The REAL Reason That I Drive One

In 1986 I was 30 years old and my husband about four years older. Our daughter was little. Our businesses were growing and everyone was working diligently. The expansion was great, but as time passed, we were spending less and less time together as a family. We just didn't make time for much that was fun, justifying it by telling ourselves that we were working hard so that at some point we could just stop working and play . . . before we were too old to enjoy it.

The first ten years of our marriage we had only taken cheap vacations. Every extra dollar that we had went back into business. No trips to Europe, no cruises, no time in the Islands, mon. When we took time off, we camped.

We had all of the equipment. He's an equipment freak (and I'm no slouch myself), so we had everything that we needed. We had a zillion dollars invested in camping equipment. (And by the way, I do mean invested. We still have the same North Face down bags that we bought back then, and I have a 25 year old pair of Vasque boots.) It was great. Since we were self-employed, we could load the canoe and the gear and take off anytime that we wanted to.

But that kind of camping takes time and intention, and real life crept in in the form of responsibilites and time constraints. Maybe we're both just inherently lazy, but one day I realized that we hadn't been camping in a really long time and I missed it. Life had gotten fast and way too crazy.

One day I saw a Westy for sale in a Toyota lot and bought it. I was clueless, had never paid a bit of attention to all of the old campers on the road. I didn't even really know what all was in it until I got it home, I just thought that it'd be big enough to pack our stuff in and carry the canoe and us and the dog in relative comfort.

I took it home and checked it out. I discovered all of the little storage nooks and crannies. I played with the stove and popped the top about a hundred times so that I could climb up and lay in the bunk and look out the windows (at the garage). I was enamoured. I gathered all of our camping gear and carefully packed it in the van. I loaded it up with goodies and toys and clothes and books, and when Garth came home one Friday, I told him that we were taking off for the weekend, that we were going to find a beautiful private spot somewhere to relax and play and read and eat. He could fish, we'd take the canoe ...

He refused to go.

He told me that he was too tired. That he had too much to do. That it was just too much of a hassle to get stuff together. Okay. No problem, but I needed to get out in the woods. By that point I was aching to get out in the woods. I could smell the woods.

I loaded the kid and the dog and we took off. And we had a great time. I was enchanted by the Westy's accomodations. I loved being back out in the (relative) wilds and sleeping in a bed. I loved not having to mess with a cooler. I loved being able to lock the doors at night and sleep and not get scared.

And it played out just like that for the next couple of weekends. Fridays, when Garth got home, I'd have the Vanagon waiting, all ready to go. And he was always too busy to go with us.

Well, at some point about the fourth week, I caught him going through the van and looking at all of the stuff. I think he may have popped the top and turned on the stove. I'm sure he checked to see what goodies I had in there for him. And the next Friday, when I asked him if he wanted to go camping with us, he said yes.

And so began our love affair with the Westy.

From then on, whenever the schedule allowed, we took off for the weekend. Sometimes we took along a friend for our daughter, but many times it was just the three of us and the dog. We were all talking again. We were laughing again. Everyone was happier. We were more effective during the week because we were decompressing each weekend.

And we had so much fun that suddenly we found time to vacation in the summer, too. Garth is not a great road warrior, which we confirmed after a few rather stressful trips out west, so we came up with an alternative plan. I love to drive, so I'd load the kids and the gear and get everything out to wherever we were going, and then he would fly in. It worked out perfectly. We had a special spot in the Bridger-Tetons in Wyoming that we loved, and the Jackson Hole airport was only about an hour and a half away.

And while I've been typing this, a series of vignettes has been flashing in my head.

I can see Jordan and her friend Amy, when they were about 11, canoe racing a bunch of boyscouts on a mountain lake in Wyoming and beating them.

I can see Garth running barefoot across rocks to get away from a wolverine that had gotten just a little too friendly.

I remember the first time that Jord saw a moose and her calf, the first time that she saw a bear, the first time that she saw a geyser, caught a trout. The first time she felt the majesty of a bigger world that existed outside of her little world.

I remember one trip up into the mountains that turned into a comedy of errors; everytime I turned around I fell off of something or ran into something. It was a "Careful, you'll put an eye out" kind of trip and I was a bloodied, bruised mess. And I remember sitting by the campfire each night, recounting the day's injuries, and we laughed so hard that we fell off our logs and rolled around in the dirt.

I remember lying in the top bunk, the front window open, watching meteor showers.

There was a trip we made out west, soon after Jord and Amy realized that boys were boys, and they had to wash their hair everyday because there were boys camping nearby. All I did for 3 weeks was fetch water and heat it and pour it over their heads.

I can see a 6-year old Jordan, sitting in the back seat, a fistful of crayons in each hand, coloring books on the table in front of her, working furiously by the light of a candle lantern.

I remember a special trip to Oregon. In one single day, Garth caught the largest trout he had ever caught, a rainbow appeared right over our heads, and that night by the fire, a doe walked right in and joined us.

My head is filled with VW Van memories.

And the thing is, if we hadn't bought the Vanagon, we probably wouldn't have experienced any of it. We wouldn't have made the effort to go camping at all if we had had to deal with kids and tents and coolers and the rest of it. It was just all too much. It would've been too easy to fall into the normal diversions, and sad to say, we probably would have contented ourselves with the mundane. Tennis. Golf. Whatever.

And it may sound overly dramatic, but the course of my life changed drastically the day I bought the Westy. And it was for the better.