Day 4: Near Chicago - McCafe + Cracker Barrel

The sun has set in Chicago.  We are stopped at the information center which is right next to the Cracker Barrel where we just had dinner (open face roast beef for me, mac and cheese for Lela).  We have been driving constantly today.  We stopped for about an hour outside of Indianapolis, IN and had lunch at a Speedway gas station that is no longer in use.  It was quiet there and there was a good breeze.  Lela made me a turkey sandwich and she had a PB&J.    Actually we have been battling the wind since Ohio.  And for some reason it has never been in our favor.  It is either blowing us off the road, to the right or the left, or it is blowing at us head on, slowing us down even more.  
I forgot to mention last night how awesome the McDonald's is in Parkersburg, WV.  They have a McCafe, which is like a Starbucks, without the high prices, right inside the McD's.  The also have WiFi which is how I blogged last night.  This morning we stopped there for breakfast and I got a WV favorite, sausage gravy and biscuits.  Very good!  Stop there if you get a chance.
The van is doing great.  No problems to speak of now.  Orangey is doing quite well, as you can see.  She sleeps most of the time during the day.
We are going to keep on driving for a few more hours tonight.   The plan is to get to Badlands, South Dakota as soon as possible so we can enjoy our time there.  So we are going to drive as much as possible over the next few days.  Tonight we are going to sleep in the van at a rest stop somewhere along the way (our map shows a few places).  
One last thing.  I want to thank God for giving me such a great family and taking care of us on this trip.  He has been with us the whole time and we truly are thankful.  He continually gives us strength in knowing that through him we have purpose and a new life.  Thank you Lord.  Amen.


Day 3: Parkersburg, WV (Grandmom's house)

We made it to today's destination, Grandmom's house, around 3:30pm. We left Norrisville, MD around 7am. It took a lot longer than expected because there were so many hills starting in western Maryland all the way through west West Virginia. The Vanagon had a tough time making it up some of the steep hills (10-12% grade) topping out sometimes around 40mph. I thought I was going to have to cut out the floor board and go "Flintstone" style at times. It just so happened that we stopped at Aunt Mindy and Uncle Kris's exit in Fairmont, WV for gas. I didn't even realize it when we pulled off. (Sorry we didn't call you guys, we had to gas up and go. But not before I stopped at the Chevron and got a pepperoni roll!) Slowly, but surely, we made it safe and sound.
It was so nice to see Gran! She is doing so well. The Lord has truly blessed us all by keeping her with us for a while longer. She is up and walking and her spirits are very high. She is very much looking forward to going home next week (but she likes getting foot rubs from the nurses!). She told us a bunch of childhood stories which kept us entertained for hours.
Tomorrow we have our biggest trip ahead of us yet. We need to make it to Chicago. This should take at least 10 hours. Lela and I will take turns driving to stay fresh (she drove some today). It should be easier terrain for traveling (less hills). We plan on staying at a roadside service area with restaurants and bathrooms. So, I doubt there will be any internet service but I will try my best to post for all of you keeping up with our journey.
No pictures today, but believe me the hills of West Virginia in the summertime look like a Chia Pet gone wild.


Day 2: Assateague Island NP, MD - Attack of the Ponies

After finishing blogging at the Hilton we went out to lunch at Tony's pizza on the boardwalk (1st st.) The cheese pizza was excellent. We spiced it up well with cayenne pepper, black pepper, oregano, parmesan cheese, and garlic powder. It hit the spot, we we're both starving. The sign to the left was posted inside Tony's. Very classy Ocean City. We also bought a "OC" wave sticker on the boardwalk and put it on the back window. On the back we stopped at a roadside stand and bought some firewood, zucchini, and a tomato for dinner.

We headed back to camp and took a nap in the van. After waking we took an hour bike ride around the campgrounds. We saw so many ponies, deer, and birds along the way. We took a bunch of pictures. We were having a great time.

