The RV Project

"There Are No Wrong Roads to Anywhere"

Archive for the month “May, 2013”

Full Circle

My parents came to see us in Santa Barbara. Not sure what's going on with my leg in the photo, but a rare shot of all of us together nonetheless.

My parents came to meet us in Santa Barbara. Not sure what’s going on with my leg in the photo, but a rare shot of all of us together nonetheless. Above Lizard’s Mouth.

We are back in Santa Barbara (actually, we’re back in Berkeley now, but I began this post in sunny Santa Barbara).

We woke up early enough to catch sunrise in Zion National Park before charging through Arizona and Nevada. California, especially Santa Barbara, was a sight for sore eyes. The cool breeze tinged with sea salt wafted through our rolled down windows. We were definitely ready to be back, which is always refreshing on a road trip. Often you leave a place before you feel ready and that’s always a bit unsettling. It felt really good and really right to be back.

After 1 year, 2 months, and 17 days, our road trip had come full circle- our first stop when hitting the road last year was Santa Barbara.

Catching the sunrise over Kolob Canyon at Zion National Park before heading back to Cali.

Catching the sunrise over Kolob Canyons at Zion National Park before starting our drive to California [photos are going back in time through our last week].

The cacti were blooming on our hike to Angel's Landing at Zion.

The cacti were blooming on our hike to Angel’s Landing at Zion.

The view from the top of Angel's Landing. A great place to relax.

The view from the top of Angel’s Landing. A magical reward after the hike up.

The last push before getting to the top of Angel's Landing.

The last push before getting to the top of Angel’s Landing.

Ostrich farm we drove by when entering Zion National Park.

Ostrich farm we drove by when entering Zion National Park. If only their brains were as big as their eyes…

A view of Fisher Towers from the end of the hike.

A view of Fisher Towers in Moab from the end of the my hike- Spenser went on a bike ride this day.

When the trail ends, do you keep going? This trail really ended...wish I could say I went further!

When the trail ends, do you keep going? This trail really ended…wish I could say I went further!

If you look really close, you can see a couple climbing (belayer is in a blue shirt). Fisher Towers were huge!!

If you look really close, you can see a couple climbing (hint: belayer is in a blue shirt). The mud towers are unbelievably huge!! Not sure if I ever want to climb there, though…

Driving home after a day exploring Canyonlands National Park.

Driving home after a day exploring Canyonlands National Park.


Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park. Gorgeous, even though we were wiped from sprinting to the Delicate Arch the day before.

Canyonlands, another view.

Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park.

The best shot I've gotten on my camera phone yet! Delicate Arch at sunset. Arches National Park.

The best shot I’ve gotten on my camera phone yet! Delicate Arch at sunset. Arches National Park. Completely worth sprinting up there to catch the sunset.

The magical sunset.

The brilliant sunset.

I was incredibly happy that Spenser agreed to go back to Arches and Canyonlands. It was definitely a bit out of our way from Joe’s Valley to Santa Barbara, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity! I can assume that I will be by these places again later in life, but what if I’m not. Better to not assume, I think. 🙂

Over a year ago when we started this road trip, we had different goals. I think a year ago, we would have argued to pass up these sights just to get to the next climbing destination. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when our road trip mentality changed, but it was likely when both Spenser and I began to ride a getting-hurt see-saw. When you get hurt on the road, either you start to look long term, or you head home.

We started getting hurt, so we finally stopped to smell the roses- mostly to make ourselves feel better. But, it really turned out to be the best medicine. The road trip could not longer be solely about climbing if our spirits were going to stay high.

So what’s the road trip about now?

Amanda Palmer really helped me come up with the answer to this…

Spenser and I spend a lot of time together- you end up running out of conversation. Also, the long open road is more conducive to sleep rather than chatter. To cure the doldrums, we love listening to Podcasts when driving. As we were passing through Nevada, we starting listening to Giving it Away, part of the NPR Ted Talk Radio Hour. The whole hour is a great listen, but Miss Palmer really stood out.

We saw Amanda Palmer perform live at The Crucible Fire Arts Festival in 2009. She was a bad-ass chick with a great voice and interesting sound, but that’s about where the impression ended. Her Ted Talk was something else. Watch:

Amanda’s talk reinforced what was our road was about for me: making connections. What Spenser and I remember is the connections we make with the blokes we meet along the way. We have (surprisingly) recently only realized that this is what our road trip is about.

