Van living has become all the rage. In climbing communities, you can measure someone’s commitment to the dirtbag lifestyle by seeing their $5,000 2001 Dodge sprinter van roll up to the campsite while you look back at your tent. You see the rain clouds roll in, you see the van owner make coffee in their custom wood van kitchen, you see them taking a picture of the van in front of a mountain range. For a second, you contemplate buying a van. You do the math in your head if you can dig up a couple of thousand or try to decide which friend would be crazy enough to split a van with you. Then you decide maybe you should test out your friend's van first to see if you like it — at least that’s what I did. The van’s name was White Ferrari after the Frank Ocean song and was a 2002 Dodge Sprinter Van.
My friend Jon and I wanted to take a climbing trip from Los Angeles to Portland. Jon was trying to make it to his best friend’s bachelor party and I was trying to catch a flight to Austin. We never knew what White Ferrari had in store for us.
The First Night Was Pure Bliss In Mammoth Lakes
We parked, made dinner, and got naked. We went into a nude-only hot spring in the middle of this field. Cows were moo-ing, and the moon looked like a toenail. This was the only time I was looking forward to going back to the van to dry off and drink Stella Artois.
We went climbing at Clark Canyon the next day. We climbed like shit, but that didn’t bother us. We were worried about the rain coming in and thought about the windy mud road we took to get into the canyon.
Then the Air Condition Broke
On the way to Lake Tahoe, the White Ferrari decided to toast us. The heat in California reached close to 95 degrees in the valleys. Jon and I scrambled to turn every single nob on the dash. I was driving and in a panic, I broke off the AC knob and swerved into oncoming traffic at the same time. It was like White Ferrari was playing a little game.
I looked at Jon. Jon looked at me. I saw sweat dripping down his forehead. We laughed hysterically. The best friendships come from having common enemies.
As night came the van cooled off, but another problem came to light. Actually, it didn’t come to light at all and that was the problem. The speedometer light didn’t work and you had no idea how fast you were going down California highways.
When We Arrived at Lake Tahoe, the Key Broke in the Door
Things were good again, we were relaxed. We took a freezing bath in Lake Tahoe as locals looked at us. When we got back to the van and tried unlocking it, the key snapped in the door. We were stranded. When you’re stranded the best thing to do is drink. That night we realized the problem wouldn’t be fixed that night, so we retreated to a local bar, talked to everyone, and forgot about the key. Jon and I tried not to tell everyone about our van trouble. We were probably prime targets to be robbed as we couldn’t lock the van and our home was currently on a dark street. We slept in the van in the middle of South Lake Tahoe and prayed we didn’t wake up to the sound of a tow truck.
If you’re wondering how we went on with our trip (for a second we thought this whole thing was over with and we’d have to tow the van), we went to a locksmith, made a new key, went back to the van, thought the battery was dead, got some Cali bros to jump our battery, realized the key needed a chip, constructed an old-key-meets-new-key system by holding them together and cranking down really hard. White Ferrari came back to life.
Calling a Tow Truck: A Horror Story
Yes, we got too comfortable again. After a nice conveyer-belt sushi dinner in Bend, Oregon, we reverted back to being dumbasses. We attempted to get to a remote crag in Willamette National Forest. Jon and I agreed not to take the van down any sketchy roads. White Ferrari was not four-wheel drive and was definitely looking to screw us over one more time. Next thing you know, we were stuck in sand. The van wouldn’t move and had broken us. A van broke two grown-ass men. We were in the middle of a dark forest and couldn’t get unstuck. We tried everything you can try to get a piece of shit van unstuck. A tow truck had to help us. We didn’t have service, but we had cigarettes. For the first time in my life, I was stress smoking.
Jon and I finally gave up and fell asleep on an uneven bed, laughing at our agreement to not get too comfortable with the van and take it on any bad roads.
We awoke with the sun. Jon looked at his phone and saw he was receiving one bar of service. We called a tow truck and were out of the sand pit in an hour. The tow truck guy just laughed at us as we paid him $250. We were off to Smith Rock.
Diesel is Hard to Find in the Middle of Nowhere
Finally, we found good climbing at Smith Rock in Oregon. This day made everything better.
Next, we stopped by Crater Lake on the way to Portland and par for the course, the smoke from the California wildfires ruined the view. It was the cherry on top for a trip that took some years off my life.
Time was running out and we had to get to Portland. The only thing that was in our way was slot machines. A casino sat on the side of the road and lured us in. We didn’t want to blindly gamble. We had a mission: To earn the money we spent on a tow truck back. One hour later, we lost another $200. It would’ve been a great story though.
Back on the road, we were ripping through the Oregon mountain roads to reach Portland by nighttime. I had a flight to catch the next day or more money was going to be wasted. I looked at the gas level. It was below empty. I looked at Jon, who seemed finally at ease and stress-free. I decided not to tell him. I knew we were going to run out of gas. According to the trends, we were going to be stuck on the side of the highway for the night. We hadn’t passed a gas station in 20 miles. I could feel a tear forming in my eye. Like a vision, a gas station appeared at the bottom of the hill and yes, they had diesel for us.
I Wouldn’t Give Up the Experience for Anything
Yes, I hate White Ferrari. But, I wouldn’t have seen so much of California and Oregon without her. I wouldn’t have gotten all these great pictures. I wouldn’t have exercised that problem-solving part of my brain. When you’re traveling, there’s an infinite amount of things that could go wrong. White Ferrari amplified the things that could go wrong. Quoting Antwone Fisher, I want to say, “I’m still standing. I’m still strong.”
We made it to Portland. Jon went to his bachelor party and I caught my flight. Jon dropped me off at the airport, and I flipped off White Ferrari as she drove loudly away.