20 years ago: the epic journey

It was 20 years ago now that I embarked on an epic journey. I flew to Sacramento, California, bought a 30’ish year old VW Westfalia campervan, and drove it Prince Edward Island. With no map, no interstate highway, and no GPS.

The telecom bubble was just starting to crack, it had not yet burst. My company, Pixstream, had just entered into a definitive deal to be acquired by Cisco Systems. I was still in my 20’s. What better adventure than a 1-way plane ticket to the west coast, where I would pick up a community news paper (Sacramento Bee IIRC), peruse the want ads, select a candidate, call the person up, hand them some cash, and drive off.

It takes a bit of trust in your fellow humanity to take older untested technology up over the rocky mountains, and through the deserts of nevada. The gas gauge only worked in the top 1/3 of the tank (the wrong 1/3 to work in). There was no heat. Each night I would drive into wherever seemed appropriate, often a US national park. Most of the trip was deserted. I ran out of gas twice, I had some clutch issues on a cold morning in minesota. I goggled at Wisconsin dells. I took the SS Badger over lake michigan.

It seems like only yesterday, and yet it is 2 decades ago. No digital camera, I had a disposable point and shoot, the small number of photos are as blurry as the memories.

I didn’t track the exact route, its something like shown below, i ended up a bit more north than I had expected. There was no Internet, no way to look things up. Just the always present road signs. “This way to wall drugs”, “the worlds largest X”, etc.

It was a pretty long journey, and the only real sound was the music of the air cooled engine, pushing me along, a few sites, the odd tinkering with whatever had broken. It was my own “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. And i want to do it again. Who’s with me!






5 Responses to “20 years ago: the epic journey”

  1. Sonya Latchman

    I’ll do it! 🙂 If I can bring my cat 🙂

  2. Matt Tooley

    Ahhh.. the joys of owning, driving, and fixing a VW camper van. I had ’71 camper van. I took it lots of places. It made every trip but one without any issues. When we drove with 5 other guys in it to South Padre Island for spring break, the valves closed up on me and messed up the timing. But after resetting the valve gaps, VW owners travel with tools, it all worked fine.

    The ’71 worked better than. the ’80 Westfalia that I later bought. The ’71 had a simple 2 barrel carburetor, while the ’80 and electronic fuel injection. The heat sensor for the FI system was its curse. It would get confused and get the fuel/air mix out of whack and foul the plugs.

    Drove both of them all over the U.S. before there were cell phones and GPS. One planned their course so they were never too far from civilization.

    Traveling in an air-cooled VW with no-tech is the Zen of traveling.

  3. Don, sounds like we had similar y2k experiences… Albiet I clearly had much less cash on hand. ;).

    Twenty years ago my wife and I gave up perfectly stable jobs at the state of washington after 7 wonderful years in Olympia to move back to our home state of Alaska. It was a strange thing to resign my dream job as a cartographer and later a sysadmin with no prospects but the call of the wild was too strong. We’ve landed on our feet before and would do it again.

    Our vehicles were packed. We moved down in only our 1969 vw campmobile (original family owned) but now we were returning with 24′ u-haul and our 1985 turbo diesel jetta. Yeah.. you heard me. TURBO DIESEL.

    This was not my/our first trip on ‘the highway’. I’ve been up and down the alcan at least 14 times by then and across the queens highway to new york in summer and winter.

    This time, unfortunately, I was in a rush and didn’t adjust valves like I normally do every 3k miles (dad said so ;)… And so does john muir. We made it to Toad river (actually about 3 miles prior) when the number three valve stuck and punched a nice hole in the piston. Shit. I had to drive 159 miles back to Ft Nelson (nobody wants to intentionally go there) to rent a double Axel trailer for the bus 150 miles back to the bus, push it onto the trailer (with a huge running start and dumb luck hitting the ramps perfect) and we were back in business. A couple days later we were home again, no job, and down 1 car.

    After a couple weeks enjoying early retirement sipping coffee at Cafe Del Mundo in Anchorage, I got a job at GCI as an independent contractor. Twenty years later, I am still enjoying the work that I do and the close knit group that I work with now as an Enterprise Architect. We’ve come a long way since the early pre-DOCSIS internet offerings now to 1gig wireline and 5G wireless networks.

    It really has been an epic journey. In 2017-2018 After 17 years of being a storage shed, I personally tore down and meticulously rebuilt the stock motor and have been enjoying driving the magic bus again. I even built an electrolysis tank and used science to do all my heavy rust removal while I sipped a cold one.

    I wonder what adventures are ahead.

    I’m in!


    1. db

      my van came w/ a copy of the muir book. and the audio cassette!

  4. Jayme Snyder

    I was very close to buying an international scout when I was in Arizona and driving it back home… my heart said yes but my brain said no!

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