After making it back to the campsite around 7pm I started the fire and Lela began cutting up the zucchini for the grill. We brought out the radio, listened to some tunes and relished the last little bit of sunlight. While preparing our meal we noticed that the ponies were now near our campsite eating some grass. I took out the camera and starting taking some pictures. The ponies must have smelled the zucchini because in a matter of seconds they were making a direct line towards our site. Then all 7 ponies decided to take over our campsite. The only thing they didn't devour was the zucchini already on the grill. They slobbered all over my iPod, ate all of our mustard packets, opened the remaining slice of pizza from Tony's, and ate half of our newly purchased tomato (Why did they only eat half? I don't know, but it made Lela even more upset.) So we ended up eating the zucchini, Lela made me a turkey sandwich, and we had some crackers. All in all a good meal, but not what we had expected.

We slept in the van again because it was really cold. I wore 3 t-shirts. Lela of course was well prepared and had on her full length JP's (that's PJ's to non Pomp's).

We left the park this morning and have now made it back to my parents. We will leave early tomorrow morning for Parkersburg, West Virginia to visit my Grandmom.


Day 1: Assateague Island NP, MD

If yesterday gives us any idea of what the rest of our trip will be like, we are in for an exciting time.  We arrived at the campsite around 5pm and began to setup camp immediately.  I put the tent up and grilled some sandwiches while Lela kept an eye and Orange as she explored her new territory.  On the way to the ocean we had heard on the radio that we could expect some thunderstorms later on that night.  I made sure to put up the rain tarp on the tent so we would stay dry.  We took a bike ride around the park and ran into a deer eating some grass along the road.  She stared at us as we passed, but did not think of running away.  We then played a game of Scrabble, which was very hard fought down to the end.  My 63 point word "quiz" solidified the game for me, Lela could only just give up.  And she did!  (However, she refused to write down the score on the sheet so this blog will be my only proof of the historic win)

As the sun set, and the temperature started to cool we decided to take a shower.  The facilities were very nice, but the water was COLD.  As we turned in for the night we remarked how beautiful it was to be sleeping outdoors in this wonderful environment.  Little did we know the environment was about to turn against us.  The winds picked up (30-40 mph) and we saw lightening in the distance.  Around 1am we had to ditch the tent and make a run for the van.  We threw some heavy items in the tent to secure it (so we thought).  Strangely enough, it never rained but the winds were strong enough to blow Lela away so I had to put her on a leash tied to the van (okay, just kidding, but they were strong).  

We made it through the night safe and sound.  The bed in the van is very comfortable.  Thanks to Hilton Hotels for letting me use their internet.  We're heading out now to get some pizza that Lela is craving.  Orangey is well adjusted now to the van.  She really seems to like her new home.


The van is packed and we are ready to go

After a long exhausting day of packing, packing, and more packing, we are ready to head out in the morning to Assateague Island, our first destination. Curtains have been made, the roof rack is completely full, interior lights installed, and seats fixed. Almost everything we wanted to do has been done. Unfortunately we didn't get to decorate the outside of the van with peace signs, bible verses, and flowers like we had wished. Maybe somewhere along the way it will happen! I have to say, though, the inside looks really nice.

We will head out in the morning after a good night's rest (you can be sure that I will rest well after today!). Although, the weather apparently is not on our side. It is suppose to rain the entire time we are at the beach. Regardless, our spirits are high and we are excited to start our trip.


totally excited!

yaye!!! i'm sooo excited cause finally it's coming near...excited when i think of all the beautiful places we get to visit and take pix of. what great fun it will be... my mom came to visit us for about a week this month - she and jp visited around DC and arlington and we had lots of fun going around eating at all kinds of restaurants. was great having her around before our trip. we'll see her again in september when we go to Ethiopia, God willing. jp's doing such a good job preparing us for the trip; i'm glad to be joining him in getting ready... i have a month before starting work...we're getting used to this packing thing... even orange now knows when she sees the suitcases. that's all for now,

At my parents house

Yesterday we moved out of our Arlington, VA apartment, packed up the van, and drove to my parent's house. It was pretty cool to see the van stacked with luggage and with our bikes on the back. It was kind of a preview of what it will be like once we head out on the road. The trip took 2.5 hours and the van made it with no problems. Orange got sick near the very end of the trip. I hope she starts traveling better. We are a little bit concerned for her.

