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Meet A Vandweller: Nate & Danielle (Vanderlust Americas)

By February 24 2015All stories

It ain’t a secret for anyone, Westfalia owners are generally in the 40 to 60 + years old range. That being said, I found out that more and more young people are willing to save these old Vanagon from going straight to junkyards. I’ve been following Vanderlust Americas for quite some time now, and thought it’d be fun to learn a little more about Nate and Danielle’s adventures on and off the road.

Where is your hometown?

Seattle, Washington.

Which vessel are you driving?

1985 2WD Volkswagen Vanagon GL tin-top.

Your van “Big Blue” has a particular story. Could you sum up how you ended up buying it?

Ha! Man, it’s funny cuz, back when I first got the van, Big Blue was only meant to be a “temporary” name. I was certain that after a couple adventures I would come up with a solid name for it. But, alas, it has stuck and now he’s just Big Blue!

ANYWAY, ahem, Big Blue and I have history! How can I make this long story short? Hmmm.

Before Big Blue, I had (and loved) a 1995 Subaru Impreza sedan. It could take me anywhere, but it was short on one thing – space! After my gear, a cooler, my inflatable paddleboard, and a friend and their gear, that was it; packed to the brim! I began searching for an ideal, more spacious adventure vehicle. Then I remembered the vehicles my dad had when I was growing up – Vanagons. I literally grew up in, around, or under Vanagons. He (my dad) had three, as well as a old Bay Window. I started scouring craigslist looking for a deal, but the vans are stupid expensive (at least for my budget), and I was trying to get out of debt, not into debt!

One day I saw a decently priced Vanagon on craigslist and skimmed through the photos and began reading the description. About three quarters of the way through, a light bulb went off in my head! (Truthfully, it was more of a flicker. Haha!) Anyway, a light bulb started flickering in my head! And I re-read the description, then took a closer look at the images. The last photo was taken from the back seat facing the front of the van. Through the windshield, in the distance, you could see juuust the sliver of a house. Something clicked and a smile crept onto my face (think of the scene of the Grinch from How The Grinch Stole Christmas except waaay less creepy).

I immediately, frantically, began typing an email…”Hi! Is this John? My name is Nathaniel Dietz and my dad and I used to rent the basement of your house when I was a kid. I think I saw your van on craigslist…”. John, another single parent, used to work with my dad at Boeing, and from the time I was 8 until I was about 14, my father and I rented the basement of his house in a suburb of Seattle.

Well, after a funny round of communication, it turns out it was his van. The same van I have memories in – running errands around the neighborhood, our families road tripping up to Mt. Rainier, camping, etc. He said he was storing it in three days because he was going back to Arizona (he’s a snowbird) so I had better come take a look if I was interested. I said, “No problem!”, because it just so happened, that my dad had moved back into that same house one week prior and I had promised him I’d help him unpack the very next day!

After a surreal reunion and test drive, I loved it. And if I was going to own a van, why not one I have actual memories in? But, my responsibilities got the best of me and I decided it was wiser to continue my quest to get out of debt than get further into debt. Into storage it went.

Fast forward one month and I’m kicking myself. “What an idiot!”, I thought. My decision to forego the purchase was eating me alive. Finally, one night I left it up to the universe to decide what was to happen. Well, the next day I was driving my Subaru to meet some friends and BAM! A lady took a left across my lane and I had no time to stop. After getting my wits back, I knew the Subaru was totalled.

After the insurance payout, I was able to get the van for about $800!! Tell me that’s not meant to be! Haha!

How many miles/km did you put on your van since you got it?

Hmmm. Good question! I planned to take detailed mileage on the “big” adventure, but have neglected to track our miles on our weekend warrior micro-adventures. I believe around 16,000 miles since I purchased it in October of 2013. But I would realistically say that 80% of those miles are from May 2014 to now. What made the difference? Danielle, mostly. And some mechanical issues. 🙂

Epic photo credit: Bradley Castaneda 

How is it to take your 2WD Vanagon on off-road adventures? Any advice to give to Westy owners who’d like to do the same?

