I handed over the keys to my apartment in Seattle on September 30th. I had been so focused on this day for so long, I don’t think I had even considered how I would actually feel. The apartment complex I lived in is a secure building, so once I walked out those doors I literally couldn’t re-enter the building without my fob, unless I went to the office doors and was buzzed in like someone wanting to learn about the apartments available for rent.
I drove away with my friend’s house as my destination that night to hand off the last of the belongings I was giving away. As I was driving I kept feeling like I was forgetting something, and then kept remembering I only have one set of keys now. It was an invigorating feeling to realize that everything I owned and needed was in my “home”, my van, other than some boxes of select items I decided to keep in my mother’s storage unit.
The last time I drove away with everything I really cared about in my vehicle (certainly not everything I needed to live comfortably) was over ten years ago when I left an abusive relationship. As I drove, I remembered that day, and smiled knowing how far I had come since then. I felt so happy that this was MY choice. Not a choice of circumstance or taking what was thrown at me. I made this choice. I wanted this. I made it happen. For myself and for my dog and no one else.
That evening I stayed in my friend’s driveway, and the next day I drove out to another friend’s property near Seabeck, WA. My friends in Seattle asked if we could to a proper “send-off” get together. With COVID, of course we couldn’t just meet at someone’s home, so we decided to meet for a physical distant camping weekend. Friends could come and go as they pleased, some camped, setting up tents across acres of land, some just drove out for a few hours. We set up chairs a safe distance apart, reminisced, laughed, shared, and just enjoyed each other’s company.
For the first time in my life living in Seattle I felt like I was a part of a community, and here they were sending me off on this crazy adventure. I questioned myself a few times over the weekend if I was making the right choice. How could I leave this community I love so much? And then I decided that community doesn’t have to be a location, for me at least. For me, community is connection. I don’t have to live in Seattle to be connected to my friends. It may take a little more effort and planning to connect, but they are still my community, and always will be.
Sunday afternoon I decided start my “trip” I had planned to Bend, OR to have the builder of my van do a few finishing touches for me before I left the PNW for the winter. A friend had told me about a place near Hood River, OR that had good cell service and views, so I decided to check that location out first, with a backup plan in place if it didn’t work out.
Well, it worked out so well that I ended up staying there for almost the entire week. We had trails near by for running and amazing sunset views of Mount Adams. We only moved on because the temps dropped quickly, and with the weather shift smoke came back into the area.
On to Bend, OR we went! I’ve been to Bend many times over the past 5+ years and every time I visit I’m blown away by how fast it’s growing. The secret is definitely out, and so many people have learned that Bend is pretty much perfect for the outdoor enthusiast.
We ended up staying in Bend for two weeks because I was waiting for a part to be delivered for my van. Certainly not a bad place to be “stuck” longer than you had planned. Although the evening temps were dipping down into the 20’s, during the day it was up in the 70’s.
A friend suggested that Snow and I check out the (very popular, and understandably so) Green Lakes loop trail. It’s only about 45 minutes from Bend, and probably the most runnable, scenic 13 miles of trails I’ve ever been on. It was exactly what we needed after not having a lot of time for running/exploring over the past month while prepping for van life.
While in Bend, I was finally able to meet up with Tiny Home Tours, who had reached out to me two months ago asking if I’d be open to them filming a tour of my van. The finished YouTube video came out lovely! If you have 15 minutes, take a look to see how beautiful my van is. The builder did such an outstanding job!
During the filming of the tour, the videographer and I were chatting and he shared a few places that he recommended I could stay at as I traveled south. Of course they were outstanding, and led me to some epic views in the high desert of OR, and even to some hot spring pools!
Next year I’ll come back to each of these spots and stay for a week at least, but this time of year it was much to cold for my liking. I love that I’m already planning next year….
Continuing south, I try to break up my driving so it’s just a few hours at a time, and I don’t have to use up an entire weekend to get somewhere. I saw a spot on iOverlander in Winnimucca, NV that was about 3 hours from where I was at in OR. It was a Friday, but the reviews looked promising and I had other options near by if this spot didn’t work out.
