4 Wheels and A Country- a Cross Country Trip with Paige Pirolo
There is something to be said about making a home that is somewhere without four walls and a roof. Choosing to drive across the country in a rig I had just bought two months prior (and was not nearly livable yet) was a humbling decision to say the least. I went from someone who did not even know how to change a tire to scaling up the side of mountains with a 20% grade in a 14 foot long van that was two wheel drive. I found myself in a lot of situations where I had to take a second and ask myself how the hell I got there. However, despite the challenges and the fear that comes with a trip like that, I wouldn’t change one second of it. And to put the cherry on top, I had my best friend next to me the entire time, sleeping in a bed smaller than a coffee table in ten degree weather. Home really can be wherever you want it to be.
Fran the van came into my life as a handicap transportation van that I found in the middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania. She is a 2010 Ford Econoline 250. I put a deposit on it the first day I saw it, and the next day I was driving it home with a smile slapped on my face the entire way. At this point in my life I had not known one thing about building walls, installing electrical, or even spraying insulation. But within about two months, the van went from a fishbowl-looking crater to a cozy, built out little space that I was going to occupy for the next couple months. If you are a close friend or family member of mine reading this, I would like to apologize for telling you that I would be back in a month, because I simply had no intention of coming back within a month. During the building process I learned how to tint windows, put together a hardwood floor, run wires for lights and a breaker panel, and eventually, how to change a tire. A few days after Christmas, filled with 7 surfboards, two snowboards, a lot of propane and cans of soup, and two bins of clothes each for Dani and I, the van was ready for takeoff.
Danielle and I had spent the last two weeks before we left picking out National Parks and places across the nation that we wanted to see. Looking back, I laugh at how we underestimated the beauty of the part of the country that isn’t the East Coast. On December 28th around 4 a.m., we pulled out of my driveway and headed for i95 West. I can still picture my mom recording us, waving on my porch, with tears of both happiness and fear rolling down her face. The first few days of the drive were quite excruciating; driving past about a thousand fields of cows, bringing pepper spray into rest stop bathrooms, and sleeping in Holiday Inn parking lots (queue Pitbull), and most importantly, realizing that the both of us had a new found fear of wind turbines. These were the days that I realized “van life” is not as glamorous as it seems on the internet. We had a good friend of ours named Mike let us crash at his house in Denver, which was our first stop. From there, Red Rocks, Boulder, all the way through the Rockies to Utah. We woke up on New Years Eve in ten degree weather in Moab UT, with my sock frosted to the window. I genuinely don't believe it will ever be possible for me to be that cold ever again.
We ended up meeting up with some East Coast friends in Salt Lake City, one of whom I accidentally kissed on NYE and am now happily in love with (anything can happen friends), and stayed with them for about two weeks. They were kind enough to take us through some of the craziest snowboarding I will ever experience in the United States, and even tagged along with us to a few places.
A story that I would be mad at myself if I didn’t tell:
Danielle, Harry, Shane and I decided that we wanted to go to Yellowstone. We had done no research before heading there, and it had not crossed our minds that it might be closed due to the fact that it was the dead of winter. We loaded up the van, and headed North. To fill some of you in, cars are not really a thing in West Yellowstone in the month of January. Due to the incredible amount of snow on the ground, everyone gets around on snowmobiles. Now picture this: a massive van stuffed to the brim with absolutely no traction to the ground driving in front of and behind snowmobiles at ten o’clock at night in Montana. Pretty funny right? So anyway, we made our way to the nearest Holiday Inn lot, popped open a few bottles of wine, and ate some cheese and crackers, only to wake up the next morning and find out that Yellowstone was in fact closed. We ended up making our way to the Grand Tetons where we were required to drive over the Teton Pass which quite honestly was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. We walked through the Tetons in sneakers, where if you made one wrong step, you were waist deep in a hole of snow. We walked a few miles to a spot of trees that opened up for us to see a royal blue lake with the view of the three massive peaks that were the Tetons. That night we made our way back to SLC and laughed about how dumb we were to not even think that Yellowstone might be under 12 feet of snow. But hey, you live and you learn.
After driving through the Nevada desert and cactus fields in Arizona with 30 mph cross winds, Dani and I eventually made our way to California where we connected with some old and new friends. Some of our best days included surfing San Onofre all day and waiting until everyone left so we could take a shower, meeting a guy named Chaz and having him drive us around Los Angeles in a convertible from the fifties, getting tattoos from friends named Pierre and David in a shed (yes they healed just fine), dancing barefoot in the drum circle at the OB farmers market every Wednesday and spending A LOT of time at the laundromat. Danielle and I parted ways in the beginning of February as she was headed to Hawaii, and me back to Salt Lake City, where I got to experience some of the most beautiful days riding the sidecountry of the mountains in the Big Cottonwood Canyon, and seeing buffalo bigger than horses cross the road twenty feet in front of me.
If there is one thing I would like to say about traveling long distances in a vehicle, it is that you have to be prepared to be uncomfortable. There were some days where all I wanted was a hot shower, a home cooked meal, to watch a movie and to see my mom. And all I had on those days was little to no cell service, a can of chicken noodle soup, toes that were turning purple, and unnecessarily long leg hair. But, despite the hard days, the views like the Grand Canyon at sunrise and seeing the sky completely covered in stars in Zion made it all worth it.
I learned what it is like to push yourself not because you want to, but because you have to. I learned about what it feels like to be excited for the unknown, and not afraid of it. And most importantly, I learned about what it feels like to be grateful for exactly what is in front of you. And some of you reading this might be thinking after some of those stories, that I didn’t know what I was doing. And the truth was, I didn’t. I had no idea what I was about to get myself into. But the point of that is, I survived. I figured it out, and let nature take its
course. I let go of control, and did what felt right, and each time, I ended up exactly where I needed to be.
If I could give anyone a word of advice to anyone who is considering buying a van and living out of it: do it now. There will never be a “right time” for something like that. The time is now, so do yourself a favor and stop limiting yourself, because you might think you can’t do it. I hope my story inspires you and most of all reminds you that you are capable of anything you want to do. Buy it, put the money into it, make it the way that you want, start driving, challenge yourself, be open-minded, be kind, and most importantly, do not let anyone else make you feel as if something you want is out of your reach. It’s your life, so start living it.
Follow Paige on her adventures on instagram @lawnlegpeg