Travelogue, USA

Now leaving Denver

The Vanagon is loaded to the hilt. Our already slow moving vehicle is that much slower under the weight of everything we own that survived the purge. Our last few days in Colorado were soaked with rain. And now I sit in this parking lot waiting for Maizy one last time while she finishes saying her goodbyes. It’s all over but the crying.

With Maizy’s last day behind us we turned the key in the ignition and headed for the road. I rolled my window down and waved up to her co-workers I thought might be watching and gave them all a wave. Then, as if on cue, we hit the seven foot clearance bar of her parking lot with the box of stuff mounted on our luggage rack. BAM! I watched it swinging wildly in the rear view and just laughed as we drove off. No harm, no foul.

Driving with this load it feels like a slow bullet careening down the road. We push the speed limit down the hills and hope the momentum will carry us up the steeper grades. Once we reach our destination we will reinforce our ride, store our belongings, say our hellos and goodbyes to the family and begin our journey. It might take a couple weeks, but it will be time well spent. Driving down Interstate 70 heading east the clouds seemed so low that  you could imagine yourself reaching up to touch them.

The sky was a mix of deep purples and light blues in a gradient line along the horizon. We left construction projects and road crews in the rear view, and as they disappeared we found ourselves surrounded by the familiar fields, farms and vast open spaces of eastern Colorado.  Cell towers and a brick and mortar church stands alone in a giant field. We are among our fellow travelers now. The license plates on vehicles start getting more random. Indiana, Florida, South Dakota, all of them just passing through, heading off to unknown destinations.

We’re out in the sticks, east bound on a two lane highway, slowly marching forward. A hawk circles above in the dark sky, an occasional bird drops in front of the windshield flapping its wings madly, bouncing up and down flying along with us. A glance to the right reveals an old broken down trailer home with peeling white paint and a crooked antennae on the roof, it’s gone in an instant shrinking out of sight as we make our way further east.We’re on highway 36 now, one lane east one west. Headlights approach and disappear in a misty cloud.

Pouring rain pelts the van. Groves of trees with black trunks and yellow green leaves, the silouhette of branches, jagged and pointy, natures concertina wire. Tractor equipment and yellow signs marking intersecting side roads. The van had some trouble up one hill so we pulled over to give old Betty a rest. Then the hail came and we decided to keep moving. It was pitch dark, huge raindrops soaked the van and we were all a little nervous.

The sky was electric, lightning crackling, thunder rolling, and us sitting on those front ️wheels holding on tight and squinting through a foggy windshield. I said it was probably because we were all breathing so hard from fear. Whoever said driving through the plains is boring never drove through it in the driving rain. My adrenaline is pumping.

We just passed a muddy road to nowhere called Winview. We began to question our decision to take highway 36 when the van started acting like it was running out of gas twenty miles from the nearest service station. I told Maizy that if something breaks it might as well be now while we have the money to fix it. Mound City or bust. We almost ran out of gas on the first tank.

U.S. 36 is empty and desolate through Colorado. We stressed over whether or not we could make it, and the van struggled to get us there. After about twenty miles of sweating it out, barely able to keep moving we hit an old gas station in Alton, CO with old pumps sporting analog read outs. We feel there is a problem with the fuel delivery somehow but we learned as long as we don’t consume more than half a tank everything runs great. We decided at this point to get back to I-70 where the gas stations are plenty.

We passed through a town called Cope which looked abandoned. There was an old red phone booth, abandoned buildings and dead looking farms. There was no gas to be found. We traveled down Highway 59 for 26 miles and got back to the familiar territory of 70 east. We haven’t had any problems since the initial troubles just as long as we fill up about every 70 miles, a problem that we can hopefully fix during our time in Mound City.

The smell of manure hit us hard just past the Kansas Colorado border. There was a giant stockyard with thousands of heads of cattle. The conditions didn’t look good from my vantage point, and had me seriously contemplating becoming a vegan. I’m already lactose intolerant anyway, and after seeing and smelling that cow concentration camp the decision seems like a no-brainer.

The first 300 or so miles have been crazy. Sad goodbyes, stressful moments, ominous skies and the hypnotizing lines of the road pointing us toward our next destination.

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The Family Circle, Travelogue

Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Sleeping in Walmart parking lots gets old pretty quick, so we took off for the weekend to enjoy the Rocky Mountains before we leave them behind. We have been living in our vanagon for almost  a month now. This is Penny, our van called Betty, and her split window VW bus tent at Golden Gate Canyon State Park. A place to escape the city that isn’t too far away from it. It saves us gas, and we get to sleep to the sounds of silence that only a forest could provide. It snowed while the sun was out, and one evening I stood in front of our fire, stoking it for hours just enjoying the heat of the flames and the mountain surroundings. We watched chipmunks and birds plot and scheme as to how to steal ours and other camper’s food. It was a great time. Ten more days of camping in Denver parking lots, and we will finally be leaving it behind. I grew up here, and I love this town, but I can’t wait to leave. We have proven to ourselves that we can do this. Urban camping boot camp is just about over. The road beckons.

