Van Life

van, motorcycle and hammock next to a river with red sky behind

The Great Outdoors In Comfort

Living in a van used to be a label for people who failed in life, upscale homeless. Not any more! Masses have discovered that traveling can be cheaper than sitting at home. Why pay mortgage, insurance, house maintenance and other costs of home ownership? Those are financial burdens that are mostly a pure waste, money down the drain. One can explore the world for a fraction of the cost of renting or owning a home. Many people, especially in times of Covid, found ways to work from their homes on wheels as well.

The idea of home on wheels has been around for a long time, RVs and motorhomes are nothing new. Those behemoths are for people not willing to give up any of their comforts. But for that, they sacrifice their mobility. They are limited in terms of roads they can take and places they can reach. Worst of all, they usually overnight in crowded RV parks, next to dozens of other RVs, listening to screaming kids and generators and breathing in smoke from neighbors' campfire.

For one or two people, a van can provide enough living space and comfort. People who can handle a minimalistic lifestyle, get rewarded with something much bigger - the great outdoors.

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The Most Memorable Places

black and white photo of a twisty road against sun

The call of an open road.

In terms of sheer beauty and opportunities for recreation, US west is hard to beat. These are some of the most memorable places I've visited with the van:

Colorado Rockies

While Colorado Rockies are beautiful no matter where one goes, for me, San Juan mountains are the crown jewel of the Rockies. The cute town of Ouray is the adventure central of the area - hiking and motorsports in the summer and ice climbing in winter. Nearby, well-preserved, old mining town of Silverton offers a glimpse into days long gone and is connected by an old steam engine train with Durango.

view of a paved road snaking into distance

Million Dollar Highway from Ouray to Durango in the autumn.

view of a road zig-zagging up a moutain

View of Black Bear pass descending down into Telluride in early summer.

van parked next to a frozen lake with snow covered mountains behind

Even in June, high alpine lakes of Colorado are frozen. Some people put heaters in their vans and enjoy sub-zero temperatures. Not me, I prefer hot weather.

sunset glow on snow covered mountains

Sunset atop the Loveland pass.

person sitting next to a van and fire

Propane powered portable fireplace is perfect for chilly evenings.

van with awning extended parked next to a river

Many places are crowded, but it's still possible to find a secluded scenic spot - alone next to San Miguel river in San Juan Mountains.

Colorado Plateau

sunrise over desert cliffs

This is where people go to experience America's Southwest and see the most iconic vistas. Colorado Plateau occupies chunks of four states - Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, centered roughly at the Four Corners.

Some of the places not to miss on the Grand Circle are listed below, but this area has so much more to offer.

Utah's "Big Five" are obviously the main attraction here and they draw huge crowds. Despite the vicious crowds, these parks are a must. Luckily, there are many more places to be enjoyed. For more inspiration check out Utah's official site .

van on a road with red rocks behind

Only a few hours drive from the frozen lakes of Colorado, in the desert of Utah, it's warm and pleasant. Solar panels and house batteries provide enough of power for fridge, espresso machine, pressure cooker and gadgets.

van and person next to it on a narrow dirt road hugging edge of a canyon

High clearance and 4-wheel drive can help getting to some scenic places.

van and bike with a canyon behind

Camping and riding the canyon country, Utah

van parked on a road with red mountains glowing in setting sun's light

It is not possible to drive on the dead-end road inside the Zion Canyon any more. But the drive on the through road is spectacular enough.

canyon cliffs illuminated by morning sun with dark clouds behind

Morning clouds over the Zion as I am driving out of the park.

a person in water below a cascade

Chilling in Virgin river in Zion NP.

a river flowing through a narrow red, canyon

Blissfully peaceful Narrows, after all the crowds are gone.

a person standing in shallow river going through a red-wall canyon

Slowly making my way back to the camp.

people, like ants, milling through a canyon

Vicious crowds just an hour earlier.

selfie in a narrow canhyong with water flowing through it

Luckily, solitude can still be enjoyed in many canyons.

water holes in a narrow canyon

Some of the pools are deep, requiring swimming in frigid water.

a hiker with legs in a emerald green pool inside a canyon

The famous Subway.

sandstone layers in early morning light

Millions of years of mother nature's sculpting at display.

setting sun peaking under clouds over grand canyon

Sun peeked below the clearing storm clouds just before setting over Grand Canyon.

a person resting in a hammock strung between a tree and a van

Chilling in Grand Canyon during mid-day heat.

a mesa and clouds above reflecting last rays of sun

Another beautiful sunset in Grand Canyon, but from the much less crowded North Rim.

a hiker at the edge of the Grand Canyon

Easy hiking along the southern rim of Grand Canyon.

