My Van Life: Days 1-7

DAY 1: Sacramento to Gumboot Lake, CA

Today we officially began our road trip(!!!). It’s definitely a surreal feeling. I think from the moment I woke up this morning I didn’t believe it was actually happening. After almost a year of living with my mom in Sacramento, I was officially saying goodbye (for now at least) to join the hoards of other millennials (I think hoards – I may be over-dramatizing?) choosing the van life. Or did it choose us?! Nevertheless, it’s nice to have our own space even if that means a twenty-four foot Mercedes sprinter van. It’s our tiny home on wheels but what matters is it’s ours.


There have been so many benefits from this last year when it comes to saving money on rent but I think after almost 365 days I’m missing a sense of ownership when it comes to my own space I call home. And now we have that - in a sense - thanks to our van! Today we left Sacramento and drove to Gumboot Lake. Originally we intended to drive to Mount Shasta but unfortunately fires in the area inhibited our drive. A main road was shut down and thus day one plans were derailed - detoured perhaps is a better word - to a nearby destination. It was about 12 miles of winding road that took us roughly 45 minutes of driving in this luxury vehicle (a tall and long one at that) but finally we landed and found a wonderful spot to call home (for the night).


I think Coco is still trying to figure out exactly what we’re doing. In a sense, it feels like we are too. I'm not sure if that feeling will ever go away. After stopping in Redwood in 115 degree weather to procure groceries for the week, I definitely felt a sense of uncertainty and a lack of confidence. “Can we really do this for upwards of two months?” Especially considering we left during peak sunshine (read HEAT) across the US. Well, to be fair we haven’t really experienced an East Coast summer so who’s to say. Anyway, back to the point. We landed a great spot courtesy of FreeCampsites.net. There are a couple other cars nearby which always makes me feel better especially out in the middle of nowhere. A sign nearby indicated that the maximum stay is 7 days. First of all just to drive out here is a task in and of itself. Anyone who braves the winding road out here deserves to stay as long as they like. There’s a sweet little lake right across from where we parked. I’m excited to see how beautiful it looks in the morning with the sun rising over the treetops. Look at me, I’m talking like a real camper and everything! Considering I am so NOT a camper – neither of us are really – I’m honestly quite proud of us. We managed to successfully navigate Walmart in Redding (I mean to be fair I did that) but I was impressed by the fact that while I felt like I overspent and overloaded the cart, everything managed to fit in the little dorm sized refrigerator AND we have room leftover.


Coco was most thrilled when she was finally able to get out of the car after about 5.5 hours trying to figure out where the heck we were going but the pure joy on her face as she strolled around the campsite, unleashed, a free woman ready to explore her home for the night, was so worth it.

Trying to think through meaningful things we learned today…Gumboot Lake is an excellent camping spot despite the “Bear Country” warnings, I would definitely recommend. There are lots of locations over the course of that 12 mile winding road leading to Gumboot as well that would have made a great stop. Other things…It’s hot as hell. Actually. If I were to imagine the depths of hell, it would be eerily similar to the drive we braved today through the Northern California heat wave. Yeesh. We also managed to hang mosquito netting both on the side of the van as well as the back. Thank god we realized this on the first night because bugs are a plenty here. We had the door open for maybe two minutes while I was wiping Coco’s paws and easily ten bugs of all shapes and sizes found their way into our home. The interior paint also shows everything. I mean don’t get me wrong I knew it wasn’t the paint on the interior of the Sistine Chapel or anything but the interior paint in our sprinter shows every dirty finger AND toe print. EVERY ONE! We will definitely be adding “paint interior” to the to-do list post van excursion.

We did suffer a minor casualty today in addition to the unbearable heat of course. Somehow our closet drawer managed to pop open and of course everything crashed out. Literally everything. Complete carnage strewn across the floor. It was like driving by a massive car accident on the freeway. You just can’t peel your eyes away from the scene (nor do anything about it really). Of course one of those items that spilled out of said closet drawer was the paint I brought to work on some AlmostFabMe projects. While the green paint in particular happened to open onto my BRAND NEW runner from Home Goods, thankfully it didn’t open onto the project I'm currently working on. THANK GOD. It’s only day one so I’m cutting us some slack. It’s our first time “glamping,” living that “van life” so what do you expect?! Thus far I’m quite pleased with our van life prowess but I’m also quite looking forward to a luxury European excursion (LOL) – hopefully at the end of this year.


