Chief pete the Westfalia

Return to Portland

Between October 11 and December 31, I was “home” in Portland, Oregon. Portland is where I have mostly lived since 1992 and so I guess I should call it home. But I’ve been aching to get out of Portland for several years, and my travels proved to me I am happier away from Portland, and so…

I now call anywhere home.

Anyway, fresh off the Pacific Crest Trail, I spent the first several weeks camped out on the top deck of my mother’s incredible vintage trawler, moored on the Columbia River. She took great care of me while I recovered. Yet by choice I slept in the open air, still in my sleeping bag, and showered in the cold, crude marina bathroom. In mid-December I moved to my friend Peter’s guest bedroom and enjoyed a warm room, full-size kitchen, and bathroom with a real tub for a few weeks. I still felt antsy.

Recovery has not been easy. Reintegration proved useless. I did not want to stay in Portland, I was very unhappy in the city, and yet life conspired to make it a little tricky to get out. More on that later.

I never mentioned it to anyone but close friends and fellow hikers, but it was always the plan to ditch all my belongings and move into an RV at the end of my Pacific Crest Trail hike. I started looking at RVs in early 2013, fantasizing about mobile life and how I would make things work. What size? What type? Where would I park? Would I like it? When I was sorting through my things, deciding what to keep and what to part with, it was with compact living in mind. I had whittled it down to where I could fit all my belongings in a compact car. I had no idea that 173 days of living out of a 45 liter backpack would shrink my idea of the perfect RV way down from a lumbering class C or B to the VW Westfalia Vanagon. By the time I had reached Canada, I knew that all I needed was this tiny little van, and hardly much more.

And so when I got to Portland, the first course of action was to begin a van hunt. I was haggard, stiff, and limping. Eating and napping took most each day. Any other chore was overwhelming. And yet I had so many “housekeeping” items to take care of after “vacationing” all summer. I had to find a place of my own.

I really wanted a diesel Westfalia for gas mileage and engine life, but those are more difficult to come by and afford. Perhaps I jumped the gun when I purchased the third van I test drove (regular gas), but he just felt right. 238,000 miles on the engine aside, everything else had been worked on or was new. So, he’s a gamble, but worth it. His name is Chief Peter, named after my great friend and his Pendleton blanket.

I made a few changes to Chief Pete right off the bat. First I fixed the fuel gauge (all it took was a voltage regulator that can be had at Radio Shack for $4) and put in a new USB/aux stereo head so I can play music from my iPad. Acknowledging that the old built-in refrigerator would be super inefficient even if I did get it running, and that the propane tank was obsolete and unsafe, I removed both. The space where the fridge was became a nice cabinet for food. I found scraps of wood on the corner and using my mother’s circular saw, cut a backing for the cabinet and a couple shelves. With a little TLC and a few fuses I had every light and doodad running except the horn (I’m on to that problem). So, despite miserable gas mileage and a speed top-out at around 63mph, I got on the road as soon as 2014 rolled around.

Although it was terrifying to pack into my van and drive away, and I struggled with that and difficult goodbyes, it was such a huge relief to get on the road. Of course I’ll be back in Portland, I just don’t know when yet.