Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lessons from life in a van

It has been two months since we set out on this vanventure of ours. So far, the van is perfect! We love the size, convenience, and reliability of our Honda Odyssey. We stay pretty organized simply because there is not enough space for much to be out of its spot. After the first week or so, we realized how annoying it is to move things from the bed in the back to the front seats every night before going to bed. It was then we found a place for everything. Whether it was velcroing the speakers to the side of the van or hanging our backpacks off the back of the front seats, we found the perfect location for all our items or got rid of them.
Staying somewhat organized:)
I have the side behind the passengers seat and have organized my bins under the bed platform so that my clothes bin is the easiest to access. Zach decided he wanted his climber gear closer and put his "closet" further back. Both of us like our sides and how they flow. Its funny that even in this small of space, we can still have our own systems and space. 
There are a few things we would like to modify and plan to use my dad's expert skills and shop when we are home over Thanksgiving:) We think there is space for another shelf in the kitchen area that could help us organized the back more. Otherwise, our home is pretty perfect and we enjoy being able to basically sleep anywhere! If the weather isn't pleasant, we (meaning Zach...) can cook dinner quickly underneath the back door and then we can sit inside and listen to NPR to catch up on the current events. Its a fun way to enjoy dinner together.
Dinner time!

My lovely Chef!
Our food selection continues to increase as we learn what things work well over a two burner stove. My personal favorite is Mac and Cheese with unsweetened, condensed milk from a little can. We found a Dented Deals store in South Carolina suggested to us by Zach's mom and it had groceries at a discounted price because they were damaged or something. I found the jackpot with family size Mac and Cheese boxes and little condensed milk cans for a steal! There was a box of seasoning packets and you could pick out 10 for $1! We add them into stir fry or pasta salads and have gourmet meals on the road. Its pretty sweet. Other foods we enjoy are breakfast burritos, spaghetti, stir fry, and chip dip! Zach adds lots of Marte Scrugg's delicious hot sauces and I stick with my plain Jane tastes. 
We are able to do all of these meals without refrigeration. Only one thing has gone bad before we were able to finish it, but if you want to have good meals on the road, don't be afraid to go ice free! It is possible. Butter, mayo, cheese, some salad dressings, and lots more last a lot longer then you think without refrigeration. The key is not to contaminate the containers. Buying squeeze mayo eliminates the need to dip a spoon or knife in the jar, avoiding the introduction of contaminates.
Its fun to keep up with the food we have and what we need to use. I lived in houses with huge refrigerators and cabinet space. Sometimes, it wasn't until I moved out that I realized all the food I had left. Buying fresh veggies and fruit, help us make our meal choices. If something needs to be used up, then that's what we eat. This trip is keeping me focused on what we have and using it up before it goes bad. I am loving this new relationship we are having with meals! 
Finding a place to camp and make our dinners has been a big part of our adventure. The biggest lesson we have learned is to find said camping before dark. If we roll up after dark, my fear of the unknown starts to run a little wild and I make up stories about what's out beyond our lights. Zach enjoys hanging out with the less paranoid me better, so we try to find camping in the light. Its also more fun to explore our surroundings in the day and enjoy being outside the van if we have driven very much. After dinner, we usually settle in for the night watching a tv show on the laptop powered by our awesome solar panel and battery:) Its a simple but relaxing way to spend the evenings.
During the day, we love exploring! Whether it is a new climbing area or city, we love setting out on expeditions to understand the world around us. Museums, trails, and coffee shops have all been fun places we have found ourselves. In Knoxville, there is a free concert every day at noon at the local public radio station downtown. It's called the Blue Plate Special. Zach and I went with our friend Becca, whom we met at the Lilly Pad, and had a blast listening to Tyler Childers and the Foodstamps as well as Nick Dittmeier with his backup Americana band. It was great fun and I highly recommend Knoxville to anyone in traveling in the area.

