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Traveling In Spaceships

North America


Road shot taken in Yosemite Valley with Half Dome in the distance.

Road shot taken in Yosemite Valley with Half Dome in the distance.

Where I sat in back of Quin’s new van, it was at least 115 degrees, but it was hard to tell if the heat was coming off the sun or the engine.  It was time for the day’s fourth emergency pull over as we attempted to cross Nevada in a record setting heat wave. We were running low on water, cell service, and daylight. I popped open the back hatch to get a cross breeze, but there was nothing out there but hot air glistening off the endless stretch of open road.


Zion National Park.

Zion National Park.

I had flown into California a few days earlier to join Quin on the virgin voyage of his 1987 Toyota spaceship. The plan was to meet in Yosemite, cruise over to Utah, and then north through Idaho, and Washington. The day before the trip Quin called to explain the van had been overheating, but ignorance is bliss, and I brushed it off as the overcautious misgivings of a new van parent. It was too late to change plans anyway – I’d taken the time off work, my flight was purchased, and I’d just finished reading “On The Road.” As far as I was concerned, the train had left the station.

We just needed to hit the road and everything would work itself out—it always does—right? Plus, what’s a little car trouble here and there? In the trouble lies the tales; It’s all part of the adventure.


Backcountry camping at Yosemite National Park. After many trips to Yosemite I wrote a complete guide on some of my favorite  Backcountry Camping In Yosemite !

Backcountry camping at Yosemite National Park. After many trips to Yosemite I wrote a complete guide on some of my favorite Backcountry Camping In Yosemite!


Western USA Road Trip

After a couple nights backcountry camping in Yosemite we headed for the Eastern Sierras in search of hot springs.  The heat outside was increasing with every mile. I stuck my head out the window for some air. It was hot outside, but even hotter inside. The van didn’t have AC, and Quin insisted that the best way to keep the van from overheating was to blast the heat. With no proof to the contrary I was forced to comply. After all, despite some pretty significant elevation gains, the van was running smoothly – except for those two times the battery died on the way out of the park.


One of the many hot springs in the Eastern Sierras.

One of the many hot springs in the Eastern Sierras.

After the Eastern Sierras it was off to Zion. And that’s were trouble first reared its ugly head, and van life lost its glamor. As we rolled into the park the heat gage shot into the red zone. I didn’t understand. We were treating the engine like a new born baby – feeding it water every couple of hours, taking frequent breaks to let it rest, even blasting the heat to keep it cool at the expense of our own comfort. But as I was slowly learning, sometimes there’s just nothing you can do to appease an angry engine. We parked the van outside the park and hopped on the shuttle. Perhaps the van just needed a little rest and relaxation. There’s was plenty to do while we waited!


The Narrows in Zion National Park.

The Narrows in Zion National Park.


The view from the Angels Landing Hike at Zion National Park.

The view from the Angels Landing Hike at Zion National Park.


More views of Angels Landing at Zion National Park.

More views of Angels Landing at Zion National Park.


Sunset at Zion National Park.

Sunset at Zion National Park.

I laid motionless on the van’s makeshift bed, in a futile attempt to stay cool, my brain racing with plan B’s. Outside Quin struggled to explain our location to the AAA operator—between a rock and hard place in the middle of nowhere. It was clear we were stuck unless we found a new car. My optimism faded into the reality that our only other option was parked in Seattle.

During the two hour tow to Las Vegas we hatched a new, less “van life” version of the road trip I’d imagined. I flew back to Seattle that night to fetch my car, while Quin spent the next few days in sin city tending to his van. A week later I drove my car down to Salt Lake City, and Quin and I set off to finish what we had started.


Western USA Road Trip

The second half of the road trip went off without a hitch. We met up with friends, hiked, backpacked, camped, and saw so many beautiful alpine lakes I lost count. But looking back, my memories from the first half of the trip shine just as brightly. There is something about adversity that brings people together, and forms the catalyst for collaboration and creativity. At the time, I remember feeling like all those hours spent on the side of the road were a waste of time. Now I know they shaped the lens through which I viewed the rest of the trip.


