Alcan, The Alaska Highway

The liveliness of civilization and the buzz of traffic and people begin to fade into our background as we ventured further and further north towards our most northern destination, Alaska.  If you’re lucky enough to explore the last frontier, I’m sure that your idea of seclusion and remote locations is forever changed. The drive was unlike anything I have ever witnessed.  Since I have lived in Southern California my entire life, Fall was always a season that didn’t give much visual excitement as it transitioned into winter (if you can even say that winter exists in Los Angeles). Being able to see Canada and Alaska in its full Autumn transformation was a gift because it is a wild spectacle of color and there is nothing like witnessing the change happen on such a grand scale stretching in every direction for hundreds of miles.  The golden colors of change swept through the hillsides and valleys contrasted against the bright blue lakes and rivers; there were trails to hike, mountains to climb and rivers to admire in their ebb and flow.

 

Its was the first week of September and after we spent some time exploring Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta, we headed north towards the Yukon Territory and noticed the sudden drop in temperature.  Mind you, our van is not equipped with a heater (except for the car heater that runs when we’re driving) and the nights began dipping into the low 30 degree Fahrenheit (0 degree Celsius) and little Izzy had to be moved from her bed into ours. It was beginning to become difficult to get out of bed in the mornings because of the cold, but we started the days with hot tea and coffee as we watched our breath fogging our windows. The average van temperatures were around 50-60 degrees and that became our new version of normal.

Moon Lake Campground by Tok, Alaska

The small comforts that we took for granted at home began to surface as we made the necessary adjustments in our new living situation.  The cold days/nights really made us appreciate the sunshine when it came around and we were lucky enough to experience the Northern Lights on clear nights, first in Miles Canyon in White Horse and again at Moon Lake Campground in Tok, Alaska. The Aurora Borealis, as they’re called on this side of the equator, are truly magical. What photos do not reveal is that the lights tend to flow in the night sky, showing up in different patterns and intensity, almost as if they are alive.

And even though the sights are incredible, do you know what its like to have not showered for a week because you’re either staying in “non-designated car camping areas” or Walmart parking lots and the best thing you can do is wash your hair with your solar shower that hasn’t heated because its 40 degrees fahrenheit during the day? And have that be the normal for the last 5 weeks?  Yes, adjustments were made.

There are so many things that I miss:

  • Hot showers
  • Heaters
  • Routines (Going to my fav studio or climbing gym, sleeping in, teaching etc basically everything I took for granted)
  • Seeing friends
  • Having a big enough fridge to fit more than 3 days worth of food
  • Having a toilet that you can go to as many times as you want because its not freezing outside and you don’t have to walk 100 meters to get there
  • Laundry in house

And as difficult as it is to not have these things, here is what I have gained:

  • The freedom to travel
  • Seeing things I’ve never even dreamed of seeing
  • Meeting people with different passions and backgrounds
  • Learning Spanish through a podcast
  • More present moments because we are forced to digitally disconnect
  • New habits that help me conserve water and create less waste and stay more organized
  • Encounters with wild life that is bigger than life in their natural habitat (Bison, Moose, Elk, Bears, Marmots)
  • Hikes and bike rides with the most incredible views
  • Finding ways to implement the important things in my life and make it a priority no matter what
  • More time to do things I never made time for, like reading, hiking, biking, yoga, climbing etc
  • Moments that make me appreciate nature even more.

In those small discomforts, I have learned more in the last month of travel then I have all year and I’m grateful for the experience that has helped me realize more about myself than I ever have.

While in the Yukon, we visited a few of the small towns along the Alcan.  Once we left Edmonton, we took 2 days and arrived at Liard River Hot Springs. This place was a real gem and the short hike on the boardwalk to the pools was an experience in itself.  A portion of the hot springs was closed off for the season because of safety concerns, but the lower Alpha pool that is open year round was incredible and still well worth the visit.  The naturally heated water flows into the right end of the pool, which is the hottest and the water streams to the left down a small waterfall into a secondary cooler pool located in the middle of a beautiful boreal spruce forest. The hot spring is also a campground so we visited the pools that evening and again in the morning because every chance one can get into a hot spring like this, one should.