Tyler Childers and the Foodstamps

Nick Dittmeier
Meeting people on the road has been a blast! We are connecting with people from all over the country! This is one of my favorite aspects of the trip. Hopefully, we will get to see these new friends again as some of them are doing the same thing we are! Even moving from the Obed climbing area down to Chattanooga, allowed us to keep up with a few people we had met at Del and Marte's. We ran into them at the sport climbing in Foster Falls. It was fun to see them again:)
I love meeting new people, but when I get to see my friends and family from home, it makes me so happy! My little sister, Megan, was visiting her friend Lisa in Nashville. We planned to meet in Chattanooga for lunch. We had a great time exploring the downtown together and checking out baking shops for Lisa and a used book/craft store for Megan. Its great to see them both so excited about different possibilities for their futures. Thanks for coming to hang out and sharing your excitement for different things in life:)
The Ice Cream Show with over 17.000 flavors (the secret is in the combinations)
Downtown view from a river side park.

A weird mushroom statue in front of a pizzeria.

Walking over the Tennessee River.

Another fun (and free) adventure we partook in recently was swimming under a waterfall! It was beautiful, scenic, and bitterly cold! Adventuter isn't about staying on the shore though, so we braved the chilly water and swam towards the water fall. Zach made it under, but I was getting so cold, I made a quick u-turn and headed back towards the shore. Zach described my swimming as similar to a labrodore swimming after a stick. My doggy paddling is apparently spot on:) It was a fun day and something I won't soon forget!
The beautiful Foster Falls from above.

Zach climbing in Foster Falls

Beautiful scenery as we climb.

Zach getting pumped up for the cold plunge!

Making it under the waterfall!!!

Success and now we can rewarm!
It is a rainy day today, so outdoor adventures are more difficult to find. Instead, we have met back up with Becca in Chattanooga and are enjoying Wi-Fi and music in the North Shore district of downtown. Who knows what adventures lie ahead, but its nice to have a quiet day today:) We are hoping to head up to North Carolina soon and climb some taller rock formations. The fall colors will make the views even better! 
Vanventuring has become a wonderful way of life for us and we are enjoying it so much. So far, we have not run into many hiccups and only cooked one meal that wasn't delicious. If these first two months are any indication, we are in for one awesome year! 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Continuing the Vanventure

Our vanventures have continued in slightly unexpected ways this past few weeks. We set out to go to the New River Gorge in West Virginia at the end of September, but took a detour to South Carolina to spend time with Zach's mom, Stephanie, and step-dad, Tom. Tom's health had taken a turn for the worse and so we wanted to be there to help out Stephanie and spend time with them both. Through love and teamwork, we were able to assist Tom in having comfort in his final days. 
As hard as it was to be in that situation, I was so thankful our lifestyle allows us to be with the people we care about when they need us. It was lovely to meet Zach's parents and try and help out as much as we could. Luckily for me, my friend and former teacher, Lee Wayson, lives a few hours from there. On a day when it seemed okay for us to take a break, Zach and I went and met her for breakfast and had a great time catching up. She has always been apart of my life, wherever I go, and I appreciate her support! I'm glad she got to meet Zach and get a tour of our house:)
My 2nd Grade teacher and friend, Miss K:)
After Tom's passing, we spent a few days getting ready and then headed back to Ohio for the funeral with Stephanie. It was a sad reason to go back, but I was so glad to be around family. Thank you all again for supporting us and giving us a place to stay. 
After taking Zach's mom back to South Carolina, we decided we wanted to go spend time with friends and climb. We decided on the Obed. We took a few days getting there and slept in some Walmart parking lots along the way. It felt good getting back into van life, but we also needed time to talk and decompress from the previous few weeks. One rainy day, we spent the afternoon in Oak Ridge, the Atomic City, and learned about how the atomic bombs were secretly constructed in a town created for the sole purpose of building the materials. It was fascinating and fun to stumble upon an area so rich in history and science. When our brains were too full to take on any more, we found a park and hiked/ran around on the trails before settling in for the night again. 
For Michelle and Nancy:) A sign we found on our hike in Oak Ridge.
We got back to the Obed and were immediately welcomed by Del, Marte, and the rest of the group here. It was so fun to hang out by the campfire again and talk about climbing. Since we haven't climbed for a few weeks, we were feeling pretty tired after only four climbs the first day. We climbed at Tieranny Wall along the Obed River at first, but the gnats decided to swarm our faces which didn't work out to well for the belayer on the ground. We headed back to a wall called Lilly Bluff and found a few more climbs to get on. 
A beautiful waterfall on The Point trail near the Obed.
We continued pushing ourselves to get back into climbing shape. My hands had become soft from not pulling on rocks and so my biggest obstacle was rebuilding the calasus on my fingers. Zach's feet seemed to be his biggest hurdle. We spent the weekend in the bouldering area where the climbs are shorter and only require soft pads underneath the climb (crash pads) to soften your fall. I am working on climbing problems in the V3 range (meaining easier boulder problems). I was able to get an arete climb (up the corner of the rock) in a few tries. Zach worked on a V6 after getting two other hard problems called Buddah's Belly (V4) and Slam Dunk (V5). Its fun to push ourselves and try and get back in shape:)
Working Popeye (V3)

