The journey that led to our current Winnebago EKKO began with an Airstream Argosy, a hidden gem we found nestled in Northern Washington, seemingly plucked from the pages of a treasure hunter’s tale. This vintage beauty, twin beds, a bathroom, and the unmistakable charm of an Airstream, soon shaped our love for travel on the road. Who would have known!
As our Airstream began to shape our idea of camping, we started to see how much more we could discover in our travels with a “home on wheels” so to speak. We found ourselves exploring state parks and KOA campsites in a whole different way. Conveniences, warmth and shelter.
As our three sons grew older, our travel demands expanded accordingly. Recognizing the necessity for a more practical means to explore unfamiliar areas as a family of five, especially with the merging of travel and sports activities, we felt compelled to pursue a van—an all-inclusive experience for our adventures on the road. Influenced by the ideas emerging from the internet “Van Life” was the thing, YouTube showing every build possible and endless possibilities.
After countless months of searching, we found our 2006 Mercedes Sprinter Van in, of all places, Colliersville, TN. What once was employed as a luxury transport vehicle driving executives and golfers place to place had found itself in the state of retirement. It was adorned with leather seats, a rear bench bed conversion, burl wood interior, seating for 10, sort of a limo style build. It felt like our ticket to the pinnacle of adventure. I promptly flew from Portland, Oregon to Tennessee and took the old gal out of retirement and we were off and at it again.
Modifications swiftly followed: a custom designed roof rack (got to hold some gear), shore plug power and a primitive attempt at solar power. As rookies in this realm, we navigated years of camping, shuttling our boys to and from sporting events across Nevada, California and Oregon. It was perfect for our family, all the while exploring natural marvels along our journeys, turning what typically would be a plane ride of sights at 30,000 feet to ground level unforgettable memories and camping trips.
Our newly chartered adventures included the Coastal line of HWY 101, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico. The open roads created a treasure trove of memories: stories shared, debates over rest stops and food choices, and the thrill of setting camp by rivers or oceans. We even moved two of our oldest boys to college in the old gal.
But soon another new chapter awaited us. As our eldest two sons embraced adulthood and our youngest embarked on his college journey, we found ourselves facing another decision, build the Sprinter or look for something already road ready meeting our new demands. After about 1 month of the self-build idea, we called it and decided to look for something already built out.
The transition brought excitement and our zest for adventure remained undeterred, but our aspirations now leaned towards creature comforts: a shower, a stationary toilet, off grid capabilities and managed climate control within a manageable-sized vehicle. When I say manageable size vehicles, we were spoiled by pulling in out of city parking lots, maneuvering through towns with ease and exploring remote areas, the bill to fit this seemed a little tough.
The quest commenced, Michelle, the tireless researcher, led us to the unveiling of a new chapter – the 2022 Winnebago EKKO, affectionately known as “Bad Betty.” AWD-equipped, Bad Betty signaled the start of a fresh wave of adventures and discoveries.
So, what does travel in an Winnebago EKKO or van truly entail? For us, we found it to be a subjective tapestry woven with lifestyle choices, the march of time (yes, that word again—aging) and the interplay of goals, resources, and objectives.
Planning the Trip/Adventure:
Typically, our travel adventures are still somewhat primitive in thought, but fueled with the modern conveniences of the internet and mobile apps. Where did the days go of the trusty old AAA road map, highlighters and scratch pad, maybe even a Thomas Guide. Now we find ourselves with the GasBuddy app searching the closest and best priced fuel the territory can offer along with a Google Earth and maps, Overlanding apps, and then of course the almighty Youtube channel. Planning becomes an art: the canvas, our cell phones and the road.
Starting the day for travel in our Winnebago EKKO:
The ritualistic pre-road checks. — Pop the old bonnet, (Hood) to check a few vital fluids, oil, coolant, brake fluid and of course the one so often missed until there’s an insect hazard on the window, the trusty old windshield fluid. (I find it best to use the Winter Version, seems to clean better anyway). All systems Check!
Now it’s time to move on to check the rubber that meets the road, yes, the tire pressure. Thank goodness it’s all digitally fed now, no more need for the old pocket gauge, although I do keep one on board for airing down at times. With tires inspected I quickly move on to checking all the lights. Starting with the headlights, turn signals, running lights, the works.
Shifting my attention to inspecting the LP tanks, water levels, gray tank, and our onboard solar charging system, diligently jotting down notes as I go. A comprehensive checklist proves invaluable, offering a chance to savor the adventure rather than worrying about overlooked pre-departure tasks.
It’s now time to check all the onboard storage and garage of Bad Betty our Winnebago EKKO. I meticulously recheck my tool bags and cargo bags, ensuring essentials like the electrical tester, tow rope, screwdrivers, Torx wrench for unconventional screws, LP leak detector, recovery boards (just in case we encounter deep snow or sand), first aid kit, tire repair kit, portable tire inflator, and an array of items for quick repairs. And, of course, the indispensable DUCT TAPE! Our go-to cooking companion, the Trail Fire Grill, is a must-pack. Also, don’t overlook loading up the floaties, snowshoes, skis, bikes—or whatever gear aligns with your adventure plans. Always double-check your outdoor and adventure gear before hitting the road.
With the initial inspections complete, it’s time to start inventorying and packing up some food and clothing, of course toiletries as well. We inventory what we have on hand in Bad Betty, at the house and quickly make note of what we need for a quick stop at the market.
This brings us right into meal planning, breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, and of course dessert. Here’s a few tips on meal planning. Let’s go with Breakfast and Dinner. Now how can we create a little culinary experience? The breakfast burrito love affair.
After a steak or hamburger dinner, envision saving a portion for the morning. But wait, dinner often introduces potatoes and veggies too—why not include those in the leftovers for a breakfast burrito? Voila! Two meals in one harmonious blend, where dinner and breakfast shake hands in a delicious pact.
Let’s zoom ahead to lunchtime: Lunch isn’t just about satisfying hunger, fueling the day’s caloric intake is important for those hikes and trails ahead. We typically love grilling brats, sauteed onions and chips on the side.
I almost forgot about snacks and dessert. Campfire Banana Boats: Cut a banana lengthwise (without peeling it completely) and stuff it with chocolate chips, marshmallows, nuts, or any other desired fillings. Wrap it in foil and place it over the campfire or on your Trail Fire Grill until the fillings are melted and the banana is soft.
Safety checks complete, meals planned, gear loaded, fueled up and ready to hit the road!
If it’s winter camping, we typically check out some State Parks that may be open, or head up to the mountains and find forestry roads that beckon exploration or simply dig in near or at a ski resort. Doing whatever it takes to embrace the present season is the key. I must confess, winter camping holds its own charm—the stunning beauty of snow veiling the forest, the roads turning into a mesmerizing winter wonderland.
One of our other favorite places is the beach. If you’re in Oregon, and want to find yourself driving on the beach, check out Tierra Del Mar just a few miles North of Pacific City.
I should probably mention, Pacific City is quite the spot to chill as well, great State Park campground as well as a privately owned option. Besides its a slice of heaven with sand between our toes, waves serenading you and possibly a cold-water plunge followed by a little beach side campfire.
For High Desert enthusiasts, consider exploring Central Eastern Oregon. Here’s a few suggestions: The Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway discovering 14 Alpine Lakes. The Ochoco National Forest, and the Crooked River, for fishing, swimming, and boating, along with ample hiking spots ideal for rock climbing and winter skiing.
Remember, flexibility is key to adventure. So feel free to mix and match ingredients of travels and discover what awaits you.
EKKOnesters – Jason and Michelle Rodarte
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