Living the van life

By Shannon Johnson

Christopher MacPhail is a Minnesota native that has since retired in California. Every year, and sometimes twice a year, Chris ventures off to explore the nation in his semi-converted Nissan van for a ten to twelve-week road trip. “A lot of the time when I’m not busy visiting with people I’m just sniffing around, relaxing, exploring, and taking some photos. I bring a bike with me. It’s tucked in the back, so I always pull that out and go for a bike ride,” Chris said.

This year Chris’ journey led him through Fallon County. He began his journey in California and traveled up the coast, moving towards the east on Highway 12. Chris came through on his way to Minnesota. “I’m going to go up through Canada and retrace a path that I took when I was nineteen years old,” he explained. “A friend and I hitchhiked from Minneapolis to Banff.”

Since retiring, Chris has enjoyed keeping up on the ‘van life’ trend, as opposed to purchasing a traditional RV or camper. Chris can eat and sleep in this van. He has a bed that pulls out at night and hides away in the day. “I like wandering. I like figuring out how I can be comfortable in a small space,” he added. “If you can be thoughtful and efficient you can fit one or two people comfortably in a van and it’s kind of the best of both worlds.”

Chris spent a few days in Miles City before moving his way east through Plevna, Baker, and Marmarth before heading past Bowman and Hettinger. He enjoyed riding his bike around and brushing into people. Chris found eastern Montana to be both comfortable and hospitable. “I found it pleasant and quiet,” noted Chris.

“It’s a bunch of things rolled together,” Chris smiled. “The biking is nice because you brush up against people and get exercise at the same time. I like visiting friends. The campgrounds are nice because people are super friendly. You’re instantly gabbing with strangers without any real barriers. It’s a change of scenery and I think we all like some kind of a change in scenery.”