Adventure, Inspiration, Travel

Our Vie Adventures consists of Cees, Madison, Vladimir the Kitten, and a 1989 Toyota Motorhome named Vie. Cees and Madison are on the road, living the dream of every outdoor-minded couple by visiting each national park in the country over the course of the year. In celebration of our National Parks centennial, we’ve partnered with Cees and Madison to bring you stories and photos of their yearlong quest (and of course, plenty of #vladimirkitten along the way).

Keep scrolling to see Cees, Madison, and Vladimir’s visit to Joshua Tree National Park, CA. Stay tuned to Downstream for updates on their adventures and follow them on Instagram (@ourvieadventures) for more frequent updates from the road.

I always drive.  In fact, Madison doesn’t know how to drive stick.  I have tried many times to teach her, but she always seems to have an excuse as to why it wouldn’t be a “convenient time” to learn.  This weeks excuse, “well, I have to snuggle the kitty right now, so I don’t think I can.”  I think she just wants to sleep as we roll down the road!

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The kitty is more interested in chewing her toes off than cuddling anyway.

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They said “don’t touch” the cactus… so what is the first thing you have to try?

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Her worst nightmare of accidentally falling into the cacti was almost realized during this picture.

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There was a lot to do in Joshua Tree.  There are so many places to climb on and explore.  It is a little kid’s paradise!  When I was young, my mom would take us out in the city in Chicago, and my main goal was to climb on all the statues, guard rails, and tables that I could.  It was like a game.  There is one particular monkey statue that we would climb up and then slide down over and over and over again.  As I was bouncing around on these rocks, I got some of that back.  I felt that “maybe-I-could-get-on-top-of-that” feeling again.

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We bounced around the Skull Rock area for a while.  We would just look out and see the next feature that we wanted to scramble up toward.  It was pretty entertaining.

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There are some pretty cool shaped Joshua Trees.  There is something inspiring about these trees.  It probably has to do with their ability to survive in such an arid landscape.  They’re just tough.

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Key’s View was supposed to have the “best views” in the park.  At least, this is what we had read before we hit the park.  In the spirit of full disclosure – we were disappointed.  The air was kind of smoggy (I guess there is bad pollution from Palm Springs and even L.A.) and the view honestly wasn’t that epic.  I felt a little robbed.

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Most of the time we have nothing but “glowing reviews” for the places in the parks that we visit.  This was one of the first that we were kind of “meh, its alright.”  It feels a little sinful to say that about a place in our national parks.  It feels almost sacrilegious.  But hey, that is what we felt and we figured we would pass it on.

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The kitty liked Joshua Tree.  Actually, I think he just liked to be out of Death Valley.

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He assumed the role of driver’s assistant.

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This little nook was once an indian dwelling. It was a really nice spot! I can’t imagine having such a prime piece of property!

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It is in these moments when Madison and I pause and say, “Can you believe that we are doing this?  It just doesn’t feel like real life!”  We feel so blessed that we can enjoy such beautiful places together!

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The next day we went wanted to get some climbing in.  Most of the climbing is in an area called Hidden Valley.  We went to the area and looked up some of the most iconic climbs that we could handle.  Right off the parking lot, we found this beauty – “Right Ski Track”.  We made our way up the right crack in the rock.  It was fun climbing right there so close to the road.  All of the retirees were snapping pictures of us – we felt like celebrities.

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It was super windy on the top, and we had a hard time communicating.  It was hard to tell Madison that she was safe to begin climbing.  We had to wait until we could sneak in a signal between the wind gusts.  We decided that we need to get a pair of walkie talkies so we can talk to each other safely.  Plus, we could also have really intense games of hide-and-go-seek with our new 16 mile range!

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We had to take a break in the middle of our Joshua Tree stay for a couple of weddings. Another one of my best friends was getting married in Canada, and one of Madison’s best friends was getting married in L.A.  So, we split up.  These weddings are getting out of control!

