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To Fare Thee Well – Road Trip Adventures in a 1984 VW Westfalia Vanagon

Five years ago, our Customer Service Manager Christian and his lovely wife Sara embarked on a journey east to fulfill a lifelong dream. He dreamed of watching the Grateful Dead’s "Core Four" band members perform one of their final shows together. The gig they attended took place on Independence Day in 2015 at Soldier’s Field in Chicago.

In fact, the last show Jerry Garcia played was in 7/9/95 at that same venue almost twenty years prior. Said Christian, "I cannot think of any better way to celebrate a send-off to a favorite iconic jam band, then to do it during our nation’s loudest celebration of liberty and freedom!" Here is Christian’s Adventure Journal…

MINIMALIST PACKING ISN’T JUST A GOOD IDEA, IT’S A LIFESTYLE

We set out in our VW Westfalia Camper Van, nick-named "Sunny" on July 1st to make the trek from Billings, Montana to Chicago. Our Red Oxx travel gear was our two his-n-hers backpack hide-out Sky Trains, two Tri-fold Shave Kits, a Laundro Bag Mesh Wash Sack, and a Market Tote. The Sky Trains impressively fit in the Westfalia’s side storage closet. My Tri-fold Shave Kit fit nicely in the top compartment of my Sky Train. The Market Tote stowed neatly behind the bench seat in the back of the bus.

The travel accessory Red Oxx recommends that proved most useful on the trip was a Petzl e+LITE Headlamp. I used it when I would pull over to check the engine temperature of thee old yellow wunder-bus. That handy contraption was such a small convenient-sized camp light; it fit right in my front pocket. This headlamp takes up minimal space, about the size of six to eight stacked quarters.

When you are on a road trip, adopting a minimalist mindset is extremely important. Since my first days with Red Oxx, I’ve gradually come around to how to live with only bringing the bare essentials needed for your adventures. This comes in handy to help maximize the space you have. For example, now I tightly roll all my clothes. I learned this from a YouTube video that gave me the demonstration: How to Fold T-Shirts for Vacation (using the Ranger Roll technique) an Efficient, Compact, Space-Saving Army Packing Hack.

I use my Red Oxx Packing Cube Set to keep my belongings nice and organized. It literally makes my travel more stress-free. I can pull out a pre-planned outfit for each day, as I layer them in the cubes. My wife laughed when I first brought the cubes home, but now I hear her telling people all the time how useful they are.

Our first leg of the journey had us traveling on I-94, a long, flat stretch of interstate I’m quite familiar with. It led us through North Dakota. Our first stop was in Bismarck, the capital of my former home state. We pulled over for some quick shut-eye.

FROM SUNNY UP TO SUNNY DOWN

The next day was a bright and early start; with that in mind it was Minneapolis or Bust. Little did I know, it was bust… our "adventure" was just starting, as the engine vapor-locked from using regular unleaded fuel. Take note – ethanol gas is hard on these older engines, be certain to add octane booster additive to the fuel at every gas stop. This "Sunny down" episode had us pulled over for roughly two hours.

If you own an old Volkswagen, then you’re aware that it’s wise to learn how to tinker on them. Sometimes they break-down. Fortunately the VW Vanagon forums on the Internet help immensely. In our case, the mechanic back home assisted in deciphering what the issue was and how to get back to our road trip.

THE MINNEAPOLIS YOU DON’T HEAR ABOUT

I lived in Minneapolis for five-1/2 years, so that place will always have a piece of my heart. The art, community, sports, nature, food and so much more make it an amazing place. We visited one my favorite shops, Twisted Groove. My friend Scott makes insanely fantastic batik style tie dyes. My last stop while passing through was an old hang-out and my favorite pie shop, Pizza Luce. Their location is right near my old neighborhood. After filling our bellies with their loaded baked-potato pizza, it was back on the road.

The original rear-engine VW Vans have large nearly flat front windshields. The passenger seats are located over the front wheels so the view forward is undisturbed. We call this "window time" and we both love it. We can drive for hours-on-end enjoying the scenery. All along the interstate Sarah and I were reveling in the landscape of Wisconsin. I forgot how beautiful it is.

Of course there was a pit stop at a cheese shop because you cannot pass through Wisconsin and not eat cheese. I don’t remember the name, but it was right off the interstate before passing through Milwaukee. After indulging our cheese-loving appetites, it was time to keep on trucking. From a suggestion by our host in Chicago there was a place in Madison to fuel our empty bellies. That place was called The Old Fashioned Restaurant. I ate the most amazing cheeseburger while taking in a gorgeous view of their Capitol Building. I wish we’d had more time to spend there as I’ve heard Madison is a fun town.

EXPLORING THE WINDY CITY

Next stop, Chicago. Sara and I spent four days in Chicago. We didn’t camp while there but were graciously hosted by a good friend of mine who lives in Old Town at the Cobbler’s Square Lofts. I got to ride a DIVVY, which is a public bike rental service. It was pretty cool to ride around Chicago exploring on bikes. I also thought it was extremely fun to visit an adult arcade called The Headquarters. I’m a history lover and revel in learning about places I visit.

We did the river boat tour on the Chicago River which was so informative. I enjoyed hearing about the Great Chicago Fire.

For all you foodies out there, this town truly is famous for their deep dish pizza. Uno’s is the place everyone says to visit. I ate there when I was 12 and man, just one slice of pie will fill you up! This time we ate at a pizza joint called Piece Brewery. As you could probably imagine, classic Chicago deep dish pizza and tasty craft beer.

We also took in a Chicago Cubs baseball game. I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I appreciate the history and nostalgia behind the iconic Wrigley Field. I showed my friends how to scalp tickets outside the stadium and it was a wild ride. We first got standing-room only tickets to enjoy the old ball game. However, at one point, we made it down to the sixth row directly behind home plate. I watched Ichiro Suzuki at bat. This is an amazing baseball legend who will surely get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

After the game I ended up stumbling upon a Dead Head shop called Amigos & Us. I was in heaven! I picked out a new bandana design I’d never seen before. I’m a tchotchke collector and believe me, there was stuff to find here!

Navy Pier was where this crew headed next and then sauntering to see The Bean in Millennium Park.

Then the long-awaited day, the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well concert on the 4th of July! They opened with Shakedown Street, finished with US Blues, and did an encore of One More Saturday Night. I had a smile on my face from ear to ear for hours-on-end that night. Seeing Bobby, Phil, Mickey, Bill, Bruce and Trey up there on stage jamming together was something else. Words cannot fully describe the experience. I also saw basketball legend Bill Walton and comedian Bill Murray there, both huge "Dead Heads".

Sunny started making its way back to Montana the next day. Not many stops, but Sunny did break down outside of Mitchell, South Dakota. Thankfully, my AAA came in handy. It turned out the alternator that I replaced, needed to be replaced. Beware used replacement parts when you don’t want used parts.

Come to find out, this Mitchel is home to The World’s Only Corn Palace. It was cool to see the history in that town and how it almost became the state capital instead of Pierre. With a new alternator, Sunny was on the mend for our return home. In my many adventures in Sunny, this was by far the most epic journey we’ve ever shared.

Others were trips to Ennis, Montana to camp and soak in the Water of The Gods Norris Hot Springs. That’s my favorite place to take in my surroundings while dipping in the warm natural springs water. However, there just was nothing quite like that maiden voyage in Sunny, our VW Westfalia Camper Van. All in all, it was a grand adventure I’m sure to never forget.

If you have the spirit of adventure, I urge you to hop in your rig this summer and see where the open road will take you.
Cheers, Christian H