75 on the dash, channel ORANGE on blast. The tires peel softly beneath the bass lines as mountain skylines inch past our eye line. Yeah, we’re going fast, but the moment’s infinite.
“The lazy man works twice” Andre professed in between chuckles. He had discovered a bug he introduced to our application by cutting corners a few months back. “Whenever my dad caught me cutting corners, he would say, ‘the lazy man works twice’ and so whenever I catch myself these days, I say it too, as a reminder.”
For being in his mid-twenties, Andre had the wisdom of someone much older. Likely the result of his adventist upbringing, he had a very instinctual bird’s-eye view on life. He knew how to appreciate experiences and live in the moment. “YOLO” he would exclaim, whenever in doubt.
“So, what’s your plan?”, Andre asked one sunny California winter afternoon. The Silicon Valley startup we both worked for was in the middle of a large wave of employee churn, and we were having a 1:1 chat to figure out our own plans.
“Like, for life? What’s your 5 year life plan?”
“Well, in 5 years, I think Nicole and I will get married, and we’ll probably start to think about kids. I’ll still be climbing. I’ll probably continue working in software, but I’d like to try out people management.”
Van life was never part of the plan.
On an ordinary night in January 2016, our dear friends Andre and Hau passed away in a car accident. Hau died on impact, while Andre passed away in the emergency room hours later.
Those guys were a huge part of our lives, and I’ll save Hau’s story for later, but losing Andre was, from my point of view, one of the major catalysts for the adventure we’re currently on.
In October of 2015, after lots of back and forth, Nicole and I preordered our brand new Mercedes Sprinter.
Fun fact: Dealerships in the Bay Area don’t usually carry completely empty cargo Sprinters. They’re usually passenger focused. So, get ready for a several month wait time if you’re looking to buy a brand new cargo van.
Back then, we lived a typical (for any large metropolitan area, I’m sure) weekend warrior rock climber’s life. We worked stable jobs, lived in a 1 bedroom apartment, and trained relentlessly at the climbing gym in between work hours until Friday evenings rolled around, and our real lives resumed.
Living that lifestyle, and learning from the examples of some of our close climbing friends, lead us to consider upgrading our camping situation from the cramped trunk of a modest Toyota wagon, to the spacious cabin of a shiny new Sprinter. We worked hard, and made it happen.
I remember when I told Andre that we had finally ordered the van. He was psyched. In a frenzy, he pulled up listings for van parts, and articles about other conversions. He sent links to stories of people who had built vans. He gathered data about how much life would cost if he got a van as well. He was showing his excitement for us in his own, infectious, way.
In February, roughly one month after he passed away, Nicole and I picked up our van from the dealership. While still deeply hurting, the excitement that Andre helped cultivate was still there, lingering on the tip of our minds.
If you ever talk to a grievance counselor, they’ll tell you to be conscious of triggers in life that may resurface memories of the ones you’ve lost.
For me, the van was one big (small?), ~82 square foot, trigger of memories of Andre.
As the year progressed, and Nicole and I poured our hearts into planning and building, the emotions of any success, or mistake, were magnified by the thought of what life might be like if Andre were still around to share those feelings with us.
The 7 months of weekends that we spent building what is now @vanwardbound, unintentionally provided the most useful therapy I could have asked for to get me through a tough time.
When the van was nearing completion, ideas of giving up our apartment and most of our possessions to move in permanently, and eventually hitting the road, started floating around our heads. It wasn’t an easy decision. Weighing our responsibilities against our happiness prompted quite a few heated debates between us, and between our parents. But, when the decision was finally made, I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of how psyched Andre would have been for us.
And so, here we are. More than one full month into our year-ish long road trip around North America. Currently in Colorado, but heading toward Wyoming.