We have been on the road for about a month; though it feels much longer. In thinking up adjectives to describe the past month, I fail to find the ones that truly encompass the entirety of the experience. Exhilarating. Unsettling. Dreamy. Stunning. Expected. Unexpected. Cold. Annoying. Incredible. Fun.

Exhilarating. Waterfall ice. There is so much ice, so accessible! It’s been fun to get on ice, to lead my first real water ice route; to walk on the bottom of a frozen slot canyon and climb out of it via a waterfall.

Leading a warm up WI2 route in Canmore, AB               

Unsettling. On day seven of the trip we came back from touring (backcountry skiing) at Roger’s Pass in British Columbia to a van that wouldn’t start. It was probably about -9 degrees F that day and too cold for our two functioning glow plugs to get it going. We eventually drained the battery trying, and got a jump from a nice guy in a Chevy Bolt. He was so excited that his tiny electric vehicle jumped our giant diesel van, there are definitely photos of this on the internet somewhere! We drove to the nearest town for tools and Eric replaced four glow plugs but the 5th was stuck. I called every single auto repair and tire shop in town – all of whom said something along the lines of “Sprinter van? I won’t touch that thing. We have a bathroom and coffee if you guys need it.” Canadians are the nicest. But the feeling of your home and mode of transportation, the thing that holds all of your things and keeps your family warm, becoming inoperable, is one of the more unsettling. And to think that we are living in a van by choice, and have resources to fix it, to problem solve – I feel and try to acknowledge my privilege in every turn we make in the van.

Eric fixing something on the van, again…

Dreamy. Imagine: alarm goes off, you peel back the window cover to discover the scenery outside your window for the first time and it’s a beautiful frozen lake with a mountain backdrop. “Want to stay here another day or move on?” and “What should we do today, Pinky?” are questions we often end and start our days with. If feels so dreamy, so boundless and adventurous.

View from the van in Banff while Eric gets something from the garage.
View from the van window when we woke up at Roger’s Pass! It was cold.

Stunning. We have seen some beautiful scenery, from our first Aurora Borealis, to snow-capped peaks and adorable mountain towns. Watching a herd of Elk feast in a snow covered meadow as the sun rises and shines first light on the peaks in the background. Stunning! Sometimes it feels like we’ve left the Earth and have landed in a magical winter wonderland.

Touring around Roger’s Pass
Icefields Parkway in Jasper/Banff National Parks
Walking through a little canyon around Athabaska Falls

Expected. Cozy van life evenings. I had imagined sitting on the bed in the van with a good book, dogs snuggling closely, Eric busy on his tablet or laptop. These moments are magical and bring me so much happiness.

Not quite an evening, but it felt cozy to be in bed while Eric was parking by a coffee shop – coffee in bed!
View from the bed, again

Unexpected. We have different approaches to living in a van. It has been unexpectedly difficult to find the right balance, a good flow. Eric is excited to get to places and do things – are we climbing, skiing, touring, or “insert activity”? He calls non-physically active days “rest days.” To me, they are all days, and different ways to experience the life in the places we visit and try to get to know. Frankly, I simply can’t sustain Eric’s activity level, he’s a beast! Back in Tahoe, he’d go for a morning run with a friend (shout out to Pat) or an afternoon bike ride (hey’o Brad) on days that I had off and needed down time. Now, all our days are “off” and I need a lot more down time than is sustainable for Eric.

Eric would love this to be every day – miles and miles of cardio and sustained power output. I’m a fan too, just a little less.

Cold. Canada is beautiful and cold. Very cold. Venturing out to Lake Abraham was a profoundly cold experience. Our decision to start our big van trip in January and go north was intentional to the extent that we could possibly anticipate the cold. We love winter, we love skiing and ice climbing. Cold is also hard. It requires more chores in the van, gives less space to spread out, and is just physically more taxing (my appetite has increased significantly since we have been spending a lot of our days outside in the cold). The cold is also a factor in the dogs quality of life – they don’t get to just hang outside while we make dinner, or run around on hikes as they do in the warmer months and climates.

Foma’s face says it all…
Also, winter storms means we miss some of the views.

Annoying. Endless van repairs and chores. We have to think about where to fill the water, make decisions about where to go, where to park, find showers and bathrooms. Dishes have to be done right away, grocery shopping needs to happen fairly often due to the size of the fridge and the pantry. These chores are part of the joy, part of life, but they take a lot of energy and time. Additionally, the van always presents some issue that needs fixing. Glow plugs need replacing but one gets stuck. Heater smells all of a sudden and needs to be run on high twice a day to burn off the soot. Seat cushions need to be attached so they don’t slide. The plumbing has an air leak. Engine light is forever on.

Eric working on the van – I think this was trying to get the stuck glow plug, in Golden, B.C.

Incredible. Skiing. Snow in British Columbia is light waist-deep and endless. Revelstoke and Fernie have presented some of the best days at a ski resort we’ve ever skied. And the views from Banff Sunshine Village were jaw dropping – I truly never thought I’d enjoy skiing steep groomers, but I was wrong.

Views from Banff Sunshine Village
Deep pow at Fernie – lift service for backcountry quality snow!

Fun. Exploring the tiny cute mountain towns. Listening to live music at a quirky tea shop and meeting a variety of traveling and local folk. Being referred to collectively as “California,” as in “Dang, California can ski!” at Lake Louise Ski Resort.

Fairmont “castle” in Banff
Skiing out to Moraine Lake #safetyfirst

I could add many other adjectives and emotions and photos, but none would truly capture the full experience. I am so happy to be doing this. This experience has definitely been one outside my comfort, much more to than I had anticipated. It has also brought so much joy! Let’s see what the next mont holds.

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