- March 16, 2023 - Slept in van on our street. Hey, I needed to sleep in it on the first night.
- March 18, 2023 - Spent night in van at Crystal Springs Sno Park (Stampede Pass). Beautiful evening even though the temps dropped into the 20s.
- March 25, 2023 - Spent night in van at Cultura Winery. This was our first Harvest Host stay. Really enjoyed the hospitality at Cultura. We spent the day wine tasting. We also brought the pugs on this adventure.
- April 14, 2023 - Spent night in van boondocking near Cold Springs Campground outside of Sisters, OR. This was our first boondocking experience and we had the pugs. Everything went well, but another cold night.
- April 29, 2023 - Spent night at friends house
- May 5-7, 2023 - Spent nights at Kanasket-Palmer State Park. Actually a very nice state park only 45 minutes away. Unfortunately it rained some and it was cool. We had the pugs. We used our portable fire pit for cooking and a campfire.
- May 10-12, 2023 - Spent nights at Teanaway campground. I went here on my own and worked for two days. Beautiful weather. This was a very relaxing getaway.
- June 8, 2023 - Spent night boondocking in Jack Creek area outside of Sisters, OR. I stopped at this place on the way back from our Sunriver home to Seattle. Great area with lots of spots to spend the night.
- June 15-18, 2023 - Spent nights at Sun Lakes State Park. This was a 5 family trip. Had a great time SUPing on Dry Falls Lake. Bonus, we got to see a rattlesnake.
- July 2, 2023 - Spent night with family boondocking in Jack Creek area outside of Sisters, OR. I liked this place so much we returned with the whole family.
- July 7-9, 2023 - Spent nights at Little Lava Lake campgrounds in Central OR Cascades. Beatiful area at the source of the Deschutes River. Only issue was the proliferation of mosquitos at all hours.
- August 10-13, 2023 - PNW Sprinter Van Rally around the Olympics. 23 vans driving our the the Olympic Peninsula - need I say more. Bonus, I got to use my traction recovery boards to help someone out of the sand.
- August 25-27, 2023 - Spents nights at Teanaway Campground. We had a really good time camping here with friends. The campground was only half full.
- September 8-10, 2023 - Spent two nights at Salmon La Sac campground. Four couples, fun hike, and swimming in the Cle Elum River. One of the nicest campgrounds - only a two hour drive.
Sunday, September 10, 2023
We just spent two amazing nights at Salmon La Sac campground nestled in the mountains beyond Lake Cle Elum. This is one of the most beautiful and well maintained National Forest Service campground I've been to. They have some very large sites, some well hidden in the trees, some right along the Cooper River, and several multi vehicle sites. The road is paved as are the parking pads (which are level as well). Each site has a fire pit and picnic table. Many sites have gravel (vs straight dirt) around the picnic tables - this makes it less dusty (and muddy if raining). The vault toilets were clean and not smelly. There are water pumps throughout the campground - most are hand pumps but we did see one solar powered spigot.
We booked our sites around 6 months ago. The weather can be questionable this time of year - once you pass Labor Day, your chances of cooler, wetter weather increase dramatically. Well, for this weekend it was low to mid. 80s and clear. Perfect weather.
On the way up, we stopped in Roslyn (national historic town). Steph picked up some non-alcoholic beverages at Roslyn Grocery while I went into Heritage Distillery for a taste. I picked up a bottle of the Elk Rider bourbon - good stuff.
On Saturday we did a hike up the Cooper River. Beautiful area. Quiet. Crystal clear river water.
I completely failed to get photos of the campground and our rig at our site. Fail.
Tuesday, September 5, 2023
So we are almost 6 months into our van adventures. We have done 1, 2, and 3 night adventures. We have done everything from boondocking in the middle of Deschutes National Forest, to dry camping at DNR campgrounds, and full hook ups at a state park. We've stayed in a friend's driveway, at a winery (Harvest Host), in beautiful mountain field (Hipcamp), and in the forest (and never saw one person in a 24 hour period).
- Toilet options. This is something I can easily alter to a point. We opted for the Laveo Dry Flush Toilet. This system actually works very well and has several plusses (no smell, easy clean up, can dump into trash). However, it costs $2 a flush so it's very expensive. I'm considering trying out a Thetford or Dometic porta potty or a Trelino composting toilet. We have no plumbing for waste for power where the toilet exists.
- AC or no AC? verdict is still out. We used it once for our dogs and it was needed - glad we had it. I suspect we'll use it more often so still happy we have it. The cons are cost and it takes up a sizeable part of the roof.
- Dinette Seating. We opted for a bench style seat looking out through the slider. While this setup and our swivel seats work great for Steph and I, it's a bit more complicated with the pugs. We really lack good lounging with the pugs when relegated indoors. They are lap dogs and it's tough to get comfortable and have them on your lap.
