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Traveling America in a VW Van – pt 1

Traveling America in a VW Van – pt 1

Recently, my boyfriend, Conrad, and I decided to spend all of our money on a huge trip across the country. He drives a 1976 Volkswagen Westfalia camper van, which serves as a vehicle and a home. We have taken short trips in the past to the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina and local wonders in Florida, but this was our first big adventure away from home and the comforts of the beach. We had a dream to drive through the country to our other coastline in California, stopping at National Parks along the way. It was a big dream, and we were able to make most of it happen. Countless hours were spent mapping out the route we would take and agreeing on the destinations we would stop at along the way.

“Should we stop at Mammoth Caves, or take I-10 across?”

“Do you think the bus is actually going to make it all the way out there?”

June 22 was the day we finally hit the open road. I couldn’t have foreseen all the adventures we would have and the nice people we would meet along the way. Six weeks later, we rolled back into the same driveway. Here will be an overview of how we managed to live in a tiny space, handled breaking down on the side of the road, found gas stations with no cell signal, and still had the trip of a lifetime.

Leaving our home in South Florida

The Beginning of a Journey:

Packing up the van with sunscreen, hiking poles, and lots of pasta made me finally realize that I was about to drive across the country, away from all family and friends, to experience what I have been dreaming of for years: life on the open road (if only for a few weeks). Our parents hugged us goodbye and made us promise to text/call 239 times per day. Excitement and giggles flooded the car as we pulled out of the driveway to start a journey towards the American West. 12 hours of driving later, we landed at my cousin’s home in Atlanta, GA. It took us so long because the bus has a top speed of roughly 65 mph, which is typically fine for highways, unless you hate getting passed by semi trucks. So we snuggled into a real bed for what we thought would be the last time in a few weeks.

Day 2 is really where the adventure started. We cruised through Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. We had just gotten to elevation that was higher than sea level in the mountains of western Tennessee, when the gas pedal stopped working in the middle of the highway. We darted for the shoulder and pulled over (I know it’s not safe, skip this part Mom). Conrad wiggled out of the passenger door and grabbed the toolbox from the back. Smoke billowed out of the engine compartment because we let her work too hard up unfamiliar inclines. After a few minutes of digging around, we found the problem: a broken hex bar (I’ll pretend I knew what that meant). There was nothing we could do except fashion this piece of metal with electrical tape and pray that it stays attached to the engine. It was a nervous ride the rest of the day through the mountains, and we ended up on the side of the road another 4 times.

“Finally, we made it!”, I screamed as we pulled off the exit for Mammoth Cave National Park.

“Wait, we have to get gas first.”

Little did I know that we would be stuck at the gas station for another three hours. At first, we figured she was just hot, but then we noticed that she had burned up a lot of oil along the way. So Conrad threw some in there and we tried to head out to our campsite. Well, we made it about 4 feet across the street before she stalled and stuttered to a halt with no hopes of starting back up. Over the course of an hour or two, at least twenty people came by to see if we needed any help and comment on our sweet ride. I was shocked that so many people went out of their way to offer help (this never happens in Florida). A few guys even helped me push the van to try to kick start her, but sadly, it failed. There was no shortage on Southern hospitality here in Park City, KY.

The light was leaving us, and we had no way to get to our campsite. We were also really hungry, which never helps anything. Just as I was giving up hope and trying to convince Conrad to just stay the night here, another local couple stopped by to offer us help. I think our luck finally turned here, because Tim was a mechanic and owned his own VW bus, so he knew how to help us out. After talking for a few minutes while he had his head in the engine compartment, the bus roared to a start. We thanked our saviors, raced to the bus, and headed up the road to follow the signs toward Mammoth Cave National Park. Driving through the bright green forest, we got to see baby turkeys and deer as the park animals ventured out into the cool evening. Thankfully, we pulled into a campsite just before the sky opened up and started to pour.

“Hey look we can take showers now!”

We popped the top, unloaded the stove and all of our food to start dinner. I can still recall that we made lentils and veggies for dinner because it may be the most appreciated meal I have ever eaten. We took turns cooking and showering outside in the rain before finally heading to sleep. We were happy to finally lay our heads down and rest after the long few days we had at the start of the trip. So far, we traveled almost 1,000 miles in two days.

“Do you know how we’re going to start the car in the morning?”

“Nope, no idea.”

And then we slept.