JAMES & CLAIRE YOUNG: @THISBIGROADTRIP
By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orca’s – 9/10/18
For the eighty ninth installment in our ongoing interview series here at Dirt Orca’s, we are very pleased to share the story of James and Claire Young. You may know them as @thisbigroadtrip.
Like many of the interviewee’s here at Dirt Orca’s, I came across this awesome team through Instagram and soon after started following their blog for updates on their travels.
Their story is a familiar one for the Dirt Orca’s out there, but still unconventional by many standards. They sold everything and hit the road. Living from their camper and taking life in huge spoonfuls.
While social media is terrific way to organize your interests, I still find that visiting actual websites and blogs is a much more rewarding pursuit. ThisBigRoadTrip.com is no exception. They post regular blog updates on their whereabouts and offer advice from the road and about the countries they are travelling through. You’ll also find additional information on their vehicle.
James and Claire are great reminders that there is no destination when it comes to success. It means different things to different people. Following your heart and bringing more happiness into your life is the ultimate measure of success.
Check out our interview below.
What do you consider to be your place of work?
I am not sure; it still feels like I work from Kelowna in BC, Canada. My wife is an MD who focused on family medicine using a telemedicine service that not only suits our lifestyle but is also a real bonus for patients in BC who, despite free healthcare struggle to find a family doctor. So her patients are BC based which adds a tie to home. Similarly, my clients are predominantly BC based. I run two companies from the road, a graphic and web design company and also an endurance coaching business with triathletes and runners from BC so my links to ‘home’ are there too. I guess the camper is our place of work but, spiritually, it feels like we work in BC I guess, just with an ever changing view from the camper window.
Tell me about your vehicle. What do you call it?
The vehicle is a unicorn 2007 Dodge Ram 3500. The last of the legendary Cummins 5.9 Diesel engines with a stick shift and, for now, low mileage. It took us ages to find it, we found lots of duallys, lots of high mileage, but nothing that ticked every box. We were in San Diego when one became available in Vancouver, BC. My wife spotted it online, we called them up and paid for it sight unseen.
The camper is an XPCamper V1e. The V1 denotes the model, the ‘e’ denotes the new electric lift system which replaced the previous hydraulic system.
We called our vehicle Sherpa. We had an amazing cat called Sherpa, he was Grey and White, like the truck and camper. And Sherpas, as you know, are the porters in Nepal that do all of the carrying for expeditions, so Sherpa stuck with us.
What other vehicles did you consider and what made you ultimately pull the trigger on the one you bought?
None really. We knew we wanted to live inside rather than beside the vehicle. So despite loving the look of RTT’s, Land Rovers and Toyota’s they were ‘out’ from the start. We are going to be away too long for us to cope without a few creature comforts. Hats off to those that do. The big rigs look amazing but were also a no go. I wanted to actually feel like we were out with the elements to some degree and also be able to get into places that a bigger rig would not be able to get. I know that big rigs would argue they do get to places, but probably 30% or more of the locations we have camped would categorically not be accessible to a proper big rig. A truck and camper ticked all of our boxes. From what I have been seeing on the overland expo scene they appear to be ticking a lot of other people’s boxes too as they have become very popular. They are a compromise for sure, but a good one I think. The camper is a pop-up, but still hard sided other than a material front section around the bed. This section has large material panels we can pull down so it does feel tent like but with a hard roof and we are something like 7ft off the ground. Tent camping without any of the hardship.
Have you made any upgrades or changes to it?
