Monthly Archives: May 2022

Vision quest

We’d been talking about a campervan for a while. The idea really took hold as the months turned to years waiting out the travel restrictions of the pandemic. But, as we all learn again and again, having an idea is easy but bringing it to fruition takes a mountain of will, energy and endurance. It took us 21 years to get a boat and start sailing the seven seas; it’s the reason we named our catamaran Escape Velocity. I am definitely not interested in another 21 year struggle.

Life is short and for us baby boomers getting shorter every day. While I would have thoroughly enjoyed the process of building out our own bespoke campervan, we don’t have a place to live or a place to build. Plus I don’t want to spend the time and effort it would take. We need to buy a camper that’s ready to go.

As Jack wrote, we found it impossible to do from America. One by one we flipped the calendar pages of 2022. Time was getting away from us. We knew we had to just get up and go. Ten years to the day after signing the papers for Escape Velocity we flew to London.

Unlike 2012 we had nowhere to go and only a determination to find a campervan as soon as we could to start making every day an adventure again.

We took the train to Sheffield where we’d found a reasonably affordable rental car, then drove to a small farm near Durham to a motorhome dealer who offered to help us navigate the challenges of nonresidents buying a vehicle.

Like any savvy salesman he showed us campervans in our price range, then pushed the envelope with a larger more expensive unit. Jack fell in love. But not me.

I was determined to stick to van size, mostly because we’ll be driving on the left (the least of our worries since we’ve been doing that since arriving in New Zealand in 2015), navigating the ubiquitous roundabouts, and negotiating impossibly narrow streets lined with parked cars. In a wide motorhome I envisioned an endless fiesta of sideswiping, leaving a trail of amputated rearview mirrors in our path.

Jack had no such worries. And Jack likes to end uncertainty as soon as he can. He pushed for the large, deluxe model from the nice dealer who sweetened the price with a very generous buyback offer that would give us an easy exit when we’re ready to move on. I tried to talk myself into it.

In the end I couldn’t bring myself to ignore my own stress, however misguided. The prospect of months of mashing the phantom passenger-side brake pedal and the inevitable arguments every time I shrieked “move over!” just wasn’t what I had in mind. Yes, it’s wrong of me, but we both get a vote and in the end we have to agree on such a big step.

The same thing happened while we boat shopped ten years ago. Jack fell in love with one of the first boats we saw but I had misgivings and it didn’t get my vote. It was quite the discussion and it meant our quest took a few months longer but I know Jack would agree that we ended up with the best boat for us.

During the van shopping we met up with our dear friend Mark Owen of Macushla, who, you may recall, lost his beautiful wife Sue four years ago. We met Mark and Sue early in our journey on Escape Velocity and so many of our most memorable experiences were shared with them. It was a joy to see Mark again, and as with all the best friendships, it was as if we’d seen him yesterday.

Our initial two weeks came to an end with no campervan and no prospects. I found us a cheaper rental car and booked a further two weeks, and as the stress and disappointment was wearing on us we took a few days off and had some fun.

We visited a couple of castles, drove to some beautiful vistas and oh, I tested positive for Covid. I had no symptoms and Jack was negative but we booked into an Airbnb cottage in the country and isolated for a few days. It was exactly what we needed.

During our isolation we narrowed our vehicle choices, scoured Gumtree and Autotrader and eBay and I marked the potentials on Google maps. I contacted them all, researched their history, made lists. One by one they disappeared. We knew we’d need to jump on a new listing right away. One of the best possibilities was an earlier year model with a layout we weren’t crazy about and with no solar, but the price was right and it needed very little work. The salesman gave us time to talk ourselves into it then dropped the bomb. He was not willing to pay for the work, and he was “backed up” and couldn’t deliver for six weeks. We walked away.

Four new listings sparked long discussions. This layout or that, solar or no solar. Two were priced to sell, two were above our agreed budget. We spent a couple of intense days, feeling the ongoing drain of hotels, Airbnbs, restaurant meals and car rental. Spending most of each day driving then figuring out where to sleep and eat was wearing us out. The contenders were scattered in the four corners of the country.

In the end we chose to go for one that was relatively close by. It didn’t have solar but it was a year newer than the rest with a clean service history. Decision made I called the dealer to arrange to see it. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I’ve just sold it.” Damn.

Our second choice was actually our first choice because it already had add-ons we wanted, but it was a full day’s drive away, in Scotland. I contacted the owner. “We want to buy your camper,” I said.

“Great! I have someone coming Sunday to look at it. I’ll be here all day. You can come then.” It was Friday night.

Jack and I looked at each other. “We’ll be there tomorrow.”

We’re going to Scotland!


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Ok, so where was I? Oh yes, after all thefrenetic activity of selling Escape Velocity, shipping our entire worldly goods to America, getting last minute PCR tests in time to catch a plane to Tanzania with a two week African safari and quick hop over to Zanzibar, we finally made it to New Jersey where, after more PCR tests we were ensconced into the safety of our family. Any one of which events, by rights, could have been an individual blog post.

We voluntarily chose to set up shop in the family’s comfortable basement where our noise and clutter would be less annoying to our patient and sympathetic hosts. And there we sat. After redistributing everything we own, the full weight of the loss of our home and adventurous lifestyle began to envelop our subterranean existence. Seemingly powerless we descended into a funk lower than where we slept every night.

We tried to ameliorate the loss with rental cars and short trips to see the kids, Gettysburg, and the sights around Old Tappan.

Too many options and no clear direction emerged from our brainstorming sessions. It wasn’t like us. Timing or cash pressures seemed to preclude just about every way we turned. Touring the USA in a camper van in times of Covid seemed to me to be the safest and easiest but Marce was quite resistant, having already done a lot of domestic travel. Prices for class B camper vans in the US had ballooned into the stratosphere, we’re told not due to greed but Covid. Be that as it may, we weren’t having it! Europe, where camper vans are very popular, had many choices and reasonable prices and the UK even better. Marce setup our google nest hub to scroll through photos of our adventures just to remind us of who we are and what we’ve done.

The hunt was on.

Weeks spilled over into months spent pouring over terrible, poorly organized websites with SOLD emblazoned over 80 percent of their outrageously priced offerings until we found ourselves mindlessly wordle-ing or descending the inevitable rabbit hole of cat videos.

It turns out it’s very difficult to buy a camper van in Europe! Eventually Marce came up with the name of a small dealership that had great reviews and who agreed to help us. “That’s it,” I said, ”we’re going to England.”


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