One Year Ago: Reminiscing on the Vantastic Voyage


Last November, Jan and I (and our dog Benny) embarked on a month-long cross-country road trip in a van Jan converted into a mini RV. It was the trip of a lifetime—we experienced new things, places, activities, sights and tastes. We lived out of our van and stayed mostly in campgrounds of the national parks. We ate at restaurants and with some friends we visited along the way, but mostly we visited unfamiliar grocery stores and Jan cooked our meals on our wonderful Weber Baby Q.

Our route started in a clockwise direction from Fresno, CA.  A total of 5,341 miles were driven. We returned home the day before Thanksgiving with many good memories and hundreds of photographs.

At camp in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Pizza bread made on the grill
Potato, egg and bacon skillet in Arches National Park, Utah

Fast forward a few months after our return, the trip had a big part in the formation of this blog. Being on the road boiled life down to the simplest things: being with family, enjoying good food, and experiencing new things. When you’re on the road and living out of a van, there isn’t room for much else. Even now that we’re at home, these things remain important to us, which is probably how they transformed themselves into the focus of Our Life in Meals.

Bacon for breakfast in Zion National Park, Utah
Brussels sprouts in the skillet, sausage, and bacon-wrapped pork chops

A discussion of the trip came up recently, as Jan and I stared out our front window and at the van, agreeing that we needed to take another trip with it, and soon. But before we could do that, some reminiscing on the Vantastic Voyage was in order. Here are some highlights in photos:

Barbecued bison for dinner

The plan: In 2004 I drove with a girl friend from San Francisco to Boston in five days. Ever since then, I’d wanted to do another road trip, but this time, taking time to visit all the places off the interstates I’d missed. For a while, I’d thought the best vacation would be to rent an RV and hit the road for a month. I told Jan about my crazy idea and he was game.

Stopping to pick apples outside of Zion National Park, Utah

The van: I started researching RV rentals but found the cost to be ridiculous. Nearly $100 per night plus $.32 per mile in addition to gas for the thing? Jan and I decided a better option would be to purchase a used van to use for the trip, then sell it afterwards. This became Jan’s project. He found a 2002 Dodge Ram Van and proceeded to build the best mini RV I’d ever seen. We did check out the Sportsmobile factory in Fresno to copy their best ideas for a tiny fraction of the cost of the 4×4 Sportsmobiles.

Night before departure, the van is coming together
In the van with the essentials: solar-powered mobile kitchen, bedroom complete with mini blinds, Benny's bed, and barbecue

The trip: I’m a planner. Jan hates having a plan. I acquiesced to the idea that nothing about the trip would be planned except that our turnaround point was going to be the Jack Daniel’s factory in Kentucky, and we had a month to get there and back. We’d just drive and take in the country at our own pace.

Following the laws of the land -- different for each of the seven states!

Of course there were some bumps along the way. We didn’t make it cross country. After driving about a third of the way to the other coast, we realized we’d be driving all day and night while seeing nothing if we were going to make it there and back within a month. Despite the fact that Jan never got to Lynchburg, we did make it one of the best vacations we’ve ever had.

Making s'mores outside of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Best burger I've eaten in my life: barbecued by Jan outside of Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
It wasn't just us focused on food: The guide at Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada, called these cave formations "bacon"
Jan assured me more calories were burned in colder temperatures, hence bacon for breakfast daily was not only OK, but necessary

Did we last a month? No. We thought about celebrating Thanksgiving in Las Vegas and slowly making our way back home for the remainder of November, but decided a bigger, better adventure would probably be hosting our first Thanksgiving dinner at home (which we ended up doing, very successfully). Besides, after all the great food we’d eaten along the way, the all-you-can-eat buffet was a bit anticlimactic.

At the Mirage in Las Vegas

Did we get ever mad at each other living in such close quarters? Yes. I really don’t need to say much besides: men, women, and directions. They do not mix well. But then again, if you don’t really plan where you’re going, you can’t ever be lost, right?

The navigator

Would we do it again? Yes. When you sit back and let the road take you where it wants to take you, some fun discoveries are made along the way. For example, Super Wal-Marts were our savior. With grocieries (including bison steaks in Utah!), camping supplies, and a McDonald’s all rolled into one, I changed my standards for what made a good town—if it had a Super Wal-Mart in it, it was a happening and awesome place. After driving for miles and miles and seeing not much besides the desert, the glow of its neon sign became a welcome sight.

Another lesson learned? Throw out the guidebook. I’d scan it on the way to our next destination, excited to see Site A, Museum B, and Restaurant C, only to be disappointed. We’d just happened by the places the ONE day they happened to be closed, or the author made something out to be different than it really was. The best discoveries were the accidental ones, the places we stumbled upon, and the meals we threw together.

Notice the snow behind the Baby Q: Camping in the snow in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Fajitas at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
At the Coors Factory in Golden Colorado, they give you lots of free beer!

One year later, we still have the van. We want to go on one more trip with it before letting it find a new home. Of course, Jan’s got big plans for his next vehicle project. He says four-wheel-drive is required. The only thing on my list is a GPS.

2 thoughts on “One Year Ago: Reminiscing on the Vantastic Voyage

  1. I love the map – I’m a visual kind of person. The food looked delicious, and, best of all, you both survived with your marriage intact! If you can survive a trip like that, you can survive anything. I hope you can make your next trip soon.

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