It turned out to be stellar, right next to a creek nestled by a beautiful mountain range. I expect this place would be very busy during the summer, but it was late enough in the season where there were multiple spots available to chose from.
The next day I decided to make the long haul to Lone Pine, CA, where I had hoped to stay for a week or so to explore the Alabama Hills and surrounding areas. Unfortunately, a new fire had started in CA and smoke ended up rolling in by Sunday afternoon. My (and Snow’s) health is more important to me than adventuring, so I decided to head out and find somewhere with better air to breath. Luckily we did get a chance to go for a short run in the area, which in itself was worth the short visit and mild smoke inhalation. This place is magical, and is also on my “next year” list.
Las Vegas was along the route I was planning to take to get to Utah, so I decided to head that direction next since a friend lives there who I hadn’t seen in nearly a year. I didn’t realize that to get to Las Vegas from Lone Pine, CA you actually drove through Death Valley National Park! I don’t know what I was expecting, but what I saw was mind blowing. Every time we came around a corner I was just in awe with the scenery, the history, the terrain… if it had been the weekend I would have adjusted plans and just explored here longer, as I feel like this is the perfect time of year to visit since it’s cooler temperatures that the summer months. Unfortunately, there was zero cell service in the park so pausing here during my workweek wasn’t an option. Yet another destination added to my list for next year!
Van life isn’t always epic views and the perfect spots… I broke up this drive by staying at a rest stop overnight, and working here for most of the day. Then we drove on to Lovell Canyon, which was supposed to have cell service but when we arrived it did not. A brief backtrack to finish up my workday, and then we went back to the canyon for the evening for some much needed “disconnected” time.
After one night of catch-up with my friend, we headed out, again, with hopes of getting to a place in Utah where we could finally just park for a week, relax, run, and do my work. We stayed at a place just east of Lake Mead National Recreation Area that had solid cell service, as well as solid views. I was able to work from hear in the morning, and then broke up my workday (and drive) by driving another hour-isn east on lunch and then stopping to finish out my day. I actually love breaking up my work day like this – I feel like it keeps my brain refreshed and helps me not feel groggy at the end of the day from just sitting and staring at my laptop for 9 hours straight. I am so much more productive when I work in 3 hour chunks intermittently throughout the day and into the evening, than when I just sit and work an 8-6 shift.
The same friend that shared the coordinates for the location near Hood River had reached out to me knowing I was heading to the SW, since she was there also. She invited me to join her where she was parked, and shared that there was solid cell service.
I forgot about the time change, so by the time I was done working in town it was getting dark already. I decided I didn’t want to move again for at least a week, so I topped off my water, got groceries, gassed up, and showed up on my friend’s “doorstep” well after dark. I don’t like driving in the dark, but knowing I had someone there at my destination made it perfectly fine, especially with the awesome new lights I had added to the van while I was in Bend.
Upon arrival I got myself situated as level as I could in the dark, chatted with my friend briefly, and then just made my bed and went to sleep. Snow and I woke up Saturday to breathtaking views, went for a run, and just relaxed in outside soaking up views until it was time to make dinner.
After dinner we got to enjoy the sunset, and watch the Blue Moon rise on Halloween night. It was rather perfect…
Sans waiting for a part for my van and smoke rolling in unexpectedly, I think the first 30 days went rather perfect. Yes, there are challenges, most of which involve ensuring I have solid cell signal to work 40+ hours a week, but overall I feel like things have been going smoothly. No huge surprises. No regrets. Still lots of learning, and so much more adventuring to be had!
I feel like I’m now in a “groove” of van life. I made it to my first targeted destination of the south-west(ish) with aspirations of keeping moderately warm through the winter months, exploring places I’ve never been, and maybe even making a few new friends (safely from a distance) along the way.
I am so appreciative of this traverse I’ve started on, and am beyond excited to see where the next 30 days (and beyond!) lead me.