Van Life: Two skiers conquering Patagonia on wheels

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The following words are provided by TJ David.

Van Life: The freedom to chase storms from behind the wheel of your very own van. To live life on the fringe, unbound by societal norms that say you’re supposed to have a house, a car, a job, bills. The flexibility of the traveler, ready at a moment’s notice to drive through the most dangerous winter storms, to reach the furthest, most exotic and unusual locations, all in the name of powder. We’ve all heard the stories and read the accounts. Surely, this is something most skiers have contemplated during those month-long high-pressure systems like ones we get in Colorado every so often, where we’re caught asking ourselves, “will it ever snow again?”

I’d be lying if I didn’t openly admit I’d already bought into the lifestyle long ago through adventure magazines, Facebook posts and Instagram feeds that all sold me on the trendy rise of van life. However, the thought of sleeping night after night in a van, belly filled, mind lost in thoughts from the best day I’d just had and the better one I’ll have tomorrow, is of course partially disillusioned. In reality, I’ve never actually contemplated selling all my stuff and buying a van. Why? Because the real truth is I like life within the fringe, but hey, it’s nice to dream.

So, naturally, it came as a bit of a surprise when just a few weeks ago I found myself in a van, packing up my gear, in a rain storm, next to a lake, in the middle of central Patagonia, Argentina. Sixteen of the most unique, challenging and rewarding days of travel and skiing were behind me. My cohort, the Ohio-raised artist and accomplished skier, Jared Akerstrom, sat across from me. Jared was prepping dinner in the back of what we’ve dubbed, La Casa Rodante, or, the mobile home. With his feet stretched out across our bed, cutting board in his lap, knife in hand, we chatted openly about the last couple of weeks. In actuality, La Casa Rodante is a modestly outfitted Peugeot van, equipped to embrace van life, only if its Viajeros (travelers) are persistent enough, patient enough, and completely detached from the expectations one might have after reading another article glorifying the abundant splendor of the lifestyle. Because the truth is that van life isn’t easy, not in Patagonia.

We’d come to terms with the difficulties of La Vida del Viajero en Patagonia after our second, maybe third day of rain in a row. Van life was going to be what we made of it, and nothing else. Most of our early days were spent searching for fuel for our stoves, drying gear and moisture from the ceiling of the van that sometimes felt like an igloo. Making plans at night only to break them in the morning, our skiing objectives at the mercy of the merciless Patagonian weather. The latter days brought us through southern cities, around glacier lakes, and through deserts that rose into mountains, all in search of skiing. In Patagonia our plan A’s were almost always left for plan B’s. The best days we’d ever had in our lives coming in the strangest and most obscure locations. We found refuge from storms in los bosques (the forests) of central Patagonia, shelter from rain in the dry climate of el sur (the south) and exultation amongst the granite towers and golden spires that surround Refugio Emilio Frey.

We learned something, all our days in La Casa Rodante, weathering everything Patagonia could throw at us. That the life of the traveler doesn’t inherently mean you’re leaving something behind, always searching for something better, more adventurous, or more fulfilling in the future. The traveler is constantly evaluating his surroundings. He’s making the best choice as to where to go next based on the information available, always with thought and consideration. El Viajero has the flexibility to stay, to leave, and even return on a moments notice, because he has La Casa Rodante. The van, the mobile home, the one constant that brings all the un-parallel, unique experiences of the Viajeros we’ve all read about online together into one thing similar to our own experience, that we can unequivocally call van life.

You can read more about La Vida del Viajero en Patagonia on my website, tjdavidski.com/blog/.

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