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Hurry Up and Wait

July 20, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

“Hurry up and wait” has been the motto of our adventure thus far.

We really had to rush to get to the east coast in six days, which was a timeline put upon us by U.S. Customs at the Port of Baltimore. The vehicle needed to be at the port five business days ahead of the ship date of July 8. Because of the Fourth of July holiday and the preceding weekend, that meant June 30. So we rushed those 3000 miles and got the van dropped off, only to have 10 days to hang out on the east coast before our flight to Germany.

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The Port of Baltimore * Packing quickly and choosing the wrong footwear * Greg and Miles in the James River (Richmond, VA) * Miles making sure G doesn’t get lost on a dirt path

After spending the weekend in Baltimore, we were fortunate to spend July 2-6 in Oak Ridge, NC with Greg’s sister’s family. We were also fortunate to be able to borrow a car from them, both of these things saving us several hundred dollars in lodging and car rentals. Thank you, Rhonda and Peter! Greg’s parents drove up from Asheville to visit with us there, saving us several additional hours in driving.

We spent July 7-10 in an AirBnB in Baltimore, buttoning up last minute things and preparing to say farewell to the United States.

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G entertaining his family in NC * Enjoying Dom Perignon in Baltimore * M fussing over Miles at the airport * G’s creative tagging of Miles’ crate

The timeline on the van was originally scheduled as two weeks at sea, arriving in Antwerp on July 22. We figured we would use the 11 days in Europe to acclimate a bit, sort out our visa situation, and catch up on work. We have accomplished two out of the three (the visa situation is still unsorted), but got word from the shipping company that our vessel was pushed back in the arrival order and it won’t come in until July 28. We won’t be able to get it until July 31 at the earliest.

*sigh*

It isn’t that we aren’t enjoying our time exploring new places and having room to spread out in the hotels and AirBnB apartments that we have rented. It’s that we’re paying a significant amount of money for lodging and car rentals while we wait for our self-contained rolling home. And we’re just a little bit bitter about having to rush out of California, only to spend another month waiting…

It’s out of our hands and we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing until our ship comes in. We go to bed when we are tired, we wake up when we’re rested. It’s nice not using alarm clocks! We are mixing it up by eating local fare and cooking at home. Oh, and swimming/biking/running — these are some of the things we do best!

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What’s Our Plan?

July 17, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

Probably the most common question we get is: Do you have a plan once you get over there?

The short answer: No.

In all honesty, the amount of planning and preparing and working and organizing that went in to just leaving California left absolutely no time for anything beyond that. As we left our home and started driving on that Saturday afternoon, we knew we’d stay in Tahoe that night, but that was as far as it went.

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From there, we gauged how far we thought we needed to go to get to the next place in order to make it to Kansas City by Tuesday. Once in KC, we gauged how far we needed to go to get to Baltimore by Friday. Once we got to Baltimore, we had a few days to relax a little bit on the get-farther-faster front, but still had so many hurdles in front of us related to getting Miles’ health certification, finding lodging until our flight departed on July 10, finding lodging for the first couple of nights in Frankfurt, more research on our long-term visas, and about a hundred other miscellaneous items that tend to pop up when you’re out of your comfort zone.

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Now that we’re on this side of the pond, let’s revisit the question: Do we have a plan?

The short answer: No.

We’re still researching a million things a day — where to buy groceries, what restaurant to eat at, where to go next as we make our way to Antwerp, how much is XYZ going to cost, safe cycling/running routes, what kind of tick is this, should we buy local SIM cards, can I have a new debit card sent to me because mine was hacked the day before we left — which is time consuming. We’re also working real/paid jobs, running/riding/swimming with Miles to get some exercise every day, and trying to live like normal people. We don’t know what normal is yet, and we’re trying to figure it out.

We’ve been staying in AirBnB apartments since we got to Germany and have had some really great luck in that regard. We’re dying to get our van off the ship, though we got some bad news that it might be delayed an extra week from what was originally quoted. Booooo. So while this is the new normal, it’s the new normal for now. We’ll have to figure it out again once we get back into the van.

