New (really tall) member of the family
It's official. After much conversation and research about vehicles and whether or not to buy one, we have finally made a decision. Not to sell the bus (just yet)...we have allowed ourselves to sit on that decision for a while and let our hearts settle in and make it with a bit more time. But we did decide that we indeed need another vehicle. One that will promote and excite us to travel rather than talking us out of it or making us pause when considering a road trip. Despite the fact that we love the VW community and we love our bus, it's time to move on. The only real pause for us was how to part with our bus, not whether we really wanted to be driving something else. How to separate the identity and image we have of ourselves in the bus with our future image of ourselves. The idea of traveling in a VW bus is romantic, no doubt. The act of doing so simply isn't (especially if you aren't in a warm/tropical environment). There, Ive said it. And we've now come to terms with it.
The question next became what vehicle to travel in. Which meant answering how we choose to travel and what our plans are for the coming years. A difficult question for a couple who struggle to make plans more than a week out. Commitment (other than to each other) apparently isn't really our thing. It turns out we love the way we have been able to travel in the bus. The ability to pull over and sleep literally anywhere. The ability to have our home and our stuff with us wherever we go. The ability to cook rather than being forced to eat out. At least as long as we are staying in this continent (which seems the case as long as karma is around, which we hope to be a VERY long time), van life is still the life for us. Which van however... was more difficult. Exponentially so.
I knew early on that the only way moving on from the bus made sense was if it was a huge upgrade, which for me meant a few things: - Height. First and foremost, I wanted to be able to stand up. My spine may never straighten out after years of camping in and driving the bus... but if we were going to spend the money to upgrade to another vehicle i was going to be able to stand. I tried to give in on this point and laid down in the back of several vehicles, hoping for an epiphany that never occurred. That pretty much limited us to box trucks, taco trucks and cargo vans. - Reliability- i don't want to think twice any longer about whether we might make it to our destination. Yes, things happen and they always will...but i'm ready to rule out at least those things that can easily be controlled. We've already experienced travel by breaking down every third day. Been there, done that. Sadly, this need also ruled out most old box trucks (despite how cool of a camper i think we could have built in the back of one) and taco trucks. - Ability to go anywhere. The bus allowed us to go more places than you would expect, including a bit more offroading than we probably should have attempted. But it was never easy and it as certainly never fast. And when it comes to mountains/hills we have most often found ourselves picking another route altogether. We knew we wanted our vehicle to go anywhere we wanted (and any time of year. If we happened to find a 4wd version, all the better. - Resale. We don't make many purchases of any kind and the few large things we do buy we expect to be able to keep for a very long time. In most cases we also expect to be able to make them better and hopefully (if ever needed) to have the ability to part with them and either break even or profit from the exchange.
We began to scour the web for cargo vans of all type and size. The sprinter was the obvious favorite but the price tag sent us running back to every other possibility. The more research we did the more problems we found with every other option. Ground clearance, reliability, and in most cases...the simple fact that they haven't been around long enough to know how long they will last. It seemed that with sprinters specifically, everyone selling them used seems to be getting as much or more for them than they were originally bought them for. Horrible news for our budget, but great news for our long-term expectations. Lets face it, sprinters actually seem to be the new vw bus. A vehicle built specifically for a utilitarian purpose, but built so well and with such a large/open cargo space that everyone from family campers to outdoor gurus are flocking towards them. You can barely find them used at all, and I imagine there's a good reason why.
I think I knew deep down that a sprinter was the perfect option for us all along, but couldn't seem to reconcile the price. Even more of a problem than the price was the "stigma" that we felt might come with it. We are proud of the fact that we have been able to live so lean and what it has allowed us to do with our lives. The idea of driving a mercedes just seemed excessive and lavish. It doesn't at all fit the image we have of ourselves or how we want others to see us. What would we tell people when they ask how we afford it? How would we explain to people that we are jobless but own a fancy expensive car? What would people think and what would our first impression be to others??
