Total miles from Klamath to Vermont, 5,120.
We've been settled in Vermont for the past two and a half weeks, the time has sailed with a decent mix of relaxing, cleaning, house projects, short road trips, morning walks and pond swimming. There hasn’t been much time/motivation for writing but we both have put in a great deal of thought and conversation about the month on the road and our future travels. There are some things that worked well for us and some that didn’t. We had great weather the entire time but really, it was pure luck, we've seen our friends run up against rainy days, forest fires and even the Plague! WTF?
So here are some things that sucked, but not as bad as the plague…
- It sucks when your child completely pees through her diaper on a 3 hour car ride. This happened twice. The first time we were actually on the way to a laundry mat so the problem was only temporary. The next time was not quite as lucky. Even tough we rinsed the seat cover and cleaned as best we could we had to spend a day with the smell of urine wafting from the back seat.
- As excited as we were to get to Vermont, it sucked having a place we had to be and a time frame to get there. This created longer than optimal drives, hunger arguments, and more than a few instances of getting to camp, setting up, breaking down in the morning and moving on, again. This rushed us too much and we were not able to enjoy each other or the probably beautiful location we were in.
- Along those same lines, as we packed and unpacked we found it challenging to exist with 2 adults, a toddler, a dog and "stuff" in the small space of a Honda Element. Everything had to have such a specific place in the vehicle that at any given moment we were tearing the whole system down just to retrieve some small item or another. I love the Element and everything we needed fit but keeping it organized was especially difficult and frustrating.
- It sucked having a dog. Not always, but there were more than a few times where we really wanted to do something and the dog made it a no go. Mostly in national parks, but wouldn’t you know it, those are some amazing places where typically you want to do stuff. We love Kohbi and she did great on the trip but some longer hikes in Glacier were out of the question for us. More on this later.
- A few words on the tent.
- I hesitate to say that it sucked because we both love that thing. It was our camping set-up all last summer and there are some great memories down by the river in that tent. It is a great place to lay down at the end of the night and was so comfortable and safe feeling. That being said, there are some downsides. For those considering a tent like this you should know, that while it is easy to set up and take down, anytime you want to go somewhere in your vehicle you have to take it down and set it up again when you get back. This issue came up time and again for us when camped in one location for more than a day. And as I mentioned in "things that sucked" number two, longer stays are the goal for the future. For example, in Glacier we wanted to drive the road to the sun. Well, we packed up the tent, drove the road and set it up again when we got back. Though we stayed in Glacier for 4 days we packed in the tent and set it up again every day. This was annoying. An annoyance that could be solved if we had it mounted on a trailer and could leave it in camp, but then we'd be pulling a trailer.
- Tent annoyance number two, without fail in every campsite at least one person, and usually many, would wander into our camp out of curiosity over the tent. I don’t blame them, they are unique for sure, we saw some on cars driving from point A to B but in all the places we camped we were the only ones with a tent on top. So, someone would wander into camp, ask us about it, want to look inside and we would oblige over and over again. It is great marketing for CVT, but eventually annoying as hell. We never experienced the ground soaking rains that would have made us stoked to be elevated, and there were much more roomier tents in every campsite that awaited their occupants after a long day of exploring.
- Annoyance three, climbing down in the middle of the night to pee.
- The next thing that sucked was not showering. For two people who worked in wilderness and would go eight days without showering I thought we'd rough it a little better than we did. It is a different ball game when you are sharing a car and a tent, or maybe I just smell way worse than I did when I was in my 20’s.
- First come first serve campsites suck. Add to that, state campgrounds that cost way to much and are overused. Especially when a National Forest campground can be found for cheaper or free, regularly, with amazing surroundings.
- Losing stuff sucks. Devon and I are some lucky unlucky people. In Seattle I gave Devon my wallet when she went with Mary to get some BBQ. We didn’t find it until latter that day under the front seat of Mary's car, lucky. We lost Devon’s wallet in Missoula realizing it 40 min out of town when we wanted to get ice for our campsite. We turned around, booked it back into town and retrieved it at the grocery store, cash intact, lucky. I lost my wallet again only to find it the next time we opened the tent. We each lost a pair of shoes. Devon lost the chin clip to her bike helmet. After trying in vain to find a replacement we decided it was about time to replace her 90’s helmet anyway. We left the old helmet on a bike rack at a grocery store with a free sign on it and within 3 days had lost the new helmet. We probably had it on the roof at some point and drove off. Two days later I found the old helmets clip.
