Connie McClaran

We passed Connie McClaran and her converted Mercedes Sprinter camper, "Swiss Army Van," a number of times before we finally stopped to ask her about the vehicle while exploring Yellowstone National Park. She had noticed us admiring the van, and thus was eager to share its story when we finally approached her. 

Connie and her husband Don purchased their van in 2008 and began to convert it into a camper soon thereafter. Their philosophy towards their van is summed up in the KISS acronym — “keeping it simple, stupid”. “We didn’t want to get into the recreational vehicle that had all of the things hanging down underneath, you know the propane tanks and whatnot, so that you couldn’t go on bumpy dirt roads,” Connie explains. Instead of equipping the van with running water, large propane tanks, and a bathroom — all of which could prevent its mobility, Connie and Don sought the basic essentials. What they have is a super insulated cooler for produce and other perishable items, a camp stove attached to a small propane tank inside the vehicle, a 5-gallon refillable water jug, intentionally placed storage, and a comfortable bed. 

Originally, "Swiss Army Van" was to be the first of a number of Sprinter vans Don would convert into campers, but business plans changed when the recession prevented the McClaran’s from retiring. However, that resulted in their own one of a kind adventure vehicle to be enjoyed for many purposes and circumstances. 

The McClaran’s have spent nearly 18 months worth of time on the road in the Swiss Army Van since they purchased it in 2008. Connie shared with us some of her favorite places the road has taken them — a list including Stout Grove and Gold Bluff Beach in the California Redwoods, Big Sur, Steens Mountain and the Alvord Desert in Southeastern Oregon. 

Listen to Connie’s full audio interview, including her proclamation as the “pillow princess”, below:

The Mali Mish Family

“When we used to live in a house, when we only had our first child, we’d go months and months without seeing other people,” reveals Dan, father of the Mali Mish family, as he compares the community implications of living on the road with his wife and three children to living in a traditional home. As we speak, fellow Roadsteaders and family of three - BodesWell Volkswagen - sit parked across from the Mali Mish’s. They’ve been caravanning together since exploring Alaska this summer. “A lot of families seek us out,” Dan tells us.

Dan, Marlene Lin, and their three children - Ava, Mila, and Luka - make up the Mali Mish crew, along with their thirteen year old cat Yoda . The family of five have lived in an International Ocean Breeze Airstream trailer since 2008. 

Dan and Marlene met and became college sweethearts while attending school at UC Santa Barbara. Dan has worked in web development for most of his career, working freelance for nearly ten years until coming on staff with a company that has allowed him to work remotely from the road. 

Raising three children under the age of ten is bound to have its challenges regardless of where you are rooted, but the added element of living a mobile lifestyle with children is surprising to say the least. However, as Dan and Marlene explain their motives behind taking their family on the road, it’s clear that the decision was well calculated and thought out. “For us it wasn’t like a sudden epiphany that we wanted to simplify and live on the road. For us it was originally more about starting a family, having a kid, and wanting to go do something with our kid,” Dan shares.

The Mali Mish children are homeschooled, and much of their curriculum is based off of their current surroundings. “So much of what they’re learning is based on the opportunity that they’re having at the moment,” explains Marlene. 

After living on the road for so many years, the Mali Mish family have built a stockpile of stories from their collective shared experiences. One of the more disgusting stories came while the family was traveling through Dawson City, Yukon Territory - where Dan drank the Sourtoe Cocktail, which features a real mummified human toe. “You have to do it,” Dan relishes. “I don’t see how people go there and don’t do the toe challenge. You’re pretty much at the edge of the world and this place lets you drink a shot with a human toe in it. And it’s only 5 bucks!” 

You can find the Mali Mish family on their websiteInstagram, and Twitter

Listen to the full audio interview with Dan and Marlene, and a special bonus clip with the Mali Mish kids, below. 

Kris Orlowski

“Plans, to leave and join the band, traverse through fabled lands, and make my mark…”

So begins one of Seattle musician Kris Orlowski’s most beloved tunes. Although Kris has created music for years and has quite a local fan following (which includes us!), it seems now as though these plans are coming to fruition.

A Roadsteader in his own right, Kris made the leap earlier this year of quitting his day job to play music full-time. When not recording new projects, many of his days now are spent traveling to play gigs all over the country while on tour. 

Above video is copyright of Kris Orlowski. Used by permission.

We caught up with Kris and his talented band in our hometown of Ballard, WA as they were recording a new record in the studio. We talked about his life on the road: playing music to strangers in new towns, being away from his girlfriend, renting vehicles, sleeping in motels. 

There appears to be a unique intersection of passion and work in Kris’s life on the road. Traveling to play shows is his livelihood as an artist and involves enormous sacrifice, time, and dedication. However, he lights up when talks about sharing his music on stage, the exchange that happens between him and his audience, and his friendship with the guys in his band.

You can find music by Kris on Rdio, Spotify, and iTunes. Recent exciting projects included his own arrangements of songs by Gershwin and a cover of "Halo" by Beyonce that was featured on the TV show Grey's Anatomy. 

Hear more about his life at home and on the road in the full audio interview below.

