Hoosier National Forest: Meet The Van Lifers
Michelle Craig, photographer
Companions: 14-year-old son Noah, pit bull Moe
The Life: Full-timer around the U.S., homeschooling Noah and visiting dozens of national parks. She tent-camped in the HNF for years before hitting the open road in her van.
The Rig: 1995 GMC Rally STX named Jerry Lee that Craig found on Craigslist.
What’s Inside: A queen-size mattress on roll-up slats from Ikea, plastic totes underneath the bed holding clothes and personal items, shelving on one wall, a 7-gallon water reservoir feeding a marine pump faucet mounted on the shelf, a storage bench behind the driver’s seat, and a Yeti cooler between the two front seats, which is where Moe hangs out when the family is on one of their long cross-country drives.
What’s Outside: Two Yakima rooftop boxes, a Yakima swingaway bike rack.
Essential: A Goal Zero Yeti 400 power station for charging electronics.
Quirks: The original stereo remains. The pair listens to a lot of Johnny Cash and Queen on cassette.
Robert Annis, Indianapolis Monthly contributing editor and freelance outdoor journalist
Companions: Mostly solo, but occasionally travels with his wife, Dee
The Life: Part-timer, traveling mostly throughout the Midwest and the South in the van. He will occasionally boondock in the HNF overnight for a quick escape from reality.
The Rig: 2000 Roadtrek that Annis found on a Facebook camper-van message board.
What’s Inside: The van’s interior was factory-constructed and includes most items you’d find in a larger RV—a dinette/work area that transforms into a queen-size bed, pantry, refrigerator, microwave, propane stove, sink, and toilet/shower combo.
What’s Outside: A Thule 4-bike swingaway bike rack, WeBoost cell-boosting antenna, three 100-watt flexible solar panels, retractable awning, and an outdoor shower.
Essentials: Camp chairs for relaxing outside the van; bottle of high-quality, low-cost bourbon, like Evan Williams Single Barrel; pre-charged portable jump starter (because you will forget to shut off your lights and run your battery down).
Quirks: The Roadtrek has more surface area than a traditional car or van, so it can be harder to steer in a brisk crosswind.
Favorite HNF Spot: Maines Pond, if traveling with other campers.
Justin Whitaker, electrical engineer, solo traveler
The Life: Whitaker lived on the road full time for nine months in 2017 between jobs, traveling to Death Valley, Escalante–Grand Staircase National Monument, and the “Lost Coast” area of Northern California among other places. The HNF was an important place for him to test out gear, plus take weekend trips just to get out of town.
The Rig: Not a van, but rather a 2013 Micro-Lite Vymeron trailer pulled behind a Ford Ranger.
What’s Inside: The trailer was converted to run completely off-grid: propane stove, a cooler instead of a fridge, and a gravity-fed water system instead of an electric water pump.
What’s Outside: A solar shower, solar panel, and two bicycles secured in a shell on the back of the truck.
Essentials: A mobile coffee rig and paper maps (just in case!)
Quirks: Because the trailer has a unique appearance, people were constantly asking to look inside almost every time Whitaker stopped for the night.
Favorite HNF Spot: Berry Ridge Road checks all the boxes: remote with little traffic, an area of good old-growth forest, and easy access to a large trail network. Add the ability to stop at the Story Inn for a beer on the way out, and it’s hard to beat.
Quick Tip: Down and Dirty
Camping in a small, enclosed space means that privacy can be hard to come by, especially when it’s time to go to what amounts to the bathroom. Pullout cartridge toilets are an option, while other, ahem, less flush campers use a soda bottle or 5-gallon bucket.