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My blog has been pretty quiet for the last two months. I’ve been writing a book about sailing the South Pacific!

“Crossing the Pacific is a tale of adventure, growth and overcoming fear set in the tropical islands of the South Pacific. This is one woman’s story of sailing twenty-one days across the largest ocean in the world and then learning to love scuba diving with the sharks on the other side.

This multi-media book includes high-quality photographs to transport you to one of the most beautiful places on earth. Readers will feel like they’re coming on the trip, seeing, touching, smelling and tasting the South Pacific.”

This story is all about the manifestation of big dreams. Moving into a van, sailing across an ocean, writing a book, whatever you dream about, I urge you to do it. Go after your biggest dreams, even the really crazy, uncomfortable ones, and bring them to life.

My book is available on Amazon Kindle here for $2.99.

It’s easy to find Seattle’s elite strolling Leavenworth’s fancy walking streets, but the intrepid observer sees another type of visitor among the throngs: the dirty adventurer with ropy calves and greasy hair plying the herd of clean city folks. They’ve been climbing or biking all day and now they’re hungry for Leavenworth’s great beer and food.

Leavenworth is a cute German-themed town full of touristy offerings, plus it has incredible adventures hidden in its surrounding mountains. We found it to be exceptionally good for van life and lingered longer than we originally planned. We lived in Leavenworth for a month in our van and we began to notice a few other vans which also seemed to be enjoying an extended stay in the area.

There are nice places to park near town on forest service land. We were given free water at Dan’s Grocery Store when we did our shopping, and there were many places around town to get rid of garbage. These things make van life much easier!

Leavenworth is a gem. Here are our favorite activities we enjoyed during our month there.

Mountain Biking

During our last week in Leavenworth we honed in on our favorite ride at the local ski resort. It’s a new one which doesn’t have a name yet, so for now I’ll just call it the Butter Loop. I found it by talking to a local who helped create the new uphill section of this loop as well as many other trails in the area. Kudos! You created something very special here.

The Butter Loop is the perfect short ride, with 6 miles of buttery, singletrack trails. It begins at the Leavenworth Ski Area with a steady, 1000 foot climb through the forest on a new, unnamed trail. Next you roll along a ridge with great views, then descend a section of Freund Canyon with well designed, super fun berms which go up and down like a roller coaster. The alternative to this fun roller coaster romp through Freund Canyon is a more challenging ride on the parallel Rosy Boa trail, but personally I found Rosy Boa to be too much! It had some very steep drops. Be cautious with choosing the Rosy Boa Trail.

After finishing either Rosy Boa or Freund, the final reward is an easy descent back through the Leavenworth Ski Resort on a trail called For The Boys. The Butter Loop is so good we did it three times in one week. Here is a map of the trails which make up this loop:
The Butter Loop On Trailforks

The Freund Canyon loop is an oldie and a goodie, too. It begins and ends on Freund Canyon Road near town. The only reason I like the Butter Loop better is that Freund Canyon includes about 500 feet of climbing on a dirt road, and I prefer the pure singletrack of the Butter Loop.

We heard about other great rides nearby at Horse Lake and Sage Hills, but didn’t have time to go there this trip. Next time! I love it that after a month in Leavenworth we continued to hear about new places.

Trail Running
The challenging and breathtaking 18 mile trail through the Enchantments near Leavenworh can be done as a one day hike/run. There is even a shuttle company to move folks from the lower trailhead to the upper trailhead at convenient times for only $10/person ( as well as a great private taxi service which can do the same (

The terrain is very challenging on both Snow Lakes Pass and Aasgard Pass, but the fantastic alpine zone and friendly mountain goats are incredibly rewarding. Go prepared with a headlamp and extra layers at the very least. This is a serious endeavor!

Another alternative is to hike up into the high country and then back out, beginning and ended at the Stuart Lakes Trailhead. We did this one day. and it took us 12 hours to go fifteen miles with about 4500 feet of elevation gain. This hike included climbing up Aasgard Pass and then going back down it, which was crazy. We saw some beautiful lakes and mountains at the top of Aasgard Pass, but it really just made us thirsty for more.