Today Lela, my Mom, and I went "into town" (Bel Air, MD) and picked up some supplies. We got some burlap material to make curtains from JoAnne fabrics. I also picked up a cargo box in Joppa from someone off of Craigslist. At Dick's Sporting Goods we got a nice aluminum fold up table that works great, a 3-person tent, and 2 fold up camping chairs. All in all, with our coupons we saved a good amount of money. Once we got home my Dad helped me mount the cargo box and he also fixed the cigarette lighter outlet. And somehow the Aux outlet on the front of the stereo now works properly so using the iPod will be a cinch.

We are definitely getting there.


Finally getting somewhere!

Today I was able to put some personal touches on the van on behalf of the weather holding out. Kayla will be happy to know that I have added the Ron Jon sticker to the rear glass (picture on left). I also ran the bungee/curtain lines around the entire inside of the van. Now we just need to make some curtains and we'll be set. This will be a priority for us next week. I attempted to install those round touch lights to the roof/cargo area but the just wouldn't stick (these will help at night for soft lighting). The front windshield reflector fits pretty nice, hopefully it will do it's job and keep the heat out. The rugs we bought from Ikea fit well too (got them for $6 a piece - on sale). I also installed the bike rack on the liftgate which fits nicely. All in all, very good progress.

Check out the pictures in the slide show for more details.

The van is fine.....for now

I got the van back from the shop yesterday.  Apparently a hose had dry rotted and crack which was why I was leaking coolant.  I went ahead and paid for an oil change as well.  It needed it anyway.  Lela and I took it on a drive last night and everything went fine, no problems.  

We still need to get a cargo box for the roof.  Last night we went to look at one from Craigslist but it didn't fit.  We are still on a search for a cheap box (I could just buy a $500 Thule box, but I don't want to spend the money).

I was going to add Kayla's sticker today to the back window but it's raining.  Maybe it will clear up later on.  


Getting frustrated, asking for grace

Yesterday started out great. We picked the van up from the shop, went to the MVA, registered the van and got new tags. Everything was looking good.

Then I decided to check the coolant level while getting some gas. Not good. It was beyond low. I had some coolant with me so I added some and figured I would keep an eye on it and see how bad it was leaking. Not a big deal, right. Wrong. Well, when you get stuck in traffic from Beltsville to Arlington the temperature of the any vehicle can get up pretty high. I knew something was wrong when I saw smoke coming from the left rear. This is in heavy traffic in the 395 tunnel in DC, by the way. I pulled into the median and saw a stream of coolant flowing out and dripping onto the exhaust causing a nice gray cloud of smoke. Not good. I had at least 15 minutes of driving left with the traffic I was facing and I had to get there fast, otherwise the coolant would be gone. The van thankfully made it back home safely but not after causing me stress that I was not seeking.

I took the van to a local mechanic in Arlington today to take a look at it. They are suppose to call me today with the estimate. Mo money, mo money, mo money. I just hope it can get fixed by the 20th. This is when we leave Arlington and go to my parents before we head out on our trip.

Side note: I asked the secretary at the shop if they work on Vanagon's (some shops don't like to). She said "Sure, not a problem. We just replaced the engine in the Scoobie Doo van.", while looking through the window at my van to confirm it's the same kind.


Thule cargo box for sale anyone?

Alright! I spoke with the mechanic today and the van is definitely ready. So, Lela will take me to the shop in the morning and then I will take the van to the MVA for tags. The bill to fix the van is about $550.00. A little more than I wanted to spend but it needed about $200.00 in parts so spending another $300.00 on labor is realistic (cost per hour of labor is around $100.00). Once you add tax in and shop supplies (this is where the get you) the price seems realistic. When I go there I will go over the bill with them. I will use my Auto Insurance Estimator skills if needed!

