Lessons Learned from a Year of Blogging

I woke up this morning and realized that I’ve been blogging on a weekly basis for over a year.

When the notion struck, and after my first Nescafe, I started to think about lessons learned (as one does). Very quickly, I distracted myself with other things because a reflection piece was not of interest to me today.

But I have a streak to keep in tact. It’s Thursday after all.

Read on for lessons learned. (Scroll down for a while if you’re eager for the takeaways).


First: A long-winded intro that circles back to the theme eventually. Per usual.

The idea of pursuing writing or of becoming “a writer” has been brewing for several years.

Last February, I began to put pen to paper while in Budapest. This was the second leg of my Eastern European Trip, Pt. 1 (Act 2): The Prelude, and I had determined that a month in Hungary’s capital city would be the perfect place for a “writing” sojourn. The vision in my head was myopically poetic.

I imagined frantic notebook scrawling in cafes during the morning and long soaks in thermal baths in the evening. There would be walks in between and plenty of goulash sampled on my traipsing through the city (or whatever it is they ate in Hungary). I also kind of hoped I’d become an alcoholic, because that seems to be a thing good writers have in common.

The script didn’t go as theoretically conceived (for one, the beer wasn’t very good there). But, I did write (poems and essays mostly), and more importantly, I began to believe it was possible.


Life progressed and the idea of giving a go at “writing” niggled it’s way irreparably into the depths of my brain. Like a parasite that couldn’t be satiated.

(Which is probably necessary because writers don’t make a whole lot–outside of the power-law-few anyways–and you likely need to be slightly delusional / intrinsically motivated to pursue such a fool’s errand. But hey, at least I’m not a poet.)

Come November (2018), I committed to posting at least one article per week on this blog.

There were several reasons for this:

  1. The main aim was simple: To write more.
  2. I needed to start somewhere, and you only get better at writing through the act of writing.
  3. It was a schedule that I could stick to, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could be dedicated to a craft.

So I began, and the weekly streak is alive. Onto the lessons learned.

Lessons Learned:

You never really know what’s going to catch fire.

This goes for what you like to write about, and for what gets page views. If I’m being honest, I was banging my head against a wall for a longtime trying to figure out what I wanted to write.

I actually enjoy creating poetry, but that wasn’t going to further the cause of becoming a writer. My early essays and observational travel pieces felt a bit flat to me then, and read that way to me now. Upon reflection, I know that it’s because they lacked a certain essence or deep-rooted interest for me (poet alert!: He said, “essence”).

For whatever the hell reason, climbing has been the muse that’s really launched things in a new direction: It’s personally intriguing to me, I see plenty of potential to tell different kinds of stories, and I actually get paid to write about it.

The takeaway here is: You need to start writing, try a bunch of shit, and hope to God you come across something that tickles your pickle.

As for page views…

Give the people what they want. (Sort of).

No one really cares about my broken heart.

So I’ve been told on a few occasions. But they love climbing related shit. Like The Coolest Climbing Festivals in Europe that has been far and away the most popular post, and continues to brings in consistent organic traffic each month.

Thanks to writing, I got paid to climb here.


Additionally, distribution matters a lot more than the content.

Every post that’s brought in high volumes of traffic (note: It’s all small-small numbers) has been shared by others through social media.

This is because the readership on the blog is somewhat contained (mostly friends and family–thanks for reading!–and people who subscribe). The only way for articles to spread to the wider world is when I beta spray and post them around, or other people do.

For people to share, it has to be of value to them. Things like informational pieces, destination guides, how to’s, etc. lend themselves more to spraying.

Growing the readership and “creating a brand” haven’t been the priority so far as I just wanted to focus on “writing” and “finding my voice.” I’m not sure if I’ll try to do more with this blog, I kind of like the liberty to talk about whatever.

Turkish coffee in Sarajevo. From the Eastern European Trip, Pt. 1, Act 1: The Prelude


It’s fun. It’s creative. It makes people more likely to talk to you.

By far the coolest part of this is that people are open to chatting with you.

It’s like getting a license to reach out to whomever and ask all sorts of questions you would normally be too modest to ask of your friends.

As a result, you get to help share stories about people who aren’t typically covered. Oftentimes these folk are inspiring, relatable, kind… and doing really cool shit!

Through this process I’ve flexed my journalism muscles (which I’ve found I quite like), experimented with markety-type content, bared my heart (take that, haters!), and played with a variety of other forms of writing.

It’s changed my life.

