Words and photos by Amelia Pentecost
We had planned to stay in the San Juan Islands for three nights. Next thing I knew, we were watching our seventh sunset.
The first two weeks of our road trip were hectic. We were learning on the fly, figuring out safe and free campsites, discovering the quirks of the van, navigating dusty roads and soaring temperatures. We were in a constant state of planning, problem-solving and preparation.
We were also learning what it meant to live with each other. We had separate apartments back home in San Francisco, and now we lived in a rolling shoebox with one another. And while it was thrilling and wonderful, we needed a breather. We needed routine. Quite frankly, we needed boredom.
The San Juans force you to slow down. As soon as you get on the ferry from Anacortes, you’re pulled into a passing of time that seems to only exist on islands. No one stresses the little things.
When does the ferry arrive? “Around 11, maybe 10:30. Depends.” When can we check into the Airbnb? “Maybe 3? If I can get in touch with Barb perhaps 2, but she might be kayaking.”
We sat for a long time on a seawall when we first arrived in Eastsound on Orcas Island. We watched the tide push driftwood onto the rock beach, a jellyfish bouncing along the waves, a bald eagle overhead. I had no idea what time it was. I see a woman kayaking. Maybe it’s Barb. “This is nice,” I said to Kyle. And it was.
As soon as you get on the ferry from Anacortes, you’re pulled into a passing of time that seems to only exist on islands.
We stayed for seven nights on Orcas Island, alternating between campsites, trailheads, a restless night in a noisy marina parking lot, and a very cozy Airbnb—where we did our first load of laundry in what seemed like forever.
As I cooked cornbread in the oven and ran three stove burners at one time, I reveled in the luxury that was a full-sized indoor kitchen. And there was a bathroom! A bathroom where I could wash my hands with warm water and shower every day if I wanted to. I began asking myself if I could survive the coming months living in a van.
The days passed slowly. We took an hour or two every afternoon just to lay in the sun somewhere, sluggish and drugged by the afternoon heat. We went on runs, stopped into breweries, played cards, found rope swings. We took slow drives to the other side of the island just because we had nothing else to do. We took a ferry to Lopez Island because we heard there were good farm stands there and spent a whole day looking for fresh eggs.
We met interesting people. A former high school track star named River who wore a beret and had two dogs named Elvis and Prince. A couple from Montana who grew their own vegetables and lived for their annual motorcycle trips across middle America. A 21-year old drifter who got her job on Orcas Island after meeting her employer in Mexico on a boat. We attended a sitar show on the Fourth of July at a secret clubhouse, and then watched fireworks through the trees from the back porch.
The days were long, not fully dark until at least 9:30pm being so far north, so we would open the back doors of the van and read until it got too dark. We bought fresh seafood and cooked it while looking at the waters it had come from. We would eat slowly, not speaking, and then pile up the dishes to wash at some later date.
Then finally, in the most beautiful way, we got bored. It felt like the same boredom that made us leave California in the first place.
We got used to the same faces, the same hikes, the same coffee spot. A girl I met told me, “You say you’re leaving tomorrow, but come September I’m going to see you in this very bar.” She wasn’t entirely wrong. It would be easy to get pulled into the routine of Orcas Island. The beauty and the quiet and the pace.
But we had so much to see, and luckily, things on the San Juan Island tend to stay the same. So we packed our things up and made our promises to return soon.
Amelia Pentecost is a Hawaii-born, California-based writer, traveler, and part-time van dweller. She and her converted Sprinter van have logged over 20,000 miles in journeys across the US and Canada. Follow her on Instagram..