Patrick, Joshua Tree National Park
“I’ve shared many great times with people I don’t even know that well, but I’m so much closer to them than anyone else in my daily interaction. Like I’m trusting my life to you over and over and over again, and you’re doing the same with me. It’s wild.”
After backpacking in Southeast Asia and learning to rock climb in Thailand, Patrick returned to the US and bought a Sprinter van with the idea to convert it into a home. Ever since he was able to move into it, he’s been on a journey that’s taken him all over the country and beyond. His travels include bushwhacking up volcanoes in Mexico, salmon fishing in Alaska, and rock climbing in the southeast and southwest. He hopes to continue expanding his climbing skillset to climb in more extreme conditions and areas.
I met Patrick in Joshua Tree this past December, where we were thoroughly humbled by the area’s old-school difficulty ratings. However, we were still in high spirits at the end of our first day after sharing stories of how we ended up where we were. The next day we formed a little climbing crew with a couple other guys we met, and spent the better part of a week climbing as a group. On our last day together after struggling up some classic boulder problems, I asked Patrick about his motivation to move into a van, his dreams related to climbing, and what he loves about the outdoors.
How did you get interested in climbing?
I read Into Thin Air when I was young, I think my mom’s biggest regret is giving me that book. But I feel like I’m a climber because I read it. It’s these really simple things that make you want to climb. Like, I want to see what it looks like from up there. I like doing things that are really hard even if it’s miserable; it makes it feel far more rewarding than things that are easy.
Do you have any major goals with climbing and mountaineering?
It started with a dream of climbing the biggest walls in the world. And breaking that dream down and being like, ‘Well, I gotta start with learning how to rock climb’. I was travelling in Thailand and learned how to sport climb there. Then that progressed to learning how to trad climb out west in the US. It’s been of mine a goal for a long time, so to be out here is a dream come true in so many ways. Even if we’ve been getting spanked on these routes [laughs].
Was climbing an inspiration for moving into a van?
I didn’t realize how big of a thing it had become for climbers. When I chose to do it, I was living abroad. Honestly, I bought a van with an ex-girlfriend. If I were to do it again, I’d probably be in a truck or minivan, but when I had a girlfriend it seemed like a compromise to have space for a real bed and stuff.
My whole story is I got dumped building the van. I was like, ‘I gotta make this van look cooler because I’m a bachelor now’. So I spent a long time and put a lot of breakup energy into building it out. The New River Gorge was my first stop. I met this kid Zach and we climbed together, I convinced him to come to the Red River Gorge, where I met a couple people, Amy and Evan. We all became homies and I convinced both of them to come down to Mexico to climb in Portrero Chico.
And then I took the van on a big road trip through Mexico with a friend from college. We climbed a bunch of volcanoes. Some hipster in me was like, ‘Yeah, take the van to Mexico. That would be a cool trip’.
How long have you been in the van so far?
About a year, I spent three months of that past year fishing in Alaska. It’s funny, it allows you to carry so much stuff that’s useful to lots of activities. But then it can also become the crux of certain plans; it’s like, ‘What do I do with this thing that has all of my valuables in it?’
Is there anything you learned from living in a van that you didn’t expect?
I realized how easy it was to meet other people and go climbing. While I’m in the van, I’m dependent on meeting partners everywhere. It’s cool when you meet people who are at you’re level and we’re both progressing; in a few years we could meet together and climb something cool. That’s awesome.
I’ve shared many great times with people I don’t even know that well, but I’m so much closer to them than anyone else in my daily interaction. Like I’m trusting my life to you over and over and over again, and you’re doing the same with me. It’s wild.
Do you have a favorite part of your trip so far?
I really like Mexico, it’s one of my favorite countries in the entire world. There’s just so many different ecological environments; you get the tropics almost, the food and cultures, it’s all there. And it’s open to so much cool exploration. We did treks to a lot of places in Mexico, we tried to do the highest peak.
What happened with trying to get to the highest peak?
My friend figured out the nearest towns and transit to get there, and we went and bushwhacked our way probably 10 miles through some mountains in sketchy, very rural and not necessarily controlled by the Mexican government, area. We didn’t actually summit it, but got close. The reason we turned around was I realized I was gonna have to weight some of this crumbly rock, and so I grab the corner to test it and pulled off like a grapefruit [sized rock] and sent it whizzing down behind me. We were like, ‘That’s not safe, better turn around.’ Getting hurts going to come with any sport, but putting yourself in unnecessarily dangerous situations voids how cool something is to me.
Last question: what do you love about the outdoors?
When you spend all day outside, you’re like ‘Whoa, I feel so much better’. It’s obviously so different from being in a building all day or staring at a computer. I like rock climbing and things like that because of the way it makes me feel. Like the young boy in me that looks up at a rock and says, ‘I want to go up there’; it’s like exploring that to its fullest. What more is there to life than to be connected to the world we live in?
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.