The decision to take a hiatus from Van life, started much the same as any decision we’ve made to embark on a journey. Without thought, or plans.
Starting Location: MT Hood, OR
Destination: Austin, TX
Temperature: 77 lows – 104 highs
Vessel: Converted 158 WB Sprinter Van
Passengers: Husband, Wife, dog, baby
Night 1 – Medford, OR The Van
Night 2 – Indio, CA Best Western
Night 3/4 – Phoenix, AZ Hilton Tapatio Cliffs
Night 5 – Deming, NM Comfort Inn
Night 6 – Fort Worth, TX Marriott
Night 7 – Destination Austin, TX
PAYING FOR HOTELS
9 months of traveling in the van, and we’ve managed to only pay for 2 nights in a hotel. Once in Ventura, when friends from out of town came to visit and it wasn’t reasonable to accommodate their whole family in the van. The second was in San Diego. After a night of zero sleep, due to the temperature never dropping below 85 and not being able to open the doors, because we were trying to do some stealthy urban camping in a fancy hotel parking lot. So that’s 2 times we threw in the towel, in 9 months of travel, up until this trip. Just thinking about another sweat dripping night was giving us heat flashbacks from San Diego, and we gave in to the luxuries that an air-conditioned room could provide.
The Husband was still working regular weekday hours, and had to make sure he could get reception to keep his electronic leash (computer) in business. We stayed in hotels nearly every night, taking advantage of late-checkout for him to work. I worked on tiring baby out in the pool, so she could konk out for much of the road hours ahead. We’d been so used to meandering our way from place to place, and stopping anywhere that looked fun, neither one of us was looking forward to this grueling trip from Oregon to Texas. In fact, we really did not want to go to Texas at all, but we had left our home to the care of Airbnb and it was requiring some maintenance. Plus, it would be a good place to park the van, and get it more dialed in for winter.
DECIDING TO START DRIVING HOME
The weather had been warm, and we’d been sleeping with the doors open for the last week. Looking out into a forest of tall Oregon trees, the river close enough to hear its rushing babble. So peaceful. Until the morning we all woke up with bug bites. Being so close to nature so often, it’s easy to forget why we all don’t sleep outside all the time. This was a gentle reminder. We slept with the doors shut the following night and did not get bit again.
While everything is much more in order than it ever has been, there is still a good amount of the rearrange shuffle taking place. We had come to reasonable functionality in the van, and had taken a break from the build, but there was still much that needed done. The fan was installed, but never turned on. The sink pumped water in the beginning, but had a suction malfunction that kept it from continuing to work. The kitchen needed doors, and drawers, and many things needed to be secured in place. If we went over rough terrain, there were quite a few things that often went flying. We were still hauling things we had no use for, that we couldn’t quite let go of, like a really sweet new hand-held Dyson vacuum The Husband won at his job.
Looking out the window of the historic Timberline Lodge, we sat in heavy rustic log chairs, eating fluffy Belgian waffles, and taking in the mountain views. Now completely without snow, except for the tip of the mountain. It felt like a different place, still beautiful, but not the snowy wonderland we love it for. The ski runs were covered in dirt and filled with mountain bikers and hikers. We snapped a few photos, the Husband turned to me and said, “well, if we leave later tonight we can miss the Portland traffic.”
And just like that, we were saying goodbye to Oregon, and headed back to Texas for a hiatus from this van life.
STOPPING IN DESOLATE TOWNS
Day 2. On the road again around 5am and straight through 816 miles of unmemorable highway into the hours of 2am. Hot and dusty, we landed in Indio, CA. Baby crying, puppy panting, The Husband’s eyes bloodshot from driving 21 full hours, we could go no further.
There was no way we could sleep in the van tonight.
Walking into a mediocre Best Western, looking particular awful and exhausted, I booked the last room from the night time front desk manager for a highway robbery rate of $99. Grabbing a few things from the van, and wrapping the puppy in a blanket to conceal her existence, we walked up 1 flight of stairs to our room, and passed out. None of us completely aware of the desolate surroundings that would be there to meet us in the morning.
Sipping watery hotel coffee and eating left over vanilla Belgium waffles with fresh strawberries, we were doing a good job of procrastinating the inevitable. Chevy Chase Christmas vacation played on the TV inside our room, while we soaked up life in the cool air conditioning. With the window shade drawn, we could imagine anything outside. Maybe it’s raining, maybe there’s snow, maybe it is Christmas. One crack of the blinds popped that bubble. It was only 9am and already over 100 degrees. A field of dirt with real tumbleweeds was our view, and our big sauna on wheels was waiting. Just looking out the window was making me sweat. It definitely wasn’t getting any cooler, it was time to “prepare the vessel”.
