Sprinter Conversion: Insulation

CD decided its time to put insulation in our Sprinter. I gladly drove from the Willamette Valley to Hood River, Oregon to pick up Thinsulate at DIY Van.

Here is a short picture documentary of the insulation project.

Removing the head liner.
Putting in the insulation and getting into every crack.
More insulation stuffing.

For our 144 passenger van, we purchased 39 linear feet of insulation. CD is not quite done yet but agrees that we have about the right amount. Our only other expense was a new pair of scissors.

While CD was busy wrestling Thinsulate, the kids and their friends practiced their camping skills. As you can see, they are ready!

Please follow our blog for other updates!

Sleeping 4 in a Sprinter: Budget Friendly Guide.
Suttle Lake, Oregon: Camping Review.

Colorado Hike: Mayflower Gulch

Some Colorado hikes are so great that it doesn’t seem right to put them out there on the internet for everyone to see.

Most places are already fully accessible online, however. They are all likely more crowded than before the internet existed. The crowds are not because of my little blog. In the interest of sharing some great spots, I will start will a great one.

Mayflower Gulch is the sort of hike that you see in magazines or on television. It is picturesque.

It was a weekday afternoon type of hike for us when we lived in Summit County. According to the internet it is a 5.9 mile loop. It didn’t seem that far. The trail head is less than 10 miles towards Leadville from I-70. The road is well traveled.

As with many hikes in the high country, I recommend it in the winter. With snow it is quiet and light. There will likely be a few other people there but they will all be smiling.

Skis with climbing skins, Nordic skis, snow shoes, or boots will all typically work well for this trek. Old mining cabins mark the end of the trail and offer a good place for lunch with a side of inspiration.

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Steamboat Springs: Top 5
A Glimpse of Southern Utah

Sprinter under seat storage.

What is under the kids’ seats?

We removed the second row in our Sprinter but left the third. The kids sit there and we keep our day use items in the under seat storage.

So, what do we keep there?

These are just the right size for under the back seat.

Under Grace’s seat we kept two collapsible canvas bins. The first one pushed back so that the second one would fit as well.

First Bin:

The first one had six swimsuits and two pair of goggles.

This may seem like an odd choice but we have been to splash pads in nearly every State and Province that we have driven through. I even had an idea to make a splash pad locator app for parents traveling with kids. I didn’t follow through when I realized that other parents may not be as excited about having wet kids in the car on and off day after day. In any case, it didn’t take long for us to see the benefits of accessible kids swimwear.

The Sprinter acts as a mobile changing room. When they are motivated by a splash pad, the kids can get their suits on in under two minutes flat. After the fun, they can just slip their clothes back on and hang the wet suits on our make shift Sprinter clothes line.

One of the earlier ones. A good example of why we pack readily accessible swimwear. This was more of a fountain that a splash pad and not too many people in Aspen were into playing there. We liked it! Sprinter DIY
Passing through Salt Lake City on a super hot day. Sprinter DIY. Sprinter under seat storage.

Second Bin:

The second bin contained sunscreen and towels.

Middle Bin:

The middle row held the trash can. CD made it out of re-purposed heavy duty cardboard. It was just the right size and height.

2 Extra Bins of Sprinter Under Seat Storage:

There were also two bins under HB’s seat. The bin farthest back contained playing cards, dice, and travel board games. I added Racko to the mix last year but the kids lost interest once they found out that it was my favorite.

The second bin had a mix of drawing pads, notebooks, pencils, and pens. These got a fair amount of use both on the road and when we were stopped. HB made a fairly elaborate picture journal on our way out of Yellowstone last year.

In true CD style, all of the bins and the garbage can were held in place by a bungee cord and 3 mm accessory cord. They never slid forward when we braked so I guess this technique worked.

We will definitely continue to use the bins and garbage can but I imagine that the contents will evolve over time. I hope we stick with swimsuits and towels. Prioritizing such non-practical items just seems like a sign of a family that is out for a spontaneous and carefree good time!

Since my splash pad app never took off, here is non-comprehensive list of great splash pads we have found.

