Into the Van

We added another Mapache to our gaze (that’s what a group of racoons is called, like a pod of dolphins, a pride of lions, or a murder of crows).  Meet the Sprinter van, Mapache Tres, otherwise known as Land Mapache or LaPache.  

We realized that a quarter of each of our years is spent on land, waiting out the annual hurricane season.  So, we decided to invest in a land-going vessel.  We purchased her in Puerto Peñasco from our friends on the boat, Alegria (Mike from Alegria is the same Mike who helped Rob deliver Mapache 2.0 from San Francisco to Ensenada).  

Once we had LaPache, we spent one hot morning in a Home Depot’s parking lot, playing Tetris with our belongings inside of the van, before storing Mapache 2.0 for the summer season.  It was June, and we hopped into the van, pointing north.  But our first order of business was rescuing a street dog and her five newborn puppies.  

Puppy Cargo

Our friends on the boat, Milagros, were working in a boatyard not far from ours in the San Carlos area.  A friendly street dog decided that the safest place for her to birth her puppies was underneath Milagros.  She was not wrong.  The Milagros crew cared for her and the puppies, providing, food, water, and shelter.  And, after the boatyard manager threatened to throw the dog and her puppies out of the yard before the pups’ 1-week birthday, Milagros reached out to our network of animal-loving cruisers to hatch a plan.  Barb’s Dog Rescue in Puerto Peñasco graciously agreed to take the mama and puppies into their shelter’s care, despite being over its desired capacity of rescue animals.  All we had to do was transport the dogs to them.

Rob and I piled our four-legged hitchhikers into the van for LaPache’s maiden voyage.  The trip took 10 hours with lots of nursing stops and potty breaks.  The dogs made it safely to Barb’s Dog Rescue, where they received medical care, food, comfortable shelter, and more love.  The next step is finding them a foster home in the United States, where they have better chances of finding forever homes.  (Please reach out if you have any foster leads or would be interested in adoption.  They are now at an appropriate age for adoption). 

At the shelter, Rob and I could not refuse three more furry hitchhikers jumping into our van for a lift to the United States, where an Arizona rescue group was holding space for them.  We added six to Barb’s roster but took out three.  Barb’s Dog Rescue is still working hard in Peñasco for over 400 dogs in their shelter’s care.  If you have any funds to spare, please consider donating to them here.  Or, if you are heading to Peñasco any time, you can drop off much needed dog food to them (they especially need soft dog food). 

Two Weddings and a Funeral

The rest of the summer schedule was dictated by two weddings and a funeral with time to visit places and people in between.  After Rob said farewell to his 92-year-old grandfather, we carried on.  

We powered up the van in the driveway of our friend’s home with the oversite of their dog and 5-year-old child.  We added solar panels and four lithium batteries to the van to run our electric kitchen (fridge, air fryer, Instapot, and blender) and office (laptop computers, Starlink satellite, and cellphones).  Two of three solar panels arrived in plenty of time, but the third panel (although ordered from the same company in the same order) arrived a day after our intended departure date.  We adapted our schedule, as we are now well accustomed to doing, and Rob temporarily attached the third solar panel with plans to permanently affix it once we were in Oregon.  

After visiting some of our Arizona crew, we continued toward the first wedding in Oregon.  The drive through northern Arizona and southern Utah around Moab is a stark but interesting desert landscape.  The smooth, curvy hills with their orange-sand foreground creates a feel of driving through a surrealist painting.  The scenery is largely a product of the wind that freely whips through the sparse environment.  That same wind decided to smooth out some of LaPache, whipping up a dust devil that tore off that third solar panel and tossed it onto the side of the desert highway, rendering our reschedule pointless.  

We defeatedly ordered another third panel to our friends’ house in Oregon and continued through Utah and Idaho to Oregon, arriving on time in Hood River for the summer’s first wedding.  After that, we got back into the van for a month of land-cruising the Northwest.  

We spent time along rivers outside of Missoula, Montana, where Rob fly-fished and I ran on the country roads. We made our way to Glacier National Park, where I covered almost 40 miles of hiking trails, made way for a grizzly bear, and spectated a moose.  Rob and I hiked to the foot of a glacier, where we put our feet in its slushy edges.  We rowed around Lake McDonald, talked at big horn sheep and a family of mountain goats, and we drove the Going to Sun Highway.  We took advice from a self-proclaimed “wino” and “Montana expert,” who we met at one of our camping spots, to stop at Kootenai Falls and see the falls and its impressive suspension bridge.  