As Spenser explained in his last post, the greatest challenge of being on the road for us is that we now find ourselves without a home, in the conventional sense. Our home becomes the old friends we visit and the new friends we make along the way. Each person we make a connection with becomes encompassed in our definition of home. We create a home and a family from these people in each place that we visit.

Without these people there would be no family, no home. So, on to Amanda’s other huge point – helping each other. Why are we (people, in general) so ashamed of “hand outs”? We are terrified to ask for something for fear of being rejected, or worse, owing someone something. We have been trained to be independent. Amanda pointed out that people like helping- remember the fuzzy feeling you get when you receive a smile as a thanks for something as simple as holding the door open for a stranger?

I hate asking someone for help. It’s a feeling that I need to overcome, realizing that every family we make along the way wants to help (and be helped). It’s time to follow in Amanda’s footsteps and “ask without shame” and also give without regret. When Amanda’s band’s record sold “only” 25,000 copies, she was dropped from the label. Instead of being distraught, she asked her fans to help pay for the records and it was an immense crowdfunding success. Now that is bad-ass.

How Tao of her…

Now to leave you with a few quote to live by from The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff.

“Things just happen in the right way, at the right time. At least when you let them, when you work with circumstances instead of saying, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening this way,’ and trying harder to make it happen some other way.”

“You’d be surprised how many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are.”

In the next post, Spenser is going to talk about what is what like being back in SB for him and some of the new climbing development going on… Including new routes put up by THIS guy:

Running into Andy and Dale on the street was a nice surprise! I definitely understand why they're not leaving Santa Barbara...probably, ever (the place is paradise, but keep that between you & me). ;)

Running into Andy Patterson and Dale on the street was a nice surprise! I definitely understand why they’re not leaving Santa Barbara…probably, ever (the place is paradise, but keep that between you & me). 😉


On Dreams and Family

This past weekend, Vikki flew to Phoenix for the weekend to help her college friend Anna celebrate graduation from medical school. I drove her to the airport in Salt Lake City, and rather than drive 2.5 hours back to Joe’s Valley, I stayed until she flew back on Monday. During her absence, I was graciously put up by our friends Max and Emmy, whom we met in Las Vegas through Alana, whom we met in Colorado.

Dolan cruises a lip traverse while Max scrubs the upcoming holds. That's what family's for.

Dolan cruises a lip traverse while Max scrubs the upcoming holds. That’s what family’s for.

Max and Emmy are about my age, married, and living in a home they own in Salt Lake City. They have a dog named Sampson and five ducks in the backyard. They have a circle of friends, they have people over for BBQs, they go bouldering on the weekends, and they make long-term plans. They “have their shit together.” 

Zack on a crimpy V11 near Prime Rib. It's one thing to climb hard, it's another thing to do so in between full work weeks.

Zack on a crimpy V11 near Prime Rib. It’s one thing to climb hard, it’s another thing to do so in between full work weeks.

Visiting and talking to people like this used to make me uncomfortable. The twenties has been called The Defining Decade, the period when you’re supposed to achieve all sorts of lifetime milestones like settling into a career, settling into a house, and intentionally building toward some grand future. We are not really doing any of those things. Vikki’s friend is now Dr. Ward. My best childhood friend just earned his Master’s. I ran away from academia 6 years ago. Vikki let her GMAT scores expire.

I don’t have to tell you that things are changing from the white-picket-fence dreams of the past, that our generation is more capricious than any previous one. The New York Times wants to know what the hell is wrong with us, and so does most of my family. But we don’t feel as though we’re lacking. We have just the same amount of existential angst as anyone else. The 20’s is the time to start building toward your dreams, right? Well, our dreams involve seeing our great country, and not just the big cities. Our dreams involve meeting new kinds of people. In our dreams, we can live anywhere and any way we want. We are Pinocchio’s dream: no strings attached.

Vikki and I are in a special place and time in our lives, virtually carefree and able to travel anywhere at the drop of a hat. It’s wonderful, and we are both aware of how lucky we are. As I’m sure someone has said, you can’t put a price on freedom.

Of course, there are trade-offs. There are the obvious (and trivial) mod-cons that we lack, like consistent showers and newspaper delivery.

On a deeper, perhaps more challenging level, we now find ourselves without a home. We don’t live anywhere in particular. We aren’t regulars at the cafe on the corner. We don’t see the same crew in the gym on Tuesday nights. We don’t have an extended network of nearby friends to enjoy house parties, music festivals and Walking Dead premieres with. We have to improvise.