Nate : Big Blue has taken us to 100% of the places we’ve wanted to go. 97% of those times were unassisted, haha! Seriously though, we’ve only been stuck twice in our travels – once in ash like sand in the middle of the Columbia National Wildlife refuge in central Washington State, and once after we lost our momentum on a snowy/icing hill during our Not So Lonesome Lake adventure.

My advice would be to not let anyone tell you your 2WD Vanagon can’t make it. No, you’re not going to be doing any technical rock crawling or going through deep mud bogs (not to be confused with deep mud puddles, Vanagons do juuust fine with those if you gun it!), but I’ve always said, if you have enough clearance, knobby tires, a deft left foot, and you pick a good line, you can make it anywhere you want to go. (For the naysayers out there, look at what our friends Drive Nacho Drive did for crying out loud!) Oh, and having friends around is never a bad thing…you know…just in case.

Danielle : Its great going off-road in the 2WD Vanagon. No restrictions so far! My advice for a fellow Westy owner is to have a positive passenger. Someone to be your second set of eyes, hold the camera out of the window when speeding through mud puddles, and point out the beautiful scenery when you are busy trying to avoid pot holes!

What’s the best thing about the van life for you?

Nate : The freedom to go wherever you like. The people you meet along the way. And, experiencing life from the driver’s seat rather a tv screen, a computer monitor, or a magazine.

Danielle : Napping! Our bed is so comfy! No I joke! Its the community and freedom it provides! I have met some of the most amazing, kind, giving, talented, and fun people ever on outings in the van.

What is your favorite spot where you ever stayed at?

Nate : This is a tough one! I’d have to say it’s a tie between the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge and Granite Lake (I’m not going to count Descend On Bend.) Both of those places were a combination of a blast to get to, exclusivity, good friends, and great views. Both those trips hold a special place in my heart.

Danielle : I love the Olympic Peninsula, WA! Within a day you can explore beaches, rivers, lakes, giant moss covered trees in the rainforest, and claim a mountain. Every direction you look is another amazing view.

What is the worst bad luck that happened to you on the road?

Can’t really say we’ve had much yet. (Knock on wood.) Our water pump started to fail when we were deep in the Olympic Peninsula, but I noticed it in time and was able to get the van back to Seattle before it went out (happened the very next day). And our master cylinder has a similar story. We haven’t broke down yet, but I’m confident it will happen one day. I’m trying to save little bits of patience and understanding for when that day comes. Is there such a thing as a patience and understanding piggy bank?

What is the best road trip itinerary that’s on your mind?

Nate : Well this one’s easy! It’s what we’ve got planned for our BIG adventure – when we transition into full-time vanlife! Later this year we will move into the van and head out. We’re dedicating two-three months for the US, where we’ll visit friends and family, and all the places we’ve always wanted to see – the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, show Danielle Yosemite, the Grand Tetons, San Diego, Big Sur, Austin, Joshua Tree, New Mexico, Colorado, my list is long. THEN, after the US leg, if we can still stand each other, Big Blue is still in one piece, and I’m still able to find work remotely, we’ll head South, into Mexico, to Central America, and on to South America and back again (or not!)!

Danielle : Anywhere and Everywhere chasing the sun!

What would the van of your dreams look like?

Nate : It’d probably a lot like a Toyota Tacoma! KIDDING. (Kind of; I suffer from constant vehicle envy.) Haha. No, no, I digress. My dream van would look a lot like Big Blue, but maybe with a diesel Subaru conversion or a Bostig or something with more power, bigger wheels and tires, a pop-top or adventure top, new paint, a finished custom interior, BMW seats or something fancy, magical air conditioning misters and an equally as magical heater system, windows that don’t fog up inside, swing-away tire carriers, better lighting, storage cabinets so cavernous I might find Narnia, and a flux capacitor – now that’d be a pretty sweet van! 🙂 Someday…

Danielle : Someday I want our van to look like a home in a magazine, Dwell or Country Living – small spaces edition. I think that I would name my design taste Boho beach modern chic! It would be parked somewhere warm with a beautiful view of a sunset.