As we head towards Utah today, day eight, we have successfully completed our first week of filming.

I last left off with us sitting in a Shell station on the outskirts of Seligman (pronounced su-leeg-min), Arizona, which Paul later informed me is the town that the movie Cars was based on. We awoke the next morning next to a row of semis, and after waiting for the mechanic to get his shop, we started off down the road around 10 am. Just a heads up, parts of this are going to be semi-technical, but I’m pretty proud of myself for the work done on this vehicle, simple as it may be, so I’m going to talk about it. 

We had lost power steering and the engine was over heating. I knew that the belt that gives power to the steering had slipped off, and I wasn’t quite able to get it back on by hand. I figured that the coolant bubbling out of its’ reservoir had caused the belt to slip, and wasn’t sure what had caused the overheating. So we drove to the mechanic with no power steering, rather slowly, as not to overheat the engine on the 4.6 mile drive down a dirt road to the Seligman Truck & Auto Repair, which was essentially a warehouse-looking building with a couple of big garage doors on the front. 

We waited outside for him to open shop, and when he looked at the engine he informed me that the belt that had slipped off also controlled the fan and the water pump, and that’s why it was over-heating. The engine wasn’t being cooled. Simple fix, $20 for his diagnosis and to put the belt back on. We were going to need to replace the belt eventually though, as it was clearly very worn, and he informed us that belts that have slipped off once are prone to keep slipping. 

With Vegas as our next stop, we had 85 miles to get from Seligman to Kingman, the next city with an auto parts store, and we figured we might as well take Route 66. We were out there already, and it sounded like a fun drive. At first the sailing was smooth, and we stopped to take some cool shots of the van and check out the Grand Canyon Caverns, because why not. But as we kept moving, every few miles I’d lose power steering again and the thermometer would jump up, so I’d have to pull over and put the belt back on in order to keep going.

As we made our way through Valentine, AZ, a small town with a population of 36, we only made it about 100 yards before the belt came off again, so I figured I might as well walk to the next town 5 miles down the road in hopes of finding a gas station or a parts store or something. I pulled off the belt for comparison and started walking, thumb up, although doubtful with our current societal attitude towards hitchhiking that someone would pick up a dirty, ragged looking man walking down a semi-deserted highway in the middle of nowhere.

To my pleasant surprise, about 15 minutes into my walk I was picked up by a couple native to the area who had seen the van and rightfully figured that I was walking because I had broken down, and dropped me off at the lone gas station in Hackberry, where I was informed the next parts shop wouldn’t be for another 10 miles. So again, hitchhiker’s thumb poised, I began walking.

Maybe 10 yards down the road, a couple in a mid-90’s era white Chevy sedan pulled over and shouted towards me to get in. What a relief that was, not only because 10 miles would’ve taken me at least a few minutes to walk, but because as we passed the next town that shop was closed with it being the day before Easter, and they were headed through Kingman anyway. They were really nice, and we chatted the whole ride out. Before dropping me at O’Reilly, he told me that he’d drive me back too, but we’d have to work out some sort of barter. 

“This is what my mom warned me about,” I thought, “this is not going to end well for me,” but all he wanted was a little bit of weed, assuming that we would have some having come from Southern California, and he was rather disappointed to learn that was not in fact the case. 

O’Reilly looked up our make and model, pulled the belt, and sent me on my way. *Quick aside: I think that O’Reilly and AutoZone are the same company. They have all the same stuff, same packaging, except AutoZone has one label on it and O’Reilly has another. I think they even use the same computer system.*

I asked for a piece of cardboard and to borrow a sharpie to make this sign, thinking that when hitchhiking away from the city it might help if people knew there was an end-game, and that there was no ulterior motive. I had some supernatural forces working with me Saturday, because a couple in a pickup truck pulled over to pick me up after only 2 miles. They told me they could take me as far as Vallie View, which was about halfway there, and after about 10 minutes of driving the man pulled over and stepped out. I stood up in the bed, ready to hop out, and he told me I didn’t have to get out, he just wanted to make sure I was warm enough, then offered to take me all the way back to the car, because he had been there before too. 

What nice people there are in Western Arizona! 

I got back to the van with a few hours of daylight left, which should have been plenty of time to get the belt on and head out. I slipped the belt on, went to pop the pulley back in place, until POP! the main bolt holding that pulley in place came right out. And I couldn’t get back in for the life of me. I spent a couple hours trying, recruiting Paul to hold it while I tried, until we eventually gave up and called AAA. I was sure to specify how large the van is, because when it was towed in Orange, the dispatcher at the tow company thought I said “Trans-Am”, not “Transvan”, and the tow truck wasn’t big enough. 

