On The Road (Finally)

Well, we did it; we finally did it. A few weeks ago we hit the road in our (mostly) complete van! Although, one of our first adventures (if you want to call it that) happened before we even left the driveway. To make a long story short, we bought an alarm for the van and Matt installed the day before we left. It was all hooked up, he tested everything, no issues. He put everything back in the dashboard, tested everything again, and this time the van wouldn’t start. We had a very late night trying to find the issue and ended up going to bed with it unresolved. 

The following morning Matt went out to look at it with fresh eyes and found the loose connection. We then spent most of the day doing all the laundry, packing up the van, and other last minute things that had taken a back seat to getting the van started again. By mid afternoon though, we were on the road.

Sure, we’ll be ready to leave soon.
Hooking up the water.

We didn’t have much of a plan beyond the first few days. Matt’s Aunt Linda lives in St. Louis so we headed in the direction of her house and the promise of a good ol’ driveway campsite. From there we went on to the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas.

Now is a good time for a little disclaimer. After promising in the last post to get another one up shortly, we decided to stick around the Ozarks longer than originally planned. As such, we held off another post a little longer to avoid posting our location in real time. We want to be able to freely show you and tell you about the places we’ve visited, so while we haven’t had any real safety concerns yet, keeping our real-time location off the internet is a basic precaution we’re going to take.

Our first 24 hours in Arkansas were a solid reminder that we’re living in a vehicle and vehicles are, well, unpredictable. Shortly after dark we pulled into one of the free campgrounds along the Buffalo National River. It wasn’t that late, but we were both tired from a long day of driving and were feeling beyond ready to unwind and go to bed early. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen.

Matt opened the driver’s door and we both looked at each other, then cursed simultaneously. Our rear driver’s side tire was letting out the loudest hissing I’ve ever heard from a flat. Start to finish, the whole ordeal took about an hour and a half. Way too much of that time was spent just trying to remove the flat. We only succeeded in getting it off by both grabbing onto it and pulling together, and I don’t know about Matt, but for me it was a throw-my-whole-bodyweight-backwards kind of pull. I’m surprised we didn’t end up on the ground when it finally came off.

The morning after this true initiation to van life

There was a bright side to all of this though. Before we left we had talked about putting new all-terrain tires on the van. We only held off because we weren’t sure if it would be necessary; we were on the fence about spending the money if we wouldn’t need them. When we got the flat (which we suspect might have had a slow leak anyway, though we never found anything prior to this), we took it as our cue to go ahead and just replace the road tires with all-terrain ones. I’m not sure we’ve taken any roads since then that we couldn’t have managed with road tires, but the new ones do give a little extra peace of mind. The van just needed some new hiking shoes, that’s all.

We also got some great off-season trail tips from a few of the mechanics who are also avid hikers, as well as some tips for living on the road from one of the older mechanics. This guy used to be a truck driver and had a route that went to Maine, so he came to talk to us when he saw the plates. He reminded me a little of my Papa, but with a different accent (imagine trying to understand Papa through a mask…). All in all it could have been a much worse first problem on the road

Look at those fresh kicks

On another note, the river we slept by was gorgeous. It’s possible that tire would have been a goner on the first dirt road we took anyway, so no regrets on getting down to that campground. And besides, it wasn’t too far back to the main road and cell service.

The river a short walk behind our campsite at the Ozark Campground

The picture above is at the Ozark Campground, where we had the flat. The following night we went to the Erbie Campground, another one of the free sites along the Buffalo. I’m not sure if they’re free year round, but they are in the off-season.

We’d planned on doing a cool looking hike but the tires kind of sidelined that plan, so we explored a little area by another trail, then got to the Erbie Campground early enough to hike out a little on the Buffalo Trail.

I’m going to wrap it up here for now. In the next post we’ll show you a few more of the great campsites we’ve enjoyed, as well as one of the coolest hikes we’ve been on so far, all of which we’ve had almost entirely to ourselves. I have to say, we are thoroughly enjoying exploring in the off-season!

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