Last summer I did an interview about my lifestyle, aka the ‘vanlife’ with Lem’s own Audrey Smith.
Lems brand ambassador, William Woodward, took a trip around North America with nothing but he, himself and whatever he could fit into his van. Talk about a minimalism right there. Check out our Q+A with him to hear more about his travels!
For a video of the ‘Transformation of Ruby’ to her current setup, click here.
1. WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO PLAN THIS ADVENTURE, IN A VAN?
I think it all started with the desire to simplify my lifestyle. After working for several years in different corporate jobs, I wanted to minimize and remove the distractions that I felt were limiting my creativity and focus. The van life portion came about when I decided to mainly stay within North America for the initial part of the journey, and having a vehicle that was the essence of the American road trip just seemed fitting.
2. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN TRAVELING AND WHERE ALL ARE YOU GOING?
It has been over a year now, as of April 2nd, 2016. I think that this journey will last until at least the end of this year, at which time I will likely transform into something new. What that is, though, is still being defined. Until now, I have traveled mainly through the American and Canadian West, with side trips to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico and Dubai. To me, between the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean, this terrain offers some of the most beautiful landscapes in North America.
On the ticket for this summer is going to be a couple of international destinations, starting in Norway then to Iceland and Australia. In each place, I’ll be hiring a van and documenting the journey. Later in the fall is going to be Hawaii and Greece, as well as a trip to Patagonia this December/January. So as you can see, the year is coming together quite nicely!
A road map of the journey thus far – many roads left to roam.
3. WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE ABOUT LIVING OUT OF A VAN? WHAT’S THE BEST PART ABOUT IT?
Anything that is a challenge is really only a challenge because we’ve become accustomed to a certain convenience of the modern world. Besides our basic needs; food, water and shelter – there is little that I have found to be so inconvenient that I cannot live without or with a different version thereof. So far, I would say that the biggest challenge I’ve faced has becoming completely comfortable with my own company. I’ve found that now I relate more to a quote by one of my favorite authors, Hunter S. Thompson –
“Loneliness is for people who can’t see themselves except through the eyes of their compatriots…”
I think the challenge itself is the best part. Without pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone, we’ll never realize all that can be accomplished. You learn so much about the world through your struggles that it seems quite logical to embrace them and put yourself in those places.
Tea time lakeside below Mt. Hood, OR.
4. WHAT IS YOUR ULTIMATE TRAVEL DESTINATION?
I think the destination I’m most excited for this year is Lofoten, Norway. There’s also a good possibility of Patagonia happening this winter, which would be amazing.
Taking some time to relax in Monument Valley.
5. WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST WHILE YOU’RE LIVING OUT OF YOUR VAN? WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’LL MISS ONCE YOUR TRIP IS OVER?
At first, you miss many of the creature comforts of a home – running water, access to consistent electricity or wifi, but soon what you miss just becomes the norm. You realize that there is a simplicity that exists outside of the business of everyday life. Once you relieve yourself of some of these needs, you become free to exist more presently. Although it can at times be ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘inconvenient’, it has opened my days to a wealth of opportunities that otherwise may never have become.
It’s hard to say what I will miss most, as I intend on bringing much of this lifestyle into whatever it is I do next. That being said, there is little that can match propping up in the back of Ruby, doors and hatch open to allow the warm breeze to pass thru, watching the mountains and reading a good book in the afternoon sun.
With the group after SUP yoga in Costa Rica.
6. IF YOU COULD PICK ONE PERSON IN THE WORLD TO TRAEL ALONGSIDE YOU, WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
I think the best part of travel is being able to travel with many people! Our experiences are so often intertwined with those around us that it’s hard to separate a place from whom you’re with. Often I say the best part of the travel that I have done is the people that I’ve spent time with along the way.
Evening vibes – Seattle, WA.
Standing atop Mt. Baker, WA
#vanlife party on the California coast
7. WHAT’S A FUN FACT THAT MOST PEOPLE MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU?
While I am a photographer now, my degree is actually in Mechanical Engineering. To say I’ve taken a different path than expected would be quite an understatement.
