In northern Indiana, in a small town named Middlebury, in the woods next to her house, in a large tree, sat a tow-headed, red-faced little girl on a few wooden planks nailed into the trunk. Up this tree, in a bucket on a rope, this little girl’s mother would send ice-cold Capri Sun and snacks. With a scrunched nose and a head full of wonder, this little girl would suck down her juice and eat her PB&J and daydream of the camping adventures her father would organize. Every spring, Dad would take this little wonderer and her brother on a No Moms Allowed camping adventure with his high school and college friends. So, there she sat, on those wooden slats in that tree, in the woods next to her house and she was millions and millions of miles away.
Regarding wonder and wander, not much has changed for Jane Salee. Her love for the outdoors was amplified when she moved to Colorado at 19. After summiting Mt. Sopris—the nearly 13,000-foot peak that stands guard over the idyllic town of Carbondale, Colorado—for the first time when she was 23, Salee became a fully fledged hiker. She’s been back to the top of Sopris five times and bags peaks whenever possible. This summer’s goal is ten 14ers.
Salee founded Rock Meets Soil a few years back, an online gallery where she houses her artwork, photography, and stories from the road. Salee also pads the piggybank by working as the production roaster for Bonfire Coffee. The 27-year-old currently calls Carbondale her headquarters but the what’s next, where to opportunities of living in a van is truly her home.
“I relate strongly with Taoism,” explains Salee. “I find a lot of inner peace and understanding of life by being out in nature and witnessing seasonal changes in the mountains. I credit a lot of my sanity and peace of mind to the mountains around here. I have always been creatively inspired and, as I have gotten older, I have found a strong love and appreciation for combining my passion for the outdoors with creating. These are my essentials.”
Adventure Mobile Year, Make, and Model?
1989 Astro Van Tiger Conversion.
What’s the story behind the vehicle’s name?
Teeg got her name from the name of the conversion, a Tiger camper. What started as El Tigre quickly got shortened to Teeg and is now a household name between those who know me and her. I love that many of my friends and locals around Carbondale refer to her as Teeg and not “your van.”
I lived and traveled in a different van since November of 2015. I found Teeg in January of this year and got the keys to her on my 27th birthday.
How did you get it?
She was for sale on Main Street in Carbondale for weeks, maybe months. I had my eye on her for weeks. Then the price dropped. It was maybe 10 degrees outside and I decided to walk down and peek in the windows to see if she was worth it. She was. Within three days, she was mine. We crammed 13 people in her and popped some champagne to celebrate.
How did you modify it?
I didn’t have to do much in the way of converting her to a home. The main conversion was done before I bought her, sometime in the 1990s. I have made a few of my own changes and alterations to the interior, mostly storage and basic fixes. After having lived in a different van for over a year without running water, a toilet, or a shower, having those luxuries was a bit superfluous for me. Teeg has a fully functioning wet shower, toilet, and hot water system. But I have opted not to use any of these amenities in order to use the space and weight in more beneficial ways for my lifestyle. As I grow my business and mobile gallery in the van, I need storage space. I took out the freshwater reservoir, which opened up a decent sized space for hiking gear and product storage. I also converted the bathroom to a closet and am building removable shelves for more storage. Other simple changes included adding LED light strings around the interior, adding more blackout curtains, and installing more shelving and racks.
How do you make a living on the road?
When I am at home working in Carbondale, I roast coffee for Bonfire Coffee. My art keeps me here sometimes but also takes me all over. In addition to the blog, I am currently working on building the Rock Meets Soil online shop to include more than my photography, prints, and postcards. Rock Meets Soil apparel and gear, more stickers and decals, and other surprises are in the works, a lot of which revolve around van life and some artist collaborations. I am also working on self-publishing a coffee table book of my film photography right now. You’ve got to get creative if you want to make money while traveling.
How many places have you visited? Most memorable place or adventure?
I lived with my ex-boyfriend the first year of life on the road. We spent six months traveling the duration of the winter throughout the southwestern states and up the California coast with a second trip through Montana and Wyoming up into Idaho. We zigzagged through nine states and visited 15 national parks, 21 national monuments, and a lot of hot springs and skate parks. We were hiking a lot and always looking for the best adventures. The Redwoods are one of my favorite places visited, but I also really enjoyed the time in southern Utah. We witnessed the super bloom in Death Valley in March of 2016 and did a lot of cave exploring in southern Arizona after visiting Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Roswell, New Mexico was neat because I got to nerd out hard on that whole story. Antelope Canyon was a highlight, as well as the lava tubes at Snow Canyon State Park in Utah. The list goes on.
Sports done along the way?
Mainly hiking. I am an avid hiker here in the mountains and when I’m on the road that’s all I want to do. Exploring different landscapes and learning about different climates and ecosystems is incredibly interesting to me as it offers a glimpse into a whole different world of plants, animals, and terrain. I love change and difference, in life and people, but also in the land. I could hike every day if I could, and that’s what I’m working towards being able to do.
Pros of van ownership?
Everything. Is that a valid answer? There are particular reasons that I have lived in a van for so long. I don’t have a college degree because I didn’t know what to devote so much of my time and money I didn’t have to something that I wasn’t sure I wanted. I have worked very hard over the last decade to live in some amazing and beautiful places. Putting aside the constant traveling aspect of living in a van, many people wonder why I do it full-time. Living in my van offers me an opportunity to pursue my own dreams and goals, and gives me freedom of time. I could go into detail about the benefits of living small and simple, but honestly it all comes down to how important my time is to me. And living in a van helps bring that all back into balance.
Cons of van ownership?
Having to pee in a cup? Just kidding…I don’t mind. I thoroughly enjoy living small and if you’ve seen my van, you might have some van envy because she’s perfect. The honest answer is I truly have no cons. The only things I miss about house living are bathtubs, ovens, and a garden or the ability to grow my own food. That’s about it.
Advice for others looking to do a similar adventure?
You have to make your van a home and a place that you actually want to spend time. Make it cozy and comfortable. Remember to respect Mother Nature and our fellow neighbors wherever we are parked. We all know home is where you park it, but if you’re being a burden to someone else or disrespecting Mother Nature, you’re not doing a very good job of living simply. Living in a van means we opt out of modern conveniences, but that doesn’t mean we should mooch off of our friends and family or trash a campsite or some BLM land or park in the same place for three weeks. This lifestyle comes with its own set of unwritten rules. But those rules are rooted in respect. Thankfully, there are many folks out there doing it right, and I hope some of us continue to be an inspiration to others looking to pursue this lifestyle.