Trying an Alternative Life Support in Central Oregon
Photography and words by Brandi Murray of Roof Top Chronicles
A Quick Introduction
We have been pondering the idea of a van for a while, but needed to run one through the paces in real life, so we connected with ROAMERICA to set up a rental. As avid outdoor lovers we need a vehicle that will sustain and transport us to all of our favorite activities: trail running, hunting, overlanding/camping, fly fishing, birding, glassing for wildlife, hiking, and pack rafting. Currently, we have an ‘07 Tacoma with hard shell rooftop tent and canopy system and, for the past five years this has been our camping and outdoor fun hub.
Hitting the Road
Okay, enough about us, let’s get into our trip with Hi Ho Silver. We picked her up on a Thursday morning, but before we could get started on our journey, we needed to meet Targa (their new pup). She showed Maple (our pup) her favorite toys and house/kennel as Gretchen and Taylor gave us the rundown of our living quarters for the next four days.
Day 1 – The Mt. Hood Wilderness
Our first stop was in the Mt. Hood Wilderness, less than an hour from the shop. We pulled into the trailhead, walked back to the sink to fill up our water bladders (!!!), laced up our shoes, and were off. We enjoyed the buttery goodness of the trail and pine aroma of the woods. Back at the van, we cleaned the mud off Maple and she jumped into her bed for the scenic ride to central Oregon. Before we took off, she established herself as our co-pilot, by wearing her Axis hat for the camera.
We followed a long narrow bumpy road until we came upon another car coming down. At which point, we backed down the entire section, let the car pass by, and made the trek all over again. Between the clearance, mirrors and back-up camera, the driver/van did not have any issue maneuvering the road either direction. After finally arriving at camp, we opened the windows and doors to let in the fresh air and set up our cooking area. After dinner, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset and waited for the coyotes to yip.
Day 2 – Maple’s 1st Mountain Bike Run
Sometimes it is the little things that make you feel good, like getting out of bed and not immediately having to put on your shoes. It felt good to post-up on the couch looking out the large windows (that make you feel like you are outside anyway but with the creature comforts of the indoors) and watch the morning light rise above the horizon. As soon as the colors started to appear, we slid open the door, and popped outside.
The mountains appeared lavender and the sun cast a bright pink shadow over the snow-covered Cascade Range. We sat in the comfy Helinox camp chairs (we own a set as well) and admired the view. We made coffee, a breakfast scramble, cleaned up, and drove into town to rent mountain bikes and hit up a dog friendly area to test out Maple’s first ride with us. She loved it!
Peddling back to the van all we could think about was having a comfy place to sit, relax, and cool down for a few. We easily loaded our bikes onto the 1UP rack ROAMERICA supplied (no charge), took off our dusty shoes, turned on the fan, splashed our faces with cool water from the sink (still one of my favorite features), and made lunch.
Not knowing how busy it would be with the Overland Expo PNW, we headed out a little early to find camp for the night. Our plan was to find a place near the river so we could fly fish in the evening. Unfortunately, our first couple of options didn’t pan out, but our trusty back-up was available. After we arrived, we hung up the blackout curtains which have worked so well in keeping the heat down inside the van. We grabbed our fly rods and gear out of the back of van, but before we got too far, we were hit with swarms of mosquitoes. We attempted to ignore them without much success and decided to get back into the van and wait it out. We perused the provided Overland Journals and daydreamed of future trips.
Finally, it was cool enough to cover more skin and time to get on the water to wet a line. The banks were covered with purple lupines and red/orange Indian paint brush which illuminated in the evening light alongside the river. Fishing was slow at first, but as the sun started to set, they began to rise. Maple waited impatiently, but obediently for the first catch.
When we were tired of slapping away mosquitoes, we walked back to camp and stayed inside for the rest of the night playing cards and feeling grateful that we had all of the living space of a van instead of the tent.
Day 3 – Overland Expo
It was a chilly morning, so we felt obliged to turn on the heater and test it out. We crawled back under the cozy Rumpl blankets until the van heated up (about 7 mins). We made coffee with the press provided and a quick berry oatmeal before making our way to the Overland Expo PNW in Redmond.
Surprisingly, the line wasn’t too long and parking was easy. We walked past the test course and into the Mecca of Overlanding vehicles, gear, and supplies. A few vendors we enjoyed were Kokopelli, Aluminess (rack and ladder on Hi Ho Silver), SYNC Vans, FSR (thanks for your shade), MITS Alloy at Mule (always good to hear an Australian accent), Kurgo, iKamper, Stunt Puppy (new hunting collar on order), Quigley 4×4 (Maple befriended the rep as he kindly let her drink from his water), and EarthRoamer (Maple had a blast with them and the hose). Side note for you baseball fans: we walked right in front of one of the greatest hitters in MLB driving a golf cart, Barry Bonds. Who knew he was into the overland scene?
That night we camped in a place we did not know existed. After getting the van level, we made dinner (dishes were done in minutes with the sink basin), and went out to explore the area. It was a short walk down to the lake which was fairly empty and quiet besides the family of Buffleheads scooting along the water. We sat on the sandy beach and watched the sunset until it was time to walk back to camp and close the doors for the evening.
Day 4 – Slow to Roll Out
Our last day started off slow; maybe we knew it was coming to an end and wanted it to last longer. We made a big breakfast and played fetch with a tennis ball Maple found in the woods. While distracted, Canada Jays aka lumberjack soul, whiskey jack, grey jay, camp robber, and gorby snuck into camp and stole some of Maple’s dog food and had a drink from her bowl. For those not familiar, these birds are fun until they start to dive at you for your food, and we have never seen them pass on anything including cheese and pepperoni.
Around 9:00 am, we packed up while Maple protected camp from the robbers and headed out for a trail run off the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. It was a beautiful day and all of the mountains were beaming in the sunlight. The trail was dusty but the views were unending. Upon our return, Maple promptly plopped herself in her bed on the floor of the van, with her head peeking out just enough to soak up the sun.
Not ready to leave it all behind quite yet, we had to hit a couple more dirt roads to test out the driving capability before dropping off our “life support.”
From a Truck to a Van Conclusion
We love the outdoors, so we have always been concerned that having a van might “take away” from the outdoor experience. We did not find this to be accurate, in fact, it just made it even better. It is true that the van may not take us down some of the roads we take in the truck, but it’s 4×4 and clearance capacity was not overly limiting. We still found camping off the beaten path and were able to access everything we wanted to see and do on this trip. The van was easy to get used to driving (even for a full-time Subaru driver) and super comfortable.
Pros: fresh running water/sink, furnace, mosquito combatant, protection from elements, MaxAir fan, refrigerator, privacy when needed, the view from the couch while riding down the road, and huge windows to see all around you
Cons: we missed our cast iron and it took us a little bit to get into a new groove with the cooking/living set-up
The process was smooth and connecting with Gretchen and Taylor was easy. They are down to earth, real people who were (and still are) invested in the outdoor life before they started their business. We love that they keep things simple and utilitarian; everything in the van has a purpose with plenty of room for you to bring along and store your own gear/food needs. Their vans, aptly dubbed “life support” allow you to still feel, smell, and enjoy the outdoors but with more comfort and convenience than a truck/tent setup.
All-in-all, we had an amazing time and it was hard to leave the van behind knowing there are so many more trips we would love to take her on.