Touring Arizona's Diverse Terrain in a Retrofitted Shuttle Bus

Photo of Matt Medendorp parked at a Flagstaff Trailhead in Arizona

Matt Medendorp, member of the MuskOx Herd, is a writer, gear-tester, and dad who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has an MFA in Poetry from Northern Arizona University and is a contributing writer to Field & Stream, GearJunkie, and Huckberry Journal, among others. You can usually find him on a run, on a bike, out to breakfast, or at

In 2023 we randomly met Matt at the Iceman Mountain Biking race and festival in Traverse City, MI. He approached us because of our high reviews in GearJunkie. Funny how it goes full-circle.

In February, Matt and his wife jumped on a flight to Phoenix, rented a van and drove around Arizona. We caught Matt to chat about the experience while he was in the Eastern Sierra Range of Mammoth Lake testing Winter hiking and running gear.

Your wife and you rented a van and drove around Arizona. What sparked the adventure?

I'm a freelance writer and an outdoor and running gear tester. One of the things I do is I test running gear and outdoor gear for buyers guides and other roundups. Which means testing products in a variety of conditions. Arizona in particular offers just a wild amount of environmental diversity in a small amount of mileage. So we went up to Flagstaff. It has alpine conditions, snow, pine trees, and rock. Then we went to Sedona and a little bit in the Phoenix area. These places have the desert, red rocks, sand, and dirt.

This allowed me to test a variety of products and put them through the ringer and different environments without having to fly to different states. Also we were itching to get back, I went to grad school out here, my son was born here, so we just got a deep family connection to the place.

Sedona is super nice, I’m sure you loved being detached, surrounded by the red rocks

The red rocks in Sedona are otherworldly, it's just that phenomenal backdrop. Imagine all the film clips, it looks straight out of a vintage western movie set. Every time I go there, even when I was living around it, it takes your breath away. The red rocks are inspiring so we knew that it was a running and biking destination in addition to the world-class views — not a bad combo.

For context, y’all flew out there with the basics, rented a van, and hit the road?

We rented a van through Outdoorsy which is kinda like the Airbnb of van rentals. We’re a little unorthodox so we went outside of the realm of the classic Sprinter van and rented a retrofitted shuttle bus. We picked it up in Phoenix and drove through the mountains. That was a bit of a trip getting it up because you go from 1000 feet in Phoenix to close to 7000 feet in Flagstaff. So there was an adventure driving that bus, for sure. We wanted the flexibility to sleep at the trailheads so we could get to the trails early and be disconnected, and have the chance to get up early, look up, and have the trees surrounding us.

This seems like a really creative and approachable way to be surrounded by nature. Driving the van wasn’t tough coming from the Michigan roads?

I think that that was the fun part about it. You don't need a special driver's license to get one of the vans, you can just rent it with your regular license and insurance. It gives you way more flexibility, especially in a place as diverse and as interesting as Northern Arizona.

The van, or bus in our case, let us explore different areas about having to be locked into one central zip code. You can plan ahead and decide where you're going to camp and pull into campsites or you can go where the spirit takes you, and follow your inspiration.

It's not a giant RV where you have to empty waste or have a 35-foot trailer behind, it drives a little bit bigger than a regular car. But it's an easy and fun way to get out there and to make sure you're the first one at the trail in the morning, at the trailhead exactly.

Any gotcha moments on the trip, or tips for the MuskOx Herd?

It helps to have one piece of clothing that you can wear in multiple environments I.E. the Grand Flannel. Don't forget the headlamp, and don't forget the battery, which was for sure because that was a problem we ran into. Depending on where you're staying, having a solar power charger is helpful to get all the electronics up and going. And the desert fluctuates in temperature wildly! We knew better, but we didn't pack enough warm layers, we had one puffy blanket, but we should have brought more. I assumed we would have had some sort of propane heat at night but we didn’t have heat at night, so always check!

We camped one night at a Flagstaff trailhead with Mount Elden in the distance. It was an access point for elk hunters. We got woken up at 5:30 am by them opening up the gate and entering with their trucks. This spot was adjacent to all the protected forest land and there are all these dirt tracks, mountain biking single tracks, and hiking and running areas up there. We sort of sequestered ourselves in this dirt forest road, so we could be there and be by ourselves, and look out of the window every morning to see the beauty.

Any thoughts on the MuskOx Grand Flannel?

I love the weight and quality of the Grand Flannel’s material. When you are investing in something, you want something that will last and can take a beating. MuskOx has a modern design with a vintage style of construction that will make it last almost forever. You should be able to find one in the thrift store 50 years later and it might have a couple of holes, but it'll still hold up.


Catch more of Matt's adventures at