Balancing hearth and heart
The lure of adventuring, living, and working in nature is a strong one. Especially since COVID, many have hit the road in a van or camper to wander wherever their Wi-Fi lets them. But now we’re also hearing something else: some of our seasoned road warriors are settling down; they have built a home base for shorter, deeper explorations.
That doesn’t mean they‘ve stopped adventuring, they are just seeking balance and respite. How do they do it? And why? You’ll find a mix of motivation and method in their stories, which follow.
Cate Hawthorne and Jeff Laxier
Kayak instructors and nature guides
- Home base: Fort Bragg
- Rig: 2017 Toyota RAV-4
- One Cali road trip: Smith River whitewater
- Connectivity: Goal Zero Nomad 20 solar panel charger
- Helpful resources: Sea Kayaking Central and Northern California by Roger Schumann and Jan Shriner, and The New School Guide to Northern California Whitewater by Dan Menten
- Online: liquidfusionkayak.com
From late May to September, Cate and Jeff are home, teaching and running trips full-time out of their shop, Liquid Fusion Kayaking, on the Mendocino Coast. Then, they’re off to a West Coast destination, still teaching but also exploring. Jeff sometimes teaches alone, but for their adventures, Cate is always with him.
The couple makes the most of their driving time. “Podcasts,” Jeff says, “let us learn while driving.” Their current favorite is “Awkward Watersport Guys,” hosted by industry experts Greg Fisher and Kevin O’Neil.
The couple also has a small “natural history” library that includes a California Atlas and books on California plants, animals, birds, geology, and history. But, Jeff notes, it’s been shrinking over the years as they rely more on their phones. Of course, having access to power is key in all of that, and Cate, the “master of electrics,” keeps cameras and other gear ready to roll.
Jeff says how the two travel has changed over time. These days they try to avoid air travel and its ecological consequences. Instead, they look for places closer to home – like the Smith River – and try to make the most of the immediate venue, setting up short shuttles or even a “park and play.“
“You don’t have to go super far to have amazing experiences,” Jeff says. “The kayak is just the nature delivery device.”
Eric Whitaker and Deena Russo
Construction and veterinary technician
- Home base: Reno/Tahoe
- Rig: 2013 Ford F350 pulling a 2015 Dutchman V3650 Voltage and a 2019 Ford Transit Van
- Connectivity: RV resort WiFi boosted with King WiFiMax or Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L
- One Cali road trip: US Route 395 from Tahoe to San Diego
- Helpful resources: iOverlander app (for finding places to stay); FarOutRide.com and Fulltimefamilies.com
Eric was Northstar California Resort’s race director for 13 years, working all year on events including the Northstar Enduro, part of the California Enduro Series line-up. In 2020 he and his wife Deena sold their home in Truckee. Since then they have been traveling around the country, piecing together work and riding bikes recreationally with their two daughters and three dogs.
Life on the road has forced the family to live a more simplistic life and be more flexible. The trade-off is that they can plan day-to-day around the weather and their desires and interests. On days they aren’t driving, they are doing school and work in the morning, enjoying the outdoors in the afternoon, and dinner and a movie or game at night.
You’re “not on vacation,” says Eric. “So you don’t have to cram everything into a short time. You make it happen when it fits.” And that, as others have said, requires continuing communication with spouses, kids, and, possibly, dogs.
The family has stored most of their possessions at a friend’s home in Reno. But managing everything they have with them “is a constant shuffle.”
When they find a packing solution, they take a picture of it, so they can recreate it again after they unload. They also say a must is having weatherproof storage bins that can go outside — which is where the dogs’ beds go too.
Their girls, Avery and Mikaela, who are homeschooled, recently asked if they might move back into a house for a bit. So Eric says the family may soon be taking a break from the road.
In the meantime, “We call Reno/Tahoe our home base,” says Eric, “but we consider our actual home to be where our RV is parked at that moment in time.”
