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The Rest Area Tour of Saskatchewan

Took the north route through Kindersley and Saskatoon before spending the day in Canada’s Dead Sea in Manitou Beach, Saskatchewan.

We’ve finally gotten to the part of the map where every Canadian has flashbacks to elementary school learning about Saskatchewan, its endless wheat fields and…that’s about it. The prairies get a bad wrap in the scheme of cross-country road trips and are often the zones people devote to full day drives in a hurry to get to Alberta or Ontario because they’re summarized in one word: boring. Well, we were on a mission to give Saskatchewan and Manitoba a fighting chance at stealing our hearts by giving ourselves two weeks to drive across them. To put that into perspective, it only takes about 11 hours to get from the edge of Alberta to the edge of Ontario so we were really going to be taking our time.

Generic Van Life - Saskatchewan Window View
These endless skies surely weren’t boring

Coming from our last campsite in Sunnynook, Alberta (necessary side note: this is very close to Hanna, AB – proud home of everyone’s favourite band, Nickelback), we immediately felt the difference after crossing the provincial line when the road turned into a pothole-ridden nightmare. In any case, we were ready to do some trail blazing in hopes of uncovering a sweet camping spot on some of Saskatchewan’s plentiful Crown Land. As we’ve mentioned before, when it comes to free camping spots, Canada as a whole is way under discovered in comparison to the plethora that is BLM land and National Forests listed in the States. With our government land maps in tow, we set out to find somewhere to camp for the night where we could watch the big sky light up with stars in the evening. After making a pit stop in Kindersley, we headed north to a small lake surrounded by federally owned land that seemed promising. Unfortunately, the only way to access it would be to drive through a farm field filled with waist-high canola crops. Bummer. Our next possibility brought us to a muddy lot that had been inhabited by a sea of pump jacks, which was certainly not what we had in mind. As much as we were still hopeful that there was a hidden gem of a spot somewhere in the area, there was an angry storm brewing in the distance so we swallowed our pride, headed back to the main road and made our way to a rest stop near a town called Harris.

Generic Van Life - Saskatchewan Colourful Sky
HUGE skies just outside of Harris, SK

Now, a rest area is not really what we had foreseen for our cool campsite discovery but when we arrived, we realized that rest areas in Saskatchewan are not like rest areas anywhere else. In the US, they’re generally paved parking lots with vending machines and air conditioned bathroom buildings while in Canada, they’re often small roadside turnouts with an outhouse or two. In Sask, they’re pretty much campgrounds. Huge grassy areas with outhouses, fire pits and picnic tables and even clearings within the trees for little private campsites. At this point, we were asking ourselves why we didn’t just come here sooner. We even found a few small prickly pear cactuses in the bush that made us question if we were really in the prairies or had somehow been transported to a secret realm in Arizona. We had a super peaceful night’s sleep and even got to admire that big, colourful sky that we knew was waiting for us.

Generic Van Life - Saskatchewan Prickly Pear
Say what? Who woulda thunk there’d be cactuses in the prairies

The next morning, we hopped on the highway and hit the big city, Saskatoon (using the term “big city” rather lightly). Justin had driven around Saskatchewan many times but being my first time, we opted to go through Saskatoon instead of the capital city of Regina because quite simply, it’s nicer. We settled into a café in the Riversdale neighbourhood to get some work done before taking a stroll around and seeing what the city is all about. This neighbourhood is definitely in the eye of its gentrification and has opened up to a bunch of cool shops and restaurants on its short stretch of street. Scattered amongst older, grittier buildings and storefronts, it’s close to the Central Business District and the Saskatchewan River. We grabbed a bite at Picaro, because everyone knows Saskatoon is known for its tacos… Jokes aside, they were actually really tasty and the space felt like it could belong in a much bigger city.

Generic Van Life - Saskatchewan Saskatoon Ave C
♥ how cute, Saskatoon ♥

With our bellies full, we ventured over to the Broadway area across the river, which to our dismay, seems to close down around 5PM. Definitely a drag but it seemed like another cool spot to check out if we pass through again. Overall, Saskatoon is far from a bustling city but surely has some interesting pockets to explore amid their adorable street signs decorated with bright red hearts. Based on our experience at the rest area the previous night, we opted to check out the next rest area along the Trans-Canada Yellowhead Highway instead of finding a stealthy spot in the city. About half an hour east of town near Elstow, we arrived at another grassy field that was again, more of a campground than a rest area. Score!

Generic-Van-Life-Camping-Spot-Elstow-Rest-Area-Saskatchewan-Van
Can’t complain about calling this home for the night!

With all that city life the previous day, we switched gears and set out for the beach. The beach is certainly not the first thing I think of when it comes to a day in Saskatchewan but with Little Manitou Lake in the distance, it turned out to be a really cool surprise. The lake is considered to be Canada’s Dead Sea, as it’s 3 times saltier than the ocean and half the salinity of the actual Dead Sea. Basically what that means is that it’s extra gross when you get water in your mouth BUT it’s super easy to float. Turns out that there’s a whole little beach town around this lake that’s got a burger joint, beach bar and a bunch of lakeside cabins. It’s far from soft white sand but it was a great place to spend a 25°C/77°F day and the best part about it was that the bathroom building had hot showers so we left cleaner than we came. Any vanlifer knows that you take full advantage of these opportunities because they’re often few and far between.

Generic Van Life - Saskatchewan Manitou Beach
Manitou Beach was an awesome surprise – definitely worth the stop if you’re passing through

Continuing on our rest area tour of Saskatchewan, we found another spot near Lanigan that continued to perpetuate our finding that rest areas are where it’s at when travelling through the province. Unfortunately, I seemed to develop a not so nice case of hay fever and the amount of grass we’d been around was not agreeing with my newfound allergies. We decided to stay at this spot for a couple days and following WebMd’s orders, I stayed inside and got up close and personal with allergy pills and eye drops – fun!

Generic-Van-Life-Camping-Spot-Lanigan-Rest-Area-Saskatchewan-Van
Again, how is this a rest area?!

For our last day in S-K, we were really looking forward to spending the day at Good Spirit Lake Provincial Park on what Maclean’s Magazine calls one of Canada’s best beaches (feel like I need a citation there but the article is no longer up on their website) but mother nature changed our plans by pissing rain so we headed into Yorkton and had a boring work day courtesy of A&W wifi instead. All in all, we had a nice time in Saskatchewan even though it didn’t end up being the Magellan-like experience we had ambitiously anticipated. On our venture back west, we’ll take the Highway 1 across and spend some time exploring the underground tunnels in Moose Jaw as we cruise along with endless trains filled with potash.

Coming Full Circle in Alberta

Returning to where we started our van journey in and around Calgary, Alberta.

Alberta is where the van magic started; our van is from here, we renovated it here (in the dead of winter I might add) and we started our 6-month long drive (and counting) from here. As cool as it was coming back into Canada through BC, entering Alberta was a pretty big milestone for us. We’ve done and seen A LOT of stuff since we’ve been away and it’s pretty great to know that we, and Clementine, have made it successfully without being dead broke or, just dead.

Generic Van Life - Alberta Crowsnest Pass
The Rockies never seem to get old. Even though they’re like really, really old.