8. WHAT’S YOUR BEST MEMORY SO FAR FROM YOUR VAN LIVING EXPERIENCE?
I am continually amazed and humbled by the goodness of the people that I have spent time with during this journey. I’ve sharded laughter and tears with people whom I’ve only known for days, but now consider the closest of friends.
Nothing like a good hug – Los Angeles, CA.
9. KNOWING WHAT YOU KNOW NOW, DO YOU FORESEE ANY VAN LIVING TRIPS IN THE FUTURE?
Absolutely. Van living has certainly changed me, in both my physical and emotional needs and wants. While I do not know if I will do the same duration trip in the future, this style of travel, with its slow pace, will definitely continue in some form or another.
Sunny day hammock lounging – Lake Powell, UT.
10. DESCRIBE VAN LIVING IN ONE WORD:
P.S. – After answering these questions & looking back through all of the photographs from the past year, I’ve realized that ‘van life’ has not been about the places that I’ve photographed, it’s about opening yourself to the opportunities that this world has to offer. Every day you have a chance to be a part of this, whether it be dinner with friends, a trip to the climbing gym, or backcountry exploration in the Canadian Rockies. Every day doesn’t have to be epic, but each day is most certainly the only one that you have. Van life and the people that have been able to share that with me have taught me to appreciate more and need less, a combination that has led me to a place that I am happy to have found.
Norway has topped my ‘opportunities list’ for some time now, offering some of the most splendid access to pristine hiking, backpacking, and general mountain and ocean adventures that you can ask for in a single location.
It’s the kind of place that doesn’t really make sense when you see it in photographs, with mountains rising thousands of feet and dropping nearly straight into the ocean—yet finding your way to a summit often only requires some hiking boots and willpower.
With a long list of potential locations to explore, my bag stuffed with gear, and a flexible schedule, I set off to the western fjords and Lofoten Islands. My goal was to camp at some of the more iconic Norwegian locations, from Trolltunga to Reinebringen. One of the most incredible qualities of Norway may not actually be its landscapes, but its laws. Since ancient times the people have had the right to roam freely in open lands, no matter who owns them; in 1957 the government of Norway passed the Outdoor Recreation Act to preserve this right and ensure that everyone has access to nature. This essentially allows you to hike, explore, and camp nearly anywhere in the wilds of Norway!
After spending nearly a month roaming around the country, touring as many locations as I could get to, these next five hikes are the premier treks, one’s that I will definitely be exploring again during my next visit!
The Hike: A quick jaunt up the Rampestreken in the town of Andlasnes is a classic introduction to Norwegian hiking. Norwegians, it seems, prefer the method of straight up the hill rather than the switchbacks that we’re used to on the west coast.
Allure: This hike proves you don’t have to hike far to get high. Beautiful views over the city and fjords, with the option to extend the hike along the ‘Romsdalseggen’ for a full day hike.
- Round trip Length: 2.5 mi / 4 km
- Elevation Gain: 1762 ft / 537m to the lookout platform
- Hiking Time: 2-3 hours
- Park in the gravel lot [location] and follow the signs up the hill.
The Hike: Trolltunga lives up to its reputation as one of the premier treks in the western fjords of Norway. As if to prepare you for the hike to come, the trail starts out with 1+km of stairs before several river crossings, topping out with a total elevation gain of 1100 meters. In late spring, there are still large snowfields, but the melt provides source for stunning waterfalls cascading into the fjords below.
Allure: Beyond the opportunity to hike along some of the most stunning glacier carved fjords in Norway, there is little that will surpass the feeling while standing on the end of “The Troll’s Tongue” 700 meters above the lake below.
- Roundtrip Length: 13.7 mi / 22 km
- Elevation: 3608 ft / 1100 m
- Hiking Time: 8-10 hours
- Park in the paid car park [location] and follow the signs to the start of the hike.
