I had just bombed my fourth corporate interview in California’s Bay Area and decided to take a long road trip up north to reevaluate my career and life path. My partner and I had been traveling all over California in Shanti, our 2000 Ford E150 van. Oregon had always been on our radar, but the Sierra Nevada mountains kept us enchanted. Desperately wanting to leave the crowded towns of California behind, we decided to start driving north and check out the beauty of Oregon.
Ashland is the first town on the infamous I-5 corridor as one crosses into Oregon and descends into the Rogue Valley, surrounded by the Siskiyou Mountains. The hippie and free-spirited vibe of Ashland was welcoming, and we found ourselves dancing to the beat of 30 Djembe drums under a full moon at Jackson Wellsprings. Being Brown folks, we often feel a little uneasy in predominately-white cities, but never had we made so many friends in 2 days as we did in Ashland.
We’re also avid national park fans, so we wanted to visit Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the country. Our jaws were left absolutely agape at the otherworldly geomorphology of this massive lake—the water was the bluest blue I had ever seen, and the exposed ridges of the former volcano made a stellar spot for sunset meditation.
The satellite view showed some very interesting geography in the eastern part of the state, and a day later, we found ourselves in the intriguing Steens Mountain Wilderness, surrounded by tall, snow-capped peaks in the west and an arid desert playa in the east. After driving on gravel roads for an hour, we finally found a beautiful view of the mountains and camped on the beach for a week.
The silence of the desert made for an excellent place to meditate and journal about forging a life experience in which we could truly feel alive. Slowly driving northwest through the lively desert towns of Eastern Oregon, we saw yet another impossible landscape change as we entered Mount Hood National Forest. The highest peak in Oregon at more than 10,000 feet, Mount Hood is a beautiful and secluded peak surrounded by lush pine forests and crystal-clear lakes.
Backpacking for a few days on the Pacific Crest Trail was one of the most memorable experiences of our first trip to Oregon. Life was starting to make sense, and our idea of what we want to center our everyday activities around was becoming clearer every day. We wanted to be closer to the forests and mountains, and Oregon seemed like the perfect place for us.
Just when we thought this little road trip of ours couldn’t get any better, we reached the northernmost point of the Oregon coast. I was moved to tears as I witnessed the sunrise on Indian Beach, while walking among the rugged cliffs and the thriving greenery in the region. We slowly made our way south along the coast and were stunned by the never-ending beauty of Oregon. We made several stops, often veering off Highway 101 to spend a few days in state and national forests. Clatsop State Forest and Umpqua National Forest were a few of our favorite rest stops where we got to shower under pristine waterfalls and soak in lava-heated hot springs.
Throughout our trip, we often took forest roads and our old rear-wheel drive van would only take us so far before getting stuck in mud. Luckily, we were always rescued by friendly fellow travelers, even though sometimes it would take 4 days for someone else to show up at the secluded spots where we were camping. This is one of the biggest benefits of van camping: We were carrying our house with us, so getting stuck deep in the forest didn’t bother us, unless we had no cell phone service and couldn’t do our remote writing jobs.
One month passed quickly, and we found ourselves at Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park. It had been a stormy weekend, so nobody was out and we found ourselves surrounded by massive 200-foot-tall trees, reminding us of a time when the entire Pacific Northwest was thriving with forests full of gigantic trees. It was an emotional day—it was time to head back south and start working daily gigs found on Craigslist—but we were so enchanted by the beauty of Oregon that we decided to turn around and head back toward Rogue Valley.
It’s been a year since our first trip to Oregon—and we haven’t left the state since. We have found stable remote jobs and are constantly camping in forests and parks throughout the state. The biggest takeaway from our first road trip was that there is no template for what a life full of contentment and joy looks like. Not everyone is made for a full-time office job in the same way that not everyone is made for full-time vanlife.
We almost always have a choice to reshape our lives based on what soothes our souls and makes us grateful. A few months into our new life in Oregon I asked my partner to marry me, and we had a beautiful pagan wedding in the Siskiyou National Forest.