After that, we drove into Washington, stopping at Lake Chelan and spontaneously catching a Bach Fest performance by a string quartet.  We stopped for an afternoon in North Cascades National Park, where I added another eight miles to my hiking tally, through what is proclaimed, “North America’s Alps.”   We circled down to Seattle, where we spent some quality time with friends.  We looped around the Olympic Peninsula, where we visited lavender farms, saw the northwestern-most point of the continental United States, watched Olympic Marmots waddle around the alpine meadows on top of Hurricane Ridge, marveled at the fairytale-like rainforest, and camped along the powerful Pacific Northwest Coast.  We reminisced in the places that our adventure started in the Ilwaco, Washington, boatyard and just before the mouth of the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon.  After all of that, we drove to Portland, Oregon, for wedding number two.  

Our return drive from the Pacific Northwest took us to Rob’s favorite fly-fishing spot on the Wyoming-Utah border, friends’ homes in Colorado, a quick meal in New Mexico, and a stopover in Flagstaff then Phoenix, before we crossed back over the border into Mexico.  

Van Life

The van life is similar to boat life in that we are able to change our environment and live in beautiful, remote places or in vibrant cities.  It is different from boat life, because we can get to those places much quicker and with the ability to pull over at any time.  Unlike the boat, we almost always have access to a restaurant or grocery store, so food planning is not quite as imperative.  But the stopping places are not always as accepted or normalized as an anchorage or marina.  Along with the more traditional paid campsites and RV parks, we camped in friends’ driveways and truck stops, private farms and brewery parking lots (through a program called Harvest Hosts), and park-and-ride lots and sides of roads.  We showered at truck stops and city swim centers, and we frequented gas station bathrooms.  

The van life often felt like we were sneaking around, even though we never broke laws on where we parked for the night.  We were sometimes lumped in with people who are forced into a houseless life, which we don’t mind except that it evoked some unwarranted portrayals of disapproval.  But other times, people were supportive and interested in our adventure-seeking lifestyle.  When that happened, we learned something from our conversations—things like the science of soil in regenerative farming, the genetics of fainting goats, the persistence required to petition for a recognized wilderness area (this one was for a 1910 wildfire burn area), natural fermentation methods for wine and cider making, the elk-obsessed basis for creating the Olympic National Park, experiences of travel and life as a seasonal tourism worker, the astounding value of fresh huckleberries, and the best locations to view moose and waterfalls. 

The Numbers

The trip from Arizona to Oregon, including the loop through Montana and Washington, took about five weeks, 5,450 miles, and 237 gallons of diesel fuel.  The return trip from Oregon to Arizona, including our stops in Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, took only a week, and added another 2,205 miles and 131 gallons of diesel fuel.  In total for the entire summer, we put 9,278 miles on the van and filled her with 437 gallons of diesel.  We spent $110 dollars on showers and $273 dollars (including $99 annual fee for the Harvest Hosts spots) on campsites.  And we are ever grateful to our friends and family, who let us get out of the van (and into their houses) for parts of our summer.  

We are now reunited with Mapache 2.0 in San Carlos, Mexico.  Soon, we will leave LaPache in storage in Mexico, as we transform back into seagoing people and head the opposite direction—down, toward Panama.  

Meet Land Mapache (aka LaPache).

Moving into LaPache from a Home Depot parking lot

The Milagros crew, who rescued this mama dog and cared for her and her newborn puppies under their boat in the boatyard

Transporting the rescue dogs from the San Carlos-area boatyard to the Puerto Peñasco rescue

The other precious cargo that we transported to Barb’s Dog Rescue

Mama and puppies, safe in an air-conditioned room at Barb’s Dog Rescue

Barb’s does an amazing job at rescuing dogs in Mexico. Please consider supporting the rescue, whether it be monetarily or through dog food donations. Find out more here.

Our next three passengers, on their way from Puerto Peñasco to a rescue in the U.S., where they will have better chances for adoption

Rob’s helper, Dylan, overseeing the install of the van’s new batteries, inverter, and solar panels

Sarah’s helper, Petey Pablo, overseeing the making of the van’s new battery cables

The first third solar panel (a new third panel was obtained in Oregon), blown off the van along a dusty Moab highway


Camp, at a Moab RV park


Camp, at an Idaho truck stop (the showers at truck stops are great!!)


