I’ve been on the road for a year and have built up a small collection of freaky moments. I felt like my life was in danger for some of them, and others are almost laughable after the fact. Some are spo0oky scary, but others are just realistic and scary. It’s a good thing I didn’t think to Google “van life scary stories” before hitting the road… because as a true crime podcast fan, it’s easy to turn any eerie van life moment into a full-blown panic attack.
So, what’s happened to me since moving into my home on wheels? Read on to find out as I share in the most around-the-campfire way!
Van Life Scary Story #1: "Can You Tow My Van?!"
Not even two hours into entering #vanlife I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed off to my first destination: Idaho. I was traveling north from Utah and it was a sweltering hot day in early June. The radio was blasting, my windows were down, shades were on, and I was feeling it.
Cruising down the main highway with two lanes, I came to a random stop light. Typically, you don’t see traffic lights placed on a main highway. But thinking nothing of it, I braked and came to a stop. Once the light turned green, I pressed the gas pedal to…well…go. But…nothing happened. The engine didn’t rev, the van didn’t move. The gas pedal felt like a floppy fish. People behind me started honking until they realized I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
I was so baffled and caught off guard that all I could think to do was turn the engine on and off. The van was starting just fine but the gas pedal did nothing! As the first flood of cars skirted around my van, I became increasingly worried at the second wave approaching within seconds. Even though I turned on my hazard lights, it was so bright outside that you could hardly see them. My van was sitting in the middle of a highway at a green light, taking up a full lane at a total stop. I was absolutely terrified I would be rear-ended or cause an accident.
I turned my head and made eye contact with two men in a pick-up truck who were in the turning lane next to me. I started rolling down my window and they seemed to instantly understand I needed help. I got out of my van and asked/yelled to them, “can you tow my van?!”
They pulled their truck in front of my van, into the intersection and quickly worked to chain the van to the back. I was trying to direct traffic away from my van in the meantime, and finally hopped in to steer while it was pulled off the road.
They relocated my van safely onto the side of the road and I gave them the biggest thank you possible. I felt incredibly lucky to have had such quick help (and to have avoided an accident).
From there, the rest was less eventful but still unpleasant. I sat in my sweltering oven of a van for the next almost two hours waiting for my insurance to send a tow truck. (My van’s AC is broken…). From there, I was towed to a dealership two miles down the road.
The good news was that since it was only two miles away, the tow lift distance was within my coverage so it was free. The bad news was that it was a Saturday and the dealership wouldn’t open until Monday. So, I spent a couple nights at a motel down the street and explored all the beauty of this random town I was in!
Ultimately, I never found out what caused the van’s gas pedal to stop working. Our best theory is vapor lock because it was such a hot day. But by the time the dealership checked, the van worked just fine. It was, however, very low on oil. And I swear since that oil change, other little issues I’d noticed seemed to vanish. I know logically this doesn’t make sense, but it’s what I’ve observed.
Van Life Scary Story #2: “Were Those Gun Shots?”
While breaking down on a highway was scary in one way, this next story was scary in a different kind of way. The most anxiety-inducing way because you’re not sure of others’ intentions.
One evening I was exploring a northern city in Oregon without a camp spot in mind. As the sun lowered in the sky, I checked iOverlander for any nearby spots–nothing. Except one listing way off in the woods, about a half hour drive from where I was. The vibes throughout Salem were not great; I felt sketched out and decided I’d head to that remote spot even though I didn’t like how remote it looked. Nothing felt ideal at that point.
Driving there felt like a bad scary movie scene. The roads got narrower, less maintained, and more enveloped by thick forest. The directions were telling me to go down what looked like someone’s dirt driveway, which I did hesitantly while realizing the road opened up into a logging road. The road dramatically twisted and turned down a steep hill, pitching me into darkness– and this is where I lost cellphone service.
