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Van Life and Three Sisters: Meet Roxy Harbitter

By The Cairn Project

Ambassador Roxy Harbitter’s on the road – and en route to Oregon for her adventure fundraiser! Meet Roxy and learn about why she’s a part of The Cairn Project.

You’re a writer working in the outdoor industry for Elevation Outdoors and Blue Ridge Outdoors. What is it like melding personal and professional passions, and how did you arrive to this set of roles? 

I often get asked how I ended up living in a van with my boyfriend and dog for the past few years. And the honest answer is, Facebook. We saw a job posting for a ‘Road Team’ for Elevation Outdoors and Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine and we put everything we had into the application. I was in Denver working and pushing the limits of ‘weekend warrior-ing,’ but I knew there was more. A month later, we had quit our jobs, sold most of our belongings, and moved into a van to travel, write, and photograph. It was an aggressive lifestyle change that took months of getting used to, but years later it still feels like a wonderful adventure. 

My background is in photography and videography, and I’ve always had a connection with the outdoors. Being able to meld the two was exciting and scary. I think I’ve grown as an artist and writer in ways I couldn’t have if it weren’t my profession. Being required to create and produce work on a deadline has a totally different feel than taking photos on a leisurely stroll. The pressure and accountability keeps the camera in my hand at all times, and forces me to write when I would much rather relax. I am compelled to be creative in new ways which is challenging and stressful, but ultimately creates a finished product totally different from one without deadlines.

You’ve been living in your van for over two years now! Can you tell us about your decision to live on the road and how it’s changed your relationship with the outdoors? What are the most exhilarating and challenging parts of Van Life? 

Van Life has a pretty good reputation thanks to Instagram. There are plenty of parts about it that are fabulous and exhilarating. I go to sleep and wake up with the sun, I can hike right from my doorstep, that photo where you open your back doors and lay in bed to enjoy a wonderful view — that’s real. But those moments are in between “showering” with cold water in a parking lot, losing cell service for days at a time, and driving for hours to find a safe place to sleep. That list is just the physical downsides, the real downsides are loss of community and loneliness. A nomadic lifestyle means rarely hanging out with people that can say “remember when,” because you only met them a few days ago. The trade off is the freedom and closeness with nature. When I am brushing my teeth, I have the view of whatever we decided to camp next to that evening. Forests, canyons, streams, deserts. Without the standard bathroom mirror, I have no way to be judgmental of my appearance, or think about all the things I haven’t done that day. Instead I am appreciating exactly what is in front of me. I have been camping, hiking, fishing, and exploring for three years straight, and I am a totally different person because of it.

You’re setting out on a thru-hike of the Sisters Loop in Oregon this summer! How did you pick this hike, and what aspect of this adventure is most exciting for you?

I am so excited to go on this adventure. I have backpacked many times before, but never distances longer than thirty miles at a time. I wanted the challenge of something I hadn’t done before, but also something that could be accessible to others in case friends wanted to join. I am most excited for the remoteness, the beauty of the location, and the challenge of the distance. 

I grew up in a family of three daughters, led by a courageous mother. I am so thankful and proud of these women in my life who I get to call best friends. I am the youngest sister. While living in a van, I have relied on my older sisters for support, advice, a place to stay, the list could go on for 50 miles. The Three Sisters Loop seemed so appropriate for both the mission of the Cairn Project, and my own personal connection to the women in my life. I hope to be able to pass that connection and strength onto those taking their first steps into nature.

As an Ambassador for The Cairn Project, you’re joining a team of women who are catalyzing their outdoor passion into a force that passes this opportunity on to the next generation. How and when did your connection to the outdoors blossom, and who were the people in your life that made that happen?

I’ve always loved following the creek as far as it would take me as a child, but my true connection with nature didn’t blossom until I moved to Colorado. The aggressive crags, unexplored valleys, and thousands of miles of hiking called to me. The community in Colorado is focused on exploring and protecting the outdoors, and helped me to see the importance in both those things. I want to be an integral part of that community, encouraging others to get outside, appreciate the outdoors, and work toward protecting it for generations to come. I’m so proud to be part of The Carin Project. Three Sisters, here we come!