The view at the top of Panorama Ridge in British Columbia, Canada.

The view at the top of Panorama Ridge in British Columbia, Canada.


Backcountry camping in Idaho. For more information about this particular camp spot check out my post about  Road Tripping Around Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains.

Backcountry camping in Idaho. For more information about this particular camp spot check out my post about Road Tripping Around Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains.


Mount Rainier National Park.

Mount Rainier National Park.

The lows in travel, just like in life, help us appreciate the highs. Without them, it’s easy to take little successes for granted and eventually fail to notice them at all. While the easy road might sound more appealing, I’ve learned that it can also be monotonous. There’s little to gain, and even less to be learned by coasting along in cruse control. The best laid plans can and will fall apart from time to time. But that doesn’t mean we have to. The trick is to learn to expect the unexpected and embrace the lessons that inevitably come out of adversity.

Sweltering for days in a broken down van isn’t fun, but I wouldn’t change a thing about that virgin voyage. In the end it wasn’t the story about a failure to launch. It was just a road trip that took a few unexpected turns.


Western USA Road Trip


Taking a dip in Garibaldi Provincial Park, British Columbia.

Taking a dip in Garibaldi Provincial Park, British Columbia.

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  1. Ploy says:

    Hi, can you post what you’re wearing please? Jackets, pants, backpacks and sunglasses? I love them. Great photos and post.

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Ploy. Thanks! I’m glad you like it all. Here is a list of most items – Windbreaker: Cotopaxi; Down Jacket: Westcomb; Sunglasses: Sunski; Pants: Lululemon; Backpack: Lowepro. I think that’s everything!

  2. Rhon says:

    Omg. Your writing sucks me all the way in just freaking wow! I am a new blogger myself. How long have you been doing this?? Consider me a subscriber!!!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thanks so much Rhon! I really appreciate your support. Blogging is very new for me, but I’m excited to do more of it. A lot of my captions on Instagram are on the longer side, so I figured blogging would be a good way for me to practice longer form writing.

  3. Alissa says:

    Please share the hiking trails you take in Hawaii- your Insta photos are amazing and I want to go there!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Alissa! I’m so glad you like the photos! I’m actually thinking about writing a blog about some of my favorite hikes in Hawaii. Stay tuned!

  4. Tom says:

    This reminds me of a road trip I took with my parents around southern Utah. As soon as we got there from Alberta the family station wagon started overheating so we had to blast the hot air it was the middle of summer. It was very stressful not knowing if the car was going to make it and we’d be stranded in the middle of nowhere. Eventually, my father completely removed the part of the engine that regulated engine cooling, just in case it was getting in the way. Only towards the end of the trip did he notice that the radiator was completely clogged with bugs, unable to cool the engine. One pressure wash was all it took to ‘fix’ the car.

  5. Hi Jess, Fricken love your blog but I have a question about how you find locations to take the "tent camping" photos. The third photo down in this post is in Yosemite right? I thought tents were only allowed in designated campgrounds. So are you just setting up the tent for photos and then spending the night elsewhere? or Are you far enough off the beaten path that no one will bother you. thanks <3

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Julia! Thanks so much for the question! That’s actually a very common misconception about camping at Yosemite. Free wilderness permits are required year-round for backpacking or any other overnight stays in the Yosemite Wilderness. The trailhead quota system limits use based on where you begin your hike, and in some cases, on where you camp the first night of your trip. After the first night, you may camp wherever you can hike to within the wilderness. Since there are only a few designated campgrounds, you can camp anywhere you like, provided you follow all the regulations. You can find more information about backcountry camping regulations at Yosemite on their website! But the camp spot in the third photo was very real, and very legal. 🙂

Learn More >

Hi, I’m Jess, an outdoor enthusiast based in Seattle. I grew up exploring the Pacific Northwest, and early on was infected with the travel bug. I tried to suppress my wanderlust in pursuit of a traditional career path, but after a short stint as a lawyer, I left the confines of my office to get back in touch with my roots. Now, I wander the world taking photos, making memories, and sharing my love for travel with others!

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