Author’s note: I am writing this on the fly. These stories have been told and retold over and over again. I have yet to decide which tense to write this in. My apologies if this goes around and around a little too much. Remember, this is a process. You all are a part of this first draft with me. Please act as editors. This is a community (should I say cooperative) effort. Thanks for joining me for the ride! I am excited to see what we can come up with.
Crag the dog, Chug the van and I were on the road. Getting out of Seattle was a little hairy – I was learning to maneuver the machine. I only stalled her a couple of times while adjusting to the specific acceleration to clutch ratio was. Chug was a beast and drove like a boat (smelled like one too). No power steering, no power brakes, no heating or air conditioning. The smell of burning fuel and fans muffled by the sounds of cars whizzing past me. The captain’s chair was comfortable. In late May, the temperature in the Northwest was phenomenal. Little did I know that I would be reconciling my lack of interior temp control for the next year.
Crag was comfortable, he had found his spot in a Rubbermaid bin of my clothes. He was able to curl up in a little puppy ball. He would make this his permanent bed while driving. Everything about this felt right. I knew there was still so much work to do before I was able to leave on my official road trip but it felt like home already. I didn’t have all my supplies or a full set up of equipment; but I certainly was imagining our potential during this christening adventure. As Suess would say, Oh The Places We’ll Go.
There were a few places I knew I had to go. I imagined the beaches, the lakes, the mountains that Chug and I would trek across. One of the strangest [compliments?] I have ever gotten was that I would make a fantastic long-haul trucker. This must have spawned because of my passion for driving. Especially solo driving. I succumb wholly to my vices and I dial in the focus. Put on something good to listen and let my mind wander. My love for the long-haul was a massive inspiration for pursuing #vanlife. And, a lot of driving we would do. Considering how applicably Chug was named.
We learned quickly that with a little momentum, the wind at my back and a straight stretch of downhill – we could go 70mph. Sort of. It was scary and ultimately not worth it. Our average highway speed on drive numero uno was probably between 45-50 mph. We would speed it up to about 60 as time progressed. Especially in the flat lands and plains. But, this initial excursion from Seattle, WA back to Boulder, CO was about learning the capabilities of Grandma Chug. I had nearly 4 days to complete my journey. I needed to know what to expect through my whole experience moving forward. The more control over the surprises I had the better.
I can’t remember what music I put on. Probably something fun and loose because I didn’t know what kind of music she liked yet. That was a neat bonus of my particular van. She was not updated in any other ways but did have a stereo with AUX cord and Bluetooth! No electric locks or windows. But – she could bump some funky jams.
There was a full summer of painting houses and canvassing neighborhoods before I would depart officially. There was loads of dreaming to be done between now and then. The biggest risk, and uncontrolled variable, on the trip was how ‘high-maintenance’ Grandma Chug may be. Crag and I had to send positive energy towards Chug and hope for the best. Take the best care of her we could.
Our distance traveled on that first day, on a physical scale, was shockingly less than my original expectations. Yet, this first day was far from a disappointment because of the vast void my emotional and mental state had jumped since firing her up. It was like a brand-new saga had begun and an immense amount of pressure had been relieved. College degree in my possession and an expiring lease. No ties besides a handful of friends, favorite crags and favorite powder spots.
The trip would be created by me for me. I could live life the way I wanted. Chase the climbing weather and move nomadically. In order to accomplish this task – I would have to penny pinch to the extreme. That’s okay. I’d rather exist simply for longer than live luxuriously and burn the bankroll. People in my life would call me ‘low-maintenance’. The trip would be a testament to that plan. Maintaining strictly to this would demand careful attention and repetition. Buy en mass – be smart.
A day on the highway does crazy things to your eyeballs. Like playing Guitar Hero for too long. I stopped for gas more than I thought possible. Age and bulk considered, Chug’s fifteen miles per gallon on the highway were impressive. What was not amazing, was the fifteen-gallon capacity and the impact terrain and weather had on my mpg. I’d say I could go about 200 miles before a required fill up. I will state now – officially and for the record – that the fuel gauge on sweet, dear Chug was unreliable at best. I committed to a regular refuel routine with no exceptions. Plan ahead and prepare – that’s what Leave No Trace taught me.
That’s three and a half hours of driving at 60. Not terrible, not ideal. Our departure had been an early one. It was time to eat. I probably ate crappy gas station food for lunch. A Snickers and a cigarette. I was ready for real food. Fortunately, I had a kitchen on wheels. In Seattle, I had accumulated some old dishes from my folks. They helped me to collect a small kit to make cooking possible. I started off strong and classic by making peanut butter and jelly’s and got back on the road. All the tools at my disposal – stove, sink, pots, pans. I didn’t even use a plate. 😊 I sat with my van door open in a random rest stop while Crag play and I slapped some sammiches together.
The world was my oyster. I’d eat only PB&J’s if I wanted. This comes scary close to the truth. More on that later. Back on the road again, full and content, I kept my eyes glued to the road while my mind was already three months in the future on my Vanventure. My mind drifted until I noticed a couple of hours had passed.
The sun began to set. My eyes were beginning to droop. While driving had become subconscious in most vehicles – I felt like I was learning a new sport. A whole new set of motions and behaviors were demanded to make Chug go safely and efficiently. It was time to find a place to sleep. Now – there is a whole culture surrounding places it’s okay to park your van to sleep and places it isn’t. It depends on how much risk you are willing to take and how desperate to sleep you are.
I learned so much this first day in the van. But, this was not my first time dirtbagging. No. My first dirtbagging experience happened in a flash back three years earlier in Squamish, British Columbia. Flashbackkkk. Flashbackkkk. Flashbackkkk.
Check out Vanecdotes next week to learn about the trip that initiated me as a dirtbag way north up the Sea to Sky Highway in Canada when I was 19!