After the morning soak we started our drive further north into WhiteHorse.  This town stole my heart away. Even though we spent majority of our nights in a parking lot, the days were filled with hikes, bike rides along the river, yoga at the Breath of Life studio and long walks in the park.  The first night there, though, was the best of all.  I was told a while back about this app called “CouchSurfers” and Szymon reminded me of it and we decided to give it a try.  As soon as I set up my profile I was contacted by a woman named Sofia.  She said she was heading to dinner with a friend and asked if we wanted to join!  We met at a restaurant in town and got to chatting.  We found out that she is a Chilean native who moved to WhiteHorse and her friend Alex was another traveler who was visiting from Uruguay.  We talked about different cultures, the differences in the Spanish language and things to do and see when we head down to their home countries. We had a wonderful time getting to know each other and it made us realize that speaking to strangers and getting their insight on places to visit has changed the dynamic of this trip.  We are flowing along with new things to see and experiences to be had, all because of the information given to us by the locals that we’ve met along the way.

As much as I have trust issues with strangers, this trip is really teaching me that kindness is everywhere.  In every town or city, on any trail or park, people have been kind.  Instead of feeding into my own fears about putting trust in strangers and keeping myself isolated, I have been striving forward to break out of my comfort zone, put out the energy that I wish to receive and trust my instincts. Life is about stepping out of your box and taking hold of each and every experience with gratitude and love, that is what makes life worth living.

Crossing Borders: Glacier NP to Alberta, Canada

We made it! We are finally in Canada and I am really excited to be crossing imaginary lines that divide lands and mindsets. We drove up through Glacier National Park which borders Montana and Canada.  The visit in the park was short lived because of the fires that were burning in Kootenai National Park, just southwest of where we were visiting.  The fires weren’t as big as the ones that started back in July of this year, but the shift in the winds blew the smoke in our direction and for a second there, we swore that the fires were following us. We heard about the fires happening at home in LA, Hurricane Harvey that hit Texas, Hurricane Irma picking up speed in the Atlantic heading towards the Caribbean and Florida and the fires that were burning through Montana and my heart was filled with sadness and worry for all the people affected by these disasters. Our prayers are with you and we were grateful for the people that helped us stay informed.

I really did wish that the weather permitted us for a longer visit, but sometimes life happens and we learn to roll with the punches, so the same day we explored Glacier we headed North to the Canadian border.

Border crossing was a lot simpler than we thought. We organized the van, had all of our documents (for us and Izzy) on hand and we pulled up to the window.  We presented our passports, letting the lady know that we were making our way up into Alaska and she just waved us through no questions asked. It was the easiest crossing we could’ve had and we were so grateful for it.  Once in Canada, we made our way North into a small town called Cardston. We looked up what our camping options were for Canada and to our surprise we found out that RVing through this country is not exactly the easiest to figure out.  We found that there is free Crown Land camping available for residents, but outside of RV parks within the small towns, there wasn’t any designated places to park over night.  With a bit of luck though, we stumbled onto the Lee Creek Campgrounds.  They had wonderfully clean bathrooms/showers, a coin laundry available for guest, WIFI and water fill stations throughout the grounds so we splurged a whole $20 to stay worry free for the night.

After leaving camp the next day, we headed into Calgary.  There were a couple car maintenance routines we had to take care of and luckily we found a service center in town that works on Sprinters.  We took Gaia into Astra Automotives for an SRS light that triggered when we left LA.  They ran the codes and found that there was a malfunction in the seatbelt buckle and if we wanted to wait for it, we would’ve had to wait a week or so for the parts to come in.  So instead of getting it fixed, we had the oil change done and they also put in a air intake pipe and new filters instead. (It needed to be done, plus we figured we could take care of the SRS when we got back home around Christmas time) The guys at Astra were great and I was so glad we were able to find an honest mechanic so far from home.

Calgary otherwise was uneventful.  It was a convenient place for the things that we needed, and the Walmart parking lot was filled with other van lifers, but it was time to move on to greener and better things, so on to Banff we went.

Banff is awesome. We got into the small mountain town and we were in love with how green and scenic the area was.  It had a bigger downtown and a very helpful visitors center where they gave us trail maps for mountain biking.  We followed the map to a parking lot that happened to have a bike park right by it, so guess what we did:

We also got lucky with an unmarked parking spot nearby, and got to camp for free near the bike park.

The next morning, we woke up with the sun knowing that we had an epic bike ride on our hands before heading back to a cafe for some more work so here is a glimpse of our morning ride. We haven’t known you long Banff, but we love you.

