Trip Over View

As you may have noticed I did not succeed in blogging every day of our epic van trip out to explore the Northwest of the United States of America. These trips are tough. 2 weeks on the road driving almost every day. Waking up at 6 am to either get miles in early or beat the crowds to the trailheads so we can get a parking spot. I certainly don’t want to complain about the number of people that are choosing to enjoy the countries national parks as I think it’s an important part of appreciating our country.

We visited a total of 5! yes 5 national parks and 1 National Memorial on this trip. I think it may be best to blog about each one of them separately.

We saw in this order:

  • Theador Rosevelt NP in North Dakota
  • Glacier NP in Montana
  • Yellowstone NP in  Wyoming
  • Grand Tetons NP in Wyoming
  • Mount Rushmore NM South Dakota
  • Badlands NP in Soth Dakota

If that sounds like too much, well you would be right, it nearly was. Here’s the breakdown!

  • 12 States
  • 1 Vanagon
  • 16 days
  • 5,739.9 Miles
  • 388.052 Gallons of Gas

Mount Rushmore and The Badlands

Coming out of Jackson’s Hole Kate and I were on the last gasp of this trip. We had completed a trimendouise tour of the mid north west, after coming this far we couldn’t pass up Mount Rushmore and the Badlands.

Mount Rushmore….. Well, it’s there and you can see it. Other than that I’m not sure what else to say. It’s not disappointing, it’s just what you want it to be. If you had the time to take all the tours and read all the plaques it might be even more impressive… We did not have time for that. We parked in the giant parking garage outside the grounds. Walked into the monument with thousands of other people and looks up at the sculpture. It’s one of those things, I wanted to check it off the list. It’s an icon of American culture and no matter how you feel about it, it’s part of the fabric of the country.

We turned on to a dirt road somewhere on the west end entrance of the Badlands and drove for what seemed like forever before getting to a campsite suggested by a friend of Kate’s over Facebook. I will not bury the lead here. It was the end of the trip and this was a very rough campsite. These two things do not mix. The site is called Sage Creek. As we drove up the dirt path to the camp spot a huge slow-moving bison walked into our path and stood in the middle of the road begging us to hit him. I was all to aware that our tin can van stood no chance against this very solid animal and we politely waited for the bison to decide to keep moving before we entered the camp.

Getting to the camp spot we took our place in the ring you see in the above photo. We opened the door to put out some chairs and have a relaxing afternoon drink. In that moment a massive cloud of black flies swarmed us and the van. Biting us and filling the inside of the van. After only a moment of trying to live in this fly hell scape we decided to get back in the van and decide what to do next. We discussed trying to find a hotel in a near by town but that seemed like a long shot. We decised to take a little walk and try to calm ourselves down. We strolled back down the road we cam in on and i climed a very muddy hill to get that arieal shot of the cam site.

Tired and beaten we made our way back to the van and took final stock of the situation. Both tired and annoyed at this point we found we had just enough food left for dinner and enough booze left to make the night bearable. By the true grace of God, my phone had just enough signal to play music in the van while we ate a combo of boiled hot dogs whiskey, and wine till we found ourselves relaxed enough to drift off to sleep.

The next morning we got up and drove to the visitors center for the Badlands and drover through some of the more scenic areas running across amazing land formations and amazing wild life.

With tired eyes and bodies, we pointed ourselves back east and made a mad dash for the NJ state to continue on with real life. sadly…

Day 2: Defiance OH > Hixton WI

Hello from the great state of Wisconsin! We left Defiance at 7am and pointed the van West. We drove to Byan Ohio and got back on 80/90 toward Chicago. We stopped for gas again and I forget the keys and gas cap on top of the pump again. Lucky for me this time I figured out the loss in 5 min so no disasters this time. Shortly after that, we got on 80/90 and the PopUp came loose and shot up into the air. Kate was driving and got us off to the side of the road before things got bad. Everything was fine. We aren’t sure how that happened. I guess we must have engaged the latch at some point. We are being extra cautious with it now. Must have been quite a sight.

