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The Gorge --> Utah (recounted 6 months later)

Here I am sitting in Maine, with it dumping snow outside (finally, thanks to El Niño), with my knee braced due to tearing multiple ligaments last week. I find myself daydreaming and recounting our summertime van adventure to a friend at breakfast. Upon showing the friend this blog, I realized that I am disappointed in myself for not posting the last leg of our trip. The entire trip was such a whirlwind but especially on the last part of it. I found myself forgetting to journal and post. So here, six months later, I am going to attempt to close my eyes, click the rewind button, and relive the sunny, happy, adventure filled days in Rocky. 

End of July ... (Unclear of the exact dates...)

Disappointed by the extended wind forecast at Floras Lake, we packed up Rocky, said goodbye to our campsite, and hit the road to head northeast towards Hood River. Thanks to the recommendation of our new friend back in Santa Cruz, we decided to stop at Blackrock on our way to do some biking. Scrolling through the directions on the Blackrock Mountain Bike Association website, while looking out the window at the desolate, small town we were pulling in to, we hoped we were in the right spot. We turned down a very bumpy dirt road and found ourselves arriving at a kids summer camp entrance. "Are you sure this is it?" Luke asked, "I guess we are going to find out!" We pulled on our bike shorts, unloaded the bikes, and started making our way up the wide dirt road, following signs for Blackrock. Winding our way back and forth on the road, we were completely alone in the bike park until we made our way around a bend and found ourselves alongside some big guns. A large camp was set up with cameramen, bikers, and videographers drinking coffee (of course, we are in Oregon) and discussing their next shots. Winding through the trees was an intricate system of cables set up for a glide cam to catch all of the action. At this point I asked Luke, "are you sure I'm not in over my head?". We finally got to the top and saw a sign for the Bonzi DH tack, where four guys, on bikes with massive suspension were getting ready to film a segment. I on the other hand opted for the green track, the easiest (so they say). Hmm, you could say it was easiest for the bike park, but by no means for a beginner (like me). There were massive features of jumps, ramps, and road gaps. As Luke went flying down the track, I made my way down a little more slowly, luckily finding tracks that went around the jumps. We finally got to the bottom and cooked up a quick dinner in the parking before hitting the road again. 

After sleeping on the side of the road in a small dirt parking lot, we chased the wind and made our way towards Hood River. Unlike anywhere else on the trip, both Luke and I had spent some time in Hood River so it was a nice, familiar feeling when we arrived at the Gorge. The Columbia River Gorge separates Oregon on one side of the river, from Washington on the other side. As the river currents pull in one direction, the winds pushes in the opposite direction, creating a kiters paradise. Luke eagerly hopped out on his board at the event site while I watched and took pictures. Not fully confident with my kiting abilities, I was excited to get out on the water again - in a much calmer, less intimidation location than the event site. Luke knew of a place on the Columbia where a sandbar juts out into the river, creating a perfect, shallow area to learn. Out next four days were spent in Lyle, Washington out on the water, with Luke and I taking turns on the kite. Finally after being dragged around, crashing, a water self-rescue, some tears, and immense help from Luke, I was up and riding! Boy did it feel amazing to bumping and gliding over the water, working my way back and forth across the river. I was finally doing it! By far the longest learning curve in a sport I have tried, but it was definitely worth it. We had found an awesome little parking lot at the bottom of a trail head only 5 minutes down the road from the kiting spot where we spent our nights. Cooking up yummy dinners, playing cards, drinking some local Full Sail beers, and eating a tub of cookie dough was the perfect way to end days consisting of 6 hours on the water.

After a few amazing days in Hood River and Lyle of learning how to kite, eating delicious food, and exploring the rolling lush hills of Oregon, we once again were met by a disappointing wind forecast. So from there, we headed towards the mountains, or I guess you could say volcanoes… For the four years prior, I have spent my summers training up on Mt Hood, living in Government Camp and decided to give Luke a little tour. I had never been in the area so late in the season, and rather than being a snowcapped “volcano” covered in skiers and snowboarders, we were met by a brown, dry looking slope with a few remnants of the previous winter. Although the mountain didn’t necessarily match the images I had been describing to Luke on our way up, the ruggedness and grander of Mt Hood was fun to see. Leaving the mountain, we made our way down to Trillium Lake and spend the day laying in our hammock, soaking up the sun, and deciding our plans. 