I honestly can’t believe that we have been in Europe for only six days. NOT EVEN A WEEK. In some ways, the days are so long: we don’t speak the language and we don’t know where we’re going. At the same time, I can’t believe how fast the days are going. I look at the things that are left on my list for the day, only to find it’s way past my normal bed time of 10 PM.

Miles is handling the lack of plan remarkably well. As long as we’re all together, he’s fine. We started to get worried about a little bit of separation anxiety, just because there was so much change once we dropped the van off. But he has really adapted well and we’re never gone long enough on an errand or whatever to make him concerned about us not coming back.

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I’m trying to take a page from his book and just figure out the most important things everywhere we go: Feed me! Where’s the bathroom? Let’s play! Let’s sleep!

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I have more stories of our cross-country travels and things we’ve seen along the way. And I promise to provide an update on what our plan is once we get back in the van. This is part of the fun, right? Just taking it as it comes and going with it — as long as there’s booze and snacks!

 

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*Almost* Final Van Pics

July 14, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

The adventure is underway! And unless you follow me on Instagram, you may be thinking that we’ve been living in a half-built van. I assure you that we are not.

These pics were taken in April and so much has been done since then. But alas, here’s what it looked like at ~85% done:

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The back of the van now has a ladder on the left door for access to the roof rack, skylight, and solar panel.

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The garage is built to store two mountain bikes and two road bikes, each in a separate drawer that pulls out for access. On the far right wall is storage for four sets of skis (two downhill skis, two XC skis). There is a cubby beneath the skis for miscellaneous items like ski boots, cycling gear, hoses, etc. To the left of the bikes is where Miles’ crate goes, with an inflatable kayak nestled inside. Other miscellaneous gear gets tucked into the open spaces.

It’s not shown in this picture, but Greg built two storage bins just under the bed platform on the left. These bins hold ski poles, kayak paddles, and ski chairs. He’s done a great job of maximizing the space in the garage, which is complete with overhead lighting.

Also not shown, Greg affixed two rows of those over-the-door shoe pockets on the lower half of both doors. Perfect for small tools, cycling gear, shower supplies, etc. If you zoom in on the right side of the garage, you’ll see a water pump and hose that we use to wash the dog, any messy gear, and will be used for our showers. Yes, it is equipped with hot water. It isn’t there in the above picture, but Greg has since installed a clamp above the window on the right side to give us hands-free showering. There’s a pop-up “cubicle” for privacy (though it’s likely we’ll just shower in our bathing suits).

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This is the view from the sliding side door. The couch wasn’t finished when I took these pictures. Greg bought new leather captain’s chairs and ordered fabric that matches it for the couch. Greg did the carpentry on the couch frame and we had a local upholsterer make the cushions. The seat of the couch opens up for storage.

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We have storage in the space above the window that’s above the couch. This is open storage that we have put small bins in for holding stuff we access most often: dog bags and Chuck-It balls, head lamps, chargers, etc.

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The new leather seats look so much better than these, and they are way more comfortable — except for the head rests. They’re too far back for actually resting your head if you’re driving. Greg also thinks the arm rests are too short, but we usually have a dog there acting as an arm rest anyway. Greg built a platform for Miles that puts him seat-level with us; otherwise, he’d be sitting on my lap the whole time. It’s sweet and I love him, but 80 pounds gets to be too much.

The battery pack and the inverter are underneath the seats. More on this in another post later (probably/hopefully). Greg installed the swivel seat bases, which really does make the “living room” feel spacious. Humor me. I realize that we are living in approximately 50 square feet and “spacious” is a relative term!

We ordered the van with the most basic trim packages, knowing we’d be swapping things out. Greg also took out the factory radio system shown in the above pic and installed a custom touch screen with Bluetooth integration to his phone and navigation programs.

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The kitchen features a two-burner gas stove and small sink, complete with soap dispenser (custom-installed, of course). That glass lid folds down to be flush with the countertop when not in use. Just below the sink/stove, there is a panel of switches with controls for lighting, a USB outlet, and on/off switches for the water pump and refrigerator.

The three drawers hold stuff like kitchen utensils, cookware, and a few tools. The cabinet under the sink has a custom-built garbage+recycling bin, the circuit panel for the switches, the on-demand water heater, and the water pump. Oh, and a fire extinguisher. On the floor behind the large wooden panel is our 40-gallon water tank and propane heater. Above the water tank is deep storage (our pantry), accessed through a trap door in the countertop.

