Dirtbag Beta: Climbing at Hueco Tanks without a Reservation

It’s no secret that Hueco Tanks State Park is home to one of the best bouldering areas in the United States (and arguably the world) – which means that a ...

A Week of Bouldering at Hueco Tanks State Park

As we entered a barren landscape from the urban wasteland of El Paso, Niko and I quickly realized what we had just gotten ourselves into: a week of true desert ...

Exploring Texas’ Best Outdoor Spots: Reimer’s Ranch, Pace Bend Park, and Hamilton Pool

After a short detour in Austin, we planned to meet our climbing buddy, Teresa, out at Reimer’s Ranch on a Friday morning – so Niko and I took a few ...

The (Ever-Evolving) Official Beginning Itinerary for Simply Adventure

You’ve all been pressing me for details about our route, our planned ...

Your questions about the Simply Adventure trip, answered!

Whenever we talk to folks about our Simply Adventure trip, everyone seems ...

Saying Goodbye to my Hometown – My Send-Off Party in Miami

When planning out all the emotional highs I’d experience during a year ...

More Adventures

Goal Zero’s Light-A-Life Solar Accessories: The Ultimate Way to Illuminate Adventures

When Goal Zero officially became one of the Simply Adventure trip sponsors, I was beside myself with excitement about powering the van through solar equipment. It is incredibly valuable to be able to charge my laptop and camera while I’m on the road, but my favorite piece of Goal Zero gear isn’t a heavy duty generator or sweet portable solar panel: it’s a small, simple LED light.

The Goal Zero Light-A-Life is a modestly sized solar lantern that we currently power from our Extreme 350 generator. These incredible 3-watt LED lights turned my dim van into a bright home. We use it when we’re cooking, lounging in the evenings, and on those frequent occasions when we’re frantically searching for something we lost in the van.

Niko uses the Goal Zero Light-A-Life to illuminate our kitchen space in the van while cooking at night.The Goal Zero Light-A-Life powers our van cooking adventures every night.

The first time I plugged in a Light-A-Life, I was blown away by how powerful they are. We used the van’s cabin lights on the first night of the trip, and once we finally opened up the Light-A-Life, it was like entering a whole new world.

We use two linked together in the van, but a single Light-A-Life easily lights up the main interior. You can link up to eight lights together. A small carabineer located on top of the Light-A-Life makes it easy to hang up no matter where you are.

The Goal Zero Light-A-LifeAnd they’re durable. Before realizing we needed a better way of securing them to the beams along the van roof, our Light-A-Lights took many hard falls while we were bumping up and down dirt roads in Joshua Tree. One dirt road was shaky enough to eventually dislodge the LED bulb from the lantern, but it was completely fine even after taking a tumble onto the floor. According to Goal Zero, they aren’t quite waterproof, but will still work even in a steady downpour.

The only thing I would change about the Light-A-Life LED solar lantern is making them comptabile with a Guide 10 battery pack. I’m no engineer, but since the Light-A-Life takes up so little energy, it seems like it should be able to be powered by something more accessible than a big ‘ole generator. We lugged ours out to a picnic table the other night, and the Extreme 350 is so heavy that it almost made taking the lights out too much of a chore.

Overall, I would highly recommend the Light-A-Life LED laterns to anyone with a Goal Zero solar set-up – and retailing at $39.99, they’re surprisingly affordable. They’re the perfect accessory for your solar gear, and make life on the road so much more convenient. We use ours every day, and would be totally in the dark without it.

Dirtbag Beta: Review of the Hueco Rock Ranch

If you’re planning a trip to climb at Hueco Tanks, you basically have two options for lodging: camping inside the park, or staying at the American Alpine Club’s Hueco Rock Ranch. Of course, you could always rent a motel room closer to town, but let’s get real.

With the park campground often being entirely booked during peak bouldering season at Hueco Tanks, your best bet is to snag a campsite at the ranch. When I visited, the park was full, but the ranch had plenty of space.

The cost isn’t the cheapest, but the fees make up for it with free wi-fi, a spacious barn to cook and relax in, hot showers, and did I mention free wi-fi? The nightly rate is normally $10, but if you are an American Alpine Club or Access Fund member, you get a discounted price of $7/night.To the Hueco Rock Ranch!

There are also a few rooms available in the main house area, but this beta is intended for dirtbags, and I doubt any of y’all are trying to get fancy.

