“It’s all about exploration,” says carpenter and snowmaker Rob Paulsen from Leadville, CO, the highest incorporated city in the U.S. There he works nine months a year—sometimes 80 hours a week—so he can afford taking the other three months off to travel. Between shifts or during his limited free time, Paulsen, who rocks a mullet and a missing front tooth, goes out in the wild every chance he gets.
Paulsen says his nomad lifestyle goes back to his youth, where he grew up in a military family, and it was common for him to move around. He spent the first decade of his life in San Diego; from there he moved to Japan for two years, and for the next 10 years he lived in upstate New York. His career has taken him to Hood River, Oregon and Leadville.
Working to get to the outdoors
November is the start of snowmaking season, which means that on weekends he prepares the local slopes for opening day at Breckenridge Ski Resort, where he’ll work all night. He’ll then head to his carpenter day job at Downstream Construction. He’s also starting his own construction business. Stacking work is only temporary—snowmaking season only lasts two months—but the extra coin he makes goes far when it comes to adventuring in the wild.
“I work for a company that puts a high value on lifestyle, so they are cool with me taking a month off or taking five days off for a kayaking expedition. I take a pay cut for it, but it’s worth it so I can do the things I value.”
Living the outdoor lifestyle
And the adventures stack up, with photos showing him charging Class V rapids in his creekboat, head planted firmly forward as he drops into waterfalls. Others show a full grin wrapping around his 26-year-old face, shirtless with a cold brew in hand, his mullet poking out in all directions. To Paulsen, it’s not enough to recreate in the sports he loves; it’s all about living and breathing the lifestyle.
“Mullets are a thing in whitewater kayaking, an identifying mark. It’s one of those fringe sports where everyone is a bit out there. It’s what climbing was 30 years ago,” he says, referring to the hippies that brought drugs and the rock & roll lifestyle to Yosemite during the 1970s free climbing revolution. Back then, hardcore climbers wore white painters’ pants, paisley shirts, and headbands, and it wasn’t uncommon for them to take LSD (as seen in Valley Uprising). Paulsen says that the same counterculture adventure athlete vibe is alive today in adventure kayaking, and that’s his draw to the sport.
Name: Rob Paulsen
Title: Professional Fun Hog, Expedition Kayaker, Backcountry Skier
Location: Leadville, Colorado, elevation 10,152 feet
How did you knock your tooth out?
I knocked it out during a solo mountain bike ride outside St. George, Utah. My face was all bloodied. I was on my way to meeting up with friends in Vegas to climb. I crashed before meeting them at the airport.
Got stitches, but the doctor couldn’t save the tooth, and we still ended up going climbing. I climbed long routes while on pain meds. I had a blast for the rest of the week, even with my tooth missing. When I knocked my tooth off two years ago, I’ve rocked the Joe Dirt look ever since.
What’s your ideal expedition kayak trip?
I do things like three-day Class V-plus river kayaking trips in grizzly bear territory, where you’re far from help if you do something wrong.
Any tips for readers on living a more fulfilled outdoor lifestyle?
If you’re trying to live a more fulfilled outdoor lifestyle, you need to focus on that. If you live in a big city and work in a high-stress job, maybe evaluate where you live. It doesn’t cost a lot to live this lifestyle; you need to focus on getting there.
My priority was wanting to do that, and I followed that. I also learned that you could do construction anywhere. That’s why I dropped out of college after three semesters and started working construction to get a steady paycheck. After one year of work, I took my first three-month climbing and kayaking trip.
I believe that if you want something bad enough, you’ll figure out a way to make it happen. There is always a way to achieve your goals; it’s never too late for a career change; it’s just hard work.
How do you fill your days?
When I get off at 3 p.m., I fill it—depends on the season and why I love Colorado—I get excited about kayak season, mountain bike season, and then ski season. We have a Monday night kayaking group in the summers where we have kayaking beer slaloms. Catch an eddy, drink a beer; that’s how it works.
I get up before work and go on a ski tour because the mountains are right outside where I live.
How do you make it work?
I’m a carpenter, I frame, do finish work, and I do tile. Whatever it is, I try to be good at it. You can always do more to better yourself. To pick up new skills, I watch videos of pros in both work and kayaking and climbing.
I lived in my truck year-round for four years, from mid-2016 to mid-2020. This season I got a place in Leadville to layout construction plans and start my own business. But I still take my truck out on the weekends and sleep in the back. It’s always ready to go.