Sure enough, the truck they sent, from 30 miles away in Kingman, was not large enough to tow Gus. He called his dispatch, who told him we’d need to upgrade to a AAA RV membership in order for them to send a bigger truck, or we’d be stuck out there. Unfortunately, service was insanely spotty, so after roughly two hours of frustration and 27 dropped calls to AAA in Missouri, the tow truck driver let us borrow his phone, which finally worked for us. We upgraded, they sent another truck big enough to tow us, and around 11 pm we were finally on our way to the Wal-Mart parking lot in Kingman. For those of you who don’t know, if you’re ever traveling cross-country and need somewhere to crash, Wal-Mart’s national policy is that overnight parking is allowed in all of their stores for travelers. 

This turned out to be a really great experience, because I chatted with the driver about anything and everything ranging from politics to religion to life philosophies and experiences the whole ride back and then about another hour when we got to the parking lot. He aligns himself on the conservative end of the spectrum, and while on the surface this may have seemed to be in conflict with many of my ideologies, as we dug a little deeper we learned we had a lot more in common than it may have appeared at first glance. 

I don’t know that either of us tremendously shifted position during this discussion, but we certainly gave each other a lot to think about, and I think it’s key to have our beliefs challenged and questioned every once in a while, to make sure we’re justified in holding them. I also find that when it comes to these topics, people tend to get heated rather quickly, so it was refreshing to be able to hold an intelligent conversation with someone who just wanted to talk and share thoughts and perspective without getting upset when we didn’t agree. 

We joked, we laughed, we shared, and at the end I had made a friend with a vastly different background that I would have never crossed paths with had O’Reilly not given me the wrong size belt. 

Easter Sunday came as I awoke refreshed after a much needed nights sleep, with the events recapped in this post thus far only spanning one day. Kayla headed off to a Church she had found about a mile down the road to attend an Easter service, and Paul and I got back to work on the van. I was determined. I was going to make that van run. There weren’t any mechanics open on Sunday, and I knew I could do it anyway. We tried for a bit, and with no luck, Paul and Kayla headed to a Starbucks to get some work done while I stayed with the van.

After trying a bit longer, finding it much harder without an extra set of hands, I wandered the parking lot a bit and introduced myself to a couple in a van a few spots down from us where they were changing the front breaks and bearings, and offered some help. Corbin, the man with the van, said he was almost done, but they seemed nice so I hung around a bit to chat. 

We shared stories for a little when a bearded man in his late forties with hair longer than mine walked up asking if Corbin needed help, as he was a mechanic. I won’t share his name, because I think he’d prefer it that way, but this guy was a character. I inquired as to whether I could ask his opinion on something, and he told me to be careful what I wished for. I consulted him on the status of Gus, and he gave me an idea that seemed obvious but hadn’t even occurred to me. This man was Gus’s savior, for after following his advice and grinding down a metal sleeve that seemed to be too long to fit back in place, I finally was able to get the new belt on, the pulley back in place, and Gus galloping again. 

We hung out and had dinner with Corbin, his girlfriend and travel partner Steph, and another van-dwelling friend we met in the parking lot named Quoigéma that night, where we spent the evening talking and having a real meal that wasn’t rice and beans or peanut butter and jelly in wonderful company. 

We talked about the things we had learned and seen in our travels, our lives, and why we were all on the road. They had all been on the road a good bit longer than us, and were excited to find some younger travelers at it seems many of the RV campers are in their senior years. We shared advice on where the best spots to stop would be, and I’m pleased to say that Corbin and Steph got to be the first two to paint on Gus, something we’d like to have many more people contribute to as we make our way through the country. 

It’s experiences like these with the people I met hitchhiking, the tow truck driver, and our Wal-Mart friends that make breaking down seem like such a positive experience. Without what seems at first to be a bit of a downer we wouldn’t have had these beautiful experiences. This trip is proving to ever be a lesson in perspective. I thought that would be the case before we left, and I liked to have considered myself an optimist, but as I share these wonderful experiences that blossom from a dark place, as our Gustavo Ubon Samsonite, the lotus, brings to us, we get to enjoy something great that starts in darkness.

While sitting in the Shell parking lot in Seligman, Kayla pointed out that Gus needs to be approached much like a person dealing with depression. We need to take the time to care for him, help him to get better, and be understanding of what’s happening. We can’t get frustrated with him and ask “Dammit why can’t you just work?!” but rather break down the issue and work towards a holistic healing. 

And just as depression has done for each of us, it started in a deep, dark place, and brought us somewhere beautiful. We continue to find ourselves in unfortunate positions, only to have something incredible come from it that wouldn’t have happened had it not been for those bumps in the road. 

As we begin day 8 we’re making our way into Utah, our third state, with a freshly working propane tank, a new fan belt, and some new homemade curtains on the way. Gus is turning into quite the beauty and starting to feel rather homey!

-Max