Nelly & Michael

We met Michael and Nelly Hand of the artisanal fishery, Drifters Fish, in Cordova, Alaska where they met and where they spend long days fishing the season from the “Pelican,” their 31 foot gillnetter boat purchased this spring.

Although the Pelican is a recent acquisition, the Hands have been fishing together for four years. Before that, Michael fished with his cousin and Nelly with her dad. She laughed as she recalled how her dad would start driving his boat in the opposite direction if he spotted the boat Michael was on.

They took us aboard and described the frantic pace of the season. Starting in May, the duo fish for 24-48 hour shifts at a time, twice a week, during the gillnetter openers. However, they sometimes don’t come into town to step foot on land for 2-4 weeks at a time. On these longer stretches, they are brought supplies by the ‘tenders’ boats and offload their fresh catch onto other boats.

The days they do come back to harbor, are just as busy. They are mending the nets, doing boat maintenance, preparing and packaging the fish, and spending hours on phone calls with chefs at restaurants like Seattle’s Canlis

When the season is over, Michael and Nelly spend a lot of time traveling in their burgundy colored Volkswagon van, which was their first married home. They would finish fishing at the end of the summer and "drive until Christmas." Although they now have a home-base on Guemes Island in the Puget Sound, they still love to get out and explore in their van. Just recently, they spent two months in northwestern Montana, where they fly-fished and camped among the wildflowers.

Hear more about Michael and Nelly, their fishing business, and their travels in the full audio interview below:

Micah & Michelle

“Sorry for the smell; I’ve been dying yarn with wild mushrooms this morning,” Michelle apologized. We stepped through the doorway of the small cottage that Micah Ess and Michelle Dockins of Fathom Farmstead and Fisheries refer to as their ‘hobbit house.’ Here, they live and sleep when nights are not spent on the boat during the Alaskan salmon fishing season. 

Various colors of yarn - sage green, butternut orange, cinnamon brown - were draped from a laundry-drying rack in the kitchen. Michelle explained that wild mushrooms were abundant in the forests surrounding Cordova, Alaska. In fact, she expressed dismay upon learning that we were leaving town just before the annual Cordova Fungus Festival.

“It kind of looks like a pile of poop!” she laughed as she held up an earthy clump, “...but this one makes a lovely blue-green color.” 

In the living room was hung a large map of the Prince William Sound. It included our own route, from Valdez to Cordova, as well as Knight Island, where Micah was homeschooled and grew up fishing. His father and brother also fish commercially.

Micah walked in the door a few minutes later and laughed as he was lovingly attacked by Ruby, their doe-eyed, brown dog.

We sat down around the kitchen and chatted over cardamom-infused venison from a deer that Micah had hunted just two weeks prior. They shared pears that they had dried. Lining the shelves were preserves from locally gathered berries. They gave us a gift of their own canned salmon prepared with alder smoke.

The couple met not in Alaska, but in Colorado, where Michelle was raised. She hadn’t fished commercially before meeting Micah. The two laughed together as Michelle recalled how intense the experience was when she joined him on the boat for the first time. Micah reported that his affection only deepened for Michelle as she took it all in stride.

Now, the two have their own boat, a gillnetter dubbed Bounty Hunter. They took us on board and filleted a few fish on the deck. They very generously sent us packing with two huge fillets. They showed us the cabin of the boat, where they sleep for days at a time during an ‘opener,’ when all of the gillnetters leave the safety of the harbor and head out for open waters. These waters are often wind-whipped, stormy, and tumultuous. There is an element of danger in salmon fishing that is often well hidden behind a beautifully plated King filet served in a fancy restaurant. However, the fisherman and their families know it full well. This could not be more apparent than at the memorial on the Cordova harbor boardwalk displaying bronze plaques reading the names of those lost at sea and what they had meant to the families and community they left behind.

Roadsteaders on both land and sea, Micah and Michelle pack up a teardrop trailer and head for Colorado to see family when the season is over. They take their time to explore new places along the way.

Micah and Michelle’s sense of connection to natural resources, their generosity in passing nature’s gifts on, and their passion for sustainable and ethical fishing practices were inspiring.

Here more from them in the full audio interview below.

Andy Jones

We met Andy high atop a ridge up in Hatcher Pass, a historic gold and mineral mining area nestled in the Talkeetna mountains of Alaska. We were climbing up and he was walking down.

"Sure is ugly up here!" I said. Andy grinned and we started talking about our respective experiences in Alaska thus far. Andy shared with us that he quit his information technology job in Hartford, Connecticut and has been traveling since February of 2014 in none other than a Honda CRV. This was, of course, very exciting to me (Daniel) because I also drive a CRV! 

Andy sustains his travels through "WWOOF-ing." WWOOF, which stands for World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming, is an organization that began in England in 1971. Its purpose is to connect volunteers with organic farms. Volunteers work in exchange for room and board. In addition, volunteers receive hands-on farming education in topics such as permaculture, biodynamic growing, and sustainability. On his travels, Andy has worked on a few different organic farms.