The trail run through the Enchantments is the big one, but there are other great places for trail running or hiking like the Leavenworth Ski Hill and the Leavenworth Riverside Park.

The Enchantments hike is best done as a backpacking trip. The Larch trees create some of the finest fall scenery in the state when they turn bright yellow in fall and we wanted to spend more time in this stunning area, photographing the landscapes and animals.

We had to be persistent to get a last minute permit for this hike. Each morning the forest service office in Leavenworth draws a name for permits to camp in the Enchantments and it can be very competitive. We went there three mornings in the middle of the week to try our luck at the lottery and each morning there were a half dozen people competing for a few permits. The first two mornings we lost the drawing, but the third morning we won!

Our four day backpacking trip in the Enchantments featured surreal beauty and relaxed mountain goats enjoying their alpine paradise. The larches were stunning and we had great weather. We climbed a peak in the backcountry called Little Annapurna, following nice granite slabs much of the way to the summit. Climbing Little Annapurna was a highlight for both of us.

Leavenworth is the climbing capital of Washington. We enjoyed nice climbs on granite near Icicle Creek and saw many people bouldering. We found the rock in this area to be good quality. There’s a helpful guidebook for this area but it is currently out of print. The nice people at Leavenworth Mountain Sports have a couple copies you can rent by the day.

We also went to Peshastin Pinnacles to explore the sandstone routes and found varying rock quality there. We found some good rock and some very crumbly kitty litter. After we explored the easier climbing options around town we decided our favorite spot was Playground Point near the Icicle River.

Reindeer Farm
We visited a Reindeer Farm right outside Leavenworth for a fun tour. While it’s not really an adventure, this was such a great experience it would be a shame to miss out on it. We learned a few things about Reindeer, and then got to go in the pen with them and pet them. Did you know their fur is made of hollow fibers, allowing them to float like a Polar Bear? Neither did we! Here is the website for the reindeer farm, reservations are recommended:

If you happen to come in October the town of Leavenworth erupts in merriment for three weekends in a row for Oktoberfest. Everyone celebrates with beer, Lederhosen, Dirndls, German food and dancing. This festival has a very celebratory mood and is a lot of fun, especially when you dress up!

So, there you go! Leavenworth is the perfect place to enjoy beauty, adventure, mountain goats and van life. The town is also delightful and we’ll definitely be back.

We went back to the Frisby Ridge trail and now this ride is a favorite. The alpine section is sweeter than I could have imagined. There is a small, gentle loop at the top and the views in every direction make you want to bust open with happiness. Just check out these photos!

The trail is buttery much of the time and obstacles are small. There is only one (longish) rocky section where I had to hike my bike. The forest is downright beautiful, there are huckleberries everywhere, and other riders are mostly friendly locals. There is an amazing van camp near the trailhead, too. So many things to love!

I grew to love my new dropper seat post during this ride, too. This new biking toy allows me to raise and lower my seat by using a tiny lever on my handlebars. The seat raises using hydraulics; I just have to lift my butt. How nice. The added efficiency of raising my seat just a couple inches was truly amazing as I pedaled up the 2500 foot climb at Frisby Ridge. I popped over obstacles which before I wouldn’t have even tried, and climbing felt SO MUCH EASIER. Which is important when you are doing a lot of it!

I feel better about descending with my seat in a lower position, too, but it will take time to master big, technical obstacles. I have to approach this slowly and continue to increase my skill level in small increments. At the heart of it, I’m afraid of taking a bad fall on my bike from being too aggressive with this new toy. I’m taking it slowly with the downhill, and seeing improvements there already.

Two girlfriends stressed the importance of this mythical dropper seat post for mountain biking…thank you Alison and Heather. And now I am telling the world, for rides with a lot of elevation change, you must have a dropper seat post of your very own!

Category: Mountain Biking

Yesterday I tried something hard. And failed. I’m not used to that, and it felt like someone let all the air out of my balloon. Brian was very supportive. I didn’t shed any tears, but there was definitely some pouting going on. Brian said we could abandon this adventure whenever I wanted, and that was ok. I thought about it a couple more minutes and then I decided it was time to get off the mountain.