Speaking of the countertop, it’s aluminum. We really wanted stainless steel, but getting it flush-cut to fit exactly proved to be too much work and/or expense, so we went with the next best option. I love how it turned out!

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Across from the sink/stove is an upper storage cupboard (probably for bathroom essentials), the refrigerator, a spice cabinet, and storage for the toilet. The toilet slides out of that little cubby and then slides back in to be out of sight and mind. Not shown, we also have a toaster oven that is bolted on top of the storage cabinet. Don’t worry — Greg took it apart to add fireproof insulation and it’s safe!

The vertical part of aluminum (that acts kind of like a backsplash) is actually the foot of the bed. We bought a queen size foam+latex mattress from IKEA and cut ~14″ off the foot of the bed, then cut that in half width-wise and had an upholsterer cover those two “cushions” with duck cloth. When it’s time for bed, we fold down the backsplash, place the cushions, and pull the bed linens over the cushions. When not in use for sleeping, one cushion is used for Miles’ platform in between us in the cockpit, and the bed turns into a seated lounge area with the other cushion and bed pillows as a back rest. You can see a little bit of how that works in the above picture, but I’ll get better photos when we get the van back.

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Our closets are next to the bed. Greg gets the far left one, I get the middle one, and we share the far right one for hanging clothes. Each cubby is equipped with a light (switch on the far right of the pic). The tambour doors slide up and down and look really sharp when they’re closed.

That’s it! I’ll get updated pictures (and hopefully a video tour) posted when I can. I do plan to post more of the in-progress photos and notes for others who are interested in seeing everything that went into this build-out. I know more people are interested in what we’re doing now as we travel, so it will be a balancing act. If you have any specific questions about what we’ve done, please post a comment and I’ll get back to you.

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This is a picture my mom took as we were getting ready to roll out of Lenox. Don’t look too closely, as both Miles and Greg are blinking. Ha!

While we had done a couple of quick recon missions over to the coast to test out the van, it definitely got the acid test when we headed out on a 3000+ mile adventure across the country. Things were packed in there haphazardly because we knew we’d be taking some stuff with us for the interim time between dropping it off in Baltimore and picking it up in Antwerp. Some things were thrown in there “just in case” and/or because we didn’t know what else to do with them. We packed along a lot of food items that we were either able to get through or give away on our journey.

Regardless of things being disorganized, we were able to avoid eating at restaurants, sleep comfortably for free, and get a feel for how things will be when we’re living vanlife full-time. We’ve been apart from the van for two weeks now and we are really missing it!

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Coast to Coast

We left our home in San Mateo, CA at 4:36 PM on Saturday, June 24. We traveled 3,333 miles across the United States and arrived in Baltimore on Friday, June 30 at 1:50 PM. 

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Day 1: San Mateo, CA > Tahoe City, CA (224 miles)
Day 2: Tahoe City > Stansbury Island on the Great Salt Lake (586 miles)
Day 3: Stansbury Island > Gothenburg, NE (744 miles)
Day 4: Gothenburg, NE > Lenox, IA > Olathe, KS > Kansas City, MO (514 miles)
Day 5: Kansas City, MO > Nashville, TN (568 miles)
Day 6: Nashville, TN > Asheville, NC > Oak Ridge, NC (480 miles)
Day 7: Oak Ridge, NC > Baltimore, MD (217 miles)

We did not take the most direct route, going out of our way several hundred miles to visit friends and family in Iowa, Kansas City, and North Carolina. When you’re going that many miles, a few more miles is no big deal, especially when it means seeing loved ones. There were also several short detours to find a swimming hole or park for us all to get a little exercise.

There were many meaningful goodbyes as we made our way east. It’s exciting knowing so many people are watching what we’re doing, cheering for us, and helping us make this dream happen. It has been a shit-ton of work, a lot of planning, a fair amount of money, and even a little stressful.

