Failure to Sail

It was at least 115 degrees in the back of the van, but it was hard to tell if the heat was coming off the sun or the engine at this point. This was our fourth emergency pull over of the day as we attempted to cross Nevada in a record setting heat wave, and we were running low on water, cell service, and daylight. I popped open the back of the van to get a cross breeze, but there was nothing out there but hot air glistening off the endless stretch of open road.

I had flown into Californian a few days earlier to join Quin on the maiden voyage of his new van. The plan was to meet in Yosemite, cruise over to Utah, and then north through Idaho, and Washington. The day before the trip Quin called to tell me that the van had been overheating, but ignorance is bliss, and I brushed it off as the overcautious misgivings  of a new van owner. Plus, it was too late anyway – I’d taken the time off work, my flight was purchased, and I’d just finished reading “On The Road.” There was no turning this train around!


I figured we just needed to hit the road and everything would work itself out – they always do – right? Plus, what’s a little car trouble here and there, just part of the adventure. Now, as I laid as still as possible in the back of the van, in a futile attempt to stay cool, I realized that my unwavering optimism might have been a little foolhardy. As I listened to Quin try and explain our location to the AAA operator, it was clear this adventure wasn’t going anywhere unless we found a new vehicle. Unfortunately, the only one I knew of was sitting in my garage back in Seattle.

And so, during the two hour tow into Las Vegas, a new, albeit less “van life” version of the road trip was hatched. I flew back to Seattle that night to fetch my car, while Quin spent the next few days in sin city tending to his van. A week later we met back up in Salt Lake City with my car, for road trip part deux.

The second half of the road trip went off without a hitch. We met up with friends, hiked, backpacked, camped, and saw so many beautiful alpine lakes I lost count. But looking back, I the memories from the first half of the trip shine just as brightly. There is something about adversity that brings people together, and forms the catalyst for collaboration and creativity. At the time, I remember feeling like all those hours spent on the side of the road were a waste of time. Now I know they shaped the lens through which I viewed the rest of the trip.

The lows in travel, just like in life, help us appreciate the highs. Without them, it’s easy to take little successes for granted and eventually fail to notice them at all. While the easy road might sound more appealing, I’ve learned that it can also be monotonous. There’s little to gain, and even less to be learned by coasting along in cruise control. Spending time in a broken down van isn’t fun, but I wouldn’t change a thing about that maiden voyage. Not only did it help me recognize the positives in little victories, it set the stage for an unbelievably rewarding trip, where the only thing I could expect was the unexpected!

Words by Jess Dales. Photos by Quin Schrock.