We all walked back down the ridge together. Andy agreed to let us interview him but he needed to make a sandwich first - which he did, out of the back of his CRV, with produce from the farm he was working on in Talkeetna. We took some photos and then drove down to the Hatcher Pass Lodge to chat more over warm drinks. Hear more of Andy's story by listening to the full audio interview below: 

Design Egg

We met Andy and Jess of Design Egg at a gas station near the Colorado/Utah border. They were bound for the Centennial State as we were inching toward the Beehive State. We may have been like ships passing in the night, were it not for their picturesque Scamp trailer that is, indeed, rather hard-boiled in shape. When we saw it, we knew we had to approach them and start a conversation. It quickly became clear that, for these two, scrambling all over the country, although not over easy, is everything it's cracked up to be.

Andy and Jess have put a lot of miles behind them in their travels and have also created a rather impressive portfolio of branding and design work. The couple sustains their nomadic lifestyle through a combination of crowdfunding and corporate partnerships and then passes this support on to others through their work, done free-of charge, for deserving nonprofits and small businesses. Applicants to receive graphic design work from Design Egg are chosen not by Andy and Jess themselves, but by a panel of independent advisors. 

To know more about their travels and their process, read the interview below:

WTRH: Ok, here we are with Andy and Jess at the gas station in Loma, Colorado!

Andy: I think...are we in Colorado? (laughs)

WTRH: I think! We don't really know...we didn't cross a border that we are aware of. But you guys, tell us about your vehicle. You have a project called Design Egg.

Jess: Yeah! So, we travel in a 16 ft. Scamp trailer. They're made out of fiberglass, they're white, and they're referred to as 'eggs' in the RV community, so that's kind of where the name for our project comes from.

Jess: We’re both graphic designers and we’ve been traveling for a year with this project that grants creative service awards to nonprofit organizations and artists who need design help.

So we did a kickstarter, we raised money; we’re now fundraising again for another round of awards. Basically, people with interesting projects, who help others, can apply to us and then we design for free. We pay ourselves through the funds that we raise.

WTRH: Amazing. So you’re kind of giving back…you’re passing it on.

Andy: Yeah, to people who are also in the creative community. I mean, some of them are environmental groups, domestic violence shelters…we’ve just worked with a lot of different people who are doing really cool things.

Jess: We kind of think of what we’re doing as sort of our own ‘adventure with purpose.’ We lived in Chicago for eleven years and worked in various capacities. We’ve always wanted to go on the road, but when we decided to do it, we are the kind of people that just needed a project…and we also needed income, you know? We needed a sustainable career while we’re traveling.

We don’t have a big savings. We don’t come from a wealthy background with a lot of financial stability, so we needed something that could both sustain us and that we felt like would contribute positively to other people.

WTRH: What does a normal day look like? Or, even beyond a day, what does a normal week look like for you, balancing the play and the work elements for what Design Egg is?

Andy: We kind of check our emails whenever we can. We try to stick near [areas where we can receive cell/internet service], so we try not to go too far off grid because we do need to either get power or, you know, connection to projects. We’re waiting on emails or we’re sending emails…so we try to check our emails and be in contact a little bit…and then, if we’re all good, then we’ll stay in a park, we’ll go climbing or whatever. 

But a lot of stuff we work on, we can actually do without internet access. We sort of need to know roughly what needs to be accomplished, maybe in a particular week or a day or whatever. Then, once we know that, we can get offline and start working on it and plan to get back online in a day or two, to send files or touch base.

Jess: The schedule we work on, we probably put in at least a full time job’s worth of hours in a week. What we do, which a lot of people who live on the road do…you’re flexible, right? So, we can get up in the morning, go climbing, go hiking, prepare our meals, or do some grocery shopping. Then we can come back at 4 or 5 o’clock and we can work until midnight. We can edit photos in the trailer or a coffee shop.

We usually balance our work week with climbing, hiking, seeing sights, and working. It all just kind of melds together into this really fluid week.


Andy: It feels like the work/life balance is a little bit more refined now. We were spending a lot of time working previously, and in Chicago, where were living, we would drive like seven hours one way to go rock climbing or hiking. We spent all this time and effort just trying to leave the city to recreate. Now, we can just go to Moab - that’s where we were yesterday! We went hiking all day and that morning we had worked and in the evening we did a couple other things. It’s sort of like this constant work/play and we don’t have to spend all this energy and time. 

Two days ago, she was up until like 2:00 in the morning working on something, you know? And then the next day, we’re off and we’re just chilling and we’re in the parks or whatever.

It feels like our balance is really kind of fun. It seems like when we’re not working, we’re inspired by the surroundings that we’re in and it kind of fuels the creativity that we’re going to be outputting the next day or the next week.

WTRH: Now that you guys have been on the road for about a year, any memorable experiences or highlights that jump out at you?

Jess: I mean, quite a few! There’s definitely places we saw that will, like, always be in our memories. We’re both from the midwest so being by water and ocean is a very new thing for us. We hadn’t spent a lot of time besides short vacations, maybe, on either coast. So, I would say being in Big Sur for the week that we were there definitely left a mark on us. Still, to date, one of the most amazing experiences we had. 