With original intentions of making our way all the way up to Vancouver, over to Banff, and then back down towards Utah, our time was running out. Earlier on in the trip we had made the decision to stop following our original schedule we had set. Throughout the trip when we found ourselves in a place we were really enjoying, we stayed… we stayed until the winds, the weather, or our curiosity pushed us onto the next stop. With our summer quickly coming to an end, we made the decision to start making our way towards Montana to visit Luke’s family, and then continue south back to Utah. Although we were sad to see our days adventuring the west coast, and our nights spent in Rocky coming to a close, we were excited to spend some time with our families, and put away Rocky until our next wild adventure. 

A bit of a downsize... trying to fit all of our toys

After a month consisting of crazy van construction, buzzing down desolate highways, winding through tiny California streets, hours of time spent out on the water, lazy mornings making eggs and drinking coffee, nights under the stars talking and eating yummy dinners — our (first) wild van adventure came to an end with plans of revving Rocky’s engine up and hitting the open road as soon as possible. 

 

After our last night in Rocky I asked Luke to give a little van tour while he was still half asleep, so here it is! 

 

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Flying Kites, Down Jackets, & Ice Cream for Breakfast

Since starting our road trip, we have been on the move, trying to bang out all of our pre-planned stops. Long days spent on the road, sitting on our heinies. Although we were getting to see some incredible things and having a great time playing car games together, we realized that we were not getting to really explore, experience, and enjoy all of our stops. Thus, we decided we would scrap our prearranged plan and basically stay at a spot until we were eager to get back on the road and see somewhere new. With this new plan set into motion, Floras Lake was our first destination where we spent more than one night; it was pretty great. 

Other than Yosemite, we had not paid for any campsite or campground along the route until Floras. This has allowed us to camp in really remote, private areas for no money at all. However, the campground at Floras is situated directly on the lake, a few steps away from the beach where we would spend the next few days kiting. The tiny campground had a very cool community feel, seeing as almost all of the campers and tents there were occupied by other windsurfers and kiters in search of steady wind and stoked to be there. Luke and I lucked out with a campsite looking over the lake. At the edge of the far side of the lake was a narrow dune, separating the ocean's edge from the lake. Water galore! With plans to spend a few days at Floras, we were able to unpack, set up camp, and really enjoy windy Oregon. 

 

When packing for the trip, I was thinking “it’s summer, I only really need a pair of flip flops and some shorts.” In the end I threw in my down jacket and some fuzzy slippers. Arriving at Floras I was very happy with my packing decision. Situated under shady trees, cool air being blown off the ocean, and wind around 15 mph made for chilly mornings, days, and nights. I have never spent so much time in a down jacket on a beach… Although the wind was chilly, we couldn't have been happier to be in a spot allowing us to break out the kites. 

At Floras, the wind did not start to pick up until mid day/ afternoon, so our mornings were spent sleeping in, making yummy breakfasts, and playing cards. One morning we drove into Bandon to do our first load of laundry on the trip, yay to clean clothes! In order to kill time when the clothes were in the dryer, we stopped by Face Rock Creamery. Boy or boy were we in heaven. Endless cheese samples of various flavors made directly behind the glass windows adjacent to the tasting cases. We made our way around the store happily trying every type of cheese, enjoying looking at the high end crackers, jams, spreads, etc. around the store, and then we made it to the ice cream case… Oh my the ice cream! Despite the fact that it was 10am, and we had not yet eaten breakfast, we caved and got an ice cream, half java chip, half salted peanut caramel. Only $2 for a kiddie (**kiddies there are close to 4 scoops!) That was a great morning. Ice cream for breakfast! No parents, no rules, right? ;) 

Our afternoons at Floras we made up of Luke crushing it out on the water, and then him teaching me how to kite. I began by standing in the waist-deep lake, learning to fly the kite. Luke tried to anchor me down while the kite twisted and turned, flew and dove, dragging me through the water. After about an hour, I started to get a hang of body-dragging and flying kite. My second day trying to learn, we unfortunately had to practice a self rescue in the water. My kite had crashed down in front of me, making it hard to relaunch with the wind at my back. I was struggling to relaunch the kite as it was pulling me into the deep water section of the lake. After about a minute of franticly trying to get the kite into the air, Luke yelled “pull the release.” The rest of the afternoon was spent winding the lines in the water, taco-ing the kite to pull us back to shore, then tediously untangling all of the lines. An unfortunate event; however, the worst was behind me. By my third day on the water, I was able to get up on the board and make a few short passes across the lake. Thanks to Luke’s phenomenal teaching, I was learning how to kite!