The Nicest People Live in Bozeman, MT

Have you ever heard of a city called Bozeman? Neither have I before coming into this town.  Bozeman is a small city located about 90 miles north of Yellowstone National Park.  Speaking of Yellowstone, I won’t bore you with the same details that any google search can tell you about it, so here are just a few photos from our visit.

Bozeman surprised us.  We didn’t know anything about this city or what to expect.  The thing that we noticed initially was that it seemed like it was a more progressive place than the towns we passed prior on this trip. The first thing was the amount of solar panels that were on the buildings and homes.  It wasn’t a common sight anywhere else except for the solar fields in Nevada that we passed through.  The second thing we noticed were how kind the people were that we encountered.

The first encounter happened at the The Community Market CO-OP. The CM CO-OP was better than any Whole Food or Sprouts that I have ever been to.  A two story building with a market downstairs, a cafe upstairs and the entire building was powered by 48 solar panels on the roof of the building.  The amount of organic choices and bulk items they sold were second to none and the prices were very reasonable. The first encounter happened like this: We brought our own bottles from the van to fill with Kombucha because the market had it on tap. I have never used a bottle cleaner on a water dispensing machine before, so instead of having the bottle pointed down for the water to push up into, I had the bottle facing upright on the wrong spigot. When I hit the cleaning button on the machine, the water jet exploded shooting water everywhere and all over me. A guy came over from the meat department came over and asked if I enjoyed the shower.  We laughed I apologized profusely and he helped me clean up the water saying not to worry about it because it happens all the time and we all had a good laugh.  He also suggested that we visit a place called Dean’s Zesty Booch, because it was a cool spot to visit if we are booch fans (they brew their own in house), so that is what we did.

Dean’s Zesty Booch was a great place.  We parked our van in their parking lot and strolled inside.  There was a band setting up outside for a performance that was happening that evening around 6-9pm.  Since we had a few hours before the show began, we purchased a bottle of the blackberry vanilla booch and sat down to do some work.  The guy that served us went by the name of Q. He has been there from the beginning and watched the business grow into what it is today.  They had two 750 gallon tanks of booch fermenting behind the bar and a dozen wooden barrels behind it to finish up the fermenting process. While Szymon and I worked, we asked him a few questions about the best route up north and he helped us map up the drive into Whitefish, MT. He made a few suggestions and said the town was worth a visit and he knew it well because he grew up there and he also told us about the fires that were blazing in the area and told us to be careful and to stay informed.

After our second encounter, we headed back to the van to get ready for the show.  While in the van, we had a couple (Tim & Carli) come up to us and they asked us if they could take a look inside. We told them about our trip and they said they did a road trip all around Mexico not too long ago.  They wrote down for us the places we should visit during our drive through.  They wished us luck and headed in to enjoy the show.  We also met a nice 2 nice women that came by and asked the same.  They said that we were brave and that they would love to follow our journey online.

Once at the show “The Band” that was covering “The Band” (Bob Dylan’s band) was playing and they put on one heck of a show. There were so many people there and everyone was laughing, drinking, eating and having a great time. After enjoying the show for a while, we realized that as we head north we might have less and less internet, so we went back by Dean’s to use their WIFI to download music and podcasts to our phone. During that time, we couldn’t leave the area so I approached a girl that was standing by us.  Bridgette had 3 of her little nieces with her and it was a joy watching them play.  She was also with a guy named Jordan and he used to be band mates with the people that were on stage.  We all had a great conversation about music, passion in what we do and traveling.  Everyone we came across were the best kind of people.  People that were curious, open and kind.  Our favorite encounters happened in this town and we will never forget the kindness that the people there showed us and we will be sure to pay that forward.

Jackson & Grand Teton National Park

The next destination on our trip was Jackson WY. Our friends in Casper, Wyoming told us how beautiful and scenic the area was and we were excited to visit.  The first encounter of wild animals we had on this trip were the bison that hung out by the highway on our way to Jackson. The animals were grazing as people drove by in slow motion trying to get photos of these unpredictable and fascinating creatures.

The drive there kept getting better and we spent some time exploring Jackson Lake along the way. The 191 HWY ran along side the Snake River that eventually emptied into Jackson lake and was controlled by the Jackson Lake Dam.  The Lake was vast and expansive and there were lots of rock stacks along the lakes edge, so we made our own contribution before heading into town.

