Taos Stories: A Permanent Road Trip
In December 2016, Joe and Emilie sold most of their possessions, packed what they had left into a van, and hit the road, permanently. Along with their dog, Uschi, they have traveled all over the United States looking for the best outdoor places to ski and bike and hike, all while living out of their van.
They found themselves in Taos in January with the Mountain Collective Pass, and we got to ask them a few questions about their journey:
How did your road trip begin, and what were you doing before?
For as long as we have been together, we have wanted to take this kind of adventure. We camped, skied, kayaked, and mountain biked as often as we could – now we get to do it every day. We have always loved traveling, especially to pursue outdoor recreation. As much as we wanted to do this, however, it was very difficult to walk away from the familiar life we had established. Ultimately, it became clear that nothing made us happier than being outside. This is what inspired us to finally abandon the ordinary for this extraordinary life.
For decades, we both worked really hard in our professional lives and made deliberate choices so that we were ultimately setting ourselves up for something epic, for freedom. Previously, Joe implemented financial systems for Warner Bros. in Los Angeles, managed merger & acquisition projects at Deloitte in NYC, and performed a variety of financial roles at Fidelity Investments. Most recently, I was running a chamber of commerce for a downtown neighborhood undergoing a major revitalization. Prior to that, I spent 12 years in marketing and communications for a nonprofit downtown association.
How do you plan your adventures / destinations?
For the most part, we are kind of winging it, following the sun and sport. We ski all winter, and mountain bike the rest of the year. When we set out in December 2016, we had a general route in mind with built in flexibility. The fact that we had a loosely defined route allowed us to change plans and direction at a moment’s notice. This is what we had hoped the adventure would be, and why it is so different from what our vacations once were. Gone is the day of meticulously planned itineraries and campsites booked in advanced (unless we’re trying for Havasupai Falls!). Now is the day a friend from Cincinnati or elsewhere tells us they’ll be canyoneering in Utah this spring and will we join them. Our response? Tell us when!
We spend most of our time in the national forests on public lands, and occasionally visit national parks during off peak seasons. We wanted to stay in the western United States in the first year so we could be close to our friends in the mountains, be available to meet up with friends from home, and just have fun. At some point, we plan to visit Alaska and perhaps the Baja. Originally we were going to drive to Chile, but that would require us to make major modifications to our fuel system, so that will have to wait until our van warranty expires.
Which mountains are on the list this season?
We are skiing the Mountain Collective Pass this season as ambassadors to promote the pass and the various participating resorts. So far, we have skied Taos Ski Valley, Telluride, and Aspen Highlands and Snowmass. We plan to ski Jackson Hole, Sun Valley, Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise, Revelstoke, Snowbird, Snowbasin, Alta, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and Mammoth. We’ll also make a stop in Steamboat to ski with good friends.
Let’s talk about the van. What’s it like to live out of?
In the past year, we have learned a lot about simple living – and simply put, living. We’ve adjusted well to our home on wheels, which is less than one hundred square feet of space. Though, when the great outdoors is your living room, a hundred square feet suddenly becomes irrelevant. Most days we wake up in a national forest and make a good breakfast, enjoy our coffee, and make sure our dog has had a little fun, then we’ll typically go for a mountain bike ride or ski. If we have reception, Joe typically spends a few hours trading stocks. We almost always cook our own meals, and we almost always stay on public lands.
We have slept in the van or a tent almost every night since we left in December 2016. We have everything with us at all times, and we put careful thought during the build out process to make sure it served our needs. In terms of taking care of general tasks, we can do almost everything in the van.
How long did it take to make the van into your home? Did you do all the work yourself?
For several years, we looked for the perfect van – not an easy task due to increasing popularity. We finally bought our Sprinter – a two-year-old empty High Roof cargo van – in June 2016 and started converting it that August. We worked on it up until the day we set out on December 25, 2016. We talked to a few commercial campervan builders before we got started, but ultimately decided to do it ourselves because of their high cost and long wait lists. We designed the van and Joe procured every part. He was able to do some of the work himself while he wrapped up his day job. Our two friends did all of the beautiful carpentry work, and we hired a commercial company to install our electric and furnace. There were many others that contributed – Joe’s coworker made bug screens for us, a friend did the awesome laser cut art on our cabinet doors, and our friend Tracy contributed some genius ideas to simplify the build.
How has your dog done with the transition into van-life?
We could easily argue Uschi is the perfect van dog. She couldn’t be happier – she has her pack with her 24/7, and she can explore with us in the quietest of lands. This once shy and fearful dog is absolutely loving life on the road as much or more than we are.
I’m guessing you’ve had to scale down on while traveling… what are your essential items?
We sold the home we got married in and most of our possessions, quit our jobs and hit the road. To say we haven’t looked back at our once comfortable lives wouldn’t exactly be the truth, but do we miss owning a home, doing yard work, do we regret selling / giving away most of our earthly possessions, taking a break from the professional world, etc.? Nope. Not one bit. While we thought we had purged as much as we possibly could, there’s still more we could have let go of now that we’ve realized we have everything we need with us wherever we go – in the van. Our van build suits our lifestyle and adventures. Our essential items are pretty basic – mountain bikes, skis and other miscellaneous recreation items that don’t take up too much space, plus our two burner propane stove, Omnia oven, kickass fridge, some kitchen items, JBL Flip speaker – and of course, our cute dog to share cuddles and conversation – that’s all we need.
Why did you come to Taos? Had you been here before?
We always intended to start the Mountain Collective Pass skiing Taos, and were extremely patient to get the ski season started. Last year, we rushed into it and chased snow all season, so this year we hung out in the warmth of Big Bend until the snow started to hit. Our timing turned out to be perfect for the big storm that rolled through Taos the third week of January. Joe had skied Taos in 1998, but this was my first time – and we’ll be back! We love Taos Ski Valley!
What was the most unexpected thing you noticed about Taos?
From the moment we stepped foot in Taos Ski Valley, we were blown away by the friendly and helpful team working throughout the resort. We loved the small town feel and the ease of getting around. We literally knocked on the door of the marketing department on a weekend in the late afternoon to introduce ourselves, and were immediately welcomed and connected with other key employees at the resort.
Tell us your most memorable or comedic moment during your adventures in the van.
Just one? Impossible! One recurring highlight is the sheer number of awesome people we have met along our journey. On more than twenty occasions we have met complete strangers at trailheads who, within a 15-minute conversation and a tour of our van, have invited us back to their homes for a meal, showers, access to laundry, and a driveway to park our van overnight. What’s even better is these once strangers will likely be lifelong friends, and in some cases, we’ve met up with them now multiple times for fun on the road. Another highlight is being embraced by the outdoor community. Joe especially has always wanted to be involved in the outdoor industry and community, and the progress we have made already is his dream coming true. We were invited to join the Collective Pass team for their 2017/18 ski season, and were recruited as the first AllTrails Adventurers. We have also been asked to test products for a variety of outdoor product companies.
As far as one of the more comedic moments…well, it might have been very recently when a very nice woman let us fill up our 25 gallon water tank at her house. What seemed like a windfall of kindness turned into a geyser of water shooting straight into the back of the open doors of the van, drenching literally everything inside…in freezing temps. Joe’s first reaction was to charge the spraying hose superman style to mitigate the unfolding disaster. While this was a humorous sight to see, the next hour of drying everything off with no feeling in our fingers was not so funny!
You can follow Joe and Emilie on Instagram @permanentroadtrip