Now I can finally buy a Thule cargo box off of Craigslist to mount to the roof rack. I have been looking for about a month but had no way to pick it up while the van was in the shop. I am hoping to find one that has 21 cubic feet of space (that's the biggest one they make) to store all of our stuff for the trip. We are going to try and keep the inside of the van free of clutter, so the cargo box should help with this.

Lela has been getting some good tips on how to take cats camping by looking at some other blogs and videos on Youtube. Some of them are pretty funny. Did you know they make tents specific for cats?! Even Coleman makes one! No, it's not the little model you see in Walmart or Target either. I always thought of asking them if I could by that little tent though!!!


National Park pass

Last week I spent $80.00 for the "America the Beautiful" national parks and federal recreation land pass. I just received it in the mail today. This will allow Lela and I free access to all national parks and discounted rates on camp sites. Hopefully it will be worth the money. With the amount of time we will be spending at camp sites I am sure it will pay for itself in no time.


Customizing the van, your thoughts!

Thanks to my cousin Kayla, we will now be adding the famous "Ron Jon" surf shop sticker to the back window.  Once we get the van back from the mechanic I will be sure to stick it on and post a picture for all to see.  Lela has also written my Grandmom and plans on talking to my Dad in hopes that they would be able to paint flowers on the side of the van.  My dad was a custom auto painter back in the day of van murals (70's) so I am sure he can come up with something.

This leads me to a question for all the readers out there (about 5 of you now!).  How would you customize our VW van?  Of course, there are some things I would want to do but money and time prevent me from doing so.  However, if your idea is cheap, fun, and we like it, we just may be able to make it happen.  Let us know, just add a comment.


Starting Point

I received and update from the mechanic today. The van should be ready by Friday!!! After that it's off to the MVA to renew the tags.

We have also decided to start our trip from Assateague Island in MD/VA. This should be a great start. There is nothing like camping on the beach with wild ponies.


Round 1 of Supplies

So I went to Walmart the other day to look for some stuff to purchase for the trip. We are trying to be thrifty. I would love to go on a shopping spree at REI but that is just not going to happen. I did buy a few things at Walmart that I thought would be helpful. However, I am holding off on purchasing the "good stuff" (camping stove, fuel, table, etc.) until Lela and I can go together. I am definitely psyched for this trip and I want to make sure that we do the important things together. So I bought a sun shield for the windshield. I am hoping this will keep the van cool for sleeping if it is parked in the sun during the daytime. I also bought, probably the most critical supply although probably the least exciting, duct tape and black electrical tape! You never know when you may need this stuff and it always comes in handy for fixing even the most random things. Oh, and don't forget the ever practical bungee cords. The 24 pack I bought has a variety of lengths (and colors, wuuu!). The best find though was the battery powered fan. I have been looking around for one for a few weeks now, so when I came across it I knew it was mine. It is powered by size D batteries. I couldn't find them at the store so I will have to pick them up later.

While I was out I also stopped at Pepboys and picked up a cigarette lighter socket. The van's is european and doesn't hold my GPS unit in securely. I read on the internet that the one from Pepboys will do the trick. I hope so, otherwise I may have to break open that duct tape earlier than I thought.

The van is still at the shop. They are giving me the ole' "We are just so busy right now. We are down two mechanics"....blah blah blah. We have all heard this before. I am not that concerned about it right now because parking is an issue in Arlington without a permit. So, as long as it's ready within a week or so it will be okay.

Enough for now.


looking forward to it...

pretty excited about our upcoming trip::  we have about 2.5 weeks to get to seattle, WA to VA, make a few stops to visit friends and landmarks... hope orangey's stomach problems resolve so she can join us on the trip.  we might have to fly her out there.  none the less, it'll be a great adventure...