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Before we left, I saw this beautiful gap that seemed to just beg for someone to rig a highline between it.  Sure enough, when I looked up if someone had rigged that line, it had been done!  So, I made some plans to come back and rig it after the wedding.

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After we got back from the weddings, we drove to pick up the kitty at my Aunt Heather’s place in San Diego.  We stayed the night there and then took off to Joshua Tree the next morning.  We had coordinated with a few people on Facebook to rig the Hall of Horrors highline.  We sorted gear in the parking lot, and came up with a plan of attack.  Madison and I would climb up one side and get things set up on that side, and our newly-made friends would set up the other side.  It was fool-proof.

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We made it most of the way up our side when we ran into a problem.  Just 30 feet below the anchors on the right side, was a large crack.  We planned to use the crack to climb up and reach the top where the highline bolts were.  However, when we got up to the crack, it was a lot larger than we had anticipated.  It was too large for the climbing gear that we had to protect us and it was too narrow for my whole body to fit inside.  To make a long story short, it was not safe for us to try and climb it.

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As I upload these photos, I am looking at the crack, and am kind of kicking myself.  I should have just gone for it.  But it really wasn’t safe (and there is no way my wife was going to let me even try).

We came up with a few ideas to try and make it up – I tried shoving my whole bag in the crack to see if I could use that as a step to squeeze in the wider part of the crack (still unsafe), we thought if I could wedge the knotted highline anchor in the crack, that maybe I could pull up on it (unsafe), I took off my harness and tried to squeeze all the way into the crack (very unsafe and too fat).  There was no way we were getting up to the anchors.

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I was really bummed.  We had to turn around.  I have a hard time letting go of ideas.  It is a weird mental battle that goes on in my head.  I was raised to think that nothing is impossible.  This kind of mentality causes a real disconnect when something doesn’t work out – my brain searches for the nonexistent solution.  I get a “does not compute” message back from my brain when life shuts me down like this

I was overrun with this frustration when we got to the parking lot.  I made it halfway across the lot when this random guy asked me to take a picture of him and his friends.  Despite my bad mood, I agreed to snap the photo.  This dude was all kinds of happy.  I swear, whenever I have a grumpy attitude the Universe finds it hilarious to send cheerful people to me.  In the moment, it really drives me crazy.

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Then it happened.  When I saw this guy’s tattooed fingers, I realized I had found my solution – the bridge over the gap of impossibility that I needed to satisfy the error codes my brain was throwing at me.  My newfound, happy-go-lucky friend had the words “HARD LUCK” tattooed across his knuckles.  That’s the difference.  It was possible to climb that section and rig this highline.  However, we just had a spell of hard luck.  We didn’t have the right gear to get to the top safely; it just wasn’t our day to rig that line.

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You know, I think hard luck is different, in a way, than bad luck.  Bad luck is getting air bombed by a seagull or letting one rip right when the room goes quiet.  In both cases something was damaged – your favorite lion king sweatshirt in the case of the seagull poop, and your pride at that crowded, kind of stinky, party.

Hard luck, on the other hand, is more having to deal with a difficult situation.  Everything is fine.  Nobody got hurt and nothing got damaged, but your plans just aren’t working out how you would have liked.  You have to adjust to something else.  That is the hard part of it all – adjusting.

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So, we did the hard thing and adjusted our plans.  We went back near Hidden Valley to boulder with our new highline friends.  Joshua Tree is a bouldering Mecca. So really, it only makes sense that we got some bouldering time in.

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Bouldering is very mellow.  We would climb hard for about 45 seconds, and then sit around and chat, play music, and eat grapes.  It was really fun!

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It turned out to be a very pleasant evening, despite the hard luck.  We laughed a lot, ate some good fruit, and enjoyed the sunset with new friends.  We really couldn’t ask for anything more.  Joshua Tree is a beautiful place.  The landscape is unique and provides so much to do.  It was a privilege to spend such quality time in this park.  I will be coming back for sure.  And next time I come, I’ll have a better plan to get up to that highline!

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