Since transitioning to Vanlife we have been incredibly lucky to experience so many peaceful and relaxing moments. But, amongst all the quiet sunsets, there have been some truly challenging times. We learned pretty quickly that the difference between a trip and an adventure is something going “wrong”. Many of our favorite stories stem from something going haywire, our challenge is to stay calm and laugh about it while it’s happening. We thought it would be fun to dedicate a post to all those times (+ there has been plenty these past 10 weeks) that a trip has turned into an adventure. Hope you can find the humor in them like we do!
For starters, we planned on moving into the van and leaving Denver at the end of January. We were fortunate enough to work together, and when our jobs found out about our plans, they asked for us to give them as much notice as possible, so they could hire and train replacements. Without a second thought, we gave 7 weeks notice. 3 weeks later, on our first shift of 2019, they “honored our notice early” and told us that we no longer worked there. A devastating blow for the first 10 minutes, but for some odd reason, we drove Bernie to work that day instead of our normal ride in on our bikes. As soon as I (Ashley) turned the key to the ignition, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” blasted through the speakers, we looked at each other and said “LET’S DO THIS!”, we recognized what the universe was doing and we were ready. When we got home, we remembered the van was actually not even close to being ready. Sean thought it would take a week, I was firm we’d get it all done in 1 day. And that next day, on January 3rd, we got every last thing done. On the 4th, we went to all of our Denver favorites for one last horrah, and then eagerly (+ very nervously) went to sleep on the floor of our empty bedroom with plans to leave at 4AM.
After driving through freezing New Mexico for the first few days, we headed west for a wilderness area in Arizona that we planned on camping for an extended period. It took almost an entire day to get there, we were ansy and excited for our first night sleeping in the van the way we had been picturing it: all alone, in the middle of no where, off some old dirt road. That excitement quickly turned upside down when we were met with quite literally a river flowing across the road. We considered driving the van straight across, but with no one around for miles (probably because the forest was flooded out) we decided to turn around and look for somewhere new. Except there was no where. The closest town at this point, was Douglas, a small border town, hours away. Turns out there is no camping near border towns (imagine that), and no overnight parking (especially cargo vans without windows) at Walmart’s. With no where else to go, we called Walmart and pleaded our case, they agreed to let us stay, but couldn’t promise Border Patrol wouldn’t harass us and make us move during the night. We decided to risk it and stay, and thankfully they never came to hassle us. You could cut the tension with a knife in Douglas, it felt very militarized and VERY scary, even as citizens, we left before sunrise happy to get away from the swarms and angry faces of the border patrol.
We found a beautiful hike we could do through a National Forest, put that into the GPS and headed straight there. As we are driving, we see a sign for a bird mating area, but didn’t think much of it. The sky was still dark as sunrise was looming, and as we were driving, out of no where, a giant ass bird came into view, smashed into the windshield with a loud “CAW” noise that we can still hear, and then just as fast, it was gone. Not even as much of a crack in the windshield, but it certainly got our blood going and scared the crap out of us. Right as the sun was rising, we were getting to the part where the pavement ends and the unmaintained dirt begins when we were met with yet another flooded out road that prevented us from going any further. Once again, we were in the middle of no where, with nothing else around to do. So we got back in the van and headed north. Around 7:30AM we saw a sign: “Border Patrol Checkpoint Ahead” and 30 feet later another that read: “All Cars Must Stop. Roll Down ALL Windows”. Another 20 feet, we see a makeshift checkpoint with heavily armed patrolmen and dogs sniffing every vehicle. Neither of us knew what to expect, but we realized that my (Ashley’s) Medical Marijuana Card and medication, may give us a wee bit of trouble. The dogs flagged our vehicle, they asked if we had any “drugs, hidden people, or weapons” in the van, we tell them the truth: No. He see’s what were doing here, and says “What about medication, do you have any medicine on you?”, I stared kinda blankly at him, and he said “Marijuana. Do you have any marijuana on you?”. We tell them yes, they ask us to pull over for a secondary inspection. They separated us, I had to sit with the van and Sean and Rufio had to wait outside the tent. Trying to avoid them ripping the van apart, I tell them exactly what we have and where it is. They don’t listen. They rip off insulation and wallpaper, and quickly realize that there’s nothing in the ceiling. Eventually, they find some of our medicine, but not everything. Nervous the dogs would come back to see if we were telling the truth, I direct them to where we actually kept it. He informs me “if you didn’t have this card, I’d be calling the townies on you”…great story, we have the card now let us go. They do, but not before telling us “We wish we didn’t have to do this. Go to Tucson to get more medicine.” which is not how it works at all, but felt like they tried to save face at the end when it turned out we were just citizens abiding by ALL state laws who now had their van trashed. Sign of the times, we chalked it up to.
