Sell everything you can, pack your bags and get a plane ticket—but above all else—make sure you find yourself somewhere that gives you the freedom to do what you want, whenever you want. It was fate that lead photographer Emil Nordin and his girlfriend, Maxime Jonsson, to meet Vanona Rider.
Words and photos: Emil Nordin

We had talked about it for many years, but there was always some obstacle, some excuse that got in the way. The idea to travel far away, not just to discover new places, but to experience a new everyday life, had captivated me and my girlfriend Maxime. We dreamed about seeing North America’s many faces from a close up perspective, and soon enough it became apparent that nothing else could compare to the freedom of Van Life. To not be tied down to one place, to one society, it felt intoxicating and liberating.

In the end we realized that the perfect opportunity would probably not just preset itself, or maybe even, it could be right around the corner. We saved up our cash together as much as we could, asked for leave from work, sold what we could at home in Stockholm and bought our plane tickets. With heavy bags and a long list of National Parks, we landed in Vancouver in the beginning of June. The route was plotted from British Colombia in Canada towards Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, with Alberta being the final destination and our point of return. Like a lasso and the West. Five months, eleven states, and countless miles in front of us. Now it was all about finding a ride.

One week and several empty hours spent on Craigslist later, we rolled out onto the highways in our new home and our best friend—Vanona Rider. 5,500 pounds of steel, horsepower and pure love. Destiney had given us this God-like creation complete with beds, kitchen, and just the right amount of storage that our new found nomadic lifestyle required—thanks to the previous owner for installing.

A more than adequate sound system and the sweet drone from the 20 year old V8 drowned in the tones of War on Drugs, blasted as we began our journey towards the south. No one could have known what awaited, but one thing was clear—the perfect opportunity was right here and right now.

Zion, September 4th, 9:22 AM.
The road winds itself like a 2,000 mile long asphalt storm, and we ride through deserts nestled between the mountains and along the rivers. We have left Arizona and unknowingly crossed state lines. Utah is, in a lot of ways, a sort of inverted mirror of its neighbor. The same dusty red path that led us down into the Grand Canyon, began to take us up towards Zion, and further on towards Arches ancient portals. The glimmering heat follows us constantly, just like the otherworldly feeling that characterizes the landscape.

Grand Canyon, August 26th, 7:01 AM.
It’s a hard not to become just a little bit religious from the nature we are encountering. As a big fan of the Swedish topography, it pains me to say that this continent takes the cake. It feels more and more like a journey between worlds then a trip between states. Just now we were enjoying some of the rarely found shady areas and an over worked air condition unit.

Sedona, August 29th 6:33 PM.
It is said that Sedona has a high concentration of energy vortexes, a sort of spiritual energy well. The mountain Cathedral Rock is one of them. We has just been to the summit to see the sunset and decided to head back down for some dinner before heading back to the van. In an instant, the light fell and thunder rumbled as we trekked our way down through the darkness, amidst this natural display of light and sound. It hadn’t rained in many weeks and now the skies seemed desperate to squeeze some drops of rain from the dark but dry clouds. Maybe this was a vortex cooking up. Before we are back at the car, night had fallen and laid itself down over Arizona’s glowing blood-red and rumbling horizon.

Antelope Canyon, September 6th 11:47AM.
The horizon is but a sliver, and the light just enough to illuminate the undulated sandstone path. Antelope Canyon with its winding trails is a product of the powerful forces of erosion not that of man’s sculpting hand. They have been here for thousands of years, like monuments of nature’s fantasy, showing us that we humans have much to be learned.

Grand Teton, September 23rd 5:53PM.
It shows that camper van culture is well established in the US and for many, it is a lifestyle above all else. On a plateu just outside of Grand Teton National Park we found a small community that shows just that. People from near and far fumble about, packing things up as the day turns to night. Renovated vans and RVs fill up the flattened earthen spot. Kitchens are set up, ingredients are shared and borrowed, and experiences are exchanged between travelers. Neighbors for a night or two bound by a common love for an undemanding existence. There is something genuine and beautiful in these small gatherings regardless if they happen just once in a lifetime.

Grand Canyon, August 26th 6:11AM.
There are a lot of reasons to start hiking before the sun comes up. One, is the blistering heat from the sun in the middle of the day. The other, tourists. Maybe that says a lot about us. The downside with visiting the country’s most popular National Parks is that one is rarely, if ever, alone. In my darker moments, I think this tends to corrupt the enchanting elements of it all. I easily become reminded though that this insight isn’t just about me, but also about all the other cars passing by. Nature after all offers something primal and instinctual to us, and really everyone should have the same chances to experience it. To take something like this, something so fantastic, for granted must be worse than to overdose on it with big eyes and a growing addiction for more. On our climb back up towards the van we encounter the first caravan of the day. Instead of feeling discouraged at the sight, I catch my breath. With proud intention and a raspy morning voice, I shout out to them, “You’re in for a treat!”.

Yellowstone September 24th 1:18PM.
Buses packed with European and Asian tourists roll in, but disapear quickly in the dense fog. A dream like sensation takes over when we stroll around the damp gangplanks, lost amongst the world’s largest steam pools. The warm springs are the finishing touch on the natural masterpiece that is Yellowstone National Park. The park is a brilliant manifestation of the American “more is more” mentality with its expansive plains, blasting geysers and majestic bison. It is a Mecca for the nature-lover like me, but never before have I felt so much like a tourist. Maybe it is due to the millions of annual visitors, or to the fact of its own geography, it can really only be experienced for most by car. It would take in all actuality years to explore it by foot, immersed in the true wilderness. This is exactly what we fantasize about as we drive away.

The warm springs are the finishing touch on the natural masterpiece that is Yellowstone National Park. The park is a brilliant manifestation of the American “more is more” mentality with its expansive plains, blasting geysers and majestic bison. It is a Mecca for the nature-lover like me…

Silverton, September 8th 3:57PM.
Silverton has always enticed those who are looking. Not all that long ago a group of well-meaning and hopeful Americans struck gold and found the American Dream. Today this small society lives off another hard to find resource. Tourism has, for a long time, been the industry that replaced the old metals, and now is the new life source for these small mining towns. The history unravels itself in a poetic way when we puruse through the small mining museums, saloons, and photo studios where one can get a vintage sepia portrait taken dressed up in traditional 1800s attire. It is a time capsule soaked in the romanticized American West, but in the background and behind it all is the everlasting search for sustenance, for survival, for means. Four wheel drive desert jeeps stand at the ready along the main drag, waiting to haul out new visitors to the gold miner’s old hunting grounds. A journey to where it all began.