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The Adventurists

The 2020 Dutch Star pulls into Portal RV Resort in Moab, Utah. Stephan Hawks is driving, and Stephanie sits in the co-pilot’s chair. Ryker, their Australian Shephard pup, is attentive in the middle, scoping out the scenery. The coach is sleek, blue with beige and silver accents, and a little dusty from the two days on the road getting here from Arkansas. Towed behind them is their Jeep Rubicon, decked out in nearly every way imaginable for what Moab’s infamous offroading trails may throw at them in the coming days.

Stephan has lived in Arkansas his entire life. While Stephanie is originally from Texas, she’s lived in the state long enough to say she’s from there—especially after raising their three kids in the state. While they maintain a house there, it’s difficult to say it’s their “home.” Because more often than not, they’re on the road.

“Any chance we get to go and see something different, we’re doing it,” Stephan says. Stephanie adds, “We don’t let ourselves get bored.”

Hence this trip to Moab, where they’ve visited before. But there’s something new about this one. While they’ve taken their Jeep on some trails in the area, this time, they’re here to conquer a big one: Hell’s Revenge.

“It’s characterized by a lot of ups and downs. It’s like…a really scary roller coaster,” Stephan says, “with a chance of death.”

Once they’ve reached their reserved spot in Portal, Stephanie hops out with Ryker and the two guide Stephan into position on the slab. They go through their standard set up routine: hooking up their coach, opening the slides, and making the inside comfortable. It’s all an old habit to these two, who have been through this hundreds of times—not just in their current coach, but in their past coaches, as well.

 

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They’ve nicknamed their current coach Dutch Jr. It’s an homage to their past coach, which they credit for really helping them appreciate the RV lifestyle. “Dutch was a 2015 Dutch Star, and we loved him dearly,” Stephan says.

“Dutch Jr. is shorter,” Stephanie says. “And he’s our second generation,” adds Stephan. Their original Dutch Star was a bunk model—at the time, the only diesel pusher on the market which had bunks. And they needed them to tow around their kids, who are since grown and in college.

 

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While it’s usually just the two of them now (or three if you count Ryker), this family isn’t green to the traveling lifestyle. They started, like most families do, going to the beach or Disney World. At one point, though, they realized that they didn’t feel close as a family. Stephan, a former prosecuting attorney, admits that he found himself more closely associating with his job than with his duties as a family man.

“We thought: what better way to grow together as a family than to just…shuck it all?” And they did. Sold their cars and their house. Put everything in storage. Pulled the kids from school. They opened a giant, fold-out map, and had everyone put a pin in a place they wanted to visit. From there, they jumped on a plane and got started. New Zealand. Malaysia. Sri Lanka. South Africa. Namibia. Tanzania. Scotland. England. They would stay in place as long as their travel visas would allow before moving on.

Eventually, when they reached London, their kids said they were ready to go home. And once they got back, they had an epiphany: “Our kids had seen more countries than they had states,” Stephan says. “And we thought: what better way to see the country…than in an RV?”

 

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Admittedly, they weren’t sure they would even like the RV lifestyle. There’s a lot to learn about it, a lot to adapt to. But on their trip to Scotland, they rented a large catamaran and floated down the lochs—how different could it be? They bought a smaller coach just to see if they enjoyed it. And they did. They loved that they could see small parts of the country that you’d just fly over in a plane, pull over and check out attractions you’d never hear of otherwise (like Pop’s Soda Ranch in Oklahoma, with over 700 different types of soda).

What they didn’t love, on the other hand, was a total lack of stability in their coach. They found themselves getting blown all over the road any time they would travel out west—which was often. “We were coming home and going over the Hoover Dam, and we were like a balloon in the wind, getting blown from lane to lane,” Stephan says. “And Stephanie said to me, ‘Unless you get something better, I’m not going anywhere else with you in this thing.’”

That led them to Newmar. With a list of must-haves, including stability, driveability, porcelain toilets (“The smells in that first coach…” Stephanie says, her nose curling), and bunk beds, they found Dutch and fell in love.

 

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At the entrance to Hell’s Revenge, Stephan goes through his checklist as he preps his Jeep. He reduces the tire pressure and makes sure things are appropriately strapped down. The mouth of this trail seems innocent enough, but there’s an imposing hill at entrance. Let’s call it what it is: terrifyingly steep. And that’s only the beginning. 

This isn’t even the start of their day. They’ve already visited Fins N Things, a much tamer trail in the same part of Moab, just to warm up. And they’ve driven out to Canyonlands to hike. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these two adventurists are hardly at their coach. “When we’re at a place, we’re here to go, and see, and photograph, and experience,” Stephan says. “But it’s also nice to come home to our own comfortable bed, with everything we need with us,” Stephanie adds, referring to Dutch Jr. 

On the driver’s side quarter panel of their green Jeep, there are several black badges. These are part of Jeep’s Badge of Honor program, something that Stephan has set himself to completing. “Doing these trails, you get to see just what your rig is capable of. And what you’re capable of, too,” Stephan says.

 

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Stephanie adds that Stephan loves a challenge. “Like with these badges. We can’t just get a few. We have to get all of them,” she says with a wry smile. 

After the first gut-twisting climb, things level out briefly, before the Hawks see several more climbs in front of them. Ryker sits in the back, calmly watching his surroundings with his tongue hanging out. Despite the challenging terrain, which may have other drivers white-knuckling the steering wheel with both hands, Stephan drives with his right arm on the console and his left hand on the wheel, no different than cruising casually around a lake on a Sunday afternoon. At the top of a particularly intestine-wrenching climb—one that makes you think you’re surely about to tilt backwards and tumble down into a ravine—they get out to take a few photographs of the mountains in the distance. 