Northwest Pacific

A trail winding among giant trees

California Redwoods in a typical morning fog.

US Northwest is incredibly beautiful, one can find deserts, glacier covered peaks, rainforests and endless beaches. However, for someone who abhors rain, it can be a tricky destination. Last time I rode to the NW, I was chased by a major storm for 1500 miles, all the way to southern Utah.

a person touching a giant tree

Admiring giants in Del Norte State Park.

Van driving on a dirt road through towering redwoods

Exploring Prairie Creek State Park.

I started driving along the Pacific coast in Ft Bragg, While the temperatures inland were over 100 F, by the coast, it was outright cold, even in the sun. Things did not improve when I crossed into Oregon. But then an unusual "heat wave" came through the NW. While most locals were trying to survive 100 degree days, I could finally enjoy Oregon's beaches.

two people walking on a beach with fog off the coast

Tranquil beach in Oregon.

a tree stump on a vide stretch of beach

I could not figure out if this stump just "landed" or was it a stump of the tree that actually grew right at the beach.

van parked with sweeping beach behind

Oregon beach, beautiful but cold.

Washington

Washington's Olympic peninsula is a home of America's only temperate rainforest. A famous hike along the Hoh river has been on my bucket list for years, I finally got to do it with a friend. We hiked 18 miles along the river, all the way to the lateral moraine of the glacier on Mt Olympus.

a hiker standing next to a big tree

On the hike along Hoh river.

water seeping down moss-covered rocks

No problems finding drinking water on Hoh trail.

various plants grwoing out of a dead tree

Every dead tree is home to numerous new plants.

a hiker standing amoung giant trees covered in moss

Hoh trail winds through a moss covered forest most of the way.

a hiker between two parts of a cut log

Fern, moss and lichen.

a person sitting on a branch of a large tree

A moss covered tree near Lake Crescent.

a person swimming in blue-green lake

Going for a dip in crystal clear waters of Lake Crescent, the largest lake on the peninsula.

Beaches of the Olympic peninsula are also a big attraction and home to a few famous hikes. Unfortunately, because of Covid, many beaches were not accessible.

driftwood piled up on an empty beach

Driftwood strewn beaches of the Olympic peninsula.

beach ro cks stacked on a large log

Rock stacks on the famous Ruby beach.

Mt Rainier is only half a day drive from the Olympic Peninsula. I did a few day hikes there as a preparation for the longer hike along PCT in the Cascades.

a person diving into a deep blue lake

Couldn't resist the crystal clear water of the Crescent Lake.

van and Mt Rainier behind

At Mt Rainier.

view of Mt Raininer through a snow cave

Snow cave along the skyline trail on Mt Rainier.

view of Mt Raininer with a cascading river in front

Creeks are cranking, carrying glacial melt from Mt Rainier.

a person in a hammock with Mt Rainier behind

Chilling at Sunrise point of Mt. Rainier.

Hiking a Section of the Pacific Crest Trail

Pacific Crest Trail goes over 2000 miles from Canadian to Mexican border, passing through some of the most stunning scenery. I did just one section, 74 miles long (according to a sign). My friend and I were dropped off at Stevens pass off US highway 2 and hiked south to Snoqualmie pass on I-90. There were a few hairy river crossings, quite a bit of elevation change, but the biggest challenge, by far, were the mosquitoes. We were bitten everywhere and all the time. Later on, a local lady told us that July is the worst time to hike as far as mosquitoes are concerned.

posing in front of a waterfall

A waterfall along PCT.

tent at moonrise with Mt Rainier behind

Moonrise over Mt Rainier.

a hiker with many fallen trees in front of him

The trail is littered with fallen trees. Because it's a wilderness area, chainsaws are not allowed, so the crews cut and clear fallen trees like it was done 200 years ago. Doesn't seem like the best use of tax dollars.

a hiker walking into fog-engulfed forest

Foggy mornings give that true feeling of being in the Northwest.

a hiker high above an alpine lake

Just one of many pristine alpine lakes along the trail.

a lake at the base of snowy mountains

A lake in North Cascades NP.

a van parked next to fire ring in a dense forest

My campsite at Mt Baker.

a van parked on a road through thick forest

Road into the North Cascades NP.

After the hike, my friend and I decided to explore the eastern side of the Cascade mountains. I also wanted to ride some famous single track motorcycle trails near Cle Elum. So we setup a camp by the Cle Elum lake.

a van and a person in a hammock next to a lake

Camping at the edge of the Cle Elum lake.

a person swimming in a creek

Cooling off in a creek.

Wanatchee National Forest has many great motorcycl trails to ride. Some are fairly easy, but most were at the limit of my abilities. After a few days of excellent riding, I ended up on a trail littered with fallen logs. It turned to be a much bigger adventure than I had planned for.

