From the Shop: On the Road again.
In 2005, I was in the process of finishing up a master’s degree in Geology, was feeling a bit burned out on school, and wanted to take some time- maybe a year- to travel and paddle. I bought a 1994 Airstream B190, a vehicle I’ve heard (accurately) described as “The ugliest and best camper van ever made.” I never looked back, and ended up spending about four months a year in the van and traveling the country paddling for the next seven or eight years.
There were plenty of issues along the way. The fuel pump gave up partway into the shuttle on the Piedra. A driveshaft issue lead to transmissions issues that left me sitting in three different towns in Nevada, and one in Colorado where the driveshaft was finally replaced. But that also lead to the first of two transmission replacements- the second left me sitting in Fayetteville WV for a week while the New River dries were running (Not a bad place to get stuck). There was a difficult to diagnose computer issue that lead to a season’s travel worth of rough running. It had a tendency to destroy tires. But for a van with all the comforts of home, it seemed worth it. During those years, I traveled, paddled, competed, camped in beautiful places and parking lots, met great people, got married, and launched Blackfly Canoes, and I learned a lot about auto repair.
In 2013, after my son was born, the ol’ van wasn’t really practical for family travel. The miles had taken their toll- the steering was frighteningly sloppy, the brakes were soft, and there was no where in the van for a child seat. Family priorities took the place of extended road trips. I parked the van next to the shop. It sat for a few years. It sunk into the mud. The roof vent leaked. Mice moved in. The future looked bleak for this old rig. I thought about getting rid of it, and almost did, but them memories of how it got me to where I am today made it tough to part with.
Last fall, when we started building the boat shed, we needed to move the van. A new battery and the old girl fired up strong. Then it happened: my son, now 5 and starting to paddle with me, expressed an interest in traveling in the van. Anyone who has ever tried to argue with a 5 year old knows you can’t really do it, especially when it’s something you tend to agree with. Over what ended up being basically a year, “We” replaced the steering box, worked on the brakes, fixed a handful of other deferred maintenance issues, and got the van registered and inspected. I gutted the ceiling and wall, evicted the mice, replaced the insulation and paneling, swapped out the sideways facing sofa for a car-seat friendly captain’s chair, replaced the flooring, rewired a lot fo the electrical on the “house” side, and on and on. There’s still a lot more projects to finish up (in fact it will probably never be done, but it’s now a hobby, not a necessity), but Labor Day weekend, we loaded up the family, including two dogs, and headed to Beaver Fest, the van’s first trip in 5 years. Brennan and I paddled the Sacandaga and surfed at the Taylorville takeout in the Octane 92. Kate and Brennan hiked along the Raquette and Taylorville. One dog hated the trip, One dog and one small child loved it.
With about a week turn around, it was time for me to head to Gauleyfest, and then to North Carolina to pick up another load of Condor hulls. Without the family in tow this time, I debated taking the van, but with the threat of a very rainy week, having somewhere dry to call home seemed like a good idea. Even though the rain generally held off, the trip was generally uneventful from a mechanical standpoint, and was the right decision. I spent 11 nights in the van, paddled 9 days, ran three new rivers, and got a lot of great reactions both from people who remember the van from it’s first glory days, and those who hadn’t seen it before.
I guess the conclusion of all of this is I’ve realized how much I’ve missed time on the road. Over the past few years, I’ve still been able to do a fair amount of it, but I’m looking forward to doing more of it now that the van is on the road again. I attribute a lot of the success of Blackfly to spending time out on the road and river in the early days and getting people stoked on the canoes. I’ve handed off some of that to my team, but I know I need to do more of it myself too- if for no other reason than I love doing it. To that end, I’ve got two more (short) trips on the calendar this year- Moose fest in October and the Tohickon release the first weekend in November. If you want to try out a boat or just say hi, just look for the big van with the canoes.
(I’ll also be doing free deliveries at the Moose and Tohickon, there’s now a shipping option for that on the checkout so you can save some money on shipping).