Van Life, X-Box Included // Meet Mike Dobie

Like our other Mad Rock athletes, Mike Dobie isn’t afraid to make his own path to follow his passion. He spent 6 years in China developing climbing areas with the help of sponsors, then recently moved to USA to live comfortably in a vansion. Here’s his notes about the “Vessel,” his proud new home on American soil – which, like many nomadic climbers, he thinks is a smarter move than paying rent in Seattle.

The Vessel

Living extremely cheaply in China for the past 6 years exploring and doing first ascents taught me a lot about the value of money, and what you do with it.

I couldn’t move back to the USA and settle the idea that I should get an apartment and pay rent.

So I decided to buy a van and invest my money in that! We climbers tend to do this.

Finalizing on a vehicle was a bit of a task, but I was sold on a 1997 Econoline Explorer (your typical Grandpa van) with 68,000 miles. Living in a car and working a full time job can be a bit of a juggling act, with the nature of your home being a moving object: you have to “stow” your things every time you move the darn thing.

This harsh reality led to the ultimate goal that everything should have its place and always ready for any twisty turny bumpy road. Equipping this van to be a fully rock solid living space, much like a cabin on a ship, led me to give it a very fitting name:

The Vessel!

It’s easy to judge The Vessel by its looks, but for being a grandpa van, is pretty tricked out:

  • On the roof are Goal Zero solar panels that feed my Yeti 400 Power cell. 
  • Inside is a double size bed that is super comfy for two. 
  • An energy efficient refrigerator, propane stove, a power inverter for cloudy days. 
  • Enough storage space for Armageddon. 
  • And my own personal additions, an Xbox and full motion mounted TV with a USB hook up for watching digital movies. 

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Already The Vessel has been base camp for a few trips in the USA…including Joshua tree national park, Index, Frenchman Coulee, and even the Boeing parking lot.

J-Tree was the destination the second half of January. I took on The Asteroid Crack 5.13-, nearly sending it with only five times on the route. I consider this a big accomplishment for me because things of a similar grade that I’ve established in China typically take me twice or three times as long to send, and this is the first time tackling a harder trad route in North America. My time was short though, as I had to drive north and start work at the end of the month.

The Vessel and I now do trips to Vertical World Climbing Gym where I’ve started my “indoor climbing career”. My schedule leaves afternoons and weekends open, so the two of us and climbing partners head out to the amazing climbing areas in the Cascades. Recently I got to touch a route I’ve been looking forward to trying in Index, WA called City Park 5.13d.

I’ll be doing a series of presentations on my climbing adventures developing the traditional climbing scene in China while in the states with a brand new version of Liming Rock available very soon on

Stay tuned!    

Feature photo: Mike Dobie in Joshua Tree. Credit: Brandon Gottung