It’s late July and day 25 on the road without a warm shower. The engine of our 30-year-old van roars as we crest the 10,947 foot summit of Beartooth Pass, a white-knuckle stretch of highway that crosses the Wyoming-Montana state line. Snow swirls all around us.
A month earlier, my husband, Paul, and I had gotten hitched, packed up our tiny apartment, and downsized to La Guaguita, a Volkswagen Westfalia replete with double bed, kitchen, a questionable amount of storage, and a sometimes working engine. We wanted to see the country we had called home for six years but knew precious little about and, inspired by John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley, thought a van our best mode of transportation.
Our route was this: north from New York to the tip of Newfoundland via Maine, across the Midwest then south to New Mexico before turning north through the Rocky Mountains and plains of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and into Canada again. From there we pointed south through the Pacific Northwest (or, the Pacific North Wet, as we came to call it, after four very damp weeks) to finish our journey in California.
A mechanic warned us our van was a money pit and he wasn’t wrong. The breakdowns were frequent and, with the blessing of hindsight, made for excellent stories and experiences. Our personal best was a failed transmission high up in the snow-covered Canadian Rockies that left us stranded for five days, though mercifully within stumbling distance of a four-star lodge with a roaring fire and excellent wine list. I don’t regret a cent we spent on that incredible two-ton piece of metal that became our home, our identity, our only constant.
As the end of our trip grew close, friends asked us what we loved most—favorite place, state, restaurant, coffee shop, that kind of thing. It’s too difficult to choose, but what I do know is that my favorite moments were the quiet ones, parked up in the middle of nowhere, candle flickering, pop-top up. We took a massive leap of faith and became so much richer for it (metaphorically—our bank balances tell a different story). It was a lesson in embracing the art of slow travel, and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.