We had embarked on one of my most challenging mountain bike rides and one of the best in the area. It was Frisby Ridge in Revelstoke, British Columbia. It’s been a long time since my last big ride and I didn’t take Frisby Ridge seriously enough. We started late in the day and all I brought was a simple windbreaker for layering. Initially I hadn’t felt committed to completing the entire ride, but wanted to try. I figured I would ride the ridge out and back until I got tired.

So we began, and the trail went steadily uphill nearly the entire time. The surroundings were nice, although it didn’t feel much like a ridge. We rode through a forest full of cedar and huckleberries for five miles. I kept thinking the alpine riding would start any minute, but after hours of riding in the forest the big, open views I craved were barely starting to show themselves. A more accurate name for this trail would be Frisby Forest.

I wouldn’t see the good stuff until the summit. I pushed on, getting colder and colder as I gained more elevation. Then the saddle sores started because I hadn’t prepared for a long ride, just a feel good, out and back ride. No Chamois Cream in the pack! Oh no! I was also getting tired now that we had climbed 2000 vertical feet. I am not used to big rides like this right now. I am good at pushing through exhaustion for a time, but with the lack of warm clothing and saddle sores I was facing a trifecta of suffering. At least we had plenty of snacks!

Now the ride had become a push to the summit and nothing more. It also wasn’t good to climb higher into the alpine zone without warmer layers. It could have turned into an edgy situation if conditions changed or precipitation started.

Feeling my limits, I sadly turned around and tried to collect myself as I began descending. Focus on the positive. Think about what you’ve achieved. Think about the beautiful ride. Think about the huckleberries surrounding the trail and our plans to harvest them on the descent. What I really wanted was to ride my bike in the sun, on a Thursday afternoon, above treeline with big mountains looming on all sides. That was the stuff of dreams. Still, there were many wonderful things about the day to appreciate and I tried to think about those things instead of the one thing I had missed.

The positive thoughts were needed; the descent was very chilly at first. After about twenty minutes we stopped in the sun to pick huckleberries. Feeling the warmth of the sun was a great relief to us both, and we had also reached a lower elevation with a higher temperature.

Plus we were surrounded by tasty huckleberries, warm from the sun, and Brian said we could try the Frisby Ridge ride again in a couple days. All these things raised my spirits. It was time to let disappointments go and immerse myself in the present. We gathered huckleberries for about 10 minutes (trying not to eat too many of them) and took some with us in a one liter Nalgene bottle.

The rest of the descent was uneventful and we were happy to reach the van. We quickly went to a fantastic campsite near the trailhead we had scouted out earlier.

We reveled in scenic views of rivers and mountains and cranked the heater up to ninety degrees. We huddled under a blanket until our core temperatures returned to normal. We ate a tasty dinner and huckleberries for dessert. This was van life at its finest.

It can be hard to let go of a meaningful adventure like this one. Sometimes I wonder if these adventures have taken on an outsized sense of importance in my life. For me, adventures give meaning to living in a van. Otherwise it would be pretty boring sitting in a van in the middle of nowhere. Achieving goals and strengthening my mind and body matter more out here than they did when I was living in a house. Instead of something fun to do on weekends, they start to shape life and give it meaning.

I look forward to riding Frisby Ridge again in a couple days. This was a good reminder to take hard rides more seriously. I will start early, prepare for a long ride and take extra layers. Frisby Ridge, we shall have a rematch.

My friend Katie gave me crabs. It was an accident.

It started with a gift: a hermit crab named Pagoo. Katie and I were strolling the beautiful beaches of Fakarava when she handed me a 3 inch long, white, cone shaped shell. It was lovely, and I put it in my backpack. Later I would add it to my zen garden on our sailboat. I had been working on a tiny zen garden where I could put my favorite South Pacific shells, sand, and a small pink cat symbolizing the kitten I loved and gave up last year, named Sherbert.

When I unpacked my bag later and removed Katie’s shell I soon found it crawling around on the table.

A hermit crab was living inside.

