Once in awhile we think it might be cool to put stickers on our van but we have not done it yet. Your thoughts?
January 24, 2019
by Jenny Hohner
A sand dune in a desert seems out of place. At the Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve my eyes kept searching the horizon for a lakeshore. But there wasn’t a drop of water in sight. A place with so much sand created and moved around by wind not water. It’s hard to comprehend sand dunes and no lakeshore when you hail from Michigan, the Great Lakes State.
We climbed the dunes mid-morning on a Thursday. Like the handful of other visitors at the site, we walked across the sandy plain toward the tallest dune — which was also the steepest. We met a younger couple half-way up. Molly, our Portuguese Water Dog, took them by surprise but they loved meeting her. We were working our way up with trekking poles. They were climbing on hands and knees. They stopped to take selfies while throwing sand up in the air and opted not to continue to the top.
It was a heart pumping hike but the view from the peak was amazing. The steep dunes extended north into an area with smaller dunes known as the Devil’s Playground. Off on the horizon we could see the white salt stain of Soda Lake —dry and empty of water. We watched a train chug along off in the distance and also noticed semi-trucks moving along I-15, even though the vehicles were so far away they looked like a mirage.
While resting at the top a French speaking woman offered to take our photo. We stayed up there long enough to have the spot to ourselves. We took advantage of full bars of cell service and called our parents, checked our email and looked at Instagram posts.
Not ready to call it a day we walked along the spine of the dunes in a westerly direction for the next two hours. The only other footprints we saw were from crows, rabbits and mice. All the other hiker just climbed up and down the steepest dune. When we ran out of water we headed back to our van. It was so windy in the afternoon, the outer pockets in our backpacks filled up with sand. It was another great day on the trail.
It was time to resupply so we left the Mojave Preserve for Las Vegas.
December 27, 2018
by Jenny Hohner
Every summer I keep track of the out-of-state license plates I see in our county. About every other year I’ll find a Hawaii. Rhode Island and North Dakota are the rarest, but one of my favorites is the Utah plate with the red rock arch. Today we — Joe, Josh, Jonah and I — hiked to the iconic spot represented on the Utah plate, Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. The state of Utah stepped in during the federal government shut-down and funded the park’s Visitor Center through the holidays, but we didn’t see any rangers on the trail.
Hiking in National Parks sometimes feels like a pilgrimage. While trekking along you hear a myriad of languages. Everyone is going to the same spot but not everyone is prepared. Walking is a part of my daily routine. I love to see where my feet can take me. So I’m always surprised when we see people who look like out of place in the out-of-doors – almost as if they’re traveling in a foreign country. As we started today’s hike we saw parent’s enticing young children with snacks. I’m familiar with that technique. Years ago, I carried packets of fruit snacks in my pocket. Now, my sons wait for me to catch up.
At the half-way point, we noticed two young ladies wrapped in blankets that looked exhausted but determined. One had bright green hair, the other Big Bird yellow. The final approach was along a ledge. At the end, the arch is visible and spectacular, but not the expected red, more of a washed-out orange. Perhaps the arch is redder in the morning light?
Jonah and I waited in an informal line to stand underneath the arch for a photo op. A kind stranger took our picture. The view without a line worked for Joe and Josh. They opted to wait outside the photo zone.
On our return trip we passed the dyed-haired ladies, still trudging along. I shouted out an encouraging, “You’re almost there. Just five more minutes.” We made it back to the car just before sunset. A handful of visitors were just starting the three-mile trek. The mother in me wanted to point out the setting sun as they hurried along. Joe told me not to worry, they could use their cell phones as flashlights.
November 20, 2018
by Jenny Hohner
Van life is full of surprises and compromises. I have ring-around-the-collar on my bright yellow winter coat and ring-around-the-cuffs. It’s embarrassing. I did buy a small bottle of stain remover to spray on just before washing – it’s possible my coat might need the whole bottle. If I wasn’t wearing my favorite coat 8-10 hours a day, I might hunt up a laundry mat and wash it a time or two. I’m thinking about buying a second down coat, but I’m not sure if I can stuff one more item into my clothing cupboard. We are headed to southern Arizona next month. Maybe it will be warm enough during the day to go coatless for a few hours?
My coat isn’t suffering solo. So far our trip souvenirs have been limited to the dirt, mud and gravel we tracked into the van from our campsites in Illinois, Missouri, Texas, New Mexico and Utah. At a truck stop in Oklahoma I noticed cow pies in the parking lot, but managed to step around them. We have a small whisk broom, so once a day I fill the dustpan when Joe’s not looking. He’s fond of saying, “Give it up! It’s a lost cause.” I’m afraid I might sell my soul for daily access to a vacuum — an appliance that would overload our van’s electrical system.
Van camping is living indoors in the out-of-doors. Every night we create a cocoon by drawing our blinds and putting up our curtains. On colder evenings we cook in the van. As we pull out our camp stove and start our dinner preparations, Joe puts smooth jazz on the stereo — we could be anywhere. Some nights I do forgot where we are, until I step outside and see the stars. The sky is darker and the stars are brighter and somehow seem to be in the wrong place. We are out here to explore and spend the Thanksgiving holiday with our son Josh and the Christmas holiday season with time with both our sons. I hope I can adjust.
