The Rocky Road to Freedom | Part One

Story time! This is what Rock Meets Soil was made for. Sharing our experiences is a powerful thing.
Oftentimes we are unaware of how our honest accounts and perceptions influence those listening, especially
on a similar path. This story comes from Rob, who shares his experiences in the US Navy, what these times have
him about himself, and how it all got him to where he is and traveling in his van, hiking, climbing, surfing,
and exploring this beautiful country that he served for so long. Cheers to you Rob and thank you for your story.

Follow along Rob's adventures and insight on his blog or on his Instagram.


Hello world, my name is Rob.

The reason I live in my van might be a little different than would be expected. What got me to this point is also a little different. I am currently living a dream I didn't even realize till it became my reality. You could jokingly say that the van life chose me. 

On October 2, 2007 I found myself on a bus without knowing a single person. I kissed my mother goodbye, and I was off. That bus was taking me to Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Maryland. Once I arrived at the airport I was on a flight to Chicago O’Hare in Illinois. Then onto the realest bus ride I have ever been on. I had singed a piece of paper, taken an oath, and was ready to take a family tradition on. I was heading to US Navy Boot Camp.

From 2007 to 2015 I was an enlisted Sailor in the US Navy. I have deployed to the Middle East four times, twice to Greece and a handful of detachments in the US. I was stationed in Washington DC for a time performing military funerals in Arlington National Cemetery. I presented flags, marched in funeral parades, and fired 21 gun salutes for 3,000 sailors. Some were young and others were old. But what happened in those few years set me on a path I was not aware I was on.

During my deployments I was young. I was interested in wild nights and pretty girls. I had a lot of anger built up in me by 22. I am one of many young military gals and guys that have been married and divorced young. I was divorced before my 21st birthday. I was in debt I couldn’t handle. I was drinking so much booze I have tattoos I wish I didn't. I have raised a glass in 14 countries, toasting to the wild and obnoxious nights to be had.

By 19 I was performing military funerals for the parents of children who did not return from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By 23 I was fighting those wars. For my military brethren reading this: cheers to you for finding your way to this blog, thinking out of the box and wanting to explore. I needed it so badly.

Between 2015 and 2016 I spent 11 months straight on the open road along the West Coast of the US. I did not work a single day of those 11 months. I went deep into the Southwest, the American Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas. I’ve found a lot of joy living on the road and on the road alone. I have constantly met new people around almost every turn. Been invited to go here or there with total strangers and loved every single second of it. The people I met accepted me for being dysfunctional and a little bit of a mess. When I separated from the Navy I was not in the best state of mind. The road was really hard for me at the start.

In the fall of 2015 I was down on the California Coast surfing and hiking every day. I had been to Montana and back and surfed for months up and down the coast going here and there. But I was struggling with the solitude and I needed to find something to do with myself that required a little more intensity. I found my way to Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley. Sleeping among men and women I did not know. I was walking around Camp 4 looking for a friend or two. Within my first day I found some of the best people I have ever met in my life. Some I have now driven across state lines to see on a whim. Others I pray to see again.

When I pulled into Yosemite I had never rock climbed before. That all changed quickly and for the most part consumed my life for the next five months. I went into the deserts of Utah with red dirt eating, die-hard climbers and enjoyed the spring breeze in Oregon’s peaks. In those months I found an escape for my anger. But I was so afraid. I am utterly terrified of heights. I met some truly amazing and some truly terrifying people. Some crazy Australian guys took me on one of my most exhilarating days of climbing. Wild and wonderful people just had no problem teaching me.

I have driven to Utah to suffer in sand stone splitters and traveled up and down the western states in search of good times. I will never forget that. Climbing has been a challenge for me. Yet I’m still not very good at it. But I don’t believe that’s the goal. I just want to have fun.

Back in 2012 I was sitting inside what a lot of people know as a shipping container. But this container was my home. It was not modern; there were eight of us living in it. Every time I see a shipping container I kind of cringe a little now. It was dusty, dirty and hot...very hot. I was in the Middle East on my second deployment to the Persian Golf. I had realized I had some major flaws going on in my life. I was in no position to change much though. I was a deploying son of a bitch and I had a lot more deployments to go on.

While I was in the Middle East this time I was sobering up from just returning from a deployment to Greece. In all my short years the combined eight months I spent on Crete in Greece were the drunkest and saddest days of my life. Returning from my first trip to Greece I was in desperate need of a forced sobering up. Being on a military base in the Middle East might just be the best place on earth to get forced into sobriety, or at least most of the way. When there’s a will there's a way.

I knew by 2013 that something just wasn’t right. I was miserable. I could sit in my apartment with close friends, drown beers in bars where everyone knew my name and spend time around family, yet still be completely miserable. During my 2012 tour in the Middle East I found books, lots and lots of books. I read about Sir Edmund Hillary summiting Everest with Tenzing Norgay. I read about Ed Viesturs. I read Thoreau, Muir and many, many more. In these books I read I was realizing an itch to go. But it wasn’t all there yet. I had a lot more learning and suffering to put myself through.

In 1994 at age five I was on my first backpacking trip with my father. To date every single time I return to Maryland my father and I go backpacking. I was born and raised along the Appalachian Trail; I grew up fishing and hiking. I had lost that...all of that. 

When I was in Ireland a few times I didn’t see much. I went to St John's Castle once and bought a bottle of Mead and then drank it all. In a three day layover in Brussels Belgium I drank so hard myself and my good buddy, Crash almost missed the meeting time, and then would have missed the flight back to the US. That 18-hour flight home was the most miserable flight of my life. I’ve spent months and years of my life fighting away anger issues. Getting into way too much trouble with way too many people.

Now that all of this is being said, I am very proud of my service to my country. I have worked extremely hard. I have spent 30+ hours on flight lines all across the world repairing aircraft so our aircrews can fly safely and handed over flags to young and old men and women I wish dearly I could shake hands with one more time. Met people who have had my back through thick and thin. I have been to some of the most beautiful and interesting places on earth.

The Navy has taught me a lot. Some lessons were learned the hard way and others came naturally. But the path I walked for eight years was a hard one. Where my down fall lies is in the choices I made. I have had some of the best mentors in the Navy, out of the Navy, and all throughout my life. But I made a lot of mistakes at a young age. 

Somewhere between 2014 and 2015 I saw something I was missing. That was adventure. Pure in its most wild and unchained existence.