Boulder residents Brendan and Chloe Couvreux, along with their 4- and 2-year-old sons, Sky and Tao, won’t be seen around town in the coming year. They’ve rented their condo to a friend, packed up their climbing gear, some homeschooling materials and whatever else they could fit into their newly refurbished Volkswagon Westfalia van, and hit the road headed for the worldrenowned rock climbing walls of California.
The Couvreuxes, whose sponsors include Patagonia, Merrell and Klean Kanteen, will spend most of the next nine months in California either living out of their van in the rock climbing destinations of Yosemite and Bishop or spending quality family time with Brendan and Chloe’s parents who both live in the Bay Area. Following those nine months, they will likely head back to Colorado and spend most of the remaining three months climbing at their favorite Colorado climbing destination, Rifle Mountain Park.
For Brendan and Chloe, who’ve been climbing, skiing, running and road tripping together since they met 15 years ago, “adventure” and “life” have never been separate concepts. They were both born in France, where Chloe lived until she was 15 before her family moved to San Francisco for her father’s new job. Brendan was a bit more mobile in his adolescence, being raised on a sailboat until he was 9 when his family settled down in the Bay Area. Initially, they both had a rough time transitioning to their new lives in California. Chloe didn’t fit in at her private French high school and Brendan was much more interested in competing in the professional sailing circuit than he was in transitioning to his new land-bound school schedule. Later in their high school years, they both developed an interest in rock climbing, but neither had a reliable climbing partner. They finally met when a mutual friend had the intuition to introduce them at a party Brendan threw at his parents’ house during his senior year.
Soon after meeting they began climbing together in the gym, and as their climbing and personal relationships evolved they began taking road trips to climbing destinations in Yosemite, Utah and Colorado.
“We used climbing as an excuse for driving around,” says Brendan.
They continued to climb together as they both attended San Francisco State University, where Chloe pursued nursing and Brendan majored in kinesiology. After graduating, Brendan took a job as an emergency room technician in San Francisco but quickly found himself enthralled by the paramedics and decided that was what he wanted to do. Meanwhile, they found themselves climbing so often in Colorado that they decided it was time to relocate.
Brendan enrolled in a paramedics program in Edwards, Colorado, which led to his current career as a firefighter/paramedic for West Metro Fire Rescue in Lakewood. Meanwhile, Chloe integrated herself in the Denver nursing community and got a job as a trauma nurse at Denver Health Medical Center.
They had their first child, Sky, when Chloe was 25. When Sky was only 8 months old they took a family climbing trip to Greece and it was on that trip that Chloe thought it would be fun to have another child. Brendan agreed, but he knew with a second baby they’d have to make another change in order to maintain their road-tripping, adventure lifestyle.
“OK, but then we need a van,” Brendan remembers telling Chloe at the time.
After returning from Greece, the Couvreuxes brought two new additions into their family: a second baby boy, Tao, and a 1986 Volkswagon Westfalia. After refurbishing the van to properly house and sleep two adults and two children, the new family of four began taking climbing trips across the country.
The 1986 Westfalia is not the van, however, that is currently transporting the Couvreuxes.
On the day before Halloween, 2013, while driving the entire family back from Bishop, California on a two-lane road in the middleof-nowhere Nevada, the van drifted slightly off the road going 70 mph and sunk into the loose gravel shoulder. The sudden change in speed combined with a quick weave in an attempt to get back on the road caused the van, with all four family members inside, to flip one-and-ahalf times. The scene that followed the crash could have been directly plucked from a post-apocalyptic movie.
It was dusk out and there were absolutely no other cars or people around. The van sat upside down with everybody inside. Many of their belongings had flown out and were strewn about the surrounding desert. All the while, the windshield wiper fluid was spewing from the upside down van like a fountain, and to top it all off, Elvis was still playing on the radio.
Amazingly, Brendan was the only one to suffer any substantial injury from the crash with a couple of broken ribs. Following the emotional shock of the crash, and finding out that the van was totaled, Chloe admits she was losing her motivation for road tripping. Brendan, however, was sure all she needed was a little time and a new van to reignite her passion for the road.
Only one month after the crash, the Couvreuxes purchased their second Westfalia van. They found it in Sacramento barely running and with no back seats. Its rust-free shell, however, made it the perfect van to completely refurbish and customize from scratch.
So for the past year and a half, the new van has been going back and forth between a mechanic and an interior cabinetry shop in Sacramento and a custom suspension shop in Redding, California. As this summer approached and the van got closer to being finished, the Couvreuxes realized they could actually live on the road for the next year.
“It all kinda lined up,” says Chloe.
They were able to rent their condo to a friend; they can homeschool the almost 5-year-old Sky on the road; they will be around the Bay Area much of the time with grandparents who are more than happy to provide free child care; and Brendan’s job as a firefighter will allow him to fly back to Colorado once a month and work concentrated shifts, stay at the firehouse and keep their family health insurance plan.
When all of those pieces fell in place, the Couvreuxes decided there’d be no better time to make this year-long journey as a family unit. As for their child-raising approach, the Couvreuxes say they aren’t trying to shield Sky and Tao from the “real world.” Rather, they believe they’re showing their children a life of fun and adventure is possible within the realm of that world. They plan to homeschool Sky and Tao for the time being, which frees up more time for family adventures, and eventually enroll them in public school at around age 9, a transition that Brendan claims to have benefitted from when he was younger.
“I’d love to bring them out and show them as much as I can and travel and be outside and play in the dirt and rocks … and have fun in the outdoors,” Brendan says, “but on the other hand I don’t want to have them only be able to live in that and not be able to come back to the city and not ever be able to adjust to that.”
Brendan and Chloe have become model parents in the climbing world, pulling off the delicate balance between work, family and adventure. Many of their adventure-oriented friends have even told them that they only had kids because of the example set forth by the Couvreuxes.
At one point during our interview, Chloe looks down at a shy Tao and asks, “Do you have a good life?”
He responds with a big nod of the head accompanied by an even bigger smile.
For as much as they love their boys, however, the upcoming free childcare from their parents will finally free up time for Brendan and Chloe to have the occasional, long-awaited, night alone on the town.
“I’m finally detached from the baby phase,” says Chloe, “where I feel like I can leave them for an evening and I don’t have the guilt, so we can have a date.”