The campsites are well laid out, and marked with numbered stones. If you’re setting up a tent, make sure you really secure it to the ground. The desert is notorious for freakishly windy weather. Car camping is also allowed, and I’d recommend it during the winter season if you aren’t experienced with cold weather camping.

Since you’re surrounded by fellow climbers, it’s safe to leave your gear out at the Hueco Rock Ranch. Many folks left their food tubs next to their tents during the day, and we left our crash pads sitting next to the van each night.A panoramic view of our 'camp' spot at Hueco Rock Ranch near Hueco Tanks State Park.

The real attraction at the ranch is the recently renovated barn where climbers gather each evening. There are a few couches spread out, a big picnic-type table, and a sizeable kitchen to cook in. The barn has plenty of plugs, and the wi-fi is decent (but don’t bother trying to watch any climbing videos on most days). You’ll also find a library of random books, a foos ball table, and three full bathrooms in the ranch. In my opinion, the barn is what makes Hueco Rock Ranch worth the money.

Here are a few more tips for staying at the Hueco Rock Ranch:

Important Shower Beta: Do NOT use the rightmost shower. I repeat, do not use the rightmost shower unless you want to feel like you’re getting peed on. That was the first mistake I made. The second mistake? Not realizing that the hot/cold sides are switched on the shower knob. Folks, the ‘cold’ side is hot, and the ‘hot’ side is cold. You’re welcome.

Feeling hungry? The closest grocery store is Vista Mercado, a funky little Mexican market where you are highly encouraged to give yourself a taste of local food. For the best and cheapest tacos near Hueco Tanks, stop by El Pasito Meat Market. It sits inside a little gas station-type market, but it’s delicious.

Looking for ways to get into Hueco Tanks without a reservation? There’s a blog post for that! 

Caught Red-Handed in a J-Tree Parking Lot: The First Simply Adventure Video

I still owe you a ton of updates from our time in Hueco Tanks and Arizona, but I couldn’t resist sharing this ridiculous video of Niko and I. Before you watch, here’s a backstory on how this little film came to be:

So after a very windy day of climbing at Joshua Tree National Park, Niko and I retreated back to van in a relatively deserted parking lot. As we were packing up, a curious chick came clamoring towards the van with all sorts of questions about who we were, what we were doing, and how we had outfitted our van. After a few quick introductions, we ended up spending over an hour cooped in the van talking about our trip.

This photo by Alexandra Klos (KlosUpPictures.com) perfectly captures the essence of my dirtbaggery.

The chick ended up being this awesome photographer who was visiting two friends in Los Angeles hoping to discover exactly what she wanted to do with her life. She had spent the entire week raving to her two friends about the idea of buying a vehicle to live in while she traveled the country to photograph the outdoors – and totally took our chance encounter as a sign. By the end of our little chat, she was convinced that fate was telling her to just do it.

Stoked on our trip, she asked if she could film a little and take some photos of the van – and this is what she ended up with:

*Warning: I look like a TOTAL dirtbag bum. It ain’t pretty, folks.

Big thanks to Alexandra Klos for putting this sweet video together on the fly, it was definitely a much appreciated ego-boost to hear y’all tell us we were “iconic,” however untrue that may be! If you want to check out more from Klos Up Pictures, visit her Vimeo page, or head over to the Klos Up Pictures website , which is currently under construction, but I’m sure will soon be exploding with incredible photography.

But seriously. I look like such a bum. If it makes anyone feel better, the day after this photo, Niko and I rented a cheap motel room and I totally showered. I promise.

PS: Alexandra, we better see you out on the road living in your own van soon!
You’ve go the spirit and the guts to make it happen, and we hope you follow your dreams!

Satisfying my Inner Latina at Houston’s Finest Mexican Markets

I’ve been in Texas before – too many times, if you ask me. My visits to the Lonestar State are usually long stretches of driving during hauls across the country, most noteably my May journey where I struck a black bear with my hatchback at 2:30 AM while driving in the middle of nowhere.

Really, Texas and I don’t historically get along.

The first leg of the Simply Adventure trip called for a few weeks traversing new parts of Texas, but my excitement for places like Hueco Tanks was combated by the bad taste Texas tends to leave in my mouth.

And then I got to Houston.

Niko and I stopped in the city for a day on our way out to Reimer’s Ranch near Austin. We weren’t expecting much from the day, but ended up knee-deep in an incredible culinary journey.