But time and time again in our discussions...it came back to the same point. The sprinter did fit all our other criteria...and then some. And frankly, we didn't get where we are today by worrying about what other people think of us. And as soon as we start to make decisions based upon other peoples' views of us- our vehicle choice will be far from our biggest problem.
We finally decided to start looking in earnest and see if a sprinter was possible for us. Didn't hurt that our credit union sent us a preapproval letter for a car loan the same day with an absurdly low interest rate and told us we could finance it over 8years (other than that commitment issue we discussed earlier). I started placing calls for sprinters of all types, years and packages. As typical, we aren't exactly slow to movement and after a decision has been made, and we don't really turn around to look behind us.
Within 48 hours were doing paperwork and getting a tour of our new home away from home. Bonus round: the vehicle was in Spokane, which meant a built in road trip. We drove away unable to speak and in a state of disbelief. Had we really just done that? Is this thing really ours? How the hell will we parallel park it?? Seriously...this vehicle is huuuge! On the inside that's nothing but benefit. The back is as open and spacious as an apartment and we cant even imagine taking up all the space. It's glorious. But on the outside...it just seems enormous. It's like we're standing next to a unimog or a semi truck compared to our tiny bus and i'm not exaggerating when i say we look truck drivers eye to eye on the freeway. This is going to take some getting used to...
But. That's about all that will be a slow transition for us. The drive back to portland was amazing. It was cold. It was wet. It was windy, stormy and hovering just above freezing all night... and we didn't feel any of it! We couldn't keep from talking about our absolute marvel at the newness of it all. The sheer technology. Windshield wipers! Working gauges! Headlights that allow us to see more than a car length in front of us! HEAT!! We even knew exactly when to pull over for gas without doing math in our heads. I can't even begin to tell you how much fun we had despite the crappy conditions we were driving in most of the way home.
We chose to keep driving into the night. We drove further and for more hours in one stretch than we have done in back to back days since owning the bus. When we finally reached hood river we pulled over only because we were excited to toast our new vehicle and even more excited to sleep in it. We hit a local pub for a cocktail and some live music (we always love this town) and then stealth camped in the van on the side of the road feeling like we were sleeping in someone else's mansion. We hung a hammock in the back, lined it with a sleeping bag and covered ourselves in another until we woke up in the middle of the night simply too cold to continue and moved to cuddle up on the floor. First order of business in terms of camper build...insulation!
The next day we woke up early, hit the local barista for coffee and a sandwich and made our way home. Driving through the gorge we actually turned off the freeway to explore the historic highway. Partly because driving was fun and partly because we knew we could be home as fast as we needed to be. I can't remember the last time we felt so free to wander and explore, excited to seek out new places and roads in the pouring rain (especially when it meant a hilly curvy highway). It was perfect.
So here we are, back in Portland and still walking out of the house each morning wondering whose vehicle that is parked out front. It's still setting in for certain. and we still haven't even begun to plan the camper build or anything else in our future...but it has propelled us to talk about road trips more than we have since we started planning our trip south back in the day. It has us excited to drive, to explore and get out, and that alone tells me (already) that we made the right decision.
We have always said that you can travel the world in any vehicle, and always rather been proud of the fact that we could made it work despite the obstacles. Wore our ability to cram into an impossibly tiny vehicle (and still enjoy it) like a badge. I think maybe i even needed the breakdowns and lack of ability to maintain a schedule or itinerary to free myself completely from the tie to normalcy, or to really believe we could do and accomplish anything no matter how high the hurdles.
The bus was absolutely the perfect vehicle when we needed it to be. Our hearts still melt each time we see E, but we're also really stoked each time we walk out in the rain to get in the (still nameless) sprinter instead. Now, it seems...the sprinter is turning out to be perfect for what we need now, and for two people who have no desire to plan further ahead than right now...that's seems a pretty good fit.
We cleaned out the garage and will be tucking E away from the cold and the rain at least for a while as we gain comfort with the idea of parting ways. Simply put...sometimes there's just a better option and sometimes you have to allow yourself to enjoy it. Here's to our next chapter, and to somehow learning to stop calling ourselves bus people and start calling ourselves sprinter folk.