ADAM SMITH: @ROADLYFE
By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 1/8/18
We are back!! The fifty ninth installment in our ongoing interview series here at Dirt Orcas kicks off the 2018 campaign in style. We are very please to share the life and stories of Adam Smith, or as you may know him, @roadlyfe.
I am excited to speak with Adam because his passions align with my own. His focus on the outdoors, wildlife, people, Toyota’s, and extended travel are just a few of the things we share in common. His passion really shines through in his fantastic Instagram account, @roadlyfe. After you read this interview carefully, make sure you give him a follow. His gallery has a nice combination of intimate real life moments from the road, with some glorious scenery and Toyota celebration spliced in. You can also stay up to speed with his whereabouts via the RoadLyfe Facebook page. While you’re at it, follow him on twitter as well.
In addition to being a full time adventure traveler, Adam is also a fine photographer. His personal webpage, roadlyfe.com is a terrific central hub for all things RoadLyfe. There you can see his work, follow his personal blog, check out his online store, and his Patreon page.
Now that the business is out of the way, it’s important to give credence to why interviewing Adam is exciting. In my opinion, Adam is the genuine article. He is a guy who does “it”. The guy who sacrifices for the life he wants to pursue and embraces that sacrifice openly. There is an honesty that comes through in his words and photography that resonate. Within his material you will also find a good amount of the subsequent upside to the life he lives. The locations, the dreamy camp spots, and a sharp sense of commitment to focus on the things he prioritizes.
Adam is a terrific reminder that getting the life you desire may be much more realistic that you think. It may only take some small adjustments. Embracing those adjustments is the key to thriving in that life.
Check out our interview and some of Adam’s photography below.
What do you consider to be your place of work?
I guess to put it simply, the great outdoors. I draw almost all of my influence from nature.
Tell me about your vehicle. What do you call it?
She’s a custom 1988 4×4 Toyota Hilux, perfectly married to a 1977 Chinook.
I’ve always called her Shadowfax, after Gandalf’s horse. I’m a fan of the relationship between those two because they were buds who just liked being around each other. Also, she is a stoic, beautiful goddess.
What other vehicles did you consider and what made you ultimately pull the trigger on the one you bought?
There were actually never any other dream vehicles for me. The first time that I saw the Chinook, I knew that it was the one for me. My friend drove it down to Kansas City to visit from Canada and I immediately fell in love with it. I made him promise right then and there that if he ever sold it, that he would give me first stab at buying it. Five short years later, he was finally ready to let it go.
That being said, I started living on the road in a trusty old Honda Civic, which I totalled in Northern California about 6 months into my journey. After that mess, I bought a newer (2001,ha) model VW Eurovan. I built the van out with a simple little living/storage space in the back that worked wonderfully. Once he was ready to sell the Chinook, I took a train up to BC from Portland and drove the Chinook back to the states to begin the importation process. I had convinced myself that importation would be a huge pain in the rear, but because of the truck’s age (1988) it turned out to be really simple.
Have you made any upgrades or changes to it?
Sure, I replaced the bed in the back and made a few small adjustments to the way that the sleeper area functions. I replaced the 12v Marine fridge with a more efficient modern 12v cooler. The truck came with a 100w small solar system. I completely replaced the old system with a 200w solar panel that charges three Optima Bluetop deep cycle batteries through a 30A MPPT Solar charge controller. I also installed a Samlex Solar Charge Isolator which charges my batteries off of the alternator when the truck is running. I had some issues keeping the batteries topped up in the rainy PNW winters and this piece of equipment really changed my game. I ripped all of the old wiring out of the Chinook when I upgraded the solar system in replaced it all with new heavier gauge wiring to help protect against shorting and fire.
What is your favorite part about it living/working out of your vehicle?
The freedom that it affords me. I can literally go to sleep next to the ocean one night and spend the next up in the mountains. I hate the heat so by not being bound to one place, I don’t feel trapped by bad weather. I can just get up and go.
What is your least favorite part about it?
I think the only thing that really limits me is that I don’t feel like I can have a dog. My truck isn’t air conditioned, so leaving them in the vehicle wouldn’t be an option for a significant portion of the year.
How many miles have you put on your vehicle?
Close to 80,000 miles.
What is the best place you have taken it?
It’s hard to say really, I’ve taken it so many amazing places. My favorite trip this year started in Portland, OR then headed out over Mt. Hood and down the Columbia River Gorge out to Lake lake Wallowa in Eastern Oregon. From there I went north to Lewiston, ID to catch Highway 12 this skirts the gorgeous Clearwater River for close to 200 miles as it works its way back west from Montana. The Clearwater runs through Idaho’s Bitterroot Wilderness, one of the most beautiful expanses of wilderness that America has to offer. Highway 12 drops you out in Missoula, a damn fine town to grab a beer with friends and resupply. A short jog east on I-90 from Missoula will put you on highway 200 which winds up through a series of small lakes towards junction of highway 83. Heading north on 83, you run the coasts of Salmon, Seeley, Inez and eventually Swan Lakes before being deposited on the shore of Flathead Lake. From Flathead, it is an easy jaunt to the Hungry Horse Reservoir, where I spent a few days exploring the deep wilderness surrounding the lake. Unfortunately, I hit East Glacier NP too soon for the Going to the Sun Highway to be open all the way through, so I spent a couple of days exploring the deep warren of gravel roads that snake through the north end of the park. After looping around the park and meeting up with highway 49 and then 89, I set to exploring St. Mary Lake before heading north into Canada. I took highway 22 north towards Calgary and started the epic ascent up into the Canadian Rockies. From there I sent the next six weeks exploring much of Banff, Jasper and Kootenay National Parks. It was a pretty incredible trip.
