So, it’s been awhile since I updated. Longer than I intended, and for that I do apologize. Work has gotten the best of me and I haven’t had either the time or stomach to spend another minute on the computer. On the other hand, there hasn’t been all that much to add to the conversation. The Brownie Beast sits, waiting for the time, space, and funding to fix everything that needs fixing. In the meantime I take her on short little jaunts to nearby hiking spots with the dogs for the fun of it. Driving the Westy is awesome. People are curious and intrigued by that vehicle and strangers often smile and wave when we’re out on the town. It makes you realize how rare that simple friendly gesture is and how powerful it can be.

On the technical side of things, I noticed the other day that her temperature warning light is…uh, …idiosyncratic? It went through its crazy warm-up routine, went off, and then a few miles into the drive started flashing and going nuts! I stopped, let it sit for a minute, and then when I fired it back up to go home it was fine, no craziness. I checked the fluids and everything was good, so I’m not sure what happened. Reading the Westfalia.org forums makes me think that possibly the thermostat housing was slow to open, therefore bogarting valuable coolant. But I am in no way qualified or experienced enough to actually make that call, so in the meantime I’ll just be keeping an eye on it and keeping her close to home. I did spend an enjoyable couple of hours pouring through the Bentley Bible studying the cooling system diagrams and flushing protocol. Why? I’m not really sure, it’s just kind of interesting. It makes me wish that I had a garage so that I could try doing some of this stuff myself. They generally frown on that kind of thing at apartments, unfortunately.

At least if you get stranded somewhere in the westy, you can still have all the comforts of home. It makes it a little easier to just roll with the punches (and oh, there will be punches. If you’ve ever had a VW before you know what I’m talking about.)


Did I say labor of love? I didn’t know how prophetic that statement would be. I finally heard back from the mechanic, and well, he didn’t have the best news for me. It turns out that the van has some pretty serious (and expensive) problems. It won’t be ready for that epic cross-country trip any time in the near future.

But hope is not lost! I’m not ready to give up on little Brownie yet (possibly her new name.) I just had a pretty bitter pill to swallow in realizing that her organs aren’t in as good a shape as I thought they would be. Let’s say that if I were to equate her engine years to people years, she’s a 50 year-old smoker instead of the 25 year-old athlete. But honestly, what more can you expect? That’s part of the VW appeal, they’re all personalities, and just like in people, that often includes a significant flaw or two.

So the plan of attack is to pare down the summer trip plans to just a few local spots on free weekends and do some creative fundraising to fix the systems that need it most. We’ll just work hard and fix what we can when we can. A friend said it best when he told us to cry our tears and just tighten the bootstraps. Which we did. At least, I know I did. There was a terrible moment of despair coming back from the shop. We stopped to eat at a local diner and I had to go have a moment in the bathroom and just let it out. Truthfully, I haven’t been that heartbroken since I got dumped by my first love.

I’ve lived through enough heartache since then to know that while it’s terrible and uncomfortable now, it won’t be forever, and I can make it through this. I also know that anything worth doing is hard, and sometimes you have to earn your dream. You can’t be ready to throw it all away the first time you hit a major speed bump. That’s just how life goes. So we’re gonna roll with it and see what shakes out.

Just realized that it was a holiday weekend. Heh. No wonder I haven’t heard from the shop yet! *relief*

Well, the van’s in the shop already. I miss it, and I’m pretty sure that I dreamed about driving it last night, the iconic volkswagen noise ringing in my ears, the smell of exhaust and fuel flooding my nose as I wake up and shake the sleep out of my head. I’m sad that I can’t take it out for a little joy-ride today, getting to know her better. Her. Already the van’s got personality. I was talking to my mother about our little first-adventure hiccup, and she said that I was lucky it happened so close to home (true) and that it sounds like the van is already taking care of me. I like that, thinking about the van as an entity that cares about me and wants to keep me safe. The good news is that I found a great mechanic and it shouldn’t be that bad of a fix. The expected culprit? Rotten fuel lines. I’m inclined to agree since A) I know this is a common problem for the vanagon and B) it was in storage with a tiny bit of gas left in the tank for years. I knew when I bought it that little things like this would come up throughout our life together and don’t ask why, but that’s part of the appeal to me. There’s something inspiring about these little forced detours, the change in perspective they can cause. A Westfalia camper is more of a comment on lifestyle than anything else. It says that I like to live small, pare down to the essentials, take things slowly, and stay cozy. More importantly, it says I like to cruise along and enjoy the view.

And so begins the dream. It’s almost my birthday. The camper’s as old as I am. I take this as a good omen, but my boyfriend just shakes his head and keeps quiet. He knows better than to interrupt my enthusiasm. I buy it from a kind old man, not really old actually, but old enough to have health problems that keep him from being able to comfortably work the clutch. He wants to sell it to someone who will love it, but he’s been feeling pressure from dealerships to just unload the thing and get on with his retirement. I can see that he likes me immediately, my enthusiasm contagious. I ask questions while I poke around, trying every latch and knob, turning things on and pulling things out, fully expecting to find something broken beyond repair. Nothing breaks. It all looks good. A little cosmetic wear and tear, but I would expect that from a car that’s more than two decades old. I tell him that I love it, and we shake hands, agreeing to meet the next day to transfer cash, keys and title.

That night I can barely wait. I drive out to the store after dinner to pick up an atlas and start planning my first adventure. We’re gonna go to the coast to test things out first, but I’m already thinking bigger. I want to drive across the country. I want to visit my mother. I want to see Montana. I want to take my dogs. I just want to go. My patience pays off, and in a few days, I’m the proud owner of an ’85 Westy. My dream car for many years (Don’t ask why, I can’t explain it.)

It almost kills me to wait and make the necessary preparations for the maiden voyage. I bide my time by cleaning the camper and cleverly packing my essentials into the smallest spaces possible. I work extra hours and start putting money away in an “emergency repair fund.” I can already see that will be useful. I take care of my bills, tie up some loose ends, and wait for my chance.

By the end of the week, my boyfriend and I have planned out the first trip. We’re driving to the coast for a couple of nights on the beach, dreaming about the charred, sweet flesh of grilled fish, fresh from the ocean, a cool, salty breeze, and a nice warm place to sleep. We gather our supplies, pack the camper, and head on out down the road.

We decide to stop at a gas station a few miles from my place to fill up the tanks and pick up some road snacks. I hand my card to the attendant (no self-serve in Oregon) and ask him to fill it for the long drive ahead. I poke around soothing the dogs for a few moments until I’m overwhelmed by the smell of gas. As soon as I notice an attendant is rushing over to shut off the pump.

We look beneath the van and he says, “I think I just blew out your gas tank.” I give him the thousand yard stare. “Um, do you have triple-A?” he asks, somewhat sheepishly.

I keep my cool, make the call, and get a tow back home. The tow operator is sexy in that grimy mechanic kind of way, and he shoots optimism at us the whole ride back, helping us to visualize a best case scenario. I’m grateful for that. I’ll get it out to a service station in the morning to figure out what went wrong and what needs to happen to fix it. But for now, nothing to do but hit that atlas and think about another adventure, one that takes me a little further than the local gas station.