A Coffeeshop On Wheels

Over the past few years the outdoor community has embraced the nomadic lifestyle–encouraging people to drop everything, find a van, convert it and hit the road seeking daily adventure and inspiration. While many people do this as a sabbatical from work, few have lasted the test of time, let alone made a full time career out of it. Carabiner Coffee on the other hand has done exactly this and much more.

Picture yourself standing at the base of tall rock face, huddled around your crew–your hands nearly frozen and your eyes half shut. It’s 5:30am and nobody in their right mind is awake, or are they about to embark on an 8 pitch climb in the middle of the desert. As you wait for the morning alpenglow to project itself over the mountain, you hear a faint sound off in the distance. It resembles an old truck crawling its way up a gravel road. To your surprise a blue VW van pulls alongside you and the side door slides open… a friendly voice calls out from the dark, “Hey, you guys need some coffee!?” Chances are that friendly voice is Erik Gordon, owner and founder of Carabiner Coffee Company. 

Instead of cozy couches, speedy wifi and triple shot cortados, Carabiner Coffee prefers epic backdrops, freshly brewed drip coffee and sheer adventure.

Carabiner Coffee is about as far from ordinary as you can get from a traditional coffee house. Instead of cozy couches, speedy wifi and triple shot cortados, Carabiner Coffee prefers epic backdrops, freshly brewed drip coffee and sheer adventure. In 2009, Erik dropped everything, pulled out his life savings, and purchased a Volkswagen bus that would eventually become the headquarters for his wild business idea–a coffeeshop on wheels that would travel the country, spreading love and happiness wherever he wanted to be. After spending his life savings on the van, Erik drove across the midwest in the middle of winter. Every VW van has hole in the floorboard, which is unique to these beautiful vehicles. While driving, a persistent leak dripped fluid on his foot. The frigid outside air combined with the hole in the floorboard literally froze his toes–an immediate reality check. He called his parents and asked, “What did I just do, spending my life savings on a hippy van?” What he just did, however, was establish the foundation for a life spent wherever he wanted to be–outside–doing the things that make him genuinely happy while spreading this happiness with anybody he came in contact with.

Fast forward 6 and half years and Carabiner Coffee now has three coffee-serving vans that span everywhere from Joshua Tree to the Adirondacks. What started as a humble idea to sell coffee to climbers grew to appeal to a much larger audience, reaching the hearts and minds of thousands of outdoor enthusiasts across the country. For those who’ve been lucky enough to come in contact with Erik, you’ve undoubtedly been impacted by his larger than life personality and infectious positivity. This, accompanied with his frequent traveling schedule, has allowed Erik to make countless lifelong friends in some of the most unexpected places. This past year Erik travelled as far as Nepal, spreading love and brewing coffee at the base of Mt. Everest.

"I knew I didn't want to go on the path that was already set... I wanted to find my own way through these things."

Erik Gordon

In the beginning, Erik had envisioned Carabiner Coffee as an outlet for himself to connect with the outdoor community among their home turf. By traveling from town-to-town and crag-to-crag, he spread the word about his business without being restricted to any given location for more than a couple days at most. On the side of his VW bus reads “Find Your Line”, a phrase that reminds him of his own journey into adulthood and exactly why he set out to start the company in the first place. “I knew I didn’t want to go on the path that was already set”, he says. “I wanted to find my own way through these things.” And that is precisely what he has managed to do.

One thing that stands out about Erik Gordon and Carabiner Coffee Company is the sheer persistence and tenacity required to keep their dream alive. In starting any business, you’re bound to face a countless number of roadblocks along the way. And those who can persist despite the resistance are few and far between. Shortly after beginning the business and selling coffee from the VW van, Erik packed up the van one day and forgot to take the open sign off of the passenger window. While driving through a mountain pass, the sign flew off. Erik returned the next morning in search of the sign where he found it laying face up. Upon grabbing it, Erik noticed that there was a tire mark and crack that ran through the middle of it, proving to be perfect symbolism for the determination needed for him to set up this dream life of his. This go-getter attitude is present in everything they do from the stencil painted coffee bags, all the way to the hand made wooden sign that hangs off of the side of each van.

In 2017, Erik and team are stepping up their game by introducing two new vans into the mix. Daisy, a bright yellow VW Truck and Pearl a white VW bus will be making their debut alongside Ol Blue at local events across the country. Due to a sharp increase in demand and popularity, Ol Blue can no longer handle all of the requests that are coming in from brands, partners, and new vendors looking to book their vehicles and sell the fresh coffee. Additionally, Carabiner Coffee will be opening up their first storefront this spring in Boulder, Colorado in conjunction with The Rayback Collective. Though the storefront will serve as a new home base for the company, Carabiner Coffee will continue to stick to its roots of slanging fresh coffee to climbers and local adventurists in their own backyards.

If there is anything to take away from the Carabiner Coffee story it’s this: Don’t waste any time not doing what you love. Take the first step, whether that’s sending off a couple emails, checking prices on craigslist or ordering product samples to kick off your dream. Erik Gordon is a living example of what can happen when you commit yourself to an idea you believe in. Make sure to stop by Carabinercoffee.com to learn more about his business and order his beans delivered straight to you door.  

Thanks For Reading!


This story was produced exclusively for Backcountry.com as part of the Basin and Range Unscripted Series. In collaboration with our client, we’ve captured a collection of four distinct human stories aimed to inspire creativity and celebrate diverse backgrounds, encouraging you to venture outside. To learn more about the Carabiner Coffee story, check out the full length film below.

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