We see hermit crabs all over the beaches of the South Pacific. They are entertaining but I never thought of them as pets until Katie unwittingly introduced one into my home and heart. I picked up the little crab and offered it a crumb of bread. It reached out, legs and antennae wildly waving, and took the bread. It nibbled delicately as I watched, and I started to fall in love with the sweet creature. It doesn’t take much for me, I guess. I named the crab Pagoo, after a crab Brian had as a child. I placed Pagoo in my zen garden and enjoyed watching him climb around on my favorite shells.

Everything about Pagoo is so endearing. He’s a tiny crab in a big shell, which means he is really clumsy. He’s an easygoing crab who enjoys gently crawling on my hand and being hand fed.

I learned on Wikipedia hermit crabs are social and need to be with other crabs, so Katie and I went to the beach to find friends for Pagoo. We selected four crabs of different sizes, all smaller than Pagoo. Pagoo did seem happier with his new friends. I sometimes found the five crabs huddled together, and they seemed to enjoy each other’s company.

It’s fun to give them new shells to call home. I offered them a small white shell my friend Morgan gave me, and left it in the garden overnight. By morning it was occupied and the smallest shell became vacant. The crabs were upgrading.

I walked the beach looking for more new shells for my crabs. I found a peach colored shell which seemed about the right size. I placed it in the zen garden and the next morning found one of the crabs had moved into it. It was hard to tell which crab was in the new shell, but I figured it out pretty quickly.

One of Pagoo’s friends, previously in a white shell, immediately stood out as the most rambunctious and active crab. He would race around my hand trying to jump off the edge when I would hold him, and was very active in the garden as well. This compulsive crab definitely seemed to be the one inhabiting the new peach colored shell. So I named him Peachy, and soon his escape antics began.

Peachy, empowered by his new shell, was ready to explore the world. A couple nights later he escaped the garden and I found him crawling on the table the next morning.

Then, one stormy night, Peachy escaped the garden and took a three foot fall onto the floor of the salon. It was about 2 AM and I was already awake because the boat was rocking dramatically at anchor in a storm referred to as a Mara-mu. When a storm has a special name, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when it brings drama. I had just gotten up to put things away. Lying in bed again, I heard a distinctive sound, a soft clink, and I knew immediately what it was. Peachy had escaped again and this time had jumped onto the floor. That crab.

I got up and found Peachy crawling on the floor, unharmed after his big fall. I placed him back in the garden and he buried himself in the sand. Peachy seemed mad at me for the rest of the day. Peachy is not easygoing like Pagoo.

Peachy proceeded to get out almost every night, and one time he was missing for a day until Brian found him on the floor in one of our storage bunks. We devised a double wall system to keep him from getting lost in the boat again. It worked, which I’m sure displeased Peachy. But ultimately, he was the one who would most enjoy his release back into the wild, and I didn’t want him to be deprived of that and end up trapped on Magic.

The crabs have their own personalities. Peachy dreams of escape while the other crabs seem content in the garden. Pagoo is inquisitive and enjoys exploring my hand. The other crabs seem more interested in finding their way back to the garden when I pick them up. Pagoo is the only one who will take bits of food directly from my hand. And then there’s Peachy. Peachy is the wild one.

They all seem to enjoy climbing to high points, though. They are often found perched at the top of the tallest thing in their garden. I can relate so I found them a climbing wall on the beach. It’s a steep piece of coral with many handholds, or clawholds. It has routes of varying difficulty. The crabs love scaling it and sitting at the top. Some people spend a lot of money on their hermit crab hobbies, but here in the South Pacific I can find all the things the crabs need on the beach. They are the perfect sailboat pet.

My friend Nancy found natural sponges for the crabs, and gave them as a gift. They love Aunt Nancy now. I soaked a sponge in water and introduced it to the garden. The crabs enjoy sitting on it and licking the moisture from its surface. Every now and then they all crawl under it, nestle in the sand, and hide for awhile. What they are thinking, I will never know.

UPDATE: Our crabs were released on a small island in the Raiatea lagoon a few days ago. This island is tiny and can be circumnavigated in a couple minutes. We found other hermit crabs just like them, so we know they will survive. We placed a small pile of food on the beach for them, then they crawled off my hand and began immediately exploring their new home. I hope Pagoo is growing into his shell and Peachy is enjoying his freedom. Mostly, I hope they had a good time with us.

