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.

Standard
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.

Standard
Travelogue

Protected: Living Simply, Saving Money

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Standard
The Family Circle, Travelogue

Protected: Thoughts from the Parking Lot

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Standard
The Family Circle, Travelogue

Protected: Making #vanlife a reality

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Standard
Travelogue, USA

Introducing Old Betty and the Travelogue category.

On Old Betty:

Betty is an Ivory Beige VW Vanagon L with a Westfalia camping conversion. She sleeps four comfortably (depending on your definition of comfortable) and provides a refrigerator, sink and stove. She was manufactured in 1982. She’s outfitted with BF Goodrich All-Terrain KO tires on 14″ steel wheels. The 2.0 liter, air-cooled engine gets 70 HP and is mounted in the rear.  The total mileage is unknown.  My guess is north of 200,000 miles are on this body, which is in great shape considering.

The rebuilt engine has about 8,000 miles on it. The canvas is in disrepair and the pop-up top is a little off center so it’s difficult to close. We’ll work on that in Missouri. Besides installing new canvas and adjusting the top, we still have solar power to implement as well as an auxiliary battery.  She’s slow on take-off and struggles to lug her 4,600 lb. frame up the steep grades. We recently had the fuel lines replaced and the fuel tank resealed. We added new brakes as well.

The L in Vanagon L just means our version features cloth upholstery, fancier interior panels (which are pretty much toast now), and a dashboard blower, which we have, but all it really does is blow cold air in my face. The camper conversion features an integrated kitchen that includes a refrigerator that can run on propane or electricity, a stove with two burners and a steel sink connected to an onboard water supply.

The rear bench seat folds into a double bed and the roof pops up to reveal a canvas tent and a second fold out bed. There are cabinets, and closets, and shelves all over the place. We aim to fit what we need in the van without having to put one of those giant boxes on top of the car. We are trying to travel light. In the coming days we will be testing that theory. Can we fit everything we need in the space provided? What will we have to give up to make that happen? I’ll let you know as we pare it all down, but I can tell you it’s quite a bit. I call it the purge.

On a side note: Old Betty attracts a lot of attention. She is conversation starter. The other day in the drive-thru of an Arby’s a man was honking and whistling at me, when I turned around to see what was all the commotion, this guy is hanging out his window smiling and he just says “nice van!” Another time, I was sitting in traffic and the guy in the car next to me leans over an yells out his passenger window, “I love the purr!.”  Those are just the two most recent experiences I can recollect, we’ve only had her six months and I’d estimate I’ve been approached five or six times by people wishing to express their appreciation of the Westy.  One drive-thru girl told us it reminded her of a Scooby-Doo van.  I just smiled and laughed, but on the inside I was struggling to understand the correlation,. everyone knows the Mystery Machine is a Ford or a Dodge, it certainly isn’t a VW of any sort. Maizy tells me the guy at the pharmacy keeps retelling the same story over and over every time she sees him. He’s always reminiscing about his childhood spent in a van just like ours.

On the Travelogue category:

This is the place I will post everything related to our journey, a trek that will take us to each of the 48 contiguous states. We have exactly one month left on our lease. When that expires the grand experiment begins. We’re pulling up the anchor and getting off the couch, we already sold the television and the furniture isn’t far behind. We’ll start our journey on familiar ground. Denver.

We’ll stay in and around Denver for at least three weeks. Our van will be our only shelter, unless we wimp out and get a room every once in a while, I hereby reserve the right to do so, especially if we are at our wits end or Penny is freaking out. This trip will test our endurance, but we aren’t trying to break any world records. We are just a family in search of a home.

We figure it will probably take us two years to go everywhere we want to go, but that can go shorter or longer depending on where we are mentally after we’ve been doing it awhile. I’m looking at the initial stay in Denver as a sort of road trip boot camp, a shock to the system where we quit regular life cold turkey and become people of the road.

Instead of starting a brand new blog with zero followers, I thought I would stick with the crew of followers that have been so generous as to read my posts and look at my images over the last couple of years. It doesn’t make sense to ditch such a cool bunch of people. So instead of starting a new blog, I’m going to follow the advice of an old gunnery sergeant in the Marines once told me. Keep it simple stupid, A.K.A, the K.I.S.S. method. One I’m sure you’ve all heard. If you like travel stories, keep an eye on my posts over the next couple of years. I should be hitting every state at least once. I’m sure the writing will get better as we go along.

