Foot loose and fancy free


Sara Hansen and Conner Choi pose in front of their 1997 GMC van they customized for adventures on the road after the pandemic left them with plenty of free time. Herald photos by Pat Mulvaney
SHS grad finds adventure on the road during pandemic

What do you do if you’re a recent college graduate whose prospects temporarily dried up due to a pandemic and your future plans are put on hold?

If you’re Sara Hansen, a 2016 Sparta High School graduate, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Reed College in Portland, you go vagabonding.

Hansen, the daughter of Curtis Miller and Andrea Hansen of Sparta, and her boyfriend Conner Choi, combined resources and bought a 1997 GMC Savanah, which they turned into a mobile crash pad for a season of freedom on the road.

The couple customized the van, cutting off the original roof and extending it up so they could stand in it and then adding a bed, stove and refrigerator. Choi even installed solar panels to power the lights and fridge, all with the help of YouTube videos.

“We definitely did this on the cheap,” said Hansen, adding they found a lot the van’s amenities along the roadside.

It may not be the prettiest vehicle on the road, but they called it home, literally.

They lived in the white van for a while, parking it in a friend’s driveway in Portland when not road tripping and taking advantage of free camping to keep within their tight budget.

Hansen said she saved up money from a summer job before the pandemic hit and when she couldn’t find employment after graduating, she and Choi, who met each other in 2013 when they were both in high school attending a semester at Conserve School in northern Wisconsin, hit the road. For their maiden voyage, they traveled down Highway 1 along the coast of California to San Francisco to visit Choi’s grandparents.

“They didn’t have a guest bedroom so we brought our bedroom,” said Hansen.

They’ve put 19,000 miles on the van since buying it last year. During their travels, they found a lot of young people doing the same thing.

Their fellow vagabonds are even loosely organized using social media, holding large meetups where they share stories of the road and compare their rides. “It’s fun meeting them,” said Hansen, noting the camaraderie is one of the appeals of the road.

Their latest trek was to Sparta to attend Hansen’s grandmother’s 100th birthday party last week. The couple left for Denver last Sunday, where they both found jobs. Choi is teaching art, while Hansen is working for an organization called TeamWorks as a trail crew leader for high schoolers.

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