If you’ve been up to Mount Baker any weekend in the past year, you may have spotted Yuki Shepherd and her husband, Rob. Yuki, a bookkeeper at Pacific Continental Realty, and Rob have been camping on the mountain in their camper van every weekend since they first learned to ski together in February 2015. Yuki, whose favorite hobbies are skiing, knitting and beer tasting, loves the life of adventure that she and her husband have cultivated together. But Yuki’s love for the outdoors and exploration didn’t start in Bellingham; it started a world away in Osaka, Japan, as the big dream of a small child.

Yuki grew up in Japan with her parents, two brothers and sister. In this family of six, life was very different for one child in particular. “I was an unhealthy child,” Yuki says. From age 8 to 22, Yuki struggled with kidney disease and was hospitalized for her condition when she was just 10 years old. Given a strict diet, Yuki was not allowed to engage in physical activities, not even in school where she often observed other children enjoying sports. Growing up, Yuki remembers her siblings going camping and learning to ski at the Osaka YMCA — something Yuki longed to try, but her protective mother prohibited it.

15688a6ad11e92---Yuki Shepherd KiwiHatUnable to enjoy the activities of her peers, it was always a dream of Yuki’s to get out and do something.

And do something she did. In her early 20s, Yuki’s health improved and she decided to start saving money so that she could start traveling. At age 26, she boarded an airplane bound for New Zealand.

Yuki always wanted to learn to speak English, so during her time in New Zealand, she enrolled in language school and stayed at a youth hostel. It was also in New Zealand that Yuki got her first taste of outdoor life while hanging out on beaches and watching the stars at night. On Saturdays, she would wander around the craft markets where she saw a woman knitting Cowichan-style, kiwi bird-patterned hats. Yuki fell in love with the hat and became inspired to learn how to knit.

As Yuki continued to learn English, she also discovered other hobbies and interests and continued to explore the outdoors, enjoying activities like hiking and even sea kayaking. She also loved meeting tourists. The concept of people taking time for themselves to travel was eye-opening and ultimately life changing for her. “I started to have a different idea about my life,” she says. “I wanted something else.”

Yuki Shepherd Mount Baker
After a childhood deprived of outdoor recreation and play, Yuki Shepherd is making up for lost time. Photo courtesy: Yuki Shepherd.

Yuki’s time in New Zealand, however, was cut shorter than planned when her mother called asking her to return home. Yuki’s sister was pregnant and she wanted Yuki to help raise the baby. Yuki bought the kiwi bird hat she fell in love with and gave it to her newly born niece as a present. Leaving New Zealand was hard, but being able to help raise her niece is an experience Yuki is grateful for.

Back in Japan, Yuki was eager to continue practicing her English, so she decided to participate in a pen pal exchange program. Yuki was matched with an American named Rob Shepherd. “He was very patient,” Yuki says. For about a year they wrote and talked on the phone. One year later, the two pen pals lost touch — but only temporarily.

At the time, Rob was working extensively on a business plan and Yuki was traveling three hours round-trip each day and, at times, working 14 hours on top of that. Some days she was too tired to return home and would stay in a hotel near her work to sleep. Just when Yuki thought she couldn’t take it anymore, she received a surprise call from Rob. Yuki asked him suddenly, “Can I visit you?” She didn’t know where he lived, but Rob agreed to meet her in Seattle. For four days, Yuki enjoyed the tours Rob led her on. They visited the Space Needle, the Seattle Aquarium, museums, restaurants and more. “Everything was very new, having food and taking time for conversation; I felt so fortunate.”

Yuki Shepherd
Rob Shepherd keeps warm on the mountain with the sweaters Yuki knits for him. Her lifetime goal is to knit her husband a 100 sweaters. Photo courtesy: Yuki Shepherd.

Heading back to Japan, Yuki knew where she wanted to be. It took her six months to train her replacement at her job before returning to the United States to be with Rob. The two married three months later, and shortly after Yuki visited an American doctor who issued her a clean bill of health. Yuki’s new life in the United States was off to a bright start, but life in a new country with a new husband didn’t come without its own set of challenges.

Marriage was a culture shock for both Yuki and Rob who were both familiar with very different customs. Communication was difficult as well. To find some common ground, the two decided to focus on what they enjoyed doing together — outside adventure.

Yuki and Rob decided to rent a camper van and camped on the Olympic Peninsula. However, Yuki’s sensitive reaction to mosquitos made it difficult to spend extended periods of time in the woods. This led the couple to purchase a sailboat. Rob claimed that sailing wouldn’t be as buggy, although Yuki recalls seeing a few mosquitos out on the water.

In search of the perfect outdoor activity, the adventurous couple eventually became interested in learning how to ski. This took them to Mount Baker where they enjoyed their first ski lesson. The pair was immediately hooked.

Weekends spent on the slopes were what Yuki and Rob enjoyed most. When lack of snow in 2015 caused the ski resort to close earlier than normal, this didn’t deter the couple from enjoying their favorite activity — they would hike whatever distances necessary to find skiable areas. In the spring and summer, when the snow melted, they continued to frequent the mountain, substituting skiing with hiking.

Yuki Shepherd camper van
Rob and Yuki Shepherd have camped every weekend for almost a year up by Mount Baker in their camper van. Photo courtesy: Yuki Shepherd.

Working Monday through Friday and camping on the weekends has proved itself to be a kind of ritual for Yuki and Rob, and they have no plans of stopping anytime soon. February 2016 will mark the couple’s one-year anniversary of camping every weekend on Mount Baker together. For Yuki, this life of personal challenge and outdoor activity after a childhood of illness has been very significant. “I just want to see how far I can go,” she says. “That makes me excited every day.”

Read more about Yuki’s adventures on her blog: yukiwi.blogspot.com.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email