Standard
America, Photojournalism, The Family Circle

Turning off the T.V.

What is it like to give up everything for a life on the road? I’m giving up things like cable television, the small apartment we live in, our beds, our desktop computer and high-speed internet. Looking at it, it really isn’t so hard to give all that up. We purposely weened ourselves from creature comforts and are barely holding on to the last ones we have before we leave. We don’t have any delusions of grandeur, we know we are going to run into issues that we haven’t thought of and won’t be prepared for. We know we are giving up life’s little luxuries that we often take for granted. Air conditioning and heat and comfortable mattresses. The things that make us comfortable and lazy.

In seven days, we have to decide whether or not we are leaving this April. A 60-day notice is required to vacate this apartment, and the end of January is our cutoff. We are basically looking at boondocking in the Denver area for several weeks while Maizy finishes her last days at work. If we don’t do it we are stuck here until October.

So what does it feel like? Between nervous and excited, I ‘m somewhere in the middle. It’s a daunting task. We have to maintain our well-being, keep a van running and make sure our daughter is getting a proper kindergarten level road-school education. Penny will be 5 in April. What can we teach her on the road? What lessons can be gleaned from an extended field trip across the USA?

We’ll teach her how to read a map, a real one, just incase Google Maps is unavailable. We’ll talk about geology and how mountains are formed and she’ll see first-hand what we humans are doing to the environment. She’ll see drought-stricken California and flood lands in the south. She’ll see the Pacific and the Atlantic and the great lakes. We’ll show her the redwood forests in the northwest and the Catskill mountains to the east.

We’ll try to see everything we can, and it will take a while because we don’t plan on driving much faster than 65 miles per hour. We’ll take our sweet time traveling the back roads of America. this trip will be a transition into a new chapter for our family. Maizy wants to be a mom to the only child she will ever have. She doesn’t feel like she gets to enjoy motherhood because she is always at work. She feels distant. Penny needs her! I’m a great dad, but Maizy is a force of nature as a person. Smart and kind, determined and persistent. She wants to be more involved in raising her daughter and I want the same. Nothing can replace a mother’s love.

Maizy has a master plan in the form of an excel spreadsheet that covers every angle of this journey and then some. A strict budget, a detailed itinerary, safety precautions, emergency funds, health insurance, home school curriculums, you name it she has planned for it. The only thing left now is to just do it. Get in the van and go. We will work odd jobs and volunteer, we will meet new people and see things we’ve never seen before. In the end we will find our home and settle in for the rest of whatever time we have left. We’ll live life instead of watching other people live life on our screens. We are turning off the television and getting off the couch and going to explore.

Standard
Life, The Family Circle, VW

300 Miles in a Westy with no name

300_miles_31

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.

300_miles_33

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.

300_miles_30

We left Denver at the crack of dawn and headed south.

300_miles_29

300_miles_37

300_miles_28

300_miles_27

300_miles_26

300_,miles_22

300_miles_23

300_miles_17

300_miles_18

We stopped in Pueblo and took a restroom break.

300_miles_21

300_miles_20

300_miles_19

Back on the road.

300_miles_24

300_miles_25

300_miles_36

300_miles_16

When we saw this folk-art bike sign we knew we made it to the right place.

300_miles_34

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.

Standard
Landscape Photography, Photography, The Family Circle, Travelogue, VW

#vanlife

jn_williamsforkreservoir

My old VW bus on the beach at Williams Fork Reservoir in Colorado.

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.

Standard
Life, Uncategorized

If it wasn’t this, it would be something else.

20140315-010812.jpg

20140315-010545.jpg

20140315-010624.jpg

20140315-010655.jpg

20140315-010729.jpg

20140315-010927.jpg

I’m out of town, away from my laptop and photo processing software, so this post is exclusively made up of iphoneography. I’m lying on a hard mattress in a stinky Motel 6 in Sun City, California. The room reeks of stale cigarettes as well as a paltry attempt at covering it up with what I can only guess is Febreeze.

My family and I flew to Palm Springs in order to purchase a 1985 VW Vanagon Westfalia Camper. The vehicle was to be our passport to a traveling lifestyle, one in which we would embark upon in a little over a years time. This was supposed to be the first step.

We really liked this one, it checked all the boxes. It has a straight body, no rust, all of the camping equipment is there. We liked the color and we were told by the owners mechanic that it was a “solid rig.”