Zach on Buddah's Belly (V4)

Zach sticking a big move out a roof on Access Denied (V6).
We climbed for three days total and then finally woke up today to sore to keep going. The park service welcome center in Wartburg, TN has free Wi Fi so we are hanging out here for a little bit before running a few errands and just being lazy today. With all the fun people around at the Obed, there is usually somebody to hang out with and learn something from. 
Its exciting to be getting back to vanventuring! We have a few more weeks in the East and are planning to continue to climb around Tennessee and then visit our friends, Patrick and Rachel in Atlanta, GA to do some climbing and relaxing. I'm sure more random excitement will pop up, but that's what we are counting on:) We didn't plan out everyday of this year, but rather left it open so we could be flexible with what's going on around us. I'm loving living that way and just enjoying each day and what it brings. I hope all of you enjoy today as well:)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Ohio, the heart of it all!

After leaving the Red River Gorge, Zach and I headed out to see his family in Ohio. I haven't spent much time there and was excited to see new people and a new place. It was funny getting there because Zach was sure he could remember the way and didn't want the GPS loaded up (I may have secretly typed in a location to try and keep track of our progress). We started heading in what felt to me like the opposite direction of what Zach had been describing. I took a quick peek at my secret map and was able to give a few suggestions. We got back on the right road and started winding our way through the corn fields on nicely paved roads. I think Kansas should follow suit. The pavement was much nicer then the dirt roads of rural Kansas. 
The view from the front porch!
Ringo and Jazz, the inside puppers.
Jake, the faithful part wolf dog.
He watched over our van for us while enjoying the shade:)
Zach's uncle Joe and aunt Nan had offered us a place to park and hang out for the weekend. I had met them before in Colorado but it was great to see them again and meet all their sweet pets. The farm house they lived in was the one Nan and Zach's mom, with all their other siblings, had grown up in. It was a beautiful house Nan has been updating and decorating. It looks great! The barn is used as Joe's workshop and the other farm buildings are gardening sheds and storage. I loved being out in the yard and enjoying the calm of the country. The corn fields had not been harvested yet so you felt shelter from the tall stalks. The sunsets were beautiful and I tried to make it out each night to enjoy them. Reminded me of the Kansas sunsets from back home:)
We had a great visit with Nan and Joe and I got to meet Zach's other unlces, Pat, Andy, and Eric. They are a great group and it was fun being around family. I have always loved my family hangouts and this one was just as fun. Little Braden was the star of the show and kept doing cute things we all got to laugh about. It was fun meeting Zach's cousins, Ciara, Becca, and Madi. Thank you all for welcoming me into your family and spending time with us. You guys are awesome!
Nan, Andy, Madi, Eric, and Zach.
Pat and his grandson, Braden.
Zach and Joe doing and oil change. Thanks, Joe!
We have already drive over 3000 miles!
Zach's aunt Mary and uncle Gary came up from Dayton for the afternoon with their grandkids, Cameron and Destiny who were excited to drive the Harley Davidson 3 wheeler golf cart around the course Joe keeps in their field. Mary was even brave enough to take a ride along! She survived but had quite the surprised expression on her face. It was so great seeing you all again and enjoying the day! Thanks again for coming up to hang out!
The Dayton crew:) Cameron, Mary, Zach, Sarah, Destiny, and Gary.