  • North Carolina (Ashville)
  • Florida (Marco Island)
  • Minnesota (Sauk Centre)
  • Ontario (Wiarton, Grand Bend, Bayfield, Port Elgin)
  • Michigan (Millennium Park; Sparta)
  • Colorado (Aspen)
  • Oregon (Corvallis)
  • British Columbia (Kelowna)
  • Alberta
  • Utah (Salt Lake City)

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Christmas Break Finale: Willamette Valley, Oregon

The past three days have been a blur. The neighborhood kids descended on the street and yards. They played outside together through lunch and well past sunset. Some of us finally got in on the action with dinner and Euchre last night.

In a last ditch effort to have a productive Christmas break, I tore apart our master bathroom. The wall paper is mostly down and our tooth brushes are on my night stand.

Despite this, we hopped in the Sprinter for “Sunday Fun-Day”. We headed to the only hike we could think of that was on the way to Home Depot but far enough to justify driving the Sprinter and close enough that we usually don’t go there.

Jackson Frazier Wetlands. Sprinter DIY

I hadn’t been there in three years. It had changed. Much of it looked more like a farmer’s field than a wetland. There were signs explaining that a “emergency restoration” was in progress. Apparently this includes removing invasive species and modifying water drainage.

It was a nice day in Oregon for a hike on a boardwalk. We found two geo-caches, got plenty of mud on our boots, and had snacks in our van.

While I am on the topic of invasive species, I will pause to mention my current least favorite invasive species.

Have you heard of Phragmites? Have you seen the videos on our media page? Of all the invasive species that I have battled, these are by far the most impressive. Here is a quick video from Lake Huron. This was part of the lake but now it is a field of Phragmite.

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Suttle Lake, Oregon: Camping Review.

We live in the Willamette Valley and enjoy camping in Oregon.

The coastal range is to the East and the Cascades to the West. It rains; it is wet. Lichen and fungi are prolific.

CD and I met in the high mountains of Colorado. The high desert is a comfortable climate for us. With that being said, we both enjoy the Willamette Valley. It is not typically until I leave the valley that I realize how much more comfortable I am with brown pine needles than with banana slugs and trees chocked by lichen.

Birthday Weekend Camping: Oregon

It was CD’s birthday weekend. We had been home from our summer trip for less than a month. Our Oregon to Oregon odometer reading for the summer was 8528 miles and our trip timer reading was 190 hours and 55 minutes. Even with just having returned home, we missed the Sprinter life. The kids and I suggested an overnight camping trip for CD’s birthday. It needed to be a quick 1 night get-away.

We all agreed to drive East towards Sisters. CD had eyed up a few places and chose Suttle Lake mostly because we were short on time. It wasn’t as far as Sisters or Bend but was still on the dry side of the pass. There were several National Forest campgrounds and had easy access from the highway. Although he is not a fisherman, CD was kind enough to suggest that the kids and I bring our fishing poles and try our luck. We were sold.

If you have even driven Highway 20 from I-5 to Sisters, you may remember that there is a tipping point were the lichen stops and the high desert begins. I can’t tell you at exactly which mile marker this happens. This time, I didn’t think much of it until we pulled in to the campground. The ground and the air was dry.

The campgrounds were only a few miles from the highway. We drove through Blue Bay campground. It was nice but we kept going and settled on Link Creek.

Link Creek Campground

There were plenty of sites available. We chose a central site so that the kids could fish from the dock and we could see them from the van.
There was a dirt boat launch, fish cleaning stations, and pit toilets. The sites were plenty large and it was generally clean.

It was CD’s birthday so he was calling the shots. CD was happy to sit on the picnic table, strum his guitar, and enjoy the air. The view wasn’t anything spectacular.

Sprinter DIY. #vanlife
Sprinter DIY. #vanlife

I set up the kids fishing poles and started dinner. There were a few boats on the lake. From where we stood, it was shallow and not very inviting for swimming. It may be noted, however, that I was born and raised in Michigan and have high fresh water standards.

The Boats, Oregon Camping at Suttle Lake

In any case, it wasn’t long before we heard a motor revving. Some sort of race boat with two exhaust pipes sticking up launched at the adjacent dock and was driving around the lake. This lake isn’t huge, by the way. The boat would speed around the lake two or three times, then idle for a bit. When it was driving it was so loud that we could barely talk to each other. I am sure other campers were irritated but I was more amazed, interested, and surprised. The whole thing went on for an hour or so and then they loaded the boat on the trailer and drove away.