P.S. While staying in Mesa, Arizona I washed my coat three times. Oh, and I didn’t need to sell my soul, I ordered a Dyson handheld vacuum and Amazon delivered. With an adapter the Dyson can charge while we’re driving.
January 14, 2019
by Jenny Hohner
Today we were going to use our last hour of daylight to hike, but it started to rain. So, we stopped in at the Happy Burro Chili and Beer. A tiny establishment in Beatty, Nevada. There’s room inside for one six-top, a two-top and four seats at the bar. I read about the eatery in our Death Valley National Park guide book in a section titled “Beyond the Boundaries.”
At four o’clock in the afternoon the place was crowded. Everyone was smoking cigarettes. Family Feudwas playing on a corner television set. A local invited us to sit at the open two-top. As I climbed on the stool, I noticed one of the wall decorations next to my seat was a metal antique. The odd undergarment included a heart shaped tag line identifying the piece as Dr. Polasky’s Approved Chastity Protector - Guaranteed Virginity. It didn’t look comfortable.
Patrons were crowded around the second table and I could hear the familiar sound of dice rattling in a felt-lined Yahtzee cup. The waitress/proprietor was in the middle of dice game. When she finished, she brought us menus. Entree choices were limited to chili, chili over Fritos, chili dogs, hamburgers, cheese burgers, or hotdogs. All foods we edited out of our diet back in 2010.
When Joe and I started our Southwest Odyssey, we talked about eating from the vegan end of the food spectrum. We went the other way. Ham was our gateway meat. Before Christmas we stayed with friends in Mesa, Arizona. The day we arrived dinner was already on the table. We ate all the courses, including the baked ham. As my mother would say, it was the polite thing to do. Before we knew it, we were eating whatever our hosts put in front of us: hotdogs, brats, flank steak soup, and barbecue pulled-pork sandwiches. All delicious dishes, but all foods I haven’t eaten in years. I didn’t go as far as Joe. Once we were back on the road, he stopped at a MacDonald to use the bathroom while I ran into the nearby grocery store. An hour later I suggested we stop for lunch. Joe wasn’t hungry. A puzzling bit of info, until he confessed to eating a quarter pounder while in the Golden Arches. His reasoning, “I used the bathroom. I need to buy something.”
In the Happy Burro the back wall was plastered from floor to ceiling with chili cook off awards won in 1999 through 2003 in three different states: Nevada, Arizona and California. When the waitress asked, “What’ll you have?” I followed the wall’s advice and ordered the chili. It was tasty.
January 8, 2019
by Jenny Hohner
We spent the first week of the New Year at a rental condo in Heber City, Utah with our two sons and their girlfriends. We loved our time in the Wastash Mountains. Family members took advantage of the winter conditions and went snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, and snowmobiling. I also enjoyed the great indoors with unlimited hot showers, daily access to a washing machine and plenty of chefs in the kitchen.
When we first arrived, our son Josh helped us unload Wander, our home on wheels. While bringing in his umpteenth load he asked me, “Is this a van or a black hole?”
Josh couldn’t believe how much we had stuffed in the van, but neither can Joe and I. Our first week on the road, Joe was reluctant to open the back doors. Whenever he did, two or three bags would fall out. So during our third week on the road, while camping in Zion National Park, we emptied the entire van. It was a sunny November day that felt like summer. Deer wandered through the campground munching on bushes and tree branches while we looked at every single item we brought with us. We downsized — letting go of extra Yeti cups, two coffee thermoses, our back up sleeping bags, my yoga mat, Joe’s extra pair of slippers, most of our pots, duplicate cords, and any clothing we hadn’t used. At the next town we mailed two oversized boxes back to our Michigan residence. Joe could now open the rear without bags tumbling out. It was an accomplishment we called Van Life 2.0.
Yet it wasn’t enough. Van life has its own vernacular. Two words we wear out daily are “shuffle” and “switch.” Each night I make the bed by folding the bench seat flat. But we can’t crawl into our double sleeping bag until we do the “shuffle” — move all the stuff off the back half of the bed into the driver’s seat. Molly rides in the rear when we travel, but she shares her space with our camera bags, hiking backpacks, a computer bag and our puffy coats. The “shuffle” is a daily chore that is wearing us out mentally. And it creates a front seat stack that is as tippy as a Jenga game. It’s also a reminder that our living space is limited. Along with “switch” – our personal shorthand for changing places and the word we call out before moving around inside.
While at the condo, once again we looked at every item stashed in the van. My goal was to have empty space, breathing room, on my personal shelves, under the sink and in the pantry. Joe wanted to eliminate the shuffle. Two more oversized boxes of our belongings are on their way to Michigan. I sent home more clothing and my camera bag. I’m still not sure how we managed to fill the second box. I hope Van Life 3.0 will carry us through April, but that might just be wishful thinking.