First Week of Van Life: Shenandoah National Park

I left last Thursday, March 17th. In 7 days, I’ve gone 680 miles.

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I’ve done so much work and so much research the last few months.

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I headed to New Jersey to visit my friend Nate. While I was in NJ, I figured I’d check out Great Falls in Patterson. Definitely worth seeing.

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I met up with Nate the next day. We ate ribs, played pool, and drank hard cider. We met another van dweller at a bar that night. She bought us both shots.

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I said goodbye to Nate and headed south toward Shenandoah National Park. I bought the $80 annual park pass. That means I can get into any national park for the next 12 months. Not a bad price considering I plan on going to several national parks this year.

I didn’t really go deep into any hiking trails here. I just wanted to drive through Skyline Drive so I can make my way to Alabama. I only stayed one night and parked on one of the overlooks. This is a typical view while driving through.

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My favorite road so far.

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They look like toys.

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The mountains look like a painting.

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I made a new friend. Her name is Ana. She has her own blog here.

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I want to remember these mountains.

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Skyline Drive turns into Blue Ridge Parkway after exiting the park. This road had some awesome overlooks too. I found a good spot here to camp.

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Sometimes I just look at my compass and drive South West instead of using GPS.

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I found the perfect spot to watch the sunset. I ended up sleeping here.

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This morning I had to find a Walmart and a UPS store to ship things. I spent the day doing my taxes, and going through all the photographs I took. There were some other RV’s here.

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My favorite thing to do when I hang out in parking lots is play guitar.

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Here is the current status of my van. The only thing left do to is connect some wires and run some hoses. I might wait until I get to Alabama for that. I’m enjoying the road too much right now.

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I can’t believe I was able to fit everything I own under that bed.

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I loved so many things about this week. Clocks and time are less important. I don’t care to look at them and it makes it easier to stay in the present moment. I love waking up and forgetting where I am. I love how every two hours of driving south I can get out of the van to see unfamiliar people, styles, and behaviors.

I am still in the adjustment period of van life. I find myself hanging out in the driver’s seat a lot. Pre-Van Life, sitting in the driver’s seat always meant I was waiting for something or someone. Sometimes I have to snap myself out of that state of mind and remember that I’m actually at home.

I’m ultimately heading toward Alabama to see my dad. I’m not sure where I’m going tomorrow. I’ll decide when I wake up.

  • Amanda Shade

    This is the van blog I’ve been dreaming of.
    Signed, your biggest fan

  • Sunny

    Inspired, really helpful that you broke down the construction process step by step Thank you!!!

    • Joe

      Glad to help

  • fendermon

    Truly inspiring build and story, great job!

    I would go this route if I was single and knew of parking where I wouldn’t be run off. I never paid rent for long, but the banks have made a killing off of my mortgage over the years. I could have got some books and built my house by hand ten times for all the interest I have paid. The mantra used to be you would never lose money by buying a home.

    • Joe

      Finding parking is easy if you’re stealthy. I’ve heard stories like that all too often. It’s a shame it has to be like that.

    • Richard Hauser

      The basic parking solution is Walmart and I assume truck stops.

      • Joe

        Correct. I’m still learning of new parking spots as I go. National forests and BLM lands are good too.

  • Richard Hauser

    Great story, great build, congratulations on getting it all done, but where is the shower?

    I figured with the extending head on the sink you would rig a drain on the floor and a hook on the roof. Why doesn’t anyone put in a shower? You have 42gal of water so I assume a shower was planned.

    How is your mileage? Mid-20s I hope, though it depends a lot on your right foot.

    I’ve driven two great loop trips. The first was in a VW diesel pickup (45mpg) and I drove 15k miles around the country and a bit of Canada. It killed the VW. Boy I missed showers, but that’s just me. The second trip I dragged a camper behind a Land Rover (8mpg) from NJ up the ALCAN and then down to Vancouver and then home. It killed the LR.

    Again, all the best, from a fan.

    • Joe

      With my lifestyle, I don’t feel the need to shower too often. I’d rather spare my water supply for drinking so I can be off grid longer. Plus, I have a gym membership.

      I’m getting 23-24 mpg. Sounds like you’ve already had plenty of adventures.

      • Richard Hauser

        On my first loop, I used my Bally’s membership in most places. The problem I had was during my loop up though southeastern Canada (Bay of Fundy then along the St. Laurence) where it is beautiful, but with no civilization above gas stations. I didn’t get a shower till Quebec City and I stank. One of the trips I’d like to do when I get my van is Burning Man and having a shower there would be a major advantage I would think. Sadly I’ve never gone.

        • Richard Hauser

          On a similar question as mileage, how much fuel do you use while idling? i.e Let’s say you just couldn’t get enough power from the sun and had to run the engine, what is your burn rate at idle? During Hurricane Sandy, I had to idle my Subaru to power my house and it went three days, running during the day charging batteries and then running on batteries at night. I see all these people getting generators and dealing with the noise, but wonder if the Sprinter might do better than a gen set for aux power.

          • Joe

            I haven’t tested it, but I’ve read reports of 1/3 gal/hour while idling. I think it depends on the alternator size. I think there are three different alternator options for the sprinter. Mine is 200 amps.

          • Richard Hauser

            Thanks for the answer and the details, but how many of those 200 can you get at idle? Maybe you’ll get all 200, but I’m not sure.

          • Joe

            The regulator seems to put out more or less depending on the state of the battery. I think if all batteries were at a very low voltage, and you had plenty of loads running, you might get close to 200. There’s a 200 amp fuse for the alternator, so I don’t think it’s ever expected to put out the full 200 amps.

  • Richard Mir

    Now that is awesome. Do you have any plans to build a table to sit and eat with chairs on both sides?

    • Joe

      Thanks! Nah I don’t need a table.

  • Derek Wilkins

    Just found you courtesy of the YouTube Post. Awesome, already looking at some of your solar. Can’t wait to figure out how many flexible solar panels I can fit on roof of my Airstream. Doubt I’ll ever be able to ‘stealth’ camp like you, but do know I plan on road tripping it.
    So happy you stayed on Blue Ridge Parkway after the Skyline Drive. Camped on BRP twice, the entire 469 miles. About 70 miles a day of driving, until the next campground. Awesome blog!

    • Joe

      Thanks for coming by! Some people would argue that an airstream can be more “stealth” than a white cargo van in some circumstances. There are so many different viewpoints on it.

      • Derek Wilkins

        I have just over 3 years till Retirement, so will definitely experiment on my way to Alaska for ‘stealth’ camping. Guess it all depends on how broke I am as I make my way up to property I purchased there 2 years ago. Still, want to see all of the US as my retirement begins. Don’t know how ‘stealth’ I can be in a 35 foot Airstream Motorhome though

        • Joe

          I think if you’re stopping at Walmarts, then people are far less suspicious of an airstream. I definitely want to visit Alaska eventually.

  • David Thorne

    What did it take to get into that 9? Year old dully diesel beast of an rv? How many miles did it have? Are you gonna run out of funds at some point and have to work your way around a bit? Good luck and God bless! May your path be filled with love and kindness ! ☮

    • Joe

      I just did a lot of searching online till I found a good deal. It had 157k miles. Yes, eventually I’ll run out of money and I’ve been searching for other modes of income. Thank you!

      • David Thorne

        I was just on checking out the dodge’s..,. Pretty cool!