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The boys I have taken care of for nearly seven years gave me a four-leaf clover that they found in their backyard and had laminated to be the size of a credit card. It lives in my phone case, and I like to believe it brought good luck as we traveled across the country. Another friend’s boys gave us a compass, with 5-YO Emmett explaining, “It’s so you don’t get lost when you’re in Europe.” (Thatcher was far more interested in inspecting Greg’s carpentry.) We are sure to find our way with these talismans guiding us!

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We were disappointed to have to make the mad dash across the United States. We were working hard to meet a deadline for getting our van on the freighter in Baltimore. U.S. Customs requires that the vehicle be at the port five working days before the ship leaves. This worked MUCH to our disadvantage. The ship date is July 8, but because of the July 4 holiday and the weekend, that meant we had to have it there by 2 PM on Friday June 30. This really put us in a lot of pinches (and now has us in a lot of hurry-up-and-wait).

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Oh Darling, Let’s Be Adventurers!

May 27, 2017 Fear, Freewheeling, Fun 1 Comment

We are nothing if not adventurous, Greg and I. Booze and snacks aside, I’d say that adventure is somewhat of a defining quality in our relationship. From running and kayaking (and faulty spray tans!) on our first date, to SCUBA diving the day before our wedding in Belize, to our triathlon escapades, to pretty much every trip in the van. Who am I kidding? Relaxing in our backyard hot tub turns into an adventure around here.

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10 years of adventure – 2013

It’s something I really like about us. Greg has brought out the adventure in me, and I like myself more because of it. It requires one to have the “I’m up for anything” mentality, which is sometimes hard to come by. Finding happiness in being up for anything requires that you not let yourself attach too much expectation to the outcome. I think that’s where people get hung up.

Remember how fun this was?

Remember how fun this was? Me either.

 

I was feeling stale with things at the end of 2015. Everything seemed to be the same-old without any big prospects on the horizon. Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t looking to sign up for another Ironman or have kids or anything crazy like that. I was considering volunteer opportunities. I was considering learning a foreign language. I was considering looking for a new job.

I mentioned my feelings to Greg and he confessed to feeling the same way. I shared my ideas and he introduced another: taking a year off to travel. I paused and spent about 23 seconds to consider all of the possibilities before yelling, “AREYOUFUCKINGKIDDINGME?!?!? YESSSSSS!”

And then I remembered who I was dealing with. So I reined it in, like, “I mean, that would be fun. If you think so. I’d be game. I don’t know. I mean…”
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His first idea was to buy a boat and sail the Mediterranean, but we quickly abandoned that plan and opted for traveling around Europe in a new, custom-built (by him) campervan. He said it was something he’d been giving some thought to for a while. He was about to celebrate a milestone birthday and it might be a fun way to shake things up.  It would take a lot of work, a lot of planning, but could really be fun. I think I cried happy tears, then I started making lists.

The adventure has begun, as you have seen with the new van being built. We’re also riding the documentation roller coaster with having our birth certificates and marriage license apostilled, trying to finagle a long-term visa without a residence/address, getting all of our adventure gear over there (four bikes, four sets of skis, kayaks, necessary clothing/helmets for these sports, etc.), and making sure Miles has the appropriate authorization. We’ve said from the very beginning: If Miles doesn’t go, we don’t go.

And then there’s the adventure of what to do with the house while we’re gone — to rent or to sell? We’ve decided to rent and are working to find renters within our network (rather than the scary Craigslist universe). Things look promising after calling upon my Facebook network for help.

Everything is falling into place, as it tends to do when you research and plan like crazy. After more than a year of scheming, it feels surreal that it’s actually happening. We bought three one-way tickets to Germany today.

Here we go!
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Van 2.0: Framing – Living Space and Garage

April 12, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

With the basic steps of insulating, paneling, and upholstering the van, Greg got to work framing in the living space and garage. This was a really exciting step because it gave us a true sense of where everything would be and just how much/little room we would have.

Living Space
The design of this van is completely different than our last build-out. In the last van, the bed was bunk-style over the cockpit and the entire back of the van was couch/storage/kitchen. Our bikes and skis were hauled on racks on the back of the van.

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We bought a longer rig this time (23 ft. vs. 18 ft.), so we put the bed in the back. As a reference point, Greg designed the base of the bed frame to be the same height as the countertop, which is waist-height for me (I’m 5’7″).

