Hello Stranger. Yes, I know it’s been awhile. To be honest, I’ve dreaded writing this as it will officially mean the end of the greatest year of our lives. But, as the title says, all good things must come to an end and for the small group of people that asked how our #vanlife ended… well, here it is!
May 29th-June 29th, 2019
We left Portland, ME with full hearts after an amazing time with Jason’s parents, brother, and sister-in-law. Headed up the coast to make our way into Canada… and MichelVangelo decided he needed an early break and COMPLETELY SHUTDOWN all gauges as we were driving up the northern coast of Maine! Luckily, we slugged our way into a gas station and after 11 months on the road we finally had our first (and only) breakdown requiring a tow truck. Our amazing tow truck driver dropped Mikey off at the only auto-shop in town, then drove us to the only motel in town. Lucky for me the motel had 2 furry feline permanent residents! Food and brews at the only restuarant in town to drown our sorrows. The next morning we got a call from the mechanic that Mikey needed a new alternator and we would be spending another night at the motel… hey, at least we were able to get a shower out of the deal.
With Mikey repaired we booked it over the border into Nova Scotia, Canada to catch our ferry to Gros Morne National Park, New Foundland! Before our ferry we were able to stop at Big Spruce Brewing on Cape Breton Island, for some stellar IPAs (Kitchen Party was our favorite), live music, and a fun space to enjoy it all. From there MichelVangelo, Jason, and I hopped onto the 11pm ferry. Jason splurged and upgraded us to reclining seats (fancy)! A night of little to no sleep and we were off the ferry at 7am in New Foundland! New Foundland has tiny coastal fishing villages dispersed throughout it’s rugged mountainous and moose-filled landscape. From the ferry we had a 3 1/2 hr drive to Gros Morne NP (which included a mama and her calf moose sighting and one woodsy emergency bathoom break for Jason).
Gros Morne National Park’s raw, remote beauty was remarkable. We stretched our road-tired legs with a short hike to Western Brook Pond but skipped the $65 per adult ferry ride. Instead we snuck off to a small beach to marvel at the glacial-carved pond while watching the ferries pass us by. We set up camp for the next few nights. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, Canadian NPs have the nicest amenities. A cookhouse, free wifi, nice bathrooms, individual showers with heat lamps, and easy access to the coast from each campsite!
The Green Gardens Trail is the perfect hike to experience the different landscapes of Gros Morne NP. Starting at the beginning you are walking amongst the rocky tablelands, and lucky for us it was wet, cold, and windy. The trail takes you down into a wooded forest and spits you out at the bottom of the jagged cliffs looking out over the immense ocean.
Wind swept along the cliffs, we walked through the lush green meadows until we found a herd of sheep. The weather looked like it might get a little worse so we trudged our way back up the trail (many, many steps) and made our way back to our warm van. Ended the night with a beautiful sunset among the giant rocks of the coastline.
After a few days in New Foundland, we caught the ferry back to the mainland and drove to Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia. The Skyline Trail is the most popular trail in the park. We got up early to try to beat the rush of people, and as luck would have it as soon as we started a moose crossed the trail right in front of us! It is unbelievable how these massive animals can sneak through these dense forests without hardly making a sound. The trail winds through the woods and leads you to a “skyline view” where you feel like you’re up in the clouds!
We dipped back into northern Maine to do an overnight backpack trip in Baxter State Park. Little did we know that our entire time would be shared with black flies. The ranger informed these two newbs that this is the worst black fly season he has ever experienced. If we were outside of the van we were dressed in long sleeves, pants, and fly nets over our heads. It’s a small price to pay to see moose, mountains and pristine alpine lakes.
Backpacks packed, fly nets on, and hiking poles in hand we hiked 7.2 miles (including forging a river that was up to our thighs) to our bunkhouse at Russell Pond. We canoed Russell Pond, used our water filtration system for the first time to fill our water bottles (success!), and spent sunset drinking wine on the dock under our fly nets. An evening of more yahtzee games than I can count, not enough red wine, delicious meals in a bag, and dancing around the bunkhouse was just what we needed!
Up early the next morning to hike the 7.2 miles back to MichelVangelo, our ENTIRE hike back including wading through thigh-deep water was in the pouring rain. We attempted to string our gear around the inside of the van to dry out and spent a lazy rainy afternoon snuggled in watching movies. Back to Canada the next day to spend a night in Quebec City! Quick showers at our Airbnb before exploring old Quebec City. Our favorite spots we found:
Macfly Bar Arcade: Funky bar filled with free arcade games. They’re also known for their poutine grilled cheese sandwiches (they did not dissapoint)!
