Last Friday I began a three day journey from Minnesota to Las Vegas, Nevada. My wife had flown down a few days ahead of time to spend time with her mom, but I decided to drive the adventure van down. We had a few reasons for doing this such as wanting to have our bikes with us, needing our computer setups for working remotely, and wanting to have a vehicle to get around with for the two weeks we were going to be down there. Since the van only sleeps one, I decided to make the journey down myself and try #vanlife for myself.
I began my journey incredibly early on Friday morning and made it to the Iowa border before sun up. My first day was slated to be my longest at over 13 hours of windshield time. I have never gone that long in a single day before so this was going to be challenging in all the ways you could expect. I was also trying to go on the cheap and so my first target was a Walmart parking lot in the town of Liberal, Kansas.
I arrived a little after 7pm and went inside to get some food, confirm I could park there, and stretch the legs. I returned a couple more times to use the bathroom before settling in for the night. Thankfully, the parking lot was nice and quiet all night long, and neither myself or the other trailer that was parked there were disturbed. However, the wind was brutal all night long and the van rocked quite a bit. I still managed to get a decent 6-7 hours of rest before finally giving in to the cold temps and getting on the road again. The wind blew in a cold front and the temps dropped to the mid-20°F overnight. I had a good sleeping bag so it wasn’t a big deal, but it was noticeable.
The next day I headed out for my second destination outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. However, as I crossed the border into Oklahoma and then into Texas I realized that some recent weather was going to cause havoc for me. There had been some snow and ice the past couple of days and my route through Texas was icy, slow, and stressful. I assume that most roads down south don’t get treated or taken care of, like up in Minnesota, and so I got to spend 70 miles keeping my tires contained in two small tire tracks, dealing with cars that wanted to pass, or cars I needed to pass. It was not how I wanted to spend the day.
As expected, the moment I hit the New Mexico border the roads were completely clear again. I even saw a snowplow truck out treating the roads. Go figure. Eventually I made my way towards Albuquerque, New Mexico on Interstate 40, but was treated to a slowdown from the aftermath of a half dozen semi trucks that had crashed outside Santa Rosa. Thankfully, my direction of travel was a quick slowdown. The eastbound folks were going to be stuck waiting for hours.
I made it through town quickly and then stopped for a quick bite at The Route 66 Pit Stop outside of town. Even though this day was much shorter, only 11 hours, the stress of the morning was getting to me. As I made my way across New Mexico and in to Arizona I considered a slight change of plans. I had originally planned to stop at a Casino on the outskirts of Flagstaff and once again park and sleep in the van for the night. As I got to the Petrified Forest National Park and stopped to stretch my legs, I decided that I really needed to treat myself for the evening. I needed a shower, and wanted to change clothes, plus just relax without worrying about being confined in a small van all evening. So I decided to stop at a hotel in Flagstaff and splurge for an evening.
This also afforded me the opportunity to visit Wanderlust Brewing in Flagstaff, and order a pizza while I listened to a local musical duo perform. I certainly could have visited a brewery and slept in the van except that Flagstaff has cracked down on overnight parking in vehicles, and not even the Walmart stores are allowed to do it. That meant I would have had to head backwards to find a place to sleep (back at the casino) and then re-trace my drive again the next morning. Overall, it just felt simpler and easier to get a hotel in town and eat the cost.
The other advantage of stacking my early days so heavily was that my final day of driving was only around 4 hours. That meant that with the time zone change I was at my destination outside Las Vegas by 9:30am Sunday morning (local time). It made for a much more relaxed third day of driving, and I still had the entire day to do things in Vegas. I was able to reunite with Lisa and hang out with her mom for the day before we retired to our AirBNB to begin our two week stint in the desert.
Despite wimping out on the second night, I still feel like the van did what I needed it to do. I had a good night of sleep the first night in the parking lot, and then any time I stopped for breakfast or lunch, I had the bed in the back where I could sit, stretch, and eat more comfortably. Just having the bed available was a huge bonus, and if I needed a nap, I’d have a place to take one (thankfully I didn’t).
I’m still processing the trip but a couple of quick things I learned about myself in this mode of travel. First, 13-14 hours is too much. I need to keep it closer to 10-11 hours so that I can have some time to decompress before sleeping for the night. Second, I think I much prefer staying in campgrounds than in parking lots. Having the option to sleep at a Walmart is great, but I think next time I’m going to see about finding something more natural.
After our two weeks are up we’re driving back together. That means no sleeping in the van as we’ll need to get hotels for the return trip. That will still be fun on its own, and even though we’ll be stopping at hotels, we can still take naps, stretch, or eat in the back of the van. For now, this little taste of #vanlife did what it was supposed to do and gave me a taste for what this lifestyle can sometimes entail.