I Bought a Van
“If you compromise the process you’re an asshole when you start and an asshole when you come back. Who gives a shit what the holy grail is? It’s the quest that’s important. The transformation is within yourself.” – Yvon Chouinard
So….I bought a van. It’s a 1987 Chevy G20 van and absolutely beautiful. About a semester before graduating from college I had my heart set on Alaska. I’m not completely sure why. Maybe Alaska is like my New York, New York for others. “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere” – Frank Sinatra. I had fallen in love with travel and nature the second I stepped into the Green Mountains of Vermont 14 years ago. Since then it’s grown into a passion that urges me to travel the world and be in the outdoors the majority of my time. I’ve tried to express my passions in the best way I know h ow to communicate and that’s through photography.
I bought my first DSLR about three years ago and it’s pretty much a part of my soul now. I’ve thumbed through National Geographic dreaming of working and traveling for them (who hasn’t right?). I feel like Alaska would be a great step toward honing my skills in capturing the things that I love most: nature, travel, and outdoor adventures.
When the 2014 Fall semester rolled around I knew I was going to go to Alaska. I sought fishing jobs in the area and though they are notorious for being some of the most dangerous jobs, I wanted to experience the lifestyle as well as use this opportunity as a means for tackling my debt. It was a gamble however. The pay wasn’t guaranteed but based on what your crew has caught over the season. I could only imagine the images and characters I’d get to know.
I had been working as a manager at my local university’s rock climbing wall for a few years when I met this incredibly reserved yet strong climber, Dylan, who began working at the wall just this past year. I had been showing him some of the work I’d done at the Red River Gorge and backpacking trips when I mentioned my post graduate plans. I told him I was planning on living out of a van and heading for Alaska to get a fishing job and experience the state. A few months later he approached me about a photography and guiding position at his camp in Alaska.
I was kinda surprised, because everything up until that moment was very uncertain and on the verge of being stupidly difficult and dangerous for me, though I knew that and chose that path. I can’t say this fell in my lap because this wouldn’t have had I not expressed my interests and goals. Networking really paid off for me here and I was incredibly lucky to be offered this position. I’m incredibly stoked to say the least, though I’m really nervous at the same time.
I’ve had one leadership development course, I’m WFR certified, and I’m a strong climber and hiker, but I still felt highly under-qualified for some reason. I think it’s because I had tried to get into UVM’s Outing Club programs as a leader with no luck. It also seems like, lately, companies express a greater interests in hiring people with greater certifications under their belt. However, he felt that I’d make a great addition to the company. He primarily hired me for my photography skills, but I also opted to do more guiding because it’s something I wanted to get into and it also paid a bit more than the photography gig. I’ll be supplementing my guiding work with photography gigs as well. I’m very thankful he was flexible with this.
As amazing as this experience is, I can’t help but recognize an overwhelming feeling of nervousness I have about this whole thing and my abilities. I’ve had my fair share of failures, but this field is something I’d like to thrive in, especially the photography part. My grandfather use to say, “Julie they always say if you work hard you’ll succeed. Well that’s not true. Sometimes you can work really hard and still fail.” He wasn’t telling me that to get my hopes down but rather to tell me that, in a way, it’s ok to fail, but it’s not ok to stop trying and working for your goals. Failure is part of living. So, questions fill my head, “What if I fail?”, “What if he changes his mind?”, and “What if the van blows up mid journey?” As a climber I tend to think of the worst case scenario first.
This is a huge cross road in my life and it’s really exciting but also very uncertain and scary. It’s the first time, in a long time, that I’ll be far away from everything I’ve ever known and be completely independent (away from home). I mean I’ve traveled abroad and held my own just fine but the difference here is that I’m not coming back to Vermont….I’m an adult I’m trying really hard to do all this right too. Hence the quote above by Yvonne. This whole cross country trip in a van is something that people would normally take a year or two to prepare for. I’ve been at this for a few months at best. Everything is still up in the air in terms of readiness, equipment and financial stability. I’m kinda banking on selling my subaru for at least $2,500 for a safety net in case the van does blow up. There is much work to be done before my departure date in May.
I try not to let these worries get to me too much, but it’s hard. I try to focus on the thought that on May 9th, I’ll be on my way across the country with some great friends (some I have yet to meet) heading to Alaska of all places, a great frontier filled with wild life, adventures, and untouched beauty.