For us, as rock climbers, one of the most memorable experiences, had to be last winter when we were up in Bishop, when Daniel Woods and Dan Bell were working on this epic boulder problem - probably one of the hardest to climb in the world - called 'The Process,’ and we just happened to be there when this was all going down. Dan Bell…Andy knows a lot of the history…he had been working on it for a couple seasons. Imagine this line, it’s on the largest boulder in the Buttermilks, 45-55 feet high.

Andy: It seemed like he was [previously] really close but he was having issues with the temperatures last season and Bishop was a little bit warmer, a little more humid than normal. In that location, with that difficulty of rock climb, conditions are everything. It wasn’t even about strength at that point for him. It was waiting for the right conditions. He was starting to feel a bit beat down by trying this thing over and over and over again and failing so close to success. This other guy, Dan Woods, showed up, and it seemed like that kind of brought a new energy to the whole thing. Again, we were there for like two and a half months, right in the middle of it, so we had met them.

It was cool. It was kind of a group thing where everybody would bring pads out to help protect his landing because he’s not roped up. So if he falls from, like 50 feet up, it’s a big deal. We were all there. I was actually helping video and some photos. We were documenting this amazing process they were working on. So, that was a pretty cool experience to see that. This was all happening around the same time as the Dawn Wall in Yosemite, so it was a pretty cool time, for sure. We met a lot of really great people.

Jess: It felt like you were just a part of climbing history, and to watch these two amazing climbers kind of go back and forth…to watch them and their sense of camaraderie but also a little bit of competition….to be a part…

The reason they call it the ‘The Process’ is because it took 15 people to be out there, not only putting pads out but shining lights on the wall. It was warm, so they were doing it at night. We wouldn’t start until 7:00 at night and everyone would have lights on it. It felt like you were part of this team putting everything into these two guys who were trying to accomplish something. So when Daniel Woods finally did it, it was a pretty incredible experience to be there to witness.

For us, as climbers living in Chicago for so long, only being able to do these weekend trips…to be able to dedicate time to a place, so much so that we could be part of this epic thing that was happening, we’ll never forget that.

Andy: That’ll actually be in a film called The Reel Rock. It’s the Reel Rock Tour, which is like a climbing film tour they do every year. This is the tenth year, I think, they’ve been doing this? So, that boulder problem will actually be in this film. It’s a pretty big deal.

Andy: Other than that, I’m trying to think what other lowlights there’ve been. Certainly, we’ve had ups and downs. We hit a deer. I had a photoshoot in Colorado that I was driving out for a few weeks for - a two week trip to Colorado. On my way through Iowa, I totally pummeled a deer with the car and just like totaled it. So that was kind of an unexpected thing that we dealt with. You have these things happen and you just sort of deal with it. That was kind of the most intense car issue, I would say. 

Everything else has been pretty minor - leaks here and there. The trailer is out in these desert environments. It just gets baked by the sun so stuff starts to break down under that kind of environment. We’ve had little leaks that are caused from that stuff. Plastic is kind of cracking, you know, nothing…it’s very common for RV’ers to experience. You have to learn how to deal with that stuff. 

Squamish was really cool. We were there a couple weeks ago. That was really beautiful. That actually rivaled Big Sur in our minds. Going past Vancouver up…what was it? Lion’s bay? I can’t remember the name of the bay. 

Jess: The area between Vancouver and Squamish. Squamish is about 45 minutes north of Vancouver.

Andy: Yeah, we’d never been to that part of the country. It was really beautiful. That kind of changed our perspective on Canada - we had no idea how beautiful it was! We’d both been to Toronto, and that was pretty awesome, too, but this was like a whole other level of amazing, natural beauty. Like she said, were kind of enthralled by the ocean, having not grown up with that. We were maybe even more impressed by it, just because it’s the ocean and these huge islands of granite and massive trees. It’s just awesome. As a photographer, it made a perfect backdrop.

WTRH: Three travel essentials? If there were three things that you felt like you wouldn’t want to travel without, what would they be?

Jess: Well, there’s the obvious: the cellphone, computer. For us it wouldn’t work - we rely on our cellphones for everything and we keep in touch with people. It’s probably an essential for life now, not just travel. Our technology is key. 

Andy: Does that include camera?

Jess: Maybe. Camera could be separate.

Andy: Computer, camera, and…

Jess: Well, we normally travel with a dog who’s not here with us right now! And I would say she IS essential. The reason she’s not here is we had a couple engagements recently where we couldn’t have her. Rather than try to find boarding along the way, we left her with a person she’s really comfortable with in Chicago for two months. We’re picking her up again - we kind of can’t wait - in three weeks. 

WTRH: What’s the dog’s name?

Andy: ‘Pickle.’

Jess: ‘Pickle!’ She is a rescued pitbull. She’s about five. I don’t know, traveling with a dog, there’s a lot of challenges to that as well, but it’s also really fun. You feel safe. She keeps her ears and eyes out for you. She’s a companion. She also provides this consistency, which I think you need to find when you’re traveling. You still need to have your routines. You can’t just sort of be making every day up as you go. Feed the dog, walk the dog, make sure her needs are met - it kind of helps you stay stable. 