The first stop: Canino Produce Co.

Brightly colored fruits and vegetables at Canino Produce market in Houston, Texas.

This bustling Houston hotspot is an absolute must for anyone into farmers markets. I haven’t been to all of the farmers markets in Houston, but I’d be willing to bet that this one is the best. Crowded rows of merchants line a narrow corridor where you can find everything from prickly cactus pears to thick bundles of fresh cilantro.

The best part? I didn’t speak a lick of English during my encounters with the farmers and veggie peddlers. I somehow summoned up my inner Cuban, and discussed everything from corn prices, avocado readiness, and pepper sizes entirely in Spanish.

We loaded up on multi-colored bell peppers, tall stalks of green onions, fat cherry tomatoes, and a wealth of vegetable before heading over to our next stop, which sits conveniently across the street.

My tray of goodies from El Bolillo Bakery in Houston, Texas.

El Bolillo Bakery is the kind of place that makes you question whether you’ve been teleported into the heart of Mexico.

Picture this: You walk into a cute bakery, pick up a giant metal tray, arm yourself with a pair of tongs, then wander through a maze of cabinets, displays, and countertops littered with a dizzying amount of freshly baked goods. It is absolutely incredible.

I felt like a little girl visiting my family in Mexico City as I explored the rows of skinny churros, plump bollilo rolls, and hundreds of unidentifiable treats. While I attempted to seek out familiar confections, Niko let his curiosity take control, and loaded up on whatever items tempted his appetite. We filled our tray with a heap of sweets, and grabbed a bag fullTeresa and I show off our goodies from El Bolillo Bakery in Houston, Texas. of the best tortillas I have ever eaten.

And it all came out to just $8.25 (including my gigantic bottle of Mexican cola). Culturally-rich, loaded with flavor, freshly baked, AND budget-friendly? Yes, please!

Afterwards, we retreated to Teresa’s house, where she cooked up an incredible taco dinner unlike any taco concoction you could imagine: I’m talkin’ tortillas filled with butternut squash, whole roasted beets, quinoa, kale, fresh arugula from her garden, and shredded queso blanco. Needless to say, I was a very happy camper after that meal.

While our stop in Houston was short, and focused largely around these two destinations, my experiences exploring the culture and food of the city’s Latino community totally changed my attitude towards Texas – an perspective that has only grown more favorable as I spent more time in this state.

The AVEX Travel Mug Review: A Spill-Proof, Van Life-Approved Tool for Road Trippers

If there’s one thing I’ve learned within the first week of van-dwelling, it’s this: Things bump around, a lot – and when they bump around, they are quite prone to spillage. And spillage, my friends, is not very fun when you’re living in a tiny mobile space. Thus far in the trip, we’ve spilled instant mashed potatoes, coffee, white gas, and flecks of pizza cheese all over the van. It ain’t pretty, folks. 

Enter the AVEX travel mug. I recieved mine right before the Simply Adventure trip began, and have been using it religiously ever since. These stainless steel beverage containers feature vacuum-sealed insulation and incredible auto-seal technology that renders your drink vessel 100% spill and leak-proof. Seriously.

My AVEX travel mug got buddy-buddy with the cacti out at Pace Bend Park in Texas.

I’m always skeptical when products make absolute claims, so I put my AVEX travel mug to the ultimate test: I gave it to Niko to use. I watched him carelessly knock it off countertops, throw it across the padded flooring at the rock gym, drop it numerous times, flip it upside down, you name it. And much to my surprise, not a single drop of water was shed from the bottle. Instant approval in my book.

Shake it upside down, toss it across a room, knock it off a shelf, the AVEX travel mug holds tight onto your liquids.Beyond its impeccable sealing powers, the AVEX travel mug offers a handful of additional features that bump it to the top of my drink-container gear list: it’s BPA-free, dishwasher safe (top rack), fits perfectly in the van’s cup holders, and keeps beverages both hot and cold for hours. The AVEX website gives the skinny on the exact insulation statistics: it keeps drinks hot for 5 hours, and cold for 14 hours. 

The best part? It’s affordable. I hate when a brand comes up with an ingenious product, then spikes up the price because they know their stuff is good. The folks at AVEX deliver a great product at a price even a van-dwelling dirtbag can jive with: the 16 oz. Highland Autoseal travel mug retails for $22.99. Not too shabby for such an impressive product, eh?