The timing was right, the savings were sufficient to make the purchase so we thought we would put our faith in the seemingly trouble free history of the vehicle.

I was skeptical at first because we found it on Craigslist and the guy we bought it from lived in the desert. Part of the deal was that he would need a ride home if we decided to purchase. I was very paranoid at the thought of driving a stranger to a remote desert area after giving him over $8,000 in cash. I even posted a notice to all my Facebook friends advising them of our situation. Just to be safe.

I didn’t want to give him a ride at all. It seemed more than shady to me. My ideal transaction would have taken place in an all neutral location. As it turned out his need for a ride home was our saving grace, because we did purchase the vehicle after a quick verification that everything seemed to be as advertised.

He wrote up a bill of sale and we gave him the cash. The drive to his house was supposed to be the last interaction we would have with him. We were to drive from Palm Springs to Lancaster, CA, about an hours drive.

On the way to his house, the vehicle dumped virtually all of its fuel all over the highway. It happened in the worst possible spot: a sharp curve going up a steep grade. As you can imagine, the previous owner was mortified. What was surprising was his kindness and willingness to help.

The vehicle was already signed over to us, the cash and title were exchanged. He didn’t HAVE to do anything. Instead, he insisted the vehicle be towed to his mechanic who had just recently replaced all the fuel lines less than a month ago. It put a crimp in our plans but we were willing to wait an extra day to see if it was an easy fix.

As it turned out, it was, by 1:30 pm the next day we were at the mechanic picking up our new van, our bellies filled with the free lunch the previous owner bought for us while we waited.

We started it up, drove it about a mild down the road and filled it with gas. We decided we would take the opportunity to bring our daughter to see the Pacific Ocean for her first time.

We drive it back down the hill and just as we are about to leave town the engine just completely overheats. We are talking weird smells, tons of smoke, and bubbling coolant. We didn’t get more than 20 miles away before this happened. So Maizy called the guy and once again he was completely apologetic and offering to help in any way he could.

He called us a tow truck, offered to tear up the bill of sale and gave us our money back. All things that he did not have to do. We are defeated, deflated, exhausted and heart broken but otherwise unscathed.

I feel horrible for the previous owner. We contemplated what we should do for the 2 1/2 hours we were stranded on I-10 mile marker 62. I struggled with the notion that maybe I was somehow responsible for all these issues that came up so suddenly (according to the previous owner the van “ran like a top” for the last three and a half years).

I suppose that’s how these type of problems manifest themselves, in a sudden and violent manner. While this could be seen as a very unlucky trip, I think if it as just the opposite. We were extremely lucky on multiple occasions during this adventure.

We didn’t get killed on the worst part of a highway you could breakdown on, we never drove it enough to be accused of any negligence or wrongdoing on our part, and the owner of the van was a good and decent man.

I’d like to remain friends with him. Like Maizy he is a cancer survivor. He works in the film business as a freelancer, something that I admire about him very much. On the outside he took the whole thing in stride, as did we, but I think on the inside all three of the adults in this situation are pretty depressed about all of it. We had the keys to our dream car, he had $8500 in cash in his pocket, but the van just didn’t cooperate.

My prediction is the head gasket is blown. I only say that after hours of scouring the internet and reading a large number of similar stories of people running into the same issues as we did.

Our part in this story is mostly over. We dodged a bullet, but the other guy ended up with the proverbial nuclear explosion. A vehicle that may be completely dead all of a sudden after three years of loyal service. It is a good possibility he will have to replace the engine.

On the outside looking in, I think it might look like a case of “nice guys finish last,” big I have my fingers crossed for him that the problem isn’t a serious as I fear.

After all we have been through together these last few days, the man deserves a break.

So far our family trip to California to purchase the VW of our dreams has been a whirlwind tour of Palm Springs retro hotels,Best Westerns, Motel 6s, two run ins with the California Highway Patrol (one in which a state trooper pushed our vehicle up a mountain with his own cruiser in order to remove us from harms way) swimming pools and movie stars.

Now if we could just find that Texas tea.

I felt compelled to share this experience for x couple reasons. One is to keep the blog going, I don’t like missing a day. The other is to further illustrate that the capacity for human kindness is just as great as our capacity for evil.

In these days of the psychopathic internet troll becoming prevalent in our society (see any internet articles comment feed) it is refreshing to run into a person that still seems to hold onto the notion of having good morals and doing the right thing.

Standard