December 12, 2012

A Fellow Van Dweller

The sun sagged in the west as I rounded a bend near Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park. Up ahead, a handful of rented RV’s and cars filled to the brim with backpacks and climbing gear dotted a large parking lot.  At 9,000 feet,  the Syncro’s engine labored at 5,000 RPM’s in second gear.  Fifteen miles of this climb up from the Valley had warmed the oil up.  Shifting into neutral,  I coasted into the lot and pulled into a parking space.   A lone Vanagon with a hand-painted mural stood a few hundred feet away.

Grabbing a down jacket,  I locked up the Syncro and checked out the Vanagon.  It was an early 80’s aircooled hard top that, based on the bike, curtains and artwork, was most likely someone’s home. Scanning the parking lot, I saw no likely candidates.

I turned on some Pink Floyd on my iPhone and shoved it into my breast pocket,  as I often do when alone. Marching to the tunes of Wish You Were Here, I followed the setting sun’s rays up the hill.  Following no defined path,  I saw a group of Teva wearing, DSLR brandishing hikers heading down the hill.

“Certainly not van dwellers…RV’ers for sure..” I mumbled to myself and continued up the hill.  My sea legs, and lungs, were burning by the time I finally made it to the top.  Scanning around the 360 degree view, the last rays of light bounced off the granite.  Picking a ledge, I sat down and turned up the volume on my phone.

The sun lowered over the sheer granite faces.  Zoning out,  the Pink Floyd songs meshed together.  Slowly, I realized that I wasn’t the only one on top of the mountain listening to my playlist.  Sometimes you can sense it.  Turning around, I saw a man in his late forties sitting a hundred feet behind me watching the sunset.  He sat calmly and without  the anxiousness of a most tourists on a weekend trip.  He had been traveling for a while and was very familiar with spending time by himself.   He didn’t fidget or fire away blindly with a digital camera.  Instead, he sat with watching the sunset over Yosemite Valley as if he does this every evening.

“He must be the van dweller…” I thought to myself.

For a moment, I felt like breaching the silence and starting a conversation.  For a song or two, I debated in my head.  A certain type of person is drawn to traveling by themselves and that type of person, although often lonely, values solitude.

I kept to myself.

Back in the parking lot, I fired up the Syncro and blasted on the heat.  The late October evening was chilly, and according to a Park Ranger,  Tioga Pass would soon be closed for the season. Backing out of the space,  I rolled down the parking lot towards the exit.   The lone man from the  hill was just getting back to his yellow Vanagon.  Rolling past, I waved in approval and respect.

He nodded in return with a smile.

Here are some more links,

Vanlife (Tumblr).

July 17, 2012

One Year Anniversary

Just over a year ago,  I flew from New York to Reno and met a new friend.  Waiting in the baggage claim,  I first saw her making loops around the football sized loop.  Her throaty exhaust cut through the top 40 hits and whirring air conditioning.  I have never been so eager for my backpack to come off the conveyor.  Since picking her up that morning in July,  I have slept over 320 nights in her fold-down bed. It’s been the best year of my life. Here are a collection of my favorite shots of her from the last year.

Mojave Desert, CA.  November 2011.

Big Sur, CA.  December 2011

Lost Coast, CA.  September 2011.

Mexican Hat, Utah. April 2012.

Gunnison National Forest, CO.  August 2011.

Crater Lake, OR.  September 2011.

Pescadero, Mexico. February 2012.

White Salmon, WA. August 2011.

Northern Arizona.  May 2012.

Through the breakdowns, hundreds of tanks of gas and 37k miles,  she’s been a great ride and worth every cent I spent on her.  Thanks for supporting me along the way.

Here are some more links,

One Year Anniversary (Facebook),




June 13, 2012

Tepid Coffee in Arcata

“Well,  I’m looking at the schedule right now, and uhh we’re booked pretty solid for the next two weeks.”

“Fuck me…” I cursed under my breath in a momentary bout of frustration that had been building since the syncro first broke down a week and a half earlier.

“What’d you say?”

“Oh nothing,” I paused for a second, before leaping into the explanation of my situation with hopes of dislodging this stonebricker, “I’m stranded here;  I was on my way to Portland and my van broke down on Saturday night.  Is there anyway you guys can check her out if someone cancels or something?  It’s VW Vanagon Syncro,  she’s parked right out front.”

“Ohh thats yours?  We figured she was towed here. I can’t promise anything, but swing by and leave your keys.”