Le Barberie: A micro-brewery with great appetizers (thank you journal notes). I’ll be honest, I don’t remember a lot about this place except the beers were great and the patio was fun… it was our last stop of the night, ha.
Before we left Quebec City the next morning we had to make a stop at the cat cafe just up the road from our Airbnb. OmerCafé Félin has excellent croissants and even better company! I thoroughly enjoyed my date with Hercules! The croissants fueled us for our longest drive day of our entire trek – 8 hours. We attempted to find a Canadian Walmart parking lot to sleep in for the night, struck out 3 times. Eventually we found a Canadian casino right over the Michigan border.
Our LAST border crossing and once again our van was searched (although one of the officers did comment on our sweet solar set up), but we are back in the U-S-A! Made our way to East Lansing, Michigan to visit an old high school friend, Erin and her family. We had delicious NE IPAs at Ellison Brewing Company. Back to their house for the night for more drinks and many laughs! It was so nice to sleep in a real bed and take a hot shower! Up the next day to drive to camp at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The views of the gradiant blue/turquoise water were stunning, it felt like we were in Key West again! The short hikes, Pyramid Point and Empire Bluffs, offered amazing views. Quick stop in Traverse City. We loved Bonobo Winery and Right Brain Brewery, and here’s a hot tip… sleep in the Turtle Creek Casino parking lot. Winning $100 on Black Jack was the icing on top ;).
Making our way further north and into the Upper Peninsula, to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Michigan, you sure are pretty!
We we able to meet an old college friend, Ashley, and her family for a hike! So, so good to see old friends and where they are at now in their lives. We splurged and did a kayak excursion to see Pictured Rocks from Lake Superior. It was so fun and really, the best way to see the beauty!
The Grand Finale: a 4 day backpack trip on Isle Royale National Park! The park is known for its backpacking trails and being a moose and wolf habitat that has been largely unaffected by humans. Lots of planning went into this by Jason (hiking/camping route, which ferry to take, permits secured, how much food to pack, and supplies).
We boarded the Ranger III ferry out of Houghton, MI. The ferry ride is 6 hours long across Lake Superior, once on Isle Royale we set out to hike the 3 miles to Three Mile Campground. The majority of the hike was right along the coast gazing at Lake Superior. Many of the camps around Isle Royale have wooden shelters to sleep in on a first come first serve basis. We were able to get one at Three Mile, and thank goodness because it ended up raining a bit that night. Backpacker lasagna and yahtzee to cap off our first night.
The next morning had us up early on the trails for our longest section of the hike, 13 miles. The last mile was grueling but, we finally made it to camp East Chickenbone where we set up our tent for the night. We were completely out of water and spent a lot of time filtering it from Chickenbone Lake while trying to avoid the many snakes along the bank. As we were eating breakfast the following morning, a moose walked right behind our tent! We packed up camp and hit the trail. It was a muddy and buggy hike but we didn’t mind, we were on cloud nine after finally seeing a moose! We hiked down to Lake Livermore and spotted F-O-U-R moose! Hiked further to our camp for the night, Moskey Basin. We found a shelter with picture perfect views and spent the afternoon drying our things out in the sun, watching otters swim around, and just relaxing. We were spoiled with one of the most beautiful sunsets overlooking the water, complete with a moose swimming across!
Up at 5:30 am to enjoy the sunrise! We hiked 11 miles from Moskey Basin to Rock Harbor Lodge in 4 hours and 39 minutes which for us is FAST. I think we were a bit excited to get to the lodge where we splurged on a room for our last night of #vanlife. Beers, burgers, showers, and a real bed! We felt like royalty!
June 29th- Freshly showered, we had a smooth ferry ride back to Houghton, MI. MichelVangelo had one more drive, 2.5 hours back to where we started, Manitowish Waters, WI. Five minutes from our final destination and we narrowly avoided hitting a deer which involved Jason slamming on the brakes and swerving a bit. Everything in the back of the van came crashing forward and made it look like a tornado went through it. Might as well go out with a bang, right? At last, we were able to meet Jason’s parents, our nephews, and lake friends at Some Nerve Brewing Company, our 100th and final brewery of the trip.
WE DID IT! One year traveling North America and living on the road. Years of dreaming, planning, saving and it was all worth it. This trip was all I hoped it would be and everything I needed. I would sleep in a 1,000 more Walmart parking lots if it meant I could do it all again. Jason said it best, “We just lived life a different way for a year.”
Thank you MichelVangelo, you were more than “just a van.” You were a vessel to every side-eyed smirk, wrinkle-faced grin, and tenacious belly laugh with Jason. The perfect place to revel in the silence and watch the world go by. A cozy home in unfamiliar places, a residence for my homesick tears, and a friend that allowed me to truly find myself.