Climbing With Kids: Stevie Trujillo Interview
I met Stevie, Tree and their adorable daughter Soleil in the Yosemite boulders last spring. I was getting in a few minutes of mama bouldering time, when up walked this adorable little family. My first thought was, “Oh! I hope they are locals, new playmate for Theo!” But after a few minutes of conversation I learned that they live permanently on the road, 5 plus years and counting! Yes, you read that correctly! You might think this is the sort of trip 21-year-olds do for 6 months as, let’s face it, all you need is a cheap RV and cheap online car insurance to make it possible. But there is so much to this lifestyle than you may give them credit for.
After a few more minutes I realized that meant they had their daughter on the road – holy smokes! So inspiring! They started in South America, and are slowly making their way up to Squamish, and then perhaps to Europe in a year or two. I immediately had road and travel envy….and a million questions. Like, how do you vaccinate? How do you climb? Where do you live? How does Soleil do on the road? How do you make money? All things that they were more than happy to oblige and answer all our questions.
Soleil and Theo played together while we got to climb a bit. She’s fluent in both Spanish and English and I was hoping that the more time Theo spent with her, perhaps some of that would wear off on him 🙂
Stevie does an amazing job at keeping a wonderful blog about their adventures, www.nomadlyinlove.com. Every time there is a new post I get inspired. I hope you enjoy her very thoughtful interview as much as I did!
Tell me a little about your journey to life on the road. How and when did it start? Where has it led you?
Thank you Beth for this interview. It was a pleasure to answer such thoughtful questions.
During the 2008 recession, after I got laid off from my fancy corporate job, Tree suggested that we take ‘a road trip’ in our converted Sprinter van. But it wasn’t just any road trip. He wanted to drive down the Pan-American Highway to the tip of South America. So, in October of 2009, we moved into the van and left our beachfront apartment in Venice, California for life on the road. The trip led us through the U.S. and 17 different Latin American countries from Mexico to Argentina for 5 years. Perhaps more poignant than the time and geographic distance traveled, however, are the “mental miles” traveled away from who we were when we began the trip to who we’ve become on this journey. What started as a short chapter in our life has become a fluid lifestyle, with the goal of slow-traveling around the world, and raising our daughter as a global citizen.
What were your and Tree’s thoughts about having children? I know a lot of people just want to nest and get a home/nursery set up, what were your thoughts on starting a family on the road? Did it come easy?
Tree had had the same reservations about having a child that I think a lot of extreme sport athletes feel. He was afraid it would mean the end of climbing, surfing, kayaking–the end of adventure. So when we took off on our trip, it was meant as sort of a last hurrah. We thought we’d only be gone a year, and then we’d come back, settle down, and have a baby. But, as I mentioned before, living on the road changed us, and our perspective of what’s possible in life. We didn’t want to give up what had become this unicorn lifestyle of intimacy and adventure, so we decided that we’d just have a baby wherever we happened to get pregnant along the way. That turned out to be Peru. Making that decision was actually easy; the hard part was—and always is—the logistics. We interviewed at least 7 different doctors in 7 different clinics trying to find a place we felt comfortable birthing. Peru has an 80% cesarean rate, which is INSANE. In the end, we found the right doctor and clinic in Lima, and all went well. That being said, my mother-in-law, who was present at the birth, told me afterwards that she was terrified for me. Something about the fluorescent lighting, recycled gowns, and metal stirrups really freaked her out. Let’s just say it was definitely not as cushy as giving birth in a developed country, but it added to the adventure!
After having Soleil, did your travel patterns change at all?
They changed a little, but not that much. We got an apartment in Lima towards the end of my pregnancy, but 2 months after Soleil was born, we flew her to the States to visit family, and then a month later, at only 3 ½ months old, we all piled back in the van in Peru—mom, dad, baby, and dog—and headed south for Bolivia. With 8 stamps in her passport thus far, Soleil has lived in foreign countries most of her life. In fact, a friend recently asked Soleil about her house, and she replied “mi casa hace vroom vroom!” (Translation: my house goes vroom vroom!).