You’d be hard pressed to find a boring or dull route into Alberta from BC since you’ve got some pretty special mountains to pass through. As mentioned in our last post, we took the Crowsnest Highway the whole way through BC until we reached the crazy gorgeous Crowsnest Pass in Alberta. Crystal clear lakes and snow capped mountains surround you as you drive and try to feverishly take it all in since in a matter of minutes, the landscape changes to the good ol’ prairies – yawn. Anyway, not far from the border is the town of Frank, which is a pretty interesting place to stop. Basically, hundreds of years ago, a crazy rockslide completely buried this little town and it was left as a field of rubble. They say there’s gold and all kinds of things under those rocks since the slide destroyed banks and other important buildings but I think the no-digging policy is pretty firm. Bummer.

Generic Van Life - Alberta Frank's Slide
Turtle Mountain: the culprit of the rockslide that buried a town in 1903

After catching up with some friends and family, we made the voyage to middle-of-nowhere-ville, Alberta for a music and van festival. Yes, I said van festival. It’s called Vantopia and is where people from Western Canada and elsewhere bring their crazy souped up vintage vans to hangout and party. I think we could easily say we were some of the only ones that actually live in our van because most of these other ones definitely stay in the garage for most of the year and only come out to be shown off. We’re talking full white polar bear interiors, custom wooden rims and even fully operational bars, all in 70s and 80s vans in the most pristine condition. It was a farmer’s field full of vanners and it was wicked. We set up our matching awnings with our friends’ van and made a giant van complex but were too busy getting wasted to take a photo of it – oops!

Generic Van Life - Alberta Vantopia
One of the only surviving photos (…and it sucks. Sorry.) of when we just arrived and barely anyone was there

We spent the next couple weeks hanging out with family, eating good food and catching up on some repairs and maintenance. We were so stoked to borrow a timing gun from a friend and fix our ongoing engine issue in minutes. We can now go up hills without having to go logging truck pace and all just in time for us to embark on the flattest part of our journey through the prairies– perfect timing! Ha. As great of a time as we had with the humans we hadn’t seen in months, the highlight of our time in Calgary was definitely meeting Justin’s brother’s new puppy, Banjo. This is totally unrelated to anything travel or van related but he’s just too damn cute not to acknowledge. He’s a little border collie and is an absolute wildman. But you can’t stay mad at him because he’s just SO CUTE!! (Photo evidence below)

Generic Van Life - Alberta Banjo
GAHH!!! Don’t you just want to squeeze him?!

Just as we were getting ready to leave Calgary, we noticed that our fridge had decided to stop cooling. We had propane, it was getting a steady flow of power and we always make sure to keep it level so this became a real headache. Long story short, we ended up being able to replace what was causing the problem with a $7 part from an electronics store and were back in business. This was really frustrating and stressful and delayed our departure by a few aggravating days but all in all, we got it sorted and were finally able to buy groceries again, yay! RV fridges are really expensive and finicky so I wrote a very detailed post about what happened to our fridge and how to troubleshoot if you’re experiencing issues with yours. All that and more here.

Generic Van Life-RV Fridge Troubleshooting-Upside Down Fridge
Repeatedly turning the fridge upside down was one of the many methods we messed with

With a cold fridge full of overpriced Canadian beer, we were ready to hit the road again and keep truckin’ east. We made a stop not far from the Saskatchewan border in Sunnynook, Alberta at a lovely free campground on a dam reservoir. It was all fine and dandy with the exception of the playground that’s so rusty that it makes horror movie-level sounds as children play on it. Swings that sound like creaky shrieks and children’s laughter just don’t go all that well together when you don’t want to have nightmares. Aside from that, we enjoyed our last peaceful night in Alberta before exploring some new ground (for me) in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Our next commitment is to be in Northern Ontario for the beginning of July so we have about two weeks to drive 19 hours, which is more than manageable and will give us plenty of time to get lost in all those canola fields. Oh yeah, we borrowed a camera from Justin’s mom so we’ll be stepping up our photo game on our blogs and camping directory. Be sure to follow along as we uncover new spots all the time!

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Peaceful prairie camping in Sunnynook, Alberta

Following the Crowsnest through Interior BC

Snaking around hairpin turns in Osoyoos before venturing into the mountains on the Crowsnest Highway through Castlegar, Creston and Fernie, British Columbia. 

The time had come for us to veer away from the gorgeous Pacific coast that we had spent the last two months conquering and head into the interior, bidding farewell to the ocean for a while until we reach the Atlantic. From Princeton, we started on the Crowsnest Highway, which we’d be taking the whole way through to Alberta. Most people opt for the other route through Golden, BC to Banff, AB but that’s precisely why we didn’t – it gets crazy packed with tourists all summer and luckily, we’ve both done it before. The Crowsnest Highway is also incredibly beautiful and far less busy, which is great for us since Clemmie doesn’t exactly love going up hills. Anyway, we settled into another camping spot along the Similkameen River not far from Hedley and took cover as massive swarms of baby mosquitoes tried to gobble us up. I didn’t mind having to stay inside because after spending a week in the city, I got sick. Interestingly enough, neither of us have been sick at all since we’ve hit the road (even in the winter) and have been spending so much time outside but after a week of close quarters with lots of humans, it got me good.     

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Similkameen River
It’s hard to find bad views in the mountains. This was our spot on the Similkameen River, between Hedley and Keremeos.

We carried on into picturesque wine country where it was 30°C/86°F and everything was in full bloom. If you’ve never been to Osoyoos before, do yourself a favour and go. It’s a magical valley within the Okanagan area that seems like it could be the setting of a Disney movie with lush greenery amongst a background of snow-capped mountains. There’s a killer lookout point as you leave town that gives a view of the whole valley and the switchbacks you just drove up to get there. This led us toward Anarchist Mountain (great name), where we camped a night at yet another one of BC’s awesome recreation areas called Jolly Creek. We had our share of struggles in the winter when it was so cold that we’d wake up with frost on our phone screens and our dish soap would be frozen but now that summer was coming into full swing, a whole new set of challenges were arising. We’ve got a small fan but with no airflow, it kinda just pushes the warm air around. The only cure for that is to sit outside in the heat and remember the times we nearly froze when running out of propane in the middle of the night in -30° and stop complaining.

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Osoyoos
Could Osoyoos get any prettier?

The van didn’t want to start up the next morning which further solidified our inkling that the ignition timing was out of sync and the drive through the mountains would be a slow crawl until we could fix it in Calgary. With most of our day spent fiddling with spark plugs, we made a brief stop in Grand Forks before hunkering down for the night at a spot called Mud Lake. Because of the elevation, there was still snow on the ground even though it was over 30°C/86°F and sunny; for the first time ever, we had a snowball fight in shorts and sandals and it was something out of every Canadian child’s dreams.

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Mud Lake
Sunshine and snow at Mud Lake

The next morning had me waking up dead sick but luckily we were on our way to Creston where we’d be visiting some family for some much-needed TLC and home cookin’. We stopped in Castlegar to trade in my oregano oil for extra strength Buckley’s before making the trek through the Kootenays via Salmo Pass. This was really hard on Clementine because it was the longest and probably the tallest mountain we’d climbed so far. Alongside the logging trucks, we slowly creeped up to the snowy summit where we had to stop for roadwork. Turns out there was a massive mud slide just a week prior where a couple from Saskatchewan got pushed off the cliff and had to find their way out of the mud and get airlifted out…YIKES. Anyway, we eventually made it to Creston (mud-free) where we spent a few days relaxing and chowing down on lots of fresh, local asparagus (asparagus tourism, anyone?).