Day 2: Gumboot Lake, CA to Florence, OR

We left Gumboot Lake Camp Ground around 9:30am this morning. That was a great find! Not too quiet to the point of being creepy but just enough cars, life and civilization nearby to make us feel safe and secure without feeling on top of other campers. It’s crazy in this van how you can be driving for what seems like days yet the clock says otherwise. I think we landed at our camping site around 7:30pm or so this evening which in theory would mean roughly 10 hours of driving (not taking into account gas, potty and food breaks however) so let’s say roughly 8 hours of driving, however according to maps we drove approximately 300 miles. 300 miles in 8 hours – doesn’t that feel like nothing?!?


Today I was looking at a map of the US while Adam was driving and I immediately got nervous. I realized just how vast the US is. And we’re trying to drive all the way across to New York, down to Florida and back home within like 7 weeks. It felt like an impossible mission after looking at that map I’ll tell you that. Thankfully today as we made our way North it got progressively cooler. One of our stops at a Love’s Travel Stop was still 87 or so degrees outside but as we made our way to Florence, OR and stopped at Homegrown for our first and only solid meal of the day (it was delicious and worth the wait by the way), it was 60 degrees with 25 mile per hour winds. Now we find ourselves in the van not needing to open up the vents or anything – it’s actually quite chilly! We may even need to bring out our extra blanket! It feels so fresh and clear here though.

There was a patch of the drive today that was extremely smokey I’m guessing due to a fire. Immediately we switched to AC so we weren’t pulling in any of the harmful fumes but it cleared up shortly thereafter thankfully. Stepping out of the car at our campsite at Alder Dune Campground I immediately was transported to grade school summer camp. It has that crisp biting chill in the air mixed with the fragrant and always captivating scent of pine trees. It feels like cozy weather – you know what I mean? It just envelops you. After pretty much driving all day long we’re feeling pretty exhausted. I think if anything today made us realize we need to be a little bit more planful in our journey. There are a LOT of people on the road and a lot of people out exploring like we are. I mean it is summertime after all. All that to say, while I’m trying to be spontaneous and go with the flow (trying being the operative word), I’m not sure it’s entirely possible considering campsites are full left and right. It’s nice just having a 24 foot sprinter to worry about but even so, there are limitations to where you can pull over and set up shop for a night or two. Especially if it involves a destination for remote work too. That's the real kicker.


Day 3: Florence, OR to Cannon Beach, OR

Today was the start of our first work week on the road! Thankfully Mondays are a bit slower during the summertime so we were able to squeeze in a little bit of driving in between meetings, calls, etc. Unlike the weekend our driving today was minimal as well so it was easy to switch off driving where appropriate.


We departed our campsite in Florence, OR after a little morning exercise. Life on the road means getting creative when it comes to working out. We both did a little running loop outside (I’ll be the first to admit these lungs did not last long up there in that elevation) and then I did a quick cardio boost outside in our camping spot. While we brought yoga mats I wasn’t putting them out on the uneven forest floor to work out on. No sir! Nevertheless after a weekend where most of our time was spent sitting in the car, it felt good to move around again and get the blood pumping.


Today was the first of many very important tourist stops. I had no idea we would be passing through Tillamook Oregon but once I saw it on the map I knew it was our next destination. We popped into the Tillamook Creamery parking lot and set up shop, preparing our first official lunch in the van and banging out some emails, meetings, etc. At the end of our “work day” we treated ourselves to some Tillamook ice cream. It was kind of insane how crowded it was at Tillamook on a Monday afternoon. Families everywhere enjoying a little summertime ice cream. Tillamook has this amazing grass area at the front of the creamery where you can grab your scoops and set up shop enjoying the ice cream and sunny summer day. Definitely recommend making that a pit stop in your future Oregon Coast travel endeavors. While I certainly could have stayed there all day longnothing beats the smell of ice cream does it?? – we had to continue on the road to our final FINAL destination for the day, Cannon Beach.

Cannon Beach was one of those destinations that I was familiar with the second I saw it on a map. Know what I mean? Like you’re not sure if you’ve ever actually heard of it or heard people talking about it but for some reason it just sounds so familiar. Well whether I had heard of it or not beforehand we decided this was where we would be landing for the night and spending the next couple of days.


Around 7pm we rolled into Sea Ranch RV Resort in Cannon Beach within walking distance of the little downtown area. We had some options lined up for potential places to stay and this happened to be the first we stumbled upon. It looked like a NICE establishment – like one of the ones you need to be invited to be a member of or something – so I sent Adam into the main office to survey the scene and get the low down on the situation while I waited in the car with Coco. Well about 10 minutes later he came out holding a map like the ones you receive at a massive hotel property detailing where your room is out of the 5 different buildings on the 10 acres of land. $154 later and we had ourselves an outdoor parking spot for the next two nights and access to the facilities onsite.

