Welcome to the first of 12 monthly installments of Roaming Robos, a travelogue of sorts, written by Jon and Pamela Robichaud. Follow along throughout 2016 as they sell their belongings, rent their house, pack their bikes and three-year-old boxer Penny into a Sprinter Van, and travel across North America in search of adventure.
Two thirty-somethings decide to pack their dog and bicycles into a van and travel around the U.S. for a year.
Sounds like the start of a new reality TV show, right? Not exactly. We’re too old, and get along too well, for TLC to pick this up.
But that is an accurate way to describe the start of an exciting adventure that’s about to take place.
First off, let me introduce myself. My name is Jon Robichaud. I’m a 38-year-old marketing dude living in Boulder, Colorado. My wife’s name is Pamela, and our three-year-old boxer is Penny, more affectionately known as Penny Love. We’ve been married since 2011, and have been best friends since 2007. We’re both avid cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts. We’re also early adopters and investors at Skratch Labs, a nutrition company based in Boulder.
In addition to her physical therapy career, Pamela helped form Team ten20 Cycling, a Boulder-based women’s cycling organization with over 100 local and nationwide members. About to start their eighth season, Team ten20 caters to all levels of experience and terrain, with a focus of empowering women in the saddle, from racing to simply pedaling.
For both of us, the last few years have been life-changing. We helped launch Skratch, working long hours for weeks on end. Pamela survived the nightmare that took place at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon; I was one mile from crossing the finish line when the bombs went off. Not long after that, I was hit by a car, while riding. And after a few years of trying, we’ve decided to walk away from starting a family.
Which leads us back to the dog, and bikes, and the van.
We both value travel, adventure, and being outdoors, on our bicycles. Without soccer practices or play dates dictating our schedules, we decided to start building our life together as a series of mini-retirements.
With equal parts vision and appreciation, we realized life had presented us with a blank slate. The next year will make us slow down, do more with less, live in the moment, and take the road less traveled — where we will then, of course, take out the bikes and pedal down that road.
So, fueled by love for the present and in honor of the past, the “Robos” are going to take a break from the norm and adopt an adventurous and non-conformist approach to modern-day living.
Building out Ellie
We spent the first half of 2015 researching Sprinter Van build outs, envisioning our own perfect design. In June, our vision became reality.
I traveled to Madison, Wisconsin, to team up with our friend David Herket, a contractor and owner of Nimbus Construction, for what would end up being 800 man hours between three people over five days.
David lent us his equipment, space, and expertise, for nothing in return other than the experience of constructing a tiny home on wheels, complete with solar power, a 1000 watt inverter (strong enough to power a Vitamix), a workable sink, and storage for all our gear.
We spent the summer and fall conditioning Penny to van life, although in all honesty, it only took about fifteen minutes for her to acclimate. It had never dawned on us that she wouldn’t love the van, and we are very grateful that she does. Keeping her cool, and safe, was our biggest consideration with the design and layout, and she’s very happy sleeping in her canvas crate in the climate controlled van.
Once we knew Penny was well cared for, we had to make room for our bikes. We are roadies with a strong affinity for gravel road riding, or “groad riding” as the kids call it these days.
Next came two fork mounts, and then a bike stand, installed in the van’s rear door, for the inevitable roadside maintenance. Food, water, sleeping quarters, and storage were the easy part.
Speaking of gear, we’ll each be riding a Specialized Diverge Expert X1, the perfect whip of choice for all the groads and adventures that await us. The bikes will be set up with SRAM’s 1x component system, ideal for the riding we’ll be doing, but also for life on the road — having only a rear derailleur will reduce maintenance time, giving us extra time to ride. We’ll be riding on Zipp Firecrest carbon clincher disc-brake wheelsets. And of course all of our adventures will be fueled with copious amounts of Skratch Labs hydration mix, fruit drops, and cookie mix. (Yes, we’ll be making fresh cookies on our camp stove. Stay tuned, we’ll teach you how.)
We’ve affectionately begun calling our van “Ellie,” as she is big and grey, like an elephant.
Now comes the fun part
Boulder is 1700 miles (2735 kilometers) away from our immediate families, who live in Maine and Massachusetts. And though we see them a few times a year, it’s not enough; we have nieces and nephews who seem to be growing at an exponential rate.
Trips back to New England are often based around our families, making visiting with childhood friends, college pals, and bike-industry friends almost impossible. So we’ve been referring to 2016 as the year we are going to try to see all the people we care for, all around across North America. It’s a satisfying thought, even just to write it down. We’re confident it can be accomplished, if time and logistics allow.
Our other goal, of course, is to ride our bikes. A lot.
We want to create new memories, to discover new roads that have yet to be ridden. We want to take the concept of “getting off the beaten path.” and make it literal. We have a growing list of beautiful, interesting places to ride, and an equally long list of fantastic people to meet up with along the way. (It’s handwritten, not a Google doc, and we guard it with our lives.)
Some of the stops will coincide with major U.S. cycling events such as Sea Otter Classic and Amgen Tour of California. Other key stops along the way include three weeks in Alaska, a visit to the Raw Talent Ranch, in the hills of West Virginia, and stops in Cape Cod and New England. Typical tourist traps will be avoided unless we can ride to them and evoke a certain amount of “shock and awe” from onlookers.
If there are some roads you think we need to include on our list, we’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.
We’re still a good ten weeks away, but it will be here before we know it. I invite you to follow along as we explore (and document) the ups and downs of life in the van — riding, making friends, and cooking meals along the way.
We know there there will be logistical and emotional hurdles. Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier, we really enjoy being with one another. We hit the road in March, and we’ll be on the road for the rest of the year. During that time we’ll continually ask ourselves, “What’s the best that could happen?”
We look forward to sharing the answer with you, here.
About the authors
Jon and Pamela Robichaud are early adopters and investors at Skratch Labs, a nutrition company based in Boulder. In addition to her physical therapy career, Pamela helped form Team ten20 Cycling, a Boulder-based women’s cycling organization with over 100 local and nationwide members. In 2016, they are packing their bikes and dog into a Sprinter Van and driving across North America, stopping along the way to ride as much as possible. Follow their adventures here and on their website, RoamingRobos.com.