Our fourth morning at Floras, we were set to wake up early and get out on the lake before anyone else, despite our high hopes to be kiting, the wind had died and looked like it wouldn’t be picking up for a few more days. Onto the next spot! Rocky was loaded up, and we were destined for the famous Hood River where the wind forecast looked promising. 



  

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Big Trees & Big Wind

Redwoods making Rocky look tiny

Onwards and upwards, we were destined for Oregon or as far north in California as we could get that night. Looking at a map of the area, I jokingly said to Luke, “let’s go to Trinidad!” Little did we know, that is where we would end up, and it would be absolutely gorgeous. My cousin Emilie spent a few years living in northern California so I texted her that night in hopes of getting some suggestions of places to visit. She told us that the beach in Trinidad is one of her favorite places in the whole world (that is saying a lot having come from someone who has traveled throughout the US, Europe, and backpacked through Patagonia), so I knew we had to go!

College Cove in Trinidad 

Luke and I again found a nice little turn off to park Rocky for the night. Waking up in the morning, we had ironically parked right next to the small dirt road leading down to Emilie’s favorite beach in Trinidad, College Cove. We pulled in, made some scrambled eggs and coffee for breakfast, then made our way down the water. The walk down was beautiful, winding through old growth, mossy forests, over a small bridge, then down a very steep rooted path to the beach. The dark gray sand was a stark contrast against the thick fog hanging over the water, making it look as though we had stepped into a black-and-white painting. Despite the thick fog, the beach was amazing, a small cove, speckled with steep outcroppings emerging from the ocean. Although the sun wasn’t out, we absolutely loved College Cove and have high hopes of returning to enjoy the sunshine on the beach, and sunset from a higher outlook on the cliffs.

Walk to College Cove

Winding our way through northern California, we were able to see spectacular beaches, but also the iconic, enormous, redwood trees. We pulled off an exit to enter into a portion of the redwood forest, and we were taken aback by their width and size. Rocky, a big van, looked miniature in comparison to the hundred year old trees she was parked beneath. Although the sign screamed tourist, we couldn't resist ourselves from the “Tour Thru Tree”. We payed $5, drove 100 yards up a windy, steep hill, and got to the 725 year old, still living, drive through tree. We pulled Rocky up, and easily drove her right through… wink, wink… Without our box on the roof, we would have been able to successfully pull through, but squeezing the nose of the van into the tree for a sweet picture, before backing out, was enough for us. 

Squeezing Rocky into a Redwood

Just as we pulled over the border into Oregon, it seemed that the wind instantaneously picked up. As we were making our way along the coast, we saw a super windy beach with a windsurfer whipping around on the water, so we pulled off to scope out the kiting scene. Another kiteboarder came walking up from the beach and told us that we were at an iconic windsurfing spot at the mouth of the Pistol River. The man then gave us an analogy that he thought would make sense to us Colorado people, “kiteboarding at Hood River is like skiing with a chairlift, which can be a lot of fun, but here, it’s like heli skiing”. With that skiing analogy, Luke couldn’t resist, and grabbed his kiting gear.

Luke stoked to be heading out kiteboarding at the mouth of the Pistol River

The wind was blowing in the upper 20’s, and there was huge swell. Just as Luke finished pumping up his kite, the fellow kiter came walking back up the beach with his kite balled up in his arms. The kite had crashed, and the waves had completely split his kite in half. Luke went out for a few minutes on the water, but soon realized that he was not wanting to ruin a brand new kite his first day on the water this season. So we packed back into Rocky, and drove towards Floras Lake where we knew the wind would be great, and a good spot for me to learn to kite. With hopes of getting out on the water, we eagerly pushed north and pulled into Floras just in time for Luke to have a sunset session without anyone else on the lake. 

Kiting at Floras Lake

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Rocky Takes San Fran

After a phenomenal night on the California coast, we continued north towards the bay area. A good friend from school lives in Palo Alto, so Luke and I stopped there to spend the afternoon catching up with Julia, relaxing in her pool, and very happily taking our first shower of the road trip. You could say I was pretty excited for that. We didn’t spend a lot of time exploring the Palo Alto area which is too bad because supposedly there are robot employees at a lot of the shops in the area. Leave it to the innovators of Silicon Valley. 

Freshly showered and clean, we climbed back into Rocky and plugged San Francisco into maps. As we soon hit Friday night traffic going into the city, Luke and I had to figure out whether or not we wanted to really go into the city, or just pass through. I was excited to check out the amazing food and restaurant scene; however, the sun was setting and we figured it would be nicer to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset and be able to see its beauty and enormity in the light. 

GG Bridge!