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Salmo Pass
No shortage of bad views on the Kootenay Pass from Salmo to Creston

With some rest and lots of cold medicine, I was feeling alive again and ready to keep truckin’. We made a stop in Cranbrook to get some groceries and got caught in a vicious mountain thunderstorm that actually made the power go out at Walmart. You know it’s intense when even Walmart is down. Once it passed and order was restored in the universe, we made our way toward Fernie for our last couple nights in British Columbia. By this time, we’d been on the road for six months and had barely seen any wildlife aside from the usual suspects of deer and possums. Not far out of Cranbrook near Joffre, we had our first bear sighting. Unfortunately, it was dead on the side of the road with its tongue hanging out and was not at all pleasant to look at…neither was the smashed up car that hit it. We passed the scene of the crime and spent the night at Wapiti Lake where we camped lakeside to the soundtrack of elk mating calls. When we were exploring the forest a bit, we found a bag of deer legs dumped on the ground. This was pretty weird and creepy so we retreated back to the van and tried not to let our minds wander.

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Wapiti Lake
When a lovely lakeside camping spot turns into…
Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Wapiti Lake Deer Legs
A creepy deer massacre!!

Fernie is a wicked little mountain town not far from the Alberta border. It’s a hotspot in the winter for skiing and snowboarding but is equally beautiful in the summer where sidewalk patios give way to a view of the snowy Lizard Range Mountains. The Three Sisters are a heavily photographed mountain chain that you can see clearly, right from downtown. After putting in some work hours at a café, we grabbed some Fernie brews and headed up Mount Hosmer where we’d spend our last night in BC. Hartley Lake is a small emerald green lake nestled among the mountain tops that made for an awesome camping spot. You really can’t beat mountain-fed lakes and the peacefulness that surrounds them. We spotted two beavers swimming around but when we walked around to get a closer look, the one we gathered was the male protecting the pregnant female started jumping out of the water to make some major splashes to scare us off. Ok beaver, it worked. We’ll keep to our side and you can keep to yours.

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Hartley Lake
Beautiful Hartley Lake on Mt. Hosmer, about 20 minutes away from Fernie

After a quiet night’s rest, we gathered our things to make our way toward Calgary, where we started our journey six months ago. Of course, Clementine didn’t want to go home and decided yet again, she didn’t want to start. She eventually got going after the usual fiddling so we were anxious to get to Calgary to catch up on the overdue repairs and tuning. Returning to Alberta was coming full circle from where we bought and renovated the van and it felt great to know we’ve made it such a long way. We’re stoked to keep heading east through Canada and check out tons of cool spots along the way. Keep checking our camping directory as we add new spots all the time!

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Sparwood Truck
Bonus! Check out “The World’s Largest Truck” in Sparwood on your way out of BC. It’s definitely not small…

RV Fridge Troubleshooting

Bottom line: life sucks when you don’t have a fridge. They’re far from a status symbol but are incredibly valuable and we all know that RV fridges are painfully expensive to replace. Here are some tips and tests to go through before hitting the service centre if your fridge is on the fritz.

Don’t you just love when you buy groceries and then they all spoil because your fridge decided to stop working? It’s my favourite. Not. We recently experienced a long drawn-out fridge repair that was super stressful and held us back from travelling until we got it sorted. After tons of manual-reading and YouTube-watching, we tried about every different test we could find to try and isolate our issue. We have a Dometic fridge (RM 2351) and the manual makes troubleshooting quite simple: if your fridge stops cooling, take it to a service centre immediately. How helpful… With the wealth of information available on the internet these days, it’s worth at least giving it a shot before taking it to a professional. Save yourself some cash and maybe even learn something new.

Full disclosure, we are by no means technicians; we’re just a couple of folks that did a ton of research, spoke to experienced professionals and fixed our $1200 fridge for $7. Also note that this list only applies to absorption fridges. Do yourself a favour and watch a short video to understand how these things work so you can better understand where your issue might lie.   

THE BASICS

Before getting into the more technical stuff, check the basics. Absorption fridges rely on gravity to function properly so make sure your fridge is always level. Unscrew the back panel on your fridge’s vent outside of your van/RV, remove the control board cover and check your fuses (side note: apparently it’s quite common for wasps and other insects to build nests in these vents, especially if you’re stationary, so be careful when removing the vent). Ours has two glass fuses, a 3A and a 5A, so be sure to inspect both. Next, check to make sure that your 120v outlet works: when plugged into shore power, plug something else into it (i.e. a string of lights, a cell phone charger, etc.) or get your multimeter and check for a current. Lastly, make sure you have propane and that it is in fact, on. If you’ve solved your problem by this point then rejoice, because your RV fridge troubleshooting days are behind you and you can move on to cool, refrigerated happiness. Also, remember that these things take a while to cool – 6 hours is the recommended time by Dometic to test the temperature. As the technician told us, every time you open the door to the fridge, you lose 1-2 hours of cooling.

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Here’s the back view of our fridge so you can familiarize yourself with where the main elements you’ll be testing are

CULPRIT: LP GAS

First, bypass the LP system by putting your fridge on auto while hooked up to shore/AC power and see if it works.

Test the propane by removing the fridge’s vent cover while the fridge is off. Remove the metal cover under the flue tube. Make sure that your fridge is on gas mode, not auto, and have someone turn it on while you listen for the sound of the propane igniting. Once it lights, observe the flame – it should be a nice clean blue flame. If it’s not, there could be an air bubble in your line so bleed the line (turn propane off and light stove until the flame goes out and there’s no more propane in the line before turning the propane back on) and try it again. Next, clean your flue and flue baffle. These are very funny names for very important elements. The flue is essentially the chimney of your fridge and the flue baffle is a twisted metal piece that sits inside the flue tube. These should be cleaned periodically; buildup and dust can affect the performance of your fridge. Also, please don’t be daft and test for propane with an open flame – you’re just asking for it.

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This metal box on the right covers the burner jet. Remove the screw and take off the cover to observe the flame.
Generic Van Life-RV Fridge Troubleshooting-Flue Cover Close
Remove the flue’s cap and pull out the flue baffle. Clean both the baffle and the flue tube with a wire brush and/or compressed air.
Here’s a crappy picture of a flue baffle because we didn’t take a picture of ours…oops!

CULPRIT: ELECTRIC ELEMENT

First, bypass the 120v system by putting your fridge on gas while disconnected from shore power so it will only use propane and 12v DC power and see if it works.

With the fridge off, switch back to auto and make sure that you’re connected to shore/AC power. Turn it back on and check if the boiler gets warm. If it doesn’t, you may need to replace your electric element or always run on gas mode.

Generic Van Life-RV Fridge Troubleshooting-Boiler
Carefully check that the boiler is warm/hot to the touch

CULPRIT: CONTROL BOARD

Turn your fridge and propane off and disconnect from 12v and 120v power. To test if your control board is shot, which is very common and super easy to replace, you’re going to need to bypass it. Find an appliance you have lying around that no longer works (or get something from the dollar store) because you’re going to need to steal the plug from it. Cut the wire on your dud appliance (leave a foot or two in length) and locate the wires that power the electric heating element, which run from the boiler into the control board. Unplug them from the control board and you’re going to need to hardwire them to the loaner plug that you cut off from your spare appliance. Polarity does not matter so you don’t need to worry about which wires are positive or negative. With your fridge now having a direct plug that doesn’t require the control board or fuses, plug it into your 120v outlet while connected to shore power. Alternatively, you can plug it directly into the shore power source. If it gets cold after a few hours then you’ll need to replace your control board. In theory, if your control board is broken then your fridge should be frozen if you leave it overnight. These run about $100 but are as simple to replace as unplugging your current wires and reconnecting them to the new board. Here’s a link to a video to watch it being done.