As Greg was researching other vans and designing the configuration, it became clear to him that the most efficient use of space would be to have the kitchen area directly behind the driver’s seat. When he showed me those plans, I pushed back and asked if he could reconfigure everything so that the couch was facing the sliding door behind the passenger seat. When we swivel the front seats around, that little area becomes something of a “living room” and all of those seats become a great view on the world while sitting in the comfort of the van. He is a very nice (and talented!) person and accommodated me, drawing up entirely new plans.

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In the new configuration, the kitchen is in front of the bed and there’s a small space for a custom-built couch right behind the driver’s seat. With those plans in mind, he went to work buying the aluminum framing and wood (1/2″ pine plywood clad with a layer of birch, Home Depot) and got to work.

When you enter the van from the sliding door behind the passenger seat, there is an L-shaped countertop that runs along that wall and the entire foot of the bed.

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Underneath the cooktop+sink, he has plans to install a small panel for electrical switches, storage drawers, the inner workings of the sink, and space for trash/recycling. Underneath the long countertop will be the 40-gallon water tank (with storage above it), the interior heater (powered by propane, housed under the van), and a fair amount of cabling/venting/wiring.

Next to the bed, on the driver’s side, is a “floating closet.” It is a wall-mounted storage unit that will hold our clothes and such. As I look at this space and I look at the closet space I currently have, I realize just how much work I have to do in deciding which ~20 pieces of clothing (and shoes! and toiletries! and whatnot!) I’m taking on this adventure. *gulp*

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Getting all of this framed in was a really good indicator of how things would come together. Satisfied that it would work, Greg picked up where he had left off on the garage.

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A reasonable amount of preliminary work had been done on the garage and once the living space was framed, Greg went back to work building it out.

From the above picture, you can see that he has glued down an industrial carpet and has the bike drawers installed. We saw this feature with a couple of other build-outs and it’s a great way to get the bikes in/out. In the below picture, you can see the how the road bikes fit (near drawer), as well as the wider drawer built for the mountain bikes behind it.

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In addition, he has the wheel wells framed for additional storage of miscellaneous items (snow chains, tools, etc.). You can also see the ski storage he has built along the passenger wall. He’s really done a great job of maximizing all the space and keeping things tidy.

All that said, here’s how the front of the house looked as of November 28, 2016 (3 months after bringing the empty rig home):

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There has been so much work done since these photos were taken. A lot of small, but important, decisions. A lot of “measure twice, cut once” moments. There have been a few in-van drinks to celebrate the interim triumphs. Or maybe that’s just me drinking in the van, supporting the guy who is working tirelessly at it…

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More updates with the cabinets, the windows, the flooring, the countertops, the electrical… so many things! We’re remarkably close to the first “let’s just take her over to the coast for an overnight test run,” which is exciting!

For more timely updates, feel free to follow me on Instagram.

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Van 2.0: Insulation, Paneling, Upholstery

February 20, 2017 Freewheeling 2 Comments

First things first. When you start with an empty shell, the obvious first step is to insulate and soundproof it. After driving 2000 miles in an empty shell, the importance of this step cannot be understated.

Greg started off by lining all the walls and inner “pockets” with 3M insulation. He left spots for where there would be windows. He’ll fill that insulation around the windows when they go in.

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Greg then measured all of the grooves in the floor and went to work cutting 3/16″ plywood that would be polyurethaned and then glued into the grooves. This process was tedious, to say the least. He’d cut them and I’d go to work putting the polyurethane on while he moved on to other tasks.

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Once the basics were done, he started building panels for the walls and ceiling. Of note, if you’re starting from scratch: when he ordered the van with no windows, he expected it to have walls/paneling. He was unpleasantly surprised to find it as bare bones (down to the metal) as it was.

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This is not an OSHA-approved workspace

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This was also tedious, cutting each panel to size and cutting around all of the little nuances, then putting two coats of polyurethane on each.

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Once it was confirmed the panels were cut appropriately and ready to go, he started upholstering them. For the ceiling, we went with a pewter/gray tweed that is a good match to the upholstery that’s in the cab of the van, and a tonal black/gray tweed for the walls.