The road eventually plopped me onto this main drag COMPLETELY surrounded by thick forest on either side. At this point, the sun had set and it was very, very dark. I continued driving until I found the trailhead parking lot listed on iOverlander. There was a bathroom with bullet holes in the door of the women’s restroom and one other car at the opposite end of the lot. I thought to myself, “well, I kind of really hate this. But I just drove pretty far to get here and it’s too late to look elsewhere.”
I settled in the for the night, reassuring myself that darkness and lack of cell coverage didn’t automatically mean MURDER DEATH. But as I started drifting off to sleep around midnight, I heard the last thing I’d want to hear–a car pull in. I listened closely to evaluate with my ears as best as possible. I heard people walking and then I heard glass smash. I heard voices loudly talking and lots of doors opening and closing. Then, I saw streaks of light pass through my window covers–that’s when I got really freaked out.
Over the next hour, I peeked through my window cover and watched I think four different guys walk back and forth behind my van. It seemed like they were constantly looking at my van because they were wearing headlamps that would shine through the window covers. They would yell and one of them even started howling…? One minute I’d think I was good because they’d walk into the woods, but then they’d circle back to their car and I’d get scared.
I asked myself, “Hilary, even if these guys head off into the woods for the night, will you be able to fall asleep?” and I knew the answer was no. I needed to drive away but I’d built it up so much in my head that I wondered, “what if they followed me?”
But the final straw came after about two hours of listening to them yell and blast their bad music. Because I heard gun shots. They’d gone into the woods to fire them, but once I realized they had guns, I lost any sense of safety provided by my van. So I waited for a brief moment where they’d all headed to the woods and booked it out of there at 2am.
I drove about twenty minutes back up the deathly steep hill and the winding roads and into a little town. I posted up at a small park and didn’t care if I was kicked out at that point. There was a semi-truck there as well so I figured I’d be good. That’s when I learned to do a better job at trusting my instincts. The moment I had seen the listing of this place, I had uneasy feelings but wrote them off out of desperation. Never, never again!
Van Life Scary Story #3: “Are These Human Bones?”
I’m going to combine two different incidents into one story because they happened so close together. While different experiences, they felt similar and related for some reason…? And the first one is more just odd than anything.
A few weeks ago, my BFF came to join me on the road. After spending a few days on the Oregon coast, we decided to head to one of my favorite camping spots in Oregon. We got a late start in the day and by the time we arrived, it looked a lot creepier at night than I was hoping. I wanted to show her how cool the place was!
But instead we pull up to a dusty spot in the woods, where…there’s a big circle with a pentagram in the middle, drawn into the ground. There’s a piece of a broomstick in the center of the pentagram. It was almost a full moon as the moonlight slivered through the tree tops down on us. Definitely set a creepy vibe, but after talking about it, we decided to just…turn our music up really loudly as we sat around the campfire.
Part of me wants to say we ended up having a ghoulish experience that night, but…nothing happened. I’ve also since learned that witchcraft isn’t inherently creepy; in fact it’s a practice to become more connected with earth. It’s not something to be feared. But it did make another experience I had a few days later feel that much stranger…
Wishing I knew more about human anatomy and bones, I try to Google “human bones” and match them to what I’m seeing. Nothing jumps out at me, but I decide I should alert local authorities anyways. So, I end up reporting it to police and they send two officers to the location. I meet them on the side of the highway and guide them through the maze of dirt roads.
After a quick glance, they inform me that these bones are…deer bones. HA! If you want to see the live-action feed of me discovering the bones and learning where they’re from, catch it on my Instagram highlights reel! Feeling a little silly, I told them I’d rather be safe than sorry, and they thanked me. Then, followed it up by telling me they had another call that morning reporting bones, that, “definitely sound like human remains”. I decided that was my queue to leave that town.
Well, that concludes my top three scary van life stories from the road so far. I have no doubt there are more to come, but with those new experiences will come more on-the-road confidence. Learn more about road life and 5 hygiene routines that I’ve changed since being on the road!