Full-time in their Capri Camper, Patricia and Ryan pass on traditional norms in an unrelenting pursuit of trail running, mountain running and backcountry skiing. Don’t miss Dexter!
There’s a moment right after high school and/or college graduation when you can jump right to the next socially-programmed step, or take an audacious turn.
You can get a real job, get married and have kids – or take a year and go backpacking through Europe, move to Hollywood and try acting, start a business, or chase whatever dream inspires you. Hello risk/reward.
These are incredibly rare life moments of freedom and potential. For many the next time this kind of opportunity presents itself will be retirement – 40-years later, or more.
For Patricia Franco and Ryan Phebus, the decision was clear. They put their passion for trail running, mountain running and backcountry skiing above all else. They work only when they have to, and never at the expense of their outdoor pursuits.
Naturally this path requires considerable sacrifice. Without a steady income, they have to find shelter, food and source their material needs with little to no money. In exchange they are free to devote their time to their true interests.
We leave it to you to decide whether their lifestyle is courageous or irresponsible. Looking back, many of us probably wish we had the guts to follow our bliss when we had the chance. Then again, you might have ended up living under a bridge.
What follows is a compelling glimpse into Patricia and Ryan’s extremely frugal truck camping lifestyle and their total commitment to running, skiing and freedom. Throw your social norms out the window and put your running shoes on. We’re going for it.
Above: Climbing up Bird Ridge for sunset
You spend your summers living full-time in a Capri Camper. What led you to this lifestyle?
After graduating from college, I packed my belongings into a four-door Toyota Tacoma and moved from New Hampshire to Colorado. That became my home for the summer.
Based out of Leadville, I did trail work. I traveled from trailhead to trailhead sleeping on an old bear skin rug I pulled out of my grandfather’s basement when he passed away.
I soon discovered that I loved living on the road and bought a hand-built wooden teardrop trailer. Someone had made it in the 1970s and it needed a lot of work.
I pulled that sucker all over the country. I took it to Eugene, Oregon when I took a stab at graduate school. I was living in someone’s backyard until I decided to drop out. Then I took a massive road trip through the Eastern Sierras down through New Mexico and Arizona and back home to Colorado.
“We want to live a full life. We just follow the whims of we want to do. We make the most of our time to be the best at our sport.”
When I started dating Ryan we decided to live in the teardrop together. Things got a little claustrophobic, so we moved into a cabin in the woods. I sold the teardrop, and we started looking into truck campers.
First we bought a used 2007 Toyota Tundra with a flatbed and planned on having a custom flatbed truck camper built for it. Then we realized that we didn’t have the time or the funds to make that happen. We wanted to be back on the road that spring.
That’s when we found a Capri Camper for sale in Wyoming. We drove nine hours one way to pick up our new home. There is minimal storage in the Capri, but it is small and extremely light.
“The Capri Camper is the perfect combination of lightweight and durable. It also matches our lifestyle and budget as dirtbag runners.”
The truck camper felt so big compared to the teardrop that we decided we had enough room for a new roommate. That’s when we adopted our fur baby, Dexter; our running partner in crime and cuddles.
Above: Sunset on Rainbow Peak along the Seward Highway, Alaska
The majority of our readers are 55-plus; your parent’s age, or better. They will read the beginning of your story and ask themselves, “What in the heck are these kids doing?” So, what in the heck are you doing?
We are getting away from the norms of society; kids, careers, owning a house, etc. We are living minimally and our camper helps us do that. We love that we can move at the drop of a dime. We can chase the weather. We don’t own a house, have a career or kids, so we are not tied to a place.
Our life isn’t normal. We want to live a full life. We just follow the whims of we want to do. We make the most of our time to be the best at our sport. With this lifestyle we have the worst and the best experiences.
Above: Another Great Inversion Along The Seward Highway
Without kids, careers and a house you are free from social responsibilities, but to what end? What is the purpose of having all this freedom?
The purpose is to devote our lives to what we love; trail running, mountain running and backcountry skiing. To pursue these passions, it’s important to us that our truck and camper gets us into the mountains.
That means it needs to be as light as possible and, since we live in it full-time, as discrete as possible. The Capri Camper is the perfect combination of lightweight and durable. It also matches our lifestyle and budget as dirtbag runners.
Above: Gloomy day on Alyeska Mountain, Alaska
Climbers who live in cars and vans endearingly call themselves dirtbags. Like us, dirtbags have no jobs or bad jobs, and they 100-percent dedicate their life to climbing. It’s a funny term, but we believe in dedicating ourselves to what we love.
It is a funny term. For anyone who is unaware of the term or its appeal among outdoor enthusiasts, here is the definition from the Dirtbag Dictionary on climbingzine.com.
dirtbag climber (durt-bag kli-mer) n. a person who dedicates her or his entire existence to the pursuit of climbing, making ends meet using creative means. A dirtbag will get her food out of a dumpster, get his clothes from a thrift store, and live in a tent or vehicle to save money. Often found living near major climbing destinations the dirtbag is a rebel with a cause who finds happiness in nature. When the dirtbag grows up (if ever), he or she often is drawn to a profession engaged with the outdoors and/or creative arts. –dirtbagging, dirtbagger, dirtbagged.