The second most interesting thing we saw was a good sized cabin cruiser. It was anchored off shore a bit. Again, this is not a huge lake. I assumed they would sleep there but rather than doing so, they pulled into the dock at the campground and slept in a tent.

I guess people really love boating on this lake. Based on our lack of success fishing and the fishing equipment on their boat, it occurred to me that you may need a boat to get to the fish.

Several campers had kayaks pulled up on shore and easily accessed by walking paths from their campsites. This seemed like a nice idea to me.

The Great Awning Experiment

By the time the kids and I got back, CD was fully immersed in his much anticipated awning experiment. Years ago he made an awning for our minivan. He had been wanting to try it out on the Sprinter. Rain was expected over night and I guess he decided this was his chance.

Here it is. Don’t trip over the guylines. Sprinter DIY. Oregon camping
oregon camping

Well, he did it. It was set up and surprisingly solid. I was curious about the sag in the middle but it sounded like he had a plan. The guylines were a bit of a hazard but I was willing to humor him and give the thing a try. It was his birthday after all.

He told me to walk around the van to see how he secured the awning.

This is what I found:

oregon camping

He seemed to know it was ridiculous and not any sort of ground breaking invention. Since we couldn’t open the driver’s side door, it was barely even a short term solution but he was so happy.

HB woke up around dawn. We found a bridge that we had failed to see the night before. There were fish rising and jumping all over the place. We tried every fishing trick I knew but they just didn’t bite. We watched the sun come up, saw trail runners and walked some of the trail. It may be worth mentioning that you can see and hear highway 20 while standing on the shore but we didn’t notice this from our campsite.

Shortly after CD and Grace woke up, the skies opened up. The awning held. We ate oatmeal in the van and broke camp.

The Suttle Lodge

CD was curious about the Suttle Lake Lodge. It was near Highway 20 and not far off the road. We walked into the main lodge and were greeted by a crowded room of happy lodge guests. There was shelf after shelf of board games. The dining area was community style with big long tables next to sofas and coffee tables. Dogs were welcome and everyone was smiling. Big windows and glass doors offered a lake view. A large patio and lawn were beyond. There were docks with row boats and fishing boats for rent.

I am quite sure that CD didn’t intend to spend time or money here but it was just too tempting. I ordered fresh squeezed orange juice, grapefruit juice, and an egg sandwich with aged cheddar.

We already had breakfast at camp but the opportunity to drink fresh squeezed juice while playing board games by a hot fire with tons of happy people just seemed like the right thing to do. The kitchen was slow but for good reason. The place was packed and they were obviously making every order one by one. We didn’t mind the wait.

In Summary,Oregon Camping Review:

Would I camp at Suttle Lake again? Probably not.

What would I do differently if camped there again? Walk, boat, or bike to breakfast at the Suttle Lake Lodge. Spend time playing corn hole and drinking fresh juice. I may consider happy hour at the lodge too. I may consider just staying at the lodge if I need an easy to get to lodging location for a few people that like that kind of thing.

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Cape Perpetua, Oregon Coast Day-Trip.
Oregon winter day trips

Sprinter Low Roof vs High Roof

As you know, our first Sprinter didn’t work out. It was a low roof. We have since sold it and bought a high roof.

What did we learn and how did we learn it?

We bought our Sprinter in May and were on the road by mid-June. Our inaugural trip was 3062.1 miles from Oregon to Michigan via British Columbia and Montana.

Our first stop was an hour from home. CD thru hiked the PCT using a homemade beer can stove. Car camping isn’t something that comes to him naturally. Sprinter camping is obviously even a step beyond that.

In any case, he agreed to let me buy a camping stove. We parked at an REI just South of Portland and bought our stove. Since we were already parked, I ducked into Whole Foods. I must have been in the store for only 15 minutes. The kids were standing in the van making lunch when I came out.

Then HB decided to take a rest for bit. Sprinter DIY

A couple of hours later we were back on the road. It seemed like we were off to a slow but good start.

Now on to the cruel realities of the low roof Sprinter.

  • My head bent 45 degrees when I stood up. CD’s was even worse. My back and neck were sore
  • I could prop up on an elbow when laying on the bed but couldn’t sit up beyond that. This was less than ideal
  • The kid’s bike laid down in the back under the bed. This meant that everytime we got the coat box, shoe box, suitcases, or anything else out of the back, the bikes had to be removed. This usually meant untangling a peddle from tire spokes or something along those lines

Was the low roof a mistake? YES. Is the high roof really that much better? Yes.

