Let’s start with a favorite quote from Travels with Charley. By John Steinbeck, “A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”
These early months together - Crag, Chug and I would be identifying what our personality moving forward would be. We had a summer of work ahead of us defining our relationship. A longstanding question was what Chug’s favorite music was. One of the things that I did know about our van family was that I didn’t want to pull a full McCandless here. I wasn’t ready to just book it into the wilderness without any money or plan. Not a good plan, nor a lot of money - but, at least it was something to start with.
The plan was to work until the end of the summer. Prep all my gear. Sell all my college things that were no longer necessary. I had Chug with me now. It was the high altitude heat of the summer in Colorado as we painted houses. Long, hard hours just trying to save up as much cash as possible.
I knew I could live for less than the price of a daily latte. I knew I could stretch the money a long way. I was willing to cut any corners of ‘luxury’ to live the life of luxury I dreamed of. A life of exploration and chasing good weather. Adventures when I wanted, new friends, new places and all the open roads I could imagine.
Despite the fact that painting had taken over my weekday life - I knew that we needed to do some test runs. Vanvestigate, if you will. I planned a couple weekend getaways. An opportunity to sneak away from all the work. Test what the limits of Chug were. We wanted to know what we were capable of before we had no other options. Test the off road capabilities of my rear wheel drive.
I wanted to be on the road already. My painting gig was sucking my soul. There were major conflicts between my manipulative ‘boss’ and my sense of morality. That experience taught me far more about the code of ethics I was commanded by than the art of house painting. Ultimately, it boiled down to the fact that I cared more about my customers and the quality of my work than I did about making a profit.
I care about almost anything more than driving a big margin. In fact, the van trip was a response to that sentiment. Though it was planned before the painting began - I knew that my desire to be living cheaply, on the open road, going on adventures - was trying to decide how to proceed with my life.
I knew the office was never going to be my cup of tea. I knew I wanted to do so much more than be a seasonal worker or a service employee. I toyed with the idea of teaching but the concept of being shoved into a classroom every day was not appealing. My vanventure was a play to try to understand more about myself and who I wanted to become.
The first meal that I cooked a buddy in the van went exactly how we should have expected. It was classic kraft mac and cheese. This was too early in the van trip for me to know that this was going to be a staple moving forward. We drove up into Boulder Canyon, we were both too busy to go any deeper into the wilderness. We were going to have dinner and hang out. After boiling the macaroni for the appropriate amount of time, I realized I had no strainer. I figured no problem, I’ll use a plate to strain it and then we can feast. Pouring the water out, I obviously lost my grip on the plate - dumping the entire pot of food directly into the dirt.
Thank goodness I was in good company. I stared at the dusty macaroni, face in my palm, as my homie laughed raucously. He couldn’t have been more expectant on understanding. We ate a PB&J and cruised down to the water. Little did I know that this story would be an extremely memorable moment. And, a learning lesson moving forward. Better plan. Better vanlife strategies would come. Futuresight: I didn’t change my strategy. I used a plate or a pot lid for the next two years. I just got better at doing it.
My friends and I loaded up in my new van a handful of times that summer. We spent our first weekend at Vedavoo. One of the first things that we realized - that driving, in the summer, at altitude was not going to be fun or easy. Rolling the windows down helped a little. We began peeling layers immediately. Our usual two hour trip up to the Voo took us three hours. That’s okay though; it gave us plenty of time to continue to play a favorite road trip game. Disney singalong trivia. We had an affinity for grilling each other with obscure Disney songs. Not the obvious choices and the main jams. We’d never provide such an easy one like “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.”
We knew how to entertain ourselves on the road at this point. We had spent all of college going on trips together in my Jeep. It was going to be strange not having my close friends nearby anymore. I would be by myself in who knows where. My intention was to chase the wilderness, make friends and explore. My friends and I always had a proclivity towards adventure climbing. The further from the parking lot the better. The harder the approach the more appealing the line.
When out on my own - I knew that I was trying to find a balance between recklessness and exploration. Fortunately, I had two decades worth of training towards self preservation under my belt. Plus, I had a feeling that Crag’s sense of direction would override my directional ignorance. It’s not that I am bad with directions - my head is just busy. There’s a lot of noise bouncing around in my skull so processing that information gets deprioritized.
The Voo turned into a great trip. It was so much easier than camping had ever been. We had a sink, a stove, a bed. There was room for four, we cuddled. It was like being in a full-sized bunk bed with my campmates. We feasted and climbed. Kicked it by the fire. We truly embraced the van lifestyle that weekend. It was a great predictor for things to come. Sort of a last hurrah before taking off on my own.
The component of my upcoming trip that I was most concerned with was the reliability of Chug. I disliked questioning her trustworthiness - yet, the isolation, lack of cell service and long drives made me nervous. The last thing I wanted was to be stranded in Nowhere, Oklahoma, or Booger Hole, West Virginia. Who knew what the consequences of that would be. Anything that has risk makes it a fun adventure.