Is that a fair description?
The idea is that you don’t have a career and you focus on doing what you love all the time in lieu of living stability and financial stability.
Is there any opportunity for your running and skiing to become a paid profession? You need some money to eat.
I would call our running and skiing more like obsessive hobbies. We would love if they would be our profession. Ryan makes money when he races, but I’m below that tier.
Trail and mountain running do not have the same prize money as road marathons. A race series will have an overall prize for competing and prize money for each race. There are sky races (extreme trail races) with bigger prize purses. We go to them and hope for the best.
Last year we did five or six running races and I did five or six ski mountaineering races. We pretty much train six to seven days a week by running or by skiing in the mountains. If it’s raining we may jog around town. We give ourselves one rest day a week.
Above: Skiing on Turnagain Pass, Alaska
You stayed in a rental house in Girdwood, Alaska for the winter. How did you end up in Alaska?
Last summer we were going to different races around the country. We went to Girdwood for a race, fell in love with Alaska and decided to move here. We flew back, got our camper rig, and drove back up starting from a race in Montana and then we hit the Alaska Highway.
During the winter it’s far too cold for our camper, so we put it in storage and rented an apartment. We moved back in when it was warm again.
The ocean is ten minutes from our rental house. If we take a left, Turnagain Pass is 1,000 feet higher in elevation and usually has snow. If we take a right toward Anchorage, it is wind-hammered and dry. We had a pretty cold winter. There was a week in January when it was -17 degrees out every day.
Above: Above the clouds in Hope, Alaska
How do you run when it’s so cold?
We get used to the cold. We feel it in our lungs and we may be struggling to breathe. In Colorado it was because of the 7,000 to 10,000 feet of elevation. Here it’s cold because of the humidity. We are breathing in wet, cold air. It’s snowy and sunny, but really cold. Once you get moving, you don’t notice it so much.
Above: Crow Pass Outside Of Girdwood, Alaska
How are you paying for the rental house?
I wait tables at a restaurant. It’s a super easy job to get. I can’t find a more stable job because we move around so much.
We run in the morning, shower, and then drive to work. Sometimes Ryan drops me off and picks me up. It can be frustrating when we are on different schedules with only one vehicle. We camp as close to work as possible.
Since I wait tables they don’t care if I take time off. I can always switch schedules with someone. I’m easily replaceable, but they know I work really hard. Every employer has been fine with our lifestyle.
Above: Ryan on Alyeska Mountain
Your Capri Camper has a shower, but no toilet. You’re also limited by a 30-gallon fresh tank and no grey tank. Living full-time in the camper, how do you make that work?
I come from a backpacking background, so I use the outdoors. We dig a lot of holes and go to a lot of gas stations. We have a porta-potty, but it’s in storage most of the time. The idea of emptying the porta-potty grossed us out. To me, that’s worse than digging a hole.
We use our camper’s shower. We have a 30 gallon tank and a water heater, so it’s pretty luxurious. We used to bathe in streams back when we lived in the teardrop.
Above: Running above the campsite on Scarps Ridge in Crested Butte, Colorado
Where have you been that you would recommend to fellow truck campers?
We loved driving our camper from California to Alaska. We made that journey into one giant road trip through British Columbia, The Yukon and up the Alaska Highway. That adventure was truly special, and something that I will never forget.
We had herds of elk bugle at us. We watched a bear cub climb up a 200-foot rock cliff alongside the highway. We had bison and reindeer run alongside us as Dexter looked on with confusion and awe.
Above: In front of the Minarets in the Eastern Sierras, California
We also fell in love with the Sierras. Last summer we camped less than 30-minutes from the Miranets; a sub-range of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.
The Mammoth Mountain area of California is also cool because there’s a lot of free camping. There’s also a free water station in that area, rare for California. FreeCampsites.net has been a game changer for us.
Dexter is adorable. How does he like traveling and being in the camper?
Before we got the camper, we were renting a place where no dogs were allowed. Within a month after getting the camper, we got Dexter. He didn’t really know anything other than being in a camper.
I think being in the camper made him a better dog. He had two moments where he destroyed things, but he was just a puppy. Either he was a good dog at six months or we lucked out.
What’s next for you guys?
Each year we try to pick a project. Last summer it was Mount Whitney. This summer I hope to summit Denali and ski down from the summit in June. Ryan hopes to do well at the Mount Marathon in July.
We crave simplicity. We don’t have a television or a microwave or any other battery-draining electric devices. When we’re in the camper we read books, cuddle with our dog and rest. Then we go exploring. That’s what it’s all about.
Patricia and Ryan’s Rig
Truck: 2007 Toyota Tundra, flatbed, long bed
Camper: 2017 Capri Retreat
Tie-Downs/Turnbuckles: Eyebolts and Generic Turnbuckles
Suspension: Old Man Enu with add a leaf