Van Go: Virgin Voyage in a Eurovan Camper
By Julie Snyder
So what’s a couple to do when their thirtieth-anniversary travel adventure—a Transatlantic cruise on the Queen Mary 2 and two weeks in Italy—is derailed by a global pandemic?
Buy a camper, of course. If we couldn’t comfortably travel to distant destinations, then we’d explore close to home.
We decided on a vehicle with a van-like profile, outfitted with a bed, and ideally a stove and refrigerator. We weren’t planning on living in it for weeks at a time but rather a day or two here and there while wandering back roads in the Pacific Northwest. And we imagined it as a hotel option en route to a longer-term house rental more than a day’s drive away.
Evidently, pandemic camper shopping is not a unique idea. Once we’d crafted our van vision, the search was fast and furious. Contenders were snapped up before we could even view them. I scoured Craigslist ads several times a day, seeking new postings. After a few false starts, we hit the jackpot.
Now we are happy campers. Our 2002 Eurovan Camper with less than 100,000 miles had but one owner, a delightful couple who live just a few miles away. I knew we were in good hands when I spotted the Marquette University sticker in the van window, thinking they were fellow Wisconsinites.
It turned out they are from Illinois, and he’s a Chicago Bears supporter. Though I’m a diehard Green Bay Packers fan, we put football rivalries aside in the pursuit of travel harmony. The van was in impeccable condition (we have a fat folder of service and repair receipts to prove it), and we bought it on the spot.
Unlike the VW hippy vans of the sixties, the Eurovan has some power under the hood. The shell was manufactured by Volkswagen in Hannover, Germany, and converted into a camper by Winnebago in Forest City, Iowa. Driver and passenger seats swivel toward the interior and a nifty table that attaches to the counter housing the stove and refrigerator. Drawers and cupboards tucked into nooks and crannies hold a surprising amount of traveling gear. There’s even a wall vanity with a mirror to inspect that camping bedhead.
The pop-top makes it possible for two six-footers to move around the interior easily. When the top is popped, a loft magically appears, perfect for storing duffel bags and bedding when not in use. The back seat (the original owners opted not to get a middle seat) flattens out as part of the bed platform. Several layers of cushions form the mattress. Joe took a test nap on our first adventure and proclaimed it sleep-able. An awning creates a covered outdoor space perfect for our cushy new camp chairs.
On our first journey, a day trip to the beach with our year-old Maine Coon cat, Rocky, I asked Joe what we should name our latest vehicle acquisition. The previous owners had nicknamed it the “Doghouse,” but we’re a feline family, so we needed to bark up another tree for a handle.
“How about Van Go?” he said. The Eurovan, the cat, and I all purred in agreement.
We headed out of Portland on Highway 30 toward Astoria, then hung a left at the town of Clatskanie onto an unfamiliar squiggly two-lane road. Dense stands of alder and fir fringed our forest route. The sky darkened and squalls roared through, dampening the chances for our first post-quarantine meal on a coastal restaurant deck.
Golden bursts of Scotch Broom studded the roadside as we followed the serpentine route.
“This reminds me of driving the back roads of West Virginia to go climbing at Seneca Rock,” Joe said.
“I’m thinking of gravel tracks in the Wisconsin Northwoods on our way to family lakeside vacations,” I said.
Our memories carried us through tiny towns named Mist and Jewell. Forest gave way to field dotted with small daisies and buttercups, and past plain houses embellished by banks of brilliant red and pink rhododendrons.
When we reached Highway 26, we turned west to the coast and Ecola State Park. Alas, the park was still under Covid closure, so we drove up Highway 1 to the town of Seaside. There we parked at the end of a residential street, Van Go facing the dunes and crashing surf beyond. Joe volunteered to cat sit and read the newspaper while I took a long walk on the beach.
The day was brisk enough for me to wish I had gloves, yet some kids were dancing around the edge of the surf in shorts and t-shirts. Not many faces were masked, but people kept their distance.
When I returned to the van, Joe had traded the news for a snooze. It began to rain heavily as soon as I closed the door, and we hung out for a while longer, enjoying the rhythmic pitter-pattering on the roof and the snugness of our space.
Instead of lunch an outdoor patio, we did a drive-through for snacks and coffee and headed homeward. This time Rocky was the one snoozing.
W couldn’t wait to get out on an overnight adventure. And by the time this is published, Van Go will have Van Gone to the wilds of Washington. Stay tuned.
Julie Snyder lives in Portland, Oregon. As a writer, editor and publisher, she’s contributed to a variety of lifestyle, in-flight and travel publications, and produced award-winning catalogs for Backroads travel company. Among her passions are animal welfare, walking, travel and the Green Bay Packers.