The first couple of days consisted of working at cafes (because we still need to earn our way through this trip) and exploring the downtown area.  The most amazing breakfast burrito was served to us at D.O.G cafe and they even gave Izzy a treat and topped off our coffee cups. The town was very dog friendly and all the stores allowed pets which made things really easy for us and Izzy.  We also stopped by UPS to send a few packages out and met a Hungarian Gentleman named David who opened up “Gourmet Food Truck” in Jackson 5 years ago.  He said that Food trucks are actually not allowed in the State so he improvised and made his restaurant stand look like a food truck.  He uses organic ingredients to make crepes, soups and he cooks a Goulash that locals love.

Afterwards we headed out to our first camping location in Kelly, WY just a few miles outside of Jackson.  Gros Ventre Campground was a paid site ($28) and it sat in the foothills of The Grand Teton.  We also had our first van cooked meal! We fired up our Outdoor Oven/Stove and made pasta! The thing is, because of the space it felt like there were too many cooks in the kitchen.  The pasta though, turned out great and Szymon and I finished it off before heading to bed for the night.

We decided after paying for a camp site the first night, that we would rather find National Forests to camp in because they are free, but the following day we found a campground called Atherton Creek.  The spot was a lot better than Gros because it was right by a lake and the price was much better for the same accommodations ($15). We filled up our water tanks, set up camp, pulled out our awning for the first time, put up the hammock, did some bike work, did yoga in the woods and ended the night by a campfire.

The next day we started the day with our second meal out of the van.  We stopped by a really cute store called Pearl Street Market in Jackson a couple days before and picked up some groceries.  We fired up the stove again and made croissant breakfast sandwiches and they were freaking delicious.  After breakfast and sometime writing in our personal journals, we wandered out to the lake and jumped in.  We nearly froze, but having the first road shower experience afterwards was worth it.  It was warm out and the NEMO portable shower worked like a charm. We do realize that the weather won’t always be so accommodating for an outdoor shower, so were grateful that the first experience was a good one.

We then headed back into Jackson for the last time.  The day consisted of running more errands and having our first laundry day (while working because Jackson Laundry, which is brand new, had WIFI) and instead of heading out to another remote area, we stayed parked in that lot so we can enjoy a box of Pizza and the season finale of Game of Thrones. Sometimes, sleeping in parking lots are great. To be Continued…

A Little Town Called Casper

After our visit in Denver, we headed north into Wyoming where our friend Amy Victoria used to call home.  She was there visiting family for the eclipse and she said the towns population tripled for the event. We saw the traffic jam from the opposite side of the highway the whole drive into town and we were very glad we weren’t stuck in it.

Casper is a small town with a very homey feel in the downtown district.  The city is developing the area to be a tourist destination and the new central amphitheater was amazing.  Amy even took Kyuri there for a donation yoga class that they starting holding during the summer months every Tuesday at 5:30pm. If you’re in town during that time, it is definitely worth checking out, but the highlight of our visit there was Casper Mountain.

We began the hike at around 8 am on our last day in town and the weather graced us with sunshine, clear air and incredible views of the town/mountains.  The trails were very well maintained by Rotary International, and there were even new lookout benches, carpeted picnic tables and signs that showed the routes and distances of the hikes.

We started in the main parking lot at the base of the mountain and began the trail up towards the waterfall first(Braille trail .5 miles). It was a quiet day and the water was cool and it was amazing to feel so close to nature.  We began our trek up the Bridle route (5 miles with a 1200ft elevation gain, 3 hour hike round trip) and the first thing I noticed was the well placed lookout platforms throughout the hike.  There were rock formations to walk through (Split rock at the top of Bridle trail), sport climbing routes at the top, fresh drinking water flowing down from the mountain and pools of water to soak our feet in.  The hike was fairly easy with different routes available. Visit the website here for more information.

As we prepared to head out to our next destination, we looked back with love and admiration for our friends that were so loving, supportive and generous.  From Kyuri’s first time quad riding around the farm, the hikes, the amazing food that our friend Sara prepared for us (wild caught antelope and deer with roasted veggies and home made clam chowder made from local goats milk), the yoga class in downtown and at the Scarlow art gallery.. The experience couldn’t have been better.  We are so grateful.  Thank you so much and love you girls to the moon and back.

