"Baja! We go!"
A phrase that had been chanted and repeated with excitement throughout our home for months before our trip, until even Benaiah and Anela chimed in. Not knowing what they were shouting about, other than what we had told them: a faraway land full of whales and waves, endless sunny beaches and enough fish to live on for a lifetime.
First stop, our companions. Who were these people? New friends we had met at a van gathering. Friends like so many others, who materialized out of a four-inch screen in our palms as pixelated pen-pals through social media, and came into our lives at Descend on Bend. Friends with whom we hatched plans, at a campfire, over a couple bottles of wine in the high desert of Central Oregon past midnight. Plans about spending a couple of weeks in Baja this winter, surfing with our two small families.
We go! That settled it. The drive home from Descend was different than the previous year. I could somehow push off winter a bit longer now and take it in stride, knowing what was to come. These new friends of ours were pretty wild as it turned out. Like, “Hey guys, we’ll keep you posted on the Baja trip in February. We’re headed to Africa for a month to adopt our new daughter in Ethiopia, then we have to rebuild the Syncro's transmission, and get everything squared away with her U.S. Passport. Should be good, no worries.”
These people are wild.
Wild enough to try attempting all of that. Wild enough to let their children know they are fearfully and wonderfully made. Wild enough to call the Universe a Creation and wild enough to call that Creator by name. Wild enough to step out of their comfort zone to shift their lives entirely around this newly adopted daughter from a developing country, and strap her almost immediately into a thirty year old van to drive straight into another. Wild enough to call fear an imposter. These are our people. These are our friends.
These are the Hoskings.
I cannot elaborate enough how highly I would not recommend attempting to drive 1100 miles in two days, with two kids! Anela and Bento are three and five, and are professional roadtrippers by any human standard. Regardless, by the Columbia River our nerves started to wear thin. Not a problem, as Uncle Dave’s shop was close. I know this, because whenever we are in the same state, our beard-pheromones pull us towards each other like magnets of manhood.
Salem, Oregon. Home of Dimensions Manufacturing, aka Vanagonlife Headquarters, and our home away from home. Call it what you will. We installed our new Vanagon Overland Window, then booked it south. We grabbed some bagels and coffee, and kept on rolling straight down the I5.
Mandatory stop, we needed gas. The Fred Meyer in Medford has to have the cheapest gas in all the Northwest. I was tempted to fill up all 10 gallons worth of jerry cans, but didn't, as there was no need to carry all that weight. I ended up spending twenty minutes talking story with Uncle Kimo from Hawaii, who pumped our gas. He was overwhelmingly stoked to hear someone call him “Uncle.”
Noticing how much less gas the van took than I had expected, I smiled with confidence at the impeccable mileage we must have been pulling. Have I mentioned yet that at this point in our journey, the only gauges working in the van were the tachometer and temp gauge? I didn't stop to think about the fact that Uncle Kimo had probably never filled up a thirty-year old vanagon. They'll spit out the gas pump before they are actually full.
It is no chance happening that the distance between the northernmost In-N-Out in the country (where we filled our bellies for dinner), and the second most northern is almost the exact range of a single Vanagon gas tank. The kids dozed off, and Ma got cozy against the passenger window. My mind wandered off to the coffee I would undoubtedly be slamming at that next In-N-Out, in an effort to get us to the Redwoods. And let’s be honest, I would absolutely be ordering another double-double.
As we approached Mt. Shasta and got the first few mountain passes behind us in what is certainly, at that moment in time, the most overloaded Vanagon in the world, I felt a sputter. A pang of anxiety only a VW owner can know overwhelmed me. I ran through the entire fuel system quickly in my mind. All new, can't be. The shutter got worse, and the van died. We were out of gas. I checked Ma’s newly installed mileage tracking app—only 170 miles since we filled up. Should have had Uncle Kimo squeeze that pump one more time. AAA comes to the rescue 40 minutes later. Not bad. (If you own a Vanagon, get AAA). As the tow truck lights kicked on, I was instantly brought low. The lights shined like lasers on my two empty gas cans rigged onto the back of the van. At that moment, I realized I was a bearded version of Clark Griswold, except instead of embracing my winter, I was fleeing it.
As the driver got out, I noticed he was the only person on the interstate at that moment who looked every bit as tired as I was feeling. He was twice my age and my attempt at a cheerful “good evening” was met with a grunt. I bit my tongue because I knew he didn't care to hear how much work went into getting us to this point the week before.
The week before our departure date, we’d dropped a cylinder on the way home from a motorcycle show in Portland and had to spend an entire week of long days and late nights scrambling and working here and there where I could find time with my friend Jamie to pull the motor and rebuild it completely. We barely had it running the day before we left, but I was tired of rain. I needed warm waves and cold beer. It was completely worth the effort. I love this van.
Our friend Jamie is the unsung hero of vanagonlife in the Northwest. Saving people from the $125 an hour shop rates, and unrealistic realities of keeping these thirty-year old breadboxes on wheels running. If someone ever writes a biography on this man, it won’t need words and it will be one page long. It will be one image—a picture of his hands. They tell the tale entirely.
After fueling up six miles down the highway, I couldn't drive on, and we slept amazingly well at a truck stop. The next day, we rolled up to the Hosking's home, last baths were taken, final van preparations were made, and lists gone over and over. Our quick stop at Trader Joe's yielded some 284 beers, 16 bottles of wine, 6 bags of limes, and around a quarter-ton of meat.
We were finally leaving, this was it. It was 3 am.