Generic Van Life-RV Fridge Troubleshooting-Control Board
Our control board
Generic Van Life-RV Fridge Troubleshooting-Electric Element Wires
Trace your wires from the electric element to the control board, unplug them and hardwire them to your spare plug.

CULPRIT: COOLING UNIT

First, check to see if there’s any crusty yellow liquid inside or anywhere on the back of your fridge. It’s possible that ammonia is leaking and therefore, the cooling unit can’t operate properly and needs to be replaced.

Here’s an example of what ammonia leakage looks like (not our fridge)

Next, since you’ve been such a good reader and attentively watched the video on how absorption fridges work, you know that the cooling unit is powered by a series of chemical state changes and the only way these state changes can occur is if the tubes are clear for the ammonia to flow through. It’s possible that there is a blockage, which is either past the point of no return or can be “burped” by turning the fridge upside down. Sounds odd but this is an old school trick that can work shockingly well and costs no money – AKA the perfect solution. You’ll need to make sure your propane and AC/DC power is off and then disconnect your fridge completely. Take a photo of the back of the fridge first so you can see where all your connections go and then label and take photos of each piece as you unhook them so you can easily hook them back up in reverse order. Remove the fridge from its housing inside of your RV and carefully turn it on its side and then on its head and listen for the sounds of liquids flowing. I’ve read a lot of mixed information about how long you should leave it upside down and there doesn’t seem to be a definite answer so we rotated it 2-3 times consecutively and then left it upside down (and level) for about 3 hours. We could hear the liquids moving through the tubes as we turned it so we knew that was a good sign. After 3 hours, turn it right side up and leave it to sit overnight before turning it on. It’s important to leave it turned off and sitting upright for longer than 3 hours to let everything settle again. Carefully hook everything back up, turn on your power and propane and turn the fridge on. Test the temperature in 6 hours. Cooling units can be replaced at home but are a little messier than upgrading other elements. If you can find a replacement at a decent price then go for it but be aware that these are usually $500+.

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Turn off your propane
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Bleed your propane line with your stove
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Disconnect your control board
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Disconnect your gas line and cap it (electrical tape is fine)
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Snip any zip ties that may be holding things in place
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Unscrew the frame of the fridge (ours has 4 screws)
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Unscrew and disconnect eyebrow control board
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Remove door
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Carefully slide ‘er out
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After placing it on the floor, turn it on its side…
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And flip it while listening for the sounds of liquid trickling. Repeat this multiple times and leave it upside down on a level surface. After a few hours, turn it right side up and leave it overnight before attempting to turn it back on again.

CULPRIT: THERMISTOR

Most RV fridges are equipped with a clip on the back fins that allows you to control the temperature slightly. The sensor inside that thermostat is called a thermistor. In a nutshell, as the temperature drops, the thermistor increases resistance and sends more ohms through to the control board. Once it reaches a certain temperature (usually about 1°C/34°F), it’ll reach an ohm rating (usually between 7-10k Ω for Dometic fridges) that sends a signal for the fridge to turn off. It won’t come back on until the temperature rises to a point where the ohm rating is below the shut-off level and requires cooling again. Anyway, if the thermistor is broken then either A) your fridge will cool slightly then stop because it thinks it’s cold, or B) your fridge will always be frozen because it thinks it’s warm. To test your thermistor, unhook it from the control board (follow the wire coming out of the back of your fridge beside the drainage tube) and turn your fridge on. Within 6 hours, it should be cold and if left overnight, it should technically be frozen, depending on what your ambient temperature is. You can replace the thermistor by buying the kit from Dometic, buying a temperature control dial with a built-in thermistor or buying a generic thermistor from an electronics store and connecting the wires to those of your broken thermistor in order to reuse the plug specific to your control board. This ended up being our culprit, so we bought an epoxy coated thermistor that came with a tiny resistor and wired that into our existing plug. You must make sure that it is an NTC thermistor (negative temperature coefficient) so that the resistance increases as the temperature drops. The ohm rating is key here, ours is 10k Ω, which is a pretty standard one.

Generic Van Life-RV Fridge Troubleshooting-Thermistor Plug
The bottom clip on the left hand side with a brown and blue wire running to it is our thermistor plug
Generic Van Life-RV Fridge Troubleshooting-Thermistor Back
Feed the new thermistor through the hole in the back of the fridge near the drainage tube
Generic Van Life-RV Fridge Troubleshooting-New Thermistor
Feed it through to the inside of the fridge
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Slide the new thermistor into your old clip
Generic Van Life-RV Fridge Troubleshooting-Thermistor
Clip it back on to the cooling fin that it was attached to before. The higher on the fin, the colder it’ll tell your fridge to be.

All in all, RV fridges can be pretty intimidating but are really not as scary as you may think. It’s worth taking some time to troubleshoot on your own before taking it in for repair or replacing it altogether. Just make sure to be careful when dealing with all electric and gas connections and to give your fridge enough time to cool down. They are said to take 12 hours to fully reach temperature but factors like the outside temperature and humidity can slow this down and leave your fridge working overtime. The ambient temperature in an RV parked in the desert is going to have a huge effect on the performance of the fridge in comparison to a fridge sitting in a 10°C/50°F room. Be patient, be careful and keep that fridge level!

Missing something? If you have any additional tips/tricks, feel free to let us know and we’ll add them in.

 

Big City, Low Budget: Being Stealthy in Vancouver

We clocked in some major city miles in Vancouver before heading away from the coast and toward Hope, British Columbia. Check out some of our stealth camping tips so you and your van can live that big city dream!

Sailing into Horseshoe Bay on a warm May evening made for a pretty spectacular welcome back onto mainland BC. All of the smaller islands surrounding Vancouver Island and the luxurious shacks that sit atop them sparkled in the setting sun as our ferry docked about 15 minutes north of West Van. We didn’t want to deal with driving through the city after a long day cruising across the island so we headed north toward Squamish to hunker down for the night. Highway 99, or the Sea-to-Sky Highway, is kind of like a continuation of America’s Pacific Coast Highway that skims the rugged coastline all the way to Squamish before surrounding you in mountains as you head into Whistler. BC is full of scenic drives but this route in particular is pretty special.

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Stunning views just south of Squamish

We found a spot just off the highway with a glorious view of the islands (think Canada, not Galapagos) and the seemingly calm waters that separated us. Being so close to Vancouver, this was a fairly popular spot to camp with a small “village” of vanners forming as more people set up shop for the night. We’re not big fans of waking up early so luckily most of the folks had already set out for the day by the time we rolled out of bed and we had the views all to ourselves.

