La Refrita

Steve King
Featured in our Spring 2005 catalog

It is 100 degrees in the desert now and the warm grease flows smoothly through the sock filters, glowing amber gold and smelling like yesterday’s tempura. In another hour we will have filtered a full 60 gallons – enough to cruise comfortably all the way from Joshua Tree to Yosemite.

Down the road in Twentynine Palms there is a mural showing a pioneer family arriving in an old jalopy with all their possessions tied to the roof. Compared to them, we’ve got it pretty good: spending months sliding around the map, tracing the legacy of so many before us. We migrate along the stone monkey’s flight path, the standard seasonal trade route of American dirtbag climbers. We live at campgrounds in Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Indian Creek, Red Rocks, Cochise Stronghold, Hueco and wherever the weather is conducive to long days sending on the rock.

What makes Em and I different from other already low-impact climbers is our vehicle. Her name is La Refrita. She is an ‘88 Bluebird school bus converted into an art studio/climbing road-trip mobile that runs on recycled vegetable oil from the fryers of restaurants – a completely renewable resource. In fact, the oil-producing plants that become the fuel for our bus absorb exactly the same amount of carbon dioxide from the air when growing as they replace when burned in our engine. La Refrita has allowed us to answer the call of climbing and create art all across the continent without compromising our environmental ethics. And thanks to the fried-food-consuming masses of our nation, just about everywhere we visit has a grease joint to fuel our bus.

I turn the key and La Refrita roars to life. Today she will release an effluvium that will make the cars behind us want to stop and order sushi. For us, living modest lives and running a vehicle on vegetable oil does not absolve all the guilt involved with being a modern human and caring for the planet on which we play. But it is important to start somewhere, and it feels good to do something positive. Because of La Refrita, we are not just chalked-up, paint-stained people with a constant jones for splitter cracks and time to paint. We are grease people too, coming to a restaurant near you for some free, eco-friendly fuel.

About the Author

Steve King and Emilie Lee have currently logged over 11,000 miles in La Refrita. When they are not filtering vegetable oil, they climb, make art and sacrifice themselves to the whims of spontaneous adventure. Look for their book of art and reflection arriving later this year.