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The Exhilaration of Returning to Vanlife's Nomadic Bliss

Updated: Jun 25, 2023

March 3rd 2023 - Our journey commenced from Alamosa on a picturesque Saturday, with the sun casting its golden rays upon the cold, yet stunningly beautiful, surroundings. The mountains, adorned with blankets of snow, stood as majestic sentinels, adding an extra layer of awe to our already brimming excitement. Equipped with a full tank of diesel, 35 gallons of water, delectable snacks, and Petey & Phoebe nestled in our laps, we embarked on our voyage to our cherished home away from home, Santa Barbara, California.

Our first planned stop on this grand adventure was Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. Brandon's long run was the perfect excuse for the experience. We indulged in the delectable offerings of WildEdge Brewery, treating ourselves to a tantalizing feast of the most scrumptious chilaquiles we had ever tasted. With contentment in our bellies and anticipation in our hearts, Sunday morning greeted us with the warm embrace of the sun casting its gentle glow over the San Juan Mountains. Armed with steaming cups of coffee, we set forth towards Mesa Verde National Park, eager to immerse ourselves in its wonders.

Upon our arrival, we tended to the necessary preparations (you know the drill, #IYKYK), ensuring everything was in order before embarking on our adventure at precisely 9:30 am. As I followed in the van, fully stocked with ample supplies of water and fuel in the form of gels, energy bars, and the like, we traversed the winding and undulating roads that lay ahead. The wind whistled through the air, adding a touch of exhilaration to the already invigorating atmosphere. Despite the challenging terrain and varying conditions, Brandon's long run proved to be a resounding success. (Check out his stats here on Strava - Mesa Verde National Park, Brandon's Long Run).

(Forgot to mention - there was SO MUCH SNOW!)

As the sun began its descent on Sunday evening, our wheels carried us to the vibrant city of Flagstaff, Arizona. Time was of the essence, our mouths watering in anticipation, as we made a beeline for our all-time favorite burger joint, Diablo Burger. The aroma of sizzling patties filled the air, and our hunger knew no bounds. We gleefully devoured colossal burgers, accompanied by heaping trays of fries, each bite a symphony of flavors. Quenching our thirst with refreshing beverages, we savored every moment, relishing in the culinary delight that graced our palates. Satiated and content, we found solace for the night in the welcoming embrace of the Cracker Barrel Parking lot, offering us a peaceful slumber. To the ever-gracious Cracker Barrel, we extend our heartfelt thanks and appreciation for their hospitality, as we have so often in the past.

Monday saw us embark on a drive from Arizona, crossing into the vast expanse of Nevada. Along the way, we made a delightful stop at the breathtaking Colorado River, immersing ourselves in its serene beauty during a scenic walk. Pausing for a quick bite to replenish our energy, we marveled at the majesty of nature surrounding us.

By nightfall, we triumphantly crossed the California border, our destination set on the enchanting town of Ojai. Exhaustion tugged at our weary bodies, and our stomachs growled in unison. With haste, we conjured up massive bowls of cereal, filling the void within us. Nestled in the embrace of the lower elevation mountains of Central California, we surrendered to the tranquility of the night, finding bliss in the simplicity of our surroundings.

The weekend united us with cherished companions, creating a joyous gathering. We joined in the celebration of the marriage between our dear friends, Will and Shantel, a truly magical occasion. The beauty of the couple radiated, enveloping the ceremony in an enchanting aura, complemented by the divine taste of wines & entrees. As Sunday unfolded, Brandon and I embarked on an exhilarating first-time adventure—kayaking on the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Though initial trepidation gripped me tightly, I soon discovered that my fears were unfounded. The experience turned out to be more exhilarating than daunting, and I owe a heartfelt expression of gratitude to Will's company, The Moose Marketing, for organizing this unforgettable event.

April, 2023 - The first weekend in April gifted us with a trip to the Carrizo Plain National Monument with Will, Shantel and their pup, Tater. IT WAS SPECTACULAR. Flowers were poppin' off like champagne on NYE! We were in awe and the pups were in real life doggie heaven.

