While many nineteen-year old boys can be found hanging out with their friends or working a summer job and most eight-year-old girls can be found at summer camp or the pool, Victoria (8) and Brandon (19) Gezel were spotted living out of a converted van in order to rock climb for the summer in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Hailing from Apple Valley, Minnesota, the unlikely pair have only been climbing for a couple years but have quickly fallen under the spell of the adventurous and difficult sport.
Brandon and Victoria still have typical experiences for their age: Victoria likes to dance, paint her nails and play with Barbies, Brandon has struggled with the decision to return to college and has a full time job. However, this past June, Brandon packed up his converted van and made the solo fourteen-hour trek from his hometown to the picturesque town of Estes Park, Colorado.
Here, he spent a month climbing alone before his mother, Amy, and his little sister, Victoria, joined him. Amy stayed for a few days, before returning to work and leaving her children to work as a team to live in the van and fulfill their dreams of climbing together in Colorado. Why Colorado? Brandon says, “I wanted to go someplace where I could find good conditions during the summer months and manage to live very simply. Colorado is one of the few places in the US that offers both. But it is also a very popular tourist destination, so I knew I could blend in and no one would guess I was living in my van right in town!”
For the next month and a half, the dynamic duo parked their van in a “secret spot” just outside of Estes Park and filled their days with bouldering in Rocky Mountain National Park and Mt. Evans.
Taking such a long climbing trip requires a frugal lifestyle which Brandon and Victoria employed by taking advantage of public places like the laundry mat for showers and water, and taking to heart simple, but valuable lessons, such as “always wash your dishes after every meal.” For free and fun rest-day activities, Victoria would ask the local bakery for expired bread so she could feed the ducks, go for walks, or read books from the library.
Brandon tells me, “Living cheap out of the van is all about sacrifices” – these sacrifices being avoiding any unnecessary spending, only going out for dinner if it was to celebrate completing a climbing project, and keeping driving to a minimum.
Victoria and Brandon became quite the team and their brother-sister relationship provided way to a great friendship as well. Victoria would cook pancakes for breakfast every morning and Brandon would make them simple dinner like sandwiches or ramen noodles, but on occasion would splurge and make them something special like a pulled pork sandwich. Being only eight, Victoria struggled with her newfound independence and missed her mom constantly, but she learned to face obstacles on her own, like being locked in a public shower and picking the lock. The bond they formed over their love of climbing and adventure overshadowed any possibility of the sibling rivalry one would expect when a brother and sister are living in very close proximity for such a length of time.
Brandon tells me they never have rivalry, however, not even at home. In fact, Brandon, Victoria and their mom have been on a variety of similar trips like when they visited Bishop, California; Hueco Tanks, Texas; and Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, Arkansas. Each adventure consisted of camping and climbing together 24/7.
When at home, Brandon and Victoria are climbing partners as well, climbing inside three days a week and outside two to three days a week. They remain motivated and psyched by always thinking about their next adventure and looking back at the memorable experiences they have shared.
Although the summer was filled with great weather, climbing achievements, and constant feelings of appreciation and gratefulness — with every up must come a down. Brandon ran into some car trouble in the beginning of the trip which cost him more than he had expected and they returned to their van one night to see bear prints on the windows.
Victoria also got separated from Brandon while they were bouldering for over an hour and rangers were called in to assist. But, as Brandon says, “I think it takes a certain personality type to withstand the constant ups and downs of living cheap and in a van.”
It also takes a certain type of personality to get along so well with a younger/older sibling of the opposite sex and to spend a summer in isolation with that sibling in order to follow a dream. Victoria and Brandon are nurturing and supportive, easygoing, and never stop pursuing their goals. Victoria returned home that summer as a more confident and independent girl and Brandon returned home confident in his decision to pursue indoor route setting as a full time career.