It was one of those roads that goes from paved to kinda paved to dirt washboard. You end up questioning your original decision somewhere along the way.
I wasn’t expecting anyone on the 30-mile drive to Telescope Peak, Death Valley’s tallest, but then I saw her dust tail ahead. She was just a speck, but her shape was undeniable – a Westfalia, white, probably born in the mid to late 90s. A little young for Donnie’s taste, but we followed and imagined. She grooved, we grooved, she purred, we purred, each of our engines burned. Unable to reel in any ground on the 6,000ft climb, we daydreamed about our first words. There was no doubt, she was Euro. The last turn came…
My eyes scanned the lot; there she was in the end spot. But WOW, what competition! Down the line, left-to-right sat Eurovan, Vanagon, Vanagon, Vanagon. The rest of the dirt lot was lonesome. The chances of seeing 4 Westfalias at a remote part of Death Valley seemed like spotting 4 Range Rovers parked outside Pebble Beach.
“Oh, noooooo, YOU can’t stay,” he said as I yanked the wheel hard right.
“Too bad, my man,” I yelled and rammed Donnie into place before he lost oil pressure… my first oil change gone wrong. I scolded myself and hopped out.
“Hey, I’m Terry.”
“Hey Terry, I’m Matt.”
“Hey guys, I’m Jill and this is my daughter Tenaya.”
One of my biggest decisions before hitting the road was to Vanagon or not? You hear a disheartening amount of Vanagon breakdown stories, but the finale of each is something like, “Yeah… but I’ll still have one for the rest of my life.” I was partial to the Vanagon from the start because of their infinite style and cool, crazy, weird, whatever you want to call it community. Most folks sum it up in a single word – hippies. I fell hard over Donnie and decided to take the risk of breakdowns for the gains of the Volkswagen community and their life perspective.
In that dirt lot, the four of us talked like the old friends that we weren’t; we even speculated on the personality of the missing owner based on The Club that guarded its wheel. Jill and Tenaya were eager to retrace their dust trail back to Santa Barbara, but Terry, who had spent the last two days reading was anxious for a hike. So was I, so we took off, Terry in the lead.
“I told my neighbor I was taking this trip to the desert,” Terry said.
“And then my neighbor said, ‘Terry, you’re such a hippie,’ and I said, 'You know, thank you, that’s the finest compliment I’ve ever received.’”