The Hike: While you won’t likely find a day during the season to hike Preikestolen without some company, spend the night and there is a chance you’ll be able to enjoy the sunrise in solitude.
Allure: Similar to Trolltunga, you can test your vertigo tolerance while standing 604 meters over the Lysefjord—and the hike is quite a bit shorter.
- Roundtrip Length: 4.7 mi / 7.6 km
- Elevation: 1148 ft / 350m
- Time: 4 hours
- Park in the paid car park [location] and follow the signs to the start of the hike.
The Hike: Reinebringen is likely the most well known hike in Reine, and for good reason. Once you reach the summit in a short but steep scramble up the back side of Reinebringen mountain, you are gifted with a real taste of all that is the Lofoten islands.
Allure: The view from the top of Reinebringen is second to none in the Lofoten islands, but use caution—this hike is short and very steep, and can become quite slippery when wet.
- Roundtrip Length: 1.2mi / 2km
- Elevation: 1470 ft / 448m
- Time: 2-3 hours
- Turning in to the town of Reine [location] there is a gravel car park on your left. Park here, then continue on foot south towards the tunnel on the footpath to find the start of the hike.
The Hike: One of the more accessible hikes in the Lofoten Islands is Kvalvika,although that fact certainly shouldn’t discourage you from crossing the pass to this secluded beach. While you’re over there, maintain the spirit of the folks who filmed ‘North of the Sun’ and bring some trash back with you.
Allure: If the idea of a sandy beach below picture-perfect mountains isn’t enough reason, extend the hike to the neighboring Ryten mountain for a birds-eye view of the beach below and the surrounding mountains.
Hike Stats (Kvalvika):
- Roundtrip Length: 2.4 mi / 4km
- Elevation: 200m
- Time: 2-3 hours
- Hike Stats (Kvalvika to Ryten Mountain):
- Roundtrip Length: 2.4 mi / 4 km
- Elevation: 1781ft / 543m
- Time: 2-3 hours
- Traveling 2.5km south out of the village of Fredvang [location] you will see an iconic small red barn on the water’s side of the road, with a paved car park; the hike begins here. This lot may become full in the summer months, so arrive early to ensure a spot, but be courteous if the lot is full, you will find unpaved lots slightly further south.
Gear Guide For The Norway Backcountry
Weather conditions are as fickle as the coastal Norwegian landscape is varied, so it’s important be prepared when heading out for single and multi-night outings in the backcountry. Here are some of my favorites:
- Pants: Black Diamond Modernist Rock Pant: Nothing beats a pair of pants you can go from the hike to the town pub. Stretch fabric provides all the range of motion you’ll need.
- Puffy: Black Diamond Cold Forge: No matter what the season, a puffy provides packable warmth.
- Shell Jacket: Black Diamond Helio: On trekking trips in Norway—or any backcountry trip, for that matter—lightweight, dependable rain protection is vital.
We had no plans, no expectations, nowhere to be for the next seven days. All we had was a Hightop VW Syncro, an island full of places to explore, and an open mind for finding our way round the island of Iceland. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect when we landed in Reykjavik, but James Barkman aka Barky and I stopped in to Snail VW (www.snail.is) to chat with Sigrún about some potential travel options and hear some horror stories of drivers who need to spend more time in a manual car before hiring one to live in! I’ve heard this more than a few times now, car hire companies who do their best to ensure the renters can drive a manual before letting the vehicle leave, but end up with a blown clutch or worse. Luckily, being two VW regulars (Barky also lives full time in his ’76 Westfalia) we loaded up the van with our gear set off with high hopes for the adventures to come.
I find that most people either thrive or flounder in ‘no plans’ situations. It’s easy to get frozen in the ‘what should we do now’ mentality, and with as many options as a place like Iceland has to offer, there isn’t much point in trying to compare one to another, rather we found it best to just hit the road and get started. We met two friends from California the first day, and decided on a hot springs tour thru the western fjords, with a pit stop along the way at the famous Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall, where we tested Barky’s cold water tolerance with several back flips off the falls.