A little fun tip on the hike: Keep your eye out for little painted rocks throughout the trail.  They tell you to take a photo with the hashtag and hide it again for someone else to find. 😉

 

Into the Wild: Mushrooms in Colorado

 

Left hand park reservoir is a magical place hidden 30 miles west of Boulder, CO. Szymon’s sister took us up there a couple days after we arrived in Colorado.  She had just moved into her new home with her family and we were so grateful that the first destination was home with familiar faces, hot showers and home cooked meals.

We drove up the mountainous road that had beautiful views of the city and once we made it to the top, the sight was one to behold.  The sun glistened against the blue waters of the lake and we were surrounded by fields of flower and forest.  We have never foraged for mushrooms before and we didn’t know how sneaky they were at hiding.  They were found under brush and moss, in the shadows of trees and by rocks and rotting wood.  Once we started spotting them we realized there were so many variations we didn’t know where to start!

The trick was to find mushrooms that had sponge textured bottoms. We weren’t sure which mushrooms were poisonous because we failed to do any research prior to the picking, so we went with that. Either way, we found a lot of mushrooms that were edible and it so happens that the sponge textured bottom mushrooms were HUGE. They are called Boletus Rubriceps or King Bolete (for good reason). We found out later that there is an amazing website www.coloradomushrooms.com that shows you not only the edible mushrooms, but the poisonous ones too. Once we visited the site, we realized we left a lot of edible ones behind, but now we are equipped with the knowledge to go back and forage for some more.

The next day, Szymon’s sister cleaned the picked mushrooms and cut them up in order to string them up to dry.  She wanted to make sure that we would be able to take some with us in the van, and knowing that the room in our fridge would most likely be limited, drying them was the answer. This morning we had egg croissant sandwiches for breakfast and added them in with the eggs.  Szymon said it was sweet and tasty, but only time will tell if it was the not poisonous kind or not.

The Big Day

Usually when people say this, people anticipate and look forward to the start of something new. Well that day finally came for us. We pulled out of our neighborhood street one last time as we hit the open road and as amazing and romantic as that sounds, it didn’t come without its incidences. We had circumstances that required us to drive 3 separate cars to Denver. It was Szymon in the Van, our friend Amy in her car and me in szymon’s car.  The drive was…. really boring and lonely, but we somehow made the best of it by listening to podcasts, good music and having silent moments of reflection and we made it to our first destination.  Szymon found a sweet camping hot spring location in Monroe, Utah and we pulled in after the sun went down. After driving 10 hours, hot springs sounded like heaven.

Mystic hot springs in Monroe provided us with camp grounds, bathrooms/showers, 24 hour hot springs and a really cute gift shop where the owner’s daughter made a lot of the clothes. There were vintage parked buses and vans  that were converted into rooms in the camp ground that you could rent out and sleep in! The hot springs were clean and had great views of the red rock surroundings.

We had snacks before bed and we all cuddled in Gaia for the night. We woke up in the AM and made our way to the soaking tubs with our morning brew and had some time to relax before heading back on the road.  We still had a good 7 hours to Denver and we were hoping to make it in time for dinner.  The hills made it difficult. The climbs were long and the downhills easy; my ears kept popping, and at one point Amy threw rose petals out her window as I drove behind her. The walkie talkies that Szymon brought also made the caravan really easy. And because we love food, we made it to Denver just in time for dinner.

We are staying in denver for another few days or so, sorting out our to-do lists and finishing up a couple things in the van.  Szymon’s sister lives here and staying with her and her family has been a joy. We will have a few more days of regular comforts like our 15 min hot relaxing showers that will inevitably turn into a 2 min race to finish because it’s too cold outside once we hit Alaska. Enjoy the little things, and the trade off that these small changes in lifestyle will bring is worth everything.

Finding Balance

Kyuri on Finding Balance

We paved a new path for our lives and we didn’t know what to expect when we decided to move forward on this venture.  Szymon brought it up in passing at the beginning of the relationship on a couple occasions and told me it was a dream of his to do a bike packing road trip from the US to Patagonia. I looked at him in surprise and admiration for wanting to take on such a feat, but in my head I was thinking “What!? Thats crazy! There is no way I can do that”.  Then it happened. After some idle chatting back and forth and some research on his end, Szymon began searching for a van. A van because now I have come into his life and in order to convince me to go with him, he figured a van would get me on board rather than a bike.  It was very surreal at first. We were both really excited and all we could do was talk about this “trip of a lifetime”.  That’s when we found Gaia, a 2007 Dodge sprinter from Indiana and that was the first step in making this trip a reality.

