Progress Saved / by Kenneth Benson

Warning: It's been a long time since posting so this may be a long one. Feel free to skim or just look at the pictures.

Back in the day when I played my share of video games, aka the 80’s, one of the most satisfying points in the games (almost every game) was when you reach that place where your progress could be saved. From then on you no longer needed to start from the beginning, you could die a thousand virtual deaths and not lose your progress. It was a relief, I'd done it and now I could move on. This same feeling in turn has been one of my favorite parts of life, and has moved even more into my conscious mind on this trip.  When we quit our jobs we had reached a specific point, a goal that had been worked toward for years. Since, these markers happen with more frequency. I believe that these achievement levels and their frequency have been in some way missing from our lives as we lived them in our society. When we were children every birthday was a monumental achievement, we day dreamt about Christmas for months in advance.  When I got my drivers license my progress was saved. Then every year at school and eventually graduation, then college. As an adult these save points grow fewer and farther between and deep down I missed them. I think. We work our 9 to 5’s, maybe we are promoted, or we get married or have kids, but for me, for Devon and for many others out there this is just not enough real tangible challenge and success. We are finding that now. Small successes that feel gigantic. A conversation in Spanish, navigating an unknown city or finding a jewel of a place off of the beaten path. These things are happening every day.  It may grow mundane over time but for now we're feeling it again.

A lot happens in 4 months. After returning to Klamath from Vermont Devon quickly settled right back into her work routine at Dragonfly. Though it was only temporary, and she had been gone for months, she didn’t miss a beat. I navigated the full time dad routine, my time consisting of trying to occupy a growingly curious 2 year old as the days got colder and shorter.

Our return to Klamath was accompanied by a sense of home that was unexpected to both of us. Relying on the generosity of Glenn and Mona for a place(s) to stay we were set up to spend a few months prepping and earning a bit of cash for the next step. It was comforting to reconnect with good friends. When we left Klamath the first time Klamath was out of consideration as a place to return to when/if this adventure ends. In the short time we were "home" it made it back on to the short, list purely by virtue of the people we know and love. We’ll see what happens.

A lot of mini adventures occurred in that short time we were home. Vega had her first real Halloween (Nemo). The van was slowly and steadily worked on by me during nap times getting a second battery system, new tent, racks, awning, top box and some tools and spare parts. I got to see the Timbers play in Portland with Sean and Mike and eventually win the MLS cup. There was some ballsy rear wheel drive snow driving on southern Oregon roads. Low water rafting on the Rogue with Sean and Rachel and a non traditional Thanksgiving dinner with Tri Tip and friends.

To meet up with some other van people and gather advice and ideas for our van and it’s trip further south we attended Descend on Bend. DoB was a van rally organized by @poesidensbeard at Hole in the Ground southeast of Bend OR. This was the second annual gathering. From what I remember hearing the first gathering had about 15 vans. I told Devon it would be a small gathering and that there would be other kids and cool people to put her at ease.  Turned out there were over 100 vans and other overland vehicles this year, an incredible turnout. We were able to see some nice vans and unique set-ups.  There were people there who had made the trip we are making and others who were prepping for it as well. The scenery was stunning and it was the first camping experience as a family in the van.

As the days and weeks went by Devon was thoroughly enjoying her “new” position at Dragonfly as sort of a support therapist.  She spent time in the milieu with the students and covered for other therapists when they were in need of help or out of the office. She really found her groove. Concurrently I was growing more and more anxious and antsy about the upcoming trip.  While her mind was occupied with all sorts of daily Dragonfly details I was hyper focused on the next step. As the departure date crept closer the snow started to fall, by the feet. In the few days before we finally left I was cursing while shoveled snow from the driveway and for the first time in my life put chains on a car. Fortunately on the day of departure the temps warmed enough to allow us out of the city and over the pass to Medford without chains or incident. On Dec 17th we left Klamath for the second time this year to finally begin the trip we have been dreaming about.

Progress Saved…

First stop again was Ashland for a night as we had decided to take a circuitous route to SLC via Portland due to weather. On the 18th we drove north to Portland to stay with Drew and Miranda. On the way we stopped in Salem and met with @vanagonlife Dave to install our new steel, locking center console. Anyone who has a van should really look into getting one of these, we love it and it was great hanging out with Dave for a few hours. In Portland we did the usual, ate good food drank good beer and hung out with great people.

