FREE TO ROAM :: BRIANNA AND KEITH MADIA :: REAL WILD ONES


age(s): I think I might be 27 and Keith is 28 hahaha…what year is it?? 

vehicle: Modified 1990 Ford E350 Clubwagon 

where you can find us sleeping/camping (feel free to be vague): tucked behind some junipers in the desert anywhere from the San Rafael Swell clear down to Moab

where you can find us exploring: We’re pretty madly in love with Utah so we do most of our canyoneering and climbing and biking and exploring here, but we’ve ventured as far north as Oregon and as far south as Mexico 😊

where you can find us working: Sometimes Salt Lake City, sometimes via mobile hotspot in the middle of nowhere, and for Keith – always in the desert.


I am SO STOKED to be bringing you another installment of our "Free to" series where we interview people living on the road and get to know about their passions, dreams, disappointments, and favorite moments living in a home on wheels! In case you missed the first one, be sure to check out Jordan Cannon: Free to Climb when you finish reading this.

You guys are in for a huge treat. Bri and Keith are honestly some of the most inspiring people we know. Like many road life friendships, we initially met through instagram and after following each other for a while and messaging back and forth, we decided we really needed to make this friendship happen in real life (what a time to be alive). This is where I'm going to stress that you need to go follow Bri (@briannamadia) on instagram immediately. She is an incredible writer and her stories have made me laugh, cry, re-consider everything, decide to be more brave, feel proud to be a lady spending time outdoors, drop everything to go hug my dog, do I need to keep going? This girl's words are mobilizing. They are deep, hilarious, and true. I'm going to stop babbling now and let you read for yourself, but I do want to stress one thing: these people are real as real can get. After meeting them in person and spending the evening chatting over wine and tomato soup, I can honestly say they're as authentic as they claim to be, which is extremely refreshing in this social media-driven world. Alright I'll stop blabbering. Enjoy!!

desert van life // utah adventure photographer // www.thehearnes.com

- Do you live in your vehicle full time? YAS.

- How long have you lived in your vehicle? Since August 2016

- What do you eat? What we can find 😊 We spend a lot of time in remote desert areas so sometimes fresh produce is hard to come by. The supermarkets in these little one light towns don’t have much in the way of organic hand-picked avocados delivered by authentic pack-mule from Mexico. I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 10 years so we cook a lot of veggie meals. It’s always eggs or packaged yogurt for breakfast…PB&J or some type of wrap for lunch…and maybe a pasta or a soup for dinner. We do a lot of one-pot-wonders, as I call them. Food has always been an afterthought for us. We eat because we need fuel to go on adventures…beyond that we consider cooking and buying and storing food a huge pain in the ass hahaha so we will not be starting a mobile cooking show anytime soon.

- Do you have routines? Systems? Because of Keith’s work schedule, we are apart 3 days a week and then I go out to the desert to pick him up when he’s done. So that has inadvertently caused some routine elements to our schedule. We also live in such a way that we’re basically camping all the time. We always have to get out and set up our camp stove when we need to cook and unpack our chairs and table and whatnot so there’s a bit of a system-like process that goes into that.

- What do you miss most about living in a traditional home? Bathtubs. When I’m super stressed, a bath calms me down. Every time I stay in a hotel I immediately fill up the bathtub because it seems like such a luxury to have all that water in one place. 

- What is the most difficult thing about this lifestyle for you? Coming to terms with what a slob I am 😊 No, really, it’s very difficult to mask your own flaws when you live in such a small space…but I kind of love that I’ve been forced to accept what I’m not good at, because its highlighted what I AM good at as well. For example, I may be absolute crap at the organization and cleanliness thing…but I’ve learned how malleable I can be to my surroundings. It’s a worthwhile trade off.  

- What are some of your favorite moments? Sounds kind of cheesy but some of my favorite moments are when we’re driving down a dirt road and we’re totally out of service and there’s music playing and the windows are down and the 4 of us are just taking it all in. I know there is so much photographic evidence of our lives…and we love sharing stories and pictures with so many people on the internet…but I have a super deep love of the quiet and private moments that only we will remember. Those are the moments when I think, “we really really did it, didn’t we…”

- What have you been able to do/accomplish that you wouldn’t have otherwise? I think this van has taught me more about myself than anything else in my entire life. (Bold statement, huh? 😊 ) But I really think this giant orange chunk of rolling metal made me into a version of myself that I always wanted to be. Independent…adaptable…unafraid…free. 