Our short term visa is over in French Polynesia, so we had to store Magic and come back to the US for 9 months. I’m already looking forward to my hermit crabs and zen garden next season on the boat.

That’s my yearly theme: crossing over. Crossing over boundaries of fear. Instead of a New Year’s resolution, a good friend suggested people come up with a theme for the year, and I liked that better. Only I didn’t want to tell too many people about it until I was sure I could do it. Because these were big things. This was not your basic “I’m going to the gym every morning” type of resolution.

I wanted to cross the Pacific Ocean with my husband on our sailboat. I wanted to dive with the hundreds of sharks on the other side. But I was so afraid of both these things. They required placing myself solely in the hands of nature and suspending my sense of control over what happened.

After much analysis I decided at a mental level these things were reasonably safe, although they still felt scary. So I crossed over, despite the fear, and found only good things on the other side. Brian and I sailed across the Pacific Ocean and now I’ve done one of the biggest shark dives in French Polynesia. Five times.

For most divers, this will be the biggest shark dive they ever do. Only I get to do it over and over again, living minutes away aboard Magic.

The South Pass of Fakarava easily has over 250 sharks swimming slowly into the current. There are Gray Reef Sharks, Black Tip Sharks and White Tip Sharks. These sharks see divers every day. They are used to being observed and neither flee nor circle you, they just drift on by. They are bored with you.

The huge aggregations of sharks have been respectful of our personal space and are actually really nice diving companions. I challenge you to look at these creatures with an open mind and enjoy these images without fear.

Meet the sharks of Fakarava.

Yesterday we did the big shark dive at Makemo Atoll. It was one of the best days of my life. Brian and I had a simply wonderful day overall, plus the dive was exhilarating and empowering. Wow, just wow.

It was a drift dive where we rode the current of the flooding tide into the lagoon. We took our dinghy up to the place where the lagoon empties into the ocean. We tested the current to be sure it wouldn’t push us out to sea and then entered the warm water. Brian clipped our dinghy to his BCD using a floating line. We then descended about 50 feet and rode a gentle current into the lagoon.

Beauty abounded as we drifted past caves full of fish and enjoyed healthy coral blanketing the sea floor. During the dive the current steadily increased due to the rising tide. After 30 minutes the current had become significantly faster and I was starting to run out of air. Then we drifted by the sharks.

It was an intense and agitated scene. First I saw schools of shimmering Big Eye Scads darting around crazily. The fish were fleeing from at least 25 feeding sharks, which began to come into view as the current carried me directly toward them.

Gray Reef Sharks, Blacktip Sharks and Whitetip Sharks were rapidly flowing over the colorful coral bottom, chasing fish and rooting around in crevices. I flew by them on the rapid current, awestruck. They swirled around me, continuing their activities with an attitude of indifference. It was such an overwhelming scene I could barely think. But the thoughts I did have were focused on the fact I was nearly out of air. I kept telling myself not to lose myself in the moment with these sharks.

I felt no fear. The sharks were doing their thing and I was doing mine. We shared space for a brief moment in time, and they graciously accepted us. That’s how I thought of the sharks. Gracious. Sure, they could get right in our faces and scare us, but why? It would be a waste of time. They are more pragmatic than that. Better to be gracious hosts and tolerate the strange black divers until the current quickly sweeps them away.

A couple sharks found a tasty morsel in a crevice and a small feeding frenzy began right at the end of our time with them. You can see a little bit of it at the end of the video. And then that was it. We had drifted past them and they were gone. We began our ascent back to the surface and to our dinghy, glowing from an unforgettable dive.

There are plenty of sharks in the Tuamotus. This morning when I was at 60 feet a gray reef shark swam by and checked me out. I hovered in place and turned on my video camera as the graceful, curious creature slowly became larger and larger in the frame. It continued closing the distance between us until it was only 15 feet away. Then it veered off and went the other direction.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about shark diving. I’ve done it, yes, but always felt a jolt when I saw a shark nearby. I definitely felt plenty of jolts last year at the Revillagigedos when a few Silky Sharks got too interested and started circling us. Brian finally hit one of them with his camera and then they left. Oh yeah, big time jolts.

