Carabiner Coffee #FindYourLine

Carabiner CoffeeOn a crisp Sun­day morn­ing in Seattle’s Bal­lard neigh­bor­hood, the streets are abuzz with shop­pers head­ed to the local farm­ers mar­ket, clutch­ing steam­ing cups of cof­fee and pas­tries from the many cof­fee­hous­es that line the block. But on the cor­ner of Mar­ket Street and 24th Avenue, a pow­der blue ’71 Volk­swa­gen minibus with a surf­board strapped to the roof sits in the park­ing lot of the gas sta­tion; the words “Cara­bin­er Cof­fee” stamped proud­ly across the door.

While the immac­u­late­ly restored minibus at first looks like a piece of 1970s nos­tal­gia, a clos­er inspec­tion reveals a bar, an espres­so machine, and the boom­ing ener­getic voice of the beard­ed Erik Gor­don, wel­com­ing guests with a seem­ing­ly per­ma­nent­ly fixed smile. This is Erik’s cof­fee stand and his dream made real­i­ty, com­bin­ing small batch roast­ed cof­fee with a love for an out­door lifestyle.

Carabiner Coffee

Gor­don, a Col­orado native who is also a climb­ing instruc­tor at Ballard’s Stone Gar­dens climb­ing gym, parks his bus at var­i­ous cor­ners around Seat­tle dur­ing the week, but you can just as eas­i­ly find “Ol’ Blue” at crags and trail­heads across the West. I sat down with Erik to talk about how his love for adven­ture fueled his busi­ness, the mean­ing of his mot­to, #Find­Y­ourLine, and how some­thing as sim­ple as a cup of cof­fee is a sym­bol of inspi­ra­tion.

Carabiner Coffee

The Clymb: Let’s start with the begin­ning. How did Cara­bin­er Cof­fee start and where did you find Ol’ Blue, the Cara­bin­er Cof­fee van?

EG: Cara­bin­er Cof­fee was start­ed dur­ing the clas­sic “ski bum” phase of my ear­ly 20s while I was liv­ing in Sum­mit Coun­ty, CO. I was sick of work­ing for oth­er peo­ple and know­ing that it wasn’t my pas­sion. I thought to myself, “I love climb­ing, I love cof­fee and I love the com­mu­ni­ty that both cof­fee and climb­ing cre­ate.” I want­ed to start a busi­ness that was about more than just a prod­uct; some­thing that would inspire peo­ple and bring them togeth­er around the things in life that have giv­en me so much hap­pi­ness. I want­ed it to be straight­for­ward and sim­ple, and the name Cara­bin­er Cof­fee embod­ies that vision.

As for Ol’ Blue…well, I’m dirt­bag climber at heart and no dirt­bag is com­plete with­out his van! I found her where you can find pret­ty much any­thing these days—Craigslist. After talk­ing with the sell­er and hear­ing the sto­ry of how he found Ol’ Blue in a field and fixed her up to be the sexy lass that she is today, I knew she was the one.

Carabiner Coffee

The Clymb: Where does your cof­fee come from? Do you roast the beans your­self?

EG: Cara­bin­er Cof­fee is roast­ed in Boul­der, CO. The logis­tics of roast­ing in the van just weren’t there so I sought out a pri­vate small batch roast­er who has been roast­ing for over 30 years in the Boul­der area. I start­ed to work with them to devel­op Carabiner’s three sig­na­ture roasts, known as “The Skooch” (Medi­um), “The Business”(Dark) and “The Dream”(Light), our lat­est cre­ation. I work with one of the best roast­ers in the busi­ness, which has allowed me to trav­el, explore and spread all the love I pos­si­bly can with Ol’ Blue while know­ing I’m giv­ing peo­ple good vibes and the best cof­fee pos­si­ble.

Carabiner Coffee

The Clymb: The mot­to of the com­pa­ny is #Find­Y­ourLine. What does this phi­los­o­phy mean to you?

EG: “Find Your Line” embod­ies the way I want to live and run Cara­bin­er Cof­fee. Whether you’re doing an alpine ascent, weav­ing through trees on a pow day, or decid­ing what you want real­ly to do with your life, I think we all need to put our own style into every­thing we do. Life is not about becom­ing what you think every­one else wants you to be or thinks you should do. Life is about stay­ing true to who you are, how you want to spend your days and find­ing your line through it all. I keep remind­ing myself, and hope to always inspire oth­ers not to be afraid to step out onto your own path, oth­er­wise you’ll spend your whole life fol­low­ing some­one else’s.

