I speed across The Great Plains (read as ‘I pressed the pedal to the metal and almost hit 65’), focused on reaching Chicago and kicking off my 3 week visit home with some cold beer. I was giddy, like a kid on Christmas Eve. I had spent the better part of 2 months vagabonding around the Pacific Northwest, and though I visited lots of friends and family, the final few weeks were mostly solo. I was ready to see some friends!
Tantor and I navigated through the Chicago rush hour traffic with ease, mostly because we stayed in the slow lane. I steered the van to my college roommate’s condo and spent the evening catching up with JD and his fiance Claire. I only had one night in Chicago and early the next morning I climbed back into the van and headed east to Michigan.
My next stop was South Haven and the Midwest office of FoodTools. Contrary to popular belief, I actually still work, I just do freelance marketing projects from the road, mostly for FoodTools. The company was having a BBQ and I rolled around the back of the building, honked Tantor’s horn, and popped the top on the van and a cold beer.
That afternoon I followed my good friend Ryan Petrovich north to spend the weekend in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We shared good beers, good stories, cruised around the lake on a pontoon boat, and I even tried to fight a fire hydrant. I lost.
After surviving a weekend of drinking way too much beer, I packed the van and headed south, back home to Indiana. My first stop was in Fort Wayne to see Brooke Welch, my friend from high school. She is a news reporter and thought it would be interesting to do a story about me living in my van. I had fun catching up with Brooke and laughing at myself later that night while I watched the 10 o’clock news.
Tantor rattled down the gravel driveway to my family’s farmhouse and my home base for the next few weeks. I ‘unpacked’ and prepared to live indoors, did some much needed laundry, and caught up on work. My friend Michelle McIntosh from Swiss Village, the local retirement home, had asked me to be a keynote speaker for the “Active Aging” week and I gladly accepted. I spent a few days preparing a presentation covering my Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike, running 100 miles, and traveling around the country while living in a van. On the day of the program I parked Tantor near the front entrance of the community center and gave a 30 minute program to a packed house. I had a blast!
A few days later Ashley Fosnaugh asked me to speak to her high school students about travel, hiking, and living in a van. I didn’t tell her, but I’ve always dreamed about being invited back to South Adams High School to give a presentation to the students. By simply asking me to come talk to her class she helped me check off one of my life goals!
Working in Berne was interesting. My mom has a sign in the farmhouse that reads “Behind the times on purpose” and her dial-up internet was not going to cut it for my freelance projects. I headed into town to find fast WiFi, splitting my time between Swiss Village, the library, and McDonald’s. While working in McDonald’s it hit me that I had worked in the same building all 4 years in high school. I was back to working there again, but this time I was on the other side of the counter!
My good friend Justin Haines and his girlfriend Carson had just moved back to Berne from New York City. We got together several times, drank good beers, and shared fun stories. Justin mentioned that we could borrow his dad’s boat and float down the Wabash River and camp for a night. I was in! We dropped the boat off, left my van near the river 6 miles away, and started our float.
Unfortunately, the water level was really low, so instead of a ‘float’, it turned into a ‘get out and pull’ kinda day. It was fine though, we had plenty of cold beer and we weren’t in a hurry. That is, until the sun set and we were still a mile from the campsite. Justin, Carson, and I hopped out of the boat, left it on the shore, and hoofed it across a few fields to find the van and our tents. The next morning Carson headed into town and Justin and I walked back to the boat and finished our ‘pull’ down the river.
I also spent a night in Muncie with Nick and Kari Gayes, visited Ball State, participated in a trap shooting league with my step-dad, attended several Rotary Club meetings around Berne, and drove to South Bend to see my cousin. While in South Bend my good friends Patrick Sweeney and Alex Ramsey were running from the Chicago Marathon to the New York City Marathon. I happened to be in town as they were running through and was able to help crew them for 2 days, running with them, shuttling them to a TV news interview, and providing cheap cold beer.
My 32nd birthday passed while I was home, and I decided that a good way to celebrate would be to run 32 miles (65 loops) around Lehman Park where I grew up. I ran loop after loop while friends and family stopped by to check on my progress. At one point a guy driving a van pulled over and said “Were you on the TV news the other night?” I said yes, and he turned to his Amish passengers and proceeded to tell them all about my van, my travels, and my life on the road. He turned back to me and said “God Bless brother, safe travels” and he was gone. I had no idea who he was, but it made my day!
The time flew by and soon enough I needed to hit the road. It was only 5 weeks before I needed to be in Arizona for Thanksgiving and I had lots of friends many miles along the way. I packed the van, said goodbye to mom and Tom, and headed south. Before leaving Indiana I stopped in Indianapolis to visit several fraternity brothers and have dinner with my cousins.
One guy I wanted to see for sure was Jefferson Gerwig of www.vanontherun.net. I met Jefferson back in Crater Lake National Park as he was spending the summer vagabonding around the United States in his white van. We stayed in touch and met for beers in Indy, sharing stories of life on the road, the Appalachian Trail, and future adventures.
The last thing I needed to do in Indianapolis was get a little work done, so I stopped at a Starbucks and settled in for a few hours. The baristas were asking about my van when one said “Are you part of the Volkswagen car show today?” Whaaaatttt? It just so happened that Volktoberfest was taking place at an airstrip literally right around the corner. I gave up on work, packed my laptop, and drove to the airfield and joined in the VW car show. This is exactly why I love living on the road…you never know what each day will bring!
My last night in Indiana was cold…well, freezing to be exact. In the morning there was ice on the windshield. My three weeks at home had been fun, but Tantor and I were not ready for winter, so we headed south, in search of warmer weather, and more adventures.