Idaho

Idaho, the potatoes state, as proudly shown on state license plates, was off my radar for years. What a shame as it is my favorite state now. There are no national parks, or any breathtaking sights, but lots of beautiful forests, canyons, rivers, lakes and, the best of all, lack of crowds.

Passing through one village in Idaho, I saw a sign "Redneck Home." Rednecks they may be, but boy, do they know how to make beautiful campsites! One campsite is more beautiful than the other, one gets spoiled with choices. There are many pit toilets in national forests and they are cleaner than anywhere else I've been. Thumbs up for rednecks and how they take care of our public lands.

A stark counterexample comes to my mind from California's Big Sur where a section of the national forest has been closed off due to wide-spread public defecation. So much for "progressive, tree-hugging Californians."

van, motorcycle and hammock next to a river with red sky behind

Sipping morning coffee while listening to the gushing river in Idaho.

old cars and trucks lined up

Old cars and trucks along a highway in Idaho.

a person in a hammock next to a lake

One of the most memorable spots - Upper Payette Lake.

a person sitting under a giant tree working on a laptop

Working on my project in Idaho mountains.

Wyoming and Montana - The Cowboy Country

A van parked on road with mountains behind

The Grand Tetons.

a person standing on a footbridge over a gushing creek

Solitude lake trail follows a gushing creek.

a person sitting next to a cascading waterfall

A waterfall just below Lake Solitude.

A person walking on a trail

The trail passes Wigwams (that is the name of the peak).

As beautiful as Grand Tetons are, crowds simply spoil the experience. I ended up in Wind River Range in search of solitude. I was not alone, but compared to Grand Tetons, it felt as if I was the only person there.

A person sitting next to a fire ring with wine glass

Happy to be away from the crowds.

A river meandering through a green valley

We hiked along a wide valley following the Green River.

A lake and mountains behind

One of two big lakes that the Green River flows through. No wonder the area is called Green River Lakes.

A van with sand dunes behind it

Chilling at Killpecker sand dunes, ( yes, it's a real name!)

a van parked on a pull-out of a road climbing up a mountain slope

Going to the Sun road, Glacier NP.

a van parked with cascading waterfall behind

Waterfalls in Glacier NP are cranking in July. Many trails are still blocked by snow.

Canadian Rockies

a blue lake surrounded by jagged peaks

Moraine Lake has become a major hassle to get to. I had to wake up at 2 am to drive in before they start controlling the traffic in.

The most spectacular part of the Rockies is in Canada, roughly from town of Canmore up to Jasper. I used to go there twice a year, once in winter for ice climbing and once in summer.

It's been a while since I visited this part of the world. Crowds have gotten so bad that at several places, I simply turned back. This, unfortunately, soured the memory of this trip. Several days of incessant rains did not help the experience.

a selfie with rock monolith behind

I hiked up to Bugaboo spires.

a hammock strung next to a waterfall

Lovely spot to relax to the thundering sound of a waterfall.

view of mountains and clouds above them

Castle Mountain from Icefields Parkway.

van and tall waterfall behind

Takakkaw Falls, the second highest in Canada.

rock spire surrounded by a glacier

Bugaboo provincial park.

a trail snaking down mountain ridge

Trail to Cobalt Lake.

a person high above a lake with snowy mountains behind

Cobalt Lake.

Van Cuisine

grilled veggeis and two steaks on a plate

Grilling is the easiest way of preparing food.

Simple, healthy and delicious meals can be easily prepared. Grilling is easiest, but with a pressure cooker/steamer, one can prepare almost any kind of meal.

bacon, steak and veggies on a grill

Going Keto.

a plate of grilled veggetables, shrimp and sauce on the side

Easy to prepare, healthy and tasty.

sausagges, salad and sauces on a plate

Fresh spinach leaves and sauces add variety.

bacon, steak and veggies on a grill

Sauerkraut is supposedly beneficial for the gut microbiota.

Van Modifications

With a help of a friend, his garage, tools and wood it took me 5-6 weeks to make interior of the van comfortable for full-time living.

inside of an empty shell van

1. Insulate walls and roof.

view of inside of a van with lifting bed installed

2. Install lifting bed.

boxes and drawers inside a van

3. Install shelves and drawers.

two batteries, wiring and converters attached to the van wall

4. Install batteries, inverter, solar charger controller and fuses.

wooden benches inside a van

5. Install wooden benches with storage underneath.

wooden banches covered with carpeting

6. Cover wooden surfaces with carpeting.

inside of a van with bed lowered

Bed lowered for sleeping.

inside of a van with bed raised to the ceiling

Bed raised for day use.

view of forward section of the van with working surfaces and espresso 
        machine

Forward section for food preparation/storage.