Between the two of us, we didn’t get pictures of the actual upholstering process because it’s pretty boring. He cut the fabric, leaving a couple of inches around the outside of the wood panels, then used a 3M spray adhesive to attach it. He folded the ends over and made cuts as necessary to create a finished look. Pretty basic stuff. He used 3/4″ self-drilling screws to attach them to the walls and ceiling (black screws for the walls, silver for the ceiling).

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Beginning with the end in mind — and because it would help while working at night — he also got the ceiling panels wired up with LED lighting.

The last picture shows us getting a bit ahead of the story because it shows the framing of some important components. That’s where we’ll pick up the build-out.

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Road Trip – a final note

February 14, 2017 Favorites No Comments

On the road trip with my dad, I was reminded of a scene from one of my favorite movies, Mask. In this scene, the story’s protagonist, Rocky Dennis, reads his mother a poem he had written:

These things are good:
ice cream and cake,
a ride on a Harley,
seeing monkeys in the trees,
the rain on my tongue,
and the sun shining on my face.

These things are a drag:
dust in my hair,
holes in my shoes,
no money in my pocket,

and the sun shining on my face.

In general, I love having the sun shine on my face. I was reminded of this today. The sun was shining after a week-long hiatus and another week-long rainy spell in the forecast. I could not have been happier! I am in a better mood when the sun shines. I feel depressed on cloudy days. I plan weekend getaways and full vacations based on where it will be sunny and warm. But on that road trip, a cloudy sky was welcome. When the sun was shining, we were too hot. It was very tiring. It was a real drag.

Speaking of Mask and Rocky Dennis, he meets a blind girl in that movie. She had been blind her whole life and had never seen color. There’s a wonderful scene where he teaches her what colors are based on touch.

I recently came across this li.st where a girl who was blind was taught colors by her friends and family. I love this! Not only did it bring back more memories of the movie, the descriptions are great. I have never liked the color yellow before, and this changes everything.

I need to watch Mask again.

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Daily sMiles

February 7, 2017 Fido No Comments

The smiles are definitely not coming from Miles these days. Because I work from home, a friend is having me take care of her puppy during the day, keeping him out of trouble and teaching him how to be a well-behaved dog. For me and Murphy, it has been a lot of fun having Maru around! For Miles, not so much.

Maru is a four-month-old Siberian Husky and he’s full of puppy love. He’s the resident canine among five cats at his house, so he wasn’t really sure how to be a dog. These guys are showing him how it’s done. Murphy is so gentle and patient. Miles is, well… tolerant.

 

Miles is not impressed with these two

Miles did not sign up to be a babysitter

 

Such a handsome puppy

Such a handsome puppy

 

Murphy has done such a good job of teaching Maru how to be a dog

Murphy has done such a good job of teaching Maru how to be a dog

 

Maru follows Murphy everywhere

Maru follows Murphy everywhere

 

The cuteness hurts

The cuteness hurts

 

P.S. I did start an Instagram account for Miles, if you’re so inclined to follow us over there.

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The Best $12 I’ve Ever Spent

January 24, 2017 Family, Fear, Freewheeling No Comments

Dad and I rolled out of Kansas City at 2 PM on Tuesday, September 6. I had mapped out our route, but we had no set plan for the trip. By that, I mean that I didn’t have an idea of how far I wanted to make it on any given day. “As far as possible” is the closest thing I can give you as an answer to that question.

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I needed him to drive the first leg for a couple of reasons:

  1. I was really scared of driving this behemoth.
  2. I needed to go through all my emails with the salesperson at the dealership to figure out how this van could have possibly been ordered without cruise control. In taking possession of the vehicle, the first question I asked when I sat in the driver’s seat was, “Where’s the cruise control?” When I told Greg the bad news, he texted back to say he was “distraught.” Ugh.

Dad drove through the first tank of gas, which was 217 miles. In that amount of time, we realized that it was too noisy to turn on the radio or listen to an audiobook or podcast. It was basically too loud to hold a conversation at all. I was stressed, so was he. Not the super-number-one-good times we had hoped for. On top of all of this, my dad is 72 years old and had a nasty summer cold. Yay.

