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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
1,424 days a wanderin'

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Our "Practice" Road Trip

May 5, 2014
by Mandi

John and I are both very logical persons and, as such, we have a tradition of doing "practice" runs, a habit we know we will have to cast aside when we are living on the road. We both relish the feeling of knowing exactly how something will be done and how it will turn out. For example, we like to "practice" pack before a trip. We actually go through the process of gathering everything we think we will want to take with us, pulling out our suitcases, and packing everything in just to make sure it will all fit. Then we take it all back out, put it away, and make lists of what was included so we don't forget anything when it comes time for the real packing, usually a month or so later. (I know, I know, just a leeeettle crazy!)

Well, in the spirit of practicing, when faced with the decision of how to transport our new-to-us van from California to Florida, we decided to take an impromptu "practice" road trip rather than shipping the van. So, on Wednesday evening we made reservations for a flight and hotel for Thursday (yes, the next day, pretty unplanned and outside the box for us). We've never been to Cali and I think we both hoped that, just by driving through, we would somehow soak up the sights and the west coast vibe. While we didn't arrive back in Florida all laid back, groovy, and tan (no, I don't really think all Californians are like that), we did manage to see some of the landscapes crossing the southern US and to reinforce a long-held belief about ourselves. We can absolutely do this!

We got a van, man!

We got a van, man!

Starting a trip in our dinky regional airport always spells adventure for us and after delayed take-offs from both Tallahasse and Texas (our layover airport), we landed in San Fran very late.  When you factor in the three hour time difference, I think we got into our hotel bed around 2:30 AM our time.  We had prearranged to meet with the van's owner around 8:30, but not to worry, our internal clocks didn't let us sleep past 9:30 our time (6:30 in San Fran).  So we had plenty of time to shower and groan about our lack of sleep before first setting our eyes upon the JaMvan (for those of you that are like me, JaMvan is short for "J"ohn "a"nd "M"andi "van" - I'm sure J will come up with something much more clever and catchy in the near future, but until then, I have nicknamed the van). It was love at first sight.  The previous owner took about 20 minutes showing us how to operate the customized features of the van and then handed over the keys before heading off to work. We grabbed a quick bite and massive amounts of coffee while gazing out the window at the JaMvan and then drove away from the Pacific Ocean without even a glimpse.  When we cleared the heavier traffic areas and started traveling through high, rolling hills of impossibly green grass with a smattering of cows mulling around here and there, I couldn't help thinking that I understood why those California cows are advertised to be so happy! Wide open spaces and lush munching to the heart's content. I was kind of jealous of those cows, hanging out in the grass under the warming sun, with temperate breezes cooling their bellies; no worries about the job, cleaning the house, or taking down the dead tree in our yard that potential buyers will view as an eyesore (yeah, the one that provides a home to countless little bugs and their bug-eating buddies).  I wanted to join those cows on the hillsides, just sit and take in the fresh air and sunshine. But, we were on a tight timeframe, so on we drove past the hills and into the desert (not to be confused with dessert, which I absolutely adore).

Where the happy cows live!

Where the happy cows live!

I've only seen deserts in pictures and, while I have always thought the landscapes are beautiful, I've never really been drawn to the idea of wide open spaces with no shadetrees or ready water sources.  Having been born and raised in Florida, I'm accustomed to gulf beaches, crystal clear groundwater in massive quantities (I grew up near one of the world's largest and deepest freshwater springs), pine tree farms, and hardwood hammocks. When it's hot on the beach, you get in the water to cool down and soak up the healing salts, and when it's hot inland you seek the shade and cooler air that sneaks around the trees and creeps off of the cold spring creeks. The idea of roasting in 120 degree heat with little to no water and bunches of prickly plants just doesn't sound like my cuppa tea.  But the desert wasn't really hot yet and I found myself enthralled with the long range views of rock formations and beautiful cliffs and curiously enamored with the tumble weeds (at least that's what I assume they were) and joshua trees (they're just so odd looking I can't help but love them). We stopped at some rest areas in New Mexico and I definitely felt that I could have spent at least a few more days there, or maybe even weeks if the weather held (and if I was armed with a large water tank and my swimsuit).

A van's-eye view of New Mexico.

A van's-eye view of New Mexico.

Texas was all a blur to me, except for the CAFOs.  I don't think I've ever wished so hard that my nose didn't work, the smells were awful and lasted for what seemed like miles. Then the weather turned bad in Louisianna. We had the typical southeastern thunderstorms with nonstop torrential rain and bands of high winds. We're used to the storms, but we don't prefer to drive on unknown highways in a tall, heavy vehicle when the roads are slick and the visibility is nil. We rerouted south to get below the storm and entered into familiar scenery. Funny how the land all looks pretty much the same to me from Louisianna to Florida.  The low areas of wetlands, marshes, and cypress trees alternate with high hills covered thick in pines, oaks, sweetgums, maples, and poison sumac. Louisianna is where I started to feel like we were on the home stretch. We pulled in late that night and were happy to crash in our own beds (or couches, as is currently the case).

We underestimated how long it would take to make the trip, ran into some terrible weather, and "slept" in hotels that were less comfortable than the floor of the van before deciding to just sleep in the van (duh!), but we still had an awesome time, never got tired of each other's company, and managed to be supportive when the other person was a little grumpy (something we continue to work on even after 16 years of marriage).

Even when the van decided to randomly not start at a rest stop in New Mexico, where there was no public phone, and we didn't have cell service, and it started sleeting as we sat there trying to figure out what to do ("You've GOT to be kidding me!!!"), we still kept our cool. We didn't have time to stop at any sights or parks and we rose early in the mornings and drove late into the nights, but we enjoyed the time just being together without the everyday grind. I don't expect that J and I will always keep our cool with each other or that we won't need some individual space from time to time, but I missed him so so so much the next day when we each headed off to our respective office buildings. Having that tiny sip of what our future can be like together has given me a boost that will help me get through those long work days in my windowless office, anticipating the adventures that await us!

The JaMvan awaiting its transformation to glamper.

The JaMvan awaiting its transformation to glamper.


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