My husband Coby and I have been planning our great van escape for nearly four years now. And by planning, I mean endlessly scrolling through Instagram searching #vanconversion and #homeiswhereyouparkit to amass enough ideas or envy to go out and start our own #vanlife.
This past weekend we decided to rent a van called Boba, one of Escape Campervans’ artist-painted vehicles, into the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. You can probably guess what we discovered: solitude, joy, and a new perspective on small spaces.
Driving “The Beast”
You can usually find me cruising through downtown Portland in my red Toyota Prius, which sits roughly 5.5″ off the ground. I can parallel park in less than a minute, and easily pull a u-turn on a narrow street. In short, driving a 17.7′ long vehicle meant white-knuckles on the steering wheel. Besides trucking a U-Haul cross country and back again, my experience driving big rigs only includes my dad’s 1999 Chevy pick-up before I backed it into a tree around my 17th birthday.
The Mavericks, however, felt nothing like driving my dad’s clunky white truck. Instead, the backup camera guided me through seamless three point turns (and a few 8, or 9 point turns, to be honest). Green, yellow, and red brackets guide the van in the right direction as you reverse, and if you come close to an object, even a tree branch, the system beeps to alert you.
More than that, this van is fun to drive. I found myself sticking close to the speed limit for the pure enjoyment of driving a van on a roadtrip through Washington. While Coby queued up the Spotify playlist, I watched the Pacific Northwest pass by in the enormous driver and passenger windows, while quintessential Indy flowed through the sound system.
Sleeping, Eating, Cooking, and Driving: VanLife in 40 Square Feet
Turns out you can fit a kitchen, dining room, bed, and two captains chairs in roughly 40 square feet and not feel cramped. Escape Campervans offers three different van conversions: Ventura, Mavericks, and Big Sur. We rented the Mavericks model from the Seattle Depot, which felt perfect for us and our Border Collie, Nala. Each model includes the same basic amenities: solar-powered refrigerator, running sink, propane stove, bedding, and basic kitchen essentials like pots, plates, and utensils.
The side doors open into the dining area which turns into a bed once the dishes are clean and the sun’s gone down. Because our Mavericks model was newer, it required a little more muscle to convert the dining bench into the queen sized bed. While I wouldn’t want to do this conversion everyday long term, we didn’t mind shifting our gear to arrange the bed each morning and night.
In terms of cooking and eating, the kitchen area offers enough space to keep your food and utensils organized. Behind the kitchen area there are two concealed boxes for additional storage, with an area above where we stored the ladder to the rooftop tent, climbing gear, the camp table, and groceries.
“Home Is Where You Park It”
We jumped on I-90 towards Central Washington, where we planned to climb on the granite boulders of Tumwater and Icicle Canyons in Leavenworth. Our first night in the van, we parked at campsite #1 in Bridge Creek Campground up Icicle Creek (check out my full Ranger Review of the campground with more photos and videos of our Escape Campervan). Instead of wrestling tent poles into submission, I grabbed the camp chairs while Coby started the fire. We loved the no-fuss setup our Escape Campervan provided. After we enjoyed our s’mores, we pulled out the stove in the kitchen to prepare dinner: campfire roasted veggies and chili.
Coby cut vegetables on the picnic table and I ignited the propane camp stove. The backdoors of the Mavericks lock open parallel to the van, so if it’s windy, you’re well protected. The kitchen sink, utensils, and food, are all within easy reach of the stove. That alone made the entire cooking process feel luxurious. Normally, Coby and I find a flat patch in the forest and plant our tent with zero amenities. Living in the campervan for the weekend seemed too good to be true.
We slept so well. After we converted the dining room table into our queen size bed, which felt bigger than a queen, we set our pillows on the upslope. Finding a flat area to park can be difficult. But, we figured having a relatively flat area would serve the purpose, so long as we wouldn’t wake up with headaches from sleeping down hill.
After a long day bouldering, we decided to test out one of the ultimate draws to vanlife: free camping. In the endless Instagram posts I’ve read about vanlife and mobile living, the spotlight continues to feature the idea that “home is where you park it.” So we set out to find a long forest road, with a quintessential pull-out to park the van, hang some twinkle lights, and take 10-second selfies while we sat with our dog and watched the sunrise. Classic vanlife, right?
Instagram fails to mention how difficult finding a free campsite can be. Once you’re twenty miles deep into a National Forest, and consequently twenty miles from the nearest cell tower, anxiety creeps. We’d never been to this part of Okanagon-Wenatchee National Forest before, and the sun had all but completely disappeared. We didn’t have an atlas of forest service roads, or any idea if we could even find a pull-off once we were rumbling down an unknown dirt road.
If you decide to look for free camping:
- Find the forest service road ahead of time. We thought there would be multiple junctions to choose from, but we drove over 40 minutes without seeing a single forest service road.
- Bring an atlas. Escape Campervans provides a basic atlas of all 50 states. If you’re heading into the heart of the wilderness, you’ll want a more detailed road map.
- Research your location. When we finally found a road, we weren’t entirely sure what the regulations were, or if there was a burn ban in the area. Do a little research ahead of time to get to know the area a little better.
As eerie as it felt rolling into a heavily wooded area after sunset, waking up with nothing but pine trees surrounding us felt enchanted. We opened the van doors to a breeze of warm air, and what felt like the world to ourselves. We threw sticks for Nala, boiled water for coffee, and sat in our camp chairs facing the forest. If we didn’t have a drop-off time of 4pm, we could have stayed there in the solitude for weeks.
10/10 Would Recommend Vanlife
We loved our time in the Escape Campervan and felt proud repping the unique artist-painted van in the Evergreen State. Truth be told, we were sad to hand over the keys to Joel, the depot manager, but it was time.
Now, on to endlessly scouring Craigslist for our own home on four wheels.
(Also, #vanlife now has 3,031,172 posts)
**Update: We bought a van! Follow along on our Instagram (@freedom.in.motion) as we convert our new Ram Promaster.