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Hard to believe we were only metres away from a busy highway

Over the next week, we got our fair dose of city life as we caught up with lots of friends and family in Vancouver. In fact, we experienced the ultimate Vancouver dream: living on a swanky street in Kitsilano lined with multi-million dollar houses while being steps from the beach and tons of bars and restaurants – oh and, for $0 in rent. City camping is not for everyone and definitely gets old pretty quick but it made for a great way to keep our expenses down while spending our days wandering around a big city. It can seem a little daunting at first to pick a spot where you’ll actually be able to sleep the night and not be woken up by relentless street noise or the fear of police knocking on your window in the middle of the night, so here are a few tips we’ve learned for successful stealth camping:

  • Arrive after the sun goes down and already be ready for bed. This way, you don’t need to exit the van to go to the bathroom or have lights on to see your toothbrush. We like to stay in a public parking lot, like a grocery store or city park, and do all of our bedtime duties there so we can keep pretty low-key once we arrive at our spot. With this method, we’ll head out in the AM so folks might not have even noticed we were there at all.
  • Otherwise, park the van in the day, put all the curtains down and leave. Leave for the whole day. People seem to be much less sketched out by a van in the daytime that seems to just be “forgotten” by nightfall. Nothing says CIA like a cargo van with a fake florist company’s logo rolling up at 7PM and not moving. In Key West, we parked near a hotel and left for the day to be tourists and didn’t return until after midnight – this made the van seem more like any other commuter vehicle than our house.
  • Don’t let anyone see you enter/exit the vehicle. In line with previous points, you either leave for the day and don’t return until people go to bed or you arrive when people are already in bed. Don’t make it seem like your van is your home base and that you’re quite obviously living out of your vehicle.
  • If possible, opt for a spot that’s not directly in front of a single-family home. We like to park in front of apartment buildings or be across the street from churches or businesses so it seems like it could be anyone’s vehicle. Are the folks in unit 2A having visitors? Who knows? Also, who cares? By the time anyone actually pursues it, you’ll be gone.
  • Finally the obvious ones: Don’t make excessive noise. Use minimal lights. Make sure people can’t see your stuff when you’re gone for the day but make sure that what people can see is clean and tidy. Essentially, fly under the radar the best you can. No need to draw any extra attention to your rig or become the eyesore of a neighbourhood with take-out containers and receipts filling the dash. Also, decreasing the likelihood of getting broken into is always the name of the game so don’t have anything worthwhile visible – we even make it a point to not leave spare change on the front console.

We spent the week working while eating good food, hanging out at the beach and catching up with old friends. We even dabbled in “vegan chicken wings, AKA cauliflower wings, that were way tastier than we would have ever imagined – and that says a lot coming from two devoted carnivores. Being such an expensive city to live in, we were pretty lucky to bring our accommodations with us and have nice enough weather to walk EVERYWHERE. That is one thing that I love about cities, an hour walk to meet up with your friend turns into an adventure in itself with all the interesting things to see and colourful folks to people watch (in the least creepy way possible). Of course the main downside about being in the city is that you can’t help but spend money – how can you turn down a fresh bowl of delicious ramen when all you have in the van is Mr. Noodles?! That being said, we’ll just focus on the money we saved in accommodation and transportation and not the money we spent on food…

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How purdy! The Vancouver sun (the actual one, not the newspaper) setting over the mountains from Burrard Bridge

The time finally came where we were sick of the city and desperately wanted to be back in the woods. We left the sky-high Vancouver gas prices behind and drove past Chilliwack to Hope, BC where we found ourselves a spot on the Skagit River. Given the season, the rivers were quite high as the snow from the mountains was in prime melting time but this had to be the fastest moving river I’ve ever seen. It looked like someone put this river on fast-forward and just left it. Anyway, it felt good to be back in nature until we took a look around the campsite and it was covered in trash. California was bad for litterbugs but this was downright disgusting – the previous campers had attempted to burn all their unneeded camping gear so the fire pit had an ashy camping chair in it while wrappers and beer boxes were scattered throughout. The kicker though, was that they left two chicken cutlets on a cooking grill on the fire pit. You don’t need to be all that “bear aware” to know that that’s not a good idea – ever. So we cleaned it all up and finished their botched burning job to leave the spot as a campsite instead of a pigsty.

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This campsite was once a gnarly site
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Then became a great riverside spot!

Coastal BC has been amazing so we’re stoked to head into the mountains and start exploring the interior. Summer is upon us and Canada is full of what we call Crown Land (similar to BLM lands in the States) so we’re gearing up for a few months of amazing free camping. Follow along on our new Camping Directory where we’ll continuously share all the hidden gems we uncover. Shoot us a message or leave a comment with any must-see spots anywhere from BC to Newfoundland – we’re doing it all!

Surfing our Way Up-Island

Camping in Vancouver Island’s rainforests outside of Port Alberni before catching some good food AND waves around Ucluelet and Tofino, British Columbia.

Anyone who has been before knows that Vancouver Island has got it goin’ on. We’re hoping we can one day venture out to what’s truly considered “up-island” (Campbell River, Port Hardy, etc.), but for this leg of our journey, we were en route to the furthest west we’d be going in Canada.

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Cathedral Grove is a must-see stop on the drive to Port Alberni

After scouring around the BC Sites and Trails website, we found a few really awesome free campsites within an hour of Port Alberni. Bear in mind that even though they’re a full hour’s drive, they’re less than 30km (18 miles) away – AKA some rough dirt road driving. What has now come to be one of my favourite camping spots to date, the first place we checked out was Arden Creek. A surprisingly well maintained logging road brought us to a small opening within the trees where the very discreet road in made its way down to the water. There are four designated campsites, each with different scenery ranging from a rocky beach to a crystal clear river hidden by mossy trees. This place was downright magical.

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What a campsite! Arden Creek was wicked

We decided to stay there a few days while relaxing in the trees and watching the tide of the Alberni Inlet roll in and out like it was going out of style. Once we were ready to start trailblazing again, we headed to Nahmint Lake, another gem of a BC Recreation Area hidden among old growth hemlock trees. As beautiful as it was, the drive to reach it gave Clementine a run for her money. Potholes are one thing but this road had some majorly steep grades that were quite a challenge when you’re a 34 year old bitty that weighs well over 5000 pounds. Just when the engine got a break from hill climbing, the brakes got their share of stress on a not-far-from-vertical descent down the mountain that made us look forward to climbing it on the way out (not). On one rock, someone actually spray-painted “KEEP ‘ER PINNED” as a reminder to keep that gas going…thanks helpful Canadian vandals! Anyway, the spot was super nice and definitely delivered on being remote. With all the vegetation and wildlife around, there was so much life enveloping the van into its flourishing mossy grasp. If you’re looking to get your jungle fix without leaving BC, it’s well worth the steep rocky drive in.

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Our campsite at Nahmint Lake

Ultra scenic highway 4 led us through the mountains, by the wayside of picturesque Kennedy Lake and finally, back out to the ocean. The rain came down hard that day and created a misty haze in the trees that looked pretty cool and doubled as a free carwash that was much needed after the alternating cycle of mud and dust that was the Nahmint Lake drive. As the clouds cleared, we arrived in the small fishing town of Ucluelet where we ate some tasty fresh cod at a food truck called Jiggers and passed by a bunch of other vans on the same pilgrimage.

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Rainy days on Highway 4

Continuing on the tail end of highway 4, we headed into Pacific Rim National Park where we camped at Green Point for a few days. I’m proud to say that this was our first time paying for a campsite in months and on this part of the island, it’s well worth it because boondocking is next to impossible. With our newly acquired 2018 Discovery Pass in tow, we got to explore Long Beach and sleep under the familiar jungley trees from Nahmint Lake. The only downside was that the trees created almost complete shade so it was consistently chilly and not great for solar, but luckily every campsite had an electrical hookup to keep that fridge cold.