I know Tree was a climber before having Soleil, but you started climbing after her, can you tell me a little about your path into climbing? What inspired you to start after becoming a mother?
Soleil had just turned a year old, and we got her a helmet and harness for her 1st birthday. When it hit home that our child would grow up climbing, I wanted to be a part of that experience, too. I didn’t want to just pack lunches and take pictures—not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I really wanted Soleil to have a personal, athletic, female role model, so why not her mom? Truthfully, I was also a little jealous at the thought of Tree being the more “fun parent,” so I decided to put on a harness and shoes and give it a shot. As it turned out, I instantly fell in love with climbing, and climbing as a family? Oh my god, it’s the coolest thing ever, even with the occasional toddler meltdowns.
How was your recovery from birth on the road? Was it difficult to have an infant and not have a home base?
We spent 2 more months in our apartment in Lima after the birth, and Tree’s mom had flown down to help us during that time, which made recovery pretty comfortable, especially in comparison to what I was used to. At the same time, it’s probably a good thing that we hit the road again as soon as we did. Fortunately, we’ll never know how hard we had it (or have it) in comparison to having a home base, but judging from other people’s experience and reactions, I think we definitely trade ease and convenience for excitement and adventure. Anyone who has lived on the road long term knows the challenges, but for us it’s worth it.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have found to climbing/living full time on the road with Soleil?
Living on the road with Soleil seems easy enough to us. Again, we don’t really know any other way, which is probably for the best. But one thing I know for sure that’s more difficult is the lack of childcare. Sometimes I fantasize about what it would be like to live close to Sol’s Grandma, or have a trusted daycare, preschool, or nanny. It’s hard to juggle work with Outdoorplay.com, writing, climbing, and being a mom. Yet we have no plans to stop traveling, and we plan to home school Soleil—so yeah, add being a teacher to that list—which means I guess we’re embracing the challenges.
As for climbing, I’m reluctant to even answer the question lest I discourage climbers from ever having children. But I can’t lie, it’s challenging when kids are really young. We always have to consider how hard the approach is, how dangerous the crag is, how long we can climb before the imminent meltdown. Do we need to bolt her to a wall or watch out for poison oak? Are we going to nap her outside or head back early? But everyone says it gets easier, and so far, that’s proving true. For a while we were only bouldering, and that is pretty easy to do with a toddler, but we both prefer rope climbing. Lately we’ve been recruiting other climbers to either babysit or belay, and that works pretty well. (Hint hint readers, the job pays $10/hr and we’ll be at Maple Canyon all of September 🙂 )
What are some of the biggest benefits you have found?
Despite the challenges, climbing as a family is so awesome, and I know it will only get better as Sol gets older. Tree and I love that we share a passion to climb, but sharing this gift with Soleil is even more rewarding. Even now, at 2 ½yrs old, she loves it. She picks out her own boulders and is stoked to work her routes. She cheers us on—“Muy bien, Mama. Go Dada!”—and spends countless hours playing with sticks and rocks. Climbing as a family encourages us to spend so much more time together outside than we would otherwise. And, really, I think that’s the remedy to so many modern ailments like stress, depression, anxiety, and especially ADHD in children. We’re meant to run wild with our tribe, get dirty, and have some adventure in life. We’re definitely not meant to sit at desks all day, especially not when we’re children.
Tell me what a typical day looks like for you guys?
That’s hard to answer. Some days are spent driving, some days are focused on work, and some days—the good days—are filled with exploring a new part of the world, testing our limits in nature, meeting new people and experiencing a different expression of life that expands us, makes us more compassionate and whole. But regardless of whether it’s a heinous driving day, an exhausting workday, or a super-duper rad outside day, we’re always together, sharing a common vision and working together to realize it—and that in itself is fulfilling. Certainly, our lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but that’s the point, right? We each need to find our own expression on this planet, one that honors our innate need for intimacy, community, nature, and adventure. Of course, making our lifestyle happen is not always easy, but it’s worth it in a way that my old, decidedly more lucrative life never was. I like to say that we downsized our lifestyle to super-size our life experience.