On Monday the 21st we set out early for SLC. We had decided to push through to try and make the 12 hour+ trip in a day.  We pulled out of the driveway before daylight in pouring rain, made it across the Sellwood bridge and were heading toward the ramp for I-5 when the van died at a light. I turned the key and it fired up but died a sputtering death again 2 min later. Again I fired it up and made it into a gas station parking lot. After multiple starts and stalls we decided to get a tow. Devon and Vega headed back to Drew and Miranda’s via Uber and I rode with the truck to Double J Motowerks near the Portland airport. They were able to diagnose the van (failed O2 sensor) by the end of the day and had us on the road by noon the next. Pretty great service especially considering it was a short week due to Christmas.

As we drove from Portland toward SLC on a beautiful sunny day We could not help but wonder on how fortunate we were that the failure happened in Portland.  On top of that the weather for this drive was superb and as we climbed out of the gorge and beyond Pendleton to see the remnants of a snow storm on the side of the road that we would have been driving in just a day earlier left us relieved and almost grateful for the breakdown. Determined to make it to Salt Lake even with our late start we were cruising. As the sun started to set we made it into Ontario Oregon just on the border of Idaho.  We stopped to gas up, get some food and be on our way. Vega protested. She had been doing so well on the trip so far but she had had enough and then after finally wrestling her into her seat I fired up the van and flipped on the the headlights. Nothing, no light. The headlights didn’t work. This had happened before and went away just as quickly but this time it seemed persistent. We gave in to fate and grabbed a Motel 6 for the night.

When we opened the door of the room the next morning there was 6 inches of snow on the the ground and a message from my sister that they had closed I-84 east of Burley. Again, was this fortune? Had we left, we would have certainly been in the middle of a freeway closing snowstorm. But now, in the day, with lights optional we continued and by the time we got to the junction it was open and we were free and clear all the way to SLC.

In Salt Lake we spent Christmas with my family, Thanks Melinda and Shaun for your love and hospitality. I cleaned some ground wires and fixed the lights, built a snow fort with Brett, Zack and Vega. We ate more good food and had a few good beers then loaded up our van again this time with my mother in tow and headed off to Vegas to see my brother, Nicole and Vega’s cousins.

During a short stop in St. George to visit my aunt and uncle our van woes struck again! The temp gauge light started flashing and after immediately pulling over, emptying the back of the van and lifting the engine cover I discovered a perilously low coolant bottle. I topped it off, drove a few miles and checked it again then booked it to Vegas stopping every so often to see if we were losing coolant. We made it to my brothers safely but both our nerves were shot. this van, as much as we love it was single handily making me grey.

Since buying the van the maintenance has primarily fallen on me (Devon says all of it minus the financial support). I have learned a lot in a few short months about how its systems work and this is great for my brain, I like things to obsess about. The problem comes when I, without fail, find the biggest most expensive possible solution to whatever the problem is and then stress about the cost and complexity of the fix. This happened when I drove the van cross country and a CV joint that wasn’t properly tightened sheared its bolts. As bad as that was, I was sure the Transaxle had failed. In Portland I was convinced the Airflow meter had failed which would have been hundreds of dollars more just for the part. And now, in Vegas I managed to convince myself that because I had lost so much coolant with no signs as to where it could have gone that we had a leaky head gasket and were combusting the coolant and that the labor and cost of fixing that was going to put us over the edge. There were definitely thoughts and conversations about selling the van. For those out there that think owning one of these machines is like driving around on a unicorn you are right. It is amazing, and a complete fantasy. They come with an entire set of problems that can occur at any moment. Some would say that this is part of the fun in owning a Westy, well it is and it isn’t. And it certainly takes some getting used to. On Monday I took it to a shop. Having convinced myself that we were in it for a huge bill it was not a pleasant drive. Two hours later I was out having only replaced a leaky coolant level sensor.

Again we were on the road. only one more stop before hitting the border.  My cousin Eric and his partner Stephanie hosted our crew for New Years and sent us on our way into Mexico on Saturday January 2nd.  What a way to start a new year!

Progress Saved. Next achievement Baja