KEEPING BABY COOL ON THE ROAD
One step outside and the hot air hits you smack in the face, like a smothering blanket piping hot from a dryer. Walking just 10 parking spots down from the exit, and already feeling sweat starting to drip from my inner elbows. Tying my hair back off my shoulders, dressing in workout shorts and a bikini top, I take a few calming breaths and prepare to sweat. Puppy will do ok, she’d been in hot spots with us before, but baby needs to be cool and that is where our focus is.
This became the routine.
- Smuggle ice from hotel to van.
- Fill homemade ice chest air conditioner with the ice.
- Fill amp bucket with the ice.
- Wrap ice chest and bucket in blankets for insulation
- Elevate ice chest to baby’s height by stacking on top of portable pottie
- Tie ice chest to nearby cabinet with really cool camp towel
100 DEGREES, HEATER ON
As we depart Indio, I’m scrambling to smush spare pieces of Reflectix in place, to block the high noon sun from streaming its laser beams through the ceiling fan, and sunroof. The Husband even puts a self-made shade over his driver side window to keep the heat off his face. Which is quickly removed whenever we come into areas with more vehicles. We try to move as little as possible to keep from overheating ourselves, but the van feels like a Bikram yoga class, and sweat is dripping from every body part. We can’t decide if it’s cooler with windows down or up, and continually alter between the two. A breeze sounds good, but this breeze is more like a heater. Which is now also blowing through our vents to keep the van from overheating. Everyone/thing is near overheating.
Flashes of the annual family vacation of my childhood start playing in my head. An 82 blue suburban filled with 4 kids and a dog, pulling a heavily stocked trailer up a grade at a creepingly slow rate. Heater on to avoid overheating, as every other car passes and swerves around us. Although those were just 8 hour trips that ended with a jump in a picturesque lake. The trip I’m on now is headed towards AZ, and we haven’t seen water in site for a while.
Baby is up now, so we pit stop at Starbucks to breathe in their AC, stock up on freshly iced beverages, and download a few Little Baby Bum YouTube for baby on the iPad. Then around the corner to gas up, empty the melted ice on the dog to cool her down, and re-ice the AC. Arriving with zero flies but leaving with 20, we’ll be swatting them out the window for the next hour. The day gone, we finally cross into AZ. Right under the 10 highway, an unexpected river flows, clear water, and people are swimming. I turn back to catch a second look, making sure it’s not a mirage. I’m still not sure.
Speed limit is 75 but the van doesn’t do much over 60 without some effort, and semis blare past us as we roll on in our big metal sauna.
A PHOENIX OASIS : THERE MUST BE SOMETHING IN THE WATER
Dipping a wash cloth in the melted ice of our AC unit and patting baby’s forehead, we decide to call it and search for a hotel. Never having stopped in AZ before, I was open for the full painted desert experience. (As long as I could see it from the inside of a nice pool) Point Hilton Tapatio Cliffs fully delivered. 9 (or maybe more) pools, waterfalls and a water slide, all surrounded with views of painted desert hills. The Falls design was inspired by the majestic Havasupai Falls set deep in the heart of the magnificent Grand Canyon.
It may have been the subtle scent of desert sage and lavender, that are planted around the property. It may have been the fact that all the pools whispered sounds of waterfalls, and the water temperatures were like perfect bath water. It could have been the contrast in scenery of coming from 3 straight hot days on the road with a screaming baby. It could have been the warm night air, or the relaxing ambience the clearly streaming music was creating. I’m not sure, but it felt like we had stumbled into a true oasis, and everything about this place was making me happy.
