It’s almost 8 pm on a Saturday night. Lying outside nestled next to Colin, the air is warm and the sky is clear. He leans over to whisper in my ear, “Can you hand me the torque wrench?” this is true romance. Underneath the van on a plastic tarp (grease from head to toe) we are trying to replace both rear cv joints and axles. Over the last few days a click from the rear wheels was getting too loud for us to ignore. A call to Lucas confirmed the problem, “Ready for a project?” Colin asks as he hangs up the phone (in a tone that sounds fun) like we are lucky to have this thrilling experience. I know better. Like the time he asked if I wanted to help him renovate the house. Three years later the miracle was we both survived; from each other and living in a construction zone.
A new plan forms. A list of tools to purchase, thank Lucas for sending us new parts, ask Colin’s parents if we can take over their driveway, spend a couple nights and oh by the way, what’s for dinner. Thank goodness for family and friends! Three days later, we hold our breath as the last screw is tightened and a test drive begins. Circling the block, I have my head hanging out of the window like a dog, trying to listen for anything that resembles that ugly clicking sound. But nothing clicks. Around the block again, nothing. Big exhale and we are back on the road!
A few years ago, while trying to get rid of some used Vanagon wheels, Colin met a guy from Pulaski, VA who was interested in picking them up. He pulled up to the house towing three Vanagons loaded on a trailer and now he has Colin’s full attention. His name is Kevin Lindamood, the owner of VuhVanagon, and these are not his only vans – he owns more than 300. Kevin invites us to come out to Pulaski if we are ever in the area or in need of a spare part (he has plenty). Over the past two years the list of spare parts we need for the van has steadily grown, so we decided it’s a good time to call Kevin and ask if his offer still stands. Pulaski sits just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and in the direction of Asheville, which means we can meander along the parkway, jump off to Pulaski and then continue to Asheville. As VuhVanagon comes into view my eyes widen. There are rows and rows of carefully placed vans–hundreds of them in all colors, sizes, models and in various conditions. The collection is as deverse as the places they came from. Kevin explains, “That one a guy brought over from the UK, really sad story. This one I got from a woman in Massachusetts, she didn’t tell me about all the rust.” He goes on, “Every van has a story. I’m not much for details, but I can tell you where I got each van and exactly what I paid for it. Weird gift I guess.” Kevin is not what I expected. I pictured an old man, a hoarder type, collecting more broken and busted vehicles than sense. Kevin is young, smart and speaks with an even tone peppered with sarcasm and I like him instantly. After spending some time in New York (using Vanagons for delivery vehicles) he found his collection beginning to grow and now hopes to convert the Vanagon into an environmentally friendly vehicle. After the full tour and with our pile of spare parts, we thank Kevin and continue onto Asheville. (See resources page for VuhVanagon’s website and news story.)
We need to be back in D.C. by the middle of October, which gives us a few weeks to head west (mid-west) to see my folks in Michigan. Of course we can never take the interstate, no fun in that, so we head out on route 50, which is slow going, however, the leaves are gradually changing to brilliant colors and the pace allows us to notice. After losing count of all the deer that have been hit (and now laying on the side of the road) we decide to call it a night. The final, “let’s get off now,” came just after we passed a car completely totaled, facing the wrong direction, glass shattered and a mangled- lifeless deer just a few feet away. We pull over to make sure there’s no one in the car (thankfully not) and then take the very next exit. We are now in West Virginia and as luck would have it, we stumble upon a state park a few miles from route 50. I’m not exactly sure how we manage to find so many legitimate camp spots when we need them. In approximately 11 weeks of travel, we have camped almost every night. There have been some exceptions; a few nights in hotels while we waited to get the van, spent a couple of nights with family and then there was that one memorable night we stayed in the parking lot of a Flying J. Now that’s really living! A little side story so I can explain: We were in Boulder, Colorado and find out we needed to be back to D.C. in four days (which is about 1,800 miles). It’s late when we get on the road and even later when our camp spot does not pan out. Colin suggest we drive until we can find a Flying J. Flying J’s were created with the truck driver in mind. A gas station with snacks, hot food, showers and an overnight parking lot (which is good when getting in a jam and need to sleep). The first Flying J we stopped in was full of activity. Trucks lined up around back with ladies walking from one to the next, a few rusted out RVs with camp set up as if they were long term visitors, and a rough looking group hanging around making frequent trips inside the store to refill their drinks. Over the loud speaker an attendant calls out, “Number 43 your shower is now ready. Number 43 your shower is now ready.” “This has a nice inviting feel,” I say to Colin who adds, “Maybe we should stick around and see what those girls are selling?” now the sarcasm is thick. He goes on to explain that if we are this desperate than we are driving a few more hours to a “nicer” Flying J. Around 1:30 in the morning, we make it to another Flying J located far away from the big city. We slide into a parking spot along a few semi-trucks and other than the gargle of diesel engines it’s quiet – no rough groups, no girls, no loud speakers and finally sleep.
We reach Michigan mid day and can’t believe the difference in the fall colors. Virginia was just beginning to change while Michigan is at peak. It feels good to be back. A hike up to my parent’s home in Unionville, a small town at the tip of the thumb (Michiganders always hold up their hand to symbolize the shape of Michigan and then point to the location of the city/town they are referring to. Imagine I am pointing toward the tip of my thumb, Unionville. No need for a map!). The next few days are filled with catching up and relaxing. We figure that a different route back makes perfect sense and that sends us through Canada. Growing up in Michigan I have been through Canada a bunch of times. Colin has yet to cross into this border and leans on me for advice, “Don’t worry about a thing,” I tell him with confidence. “We just need to have our story straight before the person at customs asks where we’re headed.” We agree on our story while in line at the border. We are headed toward Niagara Falls and will stay just one night after coming back from a visit with my family. The car ahead of us gets the “green light” and now it’s our turn. Colin offers a polite hello, but the cold stare in return has us a little nervous. Customs guy is wearing sunglasses with a serious tone and begins drilling us with more questions than we were expecting; Where are you going? Why? Where are you traveling from? Why? Any weapons or pepper spray? How long are you staying? Why? Colin doesn’t falter when responding and then Mr. Customs directs his attention toward me, “Ma’am, what do you do for a living?” I looked at him and my mind suddenly loses its ability to think. It was like the time I was in 5th grade and forced into the classroom spelling bee. The first problem is I am a terrible speller. Now mix that with being in front of a class of 5th graders who are hoping for a misspell, so the entire class can point and laugh (as if laughing isn’t humiliating enough, why the need to point?). I don’t remember the word, but I do remember asking for it in a sentence, twice (not like it mattered). The minute my name was called, I couldn’t remember my first name, or how to spell it. And now here I am staring blankly at Mr. Mean customs guy and all I can do is lie. I have nothing to hide but my nervous energy starts sending lies through my mouth. “I’m um..um…a…um in real estate.” “What does that mean you’re in real estate? Are you an agent?” his questions sound demanding, as if I just need to confirm. “Yes,” I mutter. “Could you be a little more specific?” and now he sounds irritated. “I am a…ah…real estate agent,” (good job Carrie, way to be specific). I notice Colin’s expression which says, “What is wrong with you!” so I smile. Now customs guy wants more information, “What kind of real estate?” “Oh, um, residential and commercial,” which is not the case. And for some reason he gives Colin back our passports and waves us on. I have lied to customs for no reason. I don’t currently have a job, haven’t sold real estate for over a year and when I did, it was not commercial. As we turn away from the border Colin looks at me and says, “You really need to work on your story.” Well, if I thought entering Canada would be no problem, I can’t wait to hear what comes out of my mouth in Mexico!