The following story will be much different than most of my biking stories. This story took place in the summer of 1994 when my son Rob and I were attempting to climb some big mountains in the western United States. The most interesting thing for me was the fact that “the son became the father and the father became the son”. In other words, Rob knew what he was doing to have a successful mountain climb and I had only practice climbing up the Blue Ridge Parkway. Not exactly a tough test. So I decide to listen to Rob and do what he thought was best even if I thought I had a better idea. By the way, at the time Rob was 25 years old and I was 51. I hope you enjoy this story. It will be in several parts so bear with me for the next few days.
Part 1–The Van
Part of climbing with Rob is living in his world. On the road, his world is his van. It is a 1970 VW Camper Van that shows all the battle scars of the 1000’s of unknown miles it had traveled.
A father’s patience upon entering this world, begins by suppressing any desire to bring order to the chaos that you have just entered. It is the twilight zone gone crazy. Here is a description from the eyes of a passenger (me) riding in the back seat of the chaos.
Starting at the dash there are a collection of Reggae music tapes strewn across the dash. I don’t know how many but some have the tape totally unraveled, some are in plastic cases and others are out. There are some well worn socks keeping the tapes company. Periodically a tin of chewing tobacco will appear on the dash. There are various maps of regions either climbed or to be climbed. Bugs of various species sit endlessly on the windshield and survey the maps below them.
The flight controls for this vehicle are also unique. Of course, nothing works as the manufacturer’s designer had envisioned it to work. First, in order to start the car you use no key. There is a switch under the steering column that activates the engine’s inner workings. The car is thus rarely locked. No key after all.
The floor and front seat are a collage of materials from previous excursions to unknown places. Today, Jim (Rob’s friend who is traveling with us) found a business card for a trapper in Oregon. He asked Rob if he knew him. Rob said the card came with the vehicle which had been purchased some four years earlier. Really kept it clean, huh?
Watching Rob drive the car is both hilarious and somewhat frightening. Simultaneously, he is steering the car at 55mph, selecting and inserting a favorite Reggae tape into the tape player and peeling a banana. Amazing.
The flight deck again is simple–too simple. There is no rear vision mirror. There is a cracked driver’s side mirror and the one on the passenger’s side, while intact, is tilted in such a fashion as to be useless to the driver. The normal right lane change goes like this.
Rob says to Jim “Hey Jim, is there any one on my right side? Is it okay to move over?’
I was going to end Part 1 here but there is still more to tell you about the VAN. If you need to go eat dinner feel free and read the rest of this after dessert.
Part 1a–The VAN
Moving to the rear living compartment you find chaos with utilities. There is a food table. This will normally contain food, cooking utensils, drinking bottles, maps, clothes, climbing gear, lip therapy tubs, etc. In other words, a catch-all. There is no edge (raised edge, that is) that will hold the contents in place. Every major left hand turn will see most of the contents of the table hurdled to the floor of the van. Fortunately, they don’t fall far as there is multiple climbing gear scattered all over the floor. The most discussing aspects of this scene are the pots and pans that still contain the fragments of a meal eaten some time in the past, like days past. The boys also like to buy their bananas very ripe–on the black side in fact. This is fine if eaten immediately but typically they are not. Today a very black banana was found under some gear oozing it’s life onto Rob’s road atlas. So I asked “Do you want to throw this out, Rob?” “No! We’ll eat it later.”
Above the food tray, there are two plastic milk crate type containers. These are suspended from the roof of the van with bungie cords. As the VAN rambles along these crates will swing to the rhythm of the road. If watched for an extended period, it can be quite hypnotic.
There is utility in the roof on the VAN as well. A space is available where the tent to the VAN once resided. In this cavity there are stored three ice axes, two pair of skies and some other paraphanalia difficult to describe. The back passenger seats convert into beds. The reverse is also true. The bed in the back converts into a passenger seat. It sort of depends on the phase of the moon and how ambitious Rob is when he gets up in the morning. Throughout the rear body there are multiple rucksacks, caches of climbing gear, soiled but always wearable tee shirts and an infinite number of single soiled socks. Amazing.
On the whole, the van begins to grow on you after a week. You get use to riding upright in the back seat without support and the wind hitting you from five sides. Soon you learn to store your food wrappers or beverage containers on any open spot on the floor. It really won’t affect the appearance of the VAN.
There are also no lights in the VAN. So after dark, in order to find something, you usually have to use a head lamp or light a small candle or simply forget about it until morning. The VAN is not Wayne’s World, it is Rob’s World. A mother should never be allowed to enter into this enviornment. She would be instantly traumatized without any hope of recovery. When I left Rob at the airport at the end of our adventure, I embraced him warmly, thanked him for the terrific time and whispered gently, “Clean your van, Son.”
Part 2–The Leaders Decision–will commence tomorrow. We will be climbing Gannett. Unfortunately I had a blister on my left foot that made climbing very difficult. Rob and I will discuss it before we climb.