The next morning Baby Fyn and I explored the pools while The Husband clunked away at his computer. We stopped to browse the gift shop, request late check out, and grab a few Starbucks brewed lattes from the lobby, before meandering back to our room. Turning soft nature sounds on my iPhone, I layed her down for a nap. Quietly, I began gather our things to drag back downstairs, and prepare for the road ahead. Passing a sign for a pool, that pointed to a hillside staircase, I opted to take a detour and check it out. All to myself with a fantastic view of the property, I took a dip. Looking out towards The Falls, I noticed the water slide was going and hurried down to take a quick plunge. It was fast and fun! I thought, I’ll just go one more time while I’m here. Wading out to the steps and into the next pool, I noticed another pool just down the way, and thought I’d go test those waters for a minuet. There is something enticingly magical about these waters. No scent of chlorine, my skin was not dry, and my fingers never even got wrinkly. Walking back to a shaded lounge, I started to peruse the poolside menu. Waterfalls crashing around me, light music playing, and the air temp a humid warmth that was make my skin feel amazing. Fully on pina colada time, my mind drifted into a spa like state of relaxation…
…an umbrella drink would be nice right now…maybe a blended something…I wonder what’s in their pina colada mix, if they make it fresh or if it’s from a mix… oh there’s prickly pear in this drink… maybe they can add prickly pear to a pina colada… mmm yeah a prickly pear pina co—
“What are you doing??” It was like the scratch of a record, and instantly jolted me out of this pina colada day dream. The Husband was now standing behind me with our suppose-to-be-napping baby, who had been crying during his conference call. Plunking baby in my lap, he turned around and quickly headed back to the room to his electronic leash. It appears I had lost track of time.
Check out time was upon us, but every part of me wanted to stay here in this desert oasis. I did not want to get back into the rolling sauna. I propositioned the idea to the Husband, and we prolonged the inevitable for 1 more night of painted desert pool side life.
BACK TO REALITY
One last dip in the pool, before moving onto the ice chest AC routine. Ice chest full, ice coffees, to-go burgers from the pool, puppy panting, baby crying, everyone in the van! We were back at it again. Day 5.
The ice is melted and barely blowing cool now. Our phones start popping up error messages, saying they are overheating. This is killing The Husband’s wi-fi signal, which is turning off the connections he’s using to tether that signal to his computer. I’m trying to bring the phones back to life by setting them on the ice bucket, but it’s slowing goings.
ICE WATER BATH TUCSON AIRPORT
A call from family leaves me contemplating a flight back to where we just came from. Looking at a map, we are just about half way in between where we are going, and where we came from. We pull off at the Tucson airport parking lot to check flights. Cactus everywhere, but practically no cars or people. The inside equally deserted, with a few scattered employees casually chatting behind the counters. Strange to see an airport so empty. It feels odd, like maybe I shouldn’t be here. Flights are reasonable but in the end, decide to continue the mission we are on, and head back to the Van.
Puppy is soaking wet from a second ice water bath, and baby is happily helping herself to juicy fruit on the van floor. It’s miserably hot and I didn’t even take a second thought when The Husband dares me to pour the rest of the melted ice on my head. It actually sounds like a good idea. More freezing than I anticipated but, the cold numbness where’s off almost immediately in this hot air.
This nonsense of sweaty misery continues. Hungry now, and nothing around, we pull into a rest stop in San Simon AZ to grill up a few steaks from our fridge. The weather is cooling and we spread out for the moment. Puppy happily barks at a tree, while The Husband secretly lights our mini grill behind the fence. I notice the 6-gallon jugs of drinking water we’ve been hauling, are now very warm, and decide Baby would probably like a bath. Into the camp bucket she goes! We’re never getting out of Arizona.
Deming New Mexico. As good as any I suppose. We stop at a comfort Inn for the night. With only a $10 pet fee, we let Puppy be legit for once and she happily sprawls out in her new surroundings. Waking up to find wet pavement from a rain, I was ecstatic we might get some reasonable temperatures. No such luck, it quickly heated up again just as we dragged ourselves back to the van. Puppy almost refusing to go, manned her spot on the bed nearest the AC.
THE FINAL HAUL
With another 700 miles now behind us, we pull into a bug jumping parking lot in Fort Worth. The hotel was nice, but crickets were everywhere and seemed to be planning a complete take over at any moment. Even the pool was a little questionable for swimming.
Ice chest filled, everybody in, it’s Friday (again). Veering off course slightly to follow signs for Texas BBQ, only to find they were sold out of food. Typical Texas BBQ. Seems to be the new marketing ploy. So good, we sold out.
As evening set in, we made the final haul down empty country roads until the scenery became all too familiar. Pulling into our past life suburban neighborhood, and onto the flat pavement of our driveway, The Husband turned off the engine.
We were finally here.
Sliding open the van door, I grabbed us a few beers and stepped out barefoot on flat, clean concrete. Feeling very content with this parking spot, as if we just setting up camp. Puppy barking at the tree, she remembered, and was on the search for squirrels. Baby, very happy to be out of her seat, watched the puppy. I flicked the lights on in the van and we sipped beer, lingering in the driveway. The van now feeling like home, and this place, yet just another spot we’ll visit for a while. Neither of us felt a need to go inside right away.
As this will only be a hiatus from Van life… and we will be counting the days until we return to the scenic route again.