Van Life: The Pacific Northwest
Adventure Elopement Photographer Van Life Journal
…last time I checked in with you all about life on the road full time I was coming back from living in a van for a week in Iceland. We had just traveled from Arizona, to Colorado, to North Carolina and then flew overseas. Since then we drove across the country all the way to Washington from North Carolina to spend almost two months exploring the Pacific Northwest. We hit the road in our recently remodeled van and made it across the country in four days!
To say I was excited to spend a whole two months in the Pacific Northwest would be an understatement. My love for the outdoors really set on fire my first trip to Olympic National Park three years ago. As an avid hike, outdoors lady and elopement photographer I was beyond stoked to be surrounded by the pines, ferns, water and mountains that this region has to offer. We officially hit 10,000 miles on the van since buying it during this trip, broke down, had to be towed, encountered lots of changes and met so many rad folks. Learned a lot of things about living in a van full time, maintaining the van and dealing with acceptance.
The Itinerary Breakdown
(Links will take you to sessions from the locations mentioned. Scroll down to skip the boring timeline and get to the juicy bits)
If you recall I started this journey with two cats, we had to leave one cat behind with my parents in North Carolina. I had Sophie for over nine years and it was not an easy choice to make, but she for sure let me know that she did not want to go and has been super happy since being re-homed with my parents. Indy, has been really enjoying the trails and having the van to himself. Indy and I started our journey in Washington with a few nights in the Manchester State Park which was a lovely camp site to get re-settled in the van before heading into the National park. The trails along the water were very enjoyable and a nice change of pace from driving day and night across the country.
I always spend my birthday enjoying some along time, reflecting on my life for the last year. This year I celebrated a little early since I had some extra special plans for the day of my birthday. I spent the day camping in Olympic National Park at Mora Campground, which is right by one of my favorite places on Earth, Rialto Beach. During the day I rode my bike around the area and had the best burger and shake you can get in the area of Forks at Three Rivers Resort. In the evening I hiked to the beach, read a book, wrote in my journal and then enjoyed a bottle of champagne as the sun went down before hiking back to camp. The rest of the trip there was spent exploring new trails I had not yet been on in the park. There are so many beautiful waterfalls, lakes, lush areas in Olympic National Park, I do not think I will ever get tired of visiting there.
Next up on the agenda was Mount Rainier, a place I have dreamed of going to since the first time I went to Washington when I was just twelve years old. Man, I fell in love, hard. This place from the first moment I set foot on a trial I was hooked. During the whole trip I went back to Rainier as much as I could, any free minute was spent there. I hiked over 40 miles in the park during this little two month period. A couple of my favorites were tolmie lookout, glacier basin and the several trails I linked together to get from cougar rock campground to upper skyline trail and back. I have always believed that people connect with different places intensely and this is for sure one of my places. The deep connection I feel to this park is sure to continue bringing me back over and over again.
Then I headed to San Juan Islands which had never even been on my radar until recently. This is where I ended up spending my actual birthday. After being in “no service land” for a few weeks and hiking almost every day it was nice to park the van and hangout in a house for some time. The small town of Friday Harbor is so quaint and the coffee shops were to die for when editing and catching up on emails. Following the San Juan Islands was a little tent camping trip to Mt Baker. I tent camped at Baker Lake in the most epic camping spot along the lake that was right on the water, super private and so beautiful!!! We then did a day trip to the North Cascades. It was back to Anacortes for a day to regroup before heading to Oregon. Unfortunately, the van had other plans. The van broke down while trying to find a camp spot for the night. She had to be towed in and worked on for a couple of days, thank goodness for my tent right??? Getting the van worked on as it was smoking and spewing out coolant was so scary. It is your home that you are leaving behind and your ride. I am thankful for the shop in Anacortes that got her going again and dealt with my panic.
Once everything was good to go it was off to Portland for a little normality. I rented an Airbnb to do some work and explore the city. Then we were off to the coast for a couple of sessions in Cannon beach and Hug Point (which I can not wait to share with you!). I stayed at the hostel in Seaside, which I become very fond of. I have been a lover of the hostel life for many years and used to work at one while in college. I really enjoyed connecting with fellow travelers, spending some time reading and reflecting on the beach and eating fresh pastries as I worked at local coffee shops. I took a week away from the beach to head out to Smith Rock State park for a session and some hiking. I have always been fond of the area of Bend, Sun River and Smith Rock since the first time I went back in my PGA working days. I had been super stoked about going to Crater Lake National Park since buying the van and the time had come!! It was a little bit of a bummer because I couldn’t hike with Indy (NP rules) and it was a super hot day. So our time in the park was much more of sight seeing than exploring, but be assured the views did not disappoint. I detoured for a very exciting hike that lead to a hot spring! The only hot springs I had been to so far were in Iceland and this one left me wanting to find even more in the states to sit in and just be. As we made our back to the coast we stopped to hike two days and for another session at Silver Falls State Park. If you are in Oregon there is so much to see and explore, but this park should be on your list….so many water falls!!!
Then it was back to the coast for a wedding and to kill some time planning out the next weeks at the hostel. The Oregon coast is so diverse and stunning I could have really spent the two full months there. I had my first not so smart hiking experience this trip around the at the coast. I hiked from the hostel to ecola state park thinking I could complete it and be back before dinner. Once I realized I was not going to be able to do the full thing it was too late to turn around. I did a quick Google search to make sure I could get an Uber back to the hostel and reroute the right trails to get me into town to be able to do so. Unfortunately, one of the trails was closed so I had to take the road which was steep and many more miles. I ended up getting a ride from a nice local fella, but it turns out Google was wrong and Uber does not exist in Cannon beach. The nice fella offered me a ride back to the hostel. I felt lucky to have been offered a safe ride by this stranger back to the home base. Due to some schedule changes caused by hot weather and an earlier flight out to NC I ended up doing a whole full circle of the places I had already been to in Washington, crazy right?? So it was back to Olympic National Park then Mt Rainier then off to the San Juan Islands and lastly to Seattle for a flight. All within about one week of time. The route to the North Carolina from the island was a little crazy. I packed my back, my camera gear and the cat to catch a morning ferry back to the mainland. We rented a car, headed to the mountains for some hiking. Then drove into Seattle for dinner and a sunset session. Got to our hotel super late stayed the night, got up early to get to the airport and flew home, with a cat lol.
