For the purpose of this story, you will need to be familiar with the two types of fun.
Type 1 fun: The fun you have on an adventure while you’re having it and looking back on it. For example, surfing a fun wave in Mexico with your friends.
Type 2 Fun: The fun you have looking back on an adventure that was actually miserable or stressful while you experience it. For example, riding your motorcycle through an unexpected snowstorm in the Grand Canyon while you are deeply underdressed.
Part I: Type 1 Fun
I pull my 2006 Dodge Sprinter in reverse at dawn. Sitting in the cab of the tiny house on wheels I built with friends, I spy my Tijuana pound dog Bandit panting excitedly as we roll backwards. In the rearview sits a sliver of my 1978 Yamaha DT, and I say a silent prayer that my Harbor Freight rack makes the long trip.
My partner Michael gave me the nickname “Feral Muskrat.” I need to be turned out every so often to return my wild nature back to commune with the wilderness, otherwise I start biting at my stalls. I set my sights on Utah in an attempt to see fall foliage. Fish Lake appeared to me on a map with a description of PANDO, the world’s largest single organism in the form of an Aspen grove. Aspens are my favorite trees, and they may be turning, so that sounded like a good place to start. After 9 hours of sweating through the California & Utah desert sans a/c, we make it.
As we pull into Fish Lake I spy OHV trails right through the Aspens. I turn down a random dirt road to explore-even luckier: free camping in the grove. I park, cook dinner and pitch a hammock. The next few days I spend cooking, reading, taking photos and riding in the golden green groves with Bandit trailing me. She is a herding mix bred to run that loves nothing more than to sprint as fast and far as possible, so we make a good team on the bike.
After a few days bathing in the glow of the Aspens, we pack up and head towards an undisclosed location that I will nickname Green Grassland for the purpose of this story (I don’t reveal locations of surf spots or hot springs out of respect for the locals and the land). Green Grassland is home to miles of wide dirt roads, pastures, as well as three hot springs of various temperatures. A storm in the distance cut the intensity of the sun and carried a welcomed relief in the form of a humid breeze. I was happy to see other vanlifers and nomads parked in the distance. This must be the place.
After a day of soaking up the springs, racing my dog in the dirt, and chatting with friendly folks who have been living off the grid, I packed up and headed north, to the National Forest land of Provo, UT. I had been tipped off by a friend that Alpine Loop might be rife with fall foliage, so I headed towards Cascade Springs.
Upon arrival I spot a nearby fire road. I take the van down a questionable dirt road to explore, and find a dry meadow with national park camping lined with golden, orange and red leaves and a babbling brook nearby. I can’t believe my luck again. I park in the meadow, unload the DT, throw on my ATWYLD pants on and take the bike to explore. Bandit and I rumble upon a crystal clear, ice cold swimming hole, and I am in desperate need of a bath. Elated I packed a swimsuit, I took a deep breath and rode my bike down a hill slightly above my comfort zone. I park the bike and hop in. Bandit rests in the shade of the DT while a mystery resident of the creek nibbles at my legs.
The next morning, Bandit and I are excited to explore more of the fire road. Red leaves line the dirt floor as we race through a tunnel of crimson, gold, and tangerine. A crisp morning air collides with my nose as we bob and weave through the dirt. In my peripheral winds the creek. A perfect day.
Part II: Type 2 Fun
My bike dies. I kickstart it once, twice, five times, ten times. I give it a rest, kick start it again-nothing. I’m about 3 miles away from my Van, and wonder if I can push my bike uphill on this dirt road. I attempt, it’s heavy, this would take me all day to do, and I’m not sure if I’m strong enough to make the whole trip. Bandit looked at me inquisitively, “why did we stop the fun?”
I abandon attempts to push, and start to walk back to my van. At this point in my life I’m a veteran at type 2 fun. “This is nothing,” I think to myself, “It’s nice and cool out, it’s a beautiful day, and it’s not that far of a walk. Remember the time you got stuck in a monsoon in the Grand Canyon? Or the time you gave yourself a black eye and broke your nose surfing in Mexico? The time you wore a t-shirt and light jacket to ride to Baja not knowing it would be 30-40 degrees in the desert for most of the trip? This is child’s play. I just hope my van will make it down here and back without getting stuck.”
Spoiler alert: my van did not make it down and back without getting stuck. While trying to turn around to position myself to load the bike, I got stuck. After about ten minutes of digging, on the wings of their ATV two earth angels appear: Grady and Patti.
Grady and Patti are grandparents from Lehi, Utah. “Out here you’re either a cowboy or you’re from Salt Lake,” Grady tells me. He’s funny, tells me stuff like “I got a grandson that would pick your van up with one hand if he saw you out here.” They pulled me out with a wench and spent the better part of two hours trying multiple ways to get me turned around. Eventually we were successful, but the mission wasn’t over yet.
There were two spots in particular that were going to be difficult for a vehicle that wasn’t 4 wheel drive to get back out: A sandy corner and a rocky uphill stretch. “If you are gonna get out of here you’re going to need to gun it and under no circumstance slow down, do you understand?” Grady tells me, “Yes!” I say. “I’ll go in front of you to make sure nobody is coming. Follow me.”
My van feels like a ship in a storm as we Indiana Jones back up the fire road. The wood panels loudly creak for mercy and the glasses and cutlery threaten to shatter as they clink with every bump in the road. The exterior of my van is being remorselessly scratched by the forest as I alternate between saying out loud “I’m sorry trees! I’m sorry van!” I can see the end of the road, the paved parking lot, we’re almost to the top…*BOOM.* My cabinets and half my roof panels fall drop clear off. The inside of my van looks like a tornado went through it. An olive oil bottle shatters and covers the ground.
At the top of the parking lot I survey my van. It looks bad, but everything broke off clean and I know it can be fixed pretty easily. My van, my bike & my dog made it back up the fire road safely and without a huge towing bill due to the kindness of some grandparents from Lehi.
I took my great adventure as a sign to steer the ship towards home.