“Thanks man,  I really appreciated it.”

“No problem.  Can’t promise anything though.”

“I totally understand.  I’ll be by this morning.”

Taping the red button on the screen of my iPhone, I leaned back on a old couch and sighed.  Northern California’s May showers dripped down the single pained window of Dan’s apartment.  Staring out the window, my initial frustration subsided as I evaluated my situation.

Taking advantage of the empty apartment, Dan was back in New England for a few months, I spoke out loud to myself. “Hopefully they will get to it in the next few days,  and I will be out of here by the end of the week.  It cant be anything major,  I had the fuel pump replaced in LA.”  Rationalize this out loud put me at ease.  Grabbing the last clean shirt from my backpack, I pulled it on, kicked on my worn out Vans and headed to the door.  Time to kill.

 I quickly fell into a cycle.  Waking early, I would skate (or walk depending on precipitation) to a coffee shop. As I waited for my large black coffee cut with honey to cool down, I people watched.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of the economy in Humboldt county comes from growing pot. Guessing which members of the Arcata community earned their bread from the illicit trade provided constant amusement.  The early 30s guy with dreadlocks down to his ass, a Bob Marley shirt, and a brand new Dodge pick up the size of football field?  Looks like a landscaper to me.  I took another sip of tepid coffee.

After satisfying my appetite for caffeine and observing enough of the flora growing fauna, I’d wonder around the town’s small neighborhoods passing the time until my morning tire kicking session at the Mechanic.   Lunch was simple,  Lengua taco’s from a truck parked in the middle of town followed by a trip to the skatepark.  After taking a few spills and exchanging a few words with the locals at the park, I’d push off in search of an undiscovered street.

Crisscrossing familiar streets fanned the flames of my cabin fever.  10 months of constant movement at the turn of a key made the time spent with no mobility in Arcata drag on.  I felt like a fifteen year old trapped in the dog days of summer with no drivers license or friends to cause trouble with.  Luckily I had nowhere to be.

 I checked my watch, 3:47.  The sun wouldn’t set for another five hours. Time for some more tepid coffee.

Here are some more links,

LA to Arcata (Facebook).

June 7, 2012

Mountain Dews for Breakfast

A  long hauler turned tow truck driver dropped us off in a large dirt parking lot behind a Chevron station some 100 miles west of the lonely stretch of road that we broke down in.  After three hours of sage advice on topics ranging from float shifting techniques to picking up women through Facebook, our tow truck driver shook our hands and headed back towards his “Old Lady” in Bullhead City.  It was 2:30 and  Tim and I quickly folded down the backseat and laid down side by side in the back of the Syncro.  We were unusually quite. Despite having lost its power of movement, the vans familiar smells were comforting, and I was asleep within minutes.

The 18 wheelers rumbled into motion shortly before sunrise and hit I40.  The change of their diesel engines from idle to load baring woke me from a deep slumber.  At 4:45, it was already 75 degrees.  “Fuck, It’s going to be a hot one..” I thought to myself before rolling over to sleep for an hour or two more.  By the time, my thumping bladder finally drove me from my sleeping bag at 6:30 in search of secluded place to pee,  only a few of the last stragglers were left.

Walking back through the empty parking lot towards the van,  a man in faded Levis and cowboy boots stood brandishing a Subway foot long and inspecting my strange vehicle.  He cracked a fresh Mountain Dew and took a long swing.

“You guys broke down?”  A thick southern accident crept past his grey mustache.

“Yup,  we got towed here last night.”

“Whats wrong?”

“Not sure,  but I think its the fuel pump.”  Turning the ignition,  the started cranked in vain.

“Yup, sounds like a fuel pump!” the man laughed in agreement, echoing years of constant smoking.

 Confirming my suspicions, I didn’t tempt fate a second time and left the keys in the ignition.  “We are getting towed to LA.”

“Plenty of places work on VW’s in LA.  You boys should be fine. Back on the road in no time.”

“So I hope.  Where are you headed?”

“Wisconsin.  Was supposed to be there…” He closed one eye and peered up at the sky, “….Five hours ago.”

“No shit?  how long will it take you to get there from here?”

“Well…” he closed the same eye and looked up at the sky, clutching the Mountain Dew in both hands, “…its about eighteen hundred miles, so if I beat feet I could be there in twenty five hours.  Which reminds me,  gotta hit the road.”

“Good luck.”

“You too.”

Here are some more links,

The Road Continues to Take (Faceb00k).