2015 Summer Journal

The West is Best

The transition from living in a “sticks-and-bricks” house to traveling the country in a school bus is huge. There are many, many things to consider, from whether or not we’ll have a shower to where we should park at night. Lately we’ve been thinking and talking a lot about where we would like to travel, the adventures we want to have, and the sight-seeing destinations we should visit.

Since the bus is such an open ended project and we’re not sure how long we’ll ultimately spend living and travelling on it, we’ve decided to focus on figuring out just our first year of travel. We feel like trying to see and experience the entire U.S.A. in one year is an ambitious task, especially considering that we want to dedicate enough time to really experience each place we visit. Thus, our plan for the first year of our journey encompasses only the Western United States.

We’ve broken “The West” into four regions: California, Pacific Northwest, Rockies, and Southwest. These areas are not only geographically distinct but are also differentiated by the goals we’ve made for visiting them, detailed below.


“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

The only “set in stone” item on our bus itinerary is our starting location: my hometown of Meadow Vista, CA. My parents have a large property with a workshop which will serve as our bus base camp. As we get close to finishing the conversion, we anticipate that we will want to do a couple of test trips around the state to make sure everything works and fix any issues before we officially set sail.

We have a few ideas for our maiden voyage, but our current favorite is a trip we’ve done before: a quick weekend jaunt down Highway 1 to Big Sur, one of our favorite places along the California coast. One of our major goals is to share as many of our experiences as possible with our friends and family. So of course, we couldn’t make a trip to Big Sur without swinging through San Francisco to pick up our college friends along the way.

Once we feel comfortable that the bus is ready to roll, we’ll meander through Southern California before heading north, hoping to hit a few major milestones along the way:

Visit Yosemite

Nothing says California adventure like a trip to Yosemite. Huge waterfalls, endless granite cliffs, and the best climbing in the West. The idea of our current business and arguably the very first step of our journey to the bus began over breakfast in Curry Village so this seems like an ideal place to begin.

Yosemite Valley View by Mr. Nixter, on Flickr

Yosemite Valley View by Mr. Nixter (CC 2.0)

Mountain Bike the Tahoe Rim Trail

The Tahoe Rim Trail is a ~150 mile trail entirely accessible by bikes. We’re hoping to mountain bike the whole thing with support from friends or family driving the bus to meet us each night.

Experience Big Bear

As Alyssa’s hometown growing up and an area that my family lived in for generations, Big Bear is high up on our list of places to get to know better.

Climb in Joshua Tree

With almost endless climbing and a really funky atmosphere, Joshua Tree seems like an obvious stop for us. We’ll stay until our fingers can’t handle any more granite.

Pacific Northwest

“A rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods.”

The next region on our list is the beautiful Pacific Northwest. We spent a few weeks in the PNW last summer and were absolutely floored. From the solitude of the Puget Sound to the foodie scene in Portland, we really want to get to know this area better. We have a few “must-sees” on our list for the PNW, but will probably end up taking things day by day. If you have any ideas of specific activities we should do or places we should see, let us know!

Ocean kayak in the San Juan Islands

Having grown up in the more mountainous parts of California, Alyssa and I have never had the chance to do an overnight sea kayaking trip. Paddling out from the San Juan Islands seems like a great place for to start!

Dusk on Lummi Island by Ed Suominen, on Flickr

Dusk on Lummi Island by Ed Suominen (CC 2.0)

Bike some classic PNW mountain bike trails

There’s no way that we could visit this region and not do any mountain biking. If conditions are right, the Pacific Northwest has some of the best mountain biking in the country.

Foggy Trail by wilbur, on Flickr

Foggy Trail by wilbur (CC 2.0)

Backpack in Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park covers 572 square miles on the Olympic Peninsula west of Seattle. It’s hard to imagine this kind of wilderness so close to a major urban area, but rest assured, parts of the park are truly wild.

Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park by Javier Velazquez-Muriel, on Flickr

Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park by Javier Velazquez-Muriel (CC 2.0)

Visit Alyssa’s family on their summer vacation

Alyssa’s parents have been spending a lot of time in the Pacific Northwest over the past few years and we’re really hoping that they decide to retire there so we have an excuse to visit more often. We’ll make sure that our route coincides with their summer vacation plans.

