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.

 

Here are some more links,
Hit the Road (Picasa),
A Restless Transplant (Facebook),
Foster Huntington (Twitter).

22 Comments



  • stephanie
    July 6 , 2011

    You can outwheel me.


  • July 6 , 2011

    Foster, congratulations with your new friend on the road, I have always wanted a syncro but as you can’t use them what they’re made for here in Belgium I went for a normal Vanagon with a slow but reliable-as-hell 1.7l diesel. Big steering wheel, no radio, a lot of riding sounds but I love it, it evokes a travel-feeling, even if you’re driving to the local shop. Drove it once through the Alps to Italy on a camping trip, I will never forget it. Just one word : Enjoy !!

    Gert


  • foster
    July 6 , 2011

    Gert,
    thats what mine is like. manual windows, manual locks. no ac. I had a sound system and alarm installed though. Everything you need nothing you dont,
    foster


  • July 6 , 2011

    Great looking VW. I’m sure you’ll share many adventures.


  • July 6 , 2011

    I have long said that sleeping in a van down by the river gorge has gotten an unfair bad-rap. Thanks Chris Farley


  • July 6 , 2011

    Would love to journey like this soon…


  • July 6 , 2011

    No a/c? You outta your mind?

    Know a guy that was in Delta. He said they used Czech Unimogs cause they were impossible to break. It’s beautiful. But, no a/c?


  • July 6 , 2011

    A/C you won’t need, just open the windows as people did 10 years ago :) I drove in my old ’93 Passat wagon and my ’87 Vanagon,both without A/C, through Spain, Italy, Portugal, France, … I’m still alive. It’s a lot less hazzle when servicing the thing. The Vanagon has a few quirks that come with the rear-engined – front-cooled lay-out and I often used words for it that in the US, I’m sure would be censored. But I still love it and it only let me down once in the last 5 years.

    Yours looks well isolated enough for a sound system, mine is just a basic, bare metal and all … I won’t hear the radio I’m afraid but that’s why portable musicplayers exist, or funny friends that can drum solo’s on the bare roof … Believe me, you’re gonna gather a lot of fond memories, even of the things that went wrong (like your off-road mishap). I’m looking forward to more posts of your roadtrips.

    Gert


  • July 6 , 2011

    Great post Foster. Really enjoyed the pictures and your new ride. Here’s to the summer and all of its adventures.


  • foster
    July 6 , 2011

    No AC john. Like Gert said, I cruised with the windows down. Umimogs and syncros are, in my opinion, works of art.

    thanks for the kind words,
    foster


  • foster
    July 6 , 2011

    gert,
    my vanagon has insulation and a recently installed sound system. for 24 years it was sound systemless. cant wait for some great experiences and memories in it.

    foster


  • Eli
    July 7 , 2011

    May I ask how much? Sweet ride!


  • July 7 , 2011

    Foster, It’s so pleasing to read about your long weekend on the road. Traveling in the van is great, and although I miss our 79 VW kombi I still get a kick out of leaving everything behind and just driving now I just do it in an old Jeep. I love to drive down tracks and forest roads I’ve never been down before. I’m motivated by the chance of finding that beautiful secluded spot by a quiet river stocked with hungry trout.

    Your photos are more captivating than ever. Especially when I’m locked at my desk, and anything visual that reminds me of what I should be doing in life instead of what is expected of me…..well those images totally have me captive and let my mind to wonder.


  • foster
    July 7 , 2011

    Eli,
    when the syncro is done being modified i will do a more in-depth post about it haha. as for cost, it was more than you would think for a vw thats one year older than i am…
    foster


  • foster
    July 7 , 2011

    rohan,
    flattered by your wards. im motived by a similar urge. who knows if we will ever find that stream, but its worth looking for. your photos do the same for me.
    foster


  • July 7 , 2011

    I guess as long as traffic is moving you’re cool. A traffic jam in August in Jacksonville, FL might be another story. But then I suspect you’ll be avoiding metro areas. Although I’ve seen my share of traffic jams in national parks.


  • Eli
    July 8 , 2011

    I’ve seen them online for 25K +, so I would not be surprised if you paid a bunch of fun tickets…esp the clean camper/kitchen versions. I am on the hunt for a Defender 90, I missed a 1995 that was already converted to a 3L diesel on ebay awhile back. Now I know why they say “Bid of forever hold your peace”…


  • July 9 , 2011

    So at the end of the day, do you just start looking for a random spot to pull over and set up shop? Or did you already have certain places in mind? I’m tempted to do this sometime this summmer.

    Nice GR1! I was debating between that and a TAD Litespeed. I ultimately ended up with the Litespeed for their transporter tail.


  • Lisa
    July 10 , 2011

    You’re a very luck man! Wish I had the VW. Wish I had the time too. Maybe someday. Your photography is moving.
    Nice to visit with you.
    Lisa


  • foster
    July 10 , 2011

    Eli,
    ebay is tough. there arent a lot of syncros on there. I would look for a defender on a dedicated classified site. you could always try craigslist in areas where are a lot of them.

    Ron,
    I knew a 50 mile stretch where there was forestes where it would be good to camp. i bring my gr1 everywhere.

    Lisa,
    thanks for the kind words. Make time, you wont regret it.

    foster


  • ricky snakedust
    July 20 , 2011

    Foster, that car looks so dang radical!


  • July 20 , 2011

    Ian,
    you know its rad. cant cruise with you
    foster