Words by me, Erica Lang
It was August, 2018 and we had just purchased our bus, a 1979 Volkswagen Campmobile we named Spud. Little did Kelly (my fiance) know it was all part of a bigger plan.
CHAPTER 1: ARDVARK BECOMES SPUD
I had been yearning for a vw bus since I was a little kiddo. Something about the shape of them, how they defy physics and cruise through space some what elusively, not at all like the toaster they are. It's a home a wheels. It's freedom. To me they blend right in with nature. A simple kind of way to live.
Starting in 2015 I'd been searching the corners of the web for my dream bus. I knew I didn't have enough knowledge/skill to fix one up, so I settled on paying a bit more for something that was road and adventure ready. It wasn't long, maybe a year or two, before my friend Todd Olson (they call him the Todd-father) called me up and said his best bud, Pete, was selling his bay window bus. He said it's exactly what I had been looking for and told me "that thing is ready for the road". I was basically drooling at the thought of having my own bus just in time for Fall... and in time to propose to Kelly, but we'll get there later. It had been my dream for it to do go down that way, and it was all starting to align.
We drove down to South Bend to meet Pete and his wife, Nancy, the owners of the bay window bus they had named Ardvark. There's a story there too, of course. We were greeted by them in the driveway, followed by warm hugs, a quick tour of their property and the best stick-shift-lesson ever. Pete took us to a local State Park, called Potato Creek, to brush up on our skills. A lot of nervous and excited energy on our end, Pete was patient and cool as a cucumber as we stalled out again and again. Soon enough, I got the hang of it.
Pete and Nancy cooked us a delicious salmon dinner. We sat on their porch, shared a meal, stories and laughs. Pete and Nancy camped with us that night in their other bus, a Vanagon owned by Nancy's grandfather they call Joe's bus. We sipped whiskey around the fire and pet their pups. It was a picture perfect night. It's not often you drive to a random city to meet strangers and it ends up becoming friendship. I feel grateful to have met them.
The next morning we went to the bank, wrote the check and swapped it for the keys. This was the moment that it all came together. I would plan a trip to the Porcupine Mountains with Kelly in October and propose! Ardvark now had a new name, Spud. We decided to name it spud because, well, it looks like a big potato and we learned how to drive it in Potato Creek. It just fit.
Chapter 2 - The Trip
Looking back at our trip to the Porcupine Mountains I can't help but to smile ... and laugh. Nothing went to plan.
Before our trip I planted the seed that we needed a GoPro to capture all of our adventures. Behind the scenes, I wanted one so I could have it on our trip and to capture the proposal, but she couldn't know that. It wasn't hard to get her on board. We went to Best Buy and bought the newest version and all the gear to go with it - the car mount, chest mount, float device etc etc. I didn't know exactly when or where I'd propose, but I wanted to have whatever I needed to capture the moment.
A week later we packed up the bus and headed north. We got a much later start than we anticipated, leaving Grand Rapids around 10pm. It was mid-October and the temps were dropping pretty low at night, needless to say we were freezing. It wasn't long before we realized the side vents in the bus were open, blowing cold air on us the entire trip. We pulled over to a Walmart to purchase some feet and hand warmers (yes, we were that cold). While there, we opened the slider door of the bus to snag a few more blankets. We continued on our drive, stopping in Cheboygan to crash at her parents place for the night.
The next morning we met my Aunt and Uncle who have a cottage on Trails End Bay (just outside Mackinac) at Audie's for breakfast. We knew that after this meal we would cross the bridge and be well on our way towards the Porkies. We were stoked, to say the least. My Uncle Cliff suggested we mount the camera to the bus and capture the drive over the bridge. Swell idea. We piled out into the parking lot to set up the bus mount and camera. And... camera?
Where's the camera?
Panic ensues inside me. I have stay calm though. I can't have her thinking I have some unhealthy attachment to this camera. She doesn't know the weight it carries for me. The ring... oh shit. The ring is hidden in my tool box. Everything is moving in slow motion. I'm honestly just trying to keep it together.
We empty the bus. We search every nook and cranny. We search the tool box. Thank god she doesn't open up the little muslin bag under my pencils. No camera. It's gone. Our only theory is when we pulled off the highway to that Walmart, the blankets knocked it out of the bus, or someone stole it. But why would they only steal the camera and not the accessories? Nothing makes sense, but it's time to go. No camera, no plan, just rolling with it.
While I drive, Kelly decides to take over nav, as it's really hard to do anything other than drive the bus. She types in our destination, Marquette, MI. To our surprise it's having us turn down a dirt road. Hmm... seems a bit odd, but maybe it's paved a few miles up? With an adventurous spirit and both hands on the wheel we take the dirt road.
After 30 minutes or so, the road becomes more narrow. I guess you could say more like two tracks or a trail even. Our high hopes for pavement were starting to crash and burn. We'd come across giant puddles in the road that seemed questionable to pass. We'd find a near by stick and use it as a measuring device, sticking it in the deepest part of the puddle. What could spud handle? We didn't know and without a single bar of service we eventually had to call it, turn around, and back track our way out.
Back on pavement, back on track. After the first full day of driving, we didn't get very far. We decided to stop in Marquette for the night and try again tomorrow. It happens to be Fresh Coast Film Fest that day! Rad! We grab a beer at Blackrocks Brewing and walk down to check it out.
After asking a few locals where to camp, we decide on Rippling River Campground, it was surprisingly the only campground still open this time of year, easy decision. The wind was so strong it was nearly impossible to make a fire, we headed to bed a bit early and woke up to the smell of coffee. Time to hit the road.
Chapter 3 - The Porkies
The next day my nerves were really starting to hit me. I thought we'd make it to the Porkies day one, I honestly thought we'd be engaged by now. I popped in a tape, Postal Service, and try to act cool. I was sure I was acting like a loony. All I could think about is how I was going to propose, when, where... Finally I decided to relax, and let it happen when it felt right.
In a regular car, the drive from Marquette to the Porcupine Mountains takes about 2.5 hours. In the bus it took us close to 5. There's a few factors here - two of the most consistent are the speed of the bus (65MPH) and the bladder of Kelly (pees every 20 minutes). The third factor that we discovered on this trip was our gas gauge was wrong. Every time it said we were on E we were actually at half a tank. We didn't realize this until the a few days later, so at this point we were stopping to fill up pretty often.
5 hours later, the Porkies are in sight! We're elated! It's so gorgeous, the colors are lit with fall colors, and Lake Superior waves are crashing to our right. We decide to pull off the road and take it all in. The wind was so mighty, it blew my cap right off my head. I chased it down the street and laughed at the sheer power of the wind coming off the lake. It was a humbling moment. The Porkies were in front of us and we had finally made it. This moment felt right. This was it.
I sneakily grabbed the ring from my toolbox in the bus, set my phone up on the dash and ask Kelly if she'd like to take one last photo with me here. We hopped out of the bus together and ran in front of the camera, jumping in the air, being total dorks.
Right then and there I got down on one knee and popped the question. She had no idea, she was totally shocked and left me down there for what felt like 5 minutes before yelling yes, yes! of course!
So happy, so relieved. She said yes and now it's time to celebrate. We went and set up camp at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. We hiked the next few days, checked out all the waterfalls, made mac+cheese and chili, cornbread and stayed warm with lots of hot toddy's. Mushy mushy love.