It’s not for everybody, traveling with a dog. We didn’t have a lot of choice as we had the dog when we decided to travel. We wouldn’t even think of leaving her behind. Now I think of it as a really essential and key part of our experience. 

WTRH: Where can people who want to look up your work and follow you travels…where can they see you in the digital space? 

Jess: We’ve got several places. is our website and we keep a blog there and we have our portfolio of work, we have information about all of the people we’re helping, we also have information about how to apply. So, if you are an individual or nonprofit organization, do something cool, help other people, and you have financial need, you can apply to our program. The applications are due coming up here October 15, 2015

We have a committee of people that decide who gets the awards. We don’t make those decisions, we have a committee that also serves as sort of an advisory board for the project. They decide, so definitely check that out if you’re a person who is interested in services. 

We also have a blog there where we talk a little bit about our travels and about ourselves. Then our Instagram feeds are where we have a lot of day-to-day shots. @eggtravels is the Instagram [account] for our project and then @andywickstrom is Andy’s own feed and he has a lot of amazing photography there and things that are both related and unrelated to the DesignEgg project. 

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James & Rachel

"We're covered in peach fuzz, it's actually really itchy. We're gonna go shower really quick." 

James and Rachel of Idle Theory Bus had pulled up the gravel road just minutes earlier in "Sunshine," their 1976 Volkswagen Kombi, trailing a cloud of dust in their wake. They wore denim overalls and flannel shirts and bright smiles. 

The pair are a rarity in many ways - high school lovers who have been together for 10 years, the two partner in work as media content creators (James makes films and take photos professionally, while Rachel is a freelance writer and serves as creative director), simultaneously traveling full time in their bright, clementine hued home-on-wheels between stints of manual labor on farms. When we met them, they were harvesting peaches in Palisade, Colorado, an agricultural region renowned for its peaches. Palisade is home of the Peach Fest as well as the Colorado Lavender Festival and the Colorado Mountain Winefest.

This was the thirteenth farm on which the couple has worked. Rachel reported that one of their more memorable farm experiences was on a goat dairy with newborn kids prancing around.

It was clear from talking with James and Rachel that the two share a deep connection with nature that fuels their love for life on the road. In their more than three years of mobile living, they have spent time living with primitive communities that start fires with bow drills and repurpose roadkill into wearable fur for warmth. In the van hangs a junior ranger vest bedecked with numerous badges from National Parks across the country. A collection of found feathers sits on Sunshine's dashboard and behind the passenger seat lay the remaining scraps of fur from which James had made his own moccasins during a turn on a rabbit farm.

We had our own taste of nature's beauty in our time with James and Rachel. The first night we had dinner together, James drove us out beyond the powerlines onto BLM land, where dun colored wild horses walked slowly by as we ate our hamburgers. The next evening, Rachel pointed out a tiny speck along the rim of Colorado National Monument rock formations and handed us the binoculars - a bald eagle sat serenely in the distance. They spoke with us about the joys and challenges of life on the road. For now, the joys far outweigh the hardships and they have no intention of stopping, although they did express future dreams of possibly owning their own little plot of land one day. They envision a place to practice permaculture, which they find to be the most sustainable, ethical means of farming, a more natural growth method in which plants, earth, animals, and people can thrive.

Hear more of their story in the full audio interview below.


“We recognize that she’s funky, she’s 80’s, she’s got qualities to her. We’re not gonna turn this thing into a Sprinter or something that’s got adequate air conditioning. You just deal,” shared 12FPS founder Adam Shaening-Pokrasso as we sat in their Santa Fe office space discussing Betty, their 1985 Chevy Ambulance Van.

Seated around the table in addition to Adam sat Leah Pokrasso (Adam’s wife), 12FPS art director and illustrator; Erin Azouz, producer and social media strategist; and Susy Alfaro, production coordinator. Adam and Leah’s dog, Billy Jean, lay passed out on the couch, exhausted from a long work day. Each member of the 12FPS team took turns sharing what Betty has grown to mean to them as the companies newest mobile member. “She’s basically an ambulance, van, camper, grip truck, photo subject, and inspiration for all of us,” Adam exclaimed. 

The story goes that Betty was converted to an ambulance by the military soon after her 1985 birth, though she didn’t find much use while in service. The military ambulance was pulled off the lot and sold to someone in New Jersey, where it later traveled to Colorado without oil in the engine. Needless to say, Betty needed a new engine when Adam purchased the van. 

Many of Betty’s peculiarities from her time as an ambulance remain to this day. Though her siren is out of commission, her warning lights still work. Hook-ups for oxygen and a suction unit still line her walls. Strap-downs for the injured sit next to seat belts. 

12FPS’s relationship to Betty is unique in that no one lives in the van full time. However, it’s clear in speaking to the team that the goal for Betty is to have her on the road as much as possible. “This isn’t really just intended for the small group that’s here, this is meant as a creative vehicle that should be on the road inspiring others,” Erin told us. The 12FPS team went on to tell us about future plans to send the vehicle out on commissioned road trips for clients, passion projects, and personal adventures. “Betty’s already booked for quite a bit,” Susy shared. 