Fortunately, our next two stops in the west fjords were hot springs, and the second can hit 55°C (130°F) so we all warmed up plenty.
Onwards down the road, and as you can see there is rugged beauty nearly everywhere. Countless stops along the road on our way to Islafjordur.
After parting ways with Chris and Ryan, Barky and I continued on, catching back up with the loop road and leaving the west fjords, but not before making another hot springs pit stop.
Iceland in the summer is a trippy experience, the sun was setting around midnight and rising at 3am, so we ended up staying up nearly all night then sleeping during the day to be able to photograph in the best light. Here on some lone road along the north shore, we found a perfect little hill for a casual ride.
Then, only a few hours later, this happened, and continued happening for approximately the next 45 minutes.
Waterfalls for days, another classic fall, Godafoss.
As you make your way across the north, soon you’ll come to the area that is a geothermal hotbed, with cone volcanoes and little houses that look as though they should be on Mars.
Lots of skating happened. The roads were too perfect. We even found the road featured in the film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” that Ben Stiller (or his stunt double I’m sure) went down. Barky decided to ride his skateboard in to the eastern fjords rather than ride in the VW. With road conditions like this, I understand why (and did a little time on the board myself).
A classic #vanlife view, out the read doors, with the mountains of Stokksnes is the distance.
Our trusty steed, holding down the fort at 2am.
When the clouds socked us in at around 1am, we made the call to move out, hoping to find somewhere that there was no low fog obstructing our views. We had almost made it to Jökulsárlón (the Ice Lagoon) when the skies began to glow with pinks and orange, as we soon found ourselves on the shores of a perfectly calm lake with only the sounds of cracking ice and our footsteps to be heard. The best part of being awake at 3am, you often get places to yourselves 🙂
Onwards to Vik, soon we were surrounded by lupines, a beautiful purple flower that has really taken hold in the southern parts of the island.
Oh, and the Blue Lagoon. I don’t think I’ll go back, not really my style; I prefer the lagoons that are a little more off the beaten path. That being said, it was a casual way to spend our last morning before catching flights back to the states.
A special thanks to Sigrún and the good folks at Snail VW for helping make this a great trip. If you’re looking for a solid ride for the island, they offer a great setup, just make sure you know how to drive manual or you might get thrown out 😉
There is something special about a road trip. It seems more personal, you experience the elements more intensely and become more connected to the place. For the last year and some change I’ve been partaking in a perpetual road trip, mainly in the USA, but occasionally getting to spend some time internationally. Returning from seven days in the Lofoten Islands, Norway, I think I’ve found one of my new favorite road trip locations. From the culture, stunning mountains, vast oceans, and the proximity of all these things to one another, it’s got a little bit of something for everyone!
Being a VW owner and lover, needless to say I was excited to find out you can hire a fully set up van with Arctic Campers (www.arcticcampers.no), just down the street from the Leknes airport. Fast forward to some months later, and I was chatting with the folks there at their shop, getting some insider information on some of the best views and hikes to start the day. Driving off down the road, I couldn’t help but smile with anticipation of what we had in store in the coming week. It’s easy to see why I was excited to get started, with views like this right out your back hatch how can it get better?!
Besides having some of the best views from any given road side, of course you can choose to get a little higher up and get in to the mountains. Only an hour or so from the car park, we gained a decent bit of elevation, enough to get above the clouds and see some of Lofoten’s pristine lakes.
I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘foodie’, but I love cooking and fresh food, so having access to a stove and fridge whilst traveling is a treat. Do you ever get home from a trip and feel like you haven’t had a home cooked meal in ages? Vanlife is the answer 🙂
I don’t know how anyone could want to stay inside in a hotel room when you can have the best sleep machine earth ever created right outside your windows.
