Born a New Yorker to a hard working mother,
Melanie Winsor, Mel, was modeled one female archetype, strong and capable. She was raised by her mother with the addition of her close and abundantly caring grandparents. Mel grew up with a fondness for learning. Math and science spoke to her sensibilities and ballet to her love of movement.
Land Surveying was her mother’s profession, and the family business. However, with a passion for the sea (thanks in part to one Uncle’s ocean faring tales) and without the financial means to be able comfortably pursue her dream of marine biology, Mel put her nose to the grindstone, finished high school six months early and took the first ship out of Long Island to forge her own path.
With her exceptionally sharp mind and eagerness to learn and work, Mel found a perfect spot in the Navy’s Nuclear Electrician’s program. She completed her training in South Carolina and was promptly stationed all the way back in New York, luckily for her, outside of the city, upstate.
LV – I feel like we’ve heard often how hard it can be to be a woman in the military. What was your experience?
Mel – Well my mom’s profession, too, is primarily male-based. She was mainly working with guys. I helped her out a lot during the summers on construction sites, so it wasn’t like I was only familiar with a typical female’s role. Boot camp was hard, but the job I had was more based on mental capacity than strength. In the schooling, I did well and was able to operate well and just earned my own place as a respectable coworker.
LV – Did you feel alone or singled out, being the minority gender?
Mel – There were two years when I was the only woman with 60 guys. But you just can’t approach it like, “I’m the one woman,” really, your mindset has to be, “I’m an electrician, a fellow coworker, just give me the work.” Like it is with anyone, if you show people a button, woman or not, they’ll try to push it.
LV – Aside from the expected horsing around, did you ever experience any aggression, sexual or otherwise, from your coworkers, or was it more like a family dynamic in your core group?
Mel – I got into a pretty good group of coworkers. I’m sure if you read into some things, you could make it a big deal, but if you don’t make it a big deal, then it’s just… not a big deal. I got shoved into a trash can as initiation but so did dudes. I remember one time a coworker/friend came over and while we were talking put his hand low on my back and I just looked at him and said, ‘C’mon dude. Stop that.’ And he grunted out an apology and that was that.
Rare circumstances exempt, we both agreed that if equality in treatment is what you want, the best way to achieve that is to act as an equal. At the end of the day, gender, religion, or race aside, if someone wants to be an ass, then they’re just an ass.
You can only control your actions.
With a solid crew, Mel and her section mates made a great team. In an attempt to break the routine and explore what Upstate NY had to offer, she joined the guys on a weekend snowboarding trip. One broken wrist later, it was decided snowboarding might not be for her. Healed up and still eager to figure out who she was and what made her heart happy (aside from the occasional ballet class she could catch in the city) Mel joined a new section mate, Danny, on a trip to a nearby climbing gym. Danny was a great teacher. He moved slow, was incredibly patient, and was thorough in helping Mel understand the basic functions of the sport. After enough trips to the gym, a small ember ignited for the pastime. She finally got outside and was amazed at what she found. Soon she and her new friend were taking climbing trips whenever they had a free moment while maintaining a grueling shift-work schedule.
Up until now, she’d never been camping, never spent any real time outdoors, and had definitely never been west of the Great Lakes. In no time at all Mel was traveling further from home than she’d ever been and falling in love with the incredible natural spaces throughout the US.
“It really amazed me, once we started coming out west, how much open land there was. There was just so much space…”
After a full year of exploring and growing a strong platonic partnership on the wall, Mel and Danny began dating. Soon, they were married. Danny was out of the Navy and the two of them moved west to San Diego for Mel’s last year of enlistment. With her heavy work load, and only time and energy for monthly climbing gym sessions, Danny made frequent trips to the Sierras while waiting out her locked up schedule, living in a tent and scoping out their soon to be stomping grounds.
Finally a free women, Mel and Danny bought a small RV, gutted it, and put to use the skills they’d been taught in the Navy . They outfitted the small home on wheels with solar, new water systems, and everything else electrical they could wire up. After some trouble shooting, fixing, and rewiring, the two were ready to set off on their maiden voyage and headed North to the Eastern Sierras. After their planned six-month trial run was complete, they were hooked.
Life on the road was the life for them.
Danny and Mel both hunkered down, crunched the numbers, and figured out how they could turn this experiment into their life. He got a job working at a Geothermal Plant and, assisted by her Veteran benefits, Mel continued her schooling, working to finish her Bachelors in Nuclear Engineering and then on to start her Bachelors in Electrical Engineering.
Mel’s Mobile Life Beta List
– Use public restrooms!
No use carrying and dumping and driving the extra weight of gray water around with you when there are endless places you can do your business.
– Clean yourself smarter.
There are tons of resources for bathing. Public showers exist and you probably don’t need to bathe as often as you’re used to living in a house. Conserve your water and wait until you actually need a shower.
– Stretch your dollar!
Avoid eating out. Your wallet and belly will thank you. Try prepping as much food at home and pack lunches when possible.
– Green saves green.
Things like solar might be costly upfront, but not having to hook up and pay for electricity, and having the luxury of power on demand, is well worth installing environmentally low impacting power sources.
Before making it to the West Coast’s East Side, Mel was a trad junkie. She loved the long hauling, high exposure, multi pitch gear placing life. But now in the Great Basin, with Bishop as her back yard, and the addition of two ground loving furry companions, bouldering began luring her in. In a place where even the one-star problems deserve five-stars, how can you blame her?
The world class granite called to her and she swooned.
“We became enamored with The Buttermilks and I really like the highballs here-easier highballs. It’s all mental. Once you get to a certain place where you know the rock, like, I know on Buttermilk rock I can climb anything up to V3, at any height. It’s so good and it’s predictable. I really enjoy it.”
Eventually, Danny outgrew the Plant where he worked and decided to take a break from the grind and hike the PCT, where he is currently marching along. Mel was happy to take the opportunity to truck behind him for support, offering occasional food refills and gear replacements, and spend time in the gorgeous wilderness spaces along the way.
Unimpressed with what the backpacking brands have to offer, in the way of full nutritious meals, and with an engineer’s brain for problem solving, she’s begun experimenting and beta testing her own backpacking foods. Dehydrating the meals they already enjoyed, using the sustainable power from their solar panels, she started packing up fresh whole foods with vegetables you can see and meals hearty enough to, so far, keep her test subjects hiking their best legs.
“I’ve gotten some really great feedback and I feel like there is a huge gap in the market for meals that are filling and fresh, that you can rehydrate in the bag so you don’t have to cook them. It’s just been fun to experiment with but it’s been in the back of my mind as a potential business opportunity. With our lifestyle and the trailer, we have the potential to help refuel people in places where there isn’t anything around.”
For now, though, there is no rush. Mel is enjoying the expanse of the west coast while finishing her current degree, climbing, and enjoying her two pups on the road. If you’re lucky, you might catch her out in a boulder field for a spirited session and if you’re even luckier, you might be able to test out one of her meals.