"Why don't we stay here?"
"Ok!" I blurted out, immediately surprised at how quickly I had just agreed to move to a new city.
My partner Marika and I had been traveling full-time in our van, Fitz. We wanted to slow down from the constant travel to settle into one place for the summer. We both have an eternal desire for new places but felt it was time for some steady daily patterns.
Van life is a sacrifice in many ways, but the trade-offs grant opportunities that you cannot find in any other lifestyle. When Marika suggested that we settle, it took only my agreement to make it a reality. Our "move" to the Eastern Sierras required only the decision not to leave. Sure, we might not have much, but when you have everything you own with you at all times, "moving" actually just means staying put.
Marika and I connect deeply in so many ways, but perhaps most in our perpetually wandering spirits. With a Swiss mom, she grew up splitting time between two continents, two languages, and two very different sets of relatives. My story is much different, but we've grown such overlapping values from two very disparate life paths. I grew up in southern California and followed a fairly standard path until I left an engineering career four years ago to travel full-time, write, and coach. We are both more terrified to remain in place than any of the financial or logistical perils that come with a life in constant flux.
We returned home from living in New Zealand under the compromise that we would only return state-side if we built a camper van to continue our travels. Our decision to live in Mammoth Lakes for a full year may, at first, seem life a similar compromise. While we have to press pause on our pursuit of our ever-growing list of laces to explore, California's Eastern Sierra Nevada offer more opportunity for adventure that perhaps we could find through constant travel.
Our van lifestyle allows us to stumble into big life decisions and embrace opportunities as they come. A sandstorm crossing Death Valley delayed our drive enough that we had to stop in the Alabama Hills, outside of Lone Pine, CA. We woke up to a wonderland. The Alabama Hills are "alpine Joshua Tree," a compact zone of similar rock type and formations as the famed southern California National Park, but at the foot of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States (with free camping to boot). As two climbers looking for a temporary home, we had struck gold. Our forced one-night stopover morphed into a month of daily climbing and connecting with a new friend who will be one of our most valued humans for life.
Our love affair with the Eastern Sierra was born of our time in Lone Pine, the Alabama Hills, and Mt. Whitney. It wasn't until we tried to drive away that we understood the firm grasp that this area had on us. When traveling for surf, I always try to abide by Surf Trip Rule #1: never drive away from good waves. The allure of "new" will always be there, but if you cannot imagine leaving, don't.
We had just begun to soak in. still talking about where our next "home" might be, we didn't realize that we had already found it. In many ways, the Eastern Sierra chose us.
So, in the downtime after a climbing accident hospital visit, we decided to stay, discovering the truth of John Muir's thoughts on the Sierras: "Going to the mountains is going home."
We are now six months removed from that first accidental night in the Alabama Hills and four months from our decision to call Mammoth home. We still lust for other places but we've only tapped a small fraction of the endless adventures that these mountains offer. Our decision to stay a full year, at first, like a compromise. It now feels like a cruel trick; the more seep into life in the Eastern Sierra, the more possibilities they reveal to us/
We stayed for the climbing and the promise and the promise of a world-class winter resort. While first enamored with the abundance and beauty of the alpine peaks, we discovered five-start climbs in every other genre of climbing. Mammoth sits at the intersection of the Eastern Sierra with their craggy, 14,000-foot peaks, and the dynamic geological landscape of the Long Valley Caldera.
Within only a few minutes drive we find Yosemite-like granite walls and cracks, world-class boulders and sports climbs, thousands of alpine lakes, miles of backcountry trails, and dozens of natural hot springs. We can mountain bike at the resort in the morning, climbing in the afternoon, take a dip in a lake on our way down, then sit in a hot spring to watch the sunset behind some of the tallest peaks on the continent. Changing seasons ensure that new adventures are always around the corner.
We think always of our next travels, but for now, we are home. We knew that the Eastern Sierras abound with more adventures that any intrepid team could possibly tackle, but we had no ideas that one could so deeply ensnare two perpetual wanderers.