(July 2019) I am obsessed with camper vans – retro in particular, though all vans are pretty cool – I follow Vanlife on Instagram and drool over all of them. I have fantasized about owning one for a long time and have spent HOURS and HOURS scouring the net looking for deals on VW Vans.
I figured if we are going to buy one, we needed to actually experience the retro van life first with a rental. So, Sean and I broke down and rented a 1984 Volkswagen Vanagon (Pinky) for a week over 4th of July. I’m not a hug fan of the company from whom we rented, so I’ll leave the name out of the post. ugh.
Photo: Meet Pinky 🙂
We loaded Her up with everything you could possibly want or need – our sweet pup Yogi, fishing poles, mountain bikes, speakers, paddle boards, puzzles, games, solar string lights, adult bevies – and food – lots of good food. I wanted this experience to feel like home on wheels, to see what it would be like to travel like this more frequently.
Photo: Poor Yogi was buried in the back!
We thought it was a great idea to have all of our future wants and needs at our finger tips, until we realized we could only drive 20 mph (literally) up the mountain passes on I-70 West outside of Denver, Colorado.
We were going so slow, people were passing us on the RIGHT side – the shoulder of the freeway. That part was not so much fun, I thought Sean was going to have a heart attack. One can only assume he was mad at me for putting him through this – but – as sweet as he is, he never said a word and went along with my adventure. (I forgot to mention, the van broke down right out of the parking lot when we were leaving the rental office AND there was no A/C. Yep, it was starting out to be a real dreamy experience. They replaced the battery and off we went not really knowing what was going to happen next.)
Photo: Sean remaining patient on our 6 HOUR drive to the Flat Tops – love this guy!
We FINALLY made it to the East Flat Tops Wilderness (EFW) – Southwest of Steamboat Springs. The whole ride took us nearly 6 hours – any other car would have taken a little north of 4. Not only was the van itself a little bit of a challenge, I had no idea where we were going to land – this part of CO was untouched, at least by me and I had no idea what to expect.
We found a great campground that didn’t take reservations – Bear Lake Campground – those always scare me a little, because you can’t tell if something is going to be open when you get there. Turns out, there aren’t many people who make their way to this part of Colorado. Probably because there is no connectivity what-so-ever and there are no stores around.
You have to know what you are doing to spend more than 2 days out there. Pinky fit right in. She was small enough to fit anywhere we took her, with little or no fuss, and nothing too unwieldy to maneuver. We hung our solar string lights on her every night so she could shine when the sun went down.
After a few nights in the campground and getting to know the van pretty well, we decided to try a different camping experience. We jumped on our bikes found the perfect dispersed camp spot over looking the valley with the winding Yampa river below. The views were outstanding, with the swirly orange/purple sunsets and star-filled skies at night.
No-one was next to us, so we could play music as loud as we wanted and could dance like crazy people! We backed her up with her tail facing the valley so we could wake up every morning with the most beautiful views. We stayed in that spot for 4 days…it was magical.
The only thing un-magical about it were the dang mosquitos – good lord, there were seemingly millions of them. Luckily, I bought some citronella candles that managed to keep them at bay. Only regret is the natural insect repellent – what a bunch of junk – no less then 50 bites on each leg and arm. I say go for the deet – what harm could it be to use it just a few times a year??
Photos: Our beautiful campsite
Even though Pinky didn’t have AC, she stayed pretty cool all day long as we kept the tent flap up and open all the time – a nice breeze was always present. We would come back from the days’ activities and she was very comfortable and inviting.
The bed was easy to set up and pretty comfy – we brought some cozy blankets and sleeping bags with us, and our favorite pillows. We spent a TON of time inside – more than you would expect – playing games, reading, napping, eating, etc. and we loved every second of it.
Photo: Nap time!
We kept most of our food and bevies cold with the solar powered fridge inside the van – but we also had our Yeti cooler – that thing is amazing – kept everything fresh for at least 4 days. We met a really sweet gal who brought some ice back for us from Steamboat – she saved our bacon as the fridge in the van worked great – but wasn’t large enough to keep ALL of our stuff cold.
The only challenge we had with food, was that we did not have a bear box outside the campsite, so we had to bring all of our dry food into the van at night. This is fine, but we kept losing stuff trying to keep everything organized – as stupid as that sounds – Pinky was just not that big to accommodate all of our stuff at all times!
Photo: Our ridiculous pile of stuff.
After 6 wonderful nights, we decided to head to Steamboat Springs, Colorado – about 1.5 hours from where we were in the EFW. We spent our drive time laughing about all of our favorite things that happened over the past week – our nighttime music and dancing, all of our gorgeous hikes, catching trout, playing games, paddle boarding around Bear Lake, mountain biking at night with our headlamps on with the star-filled sky… the list goes on and on….Once we were done with lunch, we jumped back into Pinky ready to head back down to the front range for one last night with her….then it happened…
She broke down AGAIN. Sean put the key in, nothing… Mechanics came to look at her…no luck bringing her back to life. It took us several hours to sort through all the madness and find a rental car and a tow-truck to take all of us back to Denver.
A few things about this – yes, it was stressful and pretty much ruined our last day with her, however, we didn’t lose her in the wilderness where we had no connectivity, we had a great day in Steamboat, and we didn’t have to drive 20 MPH uphill on I-70.
Photo: Goodbye sweet girl
In the end, I am glad we had the experience we had – it was FANTASTIC. I learned a few things in the process – vans are a blast. However, without knowing how to fix mechanical issues, etc., sadly, a retro van is probably not in my future – I’m glad my obsession with this idea is over!
I am good with renting for a while – buying a van of any kind right now probably doesn’t make sense. Retirement is on the horizon – maybe then… Until that point in time, we will think about Pinky frequently – maybe we will see her again :-).
I choose this ❤️