Jessica O’Bryan and Charles Rollins
Cyber threat intelligence specialist and electrician
- Home base: Colorado Rockies
- Rig: 2018 Tundra with 2019 Hawk flatbed by Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers
- Connectivity: Satellite internet via providers, Viasat and StarLink, also signal extenders ALFA Network WiFi CampPro 3 and Winegard Connect 2.0 WiFi & 4G LTE
- One Cali road trip: Surfing the California coast from Humboldt County south
- Helpful resource: Bend to Baja by Jeff Johnson
- Online: Instagram: @surf.climb.travel
Jessica works forty hours a week as a Director of Intelligence Analysis for Dragos, leading a team of people who hunt hackers in systems that control water, food, transportation, and power. Jessica is passionate about demonstrating that, yes, you can work full-time from the road and still have a life tied to adventure and nature.
“Yes, Charles and I actually work —even if you don’t see us sitting in front of a computer on our Instagram,” she says. “This lifestyle is very attainable for people who have to work.”
Not that it doesn’t require some planning. Jessica decides where she’ll set up and the technology needed the night before her video calls/meetings. Wi-Fi boosters, repeaters, and satellite Internet are all in the mix and there’s no one solution.
“It helps to create a specific space for working,” she adds. “You have to set boundaries both ways. If I’m working in the camper, this is my spot. If I’m working outside I have an umbrella set up to shade my screen.”
They wanted a predictable space for when Charles’ 13-year-old daughter comes for visits, so they bought a place near the Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s up a three-mile dirt road, with a well and septic system.
The couple has 24 chickens, a beehive, and two horses that Jessica competes in her new passion, equine endurance racing.
“I’ve noticed with people living in campers for a long time, they don’t want to give up traveling,” she says. “But they want a home base so they find a plot to create their own space and then travel from there.”
Lecturer, CSU Fullerton
- Home base: San Clemente
- Rig: 2017 Ford Transit
- One Cali road trip: Yosemite-Mammoth-Downieville-Tahoe
- Connectivity: weBoost cell signal booster
- Helpful resource: Trailforks app (for new places to ride or run)
- Online: Facebook.com/Millercoaching
A college soccer player, Jeana later competed in triathlons and bike races including the Tahoe 100k. She’s still traveling as an expert coach for mountain bikers, trail runners, and other endurance athletes.
Jeana is also the mother of three children, aged 10, 8, and 5. They attend traditional school but take independent study while on the road.
Training herself while training others means sticking to a tight schedule. She does her own cardio or strength training and then reaches out to clients about their daily routine.
It helps that both she and her husband work remotely. “We take turns working out and watching kids. We also schedule calls around each other so someone is with the kids while the other is working. Communication is critical if you’re going to juggle van and work life,” she says.
Connectivity is critical too when on the road. The couple checks cell service maps and use different cell phone providers. That way they can run a hotspot on the phone that has the most bars. “We also look at our scheduled calls and take them closer to towns/areas with good service then go adventure further down the road after work if an area has poor service.”
Adventure photographer • see main photo
- Home base: San Diego
- Rig: Toyota Tacoma with Four Wheel Camper Fleet Model
- Connectivity: WeBoost Antenna, Verizon MiFi Jet Pack
- One Cali road trip: Up 395 across through Yosemite to Big Sur
- Online: travisburkephotography.com Instagram: @travisburkephotography
Travis Burke is one of the originals. Over a decade ago, he hit the road as part of his job as an in-house photographer to follow surfers, climbers, paragliders, skateboarders, and slackliners around the world with his camera. “I got intrigued by the remoteness and the risk of this type of work,” he recalls.
His own skills as an adventurer and athlete were a plus. “The athletes trusted me because I could go to some of the same places they could,” says the 35-year-old, who has worked with some of the best. These days, he’s more interested in capturing landscapes and remote destinations.
Burke’s had a few vehicles along the way, and now he’s got a rig with a Four Wheel Camper. Though it includes many conveniences, he still heads to a local library when he feels like he needs to spread out a bit.
Burke’s work has brought him and his Internet followers to places around the globe. Early in the pandemic travel restrictions left him stranded in New Zealand for four months. He and his partner Laysea Hughes spent some of that time exploring in a campervan, the rest of it living in yurts and cabins in natural settings.
They liked it, and when they returned home they decided to build a tiny home near San Diego using reclaimed wood and eco-friendly materials. Of course, they’re still moving around and trying new things. In early summer they drove through some of the western states. One stop was Jackson Hole where Travis did some river surfing on the Snake’s Lunch Counter wave.
Main image: Travis Burke and his partner Laysea Hughes break out the boards for some solitary skating in the Mojave Desert (Travis Burke)