Not to be dramatic about it…

If you had asked me last year if I thought I would be able to make a living through writing in 2019, my answer would be emphatically, “No way, dude!” Quickly followed by, “But like, that’d be really cool!”

And now here I am in Queretaro, Mexico getting paid to put words into 1’s and 0’s across the interwebs.

A lot can happen in a year, apparently. Such as it is.

To be clear, it wasn’t the blog all on its own. Rather, it’s been the process of writing, learning that this is something I can do, and then going out and doing it (plus some luck). Still, the blog has played an important role.

There you have it, some begrudging lessons learned from this past year.

Onwards and upwards!,” as one of my former bosses liked to say.

Estoy viviendo en Mexico. Porque?

A little worse for the wear and with a smashing headache, I made it to the apartment in el centro de Queretaro. It’s been nearly 21 hours since I started traveling. I need a cervesa.

So far my Spanish is enough to navigate, and to ask silly things like, “what’s the name of that mountain with the snow on top?”. I spent much of the time on the plane(s) thinking through sentences that would be useful, and which are probably grammatically incorrect. And which most certainly contributed to my headache.

It was a different game when I had to say things out loud. Mumbling and timidity are not for the language learner. Like many con-games, I found speaking with poise more effective than quietly whispering in the wind.

Why am I here anyways?

Over the past few years I’ve been returning to the question: “Is this all there is?”

It started with a crisis of confidence when I left startups in 2015 and I’ve been trying to figure out what the hell this is all about ever since. 

It has little to do with startups themselves and a lot to do with a search for truth and meaning. In short, I bought the bullshit of silicon valley entrepreneurship and realized I was living according to a value system I adopted, but which learned I didn’t agree with. 

It was a bit of blind faith; I let a tool shape the user, willingly at first, then sightlessly, and that’s the issue.

After the fallout, I started to wonder, “what else have I been following without much thought?”

This brings us today: I’m in Mexico for the foreseeable future to write and climb.

Basically, I don’t have many answers from these past few years. But I do have more clarity. 

I know that I value independence (of spirit, mind, inquiry) and that I care about the essence of a thing. The pursuit of writing is about having freedom of location and choosing how I make money. In the spirit of journalism, it’s also about presenting truth. Climbing is a simple, if contrived, unadulterated act that is aesthetically pleasing, and physically enjoyable. I like it a lot. 

Another observation I’ve come across is that you’re probably better off pursuing things that fill you up and get you excited about the world, than not. Hence, even if climbing is nonsensical at face value, so are most things in this world when deconstructed. Or, you might as well enjoy it.

Everything hasn’t been roses and glory, though. Admittedly, I’ve become much more inward (solipsistic, trending towards selfishness) and isolated. This isn’t the right path either. 

We’ll see where the ledger balances out. Viva la Mexico!


Feature photo of La Peña de Bernal. Source: pixabay

Jobs for the Traveling Climber: Stay Wild

In this interview series we talk with people who spend their time traveling and climbing, while still holding down a steady income. From nurses to coders, writers to outdoor guides, we want to show that you don’t have to go full dirtbag to live the itinerant life. Because contributing to your 401k while seeing the world doesn’t sound so bad.

Name: Erik Howes

Job: Seasonal labor + creative work


Erik and I met at a get together at Thee Off-Width, a V4-5 boulder problem in Cape Ann. When I arrived at the parking lot there sat an old trolley which extended from parking lot edge nearly to the road. It looked like the cable cars of ‘Frisco, all nostalgic chic with an aura of party bus. If that was the case, I cautioned, this night might get a little weird. At the boulder there was a throng of people bedecked in various stages of costuming. Erik was dangling from the roof, his wild hair Doc Brown splayed (he was wearing a wig) as he grunted through the crack. We chatted briefly, and I left that night thinking, “I bet he has an interesting story to tell.”



1) How do you describe what you do to others? 

Unless you are hiring me for money, I don’t have any intent to ‘do’ anything for other people.

But if you are hiring me; then I will do whatever you want! Hah.

I suppose there are some people I do more for. A few months ago I gave a big presentation in front of an entire middle school, sharing the message of “writing your own story.” Their view of me will be much different than that of a climbing partner and that of a coworker.

Working the rig. Photo courtesy of Erik Howes


2) What are some of the jobs you’ve done as you’ve traveled and climbed?

The jobs I have worked on the road can be divided into two different categories: “skilled seasonal” and “unskilled short term.”

The jobs that require skill pay well and usually last 3-6 months (i.e., Scuba diving or any of the working trades, such as carpentry, masonry and bartending.)

