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Places to stop along the Great Lakes in Ontario

  • Writer's pictureRyan Clark

Camping in Comfort, Van Life: continued

Van life chapter 2

Chapter 2

"Urban and Wilderness Landscapes, Van Camping"

Beneath the starry skies and amidst the city lights, the gold mini-van takes center stage. In this chapter, I navigate the landscapes of urban stealth camping and serene retreats, exploring the invisibility and comfort that define the van life experience.


With the van fully transformed, a memory foam mattress for me and a dog blanket on my floor for Kenobi, I embarked on a 69-day adventure this year. The comfort of the van was off the charts compared to previous years.

The sound of rain and thunder no longer filled me with nervous excitement, but I still got to enjoy the sounds on the roof. Not only could I carry more stuff, but I also got rid of a lot of gear I didn't need. I tossed out most of my tarps, ropes, and storage bins as it streamlined itself along the way.

The insulated floor seemed to help keep the interior cooler, and I thought I’d just insulated from the cold. Kenobi and I would hide in there during the hottest parts of the day. It was a surprising bonus. In the mornings, I would reach across and open the door, listening to the waves and birds as I slowly woke up. At night, a few minutes after sunset, I would do the opposite, slamming it closed knowing that the black flies were coming.

So simple.

trees and a blue sky in front of a lake
looking out the side door

Because it’s a gold mini-van, one of the most common colors, I’m almost invisible in the cities. I could be camped right in front of your house for the night, you’d be no wiser. I stayed a couple of night right in the heart of Sault Ste Maries entertainment district on my way back, ensconced in my sleeping bag in the back.

In Thessalon I’d actually spent a couple of nights in the parking lot of the Tim Hortons.  It closes for the night, the gas station has showers, and there is a nice little beach half a kilometer away. It’s actually included on my map AND I wrote about it in my blog post ‘In Sha Allah’. At the other end of the spectrum, I actually threw my tent down in front of the van at a few of the camp sites after people would wander through my site thinking I was just parked. Yes, literal camp sites, not just somewhere to pull over. I don’t mind usually but opening my eyes at 6:30 and people are walking through with their dog…not so nice, and that’s even me loving puppies.

Like everything in life, there is a yin and yang.

A lot of the places I camp over at, you can’t really pitch a tent during the day. You’d draw too much attention so I’d often try to nap in the shade of a tree or something. The convenience of the van during the daytime is also aces.

interior of a van with the door open looking at a dog and trees
Laying in Bed

A downside to the Caravan is where I can take it.

With the Matrix, common sense dictated some restraint but she could have easily done the hill at Tunnel Lake. CAA had to come get my van from the bottom. She made it almost all the way up, but only almost.

We made it up the worst of the hill, but at the top I slowed enough to get stopped. I knew my tires were in bad shape and if I punched the gas all I could smell was rubber and still going nowhere. I tried tacking backwards to get traction and on about my fourth attempt, I was twenty feet further back down the hill, hung up on a tree with a smashed passenger side mirror. What seemed like an eternity of sawing to my backhand I got the tree cut flush to the ground. A few more attempts at tacking and I’m done. There’s a creek flowing down the hill parallel the trail and near the bottom they meet. My rear tire is now six inches in front of that and I’m waiting on CAA. Obviously, I will have to practice even more restraint in the future, or get the winch I really want.

For now, restraint.

looking out the back hatch of a van past my toes t some trees
looking out my backdoor

For next year, I’m going to make simple black out curtains for the bed side instead of hanging my shirts from the suit hooks. A house screen cut for the front windows held in place with some magnets to cool it at night. For heat, one tea candle warms the interior in no time. Simple things,

My brother and I replaced the front engine mount. I also added a hinge to the rear end on the bed so I can get into the storage from the back hatch and repainted the inside when I got back this year. Lesson learned, a lazy old dog is usually curled up right where you need to open the storage so you can use more access.

I’m also keeping my eyes open for a rooftop storage bin.

Link to French version


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