Stevie Lewis, aka “Chocosweete” has been living out of her Honda Element for the last year. She’s artist, animator, and avid climber. Living in the Element provides her the opportunity to travel and climb all over the country, all while working remotely and learning about herself along the way.
Unless otherwise noted, photos and illustrations by Stevie Lewis. Climbing photo in banner image by Derek Cheng.
Read her interview below!
I’ve always loved creating art, it’s my way of expressing myself. Since 2011, I’d been working my dream job at an animation studio, learning from amazing artists, and living in the big city of San Francisco. But one day, my roommate took me to the climbing gym, and I was instantly hooked. I started to reject the conventional 40-hour work week, and began to have dreams of living out of my car, traveling, climbing, and creating art for ‘myself’ again. The year before I left for the road, I worked hard and pulled in extra work on the side, not only to save money, but also to build a freelance life on the road. Luckily it’s worked out, and I’m really happy with the variety of work I get to do. Sometimes from a campsite in the mountains!
The Element is perfect. Really. I couldn’t have asked for a better car for a solo gal. I feel like it would be tight for two people, or anyone over 5 foot, but for me it’s great. I have plenty of space for my gear, books, clothes, and kitchen things underneath the bed, and to it feeling like home, I’ve added little christmas lights that plug into my solar. The 4WD and high clearance were definitely put to use on those rough, desert roads. It’s also less obvious than a big white van. When it came to finding a place to sleep in a city, I would look for suburban neighborhoods with ample street parking. I felt safe knowing I wouldn’t be bothered, since my car blended in with the rest.
I don’t know, everyone was super supportive, and I had figured out the logistics (sort of). I think a part of me was worried I would just be alone the whole time, that the friends I had in San Francisco would all forget me, or something silly like that. I was also worried that I was throwing my career out the window… so many of my peers and coworkers were going on to be art directors on fun films or TV shows, and I was going to live out of my car. I was eager to do other things, but I also thought my life was nothing to complain about. Sometimes you’ll hear, why mess up a relationship that works? I think it’s one of those things that will be unanswered until you jump in, and take the chance.
Be brave, humble, and have no regrets.
I would tell her to not let her insecurities consume her. Be brave, humble, and have no regrets. Shit happens and things don’t always work out. But, when they do, be open to them and embrace them for what they are.
The first night of my trip, I remembering sitting in my tent thinking “I made a huge mistake”. I was incredibly nervous, I didn’t know anyone, and I felt insecure about myself and my climbing ability. But, the following morning, a few people joined me at the picnic table and asked if I needed a partner. Seven months later, I’m climbing with them in Kentucky and Utah. I’m so thankful for the acceptance, generosity, and kindness of the climbing community. I’ve often felt part of a small family, a good crew. After a long day of climbing, we’d all gather back at camp and cook a big group meal, share dish duties, and drink beer. There were a few places where I’d planned to stay for a week, and ended up there for two months. One thing I’ve realized: it’s truly a blessing to be able to share your passion with like-minded people in some of the most beautiful places in the world.
At times, I do find it challenging. But, it’s usually when my buddies are going out climbing for the day, and I have to spend the day working at a cafe. Working at an animation studio has really taught me to be organized to meet my deadlines on time. Working on the road is no different, except sometimes the wifi is nonexistent, or half the week is spent climbing. I usually don’t accept jobs that will take up too much time. But, if they do, I communicate with my clients so they’re aware of my part-time schedule. I try to be as transparent as possible. I’ll let them know if I’ll be without reception on certain days, or if the job isn’t doable within the time frame they suggest. But, most of the time they’re pretty chill, and are willing to work with my schedule. I’d often wake up early in the morning in order to get a few hours in at the coffee shop before climbing later that day. It’s nice to chip away at the work little by little, rather than cram it in all at once.
Tablet, boots, tea, coconut oil, and hat.
I think the biggest surprise has been how easy it is to be alone on the road Before I left, family and friends had warned me to be careful, some were appalled that I was going alone. I was even scared! You’ve seen those movies. Girl goes somewhere alone, someone follows her, girl gets kidnapped, never seen again … the end! Well, fortunately it’s not like that. I’ve never felt unsafe on the road. The only time I was a little nervous wasn’t when I was in a remote place, but when I was walking around by myself in Brooklyn. Be smart. Don’t sleep in your car on an empty street (you don’t want to stand out) and keep your possessions hidden. I want to see more single girls out there on the road!
I feel like I’ve struggled with my self-esteem most of my life. Unfortunately, those insecurities crept in when I started climbing. I was intimidated by the strong people around me who were climbing hard and pushing themselves to their limit. But, I was lucky to have met some really cool folks early on in my trip who motivated and inspired me to try harder routes. I started believing in myself more, not only as a climber, but as a person. I’ve become so much more open than when I lived in the big city. I jumped in Crater Lake, dumpster dived, climbed 2,000 feet, took a 30 foot fall (on a rope, of course). I’m excited to keep growing and learning more about myself and the world around me.
After Bishop I’ll probably head north, and make my way toward Squamish, B.C. for the summer. Maybe Alaska, maybe Burning Man, maybe Tennessee for the winter? Honestly, I have no idea. I’ll be going wherever the road takes me!