An Adventure 40 Years in the Making

This year, I decided to do something I’ve always wanted to do.

Last year, I did nothing in particular to celebrate my 39th birthday. Some family called and Sarah took me out to a nice dinner. But I didn’t throw a party or make a fuss.

This birthday feels different.

And so that’s the challenge I gave myself. I’m turning 40 and I want to make a big deal of it.

Ever since I got on the Internet, I’ve been researching VanLife. That’s the nomadic dream where you travel the world while living and working in a van.

My obsession started by looking at School Bus conversions and then has more recently morphed into collecting one of the all time great #VanLife Youtube Playlists.

But I’ve struggled to actually turn this research project into a reality. For one, I have job. That’s really the core challenge.

The closest I got was three years ago when Sarah, Eggs (our dog) and I rented a camper van and work-cationed our way from San Francisco to Yellowstone to Crater Lake and back. That was over the course of two weeks.

The lesson of that work-cation was that van life is a lot of work. The logistics are never ending: find a place to pull over, empty the tanks, find internet access, find power, make sure our dog isn’t too hot, drive.

And yet, we loved it. It was such an amazing adventure. We saw parts of the country that we’d never see otherwise.

I want to do it again. I am doing it again.

My trip starts March 22nd in Scottsdale, Arizona. That’s three weeks from today.

I’ve arranged to borrow a sweet rig. It’s a 2016 Winnebego Travato. Basically that’s a Sprinter Van. You see those all over town acting as delivery vehicles.

Only, instead of cargo space, Winnebego has filled the inside with every luxury imaginable: stove, microwave, fridge, air conditioning, beds, shower, toilet.

It even has a solar panel. Doesn’t it look sweet?

I was going to build my own camper van, but then I realized I have a full time job. Taking on a 100 hour construction project as a non-construction-literate would have been insane.

My trip starts in Scottsdale and ends in Banff four months later. But because I’m a productivity nut, I can’t just drive around enjoying things. I have to make goals.

So, in honor of this being my 40th birthday, here are 40 goals for the trip.

Guiding Principles

1. Say yes. It’s an adventure. I have no idea what’s actually going to happen, but I’m open to anything.

2. Make piles of money. Many VanLifers work to live, selling belongings or taking the minimum of contract jobs. I’m the opposite. I often live to work, just this way I’ll have better scenery.

3. Hike the best. The vast majority of my site seeing plans are focused on National Parks. I’m bringing my backpacking gear too.

4. Improve my mountain bike skills. I’m not yet a great mountain biker. Or even good. Really, all I’ve mastered is the slow speed crash. I can work several of those into even the easiest ride. But mountain biking meccas are my second biggest organizing force.

5. Learn, then teach. I don’t know any other way than to try to document this adventure and pull out lessons. This particular post doesn’t have many lessons, but I already have tons of drafts about how you could do an adventure like this too.

6. Connect. Nobody who knows me well believes me when I say that I’m an introvert. This trip has tons of alone time, which I’m going to cherish. But I also want to connect and the best way to connect is one on one. That suits me better than one big party.

Say Yes

7. Summit something over 10,000 feet. I’m terribly afraid of heights. It’s a rational fear too — heights screw with my depth perception and there’s a real chance I’ll just tip over the edge. Confronting this is a big goal.

8. Have a meal with a stranger. This is really a mindset to be striking up conversations. Ending up sharing a meal is the measure of whether I’m being open to the people around me.

9. Experience wu-wu. In personal development, the phrase “wu-wu” is a term of art that means “having no basis in science or rationality.” Sign me up.

10. Tour Marfa. This tiny Texas town has become a haven for modern art. It’s also where I think I’ll be on my actual birthday.

Piles of Money

11. Promote the hell out of coaching. That’s my work mission: make coaching a dominant form of personal development on par with classes and books.

12. Document everything. I’ll be writing exclusively for Medium Members. Some dude made $11,000 in one month here just writing depressing stuff about politics. I’m betting on some optimistic travelogues with great pictures performing well here.

