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Road Trip BetaTrip Journal

On Dreams and Family

By May 10, 20135 Comments

This past weekend, Vikki flew to Phoenix for the weekend to help her college friend Anna celebrate graduation from medical school. I drove her to the airport in Salt Lake City, and rather than drive 2.5 hours back to Joe’s Valley, I stayed until she flew back on Monday. During her absence, I was graciously put up by our friends Max and Emmy, whom we met in Las Vegas through Alana, whom we met in Colorado.

Dolan cruises a lip traverse while Max scrubs the upcoming holds. That's what family's for.

Dolan cruises a lip traverse while Max scrubs the upcoming holds. That’s what family’s for.

Max and Emmy are about my age, married, and living in a home they own in Salt Lake City. They have a dog named Sampson and five ducks in the backyard. They have a circle of friends, they have people over for BBQs, they go bouldering on the weekends, and they make long-term plans. They “have their shit together.” 

Zack on a crimpy V11 near Prime Rib. It's one thing to climb hard, it's another thing to do so in between full work weeks.

Zack on a crimpy V11 near Prime Rib. It’s one thing to climb hard, it’s another thing to do so in between full work weeks.

Visiting and talking to people like this used to make me uncomfortable. The twenties has been called The Defining Decade, the period when you’re supposed to achieve all sorts of lifetime milestones like settling into a career, settling into a house, and intentionally building toward some grand future. We are not really doing any of those things. Vikki’s friend is now Dr. Ward. My best childhood friend just earned his Master’s. I ran away from academia 6 years ago. Vikki let her GMAT scores expire.

I don’t have to tell you that things are changing from the white-picket-fence dreams of the past, that our generation is more capricious than any previous one. The New York Times wants to know what the hell is wrong with us, and so does most of my family. But we don’t feel as though we’re lacking. We have just the same amount of existential angst as anyone else. The 20’s is the time to start building toward your dreams, right? Well, our dreams involve seeing our great country, and not just the big cities. Our dreams involve meeting new kinds of people. In our dreams, we can live anywhere and any way we want. We are Pinocchio’s dream: no strings attached.

Vikki and I are in a special place and time in our lives, virtually carefree and able to travel anywhere at the drop of a hat. It’s wonderful, and we are both aware of how lucky we are. As I’m sure someone has said, you can’t put a price on freedom.

Of course, there are trade-offs. There are the obvious (and trivial) mod-cons that we lack, like consistent showers and newspaper delivery.

On a deeper, perhaps more challenging level, we now find ourselves without a home. We don’t live anywhere in particular. We aren’t regulars at the cafe on the corner. We don’t see the same crew in the gym on Tuesday nights. We don’t have an extended network of nearby friends to enjoy house parties, music festivals and Walking Dead premieres with. We have to improvise.

Scott envisions a new problem in the talus

Scott dreams of a new problem in the talus

A fellow traveling climber, Adriana, recently posted a piece about our little climber family. She discusses the phenomenon where most of us road-trippers become very close very quickly. Without geographic permanence to tie us together, we rely instead on shared passions, open minds, and common experiences. We are generous when we can be. We are grateful when we receive. We take no sunset for granted.

I said we are without a home, and this is erroneous. We are without a house. But in the Edwardian (Edward Sharpe) sense, we do have a home. Wikipedia will tell you that home can also mean “a mental or emotional state of refuge or comfort.” This couldn’t be more true.

A major thanks to all for letting us into your family, and also your amazing game room!

A major thanks to all for letting us into your family, and also your amazing game room!

Our family encompasses climbers, travelers, and adventurers. We watch and help each other grow, learn, and overcome challenges. Maybe we can’t give people warm beds, but we can tell of hot springs and boulders and scenic drives that no amount of Googling will reveal. We don’t have millions to donate to charity, but we do leave every place we visit better than we found it. Community service doesn’t need a community center.

Max and Emmy took me in for four days, which is coincidentally the same number of days we’d spent together previously. We went bouldering on the weekend. We drank 3.2% beer. On Sunday, Heather and Dolan invited the gang over for a Cinco de Mayo party. The question of whether I was included in the “gang” didn’t even come up. Max and I went undefeated in beer pong that night.

When Vikki flew in on Monday evening, we decided to spend one more night in Salt Lake City. I asked if we could cook dinner for Emmy, Zack and Hannah (Max was in St. George for the week). Emmy said we owed them nothing, that we shouldn’t feel obligated. We went to Harmon’s and brought home kale, steak, and zucchini.

Another awesome family member, Sampson. We totally borrowed him, in a way.

Another awesome family member, Sampson. We totally borrowed him, in a way.

As I reflected on the weekend and the delicious dinner we all enjoyed on Monday night, I realized that  cooking for everyone was not an act of thanks, or generosity. If anything, it was selfish. Sitting down at the table, passing the kale salad, clearing the dishes, and laughing over glasses of wine were the kinds of family moments that we rarely get to enjoy. I don’t exaggerate when I say that dinner was every bit as valuable as the bed and shower.

So, a big thanks to Max and Emmy for letting us join the family. Thank you to Alana for introducing us. Thanks to all the other members of our climbing family, too numerous to mention individually. And to everyone we’ve met along the way that told us we’re doing the right thing: thank you for understanding our dream.


  • j. says:

    Spenser, I loved this entry. You gave voice to so many true sentiments that are felt by pretty much everyone who’s our age — even those of us who, from the outside, “have our shit together.” Even though I don’t live in an RV, I’ve had enough major relocations across states, countries, and continents over the past 9 years to allow me to empathize.

    On a note equally related and tangential, I often think about how lucky you and Vikki are–not just to have the lifestyle you have, but to be so happy and comfortable living as you do. Sometimes I think I could do it, and desperately want to sell my grown-up couch and all my clothes and billions of shoes and just take off. Other times I think I wouldn’t make it more than 2 weeks and would run back in a shower-yearning frenzy, relieved to return to favorite restaurants and the feel of my cushy bed and its sense of (relative) permanence.

    Anyway, WHAT A RAMBLE THIS IS (can we tell I am procrastinating at work?). Point being: I think what you guys are doing and how you are living is decently rare and decidedly unique. I’m lucky to know you both and SO PROUD of my little Vikksta Fly for turning into who she is today. YOU DA BEST.


    • Spenser says:

      Hey Julie, thank you so much for the note. I understand what you mean, any drastic lifestyle change is pretty scary. To be honest, I’m pretty terrified of going back to the “real world” and spending time in an office. I think the money and the routine might be nice, but that I might freak out at any moment and run away to the mountains.

      Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. You should come join us for a week and see how you like it!

  • steve latif says:

    The New York Times knows shit – they give David Brooks a job and legitimacy 😛 If having your shit together means turning into that, shoot me now.
    Your 20’s are not your defining time – every second that you are alive is your defining time. Some seconds count more, the time you spend with your kids counts ten times, all other seconds count for regular.
    I’m an immigrant two times over, I was an illegal immigrant, I grew up in a city that still had bomb shelters and bomb sites, I crossed my first war zone when I was four. Some people think I have my shit may together: I have the symbols, mortgage, career, wonderful children, a dog that loves me. But all of it can be taken away at any time.
    Really having your shit together means having people who love you and want to share their stories with you, I’d say you have your shit together more than most.

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