The summer kicked off with Born To Run and was quickly followed by Race Across America. I enjoyed both, but was looking forward to hitting the open road with less structure and responsibility. I jumped in Tantor and headed east from the Pacific Coast, through Arizona and on to Taos, NM, the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and Denver for the 4th of July festivities. I didn’t have set plans for the summer, but was ready for some good old western ramblin’!
I ended up sticking around Denver for more than a month. Dad and Kathy brought Grandpa Clemens up for a visit, I hung out with Tyler and friends, went to a concert at Red Rocks for the first time, and had a failed attempt at thru-hiking the Colorado Trail. Finally, in mid-August, I made my way to Washington State where I needed to prepare for the Plain 100.
I drove north through Wyoming and into Montana, skirting forest fires and passing through smoke and ash. I worked for a few days in Missoula before deciding that I was too close to the zone of totality for the 2017 solar eclipse to not take advantage of it. So, I turned the van back south and crossed the Nez Perce National Forest to find a place to camp on the Oregon border.
I camped along the Snake River and on the day of the eclipse I donned my running pack and hiked up the mountain while 4×4 trucks passed by. I traversed the ridge and came to a group who remembered seeing me running and offered me a beer. We ended up hanging out through the entire eclipse and I even hitched a ride back down the mountain in the truck! The path of totality was several hours out of my way, but it was one of the highlights of my summer and a truly unique experience.
I turned north again, finally made it to Washington State, and based out of the Leavenworth area to spend 2.5 days backpacking the Plain 100 course. After the 100 mile backpacking trip I visited friends in Lake Chelan and spent a week camping and exploring the dirt roads along the Cascade range, ultimately finding my favorite campsite ever.
After a week playing in the mountains I made my way to the Puget Sound to go boating with Uncle Rick and Ryan from the baking industry. It was Labor Day weekend and full of floating, boating, and eating paella, a nice change of pace from training and camping in the mountains!
I guess one weekend of boating with Ryan wasn’t enough, because we flew from Seattle back to Grand Rapids, Michigan for the FoodTools summer sales meeting. I was able to complete a lot of freelance video work, hang out with the guys, and generally have a little too much fun before heading back to Washington.
Two weekends of boating with Ryan is kinda like a week in Vegas and I seriously needed to get ready for the Plain 100. The following week I toed the starting line and 31 hours and 47 minutes later reached the end and became a Plain 100 Finisher. Following the race I was ready to hit the road and relax in Utah, but the van had other plans. The next day I broke down near Moses Lake, WA and ended up bicycling 12 miles to get replacement parts. #VanLife
I finally did make it to Utah and had some time to relax before Tyler’s Bear 100 race. I explored Zion National Park, the FLDS enclave of Hildale / Colorado City, and the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. The dry desert of Utah was a stark contrast to the dense lush Cascade range, but the warm air was reviving.
I even took a 60 mile rugged dirt road to Toroweap Overlook, one of the most remote places to peer into the Grand Canyon. Tantor did great, even getting up on 3 wheels a few times, and Toroweap was well worth the drive.
I turned north and met Tyler in Logan, Utah for his Bear 100 mile race. He crushed it and we hung out the day after drinking beer and watching football before he returned to Denver and I hit the open road. I tried to set the Vanagon Land Speed Record at the Bonneville Salt Flats, but unfortunately they were flooded.
I’d planned to spend more time exploring Utah, but the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta was kicking off and it’s been on my bucket list. I rolled into Albuquerque for a few days of stealth urban camping and watching the balloons fill the blue sky.
I spent another week exploring the Taos Plateau and the surrounding area. I even returned to camp along the Rio Grande River Gorge in my favorite $5 BLM campsite. I don’t often pay for campsites, but this is well worth it!
As the summer wrapped up and I headed west to stage my winter adventures. I had one more very important stop along the way, Chaco Canyon. The Chaco Culture National Historical Park has some of the oldest standing native pueblos in North America. The park is nearly as remote today as it was 1,000 years ago and visitors drive over miles of washboard dirt roads to reach the canyon. I spent 2 days in the park exploring the buildings, trails, and star filled night sky.
I swung through the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest, rolled back into Prescott to visit with family for a week, and made my way to Santa Barbara for a week of work. I seem to have trouble staying in the Northern Hemisphere for winter so I loaded my backpack with everything I needed for the next few months, parked the van, and set off to chase summer. First stop, Vietnam!
Awesome pictures Chris
Grand Canyon and Zion are legit! We covered them in an itinerary post on our site. I read that you sold your campervan and bought a truck instead. If you’re ever in need of a campervan, hit us up. We have some great rentals when you’re on the west coast. Happy trails!