- Mattress. Ours is too firm. Being older, our hip joints need a bit more softness. Hoping that more nights in the van will soften it up. If not, I may put in a soft topper.
- Put more emphasis on weight. We didn't consider weight when making decisions on our buildout. To be clear, we have had zero issues related to weight. The van drives great in the mountains, on dirt roads, in high winds, and on snowy/icy roads. I don't baby it (ie, I drove it like I stole it) and it's responded really well. That being said, I'd probably put more consideration into the weight of materials used and consider some soft sided shelving for lightweight items like clothing.
- Add the Expedition Tire Carrier. We've kept the original spare under the vehicle. I like having it hidden, and I like that we didn't have to buy a 5th wheel/tire setup. However this means I need to be able to access under the vehicle to get the spare (may not be possible depending on situation) and I don't have a 5th wheel to rotate into the lineup when rotating tires. Plus the stock spare is not the same size (as we moved to 275/70R17). This is likely something we will address within the year - fortunately, it's an item to change post-build.
So who doesn't love a rally.
Since we just took delivery of our built out van in March, this would be our first van rally. We are no stranger to large group outings. As a boater and happy members of Queen City Yacht Club, we've participated in multiple gatherings and we even chaired/hosted two large events (think 30 to 60 boats and 90 to 150 people).
So not only were we excited to join and meet other van owners, we were willing to help out as well. We volunteered to be ambassadors. What is an ambassador at a van rally you ask? Don't let people get lost. Well, not just that, but that was a big one. Also, some basic cat herding - it can be tough to ensure people move ontime when you have 23 vehicles.
The rally unofficially started on Thursday evening, August 10, at Schafer State Park just outside of Satsop, WA. Our leader, Deiter, had reserved the group site. Honestly, this was probably the best location in the whole campground. Very large, open, grassy area that could easily hold 25 vans. I believe we had 17 that night. This our first time meeting other van rally members. Their friendliness and hospitality was apparent immediately. I'm now a fan of Bitchin Sauce! (highly recommend trying it). It's now a staple in our fridge.
On Friday morning we hit the road by 830am with a plan to arrive at Chance A La Mer Beach Access in Ocean Shores between 930 and 10am. This is where we met up with the rest of the of the crew. After a brief break for people to fuel up and use the restroom, we had a quick debrief and started to head out.
After corralling a few wayward vans (took a wrong turn), we were all headed north for Pacific Beach where we would drive on the beach for about a mile...pretty cool site to see 23 vans parked on the beach.
After some cool photo shots, we headed north on the beach. Well most of us. One person got stuck. Sooo, I got to use my traction boards. Total time to deploy, unstuck said van, and store them back on the roof - about 5 minutes.
Our next stop was a DNR day use area on the Clearwater River. This spot was awesome. Giant rock/sand bar easily fit our 23 vans and we could have fit another 20. We spent a while here having lunch and soaking in the warm river water. Another great time to meet up, admire our vans, and share stories.
So now things hit a few hiccups. We first attempted to hit up Ruby Beach. I was actually really looking forward to spending time on this beach in the Olympic National Park. Even though it was a weekday, the parking area did not have capacity for our rally group. There were less than 10 spots available. So we continued north and had a pit stop in Forks for fuel. After that we made our way to another beatiful NPS beach - Rialto Beach. Unfortunately, there were even fewer parking spots at this location and each van had to perform 5+ point turn to leave. We created a bit of backup (and may have miffed a few people behind us)...sorry.
Next up was our place to hunker down for the evening. We were originally set up to stay on a baseball field right off of the ocean in La Push thanks to the Quileute Tribe. Unfortunately, the field got commandeered for heavy equipment being used to work on the jetty. The tribe was able to find a piece of land for us with a local resident. This would be our stop for dinner and the evening. Let Happy Hour begin.
The next morning Steph and I decided to break camp about 90 minutes early and head back to Rialto Beach. Glad we did. What a beautiful location. The forests goes right down to the beach, the surf is perfectly magical and beach is almost endless. The islands are the topper. We went for a 45 minute walk, enjoyed the amazing ocean sounds, the mist on the beach, and some cool driftwood admiring.
On Saturday we headed toward and around Crescent Lake. This lake is stunning! It's a pristine, very deep blue lake at the north end of the Olympics, and it's one of the clearest lakes in the country. Unfortunately, there are very few turnouts along the lake and definitely none for 20+ vans. Next stop is Salt Creek Recreation Area. I have camped here and loved it (stay in the non-hookup part of the campground). It also has an excellent day use facility with a ton of parking. In the day use area (which is free), you can access the potable water, dump station, restrooms, and showers. But enough about facilities. Salt Creek has gun turrets (setup for protection of the Straits and shipping during WWII), tide pools, sea life (we saw an otter), beautiful beaches, a picturesque island, excellent surf, and lots of varied hiking terrain.