- What has been a particularly low point for you? Living in a non-insulated, 50 percent-windows van in Salt Lake City in the dead of winter. I cried so many times. My hair was always frozen…my toothpaste was frozen…my phone was always dead unless I had it plugged directly into a power source because it just couldn’t handle the cold. I would stand in the shower at our rock gym for an hour several times a week crying into a washcloth like that amazing scene from Arrested Development…it was rough.

It was also very insightful because it highlighted how stubborn I am. I felt like there were nights that I HAD to sleep in the van even though a friend had offered up a perfectly warm couch. I felt like I had committed to doing something and I couldn’t back out…even for a couple hours. It was this weird thing I was trying to prove to myself. But letting go of that helped me realize that living nomadically isn’t about being inside your rolling home 24/7, it’s about accepting and embracing the kindness of a community. So, while I damn near froze my nips off, I definitely learned to let go of some preconceived “van life” notions I held on to.

- Van life can be super glamorized on social media. What would you tell someone considering this lifestyle? Living in a van is glamorous depending on what you consider glamorous. I think my life is glamorous as hell but that’s because I don’t mind having 8 to 12 pounds of sand in my bed at any given time or dunking my hair into a dog bowl full of water and calling it a shower. Living in a van is dirty...like…peeing-into-Gatorade-bottles-because-the-Walmart-parking-lot-is-too-brightly-lit-to-pop-a-squat-dirty…

But you don’t get the glamorous moments of freedom and sunsets and amazing destinations and simple pleasures and quiet star-filled nights without the behind the scenes pee bottles and sand piles. 

- If you were to quit this lifestyle, what would be a likely reason (wild guess)? I feel kind of sick to my stomach just thinking about it….I love this life so so much. BUT some day, we’d love to build a tiny cabin from the ground up out in the desert somewhere and park Bertha in the yard. I think people assume I’m joking when I say we’re never going to sell the van…but I’m absolutely serious when I say that she will be ours forever. Even if she doesn’t run anymore, we’ll just take the wheels off and set her down in our backyard and let the cactus and weeds grow up around her like the biggest sunflower you’ve ever seen.

- If you could talk to yourself before starting this, what advice would you give?Stop googling everything and hit the road already. You will figure it out.”

- Is this something you’d have expected yourself to do when you were younger? Absolutely not. I thought I was gonna be real fancy when I was younger. I used to shove my ugly feet into high heels and prance around like a velociraptor trying to fit in over on the East Coast. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted…I was just sort of mirroring ideas I’d seen around me growing up. That’s why I like to share this lifestyle. I think people need more examples of how many different ways there are to play the game of life. Sure you can have a lot of money and a lot of stuff and be perfectly happy…but you can also be dirt poor with one pair of shoes and a tank full of gas and be happy as a pig in shit. 

- Do you ever see yourself having kids? Keith and I have known for a long time that having kids just wasn’t in the cards for us. I find parenthood to be one of the most insanely honorable paths a human being can take…and I mean that from the bottom of my heart…but we’ve always just had our sights set on other paths. We will, however, be the old folks with 387 dogs and an open-door policy to drop your kiddos off for date night whenever you want. 😊 

- How have you surprised yourself in the past year(s)? I’ve never been so aware of my own malleability before. I’ve realized now that I can sleep anywhere…shower anywhere…wander anywhere…

It’s actually something that has made me feel incredibly secure as a human being, because I feel comfortable wherever I happen to be. I can adapt to whatever comes next. I used to hang on much tighter to this illusion of control but in the last year I’ve let it slip from my grasp entirely and I’ve never felt more…safe. Perhaps that sounds weird, but I really feel there’s a certain element of safety in a life that’s built on simplicity. Less to lose…and always more to gain.

