Sunday, October 6, 2019

A Van Not A Boat

Custom Coach Creations in DeLand cashed our five thousand dollar check, our  van is ordered and expected sometime around March next year. It will be delivered to the conversion factory in North Florida and CCC will then start the work of creating a camper interior to our specifications. The die is cast. The deposit is non refundable, the journey into retirement has begun.
My wife is working out all the details in her head, as she ponders and rejects options, plans kitchen drawer space and rejects the notion of a convection oven. She thought she really wanted a convection oven but we bought one for the house and she finds it to be an excellent microwave but as an oven she has little use for it. She prefers the toaster oven which she uses all the time. So she created a few sleepless nights for herself figuring out if this was the best idea, and then she mentally dealt with how to store the toaster oven while we are driving. If she doesn't use the convection oven at home she probably won't on the road.
I offer that anecdote by way of example. When we bought our boat I wanted a boat that could sail and my wife knew she wanted a comfortable interior. We spent ages trying to find a hull for me and  an interior for her compatible with the needs of two large dogs. If you care to know a Gemini 105 catamaran filled the requirements even though we were told it was too lightweight for extended travel. Guess they were wrong, but then armchair critics always are.  With the van our choices are much simpler with only three brands of van to choose amongst and we already knew we needed 21 feet in length with a high top and a gasoline engine. Ford or Dodge? Not much difference for me, front wheel drive versus rear...ho hum I don't care. The Dodge Promaster won out because we can get a queen sized bed sideways in the back where the Ford Transit is a tad too narrow.  Not a very engineered decision but if momma ain't happy....I certainly wouldn't be happy. We both knew  a diesel Sprinter van wasn't right for us as diesel fuel requires special blends these days and catalytic converters require diesel exhaust fluid.  Plus Mercedes Benz charges $30,000 more for their very special diesel vans...none of which added up for us. Modern gas vans get around 16 mpg to the Sprinter's 20 mpg.
Now we wait until Dodge delivers the van to Bob who is the owner of CCC and a Promaster dealer, then we get together and finalize our build which should be completed three months after Bob receives the van from Dodge. This timeline means quite a bit of fielding queries from my wife about table size, drawer design and  where will we keep the gadgets?  For my part I find myself trusting the process which gives me a weird sense of detachment.
There were half a dozen options we had to order with the van, a larger alternator for more electricity when the engine is running, a shelf over the cab, cruise control, a back up camera and Bluetooth radio so we can connect our phones to the speaker system and navigation screen. We also ordered windows in the back door and after that minor rush of activity, which amounted to a thirty minute phone call I'm back to twiddling my thumbs and waiting for the next step. Bob says we'll get in touch when the van is delivered and discuss the final build. The cost for the van with options came to $39,500 and the build should cost around $35,000 and we expect the grand total with tag and taxes to be around $80,000.
The odd thing for me is I feel no anxiety.  I move forward with some inner certainty I cannot identify that reassures me that all is well.  I barely give any thought to what we shall do after the journey is complete, where we will live or how. We have a few ideas, perhaps a boat in Key West, but we both know the journey will change us and what we will want, if we are even alive, may well have changed by the time we get back. I had the same irrational sense of ease and certainty before we took off sailing and indeed things fell into place after we arrived in Key West. Except then we needed jobs and this trip will be funded by our retirement pensions deposited automatically each month in our bank account. That's the payoff for these years of work. We stopped sailing to make money and decided back then we wanted jobs with pensions to fund our old age and here we are, 65 and 62 respectively (about 6 for Rusty) on the downhill slope. 
I am excited to return to my nomad roots. Modern miniaturization makes living in small spaces easier than ever and modern communications keep us all in touch more efficiently than previous generations could ever have hoped.  To be on the road does not mean anymore than one has to be a hermit, and we expect to stay in touch from the road. This page may look a bit different but the photos will keep coming from other places. I have bought the domain name Travels With Rusty for a new title though the routing will remain the same and will continue to work to land here.
My wife the other night got a speculative look in her eye and wondered out loud who we will meet along the way.  In our two years sailing to Florida from California we met an extraordinary range of people and we lived and traveled with them in intimacy and difficulty that created bonds. It's hard sometimes to come back to society and explain what you have seen and done, but with others who have done the same one can often create a connection that extends beyond the adventure itself. My wife is now  thinking actively about the road we will travel, not simply as a matter of well ordered living, but of those important encounters and making connections and learning new skills. She is deeply committed.
Rusty likes his routines and I wonder sometimes how he will feel as he enters middle age, a former street dog possibly nine years old, finding himself with the horizon that keeps changing. He travels easily in the car and is as always no trouble at all, so it would seem the van will present him with nothing more complicated than an alternative space. He is an indoor/outdoor dog so our plans to camp away from crowds and away from campgrounds and away from box store parking lots will most likely suit him. On those occasions when he will be boxed in by circumstance I expect him to cope with his usual equanimity with being leashed or kept inside. He did fine when I disappeared out of his life for three weeks into the hospital. He was glad to see me when he was finally allowed to visit me in rehab, but he kept his cool when circumstances inexplicably changed and he had to stay with friends at random and his life appeared all upside down. Van living should be a piece of cake by comparison. I imagine him lying under the van as he does now under the boat in our front yard.
It's going to be a lot easier traveling with  him in a van than it was with dogs on a boat. I am looking forward to his company on the road and seeing things through his eyes.
The great thing about this plan for me is that it comes after a life time of experiences traveling. This was my idea, cooked up in my head as I tried to figure out why it was I survived an accident I had no business surviving. But I will not be alone as  it will be a journey shared equally entered into by us to seek out new experiences before we can travel no more. Rusty will be along for the ride and all I can hope is he finds it more enjoyable than life in a house on a leash getting conventional walks and endless repetition of his daily life were he in a normal retirement situation.
We were often asked how we prepared for our sail to Key West from San Francisco and the only answer we could give was to go sailing and go sailing a lot. We practiced on San Francisco Bay two weekends a month for more than a year. We'd drive up to Alameda from our home in Santa Cruz, with our dogs, on Friday evening and spend all day  Saturday and Sunday sailing round the bay, finding strong winds, anchoring anywhere we thought we could get away with it and coming back Sunday afternoon chased by cold foggy winds as the sea breeze built up. Over and over we did that so that when we took off we knew what we could do with the boat and we did it.  Most people want to buy equipment when they prepare for any big venture but we bought experience with our time and it helped to quell our nerves as we set off into the unknown without radar or a host of electronics other people bought and installed and failed to practice with as they ran out of time to go sailing. In heavy weather we were ready.
So it will be with the van and you know my wife will be all over every detail as the build goes forward. Vacations will involve traveling by van, sleeping by van and cooking by van. It will take time to get used to the small spaces and handle the differences between throwing out an anchor and parking for the night. I for one am looking forward to traveling with a heater, air conditioner and windshield wipers. I have not so fond memories of getting cold and wet struggling upwind through the western Caribbean coping with strong winds,  wet waves and constant spray while I kept a  shivering watch much of the night. Comfort will be appreciated.
Parking garages will not be available to a vehicle nine and a half feet tall but at 21 feet long our Promaster should be able to fit into a regular north American parking space. My wife will also feel comfortable enough to drive from time to time when  I need a break. The van may look small, and indeed may be small, but there are advantages to the size and we intend to take advantage of the utility. Shipping to South America should cost around $2,000 on a freighter from Texas. That should be doable to Colombia.
I am not one to name my vehicles, motorcycles or cars but I have been discussing the land yacht theory with my friend Webb Chiles who is following along with quite some interest and I have promised to follow his example and send reports back from the edge of human experience as he puts it. That's  a bit easier to define when you are sailing around the world in an open boat or going around Cape Horn alone but I will do my best to look over the edge of experience from the front seat of the heated and cooled cabin of the Dodge. 
So if this van is a land yacht Webb argues it needs a name. He asked me to consider naming it after his extraordinary little boat that has been around the world. GANNET is a modest Moore 24 designed for racing downwind along the coast of California. Webb sailed the thing around the world on his sixth circumnavigation. In similar vein we want to drive our Promaster where some people feel a rugged 4 x 4 is the only tool for the road. So how could I resist calling our van GANNET 2? I who don't name vehicles...Rusty thinks it's a splendid plan.
We travel not for trading alone,
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned.
For lust of knowing what should not be known,
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand
                                                                                                    James Elroy Flecker