Then there comes the miserable category of unskilled labor. You name it, I’ve probably done it. The pay is garbage and you are disposable. But, if you need $100 to pick up some groceries or get money for a climbing trip, you can always wash dishes or help move a few boxes in just about any city of the country—no matter the season. 

A wild van appeared. Photo courtesy of Erik Howes


3) How do you learn about these gigs?

I asked for them.

Most of the jobs I have worked weren’t because I saw a ‘help wanted’ sign, it was because I went up to the owner and said: “I work hard and I need money.” 


4) Can you talk about STAY WILD?

Stay Wild is a personal mantra of mine.

Those two words are something I draw on most of my gear and look at when I need a boost of stoke. Whether that’s on a ski mitten before dropping into a line or on the cuff of my work jacket before I start in on an engine repair.

Most people know Stay Wild from the stickers I make, which started by being hand-drawn on USPS Priority Mail slips that I took from the Post Office.

For awhile I was just handing them out to friends and travelers I met on the road. I still do this, but now I also get them printed professionally and sell them to help fund my adventures. 

Sticker making. Photo courtesy of Erik Howes


5) What are your plans or hopes for STAY WILD? 

It will grow and transform with me through time. My only hope is it never becomes something that detracts from my personal pursuit of adventure, instead of inspiring it, as it does now.

Being a full time ‘businessman’ isn’t my style. I’ve had to devote a lot of time towards learning how to start a website, what an EIN is and how to manage money… You know, ‘adult’ kind of stuff.

I use Stay Wild as an outlet for my photography, art and a way to tell my life’s story. That will continue to evolve alongside some long term projects I am working on. My artistic pursuits are starting to shift towards making movies and books.  

Staying wild. Photo courtesy of Erik Howes


6) What are some of the perks of your lifestyle? 

As of right now I am not ‘tied’ to anything. I could walk away from this life at any point. I don’t have any significant bills or locking obligations.

If I wanted to hop on a plane and not come back for two years, I could. That sounds kinda awesome. I just may do that!

I’d say that kind of freedom is a big perk.


“It seems the most rewarding experiences in life feel impossible at first.”


7) Do you see this as a long-term thing?

There are certainly some days I consider folding it all in; going a different direction and finding some sort of comfort in a routine.

It’d be easy to stop. Stopping is always easy.

Following through and building the life I dream of is not easy. But I like difficult things. It seems the most rewarding experiences in life feel impossible at first. Conquering the impossible is fun, and I haven’t stopped yet.


8) What are some of the challenges?

I’ve mastered the art of job hunting. It usually only takes a few days to find a new job.

But I’m typically unemployed for around 4-6 months out of the year.

That’s not to say I am not working; I am hustling side work. But that flux of income makes for a roller-coaster of bank account statements. I’d say I have less than $500 in my bank account for around half the year. That’s pretty stressful.

Not to mention those times when I spill my pee bottle in the van or wake up to a completely frozen food storage. Without having the amenities of a ‘real house’ daily life gets a bit harder. 

Cold nights. Warm fire. Photo courtesy of Erik Howes


9) What motivated you to pursue this path?

In 2016, I took my first cross-country road trip to Joshua Tree. It was there that I met a group of wanderers who showed me the lifestyle.

They taught me the ways of the dirtbag: We danced naked under the stars and climbed rocks without ropes.

The spirit of adventure I felt on that road trip has consumed my entire life and I’ve given up countless opportunities in a constant desire to recreate those wild feelings of adventure. 

10) I know this is a silly question… what does a “typical” week or month look like? 

Do you have a home base you come back to? 

There is no typical week in this life I live. Month-to-month, I live entirely different structures. 

My home base was my van. That died last year.

I am currently working on developing a new home base: An old trolley that I am restoring into a mobile basecamp.

Squally filling up on liquid stoke. Photo courtesy of Erik Howes


(Editor’s note: You can read about Squally the Trolley, “a 1994 GMC P3500 chassis with a Big Larry 7.4l gas engine that has a big round tail light that says ‘STOP'” and was used to shuttle people to/from the Cape May-Lewes Ferry in New Jersey.)

I have friends and family who welcome me into their lives: My mom’s driveway and friends’ backyard have served as temporary basecamp over the years. Without them, I would not have had the space to create all that I have!


11) What do you wish you knew when first starting out

Nothing. Being naive to what I was doing, in the beginning, is the only reason I’ve gotten to where I am. Having to ‘figure it out’ from the beginning has given me the ability to achieve all that I have.


12) What is one lesson learned from your journey so far?

In life, we are only given so much ‘time.’