After several hours here we staged/met on the Port Angeles Jetty by the US Coast Guard station. Next we drove the vans through downtown Port Angeles to our next stop - a Hipcamp (called Roberts Woods) in the foothills above Port Angeles. This 12 acre piece of land was acquired specifically to setup as a hipcamp - it has been the wife's dream and labor of love. The hosts were lovely, very helpful, and just genuinely fun people to talk to. They have around 6 individual campsites but they have wide open fields to accommodate large groups like ours. They even have glamping tent cabins. We had a very nice catered meal and a local folk band from Port Townshend playing classic favorites. It was a perfect evening to sit out, enjoy the music, and later watch the Perseid meteor shower.
On Sunday, after some exercise (I ran and Steph participated in a group cross fit session), we all headed to Sean and Dawn's coffee bar and athletic club (The Coffee Box/Storm King Athletic Club). We had a plethora of fruit, danishes, bagels, and beverages - they were great hosts and their businesses are very cool. As the final gathering, this officially ended the rally. Steph and I decided to do one more adventure. We drove up to the top of Blue Mountain (almost 6k feet up). You need to traverse along an 8 mile dirt road - this road was in outstanding condition, but it's steep, very windy, and at times narrow. You were provided views into Canada, the Cascades, and the Olympics. On the way down, I got to utilize 4WD Low - which worked great - it managed the van speed well so I used very little brakes.
And then we drove home. We loved making new friends, learning about our vans (thanks to the Van Compass folks who were part of the rally - they were great - and yes, I had Momentum install the Baja Bracket), and seeing new sites. Until next time.
Friday, September 1, 2023
- Corps of Engineers Camping: Directory of 942 Camping Areas in 35 States
- National Forest Camping
- Free Van Camping on BLM Public Lands: Discover 935 Bureau of Land Management Camping Areas at 658 Locations in 12 Western States
There are others. Good to have reference material handy in paper form.
I really enjoy driving the 170. It can get blown around a bit in real high winds - we had these coming from Yakima and driving through the high desert north of Redmond, OR. Acceleration is good with the pedal box set to sport mode. I've tried Eco and Sport - I've chosen to leave it on Sport. One other interesting note, I've seen the gas mileage improve slightly.
Once home, we parked it in our driveway - it's home. Our driveway has a respectable amount of angle to it. So sleeping in the van in the driveway would not be much fun. But, I must sleep in it for the first night. So out on the street it goes. Just like a true Seattle-ite, I have slept in a van on Seattle streets.
Check out the professional photos of Salish.
- A winch. We have a winch on our 2010 Xterra and we have never used it. I've never found myself in a position in the Xterra where it was needed. If I didn't need it on that vehicle, I most definitely don't need it on the van. The likely scenario where we would be stuck could be remedied with traction boards. So I'll opt for those in lieu of a winch.
- Floor heat. This seemed like a luxury. I'm sure my feet will be chilly in the winter but there will still be significant amount of insulation in the floor plus we will have a hefty dose of cabin heat.
- Side Ladder, Rear Cargo Box, and Rear Tire Carrier. I wanted to slim down the look. I decided to stick with a rear ladder and nothing more. We'll install Roam Adventure boxes on the roof and opt out of the rear cargo box. As it turns out, we can keep the spare under the vehicle - so we will go that route.
- No third seat. We are opting to have a bench/dinette seat instead. So only belted seats for driver and 1 passenger.
- AC. We want 12V AC. So added Nomadic AC2000 to our build. We debated this quite a bit. We wanted it...then we didn't want it...and now we do. It's a big power draw but we have a good size battery bank allowing us to run it a few hours at bedtime. I sleep HOT so this will be a big deal to me. We also have pugs and this will help their well being.
- Switching to Sleep fore/aft. We want to maximize our bed size. Pretty simple. Right now we plan to keep the flares. We both like the look but appreciate the extra space it provides , especially if the pugs use the space. The big negative with keepings flares is the added cost.
While there we toured the shop and the van builds that were being done. Always fun to see vans in all stages of the build. One was completely done and getting professionally photographed the next day.
Momentum Vans - Jessica has been great to work with. Brian spent almost an hour answering our questions. We have an open invitation to visit their shop. They have custom builds that are similar to Benchmark. They developed their craft in boat building - this is a huge plus. They have received amazing reviews online. This is the builder we plan to use.
It all starts in the Spring of 2011. Up until then all of our camping was in a tent. We've had small tents and very large tents that required two people to setup. Always on the ground. Often wet. Living in the PNW, wet weather is a possibility any time time of the year - at least west of the Cascades.