Come mid-April we headed down to San Diego for the Carlsbad 5k (Brandon was 5th in the open mens field!) then White River Preserve (just outside of Palm Springs) to visit family. Words cannot describe the beauty of this place where desert and mountain intertwined. I cannot wait to come back to the Preserve to spend more time with my family, explore and hopefully hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Our adVANtures pressed onward as we ventured north towards the captivating destination of Santa Cruz. Serendipitously, my cousins and my cousin's girlfriend had set up camp north of this picturesque coastal town and extended a warm invitation for us to join their escapade. While the rest of our group embarked on an epic 12.5-mile hike, Brandon, not being much of a hiking enthusiast, opted for a long run, evoking a sense of being immersed in his own cinematic experience, reminiscent of the captivating "Blair Witch Project." (I thought that was hilarious.)

Santa Cruz greeted us with a majestic abundance of towering trees, standing proudly and exuding an air of might and grandeur. The landscape painted a mesmerizing tapestry as rivers and creeks elegantly meandered through the labyrinth of roots and earth, gracefully carving their path towards the vastness of the ocean. The allure of Santa Cruz grew with each passing moment, igniting a fervent desire within me to stay and explore this enchanting place further. Santa Cruz, I cannot wait to come back.

The weekend gracefully slipped through our fingers, leaving behind cherished memories and a profound sense of gratitude for the time spent with my family. As Monday dawned, Brandon and I enjoyed coffee and savoring delectable gluten-free baked goods before heading south to Santa Barbara.

Despite the collective warnings from Apple Maps, Google Maps, and the well-intentioned advice of our family and friends, our trust in the navigation capabilities of our trusty sprinter van, "Vandy" led us to defy convention and take Highway 1. With a spirit of adventure and an unwavering determination, we set forth on this unconventional route, brimming with anticipation.

Our decision to "send it" down to Big Sur proved to be an exceptional choice, as we marveled at the unparalleled beauty that unfolded before our eyes. The rugged cliffs, the crashing waves, and the ethereal coastline painted a scene of mesmerizing splendor. However, our journey took an unexpected turn when we discovered that Highway 1 was closed just beyond Big Sur, a tedious landslide and broken off highway forced us to face the reality that we had unknowingly veered off course, venturing an astonishing 150 miles in the wrong direction.

Though our detour proved to be a lengthy one, we couldn't help but view it as an unexpected adventure, a serendipitous exploration of uncharted territories. It served as a poignant reminder that sometimes, the most remarkable moments occur when we deviate from our planned path and embrace the unforeseen twists and turns that life presents us with.

That fateful night brought us to Paso Robles, California, specifically landing us in the eccentric oasis of Franklin's Hot Springs. Let me tell you, it was an experience like no other. To put it plainly, it was one of the weirdest and most interesting encounters we've ever had. Oh, yes... we ended up smelling like sulfur for a solid week - talk about an unforgettable aroma. Ew!

As the next morning dawned, we sought solace and revitalization at Spearhead Coffee (huge thanks again to Shanti for the stellar recommendation!). It was exactly what our souls needed, a much-needed jolt of caffeine and a warm embrace of flavorful goodness. Paso Robles beckoned us to stay, enticing us with its charming downtown and tantalizing wine tastings. We, unfortunately, had to save those delights for another time, adding them eagerly to our ever-growing bucket list. One thing's for certain, though—we won't be revisiting Franklin's Hot Springs. Some experiences are best left as unique memories rather than repeat performances.

May 2023 - The end of April quickly approached, and May brought us a series of exciting new experiences. One of the highlights was Brandon's participation in the US Mountain Running Championships, one of his first US Championship races since his accident. However, the rocky terrain and undulating trails posed a challenge for his foot, not to mention the course changes due to weather. Despite the obstacles, Brandon maintained his optimistic spirit and celebrated the opportunity to be out there, regardless of the outcome. We were proud to congratulate our fellow teammates who made Team USA and will represent our country in Austria.

After Brandon's return from the championships, we took some time to enjoy a teeny-tiny bit more sea-level training with friends and teammates while savoring the delights of our favorite eateries and cafes in Santa Barbara. As we bid farewell to California, our hearts felt heavy seeing the fading coastline in our rear view mirrors. Our home away from home in Cali embraced us with love and happiness beyond our expectations.

During our journey back, we made a point to stop at one of our most beloved national parks, Zion, in Utah. Cycling through the majestic park, we were captivated by its epic beauty. Our eyes were torn between the road ahead and the awe-inspiring vistas surrounding us. Feeling truly blessed and liberated, we contemplated what our next adventure would be when we had more time to explore.

