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.
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.
My family and I are preparing to embark on an open-ended road-trip, final destination unknown. We purchased a 1982 Volkswagen Vanagon with a Westfalia camper conversion, also known as a “Westy.” Unfortunately for us we ran into a snag. Maizy drove it into a parking garage with a low clearance and severely damaged the front portion of the roof. We found out the hard way that the van is slightly taller than 6’5″. We did some research and were referred to a gentleman who owns a junkyard filled with Volkswagens in Gardner, Colorado. We took it as an opportunity to put the engine through its paces and replace our roof at the same time. This would be our first extended trip in the van and it proved to be up to the task. This is a photo story of how we spent a Saturday in our future home on the road. 300 miles round-trip to the high desert of Colorado and back to the Mile High City.
Penny has been traveling in VW buses since she was an infant, so this is nothing new to her. She lives for this. We look at our upcoming adventure as an educational experience. We plan to “road-school” her along the way.
We left Denver at the crack of dawn and headed south.
We stopped in Pueblo and took a restroom break.
Back on the road.
When we saw this folk-art bike sign we knew we made it to the right place.
We were greeted by a junk-yard dog who accompanied us the whole time we were there. Penny and the dog were fast friends, and she didn’t want to leave him when it was time to go. So that is how we spent our Saturday. Getting a little taste of what’s to come and reusing parts off an old donor van to complete our own. Maizy and I removed the old top ourselves and secured it to the van with no name. It felt good using our hands and accomplishing our task. We sweared at it a few times, busted a few knuckles and our hands still sting from those tiny shards of fiberglass embedded in them, but all in all we got through it mostly unscathed.
We are a family of future rubber-tramps just counting the hours until we can live the city behind for new adventures.
This is not a van. This is a bus. A Volkswagen bus with a Westfalia camper conversion. “The Pig” was there when Penny was born. Maizy and I took her camping in it when she was 2 months old. From that point on we toured as much of the Rocky Mountains as we could before the engine finally blew up. We beat up this already beaten bus. We rode it hard and conquered some of the highest mountain passes in the United States. I took her to 14,000 feet at Mt. Evans and got some epic pictures for my refrigerator in the process. This bus even made a Go Westy calendar a few years ago. I never did get a copy of that calendar.
We loved this bus. When the engine blew and we made the decision to give it up a little piece of me died with it. It was an impulse decision and a bad purchase all the way around. I paid too much. It was too rusty. It had very little in the way of heat. I once drove it in a blizzard with bald tires. We passed several cars and trucks that were overturned or stuck in ditches along I-70, barely able to see, hands freezing, inching forward ever so slowly. I think our top speed was 14 miles per hour on that stretch.
There was just something about this bus. We have a “new” 1982 Vanagon Westfalia now. Everything that was wrong with the pig is what is right with the new van. We plan to travel the country as slowly as possible in it. It has a stove and a sink, it has two beds, it will have a good heating system. We just have to keep it running which may or may not be a challenge. It’s all a part of the adventure now.
The laptop is in the shop and the iMac has a full hard drive. So I had to dig into the archives until I get my ThinkPad back. I took this photo about 3 years ago with an old Nikon DSLR that I borrowed from my oldest son. It was the first DSLR I ever used.
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
This is an image of my old VW bus. We called it “The Pig” My family and I have ridden the pig over just about every mountain pass in Colorado. When the engine blew up on us, just over a year ago, we were heartbroken. In our family we live our lives in the pursuit of one goal, to live a life on the road. The plans are in full swing and we are closer to our dream than we ever have been before. We are going to travel until we get sick of it or we just physically cannot do it anymore.