The Currents of Life

An adventurous family trades city living for whitewater rapids

Don Cohen Don Cohen  |  09.16.2014

Peter Holcombe knows a few things about family portraits.  On his website (peterholcombe.com) a visitor will instantly see that Holcombe’s work pushes his ranking into the elite class of professional photographers.  But, rotate the camera 180 degrees around and you’ll find an equally captivating portrait of Peter, Kathy and their ten-year old daughter, Abby.

Abby Holcombe TetonsAbby Holcombe takes a break while paddling near the Tetons.

About four months ago the Holcombes made a lifestyle choice that at once seems romantic and risky.  They sold their comfortable home in Boulder, bought a Winnebago View and set out to pursue a profession and passion as full-time RVers.  At a time when most young families are fully locked into mortgages and schools, the Holcombes have chosen to do something that many wish they could, but few have the courage to do.

The web is stuffed with blogs and articles about full-time RVers.  Some are retired, some pick up income along the way, and others have tech or sales jobs that don’t require a fixed home base.  What separates the Holcombes from that group is Abby, a sunshiny, winning young girl who has happily embraced an adventure where her neighborhood changes with every off-ramp and river bend.

Abby Holcombe in waterAt home in the water.  Abby is equally comfortable scrambling over boulders.

It’s the family’s passion for paddling that has infused Peter’s photographic career as one of America’s top photographers of whitewater sports and set them on the unpredictable currents of adventure.  And where passion can sometimes breed recklessness, a deeper conversation with Kathy and Peter reveal a carefully studied intentionality to their new life chapter.

Kathy’s love and comfort of all things water started in the most formative years as, up until the age of five, she lived with her parents on a boat on Catalina Island.  Moving far inland to Arkansas, her family carefully chose to live on a lake.   It was in her junior year at the University of Oklahoma where she met a similarly adventure-minded native Oklahoman, Peter.

Kathy Holcombe GuitarA serenade at day’s end as Kathy Holcombe tests the natural canyon acoustics on the Colorado River near Castle Valley, UT.

Peter’s father sold corporate airplanes, but also had a strong interest in photography.  When Peter started college his initial trajectory pointed him toward architecture, but when he took his first graphic design elective course in photography, his career viewfinder snapped into sharp focus.

What, to many, would appear as a wanderlust sense of extreme adventure, it seemed only natural to Kathy and Peter to spend their honeymoon climbing in the Alps.  But, as usually happens to most young couples getting established in the world, the more mundane requirements of having to become self-sufficient seep in.

DCIM100DRIFTPeter Holcombe offers up a paddler’s salute.

Jobs start and routines develop.  Kathy first started out in pharmaceutical sales, then found a much more satisfying calling in teaching middle school science with the flexibility of being able to travel every summer.  Peter continued to pursue the craft of photography while also working in one of Boulder’s top mountaineering stores with a clientele of world-class climbers.  A home was purchased, Abby was born, and their careers matured.  And throughout it all, this couple, now a family, continued to romp through their back yard of the Rocky Mountain west.

In a slight twist of traditional expectations it was Kathy who pushed the idea of trading home and hearth in for a diesel powered cottage complete with kayak trailer. “I turned 40 this year and asked myself, what if this was our last year to live? Is this what we would be doing? I felt that this was the time in our lives we needed to do this,” explains Kathy.

Kathy Holcombe kayak fishing in McCall Lake , Longmont, CO, JackKathy and Tucker share a Front Range sunset in Colorado.

In doing so, Peter could follow his deepening specialization in adventure photography and provide Abby formative life experiences that few young children ever get.  As dyed-in-the-wool adventurers the Holcombes were already comfortable with the not-knowingness of life.  Kathy’s training as a professional educator and the ability to now provide quality curriculum through on-line education for Abby all reduced the sense of risk.

Abby connects daily to her on-line school and on Fridays the sessions are fully interactive with a teacher and two-way interaction with the students.  Internet and cell connections allow Abby (and her parents) to stay connected with friends back home in Colorado, while at the same time there’s a new set of friends being made along the journey.  As they get ready to move to their next destination, the family joke is that Abby can say, “Yeah, I used to live here.”

Abby Holcombe kayak fishing in McCall Lake , Longmont, CO, JacksAbby spin casts below Long’s Peak, one of Colorado’s 14,000′ mountains.

Typical of a mobile lifestyle, each day brings new experiences.  But, after three months of being on the road Kathy says that returning to their Winnebago View after a day outside, “feels like coming home.”  Evenings are often spent reviewing the days pictures on Peter’s Mac, study time, and radio roulette where random channels are listened to depending on what the seek button finds.

Even for a family of three, the petite size of a Winnebago View might seem like a very constrictive choice, but with its slide out, “It just feels like an apartment,” says Peter.  “When we test drove a View I was blown away. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to drive.”  And, given their pursuit of a very active adventure life, the View is a go anywhere size that doesn’t fear narrow roads or non-traditional campsites.  In their three months of travel they’ve only hooked up at regular campgrounds for nine days.

Holcombe paddlboard canyonPeter paddleboards on the San Juan River near Mexican Hat, UT.

Peter says that, “as a family we’re stronger than ever.  This is just an incredible experience.”  And both mom and dad agree that it’s a rare gift to be able to spend so much time right now with Abby.  Though the Holcombes are elegantly adept at navigating the currents of life, there may come a time when an off the river pullout is in order as Abby approaches the high school years.  But, for now, through their digital lenses the Holcombes life portrait is about as pixel perfect as it gets.

 


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6 Comments

  1. Kathy Holcombe Posted on 12.20.2014

    Mary, here is the address to the Walmart in Jersey City:

    500 Bayonne Crossing Way
    Bayonne, NJ 07002-5301
    United States

    We drove each morning and left the RV at Liberty Park and caught the Liberty Harbor to Wall Street ferry. Be sure to check the schedule so you don’t miss last ferry back to Liberty Park.

    Happy travels!

  2. mary Posted on 12.19.2014

    could you tell me the exact location of the Walmart in Jersey City that you stayed at for your NY visit? I could not find one in Jersey city. Also what subway or ferry was used to go back and forth to NYC.
    Thanks so much.

  3. Don Cohen Posted on 10.17.2014

    Jason,
    Sharp eyes and a good catch. I checked with Peter and have corrected the caption. Thanks!

  4. Jason Posted on 10.16.2014

    Just a little correction… that campfire photo is at Big Bend on the Colorado River, near Castle Vally, UT, not the San Juan River. The towers in the background are Dolomite (left) and Lighthouse (right). Sorry, I’m a geek about those kind of things.

  5. Nik Posted on 10.03.2014

    Loved the photos in this article Don!

  6. Wynne Simpson Posted on 09.18.2014

    This was a very well written description of who the Holcombe’s are and my husband and I have known their family since “before Abby”! They make adventure dreams come true and although we haven’t seen their Winnebago we hope to when they travel through Colorado this fall. Both sets of Grandparents must be thrilled to have such innovative children (and grandchild)!
    Looking forward to their updated blogs and future writings in this newsletter.
    Wynne