Interestingly, prior to buying our first Sprinter, I read a blog written by a family that traveled by Sprinter. They had bought and sold a low roof and recommended not buying a low roof in the first place. I appreciate that they were trying to help me and I wish I had listened!

Why is the high roof better than the low roof?

  • I can sit straight up when on the bed. The kids can sit up fully on their knees
  • CD and I can both stand up fully on the floor. My neck and back no longer hurt
  • The kids bikes slide under the bed and stay upright. CD built a fancy bike rack to make this even easier
  • The vertical space offers many more options for storage
  • The high roof allows us the stack 2 mattresses on the back bed and storing the mattresses this way is key to our 2 bed conversion. Even with 2 mattress there, I can still lay and sit up on them.

Is cross – wind assist worth it?

We are not sure but we think so. We drove our high roof during some strong wind across the plains and think it really helped.

Do I recommend rear AC? Yes, Yes, Yes.

The windows in the back don’t open. The rear AC works better than the front AC. I have walked to the back seat more than once to find that it is too cold back there. One of the main complaints we heard from other Sprinter owner’s prior to buying our own was that the back was too hot in the summer. We have not had that problem.

It should be noted that if you have passengers, the AC is great. If you don’t have passengers, it may not be needed.

It is also worth noting that the AC takes up room on the roof. This is a consideration when looking at racks or solar panels but we don’t consider it to be a barrier at this point.

What about lane change alerts and back up cameras?

Our low roof version did not have these and it was possible to drive around without these but life is way better with these accessories. I recommend these!

Is an electric sliding step worth it?

I don’t know what this cost or if it is worth it. We bought our van used and this was included but I find it to be handy. It has been a shelf for cooking supplies when I am cooking next to the van with the door open, a door mat to scrape off mud and sand, a bench to take off shoes and socks or just rest a bit, or as an alert to let me know that I haven’t shut the door all the way. Would I get this feature again? Sure

Our current van is a 2015 Mercedes Sprinter 144 passenger van. It has cross wind assist, back up camera, lane change alerts, and rear AC. If you haven’t spend much time in Sprinter’s yet, please know that the most fancy feature we have found is the giant Mercedes symbol on the front. The inside of the van has been quite underwhelming. If they made the Sprinter with even a fraction the features of my Toyota Sienna, it would be a traveling family’s dream!

Please comment or contact us if you would like more specific details about space in the low roof vs high. CD handles measurements and that sort of thing and is happy to share what he has learned.

Please follow our blog and our adventures!

Storage In Our Sprinter: A simple solution
Sleeping 4 in a Sprinter: Budget Friendly Guide.

Las Vegas Family Trip in 1 day

We spent 36 hours with our kids in Las Vegas. To be fair, I spent 28 hours with the kids and 8 hours working but CD put in the full 36.

We talked about flying into Vegas in order to get easy and fast access to Zion or Bryce but this was something different. My idea was to save money by routing all of us through Vegas on the way back from family Christmas in Michigan. In the end, we didn’t save money but we learned some things about Vegas that we didn’t know prior to being parents.

The Excalibur

We arrived at the Excalibur just before 3 am. Only 4 days earlier we left Oregon at 2:30 am PST. We spent 4 days in Michigan on EST and now arrived at 3 am in what I will refer to as “Vegas time”. 

Before I write more about our 36 hours in Vegas, I will rewind a bit and add some context to the culture shock that we forced on to our kids that night. A few months earlier, some friends invited us to an amusement park. It was called the Enchanted Forest. CD and I listened to the kids talk as we drove. HB was explaining to Grace what to expect. She was listening and asking questions. He told her that there would be hiking and wildlife. “It will be so cool.” CD and I didn’t interrupt or correct him as he went on and on but it was obvious that he actually thought we were going to a forest. We never asked him about it after but we realized that while we had been hiking, camping, fishing, and driving around in our van, we may have failed to introduce our kids to pop culture.

Here we were, 3 am on the Las Vegas strip. The kids weren’t phased a bit. HB was excited to play at the “arcade”; Grace asked if it was night or morning. Two days later, she still wasn’t sure when it was night and when it was morning. 