During that time you get to do ‘things.’

Some of those things will give you meaning, and some of those things are done purely to enable you to do that which does give you meaning. Be aware of the difference.


Anything else you’d like to add?

Stay Wild!… and buy more stickers!

Erik doesn’t need no stinking ride. But please do stay wild! Photo courtesy of Erik Howes

Thanks, Erik!

You can buy more stickers on his website, and follow along with his adventures on instagram at @staywildnevermild (business) and @smellybagofdirt (personal).



All photos courtesy of Erik Howes.

Projecting into the Unknown: Sending My First V6

A few weeks ago I started projecting boulders outside. That means choosing one particular line on a boulder and working out the moves over several sessions (days). It’s a similar idea to practicing “YYZ” on Guitar Hero II until you nail it, or training for a half-marathon.

It’s a process, one that takes time to figure out the intricacies and/ or to build up the strength needed to climb the line. A project should be something a bit beyond your current abilities.

So far in climbing, it’s not something I’ve tried. Rather, a typical day at the crag would consist of jumping on a bunch of routes, and maybe re-trying one I’ve done before. I’ve rarely gone back to the same route, or wall or boulder over the past year.

Because I had only been attempting V4 and V5 boulder problems, grades I could reasonably get in one session, I firmly believed that was my level. I was “a V4/V5 boulderer.” I’d jump on an occasional V6 or V7 at the end of a session, make some progress, but never return.

After seeing a friend send a 5.12 sport route that he had worked over seven sessions, I wondered, “What could I send if I gave it seven days?”

So, three weeks ago I started going to Pawtuckaway with the intention of projecting V6 boulder problems. Specifically, Ride the Lightning, Terrorist, and Bulletproof.

A curious thing happened:

  1. I wasn’t sending them in one session.
  2. I was making progress each session.
  3. I felt like I belonged.

Reiterating point one, I didn’t send any that first day, but I was able to work many of the moves. I thought I might be able to get them the next week, when I was fresh.

V6 #2: Bulletproof. Photo by the author.


Turns out, that’s true. In week 2 I sent Terrorist (my first V6!) and in week 3 I sent Bulletproof (my second V6!).

I got me wondering: What might I be able to accomplish if it did take a full seven sessions?

A V7 or V8? Hell, there’s a V9 I’ve been eyeing at that looks doable. That’s way beyond what I would have considered for myself just four weeks ago.

From a different angle, have I been arbitrarily holding myself back because I didn’t think to work harder problems? Without consideration, I was constraining myself. Perhaps subconsciously I even thought these grades were “beyond me.”

In some sense, I don’t know what the boundaries are or what my limit is. This matters because growth happens at the edge. Food for thought as I continue my own climbing career.

Considering the bigger picture: What could you accomplish if you actually started projecting something at your limit?

You’ll probably be surprised.

How to Have a Successful First Fam Tour: Lessons Learned from a Trip Through Nova Scotia

In early October I traveled to Nova Scotia, Canada to write an article for Climbing Magazine and to participate in a Familiarization Tour (aka Fam Tour, aka press trip) to explore the Northumberland historical counties. This story is about participating in my first Fam Tour, and lessons learned about how to have a successful one.

I’m surprised the bald eagle is the national bird of the U.S. In my life I’ve seen one, perhaps two, of the species here in the States. Yet Canada is flooded with them, or at least the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are teeming with these taloned tyrants.

Upon crossing the border into N.B., what did I see? Sarcasm. Or rather, tearing of the flesh. Or rather rather, I saw a bald eagle sarcasming a seagull along the side of the road. All blood and tossed feathers as if the eagle was using the ‘gull in a pillow fight against a barn door made of down.

“The land seems more savage up here,” I thought to myself.


On I drove to Saint John along an empty road, then down to Boston’s sister city on the Atlantic, Halifax.

I was here to participate in my first ever Fam Tour organized by DEANS, Destination Eastern and Northumberland Shores. (Thank you for having me!). Climbing Magazine also thought enough of my association with my cousin, Andy, to let me write a front of the magazine story about bouldering on Dover Island. So I combined the two and made a go of it for a 12 day trip through the land of Moose and hockey.

First off, what is a familiarization tour? Namely it’s in the name, and hence self-explanatory. A tourism board (or authoritarian leader) invites members of the media, bloggers, content producers, and other vocal types, to visit a place in order to become familiarized with it and to help tell the story. #BetaSpray in climbing terms. The aim is to highlight destinations that may be lesser known in order to encourage tourism.