Carabiner Coffee

The Clymb: What hard­ships did you over­come in the ear­ly years of the com­pa­ny?

EG: There are more than I care to remem­ber, and that is all I can real­ly say for this one. I dealt with every­thing from pipes burst­ing in the van, to fight­ing for busi­ness per­mits and get­ting kicked out of scenic road­side pull offs where I would sell cof­fee to locals. I ran a guer­ril­la-style oper­a­tion for months while I was work­ing out the kinks with Cara­bin­er and mak­ing sure I didn’t com­pro­mise my dream for the busi­ness for a bit of local pol­i­tics. Things have since come togeth­er a lit­tle more smooth­ly, but I think every entre­pre­neur should have a few good hor­ror sto­ries about the ear­ly days; they make for a good laugh down the road.

Carabiner Coffee

The Clymb: You liken Cara­bin­er Cof­fee to being more than just a mobile cof­fee shop, and a way to inspire oth­ers to live their dreams. How did you end up where you are today?

EG: I def­i­nite­ly think of Cara­bin­er Cof­fee as more than just a mobile cof­fee shop. In many ways, Cara­bin­er has always been about more than just the cof­fee. It has been a way for me to put more encour­age­ment, inspi­ra­tion, and love into the world. I want to show peo­ple that if you have a pas­sion for some­thing, there is no rea­son that you shouldn’t be doing it. I end­ed up where I am today because I sim­ply wouldn’t accept that my life was going to be spent work­ing for some­one else’s dream. Every per­son who comes up to the van gives me anoth­er chance to con­nect with some­one new and bright­en their day, even if its just for a minute. I have met peo­ple in my life that I’ve only spent mere min­utes with, yet they have changed the entire way I look at life. More than cof­fee, that is what Cara­bin­er is all about.

Carabiner Coffee

The Clymb: On your site, you have a pho­to of a bike tour from Min­neso­ta to Cal­i­for­nia. Can you tell me a lit­tle about that trip?

EG: I’m glad you asked, because that bike tour is actu­al­ly one of the main rea­sons Cara­bin­er Cof­fee exists. A week after I grad­u­at­ed from col­lege with a degree in fine art and oil paint­ing, I ped­aled out of the small town I’m from in Min­neso­ta and head­ed west. I biked from Min­neso­ta to Glac­i­er Nation­al Park, then Port­land, OR and down the entire length of High­way 1 to Encini­tas, Cal­i­for­nia. It took me almost 3 months to ped­al my way across the Great Plains, over the Rock­ies, through the Colum­bia Riv­er val­ley and then down the entire west coast. Five days in, my bike frame snapped because I was over-enthu­si­as­tic and brought over 100lbs of equip­ment includ­ing my climb­ing gear, slack line, oil paints and count­less oth­er things I had no ener­gy to use after bik­ing 70–100 miles a day.

That didn’t stop me though; I was going to do this trip. I bought a new bike that night, fit­ted it the next morn­ing and was on the road again before lunchtime. Count­less oth­er things hap­pened on this trip too, includ­ing over 25 flats, mul­ti­ple days of 105-degree heat with no shade in sight and wit­ness­ing an armed rob­bery. By the end of the tour all of my gear racks were held togeth­er by zip-ties. I actu­al­ly wasn’t even a cof­fee drinker until about half way through the trip.

One day on the Ore­gon coast, I was so cold that I couldn’t bike any­more, so I stopped at a lit­tle barn that was a gen­er­al store and the only warm thing they had to drink was cof­fee. That was when I had my first real cup and it lit­er­al­ly changed my life. When I felt what a warm cup of cof­fee could do for a lone­ly bik­er out in the mid­dle of nowhere, I couldn’t help but smile. I could talk for hours about that trip, but the main thing real­ly is that it showed me that if you tru­ly put your heart into some­thing, you can make it hap­pen. I think of that tour and all the things that I have tak­en away from it near­ly every day.

Carabiner Coffee

The Clymb: This year you’re going to be trav­el­ling with the Reel Rock Tour. Where can we expect Ol’ Blue to pop up?

