Much like the noiseless incursion that brought gradual but devastating deflation to our back right tyre last Wednesday, the arrival of Week 10 was both unwanted and unexpected. Unexpected – though admittedly a foreseeable successor to Week 9 – because by the time of Week 10, 60 days of vanlife had begun to take their tole on our faculties; and unwanted because it’s commencement meant the beginning of the end of our trip.
As I write this specific sentence, we lie prone in our respective and custom-made dents in the van’s formidable mattress for the last time; tomorrow, vanlife as we know it will be extinguished by the firing squad of time and the terms of our rental agreement. For the first time this post will be one constructed from beyond the grave, as I stretch backwards to clutch at whichever ephemeralities of the road have stuck with me most tenaciously.
Without further ado: after San Francisco came Oakland and immersion via Telegraph Avenue in quiet, summertime Berkeley, where new life was breathed into memories of school history textbooks and imaginings of ’60s America. This was a wonderful and enriching experience overshadowed by a pre-emptive pang of regret for the necessary brevity of our visit.
‘Necessary’ because, as of that afternoon, we had more destinations than days before we needed to return the van to its biological parents in Grayland, WA. For the sake of pith, I will now list a selection of our most agreeable stops along the remainder of our route through the Pacific Northwest.
Hot on the heels of the Bay Area was Redwoods National Park, where moody sea-stack beaches line woodlands home to the tallest trees in the world. Then, from California to Oregon and another NP, Crater Lake – no ordinary ‘lake’, but 4.6 trillion gallons of cerulean rainwater pooled in the post-implosion grave of the 3,400 metre volcano, Mt Mazama.
Once in Oregon, we strove to recreate Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me as closely as was possible without any kind of climactic cadaver discovery. In this we were almost successful: swimming in rivers, exploring caves, and other fanciful activities abounded. Curiously, we did come across a dead person but in this instance the police had beaten us to it.
Further north in the charming town of Bend, we satiated a Twin Peaks-related desire (unperturbed by its being set in Washington), with coffee and cherry pie at Jake’s Diner, ‘home of the largest portions in central Oregon’ (no mean feat). Next came Portland and creative re-vitalisation; first at the Portland Art Museum, where we whistled through an enchanting body of 19th-century etchings on show in ‘The Etchings of Whistler and his Circle’; and second at Powell’s Books, where there appear to be more books than non-books, i.e. space not taken up by books.
Oregon was completed by a wet hike to Lower Oneonta Falls, and our ascension to and passage across the divine heights of the Bridge of the Gods. Now in Washington, we whiled away our final days in the van by snaking through the southern half of the state: backpacking at Mt St Helens, coasting over to Long Beach, and a hike to Leadbetter Point. On this, our final night (at time of writing), we travelled to Cape Disappointment for a last supper that was anything but.
And though the next morning had in store a laborious but gratifying van-gutting, it was then that our trip was really finished, relinquished to a digital afterlife and the tunnelled vaults of memory. What remains must unsatisfactorily be described as a newfound appreciation for the great outdoors, a desire to reconcile the ways in which modern living, as Rob MacFarlane writes, ‘has accelerated us out of sync with the natural world’ – something I hope to take with me in my years AV (Anno Van).
It was purportedly Geoffrey Chaucer, in his epic poem, Troilus and Criseyde, who coined the now-ubiquitous proverb, ‘all good things must come to an end’. Although he made no mention of excellent things, it is clear from where I sit now that the same applies.
Farewell dear readers. It has been an unalloyed pleasure.