From the bridge onwards, we made our way up the winding narrow roads towards Mill Valley and found a small turnoff near the Muir Woods for the night. One of the nicest and most convenient aspects of living in a van is that when the sun sets, and our eyes become heavy, we can park Rocky on the side of the road, in the woods, or in an abandoned parking lot for the night (don’t worry mom, they are all very safe places)! 

The next morning, Luke, Rocky, and I made our way back towards the coast and eventually hit Point Reyes National Seashore. Right as we made it to the trailhead of an area we wanted to explore, it began to pour rain! California was actually getting some precipitation! Unfortunate for the drought ridden state, but fortunate for our plans to run, the rain soon let up, leaving a very humid, hot day. We then went for a nice run, bringing us to beach where we dove in and relaxed for part of the day. 

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Parking Lots to Ocean Sunsets

Rocky crushing the winding PCH roads

Upon arriving in Santa Cruz, we treated ourselves to a dinner out at a delicious Indian restaurant. Indian is one type of cuisine that neither of us feel like we have mastered the homemade version…. hopefully we can do some experimenting on this trip. We were having an amazing day and night thus far, but quickly came to realize the city’s lack of desire for any overnight camping. We drove up and down the coast for two hours looking for a spot without a big metal sign reading “no parking midnight - 6 am”. As our expectation of an epic camp site diminished, we did some google researching and found that a few parking lots at UC Santa Cruz allowed overnight parking. Finally at 11:00 we pulled into lot 106, set up our bed, and crashed for the night. Neither Luke or I love being in the city or highly populated places, so one might say we were not crazy stoked on Santa Cruz falling asleep that night; however, the area redeemed itself the next day. 

 

The Butterfly Effect. Such an accurate and interesting concept once your break down occurrences that happen in your life. The definition on urban dictionary (very intellectual source I know…) states that the butterfly effect is a “scientific theory that a single occurrence, no matter how small, can change the course of the universe forever.” Although the events throughout the day may not be as significant as “changing the course of the universe forever”…. we did luck out based on the people we met in the area. 

Gorgeous flowers at the UCSC Organic Farm Stand

 

Luke woke up in pain due to whiplash he got over the 4th, so while I sat at a coffee shop and worked on this blog, he went to see a local chiropractor. As it turned out, the chiropractor was also a kite boarder and told Luke about a very cool beach north of Santa Cruz to check out. Although we did not get on the road to head north as early as we would have liked, every minute spent diving back and forth, running errands in Santa Cruz ended up working in our favor. 

Caldwell Beach

Caldwell Beach

 

We drove north up the coast until we hit Caldwell beach, the place Luke’s chiropractor had told us about. Just as we stepped out of Rocky, a young couple came up to us, introduced themselves, Mike and Sarah, and asked us about the van. It was only a few minutes until we realized they grew up in a town an hour from where I live now, and we have mutual friends. The world is so dang small! We are so grateful they came up to talk to us because not only did we get some suggestions for awesome places to bike once we hit Oregon, but they told us about a place to camp which has by far been our favorite spot thus far. Mike told us “there is a sweet spot up the road, it is blocked by a chain going across the road, but just pick up the chain, drive in, and put the chain back on.” Once we found the spot, boy were we stoked. Hidden from the road behind a large hill, we were sitting atop a huge grassy plateau, with cliffs around the edge dropping strait down to the rocky coastline. We were in our own private Cali coast oasis. Our night was spent making homemade tabouleh, playing cards, and enjoying the sunset from our rooftop deck. We couldn’t have been happier. 

Rooftop Sunset


So, thanks to Luke’s whiplash, our never-ending Santa Cruz errands, and making new friends, we enjoyed our best night in the trip on a cliffside lookout. 

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Big Sur Craziness

Leaving from Yosemite, Big Sur was our destination. Having left in the afternoon, we reached the California coast as the sun was going down. It was unfortunate to know that our views would have been spectacular along the PCH if it was not dark out. Fortunately, we were planning on driving back north the next day and excited to see the picturesque steep cliffs diving into the ocean. Being on the California coast it only seemed fitting to sleep on the side of the road in our van and wake up to a completely new view. From the mountains of Yosemite, to the Pacific coast! 