I was fortunate enough to find a little access road that led to an amazing overlook of the tiny town of Unstad. Yes, you can camp here, or if you would rather you can sleep down on the beach.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Lofoten without exploring the tiny fishing village of Reine. This became our home base, stopping in for coffee in the morning, or afternoon, and of course a softis or two. If you don’t know what a softis is, you will be pleasantly surprised when you find out.
Rolf is a fisherman on the islands, and from what I experienced a pretty good one at that. It’s great to get off the shore and see the mountains rising stark out of the sea.
Every so often, you find a place in this world that drastically changes your concept of beauty and serenity. For me, that place was Kvalvika beach. A short hike over a mountain pass is the only thing that separates you from the rest of the world, but you feel completely detached. Honestly, I could have stayed there for days, weeks even. If I was forced to choose just one place to visit the next time I am in Lofoten, this would be it hands down.
Second place behind Kvalvika Beach would be Reinebringen, the prominent mountain just outside Reine. Although we had a comfy camper waiting for us at the base of the mountain, it was such a good view of the midnight sun and the mountains we decided to stay at the summit overnight. That being said, it was sure nice to come down after a few hours of sleep (when the sun doesn’t set it’s hard to go to bed instead of photographing all night!) and hop in the bed for a morning cat nap.
The only problem I’ve found with Lofoten, is that now I have to return in the other seasons. Spring was wonderful, and there weren’t too many tourists, the weather never got too cold, but I am intrigued to see summer, fall, and winter. Well, there is always next time!
Norway has been on my radar for some time now, but to be honest I wasn’t sure how soon it would happen. One thing I had repeatedly heard about Norway was that it was expensive, and being able to make the trip work within a slim budget was paramount. Luckily, my hobbies are generally inexpensive; hiking, backpacking, and adventuring in the mountains have a bit of an initial investment in gear, but beyond that it’s all as far and as long as your legs and arms can take you. You’re your own chef, entertainment, tour guide, and planner. Generally, my tactic in expensive places is hire a car, fill up on groceries, then get out to the wilderness! As per the standard, that’s exactly what I did. The route, mainly taking place from the Atlantic Road to Preikestolen, in and out of countless fjords, three weeks in a Ford Fiesta would test my minimal living style, but it’s fuel economy would save heaps on petrol!
I have a bit of a standard procedure when arriving to a foreign country. I suppose that I’ve become accustomed to a certain style of travel, and it fits my needs pretty well. Step one, get thru customs ASAP. No one likes standing in lines, so find the shortest, look presentable and happy, don’t bring any items you’ll need to declare, and get going. Pick up checked bags (unfortunately with backcountry and or climbing gear, a checked bag is a necessary evil). Find a SIM card, usually you can buy these at the airport, but if you don’t see a stand ask around for the closest location. Having a working local phone has become more important for me these days; from using GPS, researching locations, weather, and being able to do some mobile posting. On to car hire and then hit the road! I’ve found that for me and my style, I would rather hire a car and sleep in it/camp along the way.
It was a decent flight over, although I wish I had slept more. I made it about 2 hours drive from the airport before pulling over to take a nap, but then it was onward to Åndalsnes. I had read that Norway loves it’s hiking, so night one would be a classic, a sunset view up Rampestreken. It became quickly apparent that there would be a large volume of elevation gained over the next few weeks. Starting at sea level and cruising up to the snow line in the mountains at least once a day. Hiking fitness was about to be tested.
Over the next few days, I watched the storms come and go, traveling from Åndalsnes up to the Bud and the Atlantic Ocean Road, then continuing south to Alesund, Geiranger, and Jotunheimen. Being this far north in the summer, sunset was late and sunrise was early, so sleep often came in a couple hour increments throughout the day.
One thing I’ve learned is that you always want to have extra time in your schedule for unexpected stops. Cruising along the windy two lane roads there was a perfectly still lake down the hill. After a half hour of trying to find how to get down to the lake, I took a hike around the water’s edge and was granted some wonderful views of the Norwegian countryside.