We stopped at a Casey’s General Store in Kingman, KS to fill the tank and get some much-needed provisions: a styrofoam cooler, ice, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and Budweiser. The outside temperature was over 100*F coming across the west-facing Kansas plains and the wind was blowing like crazy. Keep in mind, we’re in a black metal box with no insulation or soundproofing.

I took over the wheel and got us to Texhoma, another 230 miles, which involved a late night thunderstorm and crazy cross-winds. It was not an easy drive, to say the least. But I am goal-oriented to a fault, and it felt good to check the boxes crossing from Iowa (my parents’ house) to Missouri (dealership) to Kansas (lunch with aunt and uncle) to Oklahoma (60 miles across the panhandle) to the Texas border in one day. We stayed at a very clean and comfortable hotel and got a good night’s rest to continue on our journey.

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We were up early the next morning for more of the same. There was a strong cross-wind, but we got lucky that it was an overcast day. I drove 12+ hours that day — 865 miles without cruise control — taking us from the Texas/Oklahoma border to Boulder City, Nevada.

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We were, of course, on Route 66. We knew we needed gas at some point, and there were hundreds of billboards littering the highway advertising their wares (as well as fuel, though prices were not always given). The highlight of that stretch was pulling into the Flying C Ranch, only to find that the gas was at $0.56/gallon higher than it was elsewhere along the route. Blasphemy! We saw that and I hit the gas on our way out of there, unintentionally spraying other weary travelers with the muddy water from a puddle. I legitimately felt/feel bad, but that gave us a much-needed laugh!

We stopped down the road at Clines Corners (where we probably paid just as much for gas). We also secured some M&Ms and a Mexican blanket that served as a barrier between the cockpit and the black hole that was the rest of the van. It helped the situation so much. We honestly couldn’t believe how much “soundproofing” this very primitive solution provided. That’s the best $12 I’ve ever spent. I’m sad I did not get a picture. We probably looked like fugitives driving down the highway in a windowless van and a Mexican blanket behind the cockpit!

Handy little compartment for my M&Ms.

Handy little compartment for my M&Ms.

Dad splurged for rooms at a historic hotel in downtown Boulder City, Nevada that night. We were hoping to meet up with Greg’s uncle and aunt, but they were otherwise detained. I made some wrong turns on my run the next morning that sent me farther than I wanted to go, and that set us behind on our plans to meet up with Dad’s 92-year-old sister in Las Vegas. Visiting with Maureen and her family was the most important stop on our trip. While we got there late, we had a very nice visit; it will possibly/probably be the last time we see her. What a blessing!

I’m going to add this tidbit here, mostly so that I remember it: We were sitting at an outside cafe in Boulder City, having a nice dinner and enjoying the fresh air. Dad made a point of stopping me in conversation to tell me he was proud of me. That he never once felt scared with me behind the wheel, and that I must have felt scared when he was driving (which was true, making me even more scared to drive). That it’s a tough rig to drive in these conditions and that I was doing a good job. I may be 42 years old, but sincere praise from my dad still goes a long way.

From there, it was more of the same for the next 600 miles. Me driving, Dad looking happily out the window and remarking as he saw fit:

“Why is that fence there?”
“Who put that highway there?”
“Why are there so many trains going this way?”

“That mother fucker doesn’t know what he’s doing. Get around him, and quick.”

So what I’m trying to say is: I own the highway. I am at one with the truckers. But only because of my dad. In all honesty, this was the best thing that could have happened. As not-fun as it was for either of us, I got really comfortable driving a really uncomfortable and out-of-my-comfort-zone vehicle. If Greg had taken possession of the van and driven it home (even if I was with him), I would not have driven it because I would have been too afraid. I needed to do this.

My dad’s words: “I’m never going to drive this vehicle again. You need to learn to do this.” He was right, of course, as dads are. He taught me, and he did it in a way that didn’t make me feel stupid or inferior or that I should somehow know how to do this already, having never done it before. He taught me to use the mirrors for maneuvering on the highway, to park in less-than-ideal situations, to park the rig in my own very tight driveway!

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Vans aplenty!

Greg wasted no time getting to work. Dad and I rolled in on a Thursday evening and Greg got to work the next day. We’ve documented the process, which I’ll share here, of course. This is where the real fun begins!

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