Like when Roger Federer posed with a quokka as part of a promotional stunt for Rottnest Island in Australia.

Photo source: Roger Federer / @rogerfederer


On this trip, we traveled from Pictou, across from Prince Edward Island, along the northern shore through New Glasgow, the jagged edges of Cape George, Antigonish, Guysborough and to the end of the world, Canso, close to Cape Breton. There were no cute quokkas on this tour, though we heard tales of bald eagles ripping the heads off of seagulls. Such as it is.

The visit was fun, factually stimulating, and full of very generous people. I won’t give a full run-down of the tour, but here are some neat little nuggets I picked up:

  1. If you grow up in these communities, everyone knows who you are by who your father is.
  2. Boston has nothing on the local dialect of Pictou county. ‘Magine!
  3. The Northumberland Strait is said to have the warmest water north of the Carolinas, 1,400 miles to the south.

Alas, this story is about making your first Fam Tour a good one. Below you’ll find my takeaways, as well as input from my fellow travelers on the trip.

Onto the meat. 

How to Have a Successful First Fam Tour:


1) Know your angles

What kind of stories do you like to tell? Being clear with what you would like to write about helps you identify the appropriate people and threads to follow. There is so much activity each day it can be easy to miss an opportunity if you’re not on the lookout.

My preference is to write profiles about people. Based on the itinerary, I thought there might be some interesting local entrepreneurs to chat with and maybe there would be something about the growth of outdoor adventure sports.

Knowing what I wanted to write about made it easier to find leads, by asking questions like, “who would you recommend talking to about…?” or “do you know anyone doing something interesting in…?”

I’ll come away from this with stories about a world champion town crier, a local climber who designs fantastical guidebooks, and cooperative businesses. Among others.

With that said…


2) There’s only so much you can research ahead of time

Because the point of the tour is to expose you to a lot of things, places, and people you would not normally encounter, you have to remain open to stories when they present themselves.

“Do some advance research based on the itinerary,” suggests Denise Davies of Out and About Nova Scotia. “Think of possible stories [but also realize] this will change as you go on the trip.”

Denise helped turn me on to the the rich history with cooperative businesses in Canada, originating around the fishing industry of Antigonish county. That leads into today, where the country has a high concentration of cooperative climbing gyms. Why have cooperatives maintained? Other ideas that arose: Why does the inn keeper want to be in a punk rock band? How is commercial weed growing impacting rural communities?

On the other hand, I had a bulk of the Climbing Magazine article written before I went to Dover Island. There were gaps that I needed to fill in, that could only be gleaned by being on the ground: Understanding the personalities of the characters in the story, gaining a feel of a place, humanizing the idea through personal experience.

While a lot of facts can be researched online, the color and substance of a piece only comes from being there.


3) Be prepared for long days

It’s quite a bit of work to be toted around in a chariot all day to visit museums and shops, walk the beach or the woods, have catered lunches and restaurant dinners, and speak with locals from cheesemakers to historians to town Mayors…

In all seriousness, there’s a lot of information, sensory details, and social activity to take in, which can get draining after awhile. How to stay engaged while finding time to recharge was important for me as an introvert.


4) Take lots of notes and photos

“In my experience, the one consistent regret I’ve had after getting home from a press trip is that I assumed some experience or another, some subject or another, some encounter or another would never be of any use to me as a writer,” shares Darcy Rhyno, an award-winning travel writer from Shelburne.

“I’ve learned to document as much as possible from any trip with audio recordings of interviews and presentations, photos of everything from menus to interpretive signs and contact information for everyone I meet. It’s paid off many times when suddenly an opportunity arises, sometimes long after I’ve taken a trip,” he continues.

For me, it was the sheer volume of exposure that necessitated taking notes and photos in order to remember it all afterwards. Sometimes I would take photos for media usage, and for others it was simply notational.

Denise seems to agree: “I take lots of photos, not that they are all for publishing, but to help me remember. We cover a lot on a FAM trip so you need reminders.”


5) Be curious!

“Head out on a press trip with a heightened sense of curiosity,” encourages Darcy. “Everyone has a story. Dig until you find the nugget of gold.”

For me it’s about recognizing when something piques my interest, because if it catches my attention, it’s possible it will be intriguing to someone else.

6) Don’t forget to ask for contact information so you can follow up!

“Often, time is short on press trips,” warns Darcy. “If I do find a story that needs follow up, I’ll ask that person if we can be in touch in the coming weeks.”

AKA, get those business cards!



Have you been on a Fam Tour?
What are your tips for having a successful trip?
Comment below!



