A Look Back At Life On The Road
Life on the open road has been a lifestyle sought by dreamers and vagabonds alike. People have wandered long before the inspiration of Homer’s Odyssey, Kerouac’s travelogues, or John Muir’s hikes. But what is the drifter lifestyle really like? What is it like not knowing where you’ll wake up next, where to find water, breakfast, or even a toilet? I had to find out, so I bought a rusty Chevy Express and started my quest. I prepped the van with help from my dad. We added a little insulation, some plywood for walls, and two-by-fours for a bed. I enlisted my friend Jesse, a fellow Yosemite National Park employee, and we chose that wonderful park, our summer home, for our final destination. Grabbing my camera, I took off in search of a trouble-free life; that is, as trouble-free as possible while dependant on the price of gas.
Our goal was simple — drive west. Leaving from Minnesota, we had a couple of mountain ranges to cross and that just added to the excitement. I packed my snowboard under my bed and dreamt of deep snow. We blurred through Iowa and before the end of our first day, we skipped across Nebraska and into Colorado.
In Denver we rendezvoused with friends and decided to detour north to explore Rocky Mountain National Park. Our first nights were quite chilly and in Estes Park we once again saw the thermometer dropping below zero. We covered the walls in wool blankets and put on all our clothing. We cooked inside the van and warmed our hands over an old Coleman stove. As we watched our breath float up towards the plywood roof, we began to wonder, “Why are we doing this?” The next morning we got the answer.
We drove into the park, and after a little sight-seeing we spied a snowboarder gliding out of the woods. Inspired, I grabbed my board. Starting up the hill I wondered where these ski runs came from. Lines had been cut into the beautiful forest providing excellent ski and snowboard runs from summit to parking lot. All I had to do was stomp through knee-deep snow up a mountain. Thighs burning from the uphill push, lungs trying to hold to the elevations weak oxygen I wondered, how could I be so lucky?
As it turns out, tucked away in the back of the park is an old ski hill. The Park Service shut it down in ‘91 and since then the vegetation has begun. Fortunately for winter enthusiasts, the plants have not reclaimed the runs that were once carved into the mountain, leaving a number of runs from the treeline back down to the parking lot. After over an hour of climbing through deep snow, I turned to see what I accomplished. The view alone was worth the hard work; the ride back down was all smiles from the second I strapped in.
One run on the mountain and I was jazzed. The snow was soft and sprayed out with every turn. I had no tracks in front of me and the mountain was empty on all sides. Tucked away in the back of Rocky Mountain National Park was a paradise waiting to be discovered. With excitement bubbling we immediately set course for Vail. I had friends working there and it seemed like an excellent stop, even for a dirtbag. Amazingly enough, we found the only parking lot in Vail that allowed free overnight parking, and we settled in for our coldest night yet.
Anything below zero is cold, and as the thermometer dropped to below -10 fahrenheit we were put to the test. Wrapping ourselves in blankets we were mummified inside our sleeping bags. Arms and legs were stuck immobile inside the sleeping bags, we welcomed the warmth and tried to relax into the night.
Around 6 a.m. I awoke and started a propane heater we brought along. I slept in my coat, and after warming my socks I pulled them on, same with the snow pants and boots. I stumbled out of the van, grabbed my board, and caught a bus to the hill.
Leaving the first tracks was the only thing on my mind. Hiking the mountain before the lifts opened is the only way to make sure you are first. As I sat shivering in the woods next to a freshly groomed run I began eating my breakfast — a sandwich of frozen onion and iced ham. If you’ve never had the pleasure, I advise you keep it that way. Brain freeze coming on, I knew I had done it... the mountain was mine.
Once again the hill provided me peace. There was no one to ask me to slow down, no one to tell me where to turn. There were no ski schools or park rats. The hill was empty. That run belonged to me. After Vail we traveled farther west, making a stop in Aspen. The X-Games were in progress, and watching snowmobiles do backflips is incredibly impressive. Sleeping in a van that could double for an ice-cube tray is not. After a few more mornings in Colorado spent thawing out water bottles and shivering, it was time to continue west. We started crossing Utah and spent our first night in the desert. We continued on to Salt Lake City where we climbed with some friends and spent a night skiing Deer Valley before heading off to California. Finally reaching the Sierras we were more than excited to explore a new mountain range.
A number of my friends had settled into the east side of the Sierra range. Life was simple there. It was easy to climb and ski in the same day. To settle into a comfy campsite for a fire or indulge in the natural hot springs for the sunset. No more shivering in the van, nights were warm and filled with laughter. Snowshoeing was a wonderful way to access new gems.
We stayed just long enough to feel comfortable, vowing to come back. We then made our way to Yosemite. As I lay in the van, Half Dome holding the last of the sunlight, I knew I had created some wonderful memories. We had shivered our way through cold nights, which allowed us to wake up in some of America’s most gorgeous geography. We had trodden through snow to elevations above the treeline, enjoying unparalleled views of the Rockies and Sierras. We had drunk coffee that warmed both our mouths and spirits. All in all, life on the road can be stressful. But it’s that stress which makes some of the most beautiful moments possible. Troubles become adventures and out on the open road life seems to unfold as it should.
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About The Author
Jacob Myhre is an adventure and travel photographer. His appetite for new experiences has brought him bike touring, climbing, and backpacking across several continents. Currently he is based out of his van in Bishop, CA and enjoys his coffee with cream and a large helping of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. You can follow and support him on Instagram or by visiting his website.