As a new mom myself, I’m in complete awe of your guys’ lifestyle. Do you have any plans to change it in the foreseeable future?
Well, I guess the feeling is mutual then! We’re in complete awe of the way you’ve chosen to express your stay on this planet too 🙂 As for changing our path, we have no plans to alter our direction at this point. We love our life on wheels and hope to keep on rolling as long as we can. Especially now that we have Soleil, it’s even more important to us that we show her how possible it is to create a lifestyle that speaks to your heart’s desires. Down the road, she may not choose what we have chosen, but at least she’ll believe she can live her passion. And, hopefully, one day Soleil looks back with fondness at her memories of traveling and climbing with her old folks.
Can you tell me what your current set up is on the road (ie vehicle)?
These days we are the proud owners of a 35ft, Fleetwood Bounder, and we tow a retro Trooper behind it. It’s a beast. With its retrofitted solar capabilities and enormous holding tanks, we can live off the grid for quite a while. And it’s a mansion compared to the Sprinter van we used to live in. It’s not as fuel-efficient as I would like, but it’s the perfect rig for traveling as a family through the western states, which is where we’ll be for the most part this next year. More long-term, we plan to slow-live in Spain and France in 2017, and then overland the rest of Europe, which will definitely require a different kind of rig, maybe even another Sprinter. Or maybe it’s on to Asia in backpacks….who knows, we’re flexible 🙂
What are the best kid friendly areas you have found thus far?
So far we’ve climbed mostly in South America with Sol. Our favorite spot down there was Piedra Parada, in northern Patagonia, Argentina. (Here’s a short video we made about it.) It’s difficult to get to without a car, but the climbing is stellar, the approaches are flat, and the camping is rustic, wild, and gorgeous. Aside from there, we found climbing in Mendoza, Argentina to be very approachable as a family. In fact, we’re going back for 6wks this fall to climb and drink lots of malbec! Cera do Cipo Brazil is fantastic, too. Amazing climbing, tons of classic and new routes, with moderate approaches. And like Piedra Parada, you can walk from your camp/hostel to the crags. Both Brazilians and Argentines love kids, too, so that always helps. Lastly, we had a great time in Cochamo, Chile. Aside from having to hike 10k in and out with a baby on board, the experience was awesome! Tree climbed the big walls while Soleil and I hiked the numerous trails. Cochomo is actually really similar to Yosemite—well, minus 4million people, road access, electricity, bears, and deer. Now that we’re back up North, however, we’re still trying to figure out the best places to climb as a family. We’ve enjoyed bouldering in Bishop and Yosemite, and we’re currently sport climbing in Squamish and will be either at Smith rocks or Maple Canyon this September. And Tree keeps raving about Rifle, so I’m sure we’ll be there soon. So far so good, but we’re totally open to suggestions! If anyone knows of any great family crags, please let us know.
Which brings me to my final comment. I just want to say how honored I am to have been asked to participate in your Climbing with Kids series. Thank you! I really appreciate the interviews you do because they create a feeling of accessibility and community around climbing as a family, and I think that image enhancement pushes the sport in ways that are just as valuable as some of your amazing first ascents. It reminds me of what Laird Hamilton has done for surfing. There you have this big wave rider who pushed surfing in ways that are far beyond the reaches of even the best surfers and has yet made Stand-Up Paddling a household name and family sport. It’s a beautiful thing to see the far-reaching extremities of human discipline and skill coupled with the thrill of a child standing up on a surfboard or toddling up a rock for the first time. I guess for me that’s what all outdoor sports are about—pushing our personal limits to simultaneously access the wild within and the wild without through movement in nature. Who cares where those limits begin and end? Especially when, as a mom, it’s often more fulfilling for me to watch Soleil send her route than for me to send mine. The burden of ego is lifted so much by having a kid at the crag, and there’s so much freedom and fun in that! 🙂