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Nahmint Lake is surrounded by huge hemlock trees among tons of other plants. Keepin’ it green!
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Tidal pools disguising themselves as tempting hot tubs

Unlike many other coastal beaches, Long Beach is nice and sandy and has tons of really cool tidal pools that look like mini tropical oases. This also makes it a great place to surf since the waves in this area are pretty reliable. As it turned out, the weekend we were there happened to be the Rip Curl Pro surfing competition so Tofino was bustling. We went into town to grab some Tofino Brewing beers and some tasty cured meats and cheeses at Picnic Charcuterie before making our way to Cox Bay to scope out the competition. When we got to the beach, we were greeted by a thick fog that made it hard to see what was going on 20 metres away but were pretty confident that not many people were out surfing. We ate, drank and were merry with all the other people on the beach before heading back to the campsite for the night.

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Thick fog swallowed up all of Cox Bay

Tofino is a pretty tourist driven town with gorgeous scenery in all directions that felt more like Australia than Canada. It’s an easy place to spend money but also a great spot to just walk around and take in the views. The next day, we rented some surfboards and wetsuits and spent the afternoon at Chesterman Beach surfing (or at least attempting to). Turns out the fog was too thick for the judges to see anything the day before so all the events were being jam-packed into one marathon of a competition on this final day of the weekend. Chesterman was much better suited for beginners so we happily got endlessly knocked over there. I mostly belly rode the whole time, which was super fun, but Justin managed to successfully stand up and surf the waves. Truthfully, the hardest part for me was carrying the damn longboard because it was double the size of me and super awkward. In any case, we had a great time in the water and were completely exhausted by the end of it.

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Tubular, bruh!

With one night left on the island, we managed to find a free spot near the local landfill (glamorous) that had a road as pothole-ridden as those in Mexico. To illustrate just how bumpy it was, we had an avocado in the banana hammock that got rocked back and forth so vigorously that it made guacamole on the ceiling – yum! We had a much-needed sleep before heading back to Nanaimo to catch the ferry to Horseshoe Bay where we’d begin our journey to the mainland and start heading east. Summer’s on its way and we’re stoked to be back in Canada!

Lower Vancouver Island

Starting our return to Canada off right by heading straight to one of our favourite places, Vancouver Island. We partied with friends in Victoria before making our way around Jordan River, Cowichan Lake and Nanaimo, British Columbia.

Hello Canada! We are back and ready to get all up in your business! Or, just drive across you while visiting friends and family and marvelling in your beauty. The ferry ride over was an A+ way to cross the border: beautiful scenery, a beer-stocked boat and the smoothest border crossing we’ve ever had. Like most humans, the border always makes me nervous even though we’ve done nothing wrong, but this one was so chill that the lady actually laughed when we bothered to claim some auto parts we were bringing back. Plus, no need to deal with that Peace Arch congestion that can take hours to go through. Also worth noting that Clementine is about 18’ long so we were able to pay standard vehicle price, which ended up being just $80 USD total for us all to cross – MUCH less than we’d pay in gas driving through Seattle to Vancouver and taking the BC Ferry to the Island. Win-win!

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Non-stop beautiful views on the ferry from Port Angeles, WA to Victoria, BC

The great thing about being back in Canada is that we know a bunch of people scattered far and wide so we can cash in on some valuable shower and driveway time. Isn’t that what friends are for after all? We spent a week in Victoria staying with a friend’s awesome parents (shout out to John and Ruth if you’re reading this 😉) and some old friends while catching up on work and enjoying the lack of rain that coastal BC can be known for. We even managed to get in some beach time at Gonzales Bay, where you can sunbathe and party at the foot of multimillion-dollar homes that you’ll never own. What a life! We also broke all the rules of stealth camping and had a party in the van while parked on a city street but managed to get away with no police visits or tickets and escaped with just a hangover. Success!

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There was also a seal molting on the beach

One place we checked out that wasn’t previously on our radar was The Butchart Gardens. Lucky for us, we were given a 2 for 1 admission pass so we took the opportunity to explore all the flowers that you normally just see on postcards. We didn’t think we were all that interested in flowers, until we visited. Basically, the area is an old limestone quarry that’s been converted into a dream-like sunken garden, along with Italian and Japanese gardens and a rose garden. Perfectly manicured greenery and flowers of every colour filled every direction, along with the highest concentration of extremely happy old people I’ve ever seen in my life. The place was packed – even when it started to rain and everyone huddled under clear bubble umbrellas so as not to miss any of the pretty floral views. They have some odd restrictions about not wearing period dress or cosplay but all in all, it was a pleasant surprise how much we enjoyed it (no, we weren’t planning to dress in cosplay even if it was allowed).

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The sunken garden was something out of a fairytale

I’ve mentioned the difference in gas prices before between the US and Canada but we were ever so fortunate to come back into Canada when Vancouver is experiencing the most expensive gas prices in North America. Currency conversion aside, we’re paying almost as much per LITRE ($1.62) as we were paying per gallon in some states ($1.99)…and there’s 3.78L in a gallon, so you can do the math. Anyway, we couldn’t let that stop us from continuing around the Island and heading to Jordan River. A popular surfing spot for people who actually know what they’re doing, the river meets up with the coast at a rocky beach filled with crabs and other tidal sea life. We camped right along the beach and enjoyed being back out of the city for a few days.

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No surfers around in the thick fog at Jordan River

Continuing toward Port Renfrew, we stopped at China Beach where we explored the woods and I failed massively at skipping rocks. In Juan de Fuca Park, there’s a botanical beach with lots of little sea critters and these crazy bonsai-esque trees that grow in all kinds of warped twisty directions. They almost end up growing into each other and carve interesting paths in the hiking trail, dictating which way you’ll walk around them. Sombrio Beach is another cool spot with the classic west coast rocky beach that the high tide can do such a good job at hiding. You can easily kill a couple hours flipping over a few rocks and seeing all the crabs scurry on to their new homes while playing the tough guy card and pinching their claws at you.

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These twisty “natural bonsais” wrap their way around the park

We spent the next day exploring Lake Cowichan and the Cowichan River Park where we hiked around and watched crazy kayakers battle the river. These provincial parks have plenty of no overnight camping signs at trailheads and parking lots so we eventually circled around Cowichan Bay in hopes of finding a spot to camp for the night. Unfortunately, most of the more remote areas around here have become rich peoples’ houses so we went on a little further before stopping in a town called Chemainus. Turns out they’ve got designated RV parking spots around town where you can stay and enjoy a view of the ocean. We spent the evening at a park by the water with a boat ramp and relished in the definite start of summer with the sun not setting until well after 8 PM.

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Watching people kayak counts as kayaking too, right?

One pitfall about Canada is that there are very few Planet Fitness locations where we can grab a shower…and maybe a workout if we’re feeling ambitious. We didn’t have any friends to phone up in Nanaimo so we racked our brains and took a different approach by visiting the pool. I’m normally not a fan of public pools at all but this place was $7 and had a wave pool, waterslides and a huge hot tub! After a long day of working, it was a fun and relaxing way to unwind…until a kid puked in the pool and everyone had to get out. Oh yeah, that’s why I don’t like public pools. Anyhow, we got all shampooed up and headed to a BC Recreation Area about 20 minutes away from Nanaimo and hunkered down for the night. This place meets up with the Trans Canada Trail so there were a few hikers and equestrian folk around since the area has lots of corrals and grassy land for the horsies to roam around. There was even a BBQ in one of the sites that seemed to be open for use.

