Autumn 2022 VanLife: Roller Coaster to the Good Life

VanLife Roller Coaster Fall 2022, beautiful reflection of trees on side of van.

Autumn 2022 was quite a VanLife roller coaster for my partner and I. It was a great and eye-opening experience for us as relatively new van adventurists. We learned a couple of important lessons and saw the power of flexibility in van travel. Plus, it was a great reminder of northeast America’s autumn beauty.

We started with a quick boondocking stop in Grand Rapids, Michigan, seeing a young football phenom. An unstoppable quarter back sacker. And of course the other more comely young cousins. All maturing beautifully. This couple of days showed the flexibility of class B van travel. Easy cheap in and out, no wondering where you will stay.

Next stop: Pekin, in Central Illinois. Why in the world would someone go there? Beyond the beautiful country and warm people, in the deepest part of the corn belt. Of course, it was the 50th anniversary of the beloved Marigold festival – a nice home town beginning of the fall season. Of course there was the parade and crafts and foods. I particularly liked how they featured Everett McKinley Dirksen, the town’s prominent politician, one of the last great Republicans. As the Senate minority whip, he sealed the deal on LBJ’s Civil Rights Act. He makes a good T-shirt too.

Prime Stop on the VanLife Roller Coaster -> PCHS Class of 1972 Fifty Year Reunion

Once again, the Pekin Community High School (PCHS) Class of 1972 Team put together a great weekend of events – golf, dinners, visits, and a great final gathering. This one was a bit bittersweet because it was the last of the formal reunions for the Class of 1972. Doubtless, the stories and comradery will carry on. And this year’s blues-rock music bash out at the country club will be long remembered (thanks John!). During our Pekin stay, we parked at one of the family spots.

VanLife Roller Coaster made its prime stop in Pekin Illinois

We had a special stay in Lebanon, Indiana, visiting a family home and gardens; the pure and simple life. Then up to the majesty of Mission Peninsula in Northern Michigan, where some of the family elders were just finally coming out from Covid. From there we went nearby for a great idyllic stay and hiking at the Platte River campground, on the southwest side of the famous Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Sleeping Bear Dunes, National Preserve in northwestern Michigan.

September slipped into October as we went headed to New England. In Ohio, we learned that most of the Midwest camp sites close at the end of September. Call it poor planning, but it had nor occurred to us. A rookie mistake. This meant we had to get more adventuresome; we stretched our definition of boondocking. Under the light of a full moon, near the entrance of a closed camp site, we found a nice quiet spot.

Amazingly, we experienced great sunny weather and peak fall colors every where we went.

The beautiful fall seemed to follow us across the Southern Tier of New York with its rolling hills and steep rugged cliffs and valleys. Then through the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts for a stop at a friend’s log cabin up above Pelham. And finally, a magical visit with friends in New Hampshire. On Blaisdell Lake we saw baby loons.

New England Autumn 2022

Later on, we learned (the hard way) of limitations of our van’s lithium battery powered electrical system, the part that provides all the niceties for the living area. So, now we know how to use and protect it, and how to recover it in the event of a problem. This was a wake up call, letting me know the typical VanLife adventurist needs more than a casual understanding; she/he needs a working understanding. I thought I knew it well enough, but now I know what I didn’t know. While still not knowing it all, we are better prepared.

We arrived in the Finger Lakes region of New York, and on our first afternoon, went to Buttermilk Falls in Ithaca. As their T shirt says, “It’s gorges!” (There’s a joke in there.) But before the hike was over, we received a shocking call from Pekin. We had to go back.

Final Stop on Last Fall’s VanLife Roller Coaster

Fall 2022 Final Stop on the VanLife Roller Coaster - picture of the lost family member out on his tractor, what he liked best.

Totally unexpectedly, one of the family members back at the Pekin homestead had passed away. It was a sad ride back but we were glad to be readily able to do it. The van enabled us to get directly there and be part of the help and comfort we all gave each other. The van clearly made it better than it might have otherwise been. This is how we learned the power of VanLife flexibility.