Camp, in the parking lot of New Basin Distilling Company in Madras, Oregon (through the Harvest Hosts program)

Exploring some of beautiful Eastern Oregon

We made it to Wedding number 1 in Hood River, Oregon!

Hiking in the Mount Hood, Oregon, wilderness

Bumming around the Columbia River Gorge

Cherry and berry picking outside of Hood River

Oregon beers with Oregon views

Oregon–>Montana (by way of Washington and Idaho)

We camped at several farms outside of Missoula, Montana, through the Harvest Hosts program.

Rob, making friends with our farm roommates

One farm had several friendly fainting goats.

Rob, fly fishing Rock Creek, outside of Missoula, Montana

Montana–>Glacier National Park

Rob’s office (inside of the van) during our stay in Glacier National Park (notice the Starlink on top of the van)

We took a one-night break from the van to stay at the epic Many Glacier Hotel.

Us, hanging around Many Glacier Hotel

Exploring the Many Glacier area of the park

The grizzly that Sarah encountered during her almost 40 miles of hikes in Glacier National Park

A moose, viewed from a safer distance than the bear

Alpine views on the way to Grinnell Glacier

Grinnell Glacier

Glacial foot bath

Mountain goat (with baby!) encounter

Big Horn Sheep — the experiences in Glacier seemed unreal, even this photo looks staged, but it’s not!

Camp, at a campground, just outside of Glacier National Park

Our boat adventure on Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park

We took turns at the helm.

Our lunch spot along Going to Sun Road in Glacier National Park

An impressive suspension bridge at Kootenai Falls, Montana

Camp, on a fire road in Montana, on our way to Washington

Sarah, hiking the Maple Pass Loop in North Cascades National Park

Camp, at a farm and cidery in Northwestern Washington (through Harvest Hosts)

The farm’s natural-fermentation cidery and winery, inside of a barn

Visiting Port Townsend, a sailing town on the north side of the Olympic Peninsula, where we took many sailing classes before we started our grand adventure on Mapache in 2020

We took a detour from the main Olympic Peninsula loop to drive the Sequim Lavender Trail

Touring lavender farms in Sequim, on the Olympic Peninsula

Art and love locks in Port Angeles, on the North side of the Olympic Peninsula

Hiking Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

While on Hurricane Ridge, we spent some time with several of the usually-elusive Olympic Marmots.

We hiked to the northwestern-most point of the continental U.S. (photographed just behind us).

Olympic Peninsula loop blackberry-shake break

We camped in Forks, which is known for its vampires and werewolves (due to the filming of the Twilight series there).

The Olympic Peninsula (and a lot of the Pacific Northwest) is also known for this mythical beast–Sasquatch

Tree-hugging giant old-growth in the Hoh Rain Forest in the Olympic National Park

Views from the Hoh Rain Forest in the Olympic National Park

A family of Roosevelt Elk, sauntering across the Olympic Peninsula loop–President Roosevelt helped establish Olympic National Park in order to save this species from extinction

Olympic Peninsula’s Pacific Coast–you can just imagine the power of the waves that regularly wash these tree trunks onto shore here

Rob, on the Pacific coast of Olympic National Park

The “Tree of Life,” a tree-root cave on the coast in Olympic National Park

Sarah, standing at the base of one of the sea stack rocks on the Pacific coast of the Olympic Peninsula

We returned to Oregon for Wedding number 2.

From Oregon, we drove back through Idaho and into Wyoming, to the Wyoming-Utah border, where we camped at one of Rob’s favorite spots, which is on the Green River

Rob, fly fishing one of his favorite spots–the Green River

Utah–>”Colorful” Colorado

Colorado–>New Mexico

New Mexico–>Arizona

Arizona–>Mexico and Mapache 2.0!

4 thoughts on “Into the Van

  1. Hey!! So fun to read about your adventures. So interesting and I love that you guys are making a difference one dog at a time (or 6). I’m pretty sure you’re staying around the corner in San Carlos from my house as I see this van pass my house everyday and parked round the corner. We met at Marvida during the Pet Costume contest and SBPA fundraiser. I’m the Viking woman Veronica 😌. You’ll see me walking the neighborhood with my blue heeler. Enjoy your stay in SC!! See you around town. Drop me a note if you want to have a beer together.

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