Van Newsletter #3

Places Of Note:

  • Yosemite National Park
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Death Valley National Park
  • Santa Cruz, CA
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • San Fransisco, CA


  • Got stuck 3 times
  • Got towed out of mud twice
  • Got brand new tires because we got stuck 3 times



     With a new water tank mounted inside of the van and our diesel heater we head to a slice of land outside of Flagstaff. We spend the day walking through the woods, collecting chunks of wood and downed branches. We pile the wood underneath a tree and cover it with slices of tree bark, as if to create a blanket. The next morning we awake to 2 feet of snow, and powdered trees. After unburying the wood we use the bark to create a fire pit to protect the kindling from the wind and cold. Soon the fire is tall and has melted all the ground around. We spend two weeks  in Flagstaff with a daily routine of this: make fire, sit by fire, let fire go out when it gets dark.      On the snowiest day we head into town and sit in a Walmart parking lot for several hours. I spend the day cutting out construction paper to make valentines cards and crocheting little shapes out of yarn. I reach into my bag and eat conversation hearts that read UR CUTE, LOVE U, and KISS ME. The van gets stuck as we try to leave. Another man in a van comes over to ask if we need a push. He saw our wheels spinning while walking his dog. Of course the snow is too deep but he tried and pushed. A few moments later a snow plow stops alongside as I am kicking snow from the tires. “are you in a rush””no just stuck”, he says he will come back to push us out when he is done with the other side of the parking lot. It reminds me of when the gym owners in Del Rio offered us a warm shower in their home. It is a person saying : I do not know you, but can I help? There may be times we are alone in the world, but someone will always offer a hand if we are willing to ask for it. We are surrounded by goodness whether we choose to see it or not.  

     After spending the night in a never ending maze of mountains stacking into each other we head to Lake Havasu for a week. The BLM land we sit on is overcrowded with RVs and there is little privacy. We can not complain though, the thermometer reads 80 degrees and I wake up with a tan.


Joshua Tree National Park

  • Mastodon Peak Loop
  • Ryan Mountain Trail

When I am still the only sound is the mountain birds chirping and the sound of my heartbeat in my ears. I whistle once. One. Two. I whistle again. The canyon walls return the whistle back to me. One. Two. Three times. Each fainter than the last. I look at the horizon, pick a peak, put my head down, and walk. Finding a path where there is none. I only lift my head to check that the peak is still between my eyes. At the top I eat BBQ plantain chips.

Death Valley National Park

  • Zabrinske Point/Badlands Loop Trail
  • Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
  • Bad Water Basin
  • Echo Canyon (camp/run)

     Below sea level Big Water Basin is flooded. We wade deeper and deeper into the water, our legs stained white from the salt. In between our toes the mud is slimy and sometimes painful. The entire salt flat only gets as deep as knee level. Diesel in the park costs $8.34, the highest price we’ve ever paid for fuel.



     Driving through Las Vegas is strange. The highways are wide open and the drivers are quick to cut in front of you. Around each corner is a storefront with the wildest concept. Steak drivethru. Pink Carwash. We camp 40 minutes outside of the city. Throughout the week winds increase, 20 mph gusts, to 20 mph wind with 35 mph gusts. 30 mph with 55 mph gusts. 70 mph wind. The van rocks throughout the day and night. We don’t dare drive unless we have to. Often times I am awoken by the forces shaking the wind and clanging the keys. On the last day we walk the strip. I have my first drink in months and accidentally dip my shoes into the water fountain in front of the headless angel statue. I walk through the casinos with my soggy feet. It is not very impressive and frankly, not my vibe.


     Sunday is an 8 hour drive. 3 hours in terrifying 60 mph wind. 2 hours in calm rolling valleys. 1.5 hours on steep mountains. 1.5 hours in the dark. Green green green. Fresh air. Rolling hills. Solar fields and windmills. Dark chocolate covered gummy bears, honey roasted peanuts, and red shoelaces. Fields of yellow wildflowers and vineyards line the Pacific Coast Highway. Our first full day I go for a barefoot run on the low tide shore. Every few moments I look to my right and am surprised to see the waves crashing next to me. Yesterday we were in the Nevada desert, today we are the furthest West we could possibly be. We’re in California Baby.