The Deep Stuff
Living in a van makes me crave connection with other folks and a little normality like a Friday night bar hop or a nice sit down dinner. I have been traveling in the van for about three and half months. I for sure miss my friends in Arizona and having a normal routine. I am excited to see the difference in living in the van back “home” in Arizona versus all the travel I have been doing for the last bit of time.
There is just nothing like a shower. Thank goodness for Planet Fitness. Driving out of your way miles and miles for a shower is a whole new thing and so worth it.
The more time you spend in a van the more time you know what you like about the van and what you don’t like about a van. When I was purchasing my van my dad suggested I rent a van for a month for a little test of the life. I thought it was crazy just because the amount of money I would spend, the adjustments it would take on the schedule and for just the fact that no matter what I knew I wanted to experience van life, but I think it is a good idea for anyone just to get a better feel for what you want in a rig.
I have learned I need to be on a trail at least every three days and honestly so does Indy. This may sound high maintenance or a little extra, but it really does feel like a need. I fully believe in the power of the trial. It is healing, relaxing and just helps me recenter. It is so easy in Van Life to get caught up in planning where you’re staying, checking with the weather so the cat doesn’t die, figuring out your routes and time you have for adventure that it is so important to take some time for self care. My business overlaps so much with who I am as a person and what things I enjoy doing that it makes it all the more important to hit the trail just for me (and Indy) as often as possible.
Becoming okay with whatever life throws you is a thing. I started this van life journey for a lot of reasons. Some of those reasons were so I could hike more, so I could save money, so I could see places I really wanted to see, being able to be more flexible with locations for elopements, learning to be okay with alone time, time to reflect on life, adjust my outlook on life, deal with some things I had been avoiding mentally, etc. I mean I could go on and on. The thing is van life gives you a lot more time to think. Between driving long hours, quiet nights and time along all you do is think it seems. Van life also throws you a lot of curve balls with everything! It is not a normal life style, you start thinking about things you would never have to think about normally which also means dealing with whatever life throws you. I have learned to be okay with unexpected change, costs and more. It is also about learning to be okay with when you just need a break, a day off from work, or driving, or being outside, or whatever else you may feel that you need to do. My aunt always says “live life to the fullest and expect the unexpected” when we hang up the phone and that is defiantly the way to live Van Life.
Living in a van changes you daily, weekly, monthly. Some things have become way more important like a schedule, organization, relationships and quiet time. Somethings have become less important like my own expectations and others expectations for me, things that do not fit into the big picture, easy transportation, what is going on outside of your direct circle.
The cat has become extremely attached to me. Granted we spend almost 24/7 together in tight quarters. He has become way more relaxed living on the road and adapts well. I was shocked how easy flying with him was. The down side is he has become more protective of me on and off the trail. I am no vet and vets do not seem to have any behavioral answers for me, so it is quite the experience living on the road, constantly hiking and changing our lives with a cat.
Van Life is not cheap in the Pacific Northwest. First off gas prices along the western coast is insane, especially when you only get ten miles per gallon lol. Camping in Washington is extremely expensive. A lot of the forest service land is more eastern and away from a lot of the places I wanted to explore. Also, I think my monthly coffee bill tripled trying to survive those cloudy days, long drives and the forever tempting coffee huts every mile in Washington. Also, Walmart parking lots, you are a life saver.
Things that make van life great: listening to the Women on the Road podcast in the mornings, meeting fellow photographers and chatting about business and life, meeting fellow travelers and comparing experiences, the trials, the starry nights, the freedom of going, phone calls with friends, making goals (because even though you’re in these places you learn so much about new trials and things you can do that you can’t do it all right then and there).
The end game is still unknown. It is still the question everyone asks me, “What are you doing after Van Life?” or “How long do you plan to live in the van?” I originally planned to live in the van for at least one year. That is still somewhat the game plan. In reality I still do not know where life is going to take and I am still okay with this. I love Arizona and miss it deeply, but who knows if that is where I will settle. While there is no “exit strategy” from Van Life right now, I do plan to spend October through May in Arizona, Southern California and Utah. I am also very intrigued to see how much I may miss the PNW once I am back in the desert.
Living on the road full time gives me the ability to travel constantly. I am able to get to locations whenever I would like, scout elopement locations in person and capture your elopement day with less travel hassle. I can not imagine doing anything else with my life, I am extremely passionate about the places and my couples love stories. If you would like to work with me for your elopement day feel free to reach out!
Some shots from the cellular device.
If you have questions about Van Life or our adventures from the Pacific Northwest drop them in the comments below! <3
Special thanks to all the photographers that went on hikes with me and that I got to work with in the last two months. Even more praise to the ladies who traded head shots with me on the trails ;) Thank you to all the lovely couples I got to work with and get to know in the area. I have to say special thanks to Daniel as well (man photographed to your left)! He is a cross country bicyclist that I hope to cross paths with again this winter in Arizona. Thank you for sharing your stories from living on the road, life philosophies, inspiring me, dinner and campfire conversations. If you want to follow along with his journey click here.