Do you know what you want? I mean, really know what you want and have the courage to go get it? Not many people can say they do and it’s always inspiring to meet someone who lives this way. At first sight, Chelsea Kimball might look like any other mountain biker, but you just have to hang out with her for a few days to see she burns a different fire, one that lead her to ditch traditional living to move into a van and focus on what she loves most, freedom, mountaineering and climbing, and ultimately find a new passion on her bike.
“I was living in LA and I realized I didn’t want to live there anymore. I was sick of being around a lot of people that I didn’t know. Cars everywhere, people everywhere, I was sick of it. I decided the best way to travel was just to get a van. I got a VW bus, a 71 bus that I intended on restoring and traveling in that. Then I realized that restoring a bus takes a lot of money, even if you’re doing all of the work yourself, those parts are expensive.”
Since her restoration project didn’t go as planned, Chelsea sold the bus and got an Astro van. That’s when he adventure began. She moved in it while she was still in Los Angeles working nights at Walmart. Her new living arrangements allowed her to save money for her future projects.
“It was great living in LA in the van. I could save up money and drive up to the mountains to escape the city. There was no one in the mountains. I was searching up different traveling jobs and found out about WWOOFing and found a farm in the foothills on the west side of the Sierras, right near Yosemite. I talked to them and set it up so I could go live at that farm for a while. I figured I could go do a bunch of mountaineering in the Sierras, rock climb in Yosemite. That was the start of it really.”
For the last six years, Chelsea has wandered across the country living frugally to be able to dedicate more time doing the things she loves. She spent time in California, in and around the Sierra Mountains, in the north-east US, in the Desert, only to name a few places.
“I like going to a place and living there for at least 6 months or a year, just because I never feel like you can get the feel of a place if you’re only there for a couple of weeks or months. There is something nice about living in a place and having people recognize you, having you habitual places, you form some sort of relationships with people. Romantic relationships are hard because I always end up leaving. Friends are not as much a problem. It’s pretty easy for me to make friends. Every place that I’ve lived, I’ve made friends with or second and third and fourth families with. It’s pretty awesome because a lot of people have helped me so much.”
Although the lifestyle is not the easiest, Chelsea wouldn’t trade it for anything. In fact, she has no desire to stop living this way in the near future even if she has other projects in mind. Her plan was to leave last summer on a never-ending bike touring trip starting in Alaska and going all he way to the southernmost tip of South-America before shipping her bike to Africa and continue her journey. Having seen how determined she is, I have no doubt she would have made it happen, if not for having found love.
“My friend CJ moved to Big Bear and got a job at a bike shop. When I visited her, she told me “You’ve got to try this.” That’s how it started but I didn’t get too into it right away because I was still reluctant to be a biker. I still wanted to rock climb a whole bunch. Only in this last year, it really grabbed a hold of me.”
Chelsea’s progression and desire to improve is fierce. Everyday, she pushes herself to try harder lines and practices in hopes to add new tricks to her list. Watching her ride is inspiring and her smile is contagious for everyone.
“It’s so much fun. It’s more fun, to me at least, than rock climbing. Because rock climbing is more stressful I guess. Even hucking a big cliff is scary but it’s over really fast. Not like last year when I tried to climb El Cap with my friend and we were on the wall for three days and it never got less stressful as we went up. It’s stressful and hard work. I don’t laugh when I’m rock climbing like when I’m mountain biking, hooting and hollering going down a trail.”
Her love for the sport and desire to improve on her skills pushed her to delay indefinitely her never-ending bike trip. For now, she wants to bike down mountains. The steeper, the better. Add some jumps and you’ll make her day. She credits her confidence and desire to surpass herself to her younger years playing softball and to be better, she tags along with the more skilled and aggressive riders.
“I personally love riding with men because I think it helps me get so much better. I don’t think there is as big of a gender gap in cross country mountain bike as there is in freeride and downhill. There are a lot of women out there pushing themselves to get better but here is still a big difference. It drives me nuts just in the fact that I want to get there, I want to be there, I want to do it as good as they do. I WANT IT! I like the fact that I don’t see many women doing it. If I could be the first to do some of these things, that would be awesome.”
Her riding is great, her motivation and drive is inspiring and she lives her life according to her own principles. Chelsea made me want to be a better rider. I can still hear her in the back of my head “You can do this! I know you can do it!”