We really aren’t doing well with this “free camping” thing I’ll tell you that. We keep reminding ourselves we’re only 3 days in and we’re still learning but we are VERY much still learning. Well the good news is it’s a very nice establishment and we feel perfectly safe and cozy here. Not to mention the fact that Cannon Beach is SO stinking cute. This town looks like something out of a Hallmark movie. We had to pop into the little downtown tonight because I needed to buy a sweatshirt. It’s literally 57 degrees here and right on the ocean so 57 degrees in reality probably feels less than 50 degrees. Thankfully one of the local souvenir shops had one oversized Cannon Beach tie dye sweatshirt left. It’s like they knew this unprepared California girl was coming.


Day 4 Cannon Beach OR

Today was our first official day feeling settled in one destination. We woke up, went about our morning routines, got set up for the work day and got down to regularly scheduled programming. Like we’re ole pros at van life! Something I’ve loved about Cannon Beach is not only our camping location (Sea Ranch RV Resort) but the weather. As crazy as that is considering the warmest thing I brought on this roadtrip is a pair of Levi’s and a Nike windbreaker, there’s something so magical about the weather in a town on the beach in July. I mean it’s 57 degrees outside and it’s July 13. That’s unheard of!


It has me questioning so many things – is this town always like this? Do they ever see the sun? Or experience temperatures above the 70s? Are people here used to this kind of cold? Why are girls wearing shorts and string tank tops??? Do people live here year round? Who vacations here? Like I said so many questions but despite my aforementioned inquisitive nature I absolutely love this town. Freezing cold temps and all.


I would say both of our working days were a success. I had to figure out the lighting for video calls in the van but the good news was we were able to keep the back door open the whole day which provided beautiful natural light and not to mention fresh, cool air. Coco is finally hitting her stride as well a few days in. At the beginning she definitely seemed anxious and uncertain about this moving home on wheels but I think now she’s settling in and having more fun spending so much time in close quarters with us.

Speaking of close quarters, today was a day in which I was reminded just how CLOSE these quarters are. I hit my head, toe and elbow on just about every sharp corner in the interior of this van. But for real – has that edge always been there?? My head is actually moderately throbbing while writing this as I just moments ago banged it on the ceiling of the van getting into bed. Yes, I literally hit my head on the ceiling. All 5’5 of me.


In other news I decided it was a wise idea to take advantage of this $154 parking spot for two nights and utilize the showers on the property. Talk about feeling like you’re at summer camp. I lugged my towel and plastic baggy full of shower supplies to the shower facility, thinking I was stupid (SO STUPID, RIGHT!?!) not to take advantage of the warm water onsite. Have I spoken about my first shower in the van yet? I can’t remember. (Clearly it was a big hit - NOT). Anyway, would I use the campsite showers again? Ehhh. Would I recommend doing it? EHHHHH. Personally I’m someone who can only sit in my own filth and stink for so long so while it had really only been a day or two it had been like 4 since washing my hair and I felt it was necessary. After the fact now sitting in the warm bed I’m pleased with my decision but in that moment crouching under the COLD water shooting out from the faucet as I feverishly scrambled to scrub my body, shave my legs, wash my hair, I’m not sure I would say the same. Cold showers in 55 degree temps do not mix well.


Day 5: Cannon Beach, OR to Moses Lake, WA (through Seattle, WA)

I’m honestly sad to have left Cannon Beach this morning! It was such a special little beach town not to mention the fact that it was in the 50s the entire time we were there. Personally I run HOT at essentially all times so I was beyond appreciative for the gift of being cold for once. Especially in the middle of July, traditionally one of the hottest months in the summer. It was a true gift and one I was sad to let go of.


Today we learned a lesson the hard way - seems to be the only way we've learned lessons thus far in van life. We drove in between meetings, calls, emails, etc. and covered about 7-8 hours in between a 7-8 hour work day. Add that to the list of things I would NOT recommend. First of all we’re exhausted because we were up and on the road early but that’s also just a lot to manage. My heart felt like it was racing all day long from the anxiety of getting from once place to the next while managing our individual schedules. It didn’t help that we had not a second to spare which contributed to us not eating until roughly 5pm. I think we each had had about 3 cups of coffee throughout the day but no food which really didn’t help the racing heart situation now that I say that out loud.


We drove through Seattle, Washington this afternoon which was really our first experience in a big city. I’m glad Adam was driving and I was not because I was a nervous wreck pretty much white knuckling it from the passenger side! The passenger side!! It was akin to driving in San Francisco with a 24 foot sprinter van (if you’ve never been to either SF or Seattle just know it was NOT easy). We even found ourselves at a sharp upward sloping angle at a stoplight at the top of a hill. My stomach dropped just reimagining that moment in my head. Again, happy I was not the one driving.