Mary's white knuckled ride!

Zach's turn on the Harley:) I got my first Harley ride as well
That night, I got the true Ohio experience as we packed up and set out to the race track a few miles away. There was a dirt track and it was the last race night of the season. Zach's grandpa, Ed Young, had been a part of racing when he was alive and it was fun getting introduced to it. I was pretty excited when I started hearing the engines roar! The race track was 1/4 mile around once and most of the races were 10-25 laps. Different types of cars went at different speeds. They were so impressive to me and I was amazed they could keep control around the corners. 
I did quickly learn why everyone had eye protection on. The dust would blow over the crowd each lap. Nobody seemed to mind too much though and we all cheered them on as they raced around. There were multiple caution flags and if you caused 2 caution flags in a race, you had to leave the track. Nan and I usually picked our favorite car based on the paint job, but most of the time, if the paint was nice, the car was super slow. Maybe they should spend more time on their insides then their outsides. Pat and Andy were also at the races and I enjoyed cheering on the driver Zach's grandpa had sponsered. He was in two races that night and was really competitive. 

Look at that speed!
The crew watching the races!

Fancy eyewear:)
The first thing to do after attending a dirt track race is to take a shower! We got cleaned up and then went to bed. In the morning, we enjoyed a nice breakfast with Nan and Joe. Andy came by one more time and it was great to all hang out again. 
We said our goodbyes in Fryburg and headed out to Bellefontaine to get a tour of where Zach had lived when he was in Ohio. It was a good size town with the claim to fame of the country's first concrete road! I got to see places Zach lived and worked and even went by the ski resort he spent many winter days. The steepness of the hills surprised Zach as he had remembered them being a lot more difficult when he was snowboarding there. It was fun getting the tour.
The slopes of Ohio's ski resort:)
Our final Ohio stop was to see Zach's brother, Rock, his wife, Krista and daughter, Adrianna. We loved visiting with them. Their cat, Smokey, is 19 and Zach remembers her from when they lived in Arizona.  Adrianna, is 11 and loves video games. We all played a Wii game as Mario and his friends. It was fun and we all struggled along. Dinner was so good and we enjoyed spending time around the fire outside relaxing and catching up. Adrianna and I worked on the marshmallow bag and had fun roasting them over the fire. The neighbor had the cutest dog I had ever seen! Her name was Sammy and I loved holding her on my lap. 
More great sunsets!

The fire ring of fun:)

My marshmellow buddy!

The crew. Rock, Adrianna, Krista, and Zach.

Our favorite little video gamer:)

Sammy! Isn't she so cute?!

Sparky, Sammy's crusty older brother.

What a relaxing fire!
We got up early to eat breakfast with Adrianna before she had to leave for school. Seeing that school bus come around the corner, reminded me of my school days. Adrianna was much more prepared and didn't have to have the bus driver honk like I used to have to. It was a fun meeting everyone and feeling such a part of their family! Thanks for the hard apple cider and great company!
Zach and I were heading out the the New River Gorge for some more climbing, but were called to South Caroline for a family emergency. We are here now and just helping out as best we can. Family is so important to me and to Zach as well. I am so glad to have all the support and love from my family as well as Zach's. Thank you all for caring about us so much and we are glad we have this time off to be there for others as well. We are still continuing our vanventure as we can't give up sleeping in the van. Its nice to be self sufficient in our van where ever we go!