Happy 10th Anniversary Camper Van!

EXACTLY Ten years ago we hit the road. We had been living in the Washington DC area and had just sold our house. Dave had just sold his company, was on a semi-retired hiatus and perhaps feeling the success of his early internet dreams fulfilled, he had this crazy-crackers scheme to travel for a year or so in a Camper Van. I am not making this up.

See, earlier in the summer he proposed the idea to me. We were sitting in our office. The kids were asleep. I could tell he had something important to say because he turned his chair toward me, looked at me and said, “Beth, I have this idea.” Let me just preface this next part by saying that anytime Dave has an idea I am equally excited and traumatized. His ideas are big. His ideas have taken us far and once in a while his ideas seem a little too crazy for this world. I like what Dave’s close friends have said, “Beth, you and Dave are a great fit. When he gets one of his crazy, big ideas, you know how to reign him in.” They are right – and better – maybe I am the balance, or at least have the most excellent organizing and in this case, packing skills, to enable Dave’s brilliant and brave dreams. At least that is how I like to see it.

Yes, it is true. After I heard his hey-lets-take-our-wild-toddler-and-spazzy-baby-around-the-USA-and-Canada-for-a-year-or-so-in-a-camper-van idea, I absolutely thought he was nuts. “How are we going to travel with a baby and a toddler (we hit the road when Eli was eight months and Kyle was two and a half)?” I asked him. “That is a loooonnnnngggg time on the road!”

After a lot talking, I insisted that, before we buy the van, at the very least we take a substantial road trip before we made this gigantic life change. Although the boys had already logged in thousands of airline miles, up until then the boys had only flown long distances or taken short road trips. We packed, gathered books, snacks, dvds and our laptops. Back then in-car dvd players were new and the iPod Touch was a thing of future dreams. We strapped our boys into their Britax car seats in our truck, and hit the road, traveling to Minneapolis, my hometown. Lovely. The trip was lovely. Bringing Dave to my favorite memories is magic I always hold close. He saw the Brainerd, MN Paul Bunyan statue in the flesh. How awesome is that? On our way to Duluth we had to make a stop at dusk only to be attacked by a horror movie’s worth of Mosquitos. I laughed as Dave quickly rushed back into the car swatting mosquitos for another twenty miles. Sharing these experiences together, he saw Duluth for the first time and we both saw the rolling fog of Grand Marais for the very first time too. The kids were great. I mean, so much better than I could have hoped for. After making it all the way to Northern Minnesota from Washington DC, I actually believed we could pull off this traveling-as-a-family-in-a-camper-van dream.

Those early travel days were dotted with slides, walkways and sandboxes. We learned that stopping at any park along the way was an important part of the journey. If we could find a park, the boys could get out their wiggles. And honestly, I think through their eyes, through our necessity to stop and let our kids breathe, I have been able to see a whole and very cool new world. Even now we always look for a good place for the boys to explore and roam.

After spending time with my family and friends we made our way back home. I gave my OK and after Dave bid for it on eBay, we flew to Southern Florida where we purchased our 2002 Eurovan Camper. Excitedly we drove off the lot on that very hot summer day when the Air Conditioner stopped working just miles from the dealership! True Story! We spent another week at the beach while it was fixed (Summer in South Floria with no AC is no fun) and then made our way back to DC. Favorite stops: St. Augustine, FL. Who would expect this super old Colonial town just down the road from the Spring-Break-Capital of the world? Other favorite stop: Savannah, GA. I hope the gold-tooth-grill-kiosk is still at the mall on the town’s outskirts.

Back in DC, our house sold, we packed our things and said our goodbyes. The goodbyes I said back then are still some of the hardest. Kyle and Eli were leaving their good pals Quinn, Max, Emma, Maddie & Winston, and Dave and I were saying goodbye to our dear friends. Bittersweet were those moments. I remember my friend Stephanie as we said our last goodbyes saying, “You know I can’t say it. It is hard to see you go.” I felt it. In her words I felt our worlds change. She and I had spent nearly everyday watching our husbands dream and watching our boys grow. With tears in my eyes and the frog in my throat huge, I choked back my sobs. I did not want to go, yet I was excited to fulfill our dream.

We left our little piece of Heaven in Northern Virginia, made our way only as far as West Virginia, spending our very first fancy-camper-van-night at cold and rainy gas station on the side of the road. I had to hold Eli until fell asleep as my excitement quickly faded into fear. Mornings and the laughter of toddler Kyle in his pajamas on the side of the road erased my panic. It was a new day. I took a deep breath and we drove west, establishing rules of the road and labeling an old Nalgene bottle “Pee Cup.” Man it is nice to have boys. We stopped in St. Louis to see my brother Bill. Leaving Bill and his boys we drove through my favorite college town, Columbia, Missouri and unto Colorado, where we drove through Rocky Mountain National Park on the highest paved through road in the Continental US. We were on our way and were once again following our dreams.

We chose Utah as a home base, never ever planning to stay here long. My mom was here. She could watch our things while we were away and our friend Kim graciously let us crash at her condo while we were in town. We wanted to explore the west and Utah made sense at the time. We usually took three week trips and made our way through Canada and all over the Western US. I loved it. I hated it and once back in Utah, I could not wait to hit the road. Moraine Lake in Banff National Park is still one of my favorites. Watching Kyle canoe on the beautiful mountain water was divine. And then getting to stand on the dock during a helicopter mountain rescue was pure delight. I wish the boys remembered as much as we do. We have pictures. They hear stories and this was our time to be parents of these beautiful little boys.

I fell in love with Vancouver, BC and tried to figure out how we could move there. Border Patrol was so much more intense near Seattle then it was in Montana. We had to get out of the car because I had apples, and see my Fuji Apples from the Vancouver Farmer’s Market were not allowed to enter the country. Eventually we made it through onto Seattle, then Portland. Our camper van took us to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Big Sur, Moab, Montana, New Mexico, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona. I am sure I am missing a state or two in there.

My very favorite part really was the kids. They thought living in a camper van was the best thing ever. Kyle was over the moon to be able to sleep in the pop-up part with Dave each night. Eli was too small and wiggly. I loved those seconds as his little body released in my arms as he drifted off to sleep. I miss those moments of snuggling him close. Towards the end our camper van journeys Dave and I were able to sleep on the same level. I liked that best.

I think it was those camper van days that have made the boys open and fearless. They know how to travel. They entertain themselves best while on the road. In the van when they had watched one too many “Land Before Time” movies, I would hand them a book of stickers or some dollar store Band-Aids. They spent hours covering themselves with every last one. It was hilarious and it is these moments that have forever changed and bettered my world. I am grateful. Happy Tenth Anniversary, Camper Van! We miss you!

PS: The links I have added to this post link back to original camper-van-travel posts. I am surprised at how different my memories of those times are. I love the Eli-barfing story on the Moab link. It is sad and hilarious! Enjoy!

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