As we began planning, we came up with lists of things we needed to do; we went over preferences on what we both wanted out of this trip, how long we would go, which routes we would take, start calculating the costs a bit and the list went on and on.  That was our first holy shit moment. This was going to take everything we had if we want to make this happen. We can’t half ass this, we had to be committed and all in, not only financially, but committed to leaving everything behind and starting over in uncharted territory. We knew that it was exactly what we both wanted. We wanted to see the world, experience different lives, reconnect with nature and the communities beyond our neighborhoods.  We wanted to change lives, helping people along the way, by giving our time and energy serving the greater good and traveling with purpose.

We started to put money away (a lot of money… nearly a third of both our incomes), began buying materials that we needed to start working on the van, worked on the van nearly every weekend we could (weather issues) after we brought her down from Chicago in November and so began the journey towards imbalance. It was fine at first, like most times you begin a new project, you get so hyped about it, you just push forth and get to work with lots of enthusiasm, but when you’re already working 40 hour weeks (Szymon) and teaching nearly 15 classes a week (me) all over Los Angeles and Orange County, it started to catch up with us.  We worked so we could save, we saved so we could build, we began building so we could live, but all the essentials that we needed in order to be sane were beginning to wane.  We haven’t had the time to spend “quality time” with each other, let alone our friends.  We were so keen on saving, we stopped going out, eating out and splurging on anything unnecessary. We didn’t talk much about anything outside the van and we didn’t give enough attention to self care.

We had to devise a new strategy. We told each other that it would really suck to lose each other because of the stress that came along with this project.  I mean what would be the point of getting all of this done if our relationship doesn’t survive it?  So, we sat down and decided to make a conscious decision about the way we restructured our lives for this project.  We put together a timeline on when certain portions of the build should be finished, in order for us to make our deadline (Last week of May 2017).  It seemed like we would be able to get it all done as long as we stuck to the timeline, but we quickly realized that life doesn’t work that way.

In the same way, I reflected on the planning of my own life.  When I was young, I told myself that I would graduate High School with honors, I would get into UCLA or UCSD and graduate and become a successful business woman, meet the love of my life, get married and have 2 dogs, a horse and a house just outside the city by age 25.  If you know anything about me or my life, that is not what happened.  Life happened instead. I graduated high school, went to college for a while with an undecided major and I think my soul was dying because I did not know who I was and I was tired of doing things that were getting me no where.  The endless hours at a job that didn’t inspire or challenge me had me wondering “What am I doing all this for?”. My life had no purpose and I had no happiness in it because I felt like I was stuck in a constant loop and there was no end in sight. That is where my journey began into who I have become. I am not an UCLA or UCSD graduate, I am not married and I don’t own a house, but found my calling as a Yoga Teacher who encourages and helps people become healthy, happy and confident. I am more self aware today than I ever was before,  I have hobbies and activities that motivate me to get stronger and I no longer live in the fear of “I need security in order to be happy”.  Quitting my job almost 3 years ago has been the best thing that I have ever done, and even though it was terrifying at the time, it was worth everything because it led me back to myself.

This brings us back to the now.  Yes, we are still saving, we are still spending countless hours on building and planning, and we are still making it a priority, but not at the expense of our health and well being.  We knew we needed to reinstate balance back into our lives and relationship in order for this to flourish.  We starting conversing about things outside the van, Szymon decided to take a weekend off with the boys, I made an effort to reach out to the people I missed spending time with, we both caught up on some reading and we decided to take a weekend off for Valentine’s Day. Giving up a few weekends in order to recharge, reconnect and revitalize ourselves has been the best thing for us and even though that pushes our dead line by about a month or so, I would much rather make this happen with us intact than in pieces, wouldn’t you agree?

Joshua Tree National Park

Shortly after driving Gaia the van across the country from Chicago to Los Angeles, an opportunity to go to Joshua Tree National Park came up. A friend of Kyuri’s extended an invite to go climb the boulders & rock formations at the national park, and to camp overnight with his group of his friends. A short distance drive from Los Angeles, the iconic Joshua Tree made famous by the U2 album cover is located in the Mojave desert of Southeastern California. The park is very popular with rock climbers, with thousands of climbing routes available at various levels of difficulty. It didn’t take long to convince me. Climbing gear, sleeping bags, and food supplies were packed, and both Kyuri and I headed out for a short weekend of climbing and van camping.