To the truck? Yes, a lot. We did a frame off restoration due to the original frame being rusty. We sourced a frame from Idaho and shipped it California, then sandblasted, epoxy undercoated and painted it. We rebuilt the entire front end with heavy duty components. Steering system, steering brace, steering box, drag link, tie rod, track bar etc. Upgraded sway bars. New Icon Vehicle Dynamics suspension kits with a 2.5” lift. New wheels, Yokokhama’s excellent Geolander M/T 003 tires. We took the truck to Deaver Suspension in Santa Ana, CA, for them to rebuild the rear leafs to match the camper. To get us out of trouble (or into it) we have ARB lockers front and back, a custom Buckstop Baja bumper with Warn Winch. The bumper also has PIAA lights, which join the lockers and ARB dual compressor in being run through an SPOD switch controller. We also added a PAC brake, which has been invaluable when descending windy roads and really saves our brakes. Those are the main changes, there are a bunch of smaller things we did too. We mainly wanted something to get us out of rather than in trouble.
What is your favorite part about it living/working out of your vehicle?
The views probably. One of the things we love most about the camper is the excellent, almost 360º panorama you get from inside. I haven’t been in many vehicles that afford you such a generous look at the great outdoors.
What is your least favorite part about it?
I don’t really have one. I miss the triathlon training; we run but no longer bike or swim. Not having super-fast wifi on tap isn’t as much of an issue as I thought it might be. I also sometimes miss the routine of being at home, constant change can be tiring at times. Overall, it has been an easy transition, helped in part by the fact that we have done it a few months every winter for the last few years.
How many miles have you put on your vehicle?
Despite it being a 2007 the guy who owned it only used it for his truck camper. It had 75,000km when we purchased it and we’ve taken that up to 99,000km since January. Some of that was messing around back and forth getting the initial bugs ironed out though.
What is the best place you have taken it?
Alstrom Point in arguably Utah, likely Arizona. You get to it through the back roads on the Utah side of the border. No amenities and nothing to do but; the view, the colours, the location the sheer scale of how good a camp spot it is. It is absolutely breathtaking.
Is there just one?
There is only one Alstrom Point so far. There are a lot of second places though.
Favorite road you’ve driven?
As with all many challenges you look back on them fondly. One fateful day in April we hooked up with Basil Lynch in Moab (Editor’s note: Check out our interview with Basil here). We had messaged back and forth in Instagram a bit, I saw his camper parked in the same patch of BLM as us so went to say hello. He invited us to join him on a route into the backside of Arches National Park. It will be easy, he said.
We had almost zero experience of off roading up to that point. All the gear, no idea. The first part wasn’t that easy for a newbie but not bad at all, and primarily fun. The lack of experience made it a little stressful, but overall it was good. We got to a fork in the dirt and talked about the taking the last 9 mile trail to the left or hopping up onto the highway to the right. We had already reached our confidence limit on the easy trail to that point but the map stated the next trail was ‘Easy’ with just a sandy hill climb worth noting. We had lockers and there were two vehicles so decided to go for it. The map also suggested we start at the other end, something worth remembering for later in the story. Back on the trail things got progressively more difficult, primarily because we were both in big truck campers. The kind of progressively more difficult that makes you think “well, this is only slightly worse than the last obstacle so might as well give it a try”. Trails got deeper, tighter and the side slope progressed to around 25% which made us quite tippy. Rock crawling got more precarious; climbs got steeper. After around 2 hours I was mentally quite tired from the stress of inexperience but primarily from worrying about my home on wheels, but at some point it seemed a better idea to keep moving forward than it would have been to turn around and re-do everything we had already done. I remember saying to my wife “I am so done with this, thank God we only have 1km to go”. Unfortunately the final 1km included around 500m of continuous climbing up a series of stone ledges that more capable Moab vehicles like built Jeep’s and FJ’s were taking care coming down. I was caught between desperately wanting it all to end, with my camper still in one piece (actually, two pieces I had broken my steering stabilizer), and not wanting to take the obvious risk of some serious rock crawling up a trail. Basil was game and had already bounced and muscled his way up two ledges. I decided to pull the plug. This meant we had to retrace everything we had just done to get to that point. A tough decision but one I am happy with in hindsight.
We learnt a lot, had a lot of fun, made a good friend in Basil and continued to travel with him for a few weeks after in Utah and Arizona. It is currently my favourite and least favourite road!