EG: I couldn’t be more excit­ed to be tour­ing with Reel Rock this fall! Ol’ Blue and I will be start­ing the tour in Seat­tle on 9/23 and then we’re head­ing to Boze­man, MT for a screen­ing on 9/30. After that we head down to Ft. Collins, CO on 10/8, and we’re wrap­ping it up by cruis­ing all the way back to Port­land, OR to fin­ish the tour on 10/14. I’m plan­ning a lot of cof­fee tast­ings and crag­ging days along the way, leav­ing a lit­tle room for some yet unplanned adven­tures too. Part of my dream is to be able to take Ol’ Blue almost any­where in the coun­try, pop up shop, serve some cof­fee, make some peo­ple hap­py and con­nect with the local out­doors com­mu­ni­ty. I can’t wait to hit the road and put this dream into action again.

Carabiner Coffee

The Clymb: What’s your favorite sto­ry from the road? Who are some of the inter­est­ing fig­ures you’ve met?

EG: I would have to say that the trip from Col­orado to Seat­tle has been the cra­zi­est of them all. Blue was loaded down to the lim­it and then some. After a glo­ri­ous 6-day adven­ture that took me through Moab up to Salt Lake City and final­ly got me with­in 150 miles of Seat­tle, the brakes went out as we were going down the west­ern slope of the Cas­cades. There was a prob­lem with the brake boost­ers and every time I touched the brakes they would seize up and the engine would kill. I drove the van like that the last 100 miles and had to nego­ti­ate down­town Seat­tle traf­fic (an ugly, ugly beast) for the first time, with a crip­pled bus. Ol’ Blue got us there though! We have fights like that every once in a while, but we always work it out.

Carabiner Coffee

The peo­ple I’ve met in that van make it all worth it. One win­ter day in Col­orado, Olympic gold medal­ist Dan­ny Davis rolled up to the van with his crew on their way to ride Key­stone for the day and end­ed up doing a pho­to shoot in the van on the side of the road. I made them all cof­fee and sent them on their way—that was a fun one. I have met some amaz­ing climbers. Zak Sil­ver (an incred­i­bly strong up-and-com­ing climber) and I met at the van and he is now an offi­cial Cara­bin­er Cof­fee ath­lete. I have even had the priv­i­lege of meet­ing the world record hold­er in the sport of speed walking…you just nev­er know who is going to wind up walk­ing up to the door of that van for a cup of cof­fee. It nev­er gets old.

Carabiner Coffee

The Clymb: What advice would you give to some­one who dreams of start­ing a busi­ness like yours?

EG: My best advice would sim­ply be: Don’t be afraid to start work­ing hard for your dreams! I strug­gled through five months of Col­orado win­ter try­ing to keep the van from freez­ing over or slid­ing off the road before I even sold my first cup of cof­fee. Great things do not come eas­i­ly, but if you love what you are doing, it will be one of the great­est adven­tures of your life. The amount of mon­ey that you make in no way reflects the suc­cess of your life. If you work hard to spread hap­pi­ness, mon­ey will nev­er be an issue.

Carabiner Coffee

The Clymb: What are your aspi­ra­tions for Cara­bin­er Cof­fee?

EG: I want Cara­bin­er Cof­fee to inspire and encour­age oth­ers to fol­low their pas­sion. It is my goal to be able to use the suc­cess of Cara­bin­er to sup­port oth­er adven­tur­ers who are try­ing to make life into some­thing gen­uine­ly amaz­ing. If the world put as much impor­tance on being hap­py as it does on mak­ing mon­ey, there would be no such thing as a bad day. I have been shown so much love and been encour­aged by so many peo­ple that I sim­ply just want to keep giv­ing and putting that love back into the world.

Sus­tain­abil­i­ty, preser­va­tion and leav­ing this plan­et bet­ter than we found it are huge ele­ments of the com­pa­ny as well—qualities I want to embody and rep­re­sent no mat­ter how much Cara­bin­er Cof­fee grows. I sim­ply nev­er want it to lose the pow­er to con­nect peo­ple in a mean­ing­ful way. Every bag of cof­fee I’ve ever sent out into the world has been accom­pa­nied by a hand­writ­ten note telling each and every per­son who sup­ports this dream how much I appre­ci­ate them and that I am send­ing that pos­i­tive ener­gy right back at em’. I think we could all use a lit­tle bit more of that.

Check out Cara­bin­er Cof­fee online and on Insta­gram. Use the hash­tag #Find­Y­ourLine to see your pho­to fea­tured on their site!

Carabiner Coffee

all pho­tos © Brett Hol­man & Austin Fassi­no