From LA to PDX and Back Again

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With a roof cargo box on top, two bicycles hanging off the back, and an interior loaded to the hilt with camping supplies, the Ford Focus looked ridiculous.

This was to be the maiden voyage of the newly-conceived #HatchbackCamper, which now boasted a variety of retrofitted enhancements to make life on the road more enjoyable. Other people might have Sprinters, Sportsmobiles, and Westfalias, but we have a 2000 Ford Focus hatchback with over 200,000 miles on it. It might not be the ideal vehicle for this sort of travel, but it is the vehicle we have.

We were headed for Portland but planned to see as much as we could on the way up. Topping the list was the Redwood National Forest, Umpqua Hot Springs, as many breweries in Portland as we could afford to drink at, the Columbia River Gorge, Crater Lake, and Lake Tahoe. There was a lot to see, a lot of distance to travel and a woefully insufficient amount of time to do it all in.

In fact, we had hardly gotten past San Francisco when we got the feeling of “I want to go back and check that out someday” or “I wish we had more time here”. Each town we passed had it own unique character and distinct charm, but all we could register was a fleeting surface-level impression. It was as if we were speed walking through an art museum, but hadn’t the time to stop at any of the paintings. All we could manage was a passing glance.

The trip, therefore, began to feel like flickering frames of a montage. Pieces and fragments here and there, stitched together to form a whole. Altogether a very enjoyable experience, but definitely not the full picture.

In a few days we had made it to Portland and in a few days more we were heading back down. Our hopes of visiting Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe were dashed by a late-spring storm, but we made the most of it at some natural hot springs near Bridgeport. It seemed that time was continually accelerating and before we knew it, it was Saturday afternoon and we were coming up on Lone Pine on US-395, heading south. The trip was almost entirely behind us.

Usually, on the return leg I’d be the first to suggest powering back to LA, back to a familiar bed and warm shower, However, here, for some reason, I didn’t. Neither one of us wanted the trip to be over. Neither one of us wanted to return to the monotony of our daily lives. To unpacking the car, doing laundry, getting ready for work on Monday. Why not stay out on the road a little longer? Why not keep the adventure going for just one more day?

So we turned up into the Alabama Hills and had one last night under the stars and talked about going on a trip without an end.

  • Anthony Rosales says:

    Hey guys, in an extensive effort to find ways to keep warm “car camping” I thought to ask none other than the pros themselves. My girlfriend and I are heading up to Oregon this week in my 2001 Honda CR-V and I just wondered as to how you guys kept warm during the night in your car?

    • Hey Anthony! Stoked to hear you guys are getting out and going to Oregon! That was our first big road trip destination together, so it holds a special place in our hearts 😉

      Our warmth strategy is twofold. First, we have a thick (maybe 3″) foam mattress in the trunk of the car, so that provides some good insulation. Then we also have pretty decent sleeping bags, which is where most of the warmth comes from. I have a 15 degree bag and that has been sufficient so far (the coldest we have camped is somewhere around 15F). I’m not sure we would have slept as warm without proper bags.

      Additionally, we never go to bed cold. Insulation only works if you have some heat to trap, so if it’s really cold before we crawl into our bags, we’ll go for a brisk walk or do jumping jacks to warm up a bit.

      Worse comes to worse, we can always turn on the car to heat up a bit 😉

      Hope that helps! Feel free to email us ([email protected]) if you have any other questions. Have a great time on your trip!!

      -Megan

  • Hi Megan,
    My partner and I are setting off for a 4 week trip in a months time. Our first leg of the trip is from LA to Portland. I am reading all of you posts and they are helping so much with our trip planning but I would love to know more about your trip from LA to Portland, places you camped etc. I am from Australia and I am feeling a bit clueless.

    • Hi Ashleigh! Stoked to hear that you get to spend 4 weeks traveling the US! (And Canada?)

      The good news is that there are a ton of camping options from Los Angeles to Portland. Are you taking the coastal route 101 or are you going to travel up the 1-5? Depending on which route you take, I can suggest a bunch of different places to look into. We also traveled from Portland up through Washington and into BC – if your trip is taking you that way after PDX I can make suggestions for camping in those areas as well.

      To get you started, we published an article on how we find free camping here, if you’re looking for low budget (and primitive/no amenity) options: http://freshofftheg.wpengine.com/how-to-find-free-camping-usa-canada/

      If you’re willing to pay for campsites but want to stay on the cheaper side, you can look into National Forest campgrounds, which are typically $5-$15 per night but have basic amenities like picnic tables, restrooms, and water.

      If you have a larger budget for campsites, your options really open up and your stays will be more comfortable. Campendium.com is a great place to research campsites.

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