- How do you want to push yourself this year? I would like to rely on Keith a little less. I think having this incredibly efficient, professionally trained and educated outdoorsman as a husband is actually a little bit of a crutch. Sometimes I think, well I don’t have to learn how to tie that kind of knot because Keith already knows how to do it. But I want to be proficient in those things as well. So this year I guess I should put my phone down and listen to him when he’s explaining things to me hahaha

- If you could pick any sport other than what you primarily do to be intermediate at, what would you choose? Probably surfing…or base jumping! I’ve surfed before but I have an absolutely overwhelming and ridiculous fear of sharks and I also live in the desert and I’ve heard water is a requirement of that sport…

And I’ve always wanted to try base jumping...mainly because when I get to the top of a really strenuous hike, I always think how great it would be to just jump off and be back at the van in like…28 seconds 😊 

- Do you consider yourself an athlete? If so, when did that begin? Oh LAWD that’s a good question. I don’t consider myself an athlete mainly because I don’t consider myself anything. I have this issue of downplaying my own abilities MAJORLY. I don’t even consider myself a writer, which I’m sure people would find very strange considering I write for both a hobby and a living… But I do consider myself athletic…which is weird. The difference between “athletic” and “an athlete” holds a serious connotation for me...maybe because I know so many professional athletes who might roll their eyes at me 😊 I don’t know…I FEEL SELF CONSCIOUS hahahaa maybe don’t use this answer…. (I still used it..and Bri you're definitely athletic)

- What role did your upbringing play in where you are now? I think there’s 2 paths people can take in terms of their upbringing…you can become who you are because of it, or in spite of it. I think I’ve ended up where I am a little bit in spite of my upbringing. Keith and I were both raised in a very wealthy area of the country where money and things and possessions and fancy shit was the name of the game. I think this world of ours is a manifestation of us pushing back against the concept that you need all of that to be happy. My mom is starting to come around to this concept just now at nearly 60. She wants to move out to Utah and camp with us for the rest of her life 😊

- What is a dream you had when you were younger that you’ve decided to or been forced to give up? I don't know if it was a dream or just a presumed concept, but I really thought I'd grow up to have a house and some kids in the front yard by the time I was 28...don't ask why 28 was the year, but in my head it was *always* the year. (28 just sounds like you have your shit together, maybe?) But I'm just about 27 and a half so that ship has sailed :) 

But when I look back on that concept, I'm so intrigued with why I thought that's the way my life would be. I think I found a lot of safety in this idea of doing what you're "supposed" to do, and I grew up thinking women were supposed to get married and have children. Sometimes I feel tremendously self conscious about straying from that standard. Being a woman who doesn't want children can be highly stigmatized and I've heard it all in terms of insults - you're selfish...you must hate children...your life won't have as much meaning...you won't ever know *true* love...your dogs won't be there to care for you when you're old...and so and so forth. It weighs on you after a while and sometimes you think there must be something wrong with you. Fortunately, when I married Keith, it was a complete mutual understanding that parenthood was not in our future...and he's helped me tremendously to tune out societal pressure about it. My own mother's tremendous support for everything I've chosen to do and not do has also been a huge source of strength for me.

- What are some big dreams you have for the future? I really would love to write a book…but I haven’t the slightest idea where to start. I also want to travel more internationally and potentially live out the rest of our lives somewhere outside of the United States. Maybe retire to Southeast Asia or go bum on the beach in Bali for a couple years…ideally, I’d like to see as much of this world as I possibly can and I feel like we’re off to a decent start.

- Who are you inspired by? My friends. I have some of the most loyal, incredible friends who also happen to be complete badasses. Our friends Mark and Nik put up a first ascent on a 26,000 foot mountain in Nepal when they were 26 years old. My best friend Steve has been to 25 countries already and he’s only 27. He’s lived in Thailand and South Korea and Israel… So many of our friends are climbing guides and canyoneering guides and ski patrollers and it’s just amazing to be consistently surrounded by people who do extraordinary things with the lives they’ve been given. It also helps to have your biggest inspirations as your biggest supporters as well. 

- What is a quality most of your good friends have? They’re all so…so weird. 

- How do you think your good friends would describe you? I called Keith who was in the room with damn near all of our best friends to ask how they would describe me and they came back with….”this is a trick question” hahaha. It probably helps to mention that I am usually the only woman around and we’re all incapable of speaking without sarcasm. Another answer I received via text was “wears a lot of onesies.” So…this has been really successful -_- 

- What is a favorite quote or saying you often think about? My favorite quote of all time ever is probably “And then there is the greatest risk of all…the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet that you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” – Randy Komisar

- Is there anything else you’d like to share (advice, an interesting fact, etc)? A cop came and told me to move the van while I was answering these questions hahaha


HUGE thank you to Bri for taking the time to answer these questions! I hope after reading them you love her as much as we do, and you feel motivated to get after it in whatever way you see fit. As Bri said...Stop googling everything and hit the road already. You will figure it out.”

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