Life with Olive

By Lynn Kennen

About a year ago I decided to change my life. I quit my reliable ‘normal’ job as the general manager of a restaurant in Tahoe City to be a nomadic guide for various adventure sports full time.

I rented out my home in Tahoe City and moved into a succession of “van-life” vehicles: first a van, then a 4-Runner, and finally the 13-foot ’72 Bell travel trailer I call “Olive.” In those first several months with Olive, I lived, worked and played “on the road” throughout the western US, including mountain bike guiding in the Tahoe area with Tahoe Adventure Company, mountain bike and river guiding with Row Adventures in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, personal riding adventures in the Lost Sierra and Shasta areas, and my 12th annual trip to Burning Man.

It wasn’t long before I realized I didn’t need much of the stuff I left behind in storage, and I made a trip back to Tahoe to do a major purge, letting go of eight trash bags of clothes among lots of other things. Living outside most of the time brought life back to the basics.  Just have on hand three shirts you really like instead of the usual drawerful where you only wear three favorites anyway. To me, living simply is the key to being comfortable in the wilderness, and to really enjoying the essence of life. No big decisions on what you’re going to wear or how to do your hair … just having exactly what you need and nothing more. Like the river, going with the flow. When you have only a few material things it gives you more room to grow and learn without clutter.

I left Olive behind in California earlier this winter, and headed first to Baja to finish my ACA Kayak level 2 certification course for guiding sea kayaking, and then to Cuba for training to guide adventure bike tours with Cuba Unbound – a sister company to Row Adventures. On my return to Tahoe, it wasn’t long before “Snowpocalypse” forced me out of Olive. I knew she was old and a bit tired, so I tried to keep her free and clear of snow, but that’s impossible when it’s snowing so much while you’re sleeping or skiing. One morning, after spending the night at a friend’s, I returned to Olive after a storm and couldn’t open the bathroom door because of the eight inches of snow making the roof bend. I cleared her off and made an emergency trip down to a storage facility in Reno where Olive could weather out the storms.

So … I’ve been back to crashing at friends and keeping my few things in my 4-runner for now. I’ve been skiing every day and have been digging a bunch of pits to study for my AIARE Avalanche Level 3 exam which I take in early February in Stanley, Idaho. I am still an athlete for Squaw/Alpine and have been shooting a bunch of pictures for the ski areas (I’m the ski model). When I get back from taking the AVY 3 in Idaho, I’m off to guide in Alaska until May. From there, I get to move back into Olive for the summer again!

My experiences living on the road in my “freedom finder” has helped me realize I’m happy because I’m not stagnant anymore. I learn every day about how to live on my own – thinking and doing things for myself (like backing a trailer into tight spaces!). I’m grateful for the freedom from having to spend lots of money on rent and living expenses. It’s such a rewarding lifestyle … taking life into my own hands, learning to be truly self-reliant, and fully connecting with other people and the outdoors. Yes, indeed, 13 feet of love is all I really need to be truly happy.

interior of a cozy camper with a bed, colorful storage boxes, and yellow cabinets.

a kitchen interior with yellow cabinets, a wooden bench, a window with a dark green curtain, and a stove with a silver control panel.

tranquil river valley with colorful kayaks docked, surrounded by verdant hills under a soft sky.

red row inflatable raft on a calm river, set against a backdrop of steep, rocky cliffs under a clear sky.

happy hiker smiling with sunglasses and helmet, surrounded by lush greenery.

Lynn has been guiding, instructing and coaching folks since the age of 13 when she started teaching skiing at Wachusett Mountain in Massachusetts, and her resume is vast. She was a professional skier and competed on the Freeride World Tour in big mountain skiing. She has been guiding heli skiing in Alaska for the past four seasons with Majestic Heli Ski, and has worked at four different ski areas including her most recent stint at Alpine Meadows as a ski instructor and staff trainer. Lynn was a Class 5 whitewater raft guide and trip leader for Tahoe Whitewater Tours in California for the past 15 years and last year with ROW Adventures. She worked for five years as a ropes course facilitator/ outdoor educator  and has been guiding mountain biking and kayaking for Tahoe Adventure Company for the past two seasons. As if all that isn’t enough, Lynn has been the General Manager of the River Grill Restaurant in Tahoe City for the past eight years (and has worked there for 15), and she is also a certified yoga teacher.