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No trip to Nanaimo could be complete without a couple nanaimo bars

We’re now on our way toward Tofino and stoked to explore everything in between. Vancouver Island is a magical place and is FULL of amazing free camping spots that just take a little research to discover. Canada seems to be much less prominent when it comes to finding spots on websites like freecampsites.net (the bible) but by taking some time to dig around BC’s Sites and Trails site and talking to locals, the Island is full of great surprises.

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Another Butchart Gardens photo because it was THAT magical

Vancouver, not BC, Washington, not DC

Our last days in the US of A spent around the Olympic National Park in Hoodsport and Port Angeles, Washington.

We were just about at the top of Canada’s pants (also known as America) and what better place to spend our final days in Washington than in the forest overlooking Mount Washington itself? After talking to a German couple in Tillamook, we learned about the Coho Ferry that runs from Port Angeles, WA to Victoria, BC and decided to avoid the Seattle traffic and sail right into Vancouver Island. Sticking to western Washington State, we found an amazing spot in the Olympic National Forest with a view of Lake Cushman and the snow capped mountains. We could have stayed here forever, soaking in all the amazing views and reliable AT&T service.

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One of our favourite spots so far, atop a mountain in the Olympic National Forest overlooking Mt. Washington

Once we finally parted ways with that wicked spot in the National Forest, we visited the National Park only to find out that it was still largely buried in snow. 118” of snow, to be exact. I was really looking forward to hiking to the natural Olympic Hot Springs, but unfortunately, the road leading to the trailhead was so severely damaged by a storm a couple years ago that it’s closed indefinitely so they would be quite a trek to reach by foot. It’s always worth checking the road conditions before you go to avoid disappointment. Speaking of road conditions, we seemed to arrive just at the right time when the road up to Hurricane Ridge was fully plowed and open to drive on. It’ll only get you as far as the Visitor Centre but the drive is pretty spectacular. At 5242’ (1598m) elevation, this is where they measured the 118” of snow. Luckily, from the Visitor Centre, you have a clear view of Mount Olympus and its surrounding mountains that make for a pretty epic snowy scene. It’s hard to believe that within 20 minutes, your drive goes from rainforest to forests blanketed in snow. It’s a super cool place to check out that looks good in any season. The National Park also has webcams set up at the Visitor Centre so you can get a sneak peak of what the conditions are like before making the drive.

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No shortage of snow at Hurricane Ridge

We spent our last days in the cute little town of Port Angeles where we stocked up on all of our American goods before heading toward the border. Just a short drive from the city, we spent some time at the Ediz Hook Bird Refuge and relaxed on the rocky beach with a view of Vancouver Island from one angle and Mount Baker from the other. The harbor of Port Angeles also looked pretty magical in the twinkle of lights from docked and visiting boats – a pretty great little seaside town that made for an awesome farewell to our time in the states.

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The pretty view of Port Angeles from Ediz Hook

The time has finally come to venture back to Canada and start a new leg of our journey. Five months absolutely flew by and although we got to see a ton of cool stuff, there’s still so much more to discover. With a limit on our time in America, we tried to make the most of every day we had and really hope that you Americans are doing the same – politics and beliefs aside, America is a beautiful place that is so diverse and accessible to people willing to uncover it. We’ll have another dip down in the Midwest on our way back to Toronto where we’ll be sure to savour every dollar spent on that sweet, sweet, cheap gas that we’ve reluctantly bid adieu to.

Take a Break from Pumping Gas in Oregon

Living that sales tax-free life through Coos Bay, Cannon Beach and Portland, Oregon.

A very fitting entrance into Oregon, the day we arrived was POURING. We knew it was a rainy place so we sort of just accepted that that’s what life is like there but were pleasantly surprised (for the sake of Oregonians) to hear that was a storm. And a storm like that always does a great job at enlightening you as to where you may have a few leaks….yay…! With a caulking gun in tow, we spent the night at Bastendorff Beach, just west of Coos Bay, and noted how similar, yet different Oregon’s coast is to California’s. With more trees, less cliffs and way more rain, it makes for a much moodier take on Big Sur’s flower-coated shoreline.

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Once the rain stopped, turns out Bastendorff is a pretty nice beach

As any roadtrip goes, the time to buy gas always creeps up quickly. After having filled up in 20 different states at this point, we approached the fill-up by parking, turning the engine off, getting out of the car and preparing to pre-pay. This time, however, no one else appeared to be getting out of their car but instead, stared at us like we were doing something very strange. When we tried to go over to the attendant to give him some cash, he too looked at us like we were doing something very strange. Turns out full-serve gas stations are alive and kicking in Oregon and are pretty much the only type of gas station there is! As it turns out, Oregon and New Jersey are the only two states where pumping your own gas is a foreign concept. Earlier this year, Oregon made some new regulations where in counties with less than 40 000 people, folks can pump their own gas after 6PM (among a few other guidelines), which was met with hostile reactions. “It should only be a trained and certified employee handling these dangerous gas pumps!” “ You expect me to go outside in the rain and cold and risk my life pumping my own gas?!” “How am I supposed to pump my own gas when I don’t know how??” Ok Oregonians, put on your big boy pants and join the rest of the world – you know it’s not that scary when grandmas do it daily without a flinch. What was comedy for us was pertinent information for others when the gas station had diagrams on how not to insert the pump upside down. All joking aside, it clearly creates more minimum wage jobs and kinda makes you feel like a VIP when your gas gets pumped for you. We were even able to get cigarettes delivered to the van without having to go outside or even stand up!

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Mossy trees by The Devil’s Elbow Park

From Coos Bay, we continued up the coast toward Heceta Beach where we slept a night in the thick of the rainforest, surrounded by huge ferns and miles of lush vegetation. Close to the Devil’s Elbow State Park, this was one of those roads that had no clear destination or reason to exist at all, but made for an excellent sleeping spot that felt like the rest of the world was far, far away. We even found a little painted rock left by a previous camper with a hashtag on it to connect with others exploring the Pacific Northwest. It’s always fun to continue writing the stories that others have started in remote locations.

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Look at this cute little guy!

Out of the forest and back on the water’s edge, we headed to Cook’s Chasm to see Thor’s Well. We didn’t know that the Spouting Horn was there as well so it was a really cool and unexpected surprise to witness this geyser-like spoof of mist shoot up into the sky as the boisterous waves came crashing into the shore. Funnily enough, it took us some searching to actually find Thor’s Well because it’s secondary to the main attraction of the Spouting Horn. If you’ve never heard of the Well, it’s a round pocket in the rocky shore that appears to suck the water from the ocean into its depths. In reality, it’s not all that deep and it certainly isn’t draining the ocean, but it sure looks cool! It’s best to witness on a stormy day but can be really dangerous to get near with all the sneaker waves that Oregon’s coast sees. As the signs point out, never turn your back to the ocean!