I’ve done a small amount of indoor climbing, but this was to be my first time rock climbing the outdoors. Climbing is a sport I’ve picked up as an internal physical and mental challenge to myself, especially since I fall into the not so great with heights camp. I’ve gotten more comfortable climbing the 50-70 feet tall walls at indoor gyms, but was really looking forward to getting that first outdoor climb off my bucketlist. Through gym practice I’ve gotten familiar with tying the figure 8 follow through-knot, and belaying, but was told by friends that outdoors poses different challenges.

As our group settled on a climbing spot and got the gear ready, I had the opportunity to watch some of the more experienced climbers lead climb their way up to set up a top rope for the remainder of us. The sight of the 100+ foot wall in front of me was making me a little anxious, but eventually it was my turn to try my hands at a 5.9 route. I began my way up and the first thing I noticed was how much more grippier the rock was compared to gym holds, and then when further up how much more abrasive the rock is on one’s hands. The approach is also a bit different in that there are no color coordinated holds, and one has to find their own way up. I immediately enjoyed that aspect of outdoor climbing. After getting up halfway through the approach, I made the rookie mistake of looking down (for someone with a fear of heights). My first reaction was to get back down and get more comfortable with a few more attempts, but some encouragement from the group & belayer below spurred me to take a deep breath, tell myself I can do this, and proceed up.

Halfway up the second climb looking down.

The climb was going well, and I got about 7/8’s of the way up before a more challenging section got the better of me and I ended up getting belayed down. Despite not making it all the way up, I was glad I gave it a try. It could have been easy to back out and not make the move up when I was halfway up, but it’s amazing what a small change of mindset and internal pep talk can do. Not only in relation to climbing, but in all walks of life. I ended up trying a 5.11 approach that required a different technique, and also made it a decent way up. That one also felt good, and I can’t wait to do some more outdoor climbing.

Our group left the climbing spot right around sunset, and we headed out to our camp spot right outside the park. There were a couple of children amongst the group, and one of the more memorable moments of the trip for me was when one of them asked me why I pronounce Theo as “Teo”. The TH sound is almost non-existent in Poland, so I naturally pronounce TH as T. Let me tell you, getting taught proper pronunciation by a five year old can be a trip!

Part 2 of Tear Down: Rust Removal & Painting Floor on Sprinter Van

After tearing down the inside of the cargo area and cleaning it up, it was time to remove the small amount of rust that had formed inside the van’s cargo floor. After a quick run to Home Depot to pick up some metal brush bits and 3m dust masks, I began to chip away at the rust with a drill bit. It was a slow process, and at first I used a portable drill, but quickly ran out of battery. Modern rust proofing paint applications make it possible to apply it over the affected areas without removing the rust, but as Gaia will be a home for an extended period of time, I wanted to remove all the corrosion that had developed inside the cargo floor and then apply the rust preventative paint. Using a corded drill, it wasn’t until late into the evening that I got to a point where I was happy with the result.

The cleanup process also exposed the areas where drywall screws held the factory wooden floor in place. It didn’t take long to remove the screws and clean them up. I mixed together some JB weld and applied it over all the little holes, mostly located in the back of the cargo floor, and let it cure overnight. The next morning I cleaned the entire cargo floor and the bottom of the side walls with acetone, and then with a POR 15 degreaser. Painter’s tape was applied to the side walls and to the bolt holes in the floor.

The floor was finally ready for a rust proof paint application. Having done a bit of research beforehand, I opted to use a can of POR-15 Rust Preventative Coating. A quart was more than enough to cover the entire cargo floor and wheel wells of a 144″ Sprinter van, and there was still plenty left for a second application. I used a 1.5″ wide nylon brush to be able to get into the smallest floor ridges, and painted the entire floor with it. The paint is thin and spreads very easily, making it a breeze to apply. It does take a bit of time to get through the whole floor, and I had to apply a second coat as the paint had trouble sticking in some areas of the floor. After the second coat dried, the van was ready for a brand new floor installation. A bit of a warning to those attempting to do any POR-15 rust preventative coatings – make sure you are covered head to toe in clothing and wear proper gloves, as the paint does not come off for weeks if it dries on your skin, and don’t forget your eye protection. If you do end up painting any areas of your vehicle with POR-15, please share any additional input you may have in the comments section!