Crab Measuring on the Puget Sound by Tina Pelletier Family in Seabeck by Tina Pelletier

Rocky Mountains

“He was born in the summer of his 27th year, coming home to a place he’d never been before.”

I’m definitely biased, but the areas I’m most excited about exploring are the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Montana, and Canada. Having grown up spending summers in West Yellowstone, Montana and living for the past year in Boulder, Colorado, I have developed a great fondness for the naked peaks and open meadows the Rockies are known for. It’s difficult to sum up everything that we want to accomplish in the Rockies, as there is so much to see and experience in this huge area.

Even after living in Boulder, Colorado for the last year and actively trying to get out to explore the state as much as possible, I feel as if we have hardly scratched the surface of what Colorado has to offer. There are big sections of the state that we have yet to explore and a lot of objectives yet to be checked off. We also want to spend time exploring the mountains to the north in Wyoming, Montana, and Canada. Though we know there is much, much more worth seeing, this is our quick list of big things to see in the Rockies:

Crested Butte, Colorado

We’ve spent a bit of time in Crested Butte while living in Colorado and love everything about this small mountain town. We’ll definitely be taking some time to bike or ski in CB!

Crested Butte by Alyssa Pelletier

Boulder, Colorado

Boulder is the place that taught us that there’s an activity for every season, and nothing bad can ever come from saying yes. We are looking forward to visiting all of our Boulder friends and hopefully dragging some of them along on a bus adventure.

Morning at the Flatirons. by Adam Campbell, on Flickr

Morning at the Flatirons by Adam Campbell (CC 2.0)

Wind River Range, Wyoming

My grandfather has shared several stories of backpacking trips in the Wind River Range years ago. After hearing his stories and seeing some photos of this mountain range, I’m amazed that I still haven’t had the chance to go.

West Yellowstone, Montana

West Yellowstone was a second home to me growing up. As teachers, my parents were able to take the summer off and each year we made the long drive from California to Montana to spend the season at my grandparent’s home.

Centennial Mountain Range - Montana by Charles (Chuck) Peterson, on Flickr

Centennial Mountain Range – Montana by Charles (Chuck) Peterson, on Flickr (CC 2.0)

Bob Marshall Wilderness & Glacier National Park

Of all of the national parks I’ve visited, Glacier National Park has to be the most breathtaking. The lesser-known Bob Marshall Wilderness sits just outside of the national park and shares some of the same incredible views. It’s also dog-friendly!

Lake Agnes by Jeff Wallace, on Flickr

Lake Agnes by Jeff Wallace (CC 2.0)


“There are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.”

The Southwest is an area that Alyssa and I have been looking forward to exploring for some time now. Growing up reading books like The Monkey Wrench Gang, Desert Solitaire, and Cadillac Desert, I think it’s impossible to not feel drawn to the expansive vistas, wide deserts, deep canyons, and endless possibility for the adventure of the Southwest.

We would like to spend as much time as possible exploring Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico in the fall of 2015, after the summer heat subsides. The Southwest will be less about visiting family and friends and more about pushing the envelope of adventure. The biking is world-class and there are endless miles of open space to explore. Some of the major sights we hope to see are:

Grand Canyon

It would be sinful to travel to the southwest and not see its most iconic landmark. Hiking rim to rim and exploring some of the scenic side canyons are high on the list of things to do.

Grand Canyon by Mark, on Flickr

Grand Canyon by Mark (CC 2.0)

Zion National Park

Zion is home to some of the best hiking and canyoneering in the country. Our top priorities here are to do The Subway from the top down and hike up to Angel’s Landing.


Located outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, Sedona and its surrounding area is that place that we know very little about but are very excited to explore. We’ve heard rumors of some epic mountain biking and incredible views of red rock, but will have to confirm once we get there!

Moab & Indian Creek

Moab is truly a town dedicated to adventure. It offers miles of mountain biking trails that have a style very distinctive to the area. Arches, Canyonlands, and Indian Creek have some of the best climbing in the southwest and are only a short drive away from town.

Did we miss anything?

This is far from a list of all of the places that we want to visit in the Western U.S., but we think it’s a good start. If you think that there are some places that we absolutely need to go see then we would love to hear about it. Leave us a comment below and let us know what we are missing!

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