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.
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.
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.
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.
tied down with burdens
the highway leads to freedom
leave the grind behind
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
It is our family’s goal to permanently travel someday. As much for ourselves and the experience of traveling, but also for our daughter and the education that a traveling life can provide. I don’t claim to be an expert on traveling, nor do I have any sound advice to offer for those who share the dream of becoming traveling families. For us, it is a reason to get up in the morning, to study hard, to go to work, to save our money. It is a shared goal that we strive towards together. We have sacrificed a lot. When my flat screen television broke, we did not replace it. When our landlords told us they were selling the beautiful home we rented from them, we moved into a small apartment close to work.
We have cut our monthly expenses in half and are still working on purging our non essential belongings. We estimate we can be on the road within 3 years, with a modest amount of funds saved up to at least survive the first year. We sacrifice modern comforts that we know just get boring after a while anyway. I think my daughter could use a life without a couch and a living room for awhile. A world where the TV is not the center of our attention. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up in the 80’s, I love TV. I just don’t want it to define my daughters or my family’s life.
“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.