13. Turn that documentation into book(s). Self-published is fine.

14. Get a trip sponsor. Really just to see if I can. Hello: Nutribullet, Nitrotech, KetoMojo, KetoKitchen.

15. Cost neutral. Through some sort of writing and sponsorship, get the cost of the trip down to zero. This is just a “prove it to myself” sort of goal.

Hike the Best

16. Hike (at least) ten national parks. For example: Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Moab, Big Bend, Hot Springs, Badlands, Tetons, Glacier, Banff

17. Backpack a two-day trip. Currently planning this for week one in the Grand Canyon.

18. Backpack a 20-miler. Epic if I could do that in two days.

19. Backpack a 30-miler. Would validate the trip as a fitness builder if I could do this in two days.

20. Meditate above 10,000 feet. All of my options for this stress my fear of heights.

21. Face my fear of heights at Angels Landing. Here’s a pic:


Improve My Mountain Bike

22. Get 20 hours of riding in before Moab. I want to be one entire level above completely lame by the time I get to the number one riding mecca in the country.

23. Moab. Many of the trails seem above my level. For example:


24. Ride 20 miles in a day. I’ve done a century on the road, but never this far on a mountain bike.

25. Hit the Meccas. Sedona, Moab, Hotsprings, Bentonville.

Learn, Then Teach

26. Nature photography. This is my big learning hobby. I take fewer pictures than anyone I know and have literally zero knowledge or skills. But I’m eager to learn and to apply some coaching and behavior science toward my education. Follow me on Instagram.

27. Video document a hike. I researched my destinations by watching a ton of amateur hiking videos. Doing one myself will be a good exercise in making videos.

28. Video document a bike ride. This is also how I researched the mountain biking trails I’m going to. I’ve got my GoPro and mount ready to make my own contribution to the field.

29. Write a “Photography Skill Checklist” and check each skill off. This is how I’m forcing myself to practice. Every time I come across a photo or video concept, I put that concept into a checklist. At the end of the trip I want to have executed at least one example of each concept.

30. Go ketogenic, write the #VanKeto Cookbook. Ketones refer to a marker in your body when you’re burning fat instead of sugar. As I write this, my KetoMojo finger-prick blood testing device says I’m at 2.2, which is good. Can I keep that up on the road?

31. Get my Meditation Teacher Certificate. This is my big coaching-skills project. I’ve just needed some time to finish it.


32. Meditate with a guru in Sedona. This is my first stop and the town is crawling with gurus of all stripes. I’ll give myself extra points if I can meet an actual cult leader.

33. See Sarah three times. I have it planned so that I get a big solo start, then meet her in Marfa, then fly home for two weeks in the middle, and then have her join at the end for Glacier or Banff. I definitely have a chance to go home for an extra weekend or two in there as well.

34. See old friends in Taos and Albequerque. New Mexico marks the end of the solo portion of my trip. There are lots of friends to see the rest of the way.

35. Organize a college reunion in Grinnell. I often say Grinnell is the best small school in the country and one reason why is that I still keep in touch with my professors. That never happens at a big school.

36. Organize a party in Minneapolis. Lot of friends there and so this has to be a big event.

37. Meet every US-backed coach who works for us. I’ll get to see our certification grader in her home town and then meet our newest coach in person for the first time.

38. Kansas City BBQ. I’ve lived in St. Louis, so I know what that style of BBQ is like. But my friend Connor is promising to show me the best Kansas City has to offer.

39. Organize a Coach Meetup. A lot of the cities I’m in are filled with great coaches. It would be nice to get a few together for a hike or group meditation.

40. Convince someone to go backpacking with me. My most reliable friend for this is carting around two babies. So now I need backup. Are you in?

What am I missing?

Human potential busy body. Founded @coachdotme, @bttrHumans, @bttrMarketing. Helped @medium @calm. Current work focus: Habit Coach Certification.

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