July 6, 2011
A One Way Ticket to Reno
“How much would it be to go Newark?” I asked at 3:50am on Friday morning.
“$72,” the driver quickly responded, removing the cell phone from his ear for an instant.
“Forget it. Take me to Penn Station,” I responded, taking off my backpack and setting it against the window. For five minutes I rubbed my eyes and tapped on the screen of my iPhone as the cab bounced down 8th ave.
“OK, how much you pay to Newark?
“I’d pay $45.” I leaned forward towards the sliding door and prepared for some negotiations. Twenty-five minutes later, I handed him $55 and walked into the departures gate at Newark International Airport with my one-way ticket to Reno firmly gripped in my hand.
For months, I had scoured Craigslist and The Samba looking for a VW Syncro Vanagon. This isn’t your grandmother’s VW. Roughly 2,000 were imported to North America from 1985-1992. They were built in the same factory as Unimogs, Steyr-Daimler-Puch a German tank company to be exact, and have since developed a strong cult following. Today, these Syncro’s have mostly collected on the west coast in predominant outdoor cities like San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Boulder. Eventually, I found one that met my criteria and after exchanging a few dozen emails and phone calls with its original owner, I bought a one way ticket to Reno with a return flight out of Portland four days later.
Arriving in Reno at noon, I waited with my two bags for Deon, the Syncro’s owner of 24 years, to pick me up. Before long, I heard the buzz of the Syncro’s Audi 2.0 engine. Love at first sight. After a lengthy test drive and subsequent trip to the Nevada DMV, I headed north on 395 towards central Oregon. I put on The Weight by The Band, rolled down my windows and cruised north.
As the sun started to set, I passed an abandoned road snaking off of CA-139 into the Modoc National Forrest. Pulling a U-y on the empty highway, I headed up the road for twenty minutes, following the single track in first gear up the side of a mountain. Eventually, the road ended at a locked gate and I set up for the night, folding out the bed in the back and snacking on some goods from Whole Foods. I had the valley to myself.
For the next four days, I explored the Northwest, camping in the Syncro by night and traveling and hiking by day.
My trusty GR1 and the front seats of the Syncro.
Northern California, just south of the Oregon border.
My mom near her house in the Columbia River Gorge.
The Syncro set up for the night in National Forest north of the Columbia River Gorge.
Rolling hills in the Modoc National Forest.
My mom’s soon to be finished house just outside the Columbia River Gorge.
My dad and his signature Pendleton shirt in the Silver Star Mountains, just south of Mount St. Helens.
Late Monday evening, I dropped off the Syncro at my dad’s and headed to the airport to catch a redeye back to JFK. I slept the entire way, exhausted from a long weekend of wandering. The Syncro is having some upgrades and repairs done to it (I got reckless off-roading and side swept a stump). I will be back in a month or so to pick it up and continuing traveling.