Betty’s maiden voyage including Adam, Leah, their dog Billy Jean, Leah’s brother Tommy, and her cousin Liz traveling from New Mexico to South Dakota for a family reunion. Their trip including stops in West Cliff, Colorado, Wyoming, and the Black Hills of South Dakota. 

Adam lovingly explains, “It’s kind of like a new friend. At first it felt very foreign, and you do have to sink into it. It doesn’t take long. You’re out for a couple days, a few nights. But before you know it, you’re like, ‘This is home.’”

You can track Betty’s adventures by viewing #bettyventure, following @12_fps, or visiting You can also view pictures from Betty’s adventure to South Dakota here.

Listen to the full audio interview below.

The Swartley Family

The tension behind what defines a Roadsteader is something that we have frequently come up against. At its simplest definition, a Roadsteader is someone who lives the mobile lifestyle. That means they spend a significant amount of time on the road. This might look like a retired couple who has lived on the road for years, or a musician who tours for a couple months at a time all over the country to return home after the tour concludes. 

Ben, Shestin, and their 8 month old son Grayson Swartley do not live on the road full time — nevertheless, the spirit of the road weaves throughout their lives. Parked in front of the house they’re renting from Ben’s parents sits the Swartley’s adventure vehicle, Dusty — a Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia camper. According to Ben, the name was birthed out of the sentiment that, “Every good trip we have, the van comes back really dusty or muddy.” 

We met the Swartley’s on our way to Big Sur, CA. After connecting on Instagram, they invited us to park our trailer for the night next to Dusty in their driveway. We enjoyed drinks together as Ben and Shestin shared stories of how they met, their time staying in an off-the-grid eco palapa in Baja California, and the excitement of raising their son Grayson to love road travel. Grayson slept quietly.

In addition to owning their Westy, the Swartley’s are in the process of having a 390 square foot tiny house built that they will eventually move into following its completion. “We decided to purchase a tiny house because we felt like it would help enable the lifestyle we want to live,” shared Ben. Ben works as an analyst for Apple while Shestin is an independent consultant for a number of tech companies, allowing her to work remotely much of the time. As a young family based in the Bay Area, the cost of living is incredibly high. Living in their tiny house will allow them to save money and own a home while having the flexibility to move it anywhere. 

Much of the Swartley’s decisions to move towards a simpler lifestyle is rooted in Ben and Shestin’s different upbringings. Ben described to us in a follow-up email that, “Growing up we weren't allow to play video games or watch TV. While we hated this growing up as our friends were playing nintendo and watching all the cool new TV shows, looking back on this I wouldn't have changed a thing.” Shestin’s parents married young, and thus she was raised camping on the weekends and enjoyed backyard parties where her dad's rock band performed. Ben and Shestin plan on raising their son Grayson in a similar fashion. 

Listen to the full audio interview below.

Bernard Lavoie

“It’s very controversial. The city wants to make it a park, so they kicked everyone out,” Bernard Lavoie told us as we passed through a gap in the temporarily erected chain link fence.

The "Albany Bulb,” is a mostly man-made jut of land that is shaped like a lightbulb. A former landfill, the peninsula is composed of concrete, rebar, and other construction debris. It is partially grown over with trees, shrubs, and wild flowers and has a million dollar view of the city of San Francisco and the Golden Gate bridge. Exploring the bulb we passed a professional dog walker with his small pack of excitedly sniffing canines, a small group of teenagers in basketball shorts, and an older couple walking and taking photographs.

It is in many ways, the quintessential yuppie park. Except for the art.

An avid bicyclist who once tried his hand at amateur racing, Bernard first stumbled upon the Bulb while out for a ride through the city. He described to us how very different the area was when he first found it - filled with tents and tarps, the bulb was, until recently, a large and thriving homeless camp as well as a refuge for rogue artists, eccentrics, and other outsiders. According to Bernard, “there were people everywhere.”

We saw no squatters or tent city as we walked through the bulb. In fact, we came upon very few people at all. 

Walking towards the far side of the peninsula, where wind-whipped waves splashed on concrete walls, was like coming upon the ruins of a former civilization. An empty swing hung low in the branches of a tree. Stone meditation labyrinths wound themselves around and around in the sand. Metal scrap art fences wove and twisted over the landscape, bejeweled with broken glass, old shoes, PEZ dispensers, and other oddities. Concrete slabs were painted and sprayed and stenciled in the brightest, most fluorescent colors. There were giants made of driftwood. One sat pensively on the hillside and looked out at the water grimly, perhaps recalling more jubilant days. Another danced, her sticks of hair whirling in the breeze. A forgotten king wore a crown of brambles and surveyed his empty realm in silent and solemn judgement.

As we traipsed along these more modern relics, Bernard shared with us about his time in Spain walking the Camino de Santiago, a centuries old Catholic pilgrimage along ancient Roman roads.

Bernard himself identifies as a, “recovered Catholic.” Coming from a very religious family background, he left the church as a young adult, unable to reconcile the teachings of the church with his homosexuality.