We had one special stop in Rockford IL. Kate was born there and spent the first 5 years of life in a house on Harlem BLVD. I’ve heard a lot about it so we stopped by to take some pictures. The women that bought the house from Kate’s parents in 1989 still lives there and she came out and talked to us for a while.

We found ourselves and the end of the day in Hixton Wisconsin at the Hixton KOA which was lovely! The owners where super nice and the grounds were lovely and clean.

Saying goodbye to Mom and Dad

Kate at the famous Harlem Blvd house

The loveliest KOA

Day 1!!
Welcome to the 2019 Glacier National Park trip! In 2017 we made the ambitious trip to the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park and I did a terrible job documenting it. To be fair it was the first big trip in the van as I was stressed out!
This time is different! We have even more upgrades to the van and she is running like a top.

The trip started with Kate and jumping in the van at 6am on Saturday 8/3/19 to make our way to Defiance Ohio. For those of you that are on your game, you will notice that that date is Kates birthday. What better gift could one ask for than setting off on a monster adventure across the country!
We arrived in Defiance ay about 4:15pm that day with enough time to have a little birthday party and open some gifts. My parents were nice enough to prepare a little birthday jam. With a Mexican (build that wall) casserole and a beautiful Bert and Ernie cake to match the one, Kate had on her 3rd birthday.
It was a great (although short) visit. I borrowed my dads GoPro so maybe we’ll have some good video of our trip.

This was our lunch stop in Clarion PA : Pretty good,rough looking establishment.

One of the bigger interior projects in the Westy we did just last weekend. We replaced the original refrigerator with a much more modern Truck Fridge. 

The original Westfalia refrigerator was kind of impressive. It ran on your choice of 3 different power sources. It could use the auxiliary battery, the plug in shore power, or propane gas from the tank under the van. This may make you wonder why in the heck would anyone want to replace it. Well, it turns out none of those power sources worked particular well.  We only got it working on the plug in shore power. Even when we got it working it would at best only stay internally 20deg cooler inside than the temperature outside. 

The Truck Fridge on the other hand is a much more modern and efficient refrigerator. It runs both AC and DC power so we still have the option to run auxiliary battery or shore power. It also happens to be (almost) a perfect fit in the space left vacant by the original fridge. This only requires you to trim the cabinet frame and ad some posts to screw the flanges of the fridge into. Oh, there is also one other small issue. The Truck Fridge is only sold in black. This requires you to orders matching reproduction laminate for the fridge door, and then mask and spray the rest of the fridge to match the molding in the van…. So I did that. 

I wish I took more pictures during the install but it turned out to be a full days job

I’m dating this post to match the day we bought our Westy. On June 27th Kate and I did a very un-KateandPaul thing. We drove to Newbury Mass. and bought, pretty much sight un seen  1987 Vanagon Westfalia. The Vanagon Westfalia is a camper van. It holds 4 people both riding and sleeping. It’s endlessly customizable. It is also our ticket out of the little NYC bubble we live in.  

That might sound crazy but after 10 years in NYC it just like anywhere else. The path we run to work and back is well worn and difficult to break free of. The Westy is for that. 

There are a few challenges. Vanagons are notoriously under powered and unreliable. The Westy tops out at 65mph on the highway. That, I don’t mind. There is an ease in knowing the slow lane is for you and passing is a non issue. The real challenge is the simple fact the engine is almost 30 years old and reality of a part failing and canceling a trip is inevitable. It’s a good lesson in patience and dealing with disappointment, but the future is most likely a Subaru engine conversion. Giving us 100 more horse power and a modern engine that most mechanics can quickly find parts for. Not to mention a level or reliability we will never have with the very old VW engine. 

The previous owners really only used Westy as a sleeper. They didn’t take advantage of all it has to offer or all you can do with it. This is the most exciting part for me. On our very first trip to the Poconos Kate and I Installed the Go Westy Aux Battery Kit. This is a second battery besides your main car battery that runs all the electronics for the van.  There is also a 14 gallon water tank built into the van that is used by the sink. The water lines for that need to be replaced. There is also a fridge built it. It’s suffering from old age and can be replaced with a Truck Fridge that runs on both AC and DC power. Hoping to make that upgrade soon.  

Check out some pictures we’ve taken so far.