By Spenser Tang-Smith.
Today we’re bringing you the first installment in a three-part series from Spenser Tang-Smith, one half of The RV Project‘s dynamic duo. Along with his partner Vikki Glinskii, The RV Project is their adventure across America in search of the country’s best climbing and most interesting people. All photos courtesy of RV Proj. If #Vanlife has lost its luster, Spenser’s here to give you beta on the new-new: TrailerLife.
For the past two months, Vikki and I have woken up with hundreds of boulder problems a short walk away. The climbing is varied, creative, and gymnastic, and new problems are going up all the time.
This could mean that we just moved into an apartment within a reasonable walking distance of Pipe/Ironworks, Mission/Id Cliffs, or Id Metal Studio Power Mission Rock Gym (which is the super-gym I imagine will occupy the greater part of downtown Boulder, Colorado in 5-10 years).
To be honest, we can’t afford to live in such a swanky spot. The housing market these days, amirite? No, I’m not rite. The housing market has little to do with why we can’t afford to live next to a Touchstone gym.
We can’t afford to live next to a Touchstone gym because most of our legal tender went into building this out:
Those boulder problems? They’re in Joe’s Valley. Envy us.
Dat Trailer Life Doe
The #VanLife trend is tired. The SF Chronicle recently dedicated their whole travel section to it, yet was apparently unable to find a staff writer capable of even feigning interest. Take a peek at Craigslist and you’ll find Sprinters that look like patchwork quilts of Pinterest “life-hacks” selling for $65,000 and up. I personally know several people who’ve started companies that specialize in van build-outs.
TrailerLife. Trending soon on a Twitter near you. I’m here to tell you what the view from the crest of the new wave looks like. It’s pretty damn sweet.
I don’t write this only for the sake of egotistical self-aggrandizement, nor is this purely for self-promotion. Candidly speaking, those are part of the equation, but I suggest that there are many poignant lessons we’ve learned from six years of living on the road and building out a pair of rolling homes. And if nothing else, I hope this post provides enjoyment, rather than the seething rage that is part and parcel of today’s news cycle.
This, Part One, is a quick intro to who we are, what we do, and why we need a fancy trailer.
Part Two is the nerd-out portion, in which we’ll discuss engineering problems, solutions, and pitfalls. Instead of a how-to guide, imagine if an FAQ page made a sexy baby with a listicle.
In Part Three, we wrap it up all with a pretty little bow. We’ll talk about overall lessons learned, things we didn’t consider but wish we had, and miscellaneous musings.
So here’s us in the Squamish Chief, young and naïve. That was our old trailer, a little 6’ x 10’ plywood box on wheels, essentially. I added some more lumber in the forms of bed and bookshelf, as well as a rudimentary solar panel/battery/inverter setup. At the time, we didn’t have much work that couldn’t be tackled in coffee shops, and that little trailer was our main residence for several years. We made our name by immersing ourselves in the US climbing scene and carrying cameras, collaborating with the likes of Lizzy Asher, Flannery Shay-Nemirow, Alex Johnson, Ethan Pringle, and Alex Honnold as the opportunities presented themselves. Staying fit and “out there, getting after it” are integral to our business.
A couple of years ago, we committed to a major documentary project (which you can read about here), and we knew at that point that we’d outgrown our little trailer. We tried to rent an office and crank away at the project, but we’d underestimated the enormity of the task and realized we’d likely never get back into the rhythm of living and working from the road if we didn’t address the trailer situation immediately.
As luck would have it, our new trailer was parked just a few hundred feet from the old one, in the possession of our friend Devin, who had built about 60% of a tiny home inside. We agreed on a bit of cash plus a trade-in, and literally met Devin at the crossroads en route to Yosemite (where we were to spend the summer of 2017 as volunteer Climber Stewards for the park) and exchanged trailers.
Unfortunately, the new trailer lacked the amenities we needed—electricity in particular. The layout wasn’t optimal for our home office requirements either, so it was clear that we’d need to start from scratch. I drew an empty box in Google Sketch-Up, then we set about the task of fitting everything from cameras and clothing to giant batteries and a comfortable mattress inside. Thankfully, we had five years of experience to draw on (and draw with. You know, since we were making drawings).
My aunt and uncle have a big garage on their property, and generously allowed us park the trailer on the gravel outside and to use part of the garage as storage/workspace. We gutted the trailer in early February, and we anticipated finishing by late March. The trailer didn’t move until June.
Introducing Dustin and Liz
Dustin and Liz are The RV Project on steroids. I met Dustin at the base of Rainbow Country, one of those long-approach multipitch R-rated scarefests at Red Rocks in Las Vegas. Our parties happened to descend about the same time, and Dustin and I had the entire hike out to share our stories. He’d just sold a software company and built out a Ford Econoline, and was starting a company called Vansion Roadshow Productions with Liz, his girlfriend, to live on the road and document climbing.
A couple living on the road, filming and climbing and filming climbing. Sound familiar? Even our acronyms are damn near identical.
It was February 22, 2018, and I was perhaps a week from finishing the trailer build. I’d used my rudimentary woodworking skills to fashion a crappy desk and a decent bedframe that hinged like a poor man’s Murphy bed. I got a message that the Vansion was in town, and we met for lunch at the deli near my aunt and uncle’s place.
That was when I saw their new van, Vansion 3.0. My life would never be the same. I mean, it’s got 2 showers, with hot water. There’s an espresso machine. It’s got a full production studio in it. And it looks, at first glance, just like a very nice but very normal climber van. I became a believer in intelligent design.
When we drove up the hill and I showed Dustin and Liz what I’d done so far, I was a tad embarrassed. But fortune, she was smiling down on us that day. It turned out that Vansion’s plan was to put together a TV pilot about remodeling vans for various adventures, and they’d help us out if we agreed to help with gathering footage. We’d worked well together before, so the suggestion was met with an enthusiastic “yes” from all concerned. For the next 4 months, we would meet at the garage for several days at a time and assemble the RV Project headquarters, located as of this writing approximately 1/4 mile from Black Lung, the V13 that put Joe’s Valley on the map.
Stay tuned next week for Part 2, where we’ll discuss engineering problems, solutions, and pitfalls of the trailer build.