Brianna Cihi, former client advocate at a software company, married her soulmate Keith in Connecticut in September, 2014. “The decor was minimalist,” she says. “Lots of tea lights and hydrangea-stuffed jam jars. Bare feet were encouraged.”
A few months after the wedding, however, they started to question the whole idea of domestic bliss. “We were affectionately calling our tiny one-bedroom apartment in Salt Lake City ‘the gear room’ since we were never there,” she says. “ We were always camping and climbing and driving to different states and visiting friends, and we ended up treating our place like a storage unit. We’d pull up, unpack backpacks, pack them again, and take off.”
After awhile, Cihi realized, “it didn’t make sense to live in one place anymore.” A year and a half later, “home” is now a 27-year-old van with 200,000 miles on it affectionately called “Bertha,” and their backyard “extends from Salt Lake City straight on down to Moab.”
Along with their dogs, Bucket and Dagwood, the two remained convinced that the life of gypsy caravan dreamers is the only kind of life worth living. “I guess I’ve come to learn that if you can barely remember any of your former possessions, you probably weren’t very attached to them,” says Cihi. “I think the only thing I actually miss from living in a house is a bathtub.”
Describe a typical day on the road.
“Sometimes we wake up on a suburban street with a couple of curious kids staring at us. Sometimes we slide the door open, and we’re smack in the center of the desert without a soul in sight. We eat the same breakfast every day—usually eggs and avocado on a tortilla. Then we plan out a climb or a canyon trip.
We’ll mountain bike or kayak depending on the weather and how tired the dogs are. In the afternoon when it’s hottest, I’ll open the awning up and get some work done on my computer. Keith works three days a week with at-risk youth in the desert so that’s when I get most of my writing done. There really is very little routine left in my life at all. Some days it’s a little chaotic and some days it’s incredibly freeing.”
How do you handle stressful situations?
“When you live in a 27-year-old vehicle, there are pretty consistent breakdowns and mechanical issues. We’ve been stranded in parking lots without a home for days at a time while the van is in the shop. The thing we try to remember is that we’re always on the same team. We’re pretty good at letting each other just be upset or depressed or angry when we need to be.”
How often do you see your parents and friends?
“It’s definitely tough being the ones that moved away. My mom comes to visit us out in Utah quite a bit, but we really only see Keith’s family every other year. We have an incredibly tight knit group of friends out here in Utah who live in their cars, so we’ve sort of become each other’s family. We’re a traveling band of gypsies, I suppose.”
How do you handle mealtime?
“We’re vegetarians so we do a lot of veggie stir fries, soups, and pasta dishes. We have an old cooler that we use as a ‘fridge’ and a couple plastic storage bins we use for pantry items. Unlike most Vanlifers, we didn’t build out any type of kitchen inside our vehicle. We cook on a Coleman camping stove outside. It’s simple and easy.”
How do you maintain a consistent beauty routine on the road?
“I’ve never been a makeup gal, so I stick solely to a good moisturizer with sunscreen. Right now I’m using Renewed Hope in a Jar with SPF 30. I also put an overnight lotion on from Origins because the desert is so drying on my skin. I don’t wash my hair very often, but when I do, we use this little ‘shower’ Keith built on top of the van. It’s a black pipe that holds seven gallons and gets warmed by the sun. There is nothing in this world quite like standing butt naked out in the middle of nowhere taking a shower.”
What’s the interior of your RV like?
“The interior of our van is so minimal it isn’t even funny. We focused our energy on making an off-road capable vehicle that could get us down our favorite dirt roads and away from the rest of the world. Everything in there ends up covered in red desert dust anyway. We tried to have a plant in there once but it promptly died from the heat.”
How do you keep passion and intimacy alive in your relationship?
“There are days where Keith’s hands on the other end of my climbing rope are the only thing keeping me from falling. I think the connection between us is so deep because of all the hobbies and interests we share. We rock climb, canyoneer, mountain bike, kayak, snowboard. There’s something really sexy about relying on the person you love for encouragement and strength in moments of physical strain. We are a team in every sense of the word.”
Travel objects you can’t live without?
“Hydro flasks (for keeping water and food cold), climbing gear, sunscreen, our dogs, Patagonia onesies for cold nights, Coconut face wipes, emergency satellite phone, mobile hotspot for my laptop, an off-road jack and shovel, toolbox, wine, good sense of humor.”
Follow their adventures on Instagram.