The Story of Big Blue

Big Blue is obviously a HUGE part of the Vanderlust story. I'd be cheating everyone if I didn't share a little about our robust friend - an old friendship that's found new life.

I guess the right place to start is at the beginning. So, let's go back, waaay back, to a time when my life was much simpler.

I grew up in, around, or under Volkswagen Vanagons. My father had an older bus (can't remember what year), and three Vanagons. Mostly every memory I have of any adventure we ever took has a Vanagon in them. They were his daily drivers, the family workhorse, and our passport to the all things adventure. Although I can't honestly remember, I presume I admired them as a kid. But, my affinity for Vanagons wouldn't last.

My feelings towards them took turn for the worse around the same time my hormones took a turn for the worse - high school. I remember when I was younger being so proud and excited when we had field trips because everyone wanted to ride on our Vanagon. But in high school, I remember asking my dad to drop me off around the corner so I wouldn't be seen in our awkward, ancient brick.

Towards the end of high school, the van finally had one breakdown too many, and this time, our tight budget couldn't stretch enough to pay for the repairs. And that was that; my dad bought another van, a mid-90's Mercury Villager, and I eventually got my first car, an 1987 Subaru Legacy GL wagon. It was the biggest $300 piece of shit this side of the Mississippi, but it was mine, it had wheels, and that's all I cared about.

Baxter always enjoyed a good romp in the snow when most of Seattle was immobile.

Baxter always enjoyed a good romp in the snow when most of Seattle was immobile.

Fast forward about ten years. I had owned 5 vehicles since that first Subaru, and had finally settled on a car - my second Subaru, a 1995 Impreza named Baxter. He (yes, he) was a good, reliable friend that got me to and from the mountain passes and on plenty of adventures. But man was he tiny! I'd be hard pressed to fit myself and my gear, much less another person and theirs; and, God forbid I would ever have any friends that I would want to bring because that sure as hell wasn't happening! So, I began to think of an alternative, utilitarian vehicle that had plenty of room, would support my active lifestyle, I could work on myself, and that had a good, adventurous spirit. Like a kraken rising from the depths, the Vanagon re-entered my life.

I started looking at craigslist every couple of weeks to see what I could find. Vanagons have actually started gaining value and most were ridiculously priced. Still, I'd check religiously in case any deals popped up, and to stay excited about the idea of one day owning one. Late one night in September of 2013 I saw an ad for a reasonably priced 1985 Vanagon GL. I clicked it, skimmed through the pictures, and started sifting through the description. It was late and I had become a pro at high speed craigslist ad scanning so I overlooked a bunch of info. But, for some reason I decided to slow down and re-read the description. Then it hit me. I frantically scrolled back to the top of the ad and took a good long look at every picture until I saw one. It was a picture taken from the rear seat facing forward. Out of the front window I saw just the sliver  of a house, but I knew right away what this meant. "No fucking way", I said out loud. I immediately hit the "reply" link and started an email:

"Hi! This is gonna sound really weird, but is this John? This is Nate Dietz, my father and I used to rent the basement of your house when I was a kid and I think I'm looking at an ad for your Vanagon on craigslist..."

My dad and I lived in the basement of one of his Boeing coworker's places from the time I was 8 till about 14. He also had a Vanagon, a blue one, and I remember going on trips with him, his daughter, my dad, and other family friends to places like Mount Rainier, random camping excursions, and even just errands around Burien, a suburb of Seattle. I could barely sleep that night thinking of how crazy it would be if it was the same van.

The next day, I waited for a response. It never came. I was bummed, to say the least.

A day or so passed and I got a call from my dad. He started off asking the usual questions - how I was, how work was, the usual - then said, "Oh, and John's here with me, he says you were trying to contact him about his van." DAD! Haha.

Even crazier still than randomly stumbling across that ad was the fact that one week prior to me sending that email, my dad had actually moved back in to that house; that same house! John hopped on the line and we talked about the van for a little and he said that if I wanted to test drive it, I had better do it soon because he was about to store it for the winter (he's a snowbird who spends his summer up here in Washington and the winters down in Arizona). I said that this wasn't a problem because I had already promised my dad that I's come help him move in the next night! How crazy is that? I was stoked.

But, being an adult means there are certain responsibilities we cannot ignore. Getting out of debt in order to live a freer life was at the top of my list. John was asking about $5,000 for the van; a fair price for a 1985 GL tin-top in great condition with a rebuilt engine. But, even with my savings, I was still short and would only be able to get it if I took out another loan.

Despite my concerns, I went down as promised, helped my dad unpack, and test drove John's van. Being back at that house, with John and my dad, and especially driving all of us to the restaurant that night where we caught up on the last 14 years and swapped stories was, needless to say, a surreal experience. We returned to the house and, with debt on my mind, I told John I'd have to think about it. He said he'd go ahead and set it up for winter storage and to let him know if I changed my mind.

Several weeks passed and I was bummed. I continued to look for Vanagons despite my recognition of the fact that, given my current financial situation, would not be able to get one any time soon. I knew the Baxter, my Subaru, was reliable, but I also knew it was only worth about $1,800 and that it had about $1,500-$1,800 worth of preventative maintenance (tires, brakes, clutch, etc) that needed to be done in the near future. I was torn.

One night, after another long session of ruminating on the situation I decided it wasn't a decision I could make, so I decided to leave it up to fate. My answer came sooner than I expected.

The very next evening, I was driving to meet some friends to go bowling. It was a typical fall evening in Seattle - dark and raining - and I was cruising along a two lane road when a Tacoma took a left across my lane. I had no chance of missing it. My airbags deployed, the firefighters okay'd me, then passed me to the paramedics, who then referred me to the police. After the shock wore off, I came to and saw Baxter. Despite the looks of it, I knew enough about body damage to know that he was totaled. I was seemingly okay, they were seemingly okay, and I had my answer.

"If you're totaled and you know it, scrunch your hood..."

"If you're totaled and you know it, scrunch your hood..."

If I would've tried to sell Baxter, I maybe could've gotten $1,500 for him, maybe. My insurance company told me the damage to Baxter was well over $7,000 and in the end I got around $3,500 for the total loss and other expenses. John came down in his price to $4,000, so I ended up picking up the van for just about $500. Nuts.

Sometimes, things in life happen without us even realizing there's a flow, a rhyme and a reason, a purpose. Some say this is all by chance and just to be glad it worked out this way. I guess I agree. But, I also feel that sometimes things are just too coincidental, too oddly related, ya know? Call it what you will, but the story doesn't end there. When I stood outside of the 7-11 I had immediately stopped at after purchasing Big Blue and snapped the pic below, I promised myself to live more adventurously; to positively align myself with the things I wanted in life - who I wanted to become, experiences I wanted to have, people I wanted to meet, etc - and Vanderlust Americas is directly related to that promise. I'll leave it up to you to decide if I've keeping up my end of the bargain ;)

Pretty clean for damn near 30 years old!

Pretty clean for damn near 30 years old!

Proud new owner, thankful old friend.