Our van Alice is nimble on pavement, but she can get bogged down quickly in less-than-ideal conditions. Before visiting the area, I wouldn’t have even considered driving her through sand for a South Padre beach camp out. After spending three days on the island and assessing the risks of getting stuck, we decided to go for it. It turned out to be an experience we will not forget.
Biked It Before We Drove It
Our first introduction to the 10-mile beach was on our bicycles. Because the water tide packs down the fine white sand, the shoreline is ideal for biking. We carried drinking water in our packs and beach chairs on the bike rack which was ideal when we wanted to take a break.
Camp Out On the Beach
Each day as we rode our bikes, I paid attention to the section of the beach which allowed vehicles to drive on and park. I took special note of the rigs that were the same size or larger than our van. How were they able to maneuver through the sand and park without getting stuck?
I soon realized there were areas of the beach where the sand was denser or more packed down than other areas. I decided to take the chance and knew exactly where I wanted to park Alice.
The next morning, we took the plunge. We drove out on the beach and parked in our spot without any issues. We stayed there for 4 days and 3 nights.
Lingering in one place for several days is not our routine when we travel. Normally, we live more of a nomad lifestyle in our van. We tend to move 30-50 miles a day and sleep in a new place almost every night. This was a change of pace for us.
We both embraced our time there and settled into an easy-going lifestyle. In the mornings we did our daily exercise. During the day we walked the beach, played frisbee, read books and relaxed to the sounds of the waves.
We got more sophisticated on how to cope with the sun and wind. At times, these weather conditions got tiring. Because we spent most of our time outdoors, we needed the ability to escape the wind and sun.
Our solution was to use tarps we carry with us to provide a wind block and shade screen. Our van does have a retractable awning on it, but I don’t like extending it when the winds are strong in fear of damaging it. As it turned out, the makeshift use of the tarps worked well and provided the protection we were seeking.
The South Padre Beach Community
The first day we were on the beach we met others who were there. It was a mix of people spending the day and folks camping for extended periods. The people camping stayed in tents, trailers, large RVs and vans of all sizes.
As time passed, the conversations we were having with our neighbors got longer and more detailed. We were learning more about them and building friendships. The beach began to feel like a supportive neighborhood. We all helped one another charge phones, share food, bottled water or a beer.
The small beach community checked in with each other daily to insure everyone’s safety and comfort. It was a nice supportive environment to be a part of.
One night we decided to have a bonfire on the beach. The group had been stock piling wood for the event and the evening was perfect for a social gathering. Shortly after the sun set the fire was lit, and we all circled it in our beach chairs.
The combination of the fire and a few drinks seemed to create an atmosphere of openness. We talked about our careers, our personal journeys, our plans for the future, politics and a variety of other topics. The conversation was diverse, lively and respectful. We had much in common while also having nothing in common.
One person talked about joining the French Foreign Legion when he was in his twenties. He had spent 4-years in the Congo, patrolling and fighting in the jungle. His dream was to captain a large sailboat and travel the seas. He had acquired the training and certifications required to maneuver a ship in the open seas. Recently suffering a personal tragedy, he was struggling to get back on track towards meeting his dream.
Another person had recently resigned from a long-term career position. He was an energy analyst and expert who had worked in Washington DC. He had become unhappy with his situation and was also assessing his options for the future.
Two other (separate) people were full time van lifers. Their vans were their full-time homes (by choice). They were living life on their own terms, staying for weeks at a time on beaches in multiple states between Texas and Florida.
Looking back on the night, it’s hard to recall a time when we were among such an interesting group of people. Gail and I will always remember that night and our South Padre beach camp out as one of our traveling highlights.
No matter where we go, it seems the most fascinating part of our travels are the people we meet along the way.
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