Noah, Bishop

“It’s the freedom—I can just start driving and park somewhere and sleep. I could go anywhere I want to and have everything I need. And I can leave at a moment’s notice. It’s liberating to not be tied down like that.”

Climbers who live on the road tend to migrate in similar patterns with the weather, and I’ve managed to cross paths with Noah three times in just a few months. Every time I see him, his fingertips are completely wrecked from climbing 10+ days in a row. His body could stand to use a rest day or two once in a while, but Noah didn’t move into his Sprinter van to relax—he did it to pursue his passion for rock climbing.

I first met him in Arizona’s Cochise Stronghold when I was climbing alone and he invited me to try a route that he and his climbing partner were working on. He’s a friendly guy who feels comfortable chatting up just about anyone and he’ll happily belay a stranger on his rope. He’ll also be happy to offer dinner to anyone at his campsite when he’s making a big pot of pasta in Yosemite’s Camp 4. When I saw him there, he told me that the best part of staying in Yosemite is the people. Having a place where you can have genuine human connection with people from all over the world is priceless.

He’s been able to call half of the country his home while in his van, and he’s now in Canada sending routes in Squamish. I’m not sure where the road will take him next, but I think it’s safe to assume he’ll be at it for a while longer, pushing his climbing limits. Back in Bishop after we finished a few climbs in Owens River Gorge, Noah and I sat down and I asked him how he ended up living out of his van, his favorite aspect of vanlife, and what he loves about the outdoors.

When would you say you first had a connection with the outdoors?

I went to school in North Carolina, which turns out is kind of a haven for climbing in the southeast. I did a pre-orientation backpacking program that had a day of outdoor climbing—I was like ‘Oh, I remember rock climbing from a birthday party once. I like this, let’s do this shit.’

Climbing wasn’t something that was super available where I grew up, and it sure as hell wasn’t something my parents were going to support. I’ve played around with some whitewater, I’ve done some sea kayaking, a little bit of mountaineering, but climbing has been the thing I’ve dove into.

What is it about climbing to you?

I think a lot of people find what I find in climbing, in other forms of outdoor rec. It’s like a moving meditation for me. Especially when I’m leading at my limit on trad—it’s all about staying focused, not letting my thoughts wander, and really being in the moment. It’s so infrequent for me to feel that way in the rest of my life.

Where did the idea to move into a van come from?

I was working in New York City, and was miserable. I hated the 9 to 5, hated commuting, hated the whole thing. You ride the subway and nobody’s smiling, everyone else is miserable too. I was like ‘I’m gonna build out my truck or buy a truck camper,’ but then I totaled it. I took the check from Geico when they gave me a settlement and just signed it over to the dude who owned the van. And 10 days afterwards I started driving.

You mentioned your parents weren’t very supportive of your climbing. How do they feel about vanlife for you?

Of course, they’re not stoked. I mean it’s like ‘What does your kid do?’ ‘Oh, he lives in a van.’ I meet people whose parents are fully supportive of what they’re doing—my parents are not there yet, it’s something I’ve been working on with them. I don’t think they really understand why I would want to live in a van. My folks are pretty straight and narrow; never had a passion for the outdoors or anything like that, so it’s really hard for them to relate.

Do you have a favorite part about being in the van?

The rock climbing. I mean, I haven’t climbed very many bad things. And it’s the freedom—I can just start driving and park somewhere and sleep. I could go anywhere I want to and have everything I need. And I can leave at a moment’s notice. It’s liberating to not be tied down like that.

Do you have a favorite outdoor area?

Yosemite National Park, the Sierras really. I haven’t been back here since I lived in San Francisco. It was always in the back of my mind, like ‘I gotta get back to Yosemite, I have to be back in the Sierras.’ And now I’m here and it’s so good.

Patagonia is really up there for me too. I did an 80 day course with the National Outdoor Leadership School in the Chilean Patagonia and got college credit for it, man. I’d love to go back there, but you gotta cross the border for that one.

How much longer do you think you’ll be in the van?

I don’t see myself getting sick of it anytime soon. Obviously running out of money would be a thing, the van breaking down, getting injured, maybe family getting sick or something and having to move back home. I don’t know. But I’m gonna go back to graduate school at some point in my life so that’s kind of the plan. But there’s no rush really.

You mentioned you studied environmental science, are you thinking to pursue that further?

Like a master’s in environmental management or public administration. I want to do it with the intention of getting like a program manager role with an NGO that works in environmental conflict, conflict resolution around environmental triggers, and displacement relating to climate change.

I wanted to be a marine biologist once upon a time, but I think human suffering is a bit higher on my value scale. I worked in Greece for an organization that was dealing with the refugee crisis, and I was like, ‘Well this is way more important than seals’. But I’m still passionate about the environment, so I was like, ‘How can I really blend those two interests?’ That was sort of the progression to what I ended up on.

Have you been in any scary situations or been close to serious injury while outside?

I’ve been hit by little rock falls, but never by serious rock. I’ve had a block the size of a microwave land like two feet away from me. It’s the thing that has scared the crap out of me the most—like a helmet ain’t gonna do shit.

Last question: what do you love about the outdoors?

I definitely have this innate appreciation for outdoor places. Like the Sierras feels like a power place—I come here and I feel whole in a way that I don’t feel when I’m in New York City, for example. It’s that way for a lot of wild spaces that I enter: they’re calming; they’re centering; they bring perspective to a lot of stuff that I have trouble getting perspective on.

This interview has been trimmed and edited to fit this format. If you would like to access the unedited interview audio and unposted photography, see my Patreon page.

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