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My Nomadic Family

Even though we are stuck in Denver till May 8th, we are transitioning to a nomadic lifestyle. We say goodbye to my hometown, and head to Maizy’s place of childhood, St. Joseph, Missouri. Then we’ll head out into the great wide open in search of everything. My daughter celebrated her fifth birthday today, and this is her the day before helping us pick out school supplies for the road. Let the Road Kindergarten commence.

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The Family Circle, Travelogue, USA, VW

Seven Days

300_miles_38

We have seven days. Seven days left of our run-of-the-mill existence. The first night we sleep in the van will be strange for me. To think of everywhere I have been and all of the places I have slept, a Vanagon isn’t the worst of them, nor is it the best.

I’ve slept on hard racks with thin mattresses, both in jail and in the military. I’ve slept in a-frames in the desert, on the ground, and on cots. I passed out in a bush once. I’ve slept on both of my sister’s couches, crashed in dingy hotels next to drunk strangers, and in the back of an amphibious assault vehicle, in the U.S.A. as well as Africa. On March 31, my family and I will begin our tour of the 48 contiguous states. Alaska and Hawaii will have to wait. We’re going to do it in an ‘82 VW Camper.

If it sounds crazy to you, it feels just as crazy to me. But I like that feeling. Final preperations are in full swing. The van is receiving all of our attention. The apartment is being frequented by Craig’s Listers looking for sweet deals. A guy named Frank gave us ten dollars more than we asked for our bed, just because we didn’t have change. Then a lady named Jen came over and bought our dresser. She talked us down $50. No one felt threatened, although we did have to meet Frank at a nearby Starbucks with the bed on account of all the nervousness surrounding Craig’s List these days. There have been some homicides in the news, it’s understandable.

All of the beds are torn down, we are sleeping on our mattresses pushed together in the back bedroom. And honestly, it isn’t that big of a change, Penny has always slept with us. Pretty much since birth. She won’t miss her bed because she rarely slept in it. She was happy to help us take it apart.

I’m down to my ration of clothes for the trip. The rest of them have been donated to the goodwill. If you wanted to know more about me as a person, you might be able to glean quite a lot from shopping at the Goodwill in Denver on Monaco and Hampden. Most of my old possesions now reside there on the dingy shelves and dusty floors among all the other props from other people’s universes. Bill Cosby books on family values, Tom Clancy novels, and stretched-out sweat-stained golf shirts that are always the brightest, gaudiest color you can think of, bright orange with horizontal stripes, corporate logos on the sleeves. Anything I didn’t sell or give away to people I know went to the Goodwill.  Someone else is actually going to get to walk a mile in my shoes, literally.

We are running out of time, so these final big pieces of furniture need to go. Timing is critical here. I imagine in a couple of days I might be writing from the front seat of the van as the couch and the table and chairs will be gone. We’ve prepared. We have everything we think we need, which is probably too much. But we are starting with the benefit of the knowledge of those that have gone before us. For inspiration we didn’t need to look farther than GoWesty’s list of blogger’s living the van life. I  count ten blogs, each of them documenting the amazing journey’s and lives of people out there doing it right now. The family at Bodeswell has been on the road for more than 5 years in a 1971 bay window bus. Seeing other’s doing it, these enterprising spirits, these people with the courage and the smarts to survive life on the road. It’s empowering. I feel like we can do it because there are others out there proving it’s possible.

Ever since Maizy told me she was pregnant with Penny almost 5 years ago, my life has been nothing but constant change. I refer to March 31 as the “jumping off point” but really I think I jumped off five years ago. That’s when I quit drinking alcohol and stopped smoking cigarettes. I quit my job to raise my daughter. I enrolled in college and fell in love with photography. I got this crazy idea that I wanted to be a journalist, and Maizy supported that. And now Maizy is ready to jump off too, and that’s really what’s happening here.

We are leaving this apartment, Maizy is leaving her job. We are leaving this city behind. We are doing all this to be together. We will tour the U.S. as a family, and search for the place we all agree is home. We don’t know where that is yet. There is more to this trip than I am letting on, but this is the broad view.

For me it’s a search for home as much as it is a search for human connection and a challenge to overcome my social weakness. I hope to beat it out of my system by forcing myself on society. I will step out of my shell and be more present in the real world. Maizy gets to be with Penny every day, and the road is her kindergarten. She’ll be five years old in less than a month, just old enough to go along with this willingly.

It’s a family bond strengthening, self-sufficiency training, photography dream pursuing, road-schooling, rubber-tramping tour of the United States, at a medium pace to cure our wanderlust. We’ll see where it leads.

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