When Nature Calls


Don't mess with Mother Nature, at least not when you're on vacation. That's a lesson I learned on a trip to Northern California in the midst of one of the worst storms to hit the West Coast in decades. It rained, hailed, snowed and blew Biblical proportions. I actually thought I saw Noah's ark floating past the Vanagon on one terrible night of thunder and rain, but turned out to be nothing more than a small cabin floating down the raging Russian River. 

Californians like me needed rain. The drought was out-of-control. My once green lawn back home turned a horrible shade of dirt brown sometime last year when the temps hit 103, I quit watering it after that and haven't touched it since. Drought is not a good thing when it effects one of the largest agricultural states in the nation. Want to know why our strawberry prices are so high?... blame it on our drought.  

After weeks and weeks of rain (fact is it is still raining as I write this) our mountains in the Sierras are said to be 170 percent above average for the year. We've had more rain in the first two months of the year than we did the entire 12 months of the previous year, and the year before that, and the year before that... that's what I've been told. 

Anyways, this is not a story about rain. It's actually my first of a series about Vanagon, the good, bad and ugly. That's my ride in the photo above, and in the distance you'll see the 80-foot tall Sequoia tree that felled a 70-foot tall utility pole. You could still feel the electricity in the air when I drove up. Actually, I was driving away from it, escaping our AirB&B rental that had protected three of us from the storm. You see, a man, his wife, and dog needs to eat and sleep sometime, and as luck would have it, or not, the power got knocked out and so without lights, electricity and the like, a hasty, yet logical, decision was made to get out of Dodge (town). That's when I began to appreciate the Vanagon.

Mind you, I'd driven about 1,400 miles on this trip to the North of the state, but I never realized what a blessing a Vanagon can be when you've got no lights, no stove, no running water, and everywhere you look it's flooded. Dangerously flooded. But inside the cozy Vanagon (1986 2.1 Westy) things were calmer and things were ok because it had a stove, running water, lights, refrigerator and two comfortable beds (one for the Labrador and other for us). You see, Westfalias can run on propane, or battery, they are mini-RVs without the carbon-footprint. 

After several days more of camping inside the Vanagon I came to the conclusion that this was perhaps the best vehicle ever made, and my fellow auto writers better give it Car of the Year accolades. Oh darn, it's not manufactured any longer. Well, at least someone should give it an award for being so damn functional, posthumously.

You see, the Vanagon came to an end in December 1991, the last year for this treasured bit of history.

But not exactly, you see Volkswagen actually came out several years later with the EuroVan, but by that time it wasn't the small, lovable, rear-engined, classic Westfalia that Baby Boomers might remember from their Hippie years. It sported a V6 up front, and was outfitted by Winnebago, not by Germans at Westfalia-Werke in Rheda-Wiedenbr├╝ck., hence the name. They actually aren't bad vans, but to purists of an era of Jimmy Hendrix, the Doors and protests, the Iterations called EuroVans weren't quite as endearing either. More on that later.

I haven't named her (I think it's a her), but I'm going to someday. Vanagon people do that, they name their rides. You also have to get used to getting the peace sign when you see another one on the road. Because Vanagon people do things like that. That's why I love it. 

So yes, we survived the rains, thunder, falling poles, toppling trees, leaking cabins, mud, snow,  and everything that Mother Nature could do to our vacation in the Vanagon. But MN for short, did not succeed, not this time anyways, 'cause I got a Vanagon.



Larry Saavedra