Now all I need is a sweet portable coffee-making set-up like the one Katie posted on Adventure Inspired and I’ll be set for endless days of caffeinated adventure on the road.

Bottom Line: I would highly recommend the AVEX travel mug to anyone who is constantly on-the-go and likes to bring a beverage along for the ride. This product lives up to the promises, it’s durable, and it has survived van life thus far. Mine was complimentary, but I would absolutely buy it any day.

Farewell, Florida – Missing our departure date, and (finally) beginning the Simply Adventure journey

For over a year, I’ve talked about this yearlong climbing trip, schemed up some hype around the Simply Adventure idea, and dreamt about the day I’d finally hit the road – and that day is today.

We were actually supposed to depart last night, but a series of unfortunate van mishaps kept us up all evening working on the interior of our new “home.” Nearing midnight, we decided to throw in the towel and abandon our goal of hitting the road before the sun rose. At first, I felt kind of guilty about not leaving; so many people have been eagerly awaiting my official departure. Ultimately, a friend offered wise advice that soothed my apprehensions about leaving a day late:

“A year of adventure can wait a day.”

And he was right. After giving ourselves a few extra hours to put the finishing touches on the van to make sure everything was perfect (and a quick pitstop to grab my last pint of corn nuggets from Lindy’s Chicken), we hit the road feeling 100% ready. Had we rushed through the night and attempted to leave “on time,” we would have woken up miserable with ourselves. I think we made the right choice, do you?

Right now we’re cooped up in a Mississippi rest stop with free wi-fi, scoping out our plan for tomorrow and catching up on e-mails. We drove through the Florida Panhandle and picked up a new bike rack, paused at a Walmart in Alabama, and crossed over into Mississippi – all in a fairly relaxing day. Tomorrow, we’ll continue on through Louisiana, and plan to make it out to Houston, Texas by Sunday!

Beginning this newfound van-dwelling lifestyle has been an oddly calming experience. I was expecting some big epiphany, some momentous occasion when we finally hit the road – but it’s all just peaceful. This is all really happening, and I think I am ready for it all. We’ll see how it all evolves, ha.

Want to know where we’re headed?
Stay tuned for the full itinerary (through March) on Monday! 

Official Results from Tallahassee Rock Gym’s Save The South 2013 Grand Reopening Event

There’s a rare phenomenon amongst writers: It’s that experience that you simply can’t seem to put into proper words. Any description or attempt at retelling the story feels subpar, grazing the surface at best. That’s exactly how I feel about trying to recount the incredible event that was Tallahassee Rock Gym‘s grand reopening and annual Save The South bouldering competition.

I’ve adopted the Save The South fundraiser event as my favorite rock gym project for the past three years, and while we knew that this year would be huge with the unveiling of our enormous new bouldering section, I was entirely unprepared for how incredible the event would turn out. Maybe it was the weeks of building and preparation I had watched unfold in anticipation of the event, or maybe it was the three hours of sleep I was running on, but I definitely choked up while welcoming climbers to our beautiful, hand built, grassroots, constructed-with-love, new bouldering section. I mean, look at it. We MADE this:A first look at the new bouldering section at Tallahassee Rock Gym.

Here’s a few stats to put things in perspective: Last year, we had about 50 climbers, and raised around $1500 for the Southeastern Climbers Coalition. Pretty sweet, right? This year, I wanted to dream big and aim to raise $2000 for the SCC. What really happened is this:

Over 100 climbers came out to the Save The South event,
and together we raised $3160 for the Southeastern Climbers Coalition

In addition, our friends at the SCC started a new effort to boost membership, so each registered climber at our event is now a 2013 member of the Southeastern Climbers Coalition – that’s over 100 new folks joining the family of this grassroots conservation organization. Incredible.A few of the lovely ladies who climb regularly at Tally Rock Gym, and came out to show their love.

We decided to host this year’s Save The South in January instead of the usual March date, largely because Niko and I will be many, many miles away from our home by spring – and this turned out to be the perfect way to kick off our year of Simply Adventure’s mission to spread the love of climbing and conservation within the community. We donated hundreds of dollars of gear to the event raffle, and spent the past few weeks toiling away to prepare for the climbing festivities.

