we never climbed outside but I was determined that this year would be different..I think that was the extra kick I needed to make it happen. We stopped in Sedona for a week and enjoyed all the hikes and vortexes our hearts could take, still one of our favorite places! Sean accidentally shaved my head without an attachment- but it actually turned out to be my favorite hairstyle I’ve ever had and now I keep it like that! On the 19th we arrived in Moab. Rufio turned 5 on the 20th. On the 21st, we did laundry, took showers, Sean got a job at the 2 places he applied and accepted 1. We spent the rest of the month adapting to Moab, learning how to live in a van in Moab (learning curve), and exploring our new home.
April 1st I booked a guide to teach me how to climb outdoors, I learned so much and was stoked for what was in store. We bought a bouldering pad and started enjoying doing that more. Bought more climbing gear. Sean and I took a second class on outdoor climbing. The next day we tried climbing and both were so scared and ended up fighting and not climbing for weeks! We hiked a ton. Camped at the dreamy Mystic Hot Springs. Visited Escalante. Sean worked a lot, so it was just me and Rufio and we went full send into petroglyph hunting and cool hike exploring. We accidentally did a 19 mile hike after we saw a cool monument across the desert and decided we would walk to it.
We were finally settled into Moab by May. Started making friends with Sean’s co-workers. The van needed $4,000 worth of work. We bought a $40 blow up raft, $5 personal flotation devices (PFD’s..they don’t call them life vests any more because they don’t save your life), and a cheap bike from Walmart so we could white water raft the Colorado. As soon as we blew the boat up and put it into the water, a gust of wind blew the boat into Tamarisk and popped it. We had to drive all the way to town, buy a new boat for $80, went back to the launch, blow that up, and then take our maiden voyage which was a wild success. We spent the rest of may taking little rafting trips + hitchhiking back to the van. We eventually upgraded out $5 PFD’s to $120 ones..more pockets ;).
The weather was getting extremely hot during the day and the nights were bad too, so we found a room to rent for a couple of months! It felt like the perfect fit, but we quickly realized living with a person who drinks a lot and likes to party, isn’t for us (we are coming up on 2 years alcohol-free). I tried micro-dosing mushrooms and had some great success discovering parts of myself high up in the La Sal Mountains. I got my first tattoo! A little note my Aunt Denise sent me that made me feel loved and happy. Every day I look at it, I am reminded of her. We were featured in the summer issue of ROVA magazine which was really exciting for us! We started climbing outdoors A LOT, and because it’s so hot during the day, we would go before sunrise and at night when it started to cool down. Found a secret crag that we were only ever the ones at. We learned to SKY DIVE!! In Moab!! SO cool! Right after our first jump, 2 Moab locals passed away in sky-dive related accidents, and our teacher and the whole community were devastated- we wanted to take a little break but never jumped again- something we are determined to change this season!
We camped up in the La Sals to climb and hike and get a break from our roommate LOL and the heat in the valley. We fell in love with the summer weather + climbing up there! We did an unforgettable sunset mission in Arches National Park. We did a lot of exploring in the mountains and even tracked a bear on a hike. We white water rafted the Daily section of the Colorado in our $80 raft and had such an exhilarating experience! The van got new off-roading tires and went straight to Telluride! It was a nice way to escape the heat, see some where new, and buy some cheap weed :). Rufio rode the Gondoloa for his first time and both him and I HATED it- very scary- see picture. I started taking apart the van build because we were moving back in at the end of August. It was a lot of work in the heat, but I was also able to salvage a lot! At the end of the month, I was starting the new build.
It was our last month in our rental (we stayed there for 2.5 months) so we knew we had a busy month doing all the non-dog friendly things we wanted. The van build was finished during the first week, we were really excited to live in it and see how the new build would fare. We spent a week camping + climbing in the La Sals for our anniversary (dating), and we did a lot of hiking! Decided last minute to do the Confluence hike in Canyonlands Needles District- soo happy we did that! Bought and learned to Slackline! Taught myself to Canyoneer (NOT recommended LOLOLOL) and took Sean and our bff Chelsey on our first canyoneering adventure! It went so well that we did another canyon early the next morning! We quickly realized that we LOVE canyoneering, especially with our friends Chelsey + Drew. Our last week in August was crazy, (read about it here), we canyoneered, rappelled arches, and adventured hiked up to Pariott Mesa, a definite highlight of the season! On the 31st, we moved back into the van and I can’t even describe how happy and ready we were!
