Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off

4/28/2004 was the first day of CD’s Pacific Crest Trail thru hike. April 28 is also my birthday, so we celebrate.

He kept a trail journal and has offered it to me. This is just the beginning.

#pct #pacificcresttrail

Transition to life on the trail

I know very little about his time on the PCT. The first few weeks were a time of transition and learning. He went from hiking with a friend to hiking alone. He re-organized his pack and overhauled his food plan.

Prior to being on the trail, he imagined walking and walking just to see what was over the next hill. The people and relationships that make up the trail were not really part of the plan.

Human connection

Walking over 2500 miles by yourself in order to better appreciate human relationships seems counter-intuitive. In 2020, it is also an interesting topic in light of physical distancing in the face of pandemic.

CD tells me that he experienced his first trail magic just a few days into his hike.

#pct #pacificcresttrail

Trail Magic, Pacific Crest Trail Style

I was hiking through the hundred-plus degree desert sun and contemplating how much water I didn’t have. As I was reluctant to hike too far off trail for water and was pretty sure I could make it to the next source, I laid down on the side of a dirt road and put my feet up on an embankment trying to make my own shade.

Despite the heat, a family was settling in for a picnic up the road. Within a short time, the father came up and asked me where I was hiking.  He was quite excited to learn that I was, indeed, on my way to becoming a PCT through-hiker He gave me water, fruit, and Gatorade. It was just the sign that I needed to let me know that I was on the right path.

With this, CD had his first glimpse of how much larger the thru hike was than just the trail alone.

He went on to Warner Springs, feeling lonely but not as thirsty as he may have otherwise been. Fellow hikers offered him a room to share. Being early in the trail, there were more questions than answers.

Self Reflection on the Pacific Crest Trail

How fast should I hike? When and for how long should I rest? How much should I interact with people? What was my larger goal? Was there supposed to be a larger goal?

It sounds like all of these questions were a collective work in progress during the next four months.

So, every April we celebrate CD’s PCT kick-off anniversary.

In 2020, lets walk around the block and see if we find some trail magic. I bet we will.

#pct #pacificcresttrail
#pct #pacificcresttrail

Please follow our blog to hear more about CD’s hike and our other adventures.

Tips for Handling Mosquitoes While Hiking the PCT.
6 Reasons to Consider a Floor-less Tarp Tent.
Backpacking Menu: PCT Thru-Hike Edition
10 Clues That Your Husband Was A Thru – Hiker.

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.

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.

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Please follow our blog and our adventures!

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

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

How did we get here? Where are we going?

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We were here.
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Then we were here. I call this picture: low roof Sprinter camper conversion reality.
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Now we are pretty much here. We are not sure where it is headed but we are happy to walk along.

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.