I am still reeling from the unbelievable amount of love and sense of community that was exploding as climbers returned to Tally Rock Gym, some after being gone for many years, and celebrated the hard work and craft put into the new climbing walls. We had folks travel from Colorado, Texas, Orlando, Miami, Jacksonville, and beyond. Whether Tally Rock Gym was the first place they learned to climb, or they were veterans of our annual Save The South event, everyone poured into our humble warehouse space with the same eager attitude and unwavering excitement. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who came out to climb, spectate, and cheer – it was a true honor to have been a part of this event, and share it with all of you.
Max Richardson and Shea Nicole share the climbing wall during the Save The South event.

There are still over 1500 photos that I need to sort through and edit, but enjoy a few teaser images while you sort through the official score results. Note: The top three competitors for each category are in bold!  

LADIES

Meagan Martin 3769
Aubrey Wingo 2236
Lexi Toro 2153
Amy McKenna engages interesting beta during the Save The South event at Tallahassee Rock Gym.
Sarah Tepper 2061
Tessa Bullington 1773
Anna Hartzog 1750
Katie Devick 1713
Lauren Buntemeyer 1687

Cassie Newman 1648
Amy McKenna 1574
Nicole Nguyen 1533
Rima Nathan 1482
Jill Smith 1445
Melissa Martin 1390
Kaylee Cubeta 1313
Robyn Weinlauf 1258
Katie Pullen 1217
Candy 1175
Kayla Hibbard 1162
Ingrid Baldeon Passetti 1148
Haley Hyde 1062
Caitlin Marsteller 1013
Becka LaPlant 917
Casey Gray 893
Toni Sturtevant 805Sarah Tepper maneuvers up the arete at the Save The South event.
Tara Bullard 730

Kirsten Clauser 675
Leigh Fremuth 605
Heather Barry 350
Amy Gregor 310


MEN

Mark Mercer 4061
Usman Bashir 3556
Bryce Van Dam 3552
Brandon Iglesias 3184
Jackson Reynolds 3179
Ross Elliot 3150
Kris Long 2843
Wilkiam McKaba 2823
Johnathan Nilson 2803Finalist Lexi Toro crushes the women's finals route during the Save The South climbing competition.
Max Richardson 2801
Jim Smith 2773
Charles Carbiener 2688
Bryan Brindt 2665
Joe Mason 2631
Garrett Garner 2623
Mark Spottswood 2623
Thomas Sullenberger 2611
Ryan VanDeWater 2601
Nam Phan 2596
Colton Peters 2561
Michael Underwood 2546
Bo Cobb 2501
John Permenter 2491
Phil Harrell 2462
Jerry Polmerski II 2459
G Golding 2453
Eli Wolfe 2446
Marc Akbar 2436Dakota Lundeen eyes a big dyno move on the new roof wall at Tally Rock Gym during the Save the South event.
Kyle Sumner 2432
Dakota Lundeen 2431
Dominic Delgado 2417
Taylor Passetti 2398
Martin Stroh 2356
Mike Harrell 2347
David Lawson 2184
Patrick Bresland 2120
Ryan Abramowitz 2068
Alex Woo 1800
Philip Fralix 1768
Michael Hooten 1959
Asa Emmons 1753
Nick Seale 1723
Adrian Thompson 1509
Hunter Metzger 1427
Kurt Marsman 1349
Hal Fravel 1343
Justin Iseman 1304
Alex Pina 1167
Tyler Scheele 1005
Christian Stowers 813
Gary Fowler 727

Whether you placed first or fourteenth, I am so proud of each and every climber who came out to show their love for Tallahassee Rock Gym and the Southeastern Climbers Coalition. My heart grew about three sizes the morning after the competition, reading all of the statuses and posts from folks who love our rock gym, love our family, and felt welcome into our community. (We love you all too!)

Women's finalist Sarah Tepper shows off her raffle winnings - a sweet new Teton Sports Outfitter Quick Tent!Enormous heaps of gratitude are owed to some of our sponsors. Teton Sports and Geigerrig really stepped up to the plate and made generous donations for our gear raffle – which is a huge source of our fundraising for the Southeastern Climbers Coalition. Climbers were hovering over the swag table in hopes of winning the Teton Sports Outfitter Quick Tents and Geigerrig Hydration Packs, and I’ve already received a rave review from one of the lucky winners.

Thank you all again for coming out – and get ready for Save the South in 2014!