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We Survived Week One!

On this sunny 7-day mark from our departure, we greet you all from the bustling city of San Francisco. We've been shown around so far by my sister's boyfriend (slash our wedding guitarist) Sebastian, and after an incredibly filling lunch from Taqueria El Buen Sabor, we rest at the Ritual coffee shop to catch up on journaling, blog-writing, and general Internet-ing.

(Okay, embarrassing truth real quick: I wrote this a few days ago. It's being posted on day 9.)

Breakfast in bed/the Redwoods
Last night, snuggled up on our hosts' futon, was our first night since heading out on this trip that we didn't sleep in our beloved Element, which means we have six nights of car camping under our belt. In those six nights, we've covered a variety of overnight venues: dispersed camping in the mountains, a secluded side street in the middle of downtown Portland, a casino parking lot, a county campground, BLM land, and a very public state park. We've of course found pros and cons to each of these locations. Being in the wilderness provides the luxury of a campfire: very cozy, provides heat and light, but also makes everything smell. (Unfortunate when we're days and miles away from showers and laundry.) Sleeping in the city around the corner from a delightful coffee shop surrounded by other van-dwellers provides amenities, but having to pee in the middle of the night is a real drag. (I don't think we'll share the details of how we solved that one just yet.)

But ultimately, the thing we learned this past week is, despite some mild discomforts, we're really making living in our Element work. It is surprising how quickly you get used to the routine of folding up the bed in the morning so there's some room to change your clothes, and putting up the window covers at night. The bed is ridiculously comfortable for being a car--though I may feel this a little more than Andrew, who has at least ten inches on me and slightly broader shoulders... We've stayed decently warm, and have even had a couple of nights where it was hot enough to kick off some of the blankets and use just the sheets.

And while we both sigh deeply each morning as we recognize that, to enjoy a steaming cup of coffee, we will have to open up the back... and pull out the camp stove... and get out the pot... and wait for the water to boil before it can brew in the french press for a while... and then there's all the cleanup... we are reveling in the unique freedom that having your whole life packed into an SUV brings. We did very little planning ahead of time for our route down the coast, but got to just drive each day and see where the road took us. We can do whatever we want!

Though we'll enjoy sharing with you more details and stories as the trip continues, I'd like to hit on some highlights today at the very least, since time is already zipping by.


We slept in the Mount Hood National Forest for our very first night, mostly so we could try the whole microcamper system out in the safety of the wilderness before we were within sight of other people. It was a good first go, but somewhat uneventful. We had to cook in the dark the first night, and we didn't have wood for a fire, but we slept great and it was such a peaceful place to wake up to. The biggest perk was perhaps its proximity to the city of Portland, where we went the next day.

Portland is a city Andrew and I have both visited before, but not in this context. It was a great place to run some errands now that we had a better idea--from experience--of what we needed to add or adjust in the car, but it's also a city teeming with people converting vehicles into campers. Simply walking back from the bar where we warmed up Sunday night, we ran into @lifelongdiscovery who lives full-time in his beautifully converted Ford Transit 250, is working on a bus conversion as we speak, and had very helpful advice on which neighborhoods and streets were good for overnight parking. The #vanlife culture in Portland made it a safe place for us to build our confidence in urban camping.

The Oregon Coast

Permission slip acquired.
Our first evening driving along Highway 101 was dark, wet, foggy, and a little scary (our Element isn't known for its agility in the rain...) so we camped out at the Three River's Casino. They were very welcoming. We were so glad we stopped when we did, because the next day the sun came out, and the rest of the drive was GORGEOUS. Stunning. We had to pull over so many times just to marvel at the natural beauty that is the very Western edge of our continent. A common phrase to each other as we took turns behind the wheel was, "Man, it sucks that you have to pay attention to the road because this view is CRAZY!"

The tide was far enough out that you couldn't see the land anymore from the edge of the waves.
The difference a day makes!

The Redwoods

Northern California greeted us with some really crazy, big-ass trees. Really though, there is nothing quite like the dual wildness and peace in a forest of such old trees. We camped here for two nights, it was so enticing. Though we were unable to make any of the famous drive-through trees due to the height of our top-carrier, we did wind through the Avenue of the Giants, which was just as incredible.

California Wine Country

We realized that the awe we felt driving along the cliff sides of Oregon was not going to be reserved for that region when we began our very curvy journey to Clear Lake and back, and then through the Sonoma vineyards on our way to the big city. I've decided when we own property one day, we will grow grapes and make wine and I will tend to our plants from horseback. (I know nothing about making wine. Don't burst my bubble yet.)

San Francisco

We are lucky to have tons of people here in the City to entertain us and give us a non-car place to sleep while we are here! We've only been here a night, but we've gotten to see Ocean Beach at sunset, ate some Mexican food for lunch that is probably as authentic as you can get without being in Mexico, and have strolled through the storefronts of "all of Andrew's favorite brands!" (A highlight was Mission Workshop.) We are mostly looking forward to slowly discovering the city that many of our friends and relatives call home while getting some much-needed rest before the next leg of the journey.

- J


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