As nightfall descended, we reached Kanab, Utah, and found solace near the tranquil Kanab Creek. The following morning greeted us with an enticing dirt road and a paved path at Jackson Flat Reservoir. Brandon embarked on a delightful long run, while I took a leisurely walk with Petey & Phoebe (Loving the walk to the fullest since they got to cool off in the reservoir). Fueling our eagerness to reach Colorado, we savored homemade breakfast sandwiches and set our sights on Dolores. The journey along Highway 89 proved to be a captivating adventure, revealing a myriad of trails, monuments, and even the awe-inspiring Glen Canyon Dam, which only added to our ever-growing bucket list of destinations.

As we crossed into our beloved home state of Colorado, joy radiated from our faces, and emotions ran high. The mountains stood even mightier and more majestic than we remembered. A dear friend graciously invited us to their place in Dolores, offering a warm shower (it had only been a mere 4 or 5 days, mind you!) and acres of land where the pups could frolic freely. We spent the weekend indulging in delicious food, delightful drinks, thrilling bike rides, invigorating runs (mostly Brandon), and contagious laughter. As always, time flew by all too quickly. Expressing our heartfelt gratitude and bidding farewell to our gracious hosts, we embarked on the final leg of our journey to Alamosa.

As we strolled through downtown Dolores, a charming thrift shop caught my attention. Though our search yielded no treasures this time, fate had a different plan in store for us. On our way back to Vandy, a loud hissing sound interrupted our thoughts. Confusion swept over us, but deep down, we knew – we had a flat tire. We quickly checked the van's pressure, and to our dismay, the PSI was dropping rapidly. Brandon skillfully pulled over in the Dolores community center parking lot, and without hesitation, called our friend, a retired Air Force mechanic, whom we had just left. He arrived promptly to our rescue. It was our first time changing a Mercedes Sprinter Van tire in all our years of owning vans. In a flurry of movement, we gathered our tools and the jack, ready to tackle the task at hand. With our friend's guidance and meticulous expertise, we swiftly swapped the tire (easier said than done). It's worth mentioning that when changing a tire, always remember to place blockers or rocks behind your other tires to prevent any chance of the vehicle rolling.

Relieved and forever grateful for our amazing friend's assistance, we insisted on repaying him in any way possible, but he wouldn't hear of it. Then, I had a lightbulb moment – homemade pies. Knowing he couldn't resist, I proposed the idea, and he loved it. With warm hugs and promises of future reunions, we bid each other farewell and resumed our journey to Alamosa, this time equipped with a new tire boasting a healthy PSI.

The following day, we safely arrived home in Alamosa, making stops at some of our cherished little shops and spots along Highway 160. In Durango, we found ourselves in the presence of an exceptional chocolatier called Animas Chocolate Co. If you ever find yourself in Downtown Durango, make sure to carve out time for a visit! Other memorable locations included Pagosa Springs charming River Walk, perfect for leisurely strolls with our doggo's, as well as Raisin Rye Bakery in Del Norte, where we indulged in delectable sweet treats and espresso.

As we bring this blog entry to a close, we want to remind you that our adVANtures are just the tip of the iceberg. Countless untold surprises and discoveries await those who embrace the open road. We hope our stories have ignited a spark of wanderlust within you, inspiring you to embark on your own incredible journeys.

So, whether it's a road trip, a camping expedition, or a spontaneous detour, we encourage you to seize the opportunities that come your way. Embrace the unknown, savor the moments, and create memories that will last a lifetime.

As you embark on your own adVANture, always prioritize safety and keep an eye out for the occasional twists and turns that life presents. Remember, it's in those unexpected moments that some of the most extraordinary experiences are born. Thank you for joining us on this journey, and may your future adVANtures be filled with joy, discovery, and endless possibilities. Safe travels, fellow explorers!

Much Love.


Brittni & Brandon

Our adVANtures are fueled by the following EPIC Sponsors:

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BACKWOODS ADVENTURE MODS - USA made and Family focused. They design and manufacture their own bumpers, rear swingouts, ladders, roof racks, storage boxes, and more for the van and midsized 4x4 market. Backwoods uses the industry's latest technology, robotics, tooling, and other equipment to ensure a consistent and efficient product every time.

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