Truthfully the sole reason we wanted to drive through Seattle was so I could see Pike Place Market and visit the first ever Starbucks. There was a bit of a wait at Starbucks but I’m happy to report it was well worth the wait. The store is much smaller than I would have expected but the people were especially friendly, the merch was beautiful and just experiencing a piece of Starbucks history like that was truly special. That’s definitely a bucket list item without a doubt.

Pike Place itself was bursting with tourists. It’s nice to see everyone out and about again but at the same time it turned me off of traditional travel. It made me a bit nervous too knowing we want to take a bigger, international trip at the end of this year. If this was what the crowd was like in Seattle, WA, imagine what it would be like just about anywhere in Europe. We’ll definitely have to think through that one.

It was fun to peruse but again people everywhere led to immediate overwhelm. Not to mention the empty stomachs and the sun that was actually beating down and quite hot. We didn’t overstay our welcome in Seattle but hit the road shortly after filling up on coffee to make it to Eastern Washington where we were planning on staying for the evening. Due to our earlier pit stop we didn’t quite make it to where we wanted (again, full day driving and full work day do NOT mix) so we landed in Moses Lake, WA. Why I wanted to say "Moses Lake" in a full on accent with “Alabama” at the end versus “Washington,” I’m really not positive but that's what lack of sleep and a whole lotta time in the car can do to you. Just go with me here. Before tonight I can honestly say I’ve never slept in a Walmart parking lot. Well my friends, that is all about to change. Right now…Goodnight!


Day 6: Moses Lake, WA to Rose Lake, Idaho

It’s hard to believe but it’s almost been one whole week since we left for our van life expedition. I’m happy to report that I survived one whole work week (we have Fridays off in the month of July) so I feel like that’s a fairly sufficient accomplishment under my belt. Last night we arrived in Moses Lake, Washington and it was quite obvious we were far from the Oregon Coast. Temps were back in the 90s and I was miserable once again. There has to be a better way to get circulation in this van. It has air flow systems in the ceiling that circulate air throughout once the van is powered off but in my opinion it feels weak. Most nights I sleep on top of the covers but you know #hotgirlprobs. (Not what it sounds like I mean temperature wise hot).


We brought a small fan as well which helps but one thing about van life is being mindful of your footprint so to speak. Our van has solar panels which is really cool so we’re essentially a self-sufficient vehicle. We don’t need to plug in other than to refill our water tank but even that is a great example of being mindful of everything you use. The water tank is only so big and you realize that when you use water to wash dishes, wash your face, brush your teeth, take a shower, slowly but surely that little ticker goes down down down. We discovered that our favorite travel stop, Love’s, does have a water hook up so that was a worthwhile recent discovery. The campsite we paid $150 for at Cannon Lake also had a water hookup but ideally we’re not paying $150+ every time we need to fill up our water tank. Seems a bit extreme if you ask me.


I think I’m getting more used to the sleeping situation at this point. While I haven’t been waking up as early as I would like and greeting the day, the good news is I have been sleeping more soundly through the night. The first couple of nights I was quite concerned I was going to become rather sleep deprived during the course of van life summer. But now I’m happy to report she feels well rested! Well, as rested as one can be while living in a van you know? Last night we slept in a Walmart parking lot – did I mention that? It turns out there’s a number of retail destinations (Walmart being one of them) that allow overnight “camping.” However, you do have to check with local laws as well as that particular Walmart management. It’s definitely easier to get away with in small towns that much I can confidently tell you. In Salt Lake City we tried to stay in a Home Depot parking lot but were immediately turned down upon inquiring. It’s something I was nervous about, finding places to stay, so it doesn’t help my nerves and anxious little heart when we have trouble finding places to camp out that provide good service (working on the road probs), isn’t out in the middle of nowhere, and has nearby access to a toilet. While we do have a toilet in the van, it’s definitely preferred to use a public restroom when you’ve really gotta go…If you catch my drift.


Speaking of gotta go (no not that kind), it’s just about dinner time here in the van! I’m happy to report on the 6th night of van life we have officially made our first stovetop dinner! Turns out that the stove in the van only works with stainless steel or cast iron pots. After purchasing 3 different supposed "stainless steel" pots I’m happy to report the 3rd time was the charm and we are preparing our first meal as we speak. Well I’m not, that’s a lot to ask of a woman who’s simultaneously typing and drinking a High Noon. Cheers to the weekend my friends! I can’t wait for our first official van life weekend that doesn’t involve sitting in the car for hours on end. I’m sure Coco will equally appreciate that.