Words + Images by Bailey Batchelor
The outdoor community is one of the most vibrant and adventurous groups of people you’ll ever stumble into. And once you’re in, you’re inspired to make your mark within it. Some people go the professional route, building a life on a sport that pulls blood, sweat, and tears out of them. Others go the creative route, photographing, drawing, or creating beautiful and useful gear. But there’s another route, the one followed by those who create something that seems almost obvious but groundbreaking.
Erik Hans Gordon is one of these individuals.
In 2013, Erik set out on an adventure to inspire the outdoor community all over the world. He brought people together over a simple cup of coffee. While Erik was working toward a BA in painting, he learned from a professor that coffee was the second most traded commodity in the world, second only to oil. Maybe it was only interesting at the time, but it would soon hold greater meaning.
Soon after graduating, Erik found himself on a cross-country bike tour, rolling through the Pacific Northwest. Freezing, he stopped in a cold town where the only warmth to be found was in a cup of coffee. It was his very first.
“I drank it because it was the only warm thing around! But I got completely jazzed and my eyes were open to a new industry,” Erik said.
At the time, Erik was working for Columbia Outdoor. Though he had never before been to Colorado, he transferred to the company’s Silverthorne store; and during his time there, he stumbled upon the Red Buffalo coffee shop. This is where Erik met Silver Canyon Coffee roasters, which would also hold greater meaning further down the road. He started working at Red Buffalo in hopes of learning about the coffee industry.
Then he found Ole Blue, his VW van, on Craigslist in South Dakota. Not that he was planning to sell coffee out of a van, but Ole Blue was already converted for such a venture. Erik figured it was fate, and he knew exactly where his path had been leading.
Through the winter, Erik worked tirelessly to bring Ole Blue up to code, with plans to sell his own cups of Silver Canyon Coffee in Breckenridge. But the city only allowed two food trucks at any particular time.
“The crepe cart and the beef jerky dude, can you believe that?” he joked, not deterred from his mission. Erik hightailed it to the edge of town and he set up Ole Blue at a popular lookout. Commuters, bikers, and tourists would stop, drawn to the vintage blue van with the word “COFFEE” scrawled on the side. It didn’t last long--a National Forest ranger eventually caught sight of the van and reminded Erik that he couldn’t conduct business there, but it was a start.
Erik’s girlfriend at the time had a hankering to try living in Seattle. “I thought if I can start a coffee business in Seattle than I can succeed anywhere.”
In such a pick-up-and-move situation, Erik decided to live and work out of his van, just to try it out. He parked near the Seattle REI, selling coffee to passersby; and soon, REI invited him to park in front of the store and sell his brew. After that, fate worked its magic. Erik connected with Patagonia through REI and was invited on the Worn Wear Tour. The outdoor community fell in love with Erik and Ole Blue.
“Before I knew it, people would recognize me, whether it was to the local crag or an event with a company.” People couldn’t get enough.
Erik, now back in Colorado and residing in Boulder, has purchased a second van to grow his small business into a movement--which is the opposite of settling down. His most recent venture was to Nepal where he made coffee at the base of Mount Everest.
“It was the highest cup of Carabiner Coffee to date at 17,000 feet,” he excitedly announced.
Erik’s story is telling of how unexpected life can be, but how the power of community can turn the uncertainty into the greatest adventures.