Scott envisions a new problem in the talus

Scott dreams of a new problem in the talus

A fellow traveling climber, Adriana, recently posted a piece about our little climber family. She discusses the phenomenon where most of us road-trippers become very close very quickly. Without geographic permanence to tie us together, we rely instead on shared passions, open minds, and common experiences. We are generous when we can be. We are grateful when we receive. We take no sunset for granted.

I said we are without a home, and this is erroneous. We are without a house. But in the Edwardian (Edward Sharpe) sense, we do have a home. Wikipedia will tell you that home can also mean “a mental or emotional state of refuge or comfort.” This couldn’t be more true.

A major thanks to all for letting us into your family, and also your amazing game room!

A major thanks to all for letting us into your family, and also your amazing game room!

Our family encompasses climbers, travelers, and adventurers. We watch and help each other grow, learn, and overcome challenges. Maybe we can’t give people warm beds, but we can tell of hot springs and boulders and scenic drives that no amount of Googling will reveal. We don’t have millions to donate to charity, but we do leave every place we visit better than we found it. Community service doesn’t need a community center.

Max and Emmy took me in for four days, which is coincidentally the same number of days we’d spent together previously. We went bouldering on the weekend. We drank 3.2% beer. On Sunday, Heather and Dolan invited the gang over for a Cinco de Mayo party. The question of whether I was included in the “gang” didn’t even come up. Max and I went undefeated in beer pong that night.

When Vikki flew in on Monday evening, we decided to spend one more night in Salt Lake City. I asked if we could cook dinner for Emmy, Zack and Hannah (Max was in St. George for the week). Emmy said we owed them nothing, that we shouldn’t feel obligated. We went to Harmon’s and brought home kale, steak, and zucchini.

Another awesome family member, Sampson. We totally borrowed him, in a way.

Another awesome family member, Sampson. We totally borrowed him, in a way.

As I reflected on the weekend and the delicious dinner we all enjoyed on Monday night, I realized that  cooking for everyone was not an act of thanks, or generosity. If anything, it was selfish. Sitting down at the table, passing the kale salad, clearing the dishes, and laughing over glasses of wine were the kinds of family moments that we rarely get to enjoy. I don’t exaggerate when I say that dinner was every bit as valuable as the bed and shower.

So, a big thanks to Max and Emmy for letting us join the family. Thank you to Alana for introducing us. Thanks to all the other members of our climbing family, too numerous to mention individually. And to everyone we’ve met along the way that told us we’re doing the right thing: thank you for understanding our dream.


Today I fly out to Phoenix to reunite with some of my closest friends from college, all of them my sorority sisters. In college, I was in a sorority. I also used to have long hair. I think that’s it for the confessions for today. Let’s just safely assume that I was a different person before I began climbing. Scratch that, less a different person, more that I had different interests.

Our mutual friend, Anna, is graduating from medical school this weekend. Medical School. She’s going to be a doctor. I’m living in a trailer. The only reason that this actually affects me is that Anna and I used to be on the same path.

Anna was the first person I met in college. We met in line waiting for our dorm room assignments, ended up living across the hall from each other and even joining the same sorority. We have been good friends since that very first day that we met, when I was wearing a bright pink Juicy Couture jumpsuit. Okay, that was seriously the last confession. You should definitely Google my outfit choice if you’re not sure what I was wearing. Nevermind, I’ll just post a picture below to give you an idea.


So where/when did Anna and I diverge?  We can go into all the differences that we have, starting with the fact that I’m a brunette and she’s a blonde, but the only difference that matters is commitment.

9 years ago, Anna committed to becoming a doctor. I was terrified of committing the next 10-15 years of my life to school. I couldn’t see the big picture, so I chose the past of least resistance. How lame is that?

I do not regret the decision I made in college to forgo my pre-med studies. I love my current life, but as one grows older, you have less time to f*ck around. Committing to something means taking a huge gamble because you’re all-in, no matter the outcome. I think the alternative, lack of commitment, offers you a superficial life, one without true gain.

This is probably why The RV Project is not where I want it to be after an entire year on the road. This past year, I had to test the waters. I had to make sure that I was really all-in. Now that we’re on year #2, I know this is where I want to be. I know this is what I want to be doing.

Sadly, I’ve kind of wasted a year. Sure, I don’t want to think of it that way, but that is the reality. This past year, I had one foot on the road, and the other one somewhere else (whether it was dreaming about what my life could be like, applying to business school, or just being lazy).

Here’s to celebrating Anna and her powerful conviction. In celebration, let’s commit. Commit to holding on just a second longer, commit to making the move, commit to life and stop holding yourself back.

