Vail Valley parents hit the road, combining newborn life with camper life
November 11, 2016
Avon residents Jimmy and Amelia Vonesh love to camp, ride bikes and be outdoors. They didn't see why they had to give it all up once they started having kids.
That's why it made complete sense to them when barely two weeks after their daughter Marley was born in 2015, the Voneshes packed up their bikes and their 17-month-old son Townsend and hit the road for a month. With the entire family contained in their truck and pop-up camper, the Voneshes drove clear to Canada, visiting friends and riding bikes along the way.
Craziness, you say? Maybe, but the Voneshes are among a handful of local couples who are using their maternity and paternity leave not to nest at home but to take to the great outdoors.
Van life, baby
For the Voneshes, the end-goal of their road trip was to attend a wedding in Oregon.
"We really wanted to be there, and their wedding date was two weeks after Marley was due," said Amelia Vonesh. "We decided, we're not going to fly, and we're not going to leave the baby. Let's just go. This is the kind of trip we love to do."
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The couple both works for Eagle County Paramedic Services, which worked with them to accommodate full three-month, job-protected leaves compliant with the Family and Medical Leave Act. The family wanted to take advantage of the time, said Jimmy Vonesh.
"We thought, 'It's uncommon to have that extended block of time off work. Let's do something cool with it,'" he said.
Red Cliff residents Nathan and Ashleigh Krehbiel felt the same way when their son Carson was born this summer. When Carson was 3 weeks old, they took a five-day camping trip in their 1989 Astrovan Tiger RV. The trip went well, so three weeks later, they took a month-long trip through Wyoming and Montana.
"We had friends who had done something like this already, so we knew it was feasible," Ashleigh Krehbiel said. "We knew it wasn't always fun and easy, that it could be a lot of pain and suffering, but we both had 12 weeks off and really like to travel, so we wanted to get out there and do some good stuff."
While crying, frequent breast feeding, diaper changes and sleepless nights sound like a road trip disaster, these couples point out that infants travel better than you'd think.
"Babies at that point are sleeping, eating and pooping, and that's it," said Amelia Vonesh. "By that point, Townsend was able to stay in the car for longer periods, too. We would drive four hours each day — which becomes six hours with all the stops and feeding. We saw some interesting destinations we'd definitely never have seen otherwise. It was fun."
The great camper challenge
Many families gain belongings with the addition of a baby. Fewer people downsize all of their necessities into a small camper for weeks at a time.
Surprisingly, the families found their kids became well-suited to camper life. When the Krehbiels first bought their pop-up RV, they didn't have a baby in mind. The Tiger had a three-burner stove, a tiny shower, room for two beds and a seating area.
Nathan Krehbiel made some major upgrades to the engine and transmission system, added racks and a solar panel, and they gave the '70s-style interior a facelift. When Carson came along, they simply added a fold-up bassinet for sleeping and modified one of the existing seatbelts for his car seat.
The Voneshes upgraded to an 8-foot Coleman pop-up camper when Marley was born. It holds a twin and queen bed, electric water pump, furnace, sink, fridge and a homemade shower that Jimmy Vonesh crafted from a pony keg, Schrader valve and nozzle. Their truck is outfitted with a big topper bin, bike racks and wooden benches that fit bins of gear underneath. The tailgate became the makeshift diaper-changing station.
Of course, there were challenges, too. There was crying and screaming. There were mishaps and grumpy moments. Townsend Vonesh came down with a cold that developed into croup during the Canada trip, and the family ended up in the emergency room that night. But the Voneshes adjusted, checked into a hotel that night and were back on the road when he recovered.
Ashleigh Krehbiel, who was still getting back in shape, remembers feeling bummed that she couldn't participate in some of the outdoor activities during their trip.
"I got a bit depressed in Jackson because there was all this great biking, and I still felt pretty crummy. I had to make sure to get myself out of the van and take a walk or hike," she said. "But I think I would have been sadder sitting at home, and it would have been harder for us to sit around and not do much. Mentally, (the trip) was wonderful."
Both the Krehbiels and Voneshes agreed the road trips were a wonderful bonding time for their new families.
"As a family, it was huge because we literally spent every minute of every day together for that entire first six weeks," Amelia Vonesh said. "It was always about the family and what we needed, with no schedule or any outside influence."
Jimmy Vonesh said he understands that camper life with a newborn isn't for everyone.
"That's the natural thing to want to stay at home, and there's nothing wrong with that," he said. "For us, we wanted our kids to fit into our lifestyle as much as is reasonable. It was important for us to hold onto the reasons we live here, why we're together and why we do this to begin with."