- Sturgis was stupid. We did a drive-by. Just a reason to sell mass amounts of lame t-shirts and beer.
As I write I’m thinking "Wah Wah Wah, am I really complaining about all these things that sucked?" We are still in the midst of an amazing adventure of our own choosing so the reality is that none of it really sucked. Really they are all exactly the things we wanted to know before we set off on the trip into Central America.
So what will be different? In essence we need more space, also we need to move less often and take our time.
Not much we can do about Vega’s diaper situation other than be ultra religious about making sure she has a dry one whenever we start to drive.
The time crunch situation should take care of itself for the next leg of the trip. We have no specific place to be and no timeframe to get there. This may change a bit as we find job or housesitting opportunities but for the most part we will be moving at our own pace.
The dog. While it sucked having her with us at times it also has been amazing. Not since before Devon was pregnant has she had so much attention, exercise and excitement. We have reconnected and even more important Kohbi and Vega are connecting too. We have decided to take her with us, something that was up in the air. But she is fully a member of this tribe hopping family. There will be things along the way that we will miss out on having her with us but there will also be more time available where we can split up and take turns doing some of those things while the other stays behind with the dog. Sorry Glenn, we just can’t leave her behind.
So what about the tent and the cramped car situation?
Both of us have always wanted a Vanagon camper. I always resisted Devon’s hints and prompts at getting one when it would come up during our planning because of the age of the vehicle and the reputation for and possibility of frequent breakdowns. At one point in Klamath we test drove a Eurovan Weekender and the transmission went out on our test drive. That was when we decided to stick with the Element.
At Badlands NP we were sitting in our camp eating dinner when a Westy pulled in to the site next to us. Before any door opened the top was popped, then out poured two kids and their parents, all falling into what looked like a well rehearsed camp set-up routine. We were JEALOUS. We had packed up the tent earlier to explore the park and had just finished setting it up again but the ease and quickness of the Westfalia setup was amazing. Then it started, that phenomena where when you desire something you start seeing it everywhere. We started seeing Westy’s around every turn. Still, rationality reigned, and we made it to Vermont without going any further down the rabbit hole other than Vanagon daydreams. For a week after arriving in Vermont, with the internet at my fingertips I avoided “just looking” until one night I couldn’t resist. I went onto the Samba classifieds and there it was, posted just 6 hours before (strange cosmic coincidence #1), a 1988 Vanagon Westfalia and it was only 15 miles away. I fired off an email and before the end of the night we had an appointment to check it out.
In previous discussions about getting a VW I had told Devon that I didn’t trust the mechanics of such an old vehicle and that I would only consider getting one that was nearly perfect. And beyond that, one that had had some major overhauling done to it. Well, this one did.
The seller had purchased the van in 2006 in Salt Lake City (strange coincidence #2). He drove it to the Sundance film festival and then had it shipped to Vermont. After getting it to Vermont, he had almost everything done to it that I told Devon would have to be done to one before ever considering a Vanagon (strange coincidence #3). It had a new GoWesty engine with less than 5,000 miles, new fuel tank, new brakes, shocks, fuel lines etc., etc., etc. Every year the seller would garage it for the winter, pull it out and service it and refurbish one bit or the other, maybe take it on a short trip and then would find himself too busy to really put it to use before having to garage it for the next winter. This went on for 9 years until he finally decided/admitted that he really just did not have the time to use it the way it was meant to be used and that as much as he didn’t want to he had to sell. This long process for him also worked for us in that he sold it for much less than it was “worth” knowing that even though he could get more for it eventually he didn’t want to wait for “eventually”.
So, introducing "Bill Murray", named after the seller, and the man who did so much to get this vehicle ready for us.
So, we’ve already sold the tent. The Element is up for sale with a lot of interest out here in Vermont. We will still have to break down the van tent when we want to take the van somewhere out of camp but it will take 1 minute vs. 15. We have more space for our stuff, and for all of us, including the dog. Just by the laws of physics we will be taking things slower and enjoying the view. Home is now where we park it.
Neither of us are under the illusion that this decision was one of rationality, it was purely passion and adventure. But hey, the same could be said of this entire adventure, so, we are now driving to Central America in a Vanagon Westfalia, We think we’re pretty cool. We'll think we are cooler if we make it ;)