Thank you again to DEANS for inviting me to participate on the Northumberland and Eastern Shore tour!

The Enchanting Guide: Luke Buxton on Gibralter and the Magic of Climbing

Luke Buxton believes in magic. Or he at least looks for the enchanting in the everyday.

“I’m a bit of a romantic,” he says, describing the heart-twitch-awe which climbing evokes for him. “It’s the joy of intimacy you get to have with a beautiful natural element.”

Whether it’s the boulder strewn and timeworn coastline of Nova Scotia or the thundering Roc nest towers of Canmore, the natural world casts a spellbinding connection for Luke. 

The Skeena River. Photo credit: Sam Beebe

Perhaps it started in his childhood. He grew up in the Skeena Valley, surrounded by the coastal mountains of Terrace, British Columbia. Maybe it was learned; he was a deep observer who drew and created obsessively all throughout his childhood. For sure, the mythical aesthetic has been further cultivated through climbing.

“Yosemite feels like it could easily be the home of ancient Forest Giants and Squamish’s Grand Wall is so lush and beautiful you sense a Faerie Sprite under every fern patch and mushroom,” he encourages.

Luke eventually made his way to Halifax, Nova Scotia to pursue an education and career in animation. (He’s an accomplished art director, animator, and production designer, who has worked on short films for the likes of Willow and Jayden Smith, and nationally syndicated television shows). During his 12 years in the maritime province, he became involved in developing local crags, and eventually was put onto Gibralter, one of the many untapped expanses. 

“Jungle Falls.” Photo courtesy of Luke Buxton


“It’s a pretty forested area with easy public access,” he shares. “My roommate [Mark Maas] and I were inspired to put in long days developing new climbs.”

They had fun, crafted worthy lines, and wanted a way to share their uncovered treasure with the climbing community. So Luke decided to make a guidebook, with his own mystical twist, of course. 

I chatted with Luke to learn a bit more about the inspiration for the guide, and how he came to see the world through Tolkien-colored specs.



Aaron: What brought you to Nova Scotia?

Luke Buxton: I was raised in Terrace BC, and currently live in Vancouver, but Halifax formed a fairly large chunk of my life through my twenties. I was 22 at the time (I’m 37 now) and was living in a VW camper van with my cat traveling and climbing throughout Canada. 

Luke’s workspace. Photo courtesy of Luke Buxton

I worked odd jobs as I went and sold paintings. I had heard of the glacial erratic bouldering in the East Coast and Halifax seemed like a fun spot to stop for a while and find work as I knew there would be lots of people my age due to it having so many Colleges/Universities. I obviously had no clue it would suck me in for 12 years, or that I would find my career path and meet my wife there.    

How did you get involved with the local climbing scene? 

As I’m a bit older, I learned like most from my generation: outside and through a friend.  I followed him up a multi-pitch trad climb on my first introduction and fell in love with the intricacy and challenge of bouldering a short time later. 

I did a climbing trip in Europe with him which included helping a small crew develop some boulders in the Italian Alps, and then more climbing trips throughout the States cemented it as a personal passion I would keep for life. 

By the time I reached Halifax I was hungry to meet local developers and experience the unique granite. Halifax had at the time a fairly small but strong and passionate community of climbers so it didn’t take long to make friends and be a part of the scene.  

What does climbing mean to you?

Like many who are obsessed with climbing, it encompasses many things to me such as community, physical/mental fitness, and personal growth. If I was to narrow down one thing that makes climbing special to me it’s the joy of intimacy you get to have with a beautiful natural element. Taking a hike is one thing, but analyzing, scrubbing and being so aware of every crystal on a large stone in a forest is truly unique to climbing. 

When my cheek is brushing up against a warm stone on a delicate slab climb I feel the happiest I can possibly feel.   

What is the Gibralter guide?  

Some of the local developers had directed me towards Gibralter as one of the better untapped areas with plenty of potential for new climbs if you were willing to put in some heavy lifting scrubbing the rocks.  It’s a pretty forested area with easy public access and my roommate and I were inspired to put in long days developing new climbs and sharing them with our friends and the bouldering community. 

The Maasy Boulder. Photo source: Cnsmobeta.ca


Making a guide was the easiest way to share our year+ of development with everyone and I was excited to put something creative and fun together. My roommate and close friend Mark Maas put many hours excitedly scrubbing and exploring Gibralter with me and I even named the first boulder we scrubbed together after him (the Maasy boulder). 

Years later (2 years ago now) he lost his life to depression and accumulating chronic injuries that were robbing him of his ability to do the things he loved. Gibralter holds an even more special place in my heart now as a sort of memorial place, a space he loved and cherished. He is dearly missed by many. 

