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Thunder Mountain

(Charisse) On our way out to Cali on Tuesday, we saw something odd in the middle of nowhere, Nevada. A shrine, an artist’s expression, a bunch of random things held together by concrete…we had no idea what it was. We passed by it on I-80 before we had a chance to figure it out, wrote down the mile marker, and told ourselves we’d stop and figure it out the next time we went by. And today was that day.

Thunder Mountain Indian Monument

We found a frontage road right off the interstate and parked the truck, walking into this fenced area that held the most random collection of rusty and old stuff we’d ever seen. Some of it was held together with concrete, and some of it was thoughtfully leaned or placed or hung. A lot of glass bottles and old windshields were used in the walls. There’s a cool (but kinda sad) story about this place, and you can read about it here.

Apparently, everything on this property was found within a 50-mile radius between 1968 and present day. Some of it was cool, and some of it was downright creepy.

Worth the stop, for sure. So if you’re ever driving through the middle of nowhere in Nevada, it’s a must-see.

And just for fun, here’s a tumbleweed rolling down the road.

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Vanlife Build: We’re gonna live in a van down by the river!!

No, no we’re not, lol. But we have decided to upfit a cargo van for short (less than a week) excursions. I’ll be detailing the build as I go along.

But first, what is “Vanlife”? For some, it’s just downsized RV’ing. A slightly smaller and more maneuverable vehicle for going on vacation. For others, the extremely high cost of renting/owning a residence in big cities has pushed them into this alternative. But for many, it is the idea of being nomadic and free that is the main appeal. It represents adventure, travel, minimalism. Many of them have figured out ways to make their income mobile. They really are living in a van. There are literally thousands of blogs detailing peoples lives on the road. To me, these people are certainly living the best version of their life.

We fall into the downsized RV category, at least for now. The idea of having a mobile place to eat, cook, sleep, and carry our bikes/kayaks/assorted outdoor stuff was incredibly appealing to us. We see them all over the place, especially in the Southwest: upfitted VW’s, Sprinters and cargo vans, ready to go to remote places to mountain bike, climb, or paddle.

So I started looking for our vehicle. We briefly considered the travel trailer/pickup truck option instead. The main appeal there was a real bathroom with shower and a fully outfitted kitchen. Plus, it would already be built and ready to go. The drawbacks were the much higher cost and where to park all this stuff. A decent used pickup is well over $20,000 these days, and the cool trailer we had our eye on was at least that. We could have gone cheaper, but you still need a spot to park the trailer. So we went back to the van idea.

Not that vans are cheap. A new high-roof Sprinter or Ford Transit can easily push past $50,000. And that’s BEFORE you start upfitting. Used ones are difficult to find, and still a little pricey. Standard low-roof cargo vans seemed to be more reasonable and plentiful. We were finding plenty of ten year old Fords and Chevys with around 150,000 miles in the $10-12,000 range. But a lot of them were used by tradesmen, and were pretty hammered and rusty. Plus, these old vans are notoriously thirsty for gas. My search was leading nowhere.

Until I came across an ad for a 2015 Chevy Express long wheelbase, advertised for $6000. Surely that had to be a typo, right?. The pictures presented a very clean, shiny, dent free van. The interior looked nice. I knew that this fairly young van had the more modern 6-speed auto transmission, which would bring the mpg to a more acceptable level. Scrolling down, I finally found the reason: it had an eye popping 390,000 miles on the odometer! How was that even possible?

I called the dealer selling it, and she explained that it had been used by a local courier service to run coast to coast. They were all highway miles, the gentlest kind. This dealer had also performed all the services on it since new. It had new tires, brakes, and a fresh transmission. I looked over all the service records and Carfax, and everything checked out. The test drive confirmed that this was our van. I negotiated down to $5700, and we are now the proud owners of a white creeper van!

Over the next several months, I’ll be detailing the upfit. Our plans include a bed that converts to a table, a small kitchen, and a very rudimentary bathroom. We’ll have a garage in back for the bikes. Up top will be our kayak racks and cargo box. We’re looking at putting some solar panels up there to feed an electrical system for lights and a fridge. I’d like to keep the total budget (including van purchase) under $12,000. Please feel free to ask any questions as we go!

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Bridge of the Gods

(Charisse) Two weeks ago, we were on a run to Tacoma, WA, and had to route through Oregon due to an impassable, snowy Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascades. And boy, did we ever win the jackpot with some awesome views along the Columbia River on our way to Portland. Best part? We stopped in Cascade Locks and got to see the Bridge of the Gods, which spans the Columbia and connects Oregon to Washington. If you’ve seen the movie Wild, it’s the bridge where Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) ended her hike on the PCT.

Emotions bubble up for me anytime we’re anywhere near the PCT or a town we went through while hiking it. Though we hadn’t made it this far in our hike, the trail goes right over this bridge…I couldn’t help but smile thinking of all the thru hikers who had crossed through this gateway to the last state on their journey. 🙂

PS – Today marks one year from the day we started walking from the southern terminus on the US/Mexico border. It feels like yesterday/forever ago…

4/14/19