Is there just one?
There is not, I don’t think that there are even ten. I don’t even think that I could decide on a favorite. My preferences change with the seasons as well as my mood. Big Sur, Strathcona Provincial Park, Mt. Hood NF, Gifford Pinchot NF, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie NF, The entire actual coast of the Western United States. Utah, Northern Arizona and Death Valley in the winter. The Frank Church River of no return Wilderness, Yosemite, Teton NP, Olympic NP and freaking CANADA. I could seriously go on and on.
Favorite road you’ve driven?
Deer Park road outside of Port Angeles, WA. Going to the Sun Highway, MT. Highway One from Carmel to Gorda, CA. Racetrack Valley Road, Death Valley, CA. Highway 101 From Tillamook to Brookings, OR. Mt. Evans road outside of Idaho springs, CO. Wallowa mountain loop that drops down into the Snake river valley from Oregon and The Kleinschmidt Grade that climbs up the Idaho side. Etc.
In one word, what describes your approach to life?
If you could give a person one piece of advice when thinking about living from a vehicle, what would you tell them?
Take time to become comfortable in the outdoors. I use my truck as a bedroom/kitchen and the outdoors as my living room. America has some truly incredible places to see, all you have to do is get there. Oh, and if you are a photographer, wake up well before dawn. Everything belongs to you at four or five in the morning. I definitely get my best shots during sunrise/sunset.
It takes a special kind of person to recognize that the journey, not the destination, is the point of life. Travelers know this. Was there a point in your life where you became conscious that you were one of those people?
I don’t know if I’ve actually ever looked for a destination in my life. I’ve never felt that I fit into the conventional characterization of what works for most folks. I’ve always done well alone, but it wasn’t until I really gave myself the opportunity to be fully alone that I began to realize that I thrive in solitude. I’ve got a small but fierce group of people make up my inner circle, and they know that these last three years that I’ve spent outdoors have done more for me than anything else that I’ve ever done.
You have found a strong place in the community of travelers. What values do you think your home or family instilled in you, that you take on the road?
I grew up in the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas, where my family put deep value into being outdoors. My siblings and I spent our childhood camping, canoeing and hiking in those hills, and my parents instilled the value of nature and wildlife into my siblings and I from a very early age. I spent my early adult years exploring the cities of the Midwest and east coast. Later, in my twenties I took an ambling, directionless road trip through the some of the western states. I remember dropping down into Jackson Hole Valley and being dumbstruck by the jagged cliff faces of The Grand Tetons, I had never seen anything so beautiful. The next day I found the very spot that Ansel Adams stood when he took his iconic shot of The Grand Tetons and The Snake River. In that moment I felt more connected to history and nature than I ever had before, I might even go as far as to say that the moment that I took in that unreal landscape is when I first decided that I really wanted to be a photographer. Learning to be happy and comfortable in nature is by far the best thing that I’ve ever done for myself.
I admire your outside the box approach to career and home. Do you see yourselves as someone who took a leap of faith to live in an unconventional way or do you think it kind of just happened?
I’ve never felt particularly attached to my homeland in any sort of long term way, so as soon as I gathered the strength to leave, I never went back for anything more than a visit. Before moving west and starting Roadlyfe, I owned a small contemporary art gallery and frame shop in Lawrence, KS. After about six years of running the shop, an opportunity arose to sell the business to one of my apprentices, so I decided to move back to the beautiful West Coast. After the move, my life gave me the opportunity to try something that I had never really thought possible. I decided to pursue my dream of full time travel and professional photography.
The conventional path never really revealed itself to me, which is something that I’m grateful for. For whatever unknown reason, I was just never cut out for the wife/kids/job thing. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that I realized just how dedicated I am to what I do and who I want to be. I will never trade access to the outdoors or the pursuit of my photography for anything. I don’t think that it was a leap of faith or something that happened I think it’s who I’ve always been.
Where do you want to go next?
I’m back in the Midwest (KC) for the winter to work on converting my bus to a tiny home. I picked up a beautiful 1976 Crown bus in Los Angeles this spring and decided to sit still for a few minutes to work on getting the bus converted. I’m starting to pre-plan a trip down the Pan-American highway that I will tackle after the bus is complete. In the meantime I will continue to explore North America, there are vast endless adventures to be had in this incredible country… and don’t even get me started on Canada.
As far as my career goes, I will continue to push myself to be the human/photographer that I want to be. I’m fascinated by the outdoors and completely captivated by photography and image capture. I want to see every sunrise/sunset and continue to find the things that make my life worth living.