Still, while walking an average of 25 to 30 km daily over a 3 month period, Bernard found the pilgrimage to be a spiritual one. He decided to explore Catholicism again, saying, “I liked the new Pope.” Although Catholicism failed to resonate again after all, Bernard recounted lessons learned from the journey. Often he would lose the way, only to discover a painted yellow arrow pointing out the correct direction while relieving himself outdoors. This helped him realize the need to slow down and be present. 

Bernard also discovered the necessity and freedom of lightening his load. He met a woman from the Netherlands at a hostel who, upon seeing his 40 pound pack made him take everything out and helped him decide what to throw away and what to keep. At the end of his travels, his pack weighed only 14 pounds, including water and food. Although this meant facing some colder nights, wearing the same clothes again and again, and not knowing exactly where or when he would find shelter, Bernard described how he was able to fill up his water bottle in village fountains and was often met with hospitality and, semi-regularly, a bottle of wine.

Bernard recounted to us one occasion when he attempted to gratefully return the favor. Having taken a Spanish cooking class shortly before his expedition, he learned how to make paella. He went to the market in one small town and decided he would buy ingredients for and make a paella from whatever he could find and then serve it to the villagers and fellow pilgrims. Halfway through cooking, having received many bemused looks from his Spanish hosts, he begin to worry about how his own paella might be assessed by these locals well familiar with their own traditional dish. It was a special moment in time for Bernard when they tasted his paella and expressed their astonished approval! Everyone shared the meal, wine was passed around the table, there was laughing and talking, and Bernard felt the joy of being fully present.

Hear more about Bernard’s travels through Spain and elsewhere in the full audio interview below:

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In his audio interview, Bernard spoke about visiting Cape Finisterre after finishing his pilgrimage on the Camino. Here, in the traditions of an ancient pagan ritual, Bernard jumped into the sea and burned his clothes. Of special significance to him was a hat that he had worn on many of his travels. On the Camino, he collected flowers along the walk and stored them in the hat band. This hat was burned along with his other garments. The following images were taken by Bernard at Finisterre at the end of his journey and are used with his permission:

Elle Luna

On April 8, 2014, our friend, Elle Luna, shared an article she had written on the blog-publishing platform Medium titled “The Crossroads of Should and Must”. In the weeks following, the article went viral — tweeted to more than five million users, shared thousands of times on every social platform imaginable, and read by over a quarter million people. A year to the day, Elle published her first book, The Crossroads of Should and Must — which has inspired and motived readers to take the personal leap from what they feel they SHOULD be doing to what their heart and deep desires tell them they MUST be doing.

She is an artist, designer, writer — we’re also convinced she is a superhero.

Elle grew up in Texas, desiring to pursue a career as an artist from her youth, but shares that, “Somewhere along the way, I kind of lost sight of that dream.” 

A failed attempt to get into law school, which Elle now views as “one of the universe’s great gifts to me," led her to create art around the clock. This passion for the visual would eventually open doors to pursue a career in graphic design and art. Her professional journey brought her to San Francisco, where she worked with companies such as Ideo, Uber, and Mailbox, before taking a bold leap into full time painting. 

We met Elle at her studio — a sunlit white-walled place of dreams clad in giant canvases, batiks, painting supplies, and indoor plants. Her furry companion, Tilly, shuffled from wall to wall. Parked out front was the matriarch of Elle and Tilly’s girl band - Auntie ZuZu, a simply beautiful ’91 Westfalia Vanagon.

Auntie ZuZu is to become the white-walled studio on four wheels. For roughly six months, Elle and the rest of her “girl band” will call the road home as she works on a new project. “I’m really craving more time in nature. I feel like I’m a little out of balance.” She acknowledged the weariness of constant technology and overall busy-ness, and shared that much of the drive to explore this new lifestyle comes from a need to slow down and recenter. 

ZuZu is modestly decorated and intentionally organized — a colorful altar adorns the back of her passenger seat, a piece of brick from Elle’s childhood home sits tucked away in a drawer, painting materials are carefully stored in preparation for this next great journey.

“When your whole world becomes your van, the entire world becomes a part of your house.”

Listen to the full audio interview below.

Bryce & Benny

Bryce and Benny were supposed to be in Cottage Grove the day we met them in Pilomath, Oregon. However, Bryce got kicked in the head twice by a horse and, by all accounts, bled a lot. 

Bryce Cronin and Benny Schenk are both steer wrestlers and members of the Northwest Professional Rodeo Association. The equine-inflicted gashes across Bryce’s forehead had occurred the previous evening, during the Friday night performance of the annual Pilomath Frolic and Rodeo, when the two had competed against each other. 

During the season, the travel buddies drive miles and miles from rodeo to rodeo to compete, try to have some fun, and win some money. They are often accompanied by their significant others, whom we also met.  They are also joined on the road by Pal, the palomino horse, and two dogs - a golden retriever puppy and an American bulldog. It is not unusual for the whole gang to travel nine hundred miles in a weekend. Their weekend traveling home is a long trailer that is split between three compartments - human living quarters with beds and kitchenette in the fore, tack room and horse stall in the rear.

Bryce was a former sniper in the United States Military and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. Now, when he’s not competing, he’s undergoing training to be a firefighter. Benny played football at Portland State University and now works in public health.