This is The Adventurists: cruising along, taking in the sights, grabbing photos and selfies, making Ryker pose for adorably cute shots that will be posted to his Instagram account later. Because it isn’t always easy to see the way the Jeep will tackle certain obstacles, Stephanie and Ryker hop out to point and shout feedback to Stephan, who navigates accordingly. The trust between these two can only be built by traveling just the way they have together, reliant on one another, and overcoming challenges together. 

 

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Hell’s Revenge is loaded with steep climbs and—inexplicably—even steeper descents. The majority of the trail is slickrock, which is wind-polished sandstone, worn smooth over thousands of years. There are black treads that mark the “trail” over many of the fins and ledges. Other parts of the trail are sandy and easy to whip around, while still other parts are loaded with large, broken rocks which can make for treacherous going. 

Midway, they reach a scenic overlook and park the Jeep. There’s a sweeping vista that overlooks the Colorado River. The red rocks glow around them and never seem to end, while the light blue of the sky meets it at the edge of the world. This is why they do what they do: for moments just like this, where it seems like they’re the only two people in the world. 

 

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Stephan describes himself as a goal-oriented traveler. Put a challenge in front of him, and he’s ready to do it. Whether it’s ice climbing or parasailing—or maybe something even more intense—he’s ready to do it. And in many cases, Stephanie’s on board as well, though it may take a little more coaxing. “I’m usually happy to watch him do it. Though it doesn’t make me any less nervous,” she says. 

One of their less anxiety-inducing travel goals is visiting all of the National Parks in the United States. They’re roughly halfway, they think, but they haven’t done the actual math on that yet. “We live in a country that is just so beautiful and so different,” Stephanie says.

 

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“Yes it is,” Stephan adds. “The diversity makes it impossible to say any one place is a favorite. You want to see wildlife? You go to Glacier, you go to Yellowstone, or the Tetons. You want to see the bats, you go to Carlsbad. You want to see old growth swamps, you go to Congaree in South Carolina. You want to float on a boat in the ocean, you go to Biscayne.”

“Animals drive us a lot—we love animals,” Stephanie says.

“But honestly? There’s just beauty. Everywhere. A good hike, a great waterfall…mountains…the desert…we just enjoy every experience we have. They’re all so different.”

While they’ve already crossed it off their list, they admit they’d be remiss not to visit Arches National Park while visiting Moab. While Ryker has to stay home for this one (most national parks don’t allow furry friends on the trails because of potential run-ins with wild animals) they set off to hike a couple of the places they enjoy most.

The sun is still high in the sky while they hike up the short trail to Double Arches. They clamber up onto the arches amid a small crowd of people, getting higher to take in better views and feel the wind whip at them. Stephan takes pictures, and they stop for a selfie or two as they descend, heading to the next stop.

The hike out to Moab’s famous Delicate Arch—the one on Utah’s license plate—is a little more strenuous. A one-and-a-half-mile hike out is mostly uphill, and a good chunk of it is steep. Plus, this is at altitude. The sky has clouded over a bit, perhaps threatening to rain, but Stephan and Stephanie aren’t deterred. Nor do they slow down when kids pass by and say, “It collapsed! It’s not there anymore! May as well turn around.” Stephan just smiles and keeps walking. Cute—although not necessarily unheard of after the collapse of Wall Arch in 2008. It’s an unintentional reminder that all of these natural formations aren’t permanent. And while they may last a particularly long time in human years, they’re not here forever.

 

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The kids aren’t the only ones evacuating. While many people hike out to Delicate Arch every day, a good number do so hoping to catch the sunset. In that golden hour—a photographer’s dream—the dramatic light seems to radiate off the red sandstone and make the arch glow. The cloud cover has them discouraged. 

Despite the overcast sky, coming over the ridge and getting a glimpse of Delicate Arch is nothing less than breathtaking. Its sheer size is humbling as it towers over the ravine behind it, still casting a shadow below despite the low light. 

There are only a handful of people still at the arch. Most have left, giving up on their hope of a beautiful sunset shot. But for those that haven’t, like Stephan and Stephanie, their patience is rewarded when the clouds just seem to disappear, casting Delicate Arch in a brilliant, bright light. Stephan snaps a few shots, and the two of them walk down and stand beneath it, in awe of its size—and of the vertigo-inducing canyon around them. 

Stephan, ever friendly, chats photography and cameras with a couple of other visitors, before they make the trek back to Dutch Jr. for the evening. 

 

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Long days of adventuring are met with quick, quiet evenings back at camp. They may quickly cook dinner, or grab a bite out. A beverage or two, enjoying Dutch Jr.’s outdoor entertainment center, then it’s off to bed. Because there’s another big day planned the next day—and probably the next day too.

“Right now, we’re headed to Steamboat Springs, Colorado tomorrow,” Stephan says.

“But who knows. The beauty of traveling like this is we don’t have to be anywhere. We can go wherever we want. What we have here,” he says, gesturing to the Newmar, “is a means to do all that.”

“I think I want to go to the Tetons, actually,” Stephanie says, and looks knowingly at Stephan. 

It doesn’t really matter where they end up. They’re on the hunt for beauty, excitement, and adventure. And these two will find it.

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