What does commitment mean to you? When have you committed to something that was the wrong thing to commit to? What did you learn? Would you do it again?

COMMIT : A FALL IN BISHOP from Wingspan on Vimeo.

Midnight Enlightening

If you haven’t heard by now, a friend by the name of James took the drastic step of erasing the lightning bolt on Midnight Lightning. As you can imagine, this caused quite the stir. Facebook comment strings, Reddit threads, and of course the comments on James’ blog post (not to mention on his Facebook wall) indicated, for the most part, that people disagree with what he did. Some were vehement, some were articulate and well-reasoned, and some settled for pithy insults.

After a day to marinate on the event and fallout, I’d like to jot down my thoughts before they are lost, swept away by time like the chalk was brushed away from the Columbia Boulder.

Upon first reading the post, I felt ambivalent towards the action itself. I did feel admiration for someone who would dare to remove such an icon and then claim responsibility. I felt there must have been some strong justification for it, even if it was not well articulated in the blog post. I also enjoyed the photo of Nik Berry climbing ML, but with the caption “Nik Berry on an unknown problem.” James is a witty writer and I’ve always enjoyed his blog.

I want to point out, for those unaware, that James has some cred in the valley. He’s not a nobody, he’s not a misguided gym rat. He earned a Valley nickname and has established big wall routes. I respect the hell out of his climbing life.

Perhaps it was this respect that kept me from immediately and angrily denouncing him on the internet, as so many who don’t know him (and some who do) have. I wanted to understand his motivation.

Left: John Bachar climbs the Lightning. On the right, the naked Columbia Boulder. Photos from

Left: John Bachar climbs the Lightning. On the right, the naked Columbia Boulder. Photos from

Upon further reflection, it seemed as though there was little justification for erasing the bolt. In his blog, James presented the history of the climb and the names of the early ascentionists, then made a brief attempt to convince the reader that the mark had lost its magic because people climb it all the time. It seemed to me that James was more bitter than anything, perhaps jaded from seeing so many climbers in Yosemite.

Justin Alarcon wrote a great defense of the lightning bolt in the comments on James’ blog that I recommend reading. A highlight is this: “Has ‘the chalk transformed into a trademark, another tourist attraction for passing climbers’? Yeah, maybe a little bit, but unless you’re really jaded by the whole climbing scene or caught up trying to be cool in Camp 4 the ‘Bolt’ still has a lot of magic left in it.”

The discussion is an interesting one, but it should have been had before one person decided that they would attempt to delete 30 years of history from the most iconic boulder problem in the world (I say attempt, as the bolt has since been redrawn). The last line of his blog post is “Does climbing need these trademarks?” This is a great question, and it should’ve been asked before the bolt was erased.

I am particularly dismayed by the dismissive attitude some have taken to this incident and the subsequent fallout. I’ve read more than a few comments along the lines of “there are more important things to worry about.” My response to this is, sure, it’s not a big deal. We climb rocks. First world problems. But if we already acknowledge that climbing, though a trivial pursuit in the grand scheme of “bigger things to get pissed about,” is what is important to us, then we all are definitely allowed to hold these symbols sacred.

I suppose it’s kind of a funny dichotomy we climbers exhibit. We trivialize and belittle our own activity even as we design our whole lives around it.

I do not think James deserves some of the hatred directed at him. Armchair critics spit venom and haters gonna hate, but the unavoidable fact is that he sparked a conversation and forced a lot of climbers to deeply examine the aforementioned issues: what climbing means to them, the power of  symbols, and for those who are fortunate enough to have visited to Yosemite, the significance of Midnight Lightning and the history of the Valley.

The Bolt still exists. In fact, the bolt has likely been erased and redrawn many times. From this perspective, no harm no foul. In the end, I think this has been a net benefit for the climbing community. When threatened with the loss of an important piece of history, we snapped out of Ondra-Onsight worship, of gym-climber bashing and making fun of retail store mannequins, and we all had a relatively civil conversation about what a simple chalk drawing meant to us. Only the imminent closure of a popular crag can crystallize us, an otherwise often apathetic group, in such a manner. If nothing else, it is heartening to see others reflecting on the meaning of the bolt.

Maybe, instead of thinking of James as a selfish asshole or a pretentious prick (others’ words, not mine), it would help us all to think of James as having martyred himself for the sake of lighting a fire under our collective asses. For the fact is, the deed was done. Now what are we going to do about it?

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