What did we do in Las Vegas on our family trip?

  • We walked the strip. I suggested to the kids that we were saving tons of time and money by going to New York, Paris, and Venice all in one day. They kept this joke going the entire trip.
  • The kids played in the Excalibur Fun Dungeon. (HB was right, there was an arcade)
  • We rode the escalators on the sidewalk and the moving sidewalk into the casino
  • We saw the volcano erupt at the Mirage. (We were planning to see the Pirate Ship at Treasure Island but it was discontinued in 2013. Yes, we are that out of it.)
  • We ate dinner at the Grand Lux at the Venetian and recommend it. HB’s kid’s sliders were super yummy. My wedge salad was a perfect balance of lettuce and blue cheese.
  • CD and the kids filled their 8 extra hours with the following:
    • The “Container Park”. It was in a questionable part of town; I can’t remember the last time I heard CD call any part of town “questionable”. They got there around 8 and it didn’t open until 11:00. There was a sculpture that the kids wanted to see but the environment wasn’t very inviting. We do not recommend this park.
    • Circus-Circus: 2 thumbs down. The parking was sketchy. It was dirty and old.
    • Mandalay Bay: The pool made a positive impression on CD and he seems to want to stay there in the future. Shark Reef was a walk to get to but the kids really liked the touch pool. To keep up with our Junior Ranger theme, they earned Junior Naturalist certificates. Staff were great and gladly answered question after question from HB. Grace was curious and sat down to look and watch.
    • The tram from The Excalibur to Mandalay Bay: It stops at the Luxor on the way back. CD found the Luxor architecture to be really interesting. It’s free.
Las Vegas family trip
Las Vegas family trip

Would I recommend the Excalibur for families with kids?

Yes. It was great for our purposes and I was impressed. It lacks the high end presentation of other places on the strip but had advantages for us.

  • The room was accessible. We could walk from the lobby to our room in 5 minutes flat. The last casino hotel that I stayed in included a fast paced 15 minute walk to get to my room. I would stay at the Excalibur just because I could make it to and from my room in reasonable time.
  • The room was basic but clean and the beds were comfortable. 
  • Our room was quiet and dark! I was amazed! Being that we had traveled at all hours of the day and night and bounced around between PST, EST, and Vegas time, we took advantage of the dark room and took a mid afternoon nap. When the kids woke up they didn’t know if it was time for breakfast or dinner. I didn’t know either and it really didn’t matter. 
  • The Fun Dungeon was downstairs from the main lobby. It was easy to find. The kids loved it. 
  • Parking was close and was $10 per day. We could park at any MGM resort. It was accessed by using your room key. 
  • There were tons of hidden fees. This is Vegas. 
    • Each guest over 2 per room is $30 each per day. They agreed to charge us for only one additional guest. Since I paid less than $50 per night, I figured that the extra $30 was okay. There is also a resort fee, which was about as much as the room price.
    • Kids in-room movies were $10.99. We didn’t order any. 
    • There were fees for late check out; we kept the room until 6 pm. That was the best $50 we spent in Vegas. CD and the kids used the room all day; they even took an afternoon nap. I changed my clothes and put my feet up for a minute after work.

Will we be going to Vegas again soon?

I don’t think so. While taking the kids to Zion is high on our list, we will likely steer clear of the Vegas strip on the way through. The kids took Vegas in a stride and don’t have much to say about it now. 

Building a snow fort to ambush Uncle Mike in Michigan was way more fun than riding the one-way moving sidewalk into our casino hotel. I think we will stick with snow fort building next time. 

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Sprinter Van Shopping List For The Minimalist
We don’t give our kids electronics when we travel.

Sleeping Bear Dunes: Bike, Swim, Repeat

We have driven from Oregon to Ontario each summer since 2016. We see beautiful sights and have amazing experiences along the way. The kids start talking about the trip as soon as spring arrives. They set their sights on our annual Sleeping Bear Dunes camping trip!

Whether it is because our nephew joins us on this trip or because we have consistently hit it out of the park in terms of fun, all I know is that they love going to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake shore. They come by this naturally, as CD and I were married there in 2008. 

