Go West, My Friend
A snapshot of life from Minnesota through Death Valley in a converted cargo van
Life on the open road has been prized by dreamers and vagabonds alike. But what is the drifter lifestyle really like? To not know where you’ll wake up next, or where you’ll find water, breakfast, or even a toilet? I wanted to know, so a few months back I bought a rusty Chevy Express cargo van and hit the road.
I built a bed frame out of scrap lumber and packed my worldly belongings underneath. And in late January, with loose plans to simply explore, my friend Jesse and I drove south out of Minnesota, hit I-70, and turned west toward the mountains.
Driving through Nebraska my mind drifted along the endless plains and didn’t awaken until the Rockies. It was in those old mountains that we found Rocky Mountain National Park. Located in the back of the park is a old ski resort that had trimmed back the trees many years ago, allowing for some wonderful backcountry ski touring even today.
"The nightly search for a parking spot became a hunt for a beautiful new backyard."
Moving further west required slower travel—the nature was too beautiful to just fly by. Utah and its gorgeous rock gave way to Nevada where stone came growing out of the ground, creating some of the most unique formations on earth. Soon Death Valley sucked us in. The cracked earth and old mountains, sand dunes and large canyons—everything seemed to speak in a soft, yet grizzled, voice. Come and explore, but be smart. Carry lots of water, extra water, and then some more water.
After Death Valley we rolled into the Sierras, my old summer home. Here it was back to the cold. One frigid morning I even awoke to a water bottle encased in ice. Frozen morning beverages was not something I was a stranger to, but neither was it something I particularly enjoyed. Still it was this cold air that kept the cream cold and snow on the mountains. Frozen beards were no excuse to avoid exploring and I grabbed a pair of skis to see the mountains.
Skinning up the Sierras showed me one of life’s wonders. The beauty of the snow capped trees and the difficulty to reach the top of a peak combined to create a form of adrenaline mixed with serenity that is nearly impossible to capture anywhere else. It also helps to have hot springs soaking the dirt roads at the base of the hills—a wonderful place to rest weary muscles.
Life on the open road now holds an ever-roaming spot in my heart. It allows the freedom to sleep where you want, explore the mountains you desire, and spend time with close friends around a campfire. The nightly search for a parking spot becomes a hunt for a beautiful new backyard. Morning coffee becomes a planning party for the next mountain, and sleep is induced by a never ending, yet ever changing, starry sky.