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Trip Journal

TTFN, Ta Ta For Now

By May 29, 20123 Comments

Byron knows how to get people to tell a story. Chris Van Leuven falls victim to the camera.

I tried many clever titles for this post: “Bye-ron,” “Byron Be Balling Back in Bloomington,” “The Glass is 2/3 Full,” and others you probably don’t want to know about. In the end, I chose a simple, easy, and I believe accurate phrase from Winnie the Pooh.

I have an announcement to make.

As some of you already know, Byron will no longer be a part of the RV Project. I’m not going to give you the boilerplate “pursuing other interests” explanation, as there’s way more to it than that. While our on-the-road phase might be over, our friendship is not, and that is why the “For Now” part of the title is important. Please read on.

Byron in his element: surrounded by film equipment.

Back in October of 2010, Byron, Vikki, and I clinked our glasses and became The RV Project. Though our planned departure date was more than a year away, it quickly came to dominate our thinking. We met often to dream and to scheme and to budget. After months of meeting, we departed California in February 2012, headed for adventure.

We climbed our way through Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky, making memories and movies and learning that life on the road isn’t all peaches and cream, but it sure beats the hustle and bustle of the city.

If our first video is any indication, we had a few struggles on the road. There is also the daily stress of coming home from climbing and having to charge batteries, upload footage, and cook dinner. The three of us all suffer from FOMO as well, which is the Fear Of Missing Out. In other words, it was painful to be skipping one of the best parts of climbing, the hanging out and the bullshitting, in order to finish a blog post or video.

We also made incredible memories with old and new friends. The videos we published include gorgeous climbing footage and fun story elements, and we are very proud of them. The website you’re reading has grown in popularity and contains a record of the trip of our dreams. I know that we’ll look back on this years from now with whiskey in our hands and joy in our hearts.

A lot of laughter happened in Bert, in the trailer, and at the crag. We also had our tiffs and scuffles, as is to be expected on any trip of any length. I can’t understate the difficulty of the situation: three 20-somethings living and working in close quarters, two of them dating and the third a yeti. I also want to stress that we became experts at dealing with conflict through listening, honesty, and open communication. I know that we’ll keep those lessons with us the rest of our lives.

Byron trying hard on Girls of Texas (V5)

This last part is crucial to understand, because it was not conflict that led to us parting. I should let Byron explain:

This all started back after Top Rope Tough Guys in 2010. Having success in the Reel Rock Film Competition I began filming climbing in Bishop, CA. At this point I wanted to merge my passions so I could practice both climbing and fillming at the same time. This idea seemed very logical and sound in theory at the time. After a season of filming I had done quite well and captured some amazing footage of spectacular lines like “Xaviers Roofand “The Impossible Traverse” in Berkeley, CA. I thought I would grow bigger/better than Big Up Productions and was eager to prove it. I was very proud of the season but did notice that my climbing had taken a step back. With the success of a few videos I ignored this.

The RV Project was a dream of mine for years before the actual planning and eventual departure. I never thought that Spenser and Vikki would be with me on the trip through some world class climbing and they really made it happen! Climbing wasn’t the only idea we had for our excursion, but a documentary about the people we met along the way, what they do, how they got through their day.  I am a curious person by nature; with a passion for the world and people I haven’t met. As I am a confused 20-something filmmaker, this was almost more attractive to me than the climbing, and the eventual cause of the “void”.

When we departed in February it was quickly acknowledged that this part of the trip was just plain not doable.  We had so much to do right away, filming, writing, trying to obtain sponsors, the works. It was a major blow to let that dream go, but with the wealth of rock climbing we were experiencing, it was not something that got in the way of my enjoyment of the trip.  However, as we made our first few episodes on the road, I felt the “void” grower stronger, that we weren’t soaking up the American landscape or documenting the cultural phenomenon of this nation.

The RV Project, plus Austin, Michelle, and Andrea, in front of the Pilgrim at Horse Pens 40

I also found that I was doing more filming than climbing, Vikki and Spenser noticed this and began taking out the camera a lot more. Spenser and Vikki are a determined force that is making The RV Project work and evolve. I hung in there, loving every moment of sighting a new landscape, thunderstorms on the desert in texas, the winds trees and birds of Alabama, and all.  At this point a random stranger at Horse Pens 40 told me that mixing passions wasn’t always a good idea after an intimate conversation describing our journey and my background. Coming off an exhilarating night of bouldering, I naturally ignored this, knowing in my mind that the “void” was still there. Some connection in my work was not being met.

Another problem with my part of the road trip was I was in Grad School full time. This put a lot of stress on our little team, because I had to have internet and many hours a week to be successful in my courses which are extremely intense as most of you I am sure know. Again Spenser and Vikki were accepting of this. If I could give anyone advice it is, do not go on a road trip when you are in intense grad school classes. Is this obvious?

The road trip blazed across America, and our trio was doing well and rolling with the punches.  The “void” however, the missing documentary, grew strong the entire time, and I didn’t really understand what it was until I re-read one of the opening chapters of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. The main concept, without spoiling here is about “personal legends” and if you strive towards your goal, the universe conspires to make it come true. The problem became clear after multiple days of contemplation in the Red River Gorge; I am a filmmaker who is passionate about true life narrative, environmental issues, ecology, and culture sociological issues. I am also a rock climber, but I do not necessarily want to be a climbing videographer. The mixing of these passions have caused the “void”, and taken me away from each of the passions in focus.  Multitasking filmmaking and climbing just doesn’t work. Herein lies my decision to leave the RV Project at this point.

From here I don’t know where I am going. There’s talk of going abroad to film some birds and/or underwater stuff, getting a job in academia, even a zeppelin to the moon (I swear). But I am climbing harder than ever, and filming climbing minimally.  I guess I am not as good as Big Up Productions after all. The RV Project was a dream come true, it was the most amazing and crazy ride of my life. It has freed my mind to new levels about what is possible when people get together and plan towards a dream. I will take the strengths gained on the road on my own sovereign journey from here. So far it’s looking good, three music videos and a couple nature films in production. Spenser and Vikki remain to be some of my closest friends and I look forward to meeting them and collaborating on TRTG 2 (Top Rope Tough Guys 2), Punt, and My New Shoes this summer. The road is beautiful, mysterious, crazy, appalling, scary, and beautiful, but reality ain’t that bad either.

Vikki and I will continue the road trip as planned. We have a new camera and will continue to document our climbing and our travel, though without Byron’s crane and pocket dolly, we won’t be able to achieve the grandeur of the Horse Pens 40 Millipede boulder footage, for example. The blog portion of our website will see more postings, and we’ll continue to build out our TNT section, with Tips ‘N’ Tidbits for current or aspiring road-trippers and climbing bums.

For his part, Byron is planning on meeting us at various stops along the way and we will continue to collaborate with him. Sneak peek: we are planning to film TRTG 2 this summer. Get psyched!

And please check out Byron’s Vimeo page for some of his older climbing films, including a ton of Bishop stuff we did together.


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