Glen Arbor Family History

CD was voting for getting married in the back country of Colorado; I was voting for somewhere a bit more accessible. Next thing I knew, we were in Glen Arbor. I can’t remember if we were having a drink at Art’s or sitting in the coffee shop, but somewhere along the way a local recommended we get in touch with “Don”. Don was well known in the Glen Arbor community. He was elderly and his health was not the best. Don didn’t have any children and he was an active member of the community.

I can’t remember if we were given his number or if we simply walked up to his door and knocked, but later that day we were sitting in his living room. He was happy to meet us and told us about how he met his wife when they were middle aged. She was the love of his life. He asked tons of questions about skiing, Colorado, and where we would ski next. We heard stories about skiing in Chamonix and flying in and out of Aspen. We had an instant friendship. His Lake Michigan beachfront was adjacent to a public access and he invited us to use his beach for our wedding. Glen Arbor has become much more hectic since then and Don is no longer with us but the town still holds a certain charm. Sleeping Bear Dunes is easy to love. 

Highlights of our Sleeping Bear Dunes Annual Trip

  • DH Day Campground
    • Pit toilets, water, access to the bike trail, close to Glen Arbor and Glen Haven
    • Reservations: Until summer 2019, this campground was first-come-first-serve only. We typically try to avoid crowds by going August, mid-week. I have mixed emotions about the reservation system but we were able to get a site, so it has worked out so far.  
Glen Haven
Walk to Lake Michigan from DH Day
  • Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail
    • This paved bike trail is the gold standard by which I measure national parks and campgrounds. We rode North to Glen Arbor and South to North Barr Lake in 2019. Together with three kids, we logged 29.1 miles on the trail in 2 days! The kids would have gladly ridden farther if we had stayed longer.   
    • Here are some reasons that we love this trail
      • It keeps you and the kids from riding on the shoulder of the road
      • You can get from DH Day to Glen Haven in under 5 minutes. You will find nice restrooms with flush toilets and running water when you get there
      • You don’t have to find a place to park in Glen Arbor 
      • It keeps your car free from of sand after the Dune Climb
      • You feel motivated to swim in Lake Michigan. Simply ride, get hot, swim, and repeat. The kids and I are all about this plan!
      • It is good exercise and better for the environment
      • It’s nearly impossible to ride and not smile
      • You get to talk with other riders 

2019 Biking Itinerary

First Day: 

  • Bike from DH Day to Glen Haven to rescue raggedy Ann from a shipwreck using a Lyle Gun.
  • Ride bikes from Glen Haven to Glen Arbor to pick up provisions at Anderson’s Market
  • Bike from Glen Arbor to DH Day

Second Day:

  • Bike from DH Day to the Dune Climb in time to catch the Dune Climb Concert
  • Ride bikes from the Dune Climb to DH Day

Third Day:

  • Bike from DH Day to Glen Arbor for breakfast 
  • Ride bikes from Glen Arbor to DH Day
  • Bike DH Day to North Barr Lake

CD was kind enough to be the support vehicle. He packed up the campsite and met us at the North Barr Lake parking lot.

Parking in Glen Arbor: 2018. Dinner at Art’s
Dune climb parking
2018
2018. DH Day to Glen Arbor
Crazy storm damage from straight line winds: DH Day to Glen Arbor
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake shore
    • Too many great trails to mention. I have pretty much tried and like them all.
    • The Dune Climb trail has earned a quick mention though. Don’t underestimate this trail. If you think you climbed the last dune and are headed for the beach, you aren’t. There are still more dunes to climb! Before having kids, I loved this trail for the pure exercise.
    • South Manitou Island
      • There are campsites. Our site was fine but some of the sites looked really amazing. Try to get one of those!
      • We spent one night there and hiked all the entire island
      • It would be a fun place to take the kids. One night would be enough
    • North Manitou Island
      • More remote than South.
      • We camped one night and walked around the island. It is likely that we would have gotten restless there if we stayed longer
North manitou, 2011?
A few dunes up on the dune climb. Fewer crowds here
Sleeping bear point trail
Sleeping bear point trail; Sleeping Bear Dunes