The Golden Road to Samarkand

Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells,
 When shadows pass gigantic on the sand,
And softly through the silence beat the bells
 Along the Golden Road to Samarkand.
We travel not for trafficking alone;
 By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
 We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.
Open the gate, O watchman of the night!
 Ho, travellers, I open. For what land
Leave you the dim-moon city of delight?
MERCHANTS (with a shout):
 We take the Golden Road to Samarkand!
(The Caravan passes through the gate)
THE WATCHMAN (consoling the women):
What would ye, ladies? It was ever thus.
 Men are unwise and curiously planned.
They have their dreams, and do not think of us.
VOICES OF THE CARAVAN (in the distance singing):
 We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

Mangrove Mysteries

It was obvious we weren't alone, Rusty and I, on a rare day off when I took him for a noon time walk. 
 As we approached the trail  I heard a loud splashing noise coming rhythmically from the mangroves. And I wasn't alone in noticing the noise. My chief security officer was on high alert. It sounded like an animal tramping through deep water.
We poked around for a while trying to find the source of the splashing noise and even after Rusty lost interest I kept looking trying to figure it out. I spot little flashes of silver so I was guessing it must have been a fish breaking the surface periodically.
But whether the fish was prey or hunter I couldn't tell. The nose of rhythmic splashing went on and n and eventually even I had to give up hope that Sasquatch would come plodding out of the mangroves.
 It was a lovely day but really hot and humid and I lost the desire to take Rusty into town. The breezes dried up on my day ff and left behind a blanket of hot wet air.
 Rusty wanted to walk, so walk we did, alongside the empty silent road.
Hurricane Irma in 2017 stripped many of the trees alongside the road and left them to die, leafless. Slowly the lower bushes are coming back but there are lots of dead and grey trunks and branches along the roadway.
Me, hot and bothered tempted into a selfie by the presence of a flat post at the end of the trail. No signs of Sasquatch behind me ready to pounce, either.