C-Day in Cassey’s Excellent Adventure Overlanding. My entire body is humming with a nervous energy. I have been dreaming up this next idea for about 1.9 years. It all started with this little tiny idea that I would like to maybe do not a long term van life thing but something that would allow me to see the Americas, or at least Central and South America depending on my time frame. I have subconsciously been planning since, in every decision I make about everything I do every day.
When I was getting my Master’d degree, I had the small freedom of 2-3 weeks off at the end of every semester to do whatever I wanted. In this case, fly to South America and check it out. The minute I arrived in Lima on my first trip, I was enamored, swept away but the prospects and also by all of the other travelers who had much more time planned for their journeys compared to my measly 3 weeks! I realized then the possibilities, after sandboarding in the deserts of Huakachina, signing up and hiking the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, and deciding on a last minute trip to Rainbow Mountain in Peru, I was hooked.
Then there was the matter of my next trip traveling to Santiago Chile and taking the mountain pass to Montevido Argentina, whilst working my way down to Bariloche to meet up with my friend Megan and ski for the 4th of July. There was just so much opportunity and beauty in these countries and the wheels started turning. If there was a way for me to go back, but this next time with a more sustainable way of living, then just with a backpack, could I do it?
In comes Nancy Mulligan. a 1990 Volkswagen VW. I found her on Craigslist in Sonoma California. A beauty. There were only 2 owners of her before me and they both took very good care of her. Now, in the realm of vans and the van life way, I was not even considering a Volkswagen as my choice. But there was the matter that once I finished in Monterey California I would be moving to Hawaii, and when shipping a vehicle it is calculated by metric tons and most of the bigger vehicles (mercedes sprinter vans) would mean I would have to pay for anything that exceeded the shipment allotment. So, if you are trying to ship a car that falls into about the same height and length of a truck how do you find one with a full kitchen and the option for standing room?
That is how the Westfalia became the best option for me. Because I could ship it to Hawaii, have the kitchen, and standing room with the pop top up, plus the extra storage space, and all that jazz. Of course, the engine is not as powerful, even when mine has been redone within the past 2 years, but I can’t complain. I decided to go for it, and that was before I even knew how to drive a manual!
So, I bought her, had a friend help me drive her back to Monterey from Sonoma, learned how to drive her on all of the hills behind my house, and then drove her down to LA and shipped to her to Hawaii a couple months later. That was for only 6 months as I found out shortly after I got home and realized the timeline of events. I did what I could with her in Hawaii, got her a new clutch and a master slave cylinder, plus a couple of shocks from Steve’s Auto Repair. Highly recommend him for VW vans! and then got her back to Baltimore around the 19th of April. My dad and I drove from PA to pick her up and when I got her back, the planning commenced.
I actually got to sit down with my old Chief Engineer from the Amphib I was on in Hawaii for a brief couple of hours. I told him my plan, showed him my van, and we immediately went back to his office and started drawing and dreaming. That is when I really thought about what I wanted her to do for me on the drive to South America. Have a space for extra gas cans? Check. Have a toolbox on the back for tool storage? Check. Rooftop carrier for all those adventurous items? Check. He added in putting a winch on the front hitch. I really wanted to, but considering my timeline, that is one of the things I would have put on was unable to realize.
When I got back to Pennsylvania from Hawaii, I wanted to immediately dive in with videos and content of prepping Nancy Mulligan for the journey, and myself as well. But when I arrived home, it was like letting out a big breath of air. Suddenly, I just needed to be in the moment because of the hectic journey I had undertaken in the past year. From a 9 hours a day intensive classroom learning Indonesian and failing at it, to the buying of Nancy Mulligan in Sonoma, drive to L.A. to ship the car to Hawaii, to then flying home briefly to PA for a visit with family, finding out I was getting out of the military but still would be moving to Hawaii, moving to Hawaii, my grandmother passing away a week later, flying back to PA for the funeral, living out of a hotel in Hawaii for 2 months, having my house hold goods arrive, moving into and out of an apartment in 4 months, receiving the DD214, doing what I could at the command with what little time was ticking down, repacking all of my things to put into long term storage and shipping my car home. IT. WAS. ALOT.
When I got home, I just felt like going off grid. And so I did. I went over to D.C. and spent a weekend at a lake house with one of my best friends, drove down to Norfolk and reminisced about the beginnings of my Naval Career, had dinner with the Captain of my first ship and his family, saw all of my favorite girlfriends from the military, went over to Milwaukee to see my cousins and my family, flew to Chicago to see my other bestfriend Liz and her husband, then was off to Italy for 2 weeks to work on a project, and back again. I did take videos of some of these things. I posted a vlog about Norfolk and video’d in Chicago and Italy, but I don’t know it just kind of got all spun up. Everything fell away and only the moment mattered, and I was okay with that.
Which then led to all of the things I ordered arriving for the van. My dad is a car guy. He has pretty much all of the tools or can get them, he works on old cars and loves doing it. He has even taken apart and plans to reconstruct a 1935 Chord. BUT he hates Volkswagen. Hates them. Curses them. So you can imagine his disdain when I showed up with Nancy Mulligan, a slew of parts and pieces and asked him to help me get to work. His complete disdain for VW and my optimistic attitude paired well because before long, we were harmoniously looking at things, coming up with ideas, making multiple trips to NAPA Valley, Busy Beaver, Auto Zone, and Walmart a day, and just getting shit done.
It was really fun, and so exciting for every big win. Over the past month we have done so much: Recharged the air conditioning (Shut the F up, a 1990 Westfalia with working A/C. Better bet your bottom dollar), changed the oil, fuel filter, reran new water hoses for the sink (the old ones were nasty!), replaced the water pump and water faucet, found the fuse for both and replaced it! (that was a hard thing to do), installed a maxx air fan in the roof in leiu of the old sky light (that was our first project and definitely more work than expected), installed swinging arm doors on the back, the tool box, and gas cans, read electrical diagrams and installed some safety items, plus a CB radio (I better get up to speed with the trucker lingo!). It was amazing and fun and I feel like we’ve accomplished so much in such a short time!
Of course my parents and wary and scared and really wish I would not go, but I have been dreaming about this for quite some time, so I am all in and I think they have finally accepted that. I am not sure of the drive that sits in my soul and pushes me to do big things, and especially things that others cannot wrap their heads around but it is really not that out of the ordinary. In the Overlanding the Americas group on facebook, there are 1,000s of other people either overlanding or have the same ideas about it. Yes, I am a female solo traveler but I will be meeting people along the way, and I am very excited for the liberating feeling of nothing but the road, a new country, and the adventure to keep me entertained for the next six months.
As far as finances go, I have been saving every penny and dollar for this trip and feel aptly prepared for it and have an emergency fund at the ready for vehicle expenses as well. My budget is $2,000 per month and I will be keeping a detailed spreadsheet of spending and costs to see how closely I can keep to the budget. I am so absolutely elated that the stars have aligned and allowed me to take this trip. I am writing this post right now, sitting at my sisters kitchen table, just about to move everything into Nancy Mulligan I will need. Let’s do this.
This article appeared first on The Cassey Excursion.