Young at Heart: On the Road with West Falls in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains

by Nina Myers McCammon

Kelly Shea and Brendan Banks' of West Falls, a creative studio on wheels, are crisscrossing the country in a restored 1984 VW camper van until approximately Thanksgiving and sharing a weekly diary and gorgeous photography with 50 States of Style readers.

Photo x West Falls

Spectacular scenery aside, and the fact that their camp stove-produced breakfasts continue to trump many of ours, one thing that's become evident about Kelly and Brendan's epic adventure in a van is that they're getting to know themselves as individuals and as a couple in a very real, profound way that only breaking away from the most structured of routines and modern conveniences can accomplish. And because of that, when potential snags arise, like, say a bear hanging out next to their tent (!!!), they're much better-equipped to handle them than ever before. Also: we should all be so lucky to be as young-at-heart as the older couple they met on a hike, doling out travel tips and wearing matching Peanuts (as in Charles Schulz) T-shirts. Call me crazy, but I have a feeling that, give or take a few eccentricities, that's Kelly and Brendan in about 40+ years. Enjoy and have an exciting weekend!

Photo x West Falls

What we ate...
Our morning began as most camp mornings do for us: eggs, bacon, and toast with a steaming side of freshly ground Jack's Coffee (we've been working our way through a 5lb bag since New York). As we packed our overnight gear into two backpacks, 
Kelly whipped up two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that would serve as our mid-hike lunch break. When we arrived at Sawtooth Lake, 5 miles from where we started at the Iron Creek trailhead, we boiled water over our camp stove to bring to life an MRE of chicken and potatoes. We topped it off with a smartly packed bottle of Cholula. In the morning, we made oatmeal with nuts, raisins, and Justin's almond butter to fuel us for the hike out.

Photo x West Falls

What we saw...
Mountains perfectly reflected in a mirror-still lake. We saw streams plunge into waterfalls.  But it was what we didn't see, yet heard, that made the biggest impression. Exhausted from the hike up, we hit the sleeping bags just as the sun set over the ridge.  At around 10pm, my eyes flew open from a sound near the tent, very near.  Brendan was still seemingly sleeping next to me as rocks loudly shifted around. The rocks had been large and even human feet walking on them would not have moved them.  The animal must have been much larger.  I  could hear my heartbeat echo off the sides of sleeping bag as I tried to calm my breath.  Eventually, the noises stopped and I fell back to sleep.
In the morning, Brendan asked if I had heard anything last night.  He had heard my heart beating last night too.  He had also heard the bear.

Who we met...
At the trailhead, we met a marvelously-eccentric older couple and chatted with them for a while. They each wore the same Peanuts T-shirt featuring a smiling Woodstock that said "Happy Camper" in large letters across the front. They had roadtripped all across America and gave us a bunch of off-the-beaten trail tips for traveling. Our packs were getting heavier by the minute, but we didn't mind a bit!

Photo x West Falls

On the radio...
This American Life #69 : Dream House

Van start time...
5:00 pm

Where to next?
Bend, Oregon

Life lessons...
Traveling in a van has disconnected us from our old city lives in a profound way, but getting away from all sense of modern society was an even further iteration of that feeling. Setting up camp miles and miles away from anything, we felt more connected to ourselves, to our journey, to each other, and to nature.  With only the mountains, the lake, and the sky above us, clarity came easier than it had 1700 feet below.