We quickly learn that nothing in California comes without a cost. Free dump station? no 10$. Free Water fill? no 10$. Free BLM camping? no $10. Deisel under $5.00. no $5.50 minimum.

3/5/23     On our second day in California I walk out of Target with 3 beach towels in hand. They were having a sale because its not the season. The temperature is a high of 58 degrees. The beach is dotted with puffy jackets on both humans and dogs alike. A women in mittens comes up to us with her hand reached out.      “Did you go swimming?? On PURPOSE”. We tell her we’re not from here. She tilts her head back and laughs. “Dont worry, we can all tell”. A man and his wife passing by tell us      “you’re so brave”. We tell them we’re from Colorado, and they exclaim that their son is going to the University of Denver in the fall. Another man is waiting outside of the van when we return.      “How did I know it was you two in this van from Colorado in the water, Its the coldest day we’ve had”. He tells us how he left New York in a van 50 years ago with a dog and a girl and has lived in California ever since. He asks if we have a place to stay and offers his driveway.      Another lady walks up and asks if we’re from Alaska. Perhaps I’ve been away from the ocean for too long, but I thought it was for swimming and wave jumping and diving.

      How can one portray the vastness? The massive mountains covered in towering trees. The sun rays shining over the valley, the lake disappearing into the distance. I sit at the base of granite giant rocks. The truth is, you can’t. The vastness captures you. Only by standing at the edge of it all does the true being of your nature begin to set in.      We are parked just south of Yosemite National Forest. The nights are quiet and we are alone in the forest. The town in the valley below us consists of tourists, lumbar/oil blue collar workers, and the few shopkeepers keeping it running. It’s not quite charming but it is peaceful. On a rainy day the van slips off into mud and we spend the night sleeping at a 14 degree angle, a kind man from AAA in a truck hitches us back onto the road in the morning.


        10 days later we get stuck again. It is 4:30am when the van slips left into the drainage ditch. We were on our way to the gym and it is pitch black and raining. There are not many words spoken between us but eventually we both move from the front seats to the bed, and proceed to go back to sleep. At around 9am Ty decides that he can maybe get us out and proceeds to drive down the road 1/4 mile, one side of tires in the ditch, with the outside of the van wall banging against the mountain the whole way. I walk behind and try not to throw up as I follow behind him, thinking that at any moment that van will tip. Eventually he stops when it is clear there is no getting out of this one, and going any further would truly be treacherous. The van sits at a tilt steeper than before, at least 20 degrees. After 2 hours a family in a jeep that came to the mountain to go off-roading comes driving past. “My boss will be here in 5 minutes, he has a truck and recovery straps, he can help”. After 20 minutes his boss shows up. They speak spanish between themselves, motioning to the van and the jeep. Within 5 minutes the strap is attached and the van is towed out of the mud. It is now noon.  For every mile we drive away from the mountain road the sense of distress vanishes more and more. After the extremely stressful morning we pull up to a campground and beg for a site.

     In California there is a price for everything, but when it comes to safety, paved roads, and our cortisol levels, the price is worth it. I am writing to you now from a campground we will stay for two weeks. A short walk from camp is Pismo beach. The dunes are home to ground squirrels and seagulls. We play frisbee in bathing suits when the wind is calm and fly plastic dollar store kites when the wind picks up. My collection of shells grows as we bike on the hardened sand next to the water. I spend one morning painting in a makeshift driftwood tent on the beach and another morning drinking tea in lifting fog. We bike to all the thrift stores in town and I get the floppiest striped blue and white beach hat. The water is cold and clear and we jump waves until our toes are too frozen to walk. Life is good and calm and sweet.