For scenery other notable roads we’ve driven are The Shafer Trail in Canyonlands National Park, Cabo Calle Este in Baja California and the Mazatlán-Durango Highway through the Sierra Madre Occidental and includes the Americas highest bridge, epic tunnels through mountains, hairpin bends and jaw dropping scenery.
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?
To give it a try first, especially if you are in a relationship. We spent 5 years wintering in San Diego in our trailer, so we knew we were comfortable living in a close space. An overland vehicle is even more condensed and can really put some strain on a relationship. For some reason people seem to be saying that after 6 months everything relaxes, which we have found to be true. Being seduced by the usual Instagram, Facebook idealist scenery and ‘oh so cool’ camper shots is fine, but it really only tells half the story. In order to get to that ideal there is the getting lost, the vehicle / camper maintenance and repair, the border bureaucracy, the heat and humidity, the bugs, the food not quite working out, the dickheads camping next to you at 11:30pm and deciding it’s party time, the peeking out of your windows every half hour all night long because the wild camp spot you thought was a good idea feels shadier by the minute once it got dark and “Did you hear that noise?”. Overlanding is awesome but, like anything in life, it’s awesome because you have to work at it. Don’t think it’s simply a holiday, because it’s not. It’s better and worse than living in a house, but for most who stick with it, the better far outweighs the worse.
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?
We backpacked around the world when we were 18 and 21 respectively. We realized then that the stories we remembered were not of the temple or the Ayers Rock (or Uluru as it is known now) or the Thai Beach. It’s the stuff that happens in between. I don’t think it’s just the journey itself, I think it’s life. You see life on the journey. That to me is the point.
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?
Not a question that really applies to me. I love my mum and brother but I was definitely ‘gone rogue’ from an early age. Not in a bad way, I just did my own thing. If anything Claire’s Dad was more of an inspiration to travel. He was a ‘global businessman’ that took Claire on holidays in South East Asia. She had the travel bug earlier than anyone I have ever met.
I admire your outside the box approach to career and home. Do you see yourself as someone who took a leap of faith to live in an unconventional way or do you think it kind of just happened?
I am not sure it was a leap of faith. Our answer to the previous ‘One word to describe your approach to life’ question was ‘unplanned’. So we are used to making big life decisions, have made several of them and feel confident that what most people see as a leap of faith is usually a leap they have already subconsciously dialed in. What we have done is learn to challenge ourselves with big decisions and trust our instincts on those decisions. Our current situation was borne from Claire calling me one day and saying ‘Let’s drive around the world’. I said yes immediately. We had moved to Canada for snowboarding but momentum in our triathlon performances meant we could not physically afford to board in the winter, which meant winters became a pain. So, we purchased a trailer and followed the Snowbirds south to San Diego for a couple of months each year. After a couple of winters we wanted to be able to get to places a trailer would not let us, we researched different vehicles, heard about overlanding and that, as they say, was that.
Where do you want to go next?
We are currently in Mexico. A country so far removed from what we read about in the media prior it is difficult correlating the two. Everyone is incredibly friendly and helpful and we have felt nothing but safe wherever we have gone, cities, towns, back roads. We run, and often end up in tiny little towns down back roads full of smiling faces and waves. The locals are somewhat devastated about how they are portrayed and tourism has suffered greatly, especially in RV parks. The countryside, especially on the mainland, is incredible but the people are what makes it so special. Clearly incidents happen, but if there is one thing I can express in this interview is that taking no more care than you would in any US city opens up some very special travelling. Go to Mexico.
After Mexico we head south. Our rough trip plan does not include an exact route but we did stipulate three legs. All the way down. All the way up. All the way around. So, Canada to Patagonia; South Africa to Europe; Europe through Asia; Home.
But we are open and ‘unplanned’ so we may get stuck in some life changing location somewhere on the way! Maybe our careers will follow a different path then too.