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A Weekend of #VanLife

Outwesty Camper Vans offer Westfalia rentals out of Tahoe City
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Lessons from the Professionals


• Dave Phelps, Volkswagen Westfalia, Tahoe City

“The Eastern Sierra is home to some of the best natural hot springs in the country.  If you have the time I say hop in the car and go see them all.”

• Ed Coleman, Mercedes Roadtrek, Tahoe City

“Just about anywhere that has great mountain biking, which NorCal has tons of. It’s just great to have your mini-house all set up wherever you are. Favorite spots are Carson Pass area, Santa Cruz, Quincy/Graeagle, Yosemite, and, of course, the urban-bivy in any cool town.”

• Jeremy Jensen, Ford Transit-150, Reno

“The best trips I’ve had in the van have been between Half Moon Bay and Big Sur. There are endless spots on the highways in between to camp and explore. Nothing beats waking up to the ocean on the side of a cliff.”

• Ashley Hutchinson, Refurbished DHL Sprinter Van, South Lake Tahoe

“My favorite out-of-the-Basin spot is the Eastern Sierra and Mammoth area. Big mountain skiing, world class rock climbing, hot springs, and primitive camping everywhere you look!”

• Will Castle, GMC Savana, Incline Village

“As much as I love the ever-so-popular Eastern Sierra, as a van dweller, when I need a quick-fix adventure, I tend to head toward Nevada City. I love its artist community in an old mining town setting, not to mention being able to walk or bike in the lush and mossy forest surroundings.”

By RACHAEL BLUM  |  Moonshine Ink

Pulling onto I-80 I heard the engine roar as the vintage speedometer approached 60. I knew we weren’t going to be crossing Donner Pass at lightning speed, nor did I care. The windows were down, allowing the summer wind to dance around our faces as we set off on a California backyard adventure in a rented Titan red 1989 Volkswagen Westfalia named Georgia.

We had worked hard all summer — my boyfriend Keith Dillon for a month of commercial salmon fishing in Alaska, and me doing doubles all summer in Tahoe’s service industry. It was time for us to get away.

Instead of planning a long distance vacation involving plane tickets and lodging, we were sampling the trendy #vanlife. The source for our trusty stead — Outwesty Camper Vans, a Volkswagen Westfalia rental service in Tahoe City, owned by David Phelps.

Westfalias have always been a big part of Phelps’ life. Whether he’s traveling in one or refurbishing one, he’s happy around them, he says. He joked that his friends may even consider it an addiction. Finally, after many requests from friends and family to rent his personal vans, he figured he should try offering them to everyone.

“These vans aren’t exactly affordable anymore,” he said. “It takes hundreds of hours and a fair amount of money to get the 30-year-old machines road-trip reliable. I take the hassle of ownership out of the picture for those that will only use them a few times a season anyway.”

Phelps believes the driving experience is an important part of the road trip, saying that driving a monstrosity of a camper kills the idea of real camping. Because Westfalia pop-top vans handle with ease and have a rear engine design, putting the driver right over the front wheels, they have a driving experience like no other.

This summer was his first in operation, and, so far, business has been steady with many customers even flying in from other states to enjoy Outwesty adventures.

Outwesty currently offers four vans, two automatic and two manual transmissions, ranging in price from $175 to $195 a night.

Our Short Trip From Tahoe

My senior project at Sierra Nevada College profiled people who lived in their vans; discussed sustainability and socioeconomic and environmental factors that play a role in living the #vanlife; and outlined the steps you need to take to pursue that lifestyle. Ironically enough, I never moved into a van like I expected, but this trip made my van life dreams come true.

Our first stop, Inn Town Campground, is a relatively new and wonderfully accommodating campground with a pool, glamping cabins or tents, and RV sites in Nevada City. Onsite you feel far from everything, yet a short trek will lead you to historical downtown full of old brick buildings hosting delicious eats and cute shops.

After an evening in Nevada City we started leisurely cruising windy State Route 49 headed for Downieville. Happy for an opportunity to stretch our legs, we roamed the tiny streets among the fading evening sky, warm summer air, and garden fronted homes above the river.

The last leg of our journey brought us to the Sierra Buttes. As we ascended the narrow, steep road to our campsite, two picturesque birds fluttered across our path; everything is a little more romantic from a classic Outwesty Camper Van. The drive, slower speeds, birds, and scenery are all viewed with a rose colored lens in the new-to-us vehicle.

The following day brought us on a hike to the Sierra Butte Fire Lookout. The hike takes about an hour and a half through beautiful woods with amazing views including the Sardine Lakes below.

And, of course, a trip north on State Route 89 isn’t complete without a stop at the delightfully chill Brewing Lair in Blairsden. We completed the day with cards and a few Trail of Tastes, the brewery’s name for a flight of beers.

After the cards and beer, we reluctantly headed to our last stop, Webber Falls on the Jackson Meadows Road. An hour left of daylight allowed for a quick hike down to the balmy falls and swimming hole.

It’s amazing how camping, car or backcountry, can remind us how important it is to slow down and enjoy. Westys don’t go very fast, but you are not in a hurry in these machines.

This van trip was a great getaway without giving away a summer’s earnings. Next time you’re looking for a cool staycation, let Outwesty Camper Vans do the hard work and look no farther than our own backyard of Northern California for an amazing time.

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October 11, 2018