I love sharks, but they can be frightening, too. They don’t always flee like other fish; they’re more curious and attentive than other animals I’ve met underwater. And sometimes they’re bigger than me.

We’ve been in the Tuamotus for eight days and we see sharks on almost every dive. I am fascinated by them and they haven’t been aggressive at all. We haven’t seen any Silkies either, which I like. We see plenty of Gray Sharks, Blacktip Sharks and Whitetip Sharks.

Each day I have become more comfortable with the sharks. The jolts have nearly gone away. When I surprised a sleeping shark a few days ago I felt a tiny jolt, but not much. I swam around a corner and had a close encounter with a small whitetip shark. It darted right in front of me and quickly swam away.

Today when the reef shark came right up to me and I didn’t feel a jolt, I realized I am ok with this now. I’m ok with these sharks. I’m ok with their curiosity.

The next question is, am I ready for the big shark dive? There’s a pass here where you can ride the current past 50+ sharks and thousands of colorful fish. Brian and our friends Dan and Kristy have been doing amazing drift dives there each day. I’ve snorkeled the pass and seen the sharks. It’s truly an incredible sight and I want to experience it close-up, underwater.

I think I’m ready. I want to drift dive with 50 sharks. Internet, what do you think? Am I ready? Should I do this tomorrow?

“Lagoon” is one of my favorite words now. We just arrived in the Tuamotus yesterday and I still can’t believe this is real. The lagoon water is clear, warm and calm. It’s protected on all sides by coral. It reminds me of a placid Idaho lake, where waves don’t get very large. This lagoon is about 8 miles wide.

After a five day passage we dropped our anchor with great relief. Almost immediately we jumped in with snorkels to see the coral under Magic, and were ecstatic to see 100 foot visibility and one small shark which soon darted off into the darkness. Unicorn Fish, which are light blue with a little horn, greeted us in a large school under the boat.

Now this is what we crossed the Pacific for, and the water here is the nicest I’ve ever seen. The coral is healthy and we found a good spot to snorkel and dive just a one minute dinghy ride from where Magic is anchored. We also have a good internet connection here. This place has it all!

Sharks are everywhere! They have been small, cute and indifferent. They came by at the beginning of our dive today, then acted like we didn’t exist the rest of the time.

UPDATE! Just as I was writing this blog post on the trampoline of the boat a shark swam by just 20 feet in front of us. Brian spotted it cruising along the surface.

Anyway, yeah, sharks are everywhere. I’m glad I like these sharks. They are fascinating and haven’t been aggressive at all. They do their thing, I do mine. Right, sharks?

I’m back on night watch. This time we are sailing 500 miles southwest to the largest group of atolls in the world, the Tuamotus. Brian just went to sleep but tonight I have a companion. A medium sized seabird, a Booby, chose to spend the night on Magic.

The Booby settled onto our solar panel late afternoon yesterday and hasn’t moved since. It wobbled around for awhile, getting its sea legs, and now it’s roosting in a light rain. It’s head is tucked against its wing. I can see it from where I sit and it definitely makes my night watch more fun. I hope it stays with us throughout the five day passage.

The Marquesas were great and we spent much more time there than we planned. It’s not the best destination for diving because the water is often murky. We still ended up exploring Nuku Hiva for three weeks. The friendly attitude of the locals, the fascinating fruit and the manta rays were incredible highlights. The lesson of the Marquesas was to keep an open mind about each new landfall.

Now we’re headed to the Tuamotus, with white sand, palm trees and very clear water for diving. This sounds like paradise. I can’t wait to be anchored in a turquoise lagoon surrounded by fish and coral.

But first night watch, with my Booby companion. Just a couple more nights at sea.


About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van and on a sailboat with my superhero husband, Brian. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, scuba dive with sharks, dodge encounters with bears and wolves, and work remotely as a full time computer programmer.
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About the Van

Hi, I’m Vanifest. I’m a big, 4x4, off-the-grid van complete with solar panel for power. I'm a 2000 Dodge Ram Van and Lisa has had me since 2009. Read more about me here.


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