Map of Gibralter. Photo courtesy of Luke Buxton


Why imbue the guide with magical storytelling?

Being in the animation industry (I design the worlds in cartoons) definitely had a big impact on how I approached the guide. I don’t think I ever really thought it through so much as it just naturally became whimsical and was influenced by my creative influences. 

I wanted the map to feel like the map at the beginning of a Tolkien fantasy novel or something similar because when we explored those woods we felt that way; adventurers seeking out treasures buried under moss. Now looking at it I think it’s pretty amateur in delivery, but I’d like to think it has retained some charm.   

Was there any overlap between magic and climbing for you, before the guidebook?   

Sure, I think I interpret many aspects of my life with a rather fantastical or whimsical slant; I’m a bit of a romantic. 

I guess I always approached climbing with some element of child-like wonder. It’s pretty easy to do when the places that climbing takes you are often so magical and surreal to begin with; Yosemite feels like it could easily be the home of ancient Forest Giants and Squamish grand wall is so lush and beautiful you sense a Faerie Sprite under every fern patch and mushroom.  


How did the land itself play into the design of the guide?  

The forest in Gibralter feels more like the BC rainforests I was used to climbing in at home, in contrast to the rugged Atlantic coast where most of the bouldering had already been covered. It felt natural to give it that whimsical forest-fantasy look.   

Was there any outcome for the guidebook you were hoping for? 

Not really, I knew it would just be something shared among locals and friends.  It was a fun project on the side with no big expectations.  

Anything else you’d like to add? 

If anyone reading this can make an effort to visit Nova Scotia, they should! 

Go sample the amazing granite and super friendly and perpetually psyched community there. It really is a little known gem in North America.  

A year after Gibralter guide was released I wrote one for local developer Rich Lapaix’s “Jessie’s Diner” area (neighboring to Gibralter). Around that time the useful local digital guide, MoBeta, was in full swing and I felt it was less relevant to finish off my PDF guide and never got around to wrapping it up before we moved back out West. 

I’ve been approached by enough people in the community who want to see it that I decided to retroactively finish/fix it and release it to the community. It was done in the same style as Gibralter and acts in a sense as a Part 2 of Musquodobit bouldering

At the least, it can serve as an accurate historic documentation of the names and lines developed by Rich and a handful of others who paved the way for the growing climbing community of Nova Scotia.



You can see more of Luke’s work at his online portfolio, lukeandrewbuxton.com.

You can download the Gibralter guide from the Cnsmobeta library.

Feature image courtesy of Luke Buxton.

Jobs for the Traveling Climber: Architect

In this interview series we talk with people who spend their time traveling and climbing, while still holding down a steady income. From nurses to coders, writers to outdoor guides, we want to show that you don’t have to go full dirtbag to live the itinerant life. Because contributing to your 401k while seeing the world doesn’t sound so bad.

Name: Gili Keselman

Job: Architect

Gili in his Fortress of Solitude in Balfour, Canada. Photo courtesy of Eva Capozzola.


1) What do you do?

I’m an architect who designs buildings and spaces in Tel Aviv and its surroundings while living in a van named “Air Force Bum” deep in the beautiful Canadian Rockies.

I specialize in 3D modeling and visualization. My work requires powerful hardware that I [carry with me] and move around inside robust pelican cases. When I go to work it looks like I’m carrying a sniper rifle. You’ll find me sitting in random cafes and bars at all hours of the day, which may or may not lead to some weird Halloween experiences. 


“Architecture doesn’t necessarily mean a life of adventure. I had to work hard and make scary choices to build the situation I’m in today.”


2) How did you first learn about a career in architecture? 

As a teenager I was curious by every topic possible. From economics to math and physics to computer science and art. It was impossible to choose only one thing, so I chose to study architecture which combines a bit of everything.

I studied at the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) in Haifa for five years, and then worked in Tel Aviv for Bar-Orian Architects, a typical 9:00-19:00 office job.

Architecture doesn’t necessarily mean a life of adventure. I had to work hard and make scary choices to build the situation I’m in today; combining my passion for the mountain lifestyle with architecture, and most importantly, feeling free and in control of my own schedule and life.

Right now I’m in the process of building a company that will allow its workers the same freedom.


3) What are some of the perks of working remotely? 

I get to ski and climb mountains. Before being a “professional ski bum,” work took the majority of my focus. It would take over any discussion with my friends and it seemed to be the center of my life. We lived to work.

