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Chamonix

Two years in a van…

It’s been two years that we’ve lived in that van. That small two metre squared house on wheels. A bed, a cooker, an oven, a fridge, lights, shelves for our clothes and boxes for our climbing, alpinism, cycling and camping gear. A solar panel allows us to charge our phones and to run the heater in winter. The height of luxury, we’ve got a library full of mountaineering guidebooks and maps from here to eternity. We repurpose three five litre containers that we fill up once a week with water. The membership at the climbing gym gives us the possibility of a shower during opening times. We need only walk two minutes to reach the public toilet. We try always to park where no one will be disturbed. Discretion, cleanliness, respect and politeness are our watchwords.

Van Hiver

Why? Freedom, low environmental impact, off-grid independence, daily contact with nature. A simple existence reduced to the essential.

How? Working. The money we save in rent, we spend on our passions. Skis, crampons, bikes, always saving for our Long Journey.

Are we dangerous? We are conscious that if everyone lived like us, it would be complicated to manage. The fact remains however that few would sign up for this way of life. Getting dressed before work at -15°C, renouncing your coffee because the water is frozen? Bending over backwards to find your jacket under the bed?

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We aren’t harmful to anyone. So why are we pointed out? Despised? Denounced as vulgar thugs? It’s been two years that we live in a van together. Two years we don’t understand. This morning, whilst cycling to work, I nearly got run over by a bus. I called the police. Nothing they can do for this dangerous driving. This afternoon, the police came to see me.
Are you the one parked here?
Yes.
It’s time to move on, we have had a call from some disturbed neighbours.

Is that really the role of the police? Ensuring that everyone fits the mould? Instead of making the roads safer, they tell me to leave for choosing to live differently. We rest within the law, nothing we do is illegal. Is it that hard to understand that our lifestyle is a choice? That it hurts nothing but conformity. One’s freedom stops where another’s starts. We don’t impose upon nor take away your freedom. We ask only for respect in kind.

… In Chamonix

A valley of contrast. Between luxurious chalets for millionaires in transit and random vans wherein dwell passionate climbers. Between crowded paved streets and indomitable mountains. Between touristy cable car summits and wide open wild spaces.

A small town looking like a big one. Russian and British, Portuguese and Irish, Japanese and Spanish, Parisian and Marseillais. They come by choice to these streets. Accents are mixed-up, languages become combined. The baguette is King but the speaking of French remains but an accessory.
Nose in the air, feet on the ground. Profit at any price is devastating, the pollution news-breaking. Seasonnaires, sometimes exploited, struggle to enjoy a defiled paradise. Glaciers are melting while asthma is spreading. The climate emergency is palpable and measures are slow to be taken. Cyclists remain unloved, buses reserved for tourists, land being sold mercilessly. But the resistance is here as well. Discrete but active. Organised or natural. Some locals share their gardens. Some alpinists guide with passion. Some shop owners give priority to human contact over contactless payment.

Towards a new adventure.

The moment we’ve awaited and feared in equal measure is upon us. Departure, goodbyes. Two bikes, two harnesses, one rope. Ready to discover the world, climb crags big and small, to live an adventure. Our permanent contract with Adventure is signed. Adieu the house on wheels, bonjour the life on two wheels. What’s in store? Open working hours that are paid in happiness and a nomadic lifestyle with unknowns at every turn.
What drives us? The desire for a simple daily life, a vital need of freedom, the foolish dream of leaving only a trace in the memory of our visit. Pedalling. Eating. Climbing. Sleeping. Being amazed. And repeat.
Weather forecasts see us over heating our tanks, bursting our banks. The newspaper spins us depression, war and closing borders. The planet still goes round and our lives still run on the clock. Clocking out, we have no deadline, chasing and being chased by time is tiring and frustrating. From the UK, we’ll cycle, due East. Get a boat to America, North to South. Cross to Africa to come full circle.

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