I can sleep head to toe or side to side. CD is a bit more limited in his choices, however.
We can assemble the second bed in under 10 minutes and without stepping foot outside the van or opening the door. This is amazing news during a downpour.
We wake up well rested!
Our Inaugural Sprinter Van, Sleeping 4 Conversion
We drove 8528 miles with a trip timer of 190 hours, 55 minutes and we slept at campgrounds, friends’ driveways, gas stations, Walmart, rest areas, and parks. No matter where we slept, we woke up well rested and ready to go!
CD’s second bed conversion is pure genius as far as I am concerned.
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We don’t give our kids electronics when we travel and sometimes I wonder what we are thinking.
I didn’t watch movies or have fancy electronics in the car when I was a kid. It was okay. I also didn’t have a car seat so I am not sure that the “good ole days” philosophy is really the way to go.
In any case, our Sprinter trip timer total from last summer was over 190 hours. That is 190 hours of sitting in a van. I find that number a bit alarming. At the very least, it can’t be healthy.
They also don’t sleep in the car. Their refusal to sleep in the car may be an entirely different blog someday.
Two days ago we drove a mere 600 miles from Corvallis, Oregon to Vernon, BC. We left in the dark and we arrived in the dark. They didn’t sleep.
What did they do?
Kicked my seat
Invented a new version of the “Florida or Bust” signs that I used to see in car window’s on I-75 South Bound during spring break. HB used most of a pad of sticky notes writing messages to passing cars. The notes included “Merry Christmas”, “Big White, here we come”, “We the North”, and “I love adventure.” The notes are still there.
Engineered a pulley system to lift HB’s “toy box” from the floor to his lap. Grace was involved in pulling the rope when he needed both hands to secure the box on his lap
Reviewed their license plate list from last summer. (60 license plates, spanning 4 countries)
Listened to audiobooks
It is unlikely that there was a consecutive sixty seconds of silence at any point during that 600 miles. There may have not even been thirty seconds of silence. At least they still talk to us I guess. Until they find out that other cars have DVD players, I think we will continue to travel the more old fashioned way.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
I could write dozens of blogs about products we use and love in our Sprinter. Each time we change the layout of the van or try a new design, we end up with new products. Some last the test of time; others are quickly proven ineffective and re-purposed or passed on to the next person. The most important products are best discussed in detail with friends on a Friday afternoon. In any case, here is a minimalist’s Sprinter shopping list.
Disclosure: Please note that this post contains affiliate links. This means that we may get a small commission if you click a link and purchase something that we recommend. Clicking these links will not cost you extra money but will help us grow our website. Thank you for your support!
Light My Fire Titanium Spork
Light My Fire Titanium Spork: We stand by the titanium model but please beware that if you pair stainless steel plates with a titanium spork, you may have to tolerate the metal on metal scraping noise.
For those of you that are not quite ready to commit to titanium, there is a plastic model as well.
3 mm Accessory Cord
3 mm accessory cord: CD’s exact words are: “3 mm cord is handy“. It may be because CD knows every knot and when exactly to use every knot but I actually am starting to believe that string is an important travel accessory. Regarding everyday use, we have a piece approximately 6 inches off the floor of the van, extending from one end of the kids seat to the other. This cord keeps the storage boxes under each seat from sliding across the floor and it is quite effective!
Plastic Soap Dish
Plastic Soap Dish: When CD recommended this, I laughed. It reminded me of going to the community pool in 1985. That led me to consider going to garage sales looking for one. I don’t really like shopping, however.
I soon admitted that the best option was to just spend a few dollars, sacrifice a little plastic, and buy a soap dish. Wow, what a game changer. Our Sprinter has a hand washing station and now our bar of soap stays nicely in its soap dish.
CD has commented that he is glad we didn’t have one of these before we had kids or else we may have doubled the length of all of our trips by just driving around to get our stamps.
Hydroflask: We live in Oregon. This is standard equipment. It really keeps hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold. It doesn’t leak. Try it!
Dustpan and Brush
Dustpan and Brush: This is another one that I thought I would never use. CD had this in his Honda Civic when we met. I never used it and was actually against using it. I just thought it was crazy and the car would be sandy anyway.
My opinion has since changed. Last summer CD caught me brushing out the van floor, step, and seats. Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. I keep this next to the sliding door, secured by 3 mm climbing cord, of course.
