Modern Nomad

Steve Mahon, an industry technology major, has decided to lead the wanderer’s life by means of his 20 feet long, 6,000-pound cargo van, appropriately named Big Blue.

“I’m not happy inside,” says Mahon.

In reality, Mahon says he just likes being outdoors more than anything in the world. And Big Blue lets him live that lifestyle.

“Dead of winter, I’m still outside. I go climb frozen waterfalls. I physically can’t be cooped up inside, I guess. That’s how my mind is.” Mahon says.

Mahon started rock climbing his senior year of high school. Mahon quickly had enough of the indoor version of his favorite pastime. His train of thought, Mahon says, can be summarized as, “Get me out of this building! I want to meet new people!”

He first fell in love with the idea of a nomadic lifestyle after seeing other rock climbers live out of their vans in the Kentucky Red River Gorge. Realizing his small truck didn’t have enough room for his dreams of travel, Mahon drove four hours to Chicago, traded it in for $2,000 credit, and put the rest toward a hulking used cargo van shortly after Labor Day 2013. Wasting no time, Mahon began modifying the van through both his own construction handiwork and the help of Sportsmobile, a company based in California, Texas, and Huntington, Ind., that sells and modifies luxury vans.

“I had Sportsmobile put in a six-and-a-half foot bench seat that pulls out into a bed,” says Mahon. “So now I have room to carry people. I also had them put in a good 32-inch window behind it. Then I realized I really want a pop-top. I want to be able to sleep on the roof. My buddy who’s six-foot-seven can stand up and not hit his head when it’s open.”

Big Blue also features a bed, fridge, stove and Mahon’s own 12-inch subwoofer. Three of the van’s doors swing out to allow the speakers to project sound outward, avoiding that muffled “car sound.”

Mahon plans to add a drainable sink, drawers, two floor-to-ceiling cabinets and a lot of additional storage space. Despite the vast amount of work put into Big Blue, it all comes back to climbing, and the friends Mahon has made for the rest of his life.

“My closest group of friends, I feel like, is my rock climbing community and people I’ve met there,” says Mahon. “Campus friends will come and go. No matter who you are, you’ll have a few best friends. Climbing friends will tie into a rope with you, no matter what day of the week, no matter where it is, because we have one thing in common.”

Mahon says one of his biggest influences is his friend Simeon Heimowitz, whom Mahon met while climbing in Tennessee. A 45-year-old New Jersey native, Heimowitz’s van is similarly named The Big Beluga.

Whether he’s driving over 6,000 miles along the east coast looking for his next climb, studying for one of his four areas of academic focus or just diligently working on his van, Steve Mahon exemplifies his one creed. “Do what you love, love what you do.”

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