Waking up, not only did we find ourselves with an incredible shot of the ocean from our side windows, but laughed when we looked out the back window and saw a tour bus along with 6 other cars parked with people wandering around taking pictures. I guess we chose a popular pull off! It would be funny to see how many Big Sur visitor’s pictures our Rocky made it into! We followed the coast further south towards Julia Pfeiffer State Park in hopes of meeting up with my sister (sin cell phone service). Luckily Rocky is not only strikingly beautiful, but also quite distinguishable. As we were making coffee and breakfast next to the park, we heard a ton of honking, and wouldn't you know, they found us! Having met up with my sister and her best friend Macy, we walked down Mcway Waterfall Trail which was stunning. The afternoon was spent relaxing, playing frisbee, and climbing an outcroping to see some dolphins in the distance. We then departed Big Sur to continue making our way north towards Santa Cruz in hopes of finding some mountain biking for the following morning. 

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Yosemite Adventuring

Coming in from Nevada, we arrived on the east side of Yosemite which ended up being a blessing. We had read suggestions noting to make campsite reservations 5 months in advance… whoops, we sure hadn't done that so we knew we were going to have to luck out in a first-come, first-serve campground. We happened to stop into the info center at the first campsite and scored an awesome site because someone had canceled their reservation minutes before. Just before sunset we climbed/ scrambled up what was called Lembert Dome to be greeted by incredible views. That night was a little different than the previous due to being surrounded by tons of other campers and tents; however, it wasn’t any less epic. Although it was slightly out of our way in trying to exit on the west side of the park, we were told that we could not miss Yosemite Valley. We expected to find crowds, and we certainly did but it was well worth it. We hiked/ ran the Mist trail and made it to Nevada Falls at the top. A cold jump into the natural reservoir at the top of the falls and some butt sliding down the smooth rocks into the pool cooled us right down. After a quick run down to the car, we again got back onto the road in order to make our ways towards the California coast. 

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Rocky's First Day On The Road

After a full day of working on the van, on top of moving Luke out of his existing house, we hit the road at about 2:30. We stopped to do a big grocery stop but quickly found out that much of our ice had melted and created a pool of soggy pasta boxes and waterlogged food containers. After a little big of draining and readjustments we were finally able to really start making progress westward. Our first planned stop on the trip was Yosemite. However, being close to 12 hours away from where we were leaving from in Ogden, UT, we knew we would not make it that night. Instead we pulled off onto a small dirt road with a tiny sign labeled Blue Lake. Having looked at our map, we saw that it was Goshute Peak Wilderness Study Area. The area was completely desolate and we soon set up our first nights camp next to a dried river bed. After checking the weather to make sure we wouldn't be swept away in a sudden nighttime flash flood in the drainage, we settled in, made some chicken tacos, and settled in for our first night living the van life. We woke up to an amazing sunrise at about 5:30, snapped some pictures then fell back asleep for a few hours. That morning we got back on the road to continue making our way towards Yosemite. Unfortunately the long drive felt even longer due to the lack of landscape changes throughout central Nevada, but we were able to keep ourselves occupied, chose a name for the van, and pulled our newly named girl ROCKY into Yosemite at around 5. 


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Welcome to the Epic Van Adventure!

Throughout discussions over the past few months, my boyfriend Luke and I knew we wanted to spend a good chunk of our time this summer traveling. We were first thinking about trying to go to Europe, possibly to Thailand, or to stay in the US and do a long road trip which we ended up deciding on. In hopes of making our trip and summer the most epic it could possibly be, we bought a van! Yes, a big fat van off of craigslist and it is amazing! We were originally looking at all vans under $2000, and being amused by the idea of getting somewhat of a “creepy” van. However, after a few test-drives, we decided on a navy blue, 1995 dodge ram van. With the original interior, it was somewhat outdated and dirty, so we ripped out the seats, siding, flooring, and ceiling. Two to three days were spent adding wood siding, painting the interior of the back white, and building an awesome roof rack equipped with a large box to store all of our toys we would need for the trip. Three more full days were spent on fully converting the 20 year old work van into a rad camper van! Working 8-9 hour days, we were able to finish the van, load it, and hit the road within three days. After many drawings on scrap paper, napkins, hours spent scrolling through “#vanlife” on Instagram, and a lot of brainstorming, we completed a van that we both feel couldn’t be any more perfect. It feels like a modern, clean, super cool home on the road, outfitted with white washed/ pecan stained benches, oak flooring, and a map covered ceiling. We got such enjoyment out of the entire process, especially brainstorming ways to design and build things that would make our lives in the van really dialed. That has become our word thus far in the trip — dialed. Having executed every aspect of the van exactly how we wanted has allowed our lives to be dialed in almost every aspect, letting us adventure and do amazing things along the way. Below are pictures from throughout the conversion process, hope you start to love the van as much as we do through these posts and tag along with us on our epic summer road trip! 

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