We started off by staying in La Sals for a couple of days to climb with friends, and came back to valley to do some more canyoneering. My friend Ali came to Moab and we did a super fun hike and worked on her project, The Heartbreak Roadtrip. Chelsey and I ran a canyon with some new friends and on the last rappel, Sean and Rufio were waiting for us with a solid firemans belay, and lots of stoke. On the 8th, we left for an epic roadtrip to California! We stopped in Las Vegas, spent big bucks at the Caser’s epic AF buffet, saw Zumanity (I should probably tell this story one day, but let’s just say…I DON’T RECOMMEND to people like me who are prudes hahahaha.) We left Vegas and got to Santa Monica, and drove for what seemed like forever and it took so long to find a place to park for the night. Overall, SoCal smelled like piss, the beaches were gross, and the vibe felt nothing like what I thought it was. This trip was actually a scouting trip for our winter, we thought we would spend it on the coast- we realized right away we would not like this at all. We left early, we missed the desert, our red dirt, and wide open, clean smelling spaces. We explored a lot of places in Utah we never been, and found some new favorite spots! We hiked in Goblin Valley and fell in love with their canyons and landscapes. We bought Rufio a harness specifically for roped activities with Rufio, so he can come with us always! I broke my toe 4 miles out on a hike alone with Rufio and had to hike back to the van in SANDALS. It was torture! Rufio pretended to hurt his leg and needed to be rushed the vet, turns out it was an ant bite. Rufio did his first rappel and did SO good, way better than we ever anticipated. We started pushing ourselves really hard at climbing and started to get better and improve a lot and climbing much harder routes. Fall was in full swing and so fun to drive around in up in the mountains. I got attacked by a type of hornet that rarely attacks alone (usually 1,000’s) while alone on a hike up in the mountains with Rufio. I instantly had an allergic reaction and had to pop 3 benadryl to be able to drive down to the valley. I was scared but we made it down safely and I slept the rest of the day.
It took 5 days until I could use my foot again after the sting. We bought canyoneering ropes and headed back to Goblin Valley to do some harder canyons with Rufio, it was so much fun and everything went perfectly! I had a custom made fire shaft made so we can spin fire with friends and in the desert. We drove to Denver to visit our friends John + Bethany, renew the van registration, and climb! Our good friend Cardamom ended up driving all the way down from Boulder to climb with us and seeing them was honestly so nice and wonderful, good friends are so good for the soul. We spent the rest of the month hiking some of our favorite trails in Moab, soaking up all the good temps, and spending some quality time with friends.
It was our last month in Moab, we had planned to leave Dec. 1, so we went into full send mode and did all of our favorites. We climbed a ton. Rufio and I did an awesome adventure hike with friends while Sean worked. We went to Looking Glass, free climbed nearly all of it, and then set up a swing for one of the most fun experiences of the season with great friends. We did one last canyon with a group of old + new friends and we had to all strip down into our undies to swim across a freezing cold pothole. EPIC.We climbed. I spent good quality time with my close friend, Zoe and we even got to climb a few routes together before they left for ice climbing! Our last week we climbed our first tower (I had my period and only made it half way) and then we went out to Andy Lewis’ Nonagon Spacenet to get out onto it! Rufio was not a fan of everyone ziplining acorss to get into it, but he was stoked when they made it back. On our last few days, we camped far off grid, visited Dead Horse Point and Canyonlands Island in the Sky district. I discovered watercolor painting. We hiked to Corona Arch one last time.
On the 1st, we left Moab for the winter!! First stop was Canyon de Chelly before leaving due to limited camping options and driving south to the Petrified Forest National Park which was EPIC AF! We planned on staying a week, but after a few days the rain started and turned the ground into wet clay which made hiking nearly impossible. That’s okay- that is the freedom of vanlife, bad weather doesn’t ruin anything because we have the time to come back whenever! We left and headed for a small mining town called Superior where we could camp and climb right from our site. On the 13th, I had a climbing related accident and took a big fall (nearly died) and ended up only with a bad wound on my leg. The next day, it looked pretty gnarly and hurt so bad so we went to Planet Fitness to shower and clean it. Rain was forecasted for a few days so went to that Walmart we stayed a lot in earlier in the year and made that a home base while the weather was bad and I was on the mend. After a few days the weather cleared, my leg was starting to scab over, and we decided to go to the Superstition Mountains while I still wasn’t able to climb. We found a great little spot and even saw a few wild coyote nearby! I started a side business selling my watercolor paintings and offering custom paintings of fellow roadlifers! There was so much hiking, beautiful warm weather, and incredible sunsets, ideal for us! We ended up meeting 2 of the coolest, nicest, most sincere (+ SOBER!!!!) people we have come across on the road, and we all ended up hanging out for days, playing games, sharing stories, hanging by the fire, and hiking! It was soooooo nice and overfilled our cups, we love you Jae, Jon, Rubinator, Brinnifer, and Kitty!! By the end of the month we were all ready to leave the dropping temps and head west. Jae + Jon drove towards the AZ/Mexico border, while we drove to California. We stayed at the same place near Joshua Tree as we did in January 2019 and rang in the New Year with a beautiful, never ending sunrise.
2019 was easily the best year of our lives. We met the most amazing people. We saw things we never knew existed. We traveled further in a year then some people do in 5. We explored areas deeply and realized that this land never belonged to us. We adventured hard. Worked hard. Loved hard.
We lived in 2019, and hope you did too.
Now, back to 2020.