A quick brush of sand or dirt off the step or floor is super satisfying. It may be the mom in me speaking but I just can’t see traveling without it!
All The World by Liz Garton Scanlon
All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon.
We travel with the smallest version of this book. We love it. It inspires us. The full size edition is great for a baby shower, grandparents gifts, or just anyone that appreciates a pick me up.
“Hope and Peace and Love and Trust, All the World is All of US”.
Head Lamp: The kids and CD love their headlamps. I prefer to use my “night vision”. Ha! I am sure we couldn’t travel without these!
Notebook: An old fashioned lined notebook . There is just something great about it!
Portable Charger: We charge this each day using our portable solar panel. Then we charge our cell phones or whatever else. It has saved us tons of times. We have the Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh
Portable Solar Panel
Portable Solar Panel: We have the Biolite Solar Panel 5 and we like it. It even works on cloudy days.
Small Wooden Cutting Board
When you eat cheese and crackers everyday you need a good cutting board!
Have fun out there!
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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.
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!
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!
How did we get from our Honda Civic hatchback to a Mercedes Sprinter passenger van?
CD and I met in a medical clinic on a ski run in Colorado. It was Christmas Day. We were working. I was a physical therapist; he worked for ski patrol.
We were each in our thirties and living lives that we chose. Together, we skied, hiked, and went to burger night at the local pub. We were living our dream. Each May we headed West.
CD’s Honda Civic hatchback was our road warrior. The gas mileage was impressive. Our worldly possessions were an arms length away. We could unpack, take inventory, and re-pack in ten minutes flat. Then my biological clock started ticking. From there the story looks much the same and also much different.
Our inaugural camper van was purchased when I was eight months pregnant. It was a 1984 VW Vanagon. It came complete with a sorted history of rebuilt engines, solar panels, and a pop-top. The Vanagon dream spoke loudly to CD but the first mention of DIY car seat attachments caused me to panic.
We sold it in the midst of a summer heat wave. The twenty- something who bought it was not phased by the lack of safety features, absence of AC, or the fact that it broke down less than a mile from where we handed him the title. A moratorium on camper vans went into place.
Fast forwarding a bit: I accepted a nine month position at a university. We sold our second car and moved to Oregon. CD picked the kids and I up at the airport on New Year’s Eve 2016. I assumed that working a seasonal job would be like riding a bike.
Little did I know that it would be more like riding a broken down tandem with two kids trailers in tow. Despite this, we headed off to the Trans-Canada highway. Our Toyota Sienna proved itself worthy while making the trip, even with a U-Haul trailer in tow. The trailer was both horrible and genius. On one hand, we spent all of one morning looking for a suitable parking spot in Banff but on the other hand our minivan was free of clutter. Four bikes, hiking poles, and backpacks were easy to access; shoes and jackets were abundant.
Months later, I tossed out the idea of selling our minivan and replacing it with a Sprinter. We bike commute. The idea of a 15 passanger van as our daily driver didn’t seem unreasonable. CD had the same idea. The quest for an affordable Sprinter to meet our needs will need to be discussed an entirely different blog post. In any case, we found a van in California and the next week it was delivered to our door.
We headed off to Canada again. This time we were armed with a 2012 Mercesdes Sprinter, complete with the elusive low roof, the standard diesel engine, one bed, and our hopes and dreams. The kids stood tall inside the van as we had our first picnic an hour from home. I stood up with my head bent 45 degrees. The boys slept on the bed and the girls slept on camping pads on the floor. Each night, shoes, food, and countless other items moved from the floor to the front seat so we could build our second bed. We slept in our tent most of the time.
This plan was marginal at best. Our confidence was wavering.
Is it possible that a Mercedes Sprinter isn’t our golden ticket?
I suggested selling the van and getting another Sienna. The next week it was done. Six months later, we were wallowing in self doubt. How could we go on endless adventures while confined to the inside of a minivan? Our evenings and weekends became occupied by looking at teardrop trailers and discussing DIY camper trailer designs. Finally, we concluded that a newer Mercedes Sprinter was our best option.
This takes us to today’s Sprinter. It is a 2015 high roof complete with lane change alerts, rear AC, and cross-wind assist. It is superior to our first Sprinter in every way.
With this, our family of four committed to a Mercedes Sprinter DIY choose your own adventure: Sleeping 4 in a Sprinter 144.