Another lucky find, Trollkirka aka Troll’s Church, was a moderate hike thru an evergreen forest and above the snow line to a cave system that you navigate by head torch, that ends at a cave with a waterfall coming thru the ceiling!
Somehow I ended up with more sheep photos than I’m proud of, but it’s fine, they are cute.
A trip around the fjords wouldn’t be complete without a visit to some of the more iconic sights, like Trolltunga and Preikestolen. I find that one of the best ways to get the more popular places to yourself is to camp either along the way or at the attraction itself.
Nothing like getting a little air below your feet, 604 meters above Lysefjorden.
I get a lot of looks for hiking in sandals, but my Earthrunners go with me everywhere. If it’s not freezing, I’m probably wearing them.
We arrived at Trolltunga late, somewhere around Midnight. It was a taxing hike, something around 8km of the 11km was thru snow, deep and slushy from the full day of sun. It’s hard to argue though when you’re sitting out on the tongue.
We ended up doing one ‘tour’. Although I wouldn’t recommend the way we did it specifically, I did manage to convince the ship captain to let me come in and photograph a bit from the captain’s area, so that was cool 🙂
Well that’s about it from southern Norway, Lofoten Islands review is coming up next!
Last week I had the opportunity to head north of Whistler, BC to do some climbing! We hiked in, stayed at an amazing hikers hut, then with a classic alpine start of around 5am it was off to the mountains.
The last few weeks have been quite hectic! 6 days spent on Mt. Baker. Now we have two days of climbing practice to summit several more peaks in the Washington Pass. Lots of photos to share soon! Till then here is an iPhone panoramic from our lower base camp. Sandy camp, 5400 feet.
Glacier seems to be the kind of epic place that is best captured in panoramic form. Here’s a few from some recent adventures.
Since the Going to the Sun Road was closed, the best idea seemed to be to ride the 16 miles to Logan Pass on bicycle. By all accounts one of the most physically straining things I had done, especially after a 10 mile hike that morning. I will be dedicating an entire post to this trip.
Ruby loved being amongst the mountains. Here she is on the road heading towards Many Glacier after a beautiful morning sunrise.
One of the sunrises at Many Glacier. I really enjoyed being out in the chilled air and serene wilderness each morning.
Two Medicine lake began to feel a little like home for me. I spent my birthday here and met many great people in East Glacier at the entrance of Two Medicine.
Zeke and Tim have been traveling for a few weeks together, photographing the northwest. We met at Two Medicine and did several hikes together, including this one to Iceberg Lake, which being so early in the season was actually just Ice Lake 😎
Continuing in to the west side of the park, I met friends who had come in from Seattle for a sunset hike to Avalanche Lake.
A group of Montana Conservation Corps folks stopped by Ruby to chat one afternoon, and we ended spending the remainder of the night together. The next morning we went for a great hike to alpine wildflower meadows that concluded at Snyder Lake.
Bears have been an interesting thing to get used to again. Camping in bear country has been okay, but the number of bears that I’ve run in to this far in Glacier has been well above and beyond. In two hikes I think there has been at least six grizzlies out on the trails. I mustered up the courage to do some night and star photography last night, but I’m pretty sure I was being watched by bears. Probably not. But mabye.
*At Last – Two Medicine Lake // Glacier National Park, Montana*
Well yesterday was full of ups and downs. I managed to foolishly lose my tripod by leaving it on top of Ruby, and spent the better part of the afternoon trying to find it. Finger’s crossed that it shows back up. Then, as the day was ending, the skies parted and the world told me it would be alright, and life would go on. Thanks for the reminder.
Alright well I’m trying something new. Mobile upload straight from the tele to the site. All photos from my iPhone.
Day 1, exploring Two Medicine Lake.
Ruby feels at home in the mountains.
Well I lost my tripod, but the replacement has arrived and I’m optimistic that mine will return! Since I didn’t have my tripod I took a selfie.
Amazing reflexion at Many Glacier. Sunrise comes early at 5:45! Especially when it doesn’t get dark until after 9…