The checkpoint was obviously extremely stressful, so we decided the border patrol were right and we headed to get more medication. Needles, CA seemed to be the closest, and we drove 6 hours straight to get there. On our way out of Needles, I felt a change in a tire, and turned into a gas station, just feet before getting onto the ramp for the highway, Sean probably laughed because I am a freak when it comes to checking the tire pressure, I do it daily! Took one look at the drivers back tire and you could see it loosing pressure, we quickly googled a tire shop, and it prompted us that one was a mile away and was “closing soon!” but we made it in the nick-of-time. The tire was patched and we asked the guy to check our spare, just to be sure. Turns out the spare was dead flat. Couldn’t save us, not even if we were drowning, a good lesson in everything happens for a reason and to always check your spare tire before a trip.
If you thought a flat tire would be the last of our car trouble, you’d be wrong. Haha. After getting a full inspection and oil change in Flagstaff, we headed south to Phoenix. About an hour away, we stopped for gas and when we went to leave, our (brand new) battery was dead. After popping the hood, it looked like corrosion could be the problem, so we went inside and purchased jumper cables (yeah, probably should have had those already) and we waited for someone to come in a truck or bigger that could not only jump us, but also knew how to use them. HAHA. Luckily, a Daisy Mountain Fireman pulled in after about 10 minutes, and even though he was running late, he jumped us, and told us the corrosion caused the cables to loosen and that we should go straight to Pep Boys to have them fix it. Which we did and they had us back on the road by 10AM, even though it was Superbowl Sunday. Luck struck again.
More recently, we were about an hour outside of Flagstaff when we kept getting whiffs on antifreeze before we realized that there was antifreeze leaking through the floor vents in the van. It was a Sunday night, and expected to be ten degrees out, so we got a hotel because we were afraid to sleep in a fully closed van with antifreeze leaking inside. We were hoping we could get Bernie in to Pep Boys first thing in the morning, but with no way to call we just had to hope they had availability. When we dropped Bernie off the next morning, they weren’t very hopeful she’d get done that day or that they even had the parts they would need so we paid for the hotel for another night and hoped for the best. They called at 4:30PM and told us that she was all fixed and that it would only be $650. We learned a long time ago to (pro tip) always ask if they have a coupon we can use because they almost always do. This time was no different, and it brought the total down almost $100, just for asking. Since we already paid for the room, we took advantage of the time by doing laundry, taking long hot showers, and lounging around indoors, we definitely got our moneys worth. It ended up being a really nice 2 days in Flagstaff after all.
Troubles come and troubles go, so don’t think we are sharing these so you’ll feel sorry for us! These are some of our funniest and favorite memories since living on the road. However, despite these tough moments, we wouldn’t change a single thing about this journey so far! Time has taught us (remember, we have had 4 years experience of spending extended time on the road) to try, and wait for it…enjoy the challenging moments. Stress will sour the experience, and we have learned to just laugh in the moment, it’s all a crucial part to the story. “You can laugh or cry”, that’s your choice!
As for us, we’ll take an adventure over a trip any day. Call us crazy.