Towns

  • Glen Arbor
    • Art’s Tavern: A local favorite. There may be a wait in the summer. Bring cash – they don’t take credit
    • Good Harbor Grill: The food here is genuinely good and fresh 
    • Anderson’s Glen Arbor Market: bigger than the store in Empire
    • Great Lakes Tea and Spice: Pick up Christmas gifts while you are here!
    • Crystal River Outfitters: We rented kayaks here in late September and spent a day exploring the Lake Michigan between Glen Arbor and Glen Haven. You can also paddle the river.
Glen Arbor public access. Sleeping Bear Dunes
  • Empire
    • Village Park: 1 block from downtown. 2 playgrounds, 2 beaches, boat launch, shelter, vault toilets. Fires are permitted in fire rings. This park was free previously but now parking fees apply. Parking may be tough to come by during the summer. 
    • Empire Bluff Trail: This is a “do not miss” trail if you are looking for the best views in the park
    • National Park Service headquarters: Just in case you need a park cancellation for your park passport book
      • There are at least 4 cancellations in the park.
        • Dune Climb
        • Visitor’s Center
        • Glen Haven general store
        • South Manitou 
Empire Beach

South End

  • Riverside Canoes: Platte River
    • Head here during the fall salmon run. You won’t be disappointed. Avoid it in the summer unless you love crowds!

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Child Carrier For Hiking: Our Recommendation
Sprinter Van Shopping List For The Minimalist

Mountain biking: Sprinter DIY. Brief kids bike review.

We drove from Oregon, through the coastal range, the Canadian and US Rockies, and even the Porcupine Mountains of northern Michigan before making the jump from road biking to single track. We took the leap at Luton Park in Rockford, Michigan and this is an account of how we got there.

Our kids have been proficient bike riders for what seems like their whole lives. Before HB was even born, we were given a hand me down Strider bike full of good biking karma. He started riding it shortly after he could walk.

He was ready for a two wheeler by the time we moved to Oregon. We were introduced to Islabikes right away and these bikes blew our minds. They were built for kids. The awkward top heaviness of many kid’s bikes was not an issue. 

We ordered the smallest model and HB quickly started riding. We were impressed. Despite being two years younger than HB, Grace was desperate to keep up. She walked at eight months and used the Strider bike shortly after. 

For HB’s fifth birthday, we upgraded him to a 20” Islabike and gave his old bike to Grace. At just over 18 months old, she had been waiting to ride. My mom helped Grace onto the bike seat and expected to help her learn to ride. Instead, she ended up running next to her as she took off down the driveway. A short while later, Grace was two-tracking through the weeds.

First day on a peddle bike.
Her second Islabike and our family’s third.

A year later, we were ready for all four of us to have gears. We were convinced that if Grace had gears we could start taking some of the days trips that we imagined. 

Islabikes no longer had a Portland showroom and we were lost.  

We tried every Trek, Giant, and Specialized in town. HB just wasn’t quite tall enough for a 24 inch bike but Grace was tall enough for his 20”. I started searching the internet.

Prevelo bikes was the first company that I called. I spoke with Jacob, the owner and mastermind. He gave me exact measurement for his bikes. He also agreed to ship it right away so that we could have it before we started our summer road trip next week. I was sold. Digging deeper, I learned that Prevelo participates with 1% for the planet and supports several other like minded organizations. I couldn’t have found a better fit!

The bike arrived a few days later, two days prior to leaving Oregon for the summer. I can’t say enough good things about Jacob and his company. The bike was obviously packaged carefully. It fit HB perfectly. He took off on it and Grace quickly claimed ownership of the 20” Islabike. She had been practicing with the gears and didn’t miss a beat!

Prevelo bike packaging

We headed North from Oregon to Leavenworth Washington. From there we went further North to British Columbia, South to Idaho, and East to Montana. We crossed the planes, turned North again towards the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, South to the lower peninsula, crossed the Mackinac Bridge and eventually landed at my hometown in lower Michigan. 

The bike was in and out of the van most days during this trip.  

CD had already decided to introduce the kids to single track once we made to Rockford. Luton Park was where we took the leap. We added my nephew’s bike to the van and headed out.  

We pulled the bikes out of the van, looked at the map, and headed for easiest trail. The kids loved it and wanted more. We chose a larger loop and they kept up the enthusiasm. The other bikers that we saw were considerate and supportive of our young riders. 

On our second lap, we stopped for a dip in the creek and everyone was happy. We went back as many times as we could during the next week or so and each time the kids got faster, more confident, and more skillful. A few laps on the single track followed by van side apres-biking and I almost felt like I was 30 again! 

Family style apres-biking