- Posted December 29, 2012 by
Syracuse, New York
This iReport is part of an assignment:
VW camper van memories
Volkswagen Van Life.
Many names and descriptions rightfully belong to Volkswagen Camper Vans. Adventurous. Conversation piece. Unpredictable. Jack of all trades. Woefully underpowered. Cement of the bond between people. Close friend. Home. Freedom. I have owned my Vanagon Westfalia for under two years, but have already gathered many more years of memories and stories because of it.
An interesting thing happens when you travel in a VW van. Like a ship, it is a self contained unit, able to serve as living quarters as long as supplies allow. It soon transcends this comparison, and transforms into a close friend that you find yourself coaxing over rough roads, cursing its existence, and congratulating on a job well done. I take more pictures of my van in amazing places than I do of myself, as if to prove that it can survive each hard fought journey. Along the Northern California coast, I met a fellow Bus captain from Quebec. He insisted that I take a photo not of him, but of his van! He wanted to show his friends back home that his plucky yellow Westfalia had touched the west coast.
Every trip in a Volkswagen Camper Van is an adventure, be it a few miles or a few thousand miles away. One aspect of this is a VW Van's occasional penchant for drama and excitement. For me, it was a dead starter in a bad part of Memphis, complete brake fade descending the eastern route out of Yellowstone, and a seemingly failed axle that brought an anticlimatic end to a cross country odyssey. Every climb in elevation is a challenge, foot to the floor, praying for the crest and return to normal speeds. If there is a strong headwind, the van becomes a sail, trying to drag you in reverse.
The other side of a Volkswagen Van's adventurous nature are the many experiences made possible due to its capabilities. I visited the Grand Canyon at sunset after a day's trek across parched desert in 110 degree heat. Somehow, the little fridge was able to keep its contents from spoiling! While following Route 66 through the Mohave Desert, I climbed to the rim of a cinder cone volcano. I stood amongst the great sequoias and redwoods, greatly humbled by their size and age. I rounded a turn and came upon the great blue expanse that is Crater Lake. I learned to properly fuel up before crossing the high desert of central Oregon, and that maps give no indication of just how twisty and remote roads really are. I have camped next to a quiet Adirondack lake, and at truck stops listening to the drone of reefer units on tractor trailers. In the end these vans strip away fears and anxiety, encouraging you to keep exploring beyond what you normally would. Despite their slow pace, it is a pace that feels right even when accustomed to fast roads and fast cars. It no longer is important how quickly a destination is reached, but instead what stories are created along the way. When was the last time a Toyota Camry made you feel like that?
Perhaps the most unexpected experience of owning a VW Van is the comraderie it creates among strangers and owners former and current. A gas station owner in Tennessee noticed my van, and began a conversation that led into trading stories about Civil War battlefields visited, as well as a recommendation for good local barbeque. We met a couple in Crescent City, CA, that asked to see the inside of the Westy because their Subaru was becoming too small for family travel. Frequently, former VW Van owners would stop me to check out my van, and tell of their own travels in their old vans. However, the common bond is drawn tightest among current owners. This is a breed of people unlike any other, a huge extended family, willing and able to do whatever is necessary to support each other. During a service stop in Santa Cruz, California, a fellow owner thought nothing of it to offer us a ride to the beach while giving us a mini tour of his town. The most common questions encountered when meeting new van friends out on the road are: "Where have you been?" and "What have you broken?" Online communities give us the ability to share knowledge, stories, and ideas that help keep our vans going. Locally, the wonderful VW crew I am affiliated with exemplifies this ethos. Everyone is accepted, no matter what their background is. No one goes without, be it parts, assistance with their vans, or even food. The most recent example of this bond came when we lost one of our own much too early. We reassembled his sister's van that he had initially torn apart, and honored him with a campout at his favorite state park. In true VW fashion, his sister's van did not want to fully cooperate, so one of the guys towed it to the campout so that she could celebrate her brother's life doing what he loved.
Volkswagen vans, while not of American origin, have become distinctly American cultural fixtures that have an uncanny ability to bring people together. Personally, I look forward to many more memories forged with my Volkswagen Westfalia camper van.