The two offered us cold beers. We cracked them open and listened to them talk about the difficulties of caring for the animals in hot weather, the challenges of paying for injuries, and the joys of seeing friends at the many rodeos and being able to discuss the typical characteristics of each steer amongst themselves. They talked about how steer wrestling is a little bit more collaborative in that way than, say, calf roping.

Hear more of their story in the audio interview below.

Fresa & Alice

One of the luxuries we’ve had in doing this project is the ability to connect and interact with potential Roadsteaders via social media or email. It gives you the opportunity to build rapport with a person before meeting face to face. However, one of the crucial ideas behind this project is variety and spontaneity. Striking up conversations with strangers with whom you have no history and who may or may not fit into the story.

We were editing a story in the Forks Library when we noticed two hitchhikers make their way to the public computers. They were your quintessential hitchhikers - comfortable clothing for walking, a water jug fastened to the backpack, with tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad in tow. We approached them as they were leaving , explained the project, and asked if they’d be interested in sharing some of their experience of backpacking across the United States.

Both Fresa and Alice are from Belgium. The duo initially met at a party in Brussels, discovered they shared a number of mutual friends, went to the same school, and soon after became partners. Though their romantic relationship has ended, the two still chose to set off on the trip they had been planning. This free-spirited attitude weaves through their friendship and overall approach towards life.

There’s a deep level of trust to the way Fresa and Alice travel. The two have navigated hitchhiking without a phone, computer, or any other electronic form of communication. After splitting at one point in southern California, they agreed to meet in Groveland, CA at the hostel outside of town. Fresa arrived to find a hand drawn map from Alice guiding her to a nearby campground, as the hostel was too expensive. No text. No email or phone call. A hand drawn map. 

Listen to the full interview below. 

Jorge & Jessica

Jorge and Jessica Gonzalez of “Live Work Wander” are an enigma. They married young - something uncommon in this day and age. Twelve years later, they chose another uncommon path: leaving behind a home in Austin, TX to call their ’91 VW Vanagon, lovingly referred to as “Falkor," their new home. Over a year and a half has passed since that initial decision, and there’s no plan to look back. Navigating forest service roads is their daily commute — the night sky is the roof that hangs over their head as they sleep. 

Neither Jessica nor Jorge are strangers to living on the move. In their life prior to calling the road home, they moved a total of 12 times. The lingering question of “Where is home?” remained unreconciled until Jessica suggested the possibility of living in a van. Freelance graphic designers by trade, the need to remain stationary was nonexistent as all of their clients were remote. 

“Live Work Wander” tread a fine line between easy going and fearlessly extreme. Within the first hour of us meeting at a coffeeshop in Port Angeles, we followed their van to a “closed” forest service road in search of an abandoned fire lookout. Not five minutes after unhooking our trailer and heading up, our truck had its first flat tire. As we struggled to change a flat at an incline, Jorge and Jessica waited patiently, offering help when needed and taking care of their two dogs, Petunia and Linus. In the two days we spent together, we traversed multiple forest services roads between Forks and Sequim, WA. 

The two of them are quick to acknowledge that this way of life isn’t for everyone. Whereas some people living on the road might view the minimalist traveling lifestyle as morally superior, Jorge and Jessica point out that their decision to hit the road came from a place of personal fulfillment. In the year they lived in Austin, they worked nonstop, making only a handful of friends. The road has forced them to find balance between work and play and they expressed their gratitude for the many new people they've met and befriended along the way.

Navigating a solid workflow while living on the road is something they have developed over the past year and a half. In addition to their current explorations of unfamiliar places throughout the Pacific Northwest, Jorge and Jessica recently rented a workspace in Redmond, WA to complete a recent graphic design project. This is a common pattern - working hard in a shared workspace for 4-6 weeks at a time in order to help them sustain the “wandering” side of “Live Work Wander”.

Listen to the full interview below.

Ryyan Mandrell

Ryyan Mandrell works as a roaster for one of our favorite local coffee shops in the Ballard neighborhood near our old house. 

Ryyan lives in a 74 Volkswagen Bus converted by Safaré Custom Campers into a camper van. He was gracious enough to bring his home down to Golden Gardens Park to chat with us a little about what life is like when the road is home. 

Originally purchased from a gentleman hoping to convert the bus into an espresso stand, Ryyan had to completely rebuild the inside of his camper to once again become livable. As a result, each drawer and cabinet serves a purpose. Everything is carefully placed.

His decision to live a mobile life was personally motivated by his desire to “become a better person”. In the interview, we discuss his attraction to a simpler lifestyle often associated with the tiny house movement. He generally goes through three gallons of water per week, any electricity he uses is powered through a 15 watt solar panel, his personal library fits in a plywood box. 

There is no doubt, however, that his lifestyle comes with it share of challenges. Ryyan practices a vegan diet, and food preservation is becoming a problem as the summer heats up and  his van isn’t currently equipped with a refrigerator. Additionally, stealth parking has served as an occasional issue: “It’s not technically illegal to sleep in your car in Seattle… but if the cops know that you’re living in it they’ll annoy you and get you on other things.” 

Listen to the full interview below.