Today, work is just something I do between adventures.

I work to live, so the daily focus is shifted to discussions about epic adventures instead of salary and concerns about retirement. Working for 9 hours straight from a bar in the middle of the night seems like part of my adventure, and I love every minute of it. 

“This is how my little van house looks like on an average day for just over a year now. Best year of my life!” Photo courtesy of Eva Capozzola.


4) What are some of the challenges?

I still have a full time job. Getting to choose my hours and location is awesome, but I still have to make sure all deadlines are met. Israel is 9 hours ahead, so often it means I need to work in the middle of the night. Living in a van means I have to work from the only place which is open at night – a bar! 

There might be a Halloween party going on around me as I struggle to finish a tight deadline, and my clients are counting on me. It’s serious enough that if you screw up once you might never get work again. These are multi-million dollar projects we’re talking about.

One time, a beer spilled on my laptop causing it to shut off for days. My little laptop shutdown caused delays, and can never happen again. Today, I have two super powerful laptops and several backup drives, just to make sure work never stops. And that’s part of the challenge: work never stops.

I need to be available and ready to work, without distinction of weekends or nights or overtime or the security net of being an employee. I’m a freelancer, so work [may be] good today, but might not be here tomorrow. All that said, it’s a small price to pay to be able to play in the mountains.  


“I didn’t want to wake up one day at age 80 to look back at my life and be disappointed by not going after my dreams.”


5) What motivated you to pursue this role? How did you decide to take things on the road?

I felt like life must have something more to it than security. I felt numb in the office and eventually got to a point where I chose adventure over security, and I paid for it with harsh results in the beginning.

I quit my job without having any plan other than going to live in the mountains and try to find a way to get by. I didn’t want to wake up one day at age 80 to look back at my life and be disappointed by not going after my dreams. This perspective helped me see life as a daring adventure and not as an experience to be cruised through safely.

I lost all my savings pretty quick without a job (not having the ability to work in Canada without a permit). I left the comfort of a house, a job, a routine, security, and I ended up tearing my ACL in a bad ski accident. I was left broke, injured, having to come back to Israel for surgery and a year of recovery. Despite it all, I kept positive.

Ice climbing in the Cline River Gallery. Photo courtesy of Eva Capozzola.


I remember thinking, “If this is the worst it can get… I’ve got this!”

There was nothing to really fear. I kept appreciating the fact that some people have cancer and I don’t. That’s a real problem in life, not losing a job or some savings. So after recovery, I did it all again!

This time, I had experience in regards to what to expect. I approached my old boss and asked to work remotely. I also got a van and transformed it into a home. Having the ability to sustain myself financially within my adventures changed my life. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was living life to the fullest.


6) How has your life changed since you started this?

I could die tomorrow, and I’d be okay with it. Because I feel like I’ve lived.

Every day of the past 3 years has been the best day of my life. I found love in the mountains, I got permanent residency in Canada, and now I’m building a life of adventure here. Looking back, there was no risk. There was nothing to lose and a life to gain. Taking risks pays off. 


7) What does a “typical” week or month look like?

It’s hard to find a typical month these days. Life keeps evolving, changing and moving places. I’ve spent the last 6 months living in a dry cabin in Alaska with no running water or a toilet, but with fast Wi-Fi that allowed me to work.

Now I’m in Canmore, Canada, living out of my van as I combine work alongside rock and ice climbing. In two months, I’ll be in Golden, BC, for ski season. Living out of a van in winter is pretty extreme up here, where temps get down to -40C. Me and my girlfriend live together in my tiny van and have this tiny wood burning stove we named “rusty.” We [make sure to] find time to chop wood, to keep us alive during the freezing nights. And we have to cuddle to survive. I think it’s very good for any relationship: forced cuddling.  

To answer your question, in a typical day we might start by skiing or climbing and then get back to working from a bar. It’s pretty simple actually. 


8) What do you wish you knew when first starting out?

I wish I knew about Van Life! It’s the single greatest adventure and way to live cheaply anywhere. 


9) What is one lesson learned from your journey so far?

Big risks pay off. Whatever you think you have to lose, is nothing really. You have your legs, and your immune system, and your eyes. Those are the real valuable things in life. Anything else is just a story. And why live in a boring story?

Every day I work to make my story an epic adventure, and it got me to places and people who will be in my heart forever.

“Home is where your heart is ❤️” Photo courtesy of Eva Capozzola.

Thanks, Gili!

You can follow Gili and his van-based adventures on instagram @freegili.



Feature photo courtesy of Eva Capozzola.