Getting out to experience new and unfamiliar places has always be an important part of life for Kelly and I. Between COVID changing how the world operated, to our wedding being postponed from April 2020 to April 2022, the yearning to wander further than a few hours from home grew more and more as time passed.
So, when one of our good friends offered to let us borrow his van as a wedding gift, we immediately started planning a trip. Kelly and I had never experienced van life, but we knew this would be the perfect opportunity to dip our toes into this lifestyle. “Heck, how hard could it be?! We live in an 800 square foot condo, we're used to living in a small space, we got this!” Or so we thought.
Well, after the first day, we quickly realized that our version of van life is pretty much playing real life Tetris. Especially when you’re traveling with a 95-pound German Shepard like Lily here!
We quickly had to learn how to live in a small, confined space, where you could legally park overnight without getting harassed, and where we could top off our water jugs, as we cruised around Utah, Arizona, and Nevada for a few weeks.
In order to do one thing inside the van, five other things must be moved first. As time went by, we figured out some semi-efficient tips to keep the van life stoke high. Like making sure the gas tank doesn't get below a quarter tank so the heater can operate at the mountain-top campsite you've been hanging out at for hours… but then realize the van is only getting colder as it gets darker… which means you have to drive back to town so we have heat for the night... it gets very cold in the desert at night. But at least the sunset was pretty!
I brought the BackLight Elite 45L backpack for this trip because it allowed me to bring all the gear I would want for a trip like this. All while keeping my gear organized in one place inside the van and being a great trail bag when we were out and about. From taking it on the van trip, to using it for shoots back at home, this bag is my go-to everyday bag so I can have all my essential camera gear with me and be ready to hit the trail at a moment's notice.
Lily’s 11 and a half now, so her age is starting to show. Back in August 2022, her back 2 back legs stopped working out of nowhere. She's super active and we thought healthy dog, but it turned out she had a growth on her spine that was creating a pinch point. We ended up taking a chance on surgery to remove the mass on her spine, in hopes she would walk again. And low and behold after the surgery, lots of PT and love, this trip was her first real adventure since surgery and a chance to get out on some longer hikes again.
There were some emotions flowing on these hikes for sure. It was so great to see her back to herself and you could definitely see she had new pep in her step. She is always way jazzed to get out for a hike any time you put your shoes on, but these hikes seemed extra special to her. She almost had this smile/look where you could tell she was proud to be running and adventuring around again.
In the end, we had a great time taking in the incredible desert views, exhilarating mountain bike rides, and the sights, sounds, and local culture that come along with all of these places. Getting out to explore new and familiar areas in the desert is always a blast and a great way to recharge!
Ian Zinner is a mountain adventure visual creator based in Summit County, Colorado. Give him a follow and check out his site when you get a chance.