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The Spouting Horn at Cook’s Chasm

Continuing north, we stopped in cheese land – or Tillamook as it’s actually called, and lived the absolute dream: camping on a cheese farm. Blue Heron French Cheese Co. is a haven of fine meats, cheeses and all the accouterments needed for a delicious picnic. The cherry on top is that they also have a little wine bar inside where you can do a tasting of 5 wines for 5 bucks! Oregon’s becoming the new kid on the block in the wine scene so it was great to try some local blends and even take a bottle back to the van. Not sure if the owners are RVers or are just really kind, but the grassy knoll of the parking lot is open to overnighters with a simple registration inside. It is, of course, a farm so there are lots of friendly goats and silly donkeys around while colourful peacocks and not-so-quiet roosters sing you all kinds of songs to wake up to. Oddly enough, the roosters on the farm still weren’t as loud and vocal as the roosters that roam the streets in Key West – can’t miss that wakeup call. I highly highly recommend it as an overnight stop and a cool place to visit on any Oregon trip.

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Cheese farm living
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Our neighbour for the night

After saying farewell to our short-lived life on the farm, we stopped in a couple of cool coastal towns, like Manzanita, before making our way to Cannon Beach. I’ve heard lots about Cannon Beach and it was definitely lovely but a little too windy that day to even hear each other speak. The houses that line the coast up here are gorgeous and generally a lot more humble than those of California’s coast, while still boasting panoramic views of the ocean and all that magnificent greenery that Oregon’s so known for.

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Windy days at Cannon Beach

Like California, we stayed pretty coastal in Oregon and will save the interior for another (read: warmer) time. We got lots of rave recommendations from friends about Crater Lake and camping along the Umpqua River but after checking the conditions and reading that the road into the Lake was closed due to ice from a blizzard, we reluctantly passed on visiting. It is our mission to avoid winter, after all. Luckily, spring had sprung in Portland and sunny skies with cherry blossom-lined streets were in high supply. Portland is also a very van-friendly city with plenty of free street parking in residential and commercial neighbourhoods where you’re bound to see at least one other crusty van parked at every turn. I think it’s a mix between having a very open-minded and unbothered community, along with a massively underfunded police department. In any case, the city has also allowed tenting and sleeping on the streets so you’ll see plenty of tent cities along the highway and other underpasses. Surely far from an ideal living situation but we even saw one group of people that had solar panels at their city campsite, which is actually kind of impressive. Anyway, we spent most of our time around the Hawthorne and Division areas of Southeast Portland, where there were plenty of interesting shops, bars and restaurants that made us feel like we were back in Toronto. It’s got the same mature neighbourhood feel but the houses aren’t as astronomically expensive so people can actually afford to maintain them and keep them looking nice instead of cramming in 12 students and letting the property fend for itself.

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Boats at Cathedral Park in Portland

Portlandia is one of my favourite shows so it was pretty cool to spend some time in the self-described “weird” city. Weird probably wouldn’t be my first word to describe it, but friendly might be; we were parked on a residential street for a little while while waiting for an oil change appointment when a guy yelled down to us from his balcony and asked if we needed to use the restroom or anything. How generous! It’s evident that unlike some other stuffier cities, Portland is pretty laid back and certainly accepting of alternative lifestyles, like van dwelling. When we finally got our oil change, we got to talking to the guy at the shop who gave us some recommendations for cool places to check out nearby that we unfortunately didn’t get a chance to visit. Multnomah Falls, Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens (Washington) are definitely on our list for next time! We spent the rest of our evening at Cathedral Park and admired one of Portland’s many bridges getting lit up as the sun went down. Oh and of course, all the while drinking Stumptown Coffee.

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St. John’s Bridge in Cathedral Park

Just one more state to go until we’re back in the motherland and it almost feels like we’re already in BC with the mountainous, tree-covered scenery and with a city by the name of Vancouver. Washington, here we come!

California Chronicles: NorCal

Slept beside the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco before driving through the towering Redwoods of Northern California.

We were officially out of the endless summer that California is so known for and on our way north. With a free day and a full tank of very expensive gas, we took a cruise around San Jose and Silicon Valley. Wanting to check out the new Apple Park, we may or may not have tried to drive into the trippy loop through the employees only entrance before getting stopped by security. I don’t think many Apple employees come to work in an ’84 Dodge van so our tour was pretty limited to a drive around the loop where Priuses and Segways ran wild. We did a lap around the other tech offices in the area before it started to pour and we headed for San Francisco.

Generic Van Life - Northern California Golden Gate Night
Arrived to a nicely lit up view of the bridge and city

Not the most ideal evening to sit in the park and pretend you’re on Full House, so we just drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and found our spot for the night at the rest area on the Marin side. Staying at rest areas is usually a last resort for us, but this one has the most spectacular view of the city and bridge (and Alcatraz!). There’s also a Northern California recreation area on this side that offers sites for tenters with a free reservation. We woke up to busloads of tourists coming to snap their photos and a sunny view of that bridge we’ve all heard so much about. We ended up chatting with a bunch of other vehicle dwellers before heading on to Petaluma where we got to tour a sticker factory! Travelling through the country has allowed us to link up with lots of friends and people we’ve worked with that we never thought we’d get to see, which is really rad.

Generic Van Life - Northern California Golden Gate Day
Aaaaand woke up to a lovely sunny view of the bridge and city
Generic Van Life - Northern California Stickers
STICKERS!!! So many awesome stickers at Mrs. Grossman’s in Petaluma, CA

Taking in all of the delicious grapey smells of Sonoma County, we spent a couple days camping among peaceful forests and waterfalls before venturing into the grandfather of all trees, the Redwoods. We saw a sign along the 101 highway mentioning a “drive-thru tree”. Intrigued, we followed the signs and ended up in Leggett where, for 5 bucks, you can drive through a massive 2400 year old tree – if you’ve got a compact enough car. Sadly, Clementine is a full-figured girl so we walked through instead but it was still really crazy and really cool. You can see all the marks along the sides of the little tunnel where people have realized they’re too big to fit and continued to scrape on through. The tree itself is called Chandelier Tree and is older than Jesus! Think about it!

Generic Van Life - Northern California Chandelier Tree
That’s one big tree!

Being amongst these huge sequoias in the Redwood Forests is incredibly humbling and serene. To think that these giants have been around through so much, from the medieval days to the World Wars, makes all your minute problems seem pretty insignificant. It’s a similar feeling that I get in the mountains where you realize that things that might seem so important right now are really just another ring on the tree or a rock on the mountain. If these trees could talk, I’m sure they’d have plenty of wise words to say.

Generic Van Life - Northern California Howland Hill Road
Looking like a van for ants on Howland Hill Road

There are a variety of enormously treed forests amongst the Redwood National and State Parks that all have different hikes and scenic drives to offer, but our favourite was the Jedediah Smith State Park near Hiouchi. Take the Howland Hill Road scenic route and feel so small in the jungle of trees. I probably have more photos on my camera roll of this drive than any other because it would not cease to keep blowing my mind. I’ve said it a hundred times now but these trees are just so damn big!!

Generic Van Life - Northern California Redwoods
When these monsters fall, there’s no chance you’re moving ’em so instead, you get to drive through them!

As expensive as the gas is and as saturated as the van scene may be, California is undoubtedly a magical place and I completely understand why so many people live there (fun fact: the population of California is greater than the entire population of Canada). It’s got such a diverse landscape and really does have something for everyone. Because we only had two weeks to explore it with the clocks on our visas ticking, we decided to stick to the coast and leave the interior for next time. We cannot wait to venture back and explore Death Valley, the Sierras and everything in between.

Generic Van Life - Northern California Hiouchi
Foggy skies over vibrant mountain water in Hiouchi, CA