Click on #Vanlife and a beautiful nomadic scrapbook unfurls in front of you. Couples bathed in early morning sunlight, curled in the cosy bed in the back, perfect open roads, magically behaved rescue dogs sitting shot-gun.
Sadly I am the kind of person who gets car sick, needs to pee all the time in exceptionally clean bathrooms, and is very attached to personal space. So as much as I wish I could just hit the road on a rusting set of wheels listening to the radio for miles with my love, my sanity and for that of others, I just can't.
However if there is one person who might just have enough chill to actually enjoy it. I mean enjoy it, in reality, not just through 5 layers of insta filters.... Alicia is it. She is a woman who genuinely prefers an aged Lapsang Souchong and guided meditation to a glass of rose and Netflix. I am the woman who brought Laduree macaroon's to her tea ceremony, she is our friend Alicia Henry, owner of the tea company, Naked Sage.
So, thank you Alicia for sharing your road test of the #vanlife lifestyle, in the name of social science, or something.
Have you ever arrived to a moment, realizing you’re living in a dream that you consciously created, and pause to reflect on the awesomeness of it all? My boyfriend and I talked about what it’d be like to get a Westfalia Vanagon and cruise the open road together while working remotely. We recently relocated to Portland by way of Venice Beach and find ourselves taking weekend trips in our 1987 Vanagon named "Rosie Van Pepper". It’s dreamy...it’s also very real.
We found Rosie on Ebay and the listing boasted that she was “READY TO CAMP!” and in just moments, the bid was ours...and so was a shiny (and moderately rusty) home on wheels. We’d heard that Vanagons were a bit of a money pit, but that it’d be worth it no matter what ended up happening. We were willing to take the investment risk if it meant more road-trip adventure in our lives. Our maiden voyage was van’ing ourselves up to Portland from Los Angeles. Getting the van was dream idea number one, dream idea number two was to move to Portland. We were pretty much (and still are) in a phase of making our dreams come true...and exponentially fast!
“REEEP RRREEEEP REEEEEP!!!”
That would be the ear-bleeding sound of Rosie’s oil pressure alarm. Which we had the unfortunate opportunity to hear before even making it past the Los Angeles County line. We immediately pulled over on the side of the LA traffic-laden highway and let her cool down. But seriously, we had no idea what the heck that alarm meant. The alarm came on intermittently as we took it real slow heading North. We both scanned our phones for clues. Google let us know that this van behavior was relatively “normal” when going up hills or getting off of highway exits. When nightfall approached, we decided to pop her top and spend our first night on the side of the road. All things considered, it went well. We slept on the top nook, froze a wee bit in the late hours, and woke up realizing that we were likely on private property. Brendan cooked us oatmeal on the gas stove while I rolled out my yoga mat underneath of a willow tree to get my flow on. Van life was feeling pretty swell!
We cruised onward after morning kisses and oatmeal, though we didn’t get very far. A new screeching noise came from the engine. The engine stopped working. Rosie decided to not drive anymore. It was scary. It was stressful. We were stranded. I took a photo of a white horse in a field on a disposable camera and then the next thing we knew, Rosie was hitched to the back of a tow-truck. It was reaching 100 degrees outside and our tow-truck driver was cooling off with a Mountain Dew. Brendan and I were sweaty and speechless.
It was supposed to take us 1.5 days to get from Los Angeles to Portland in a Vanagon that was “READY TO CAMP!”. It ended up taking nine days, nearly $4k in repairs (since Rosie was eating away at her transmission parts - yum!), and priceless life lessons. I’d like to share a couple of those lessons with you…
1/ YOU ARE EXACTLY WHERE YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE
Brendan and I thought we were supposed to be in Portland on a Wednesday after less than two days in our van. However, we were actually supposed to be holed up in the Thunderbird Lodge of Redding, California for seven days. During that time, we worked (remotely), we argued, we cried, we made up, we learned that it’s okay to ask for help and allow strangers to offer a hand, we had breakthroughs in life and love, and we discovered that there is a serious problem with the over usage of styrofoam and plastic when ordering-in.
2/ THE UNIVERSE GIVES YOU WHAT YOU NEED, NOT WHAT YOU THINK YOU NEED
My little brother passed away at the start of this year. It was unexpected and the toll it took on my family is unfathomable. During the time of our roadtrip, I tried to distract myself anytime that I thought of Ryan or scrolled over a photo of him in my phone. I just couldn’t face it or I knew I’d completely breakdown. After all, Rosie was broken down, and both Brendan and I were feeling quite defeated in general so I didn’t feel that I had the capacity to experience any further breaking of things. After days of experiencing the exotic (not at all) town of Redding we decided to rent a car for a weekend and drive up to Mount Shasta for some healing vibes. Mount Shasta was absolutely amazing. It was all that we’d imagined plus so much more. In order to further our healing weekend, we went to Stewart Mineral Springs. We followed the 40 minute bath house rotation of mineral tub soaking, purifying in the wood-burning sauna, and being reborn from the cold-plunges into the flowing river. Bingo! We were healed.
As we drove out of the parking lot of Stewart Mineral Springs, I began brushing my wet hair, oh so blissfully. Until, that is, I noticed that my hair was falling out in chunks. My blonde hair had turned into melting blonde noodles and I felt like I was transported into my worst nightmare. Simultaneously, I broke out in a fancy red rash all over the back of my body. Brendan was fine.
I freaked out, naturally. We dosed my hair in Mount Shasta blessed water on the side of the road, soaked it in shea butter, and wrapped it up in a turban. I didn’t want to face the damage of my long locks. Just like I didn’t want to face the pain of grieving the loss of my little brother. I wasn’t ready to heal. Clearly, the wise mineral springs were not having any of that. It forced the purge that I needed.
I left my hair in that turban for about 24 hours until facing the hair loss. I stood, vulnerable and teary-eyed, in front of the bathroom mirror of the Thunderbird Lodge as I took a pair of CVS hair scissors to the damaged bits. My brother was known for his crazy hair. With each noodle chunk that I chopped off…”this is for you, Ryan.”
3/ OLD CARS ARE NOT LIKE NEW CARS
Old cars are like people. They have personalities, quirks, and need constant maintenance.
Rosie wasn’t totally “READY -TO- CAMP!” but she was definitely ready to join our family. We needed her, her and her transmission issues. It was Rosie’s issues that allowed us to face our own.
The moment that her transmission was fixed, so were we. We had a smooth cruise the rest of the way to Portland. When we arrived, we were actually ready to be there and begin a new chapter together. The new chapter includes frequent weekend trips in Rosie all around the stunning Pacific Northwest. Westfalia #vanlife is worth the unexpected hiccups. (I also really like my new short hairdo-I would have never gotten it cut otherwise.)
Next up for Rosie, a paint job! Because just like us, we’re always needing tweaks here and there. It takes constant maintenance to continue making your dreams come true.