In 2015 we attended two Overland events: The Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona and the Northwest Overland Rally in Washington State. There we met other overlanders, some who had been on the road for over a decade living a life filled with adventure, experiences, and new friendships. After seeing multiple presentations by these people, seeing how they lived their life, seeing what it took to accomplish a life of world travel over land, we began to feel as if this was our calling. We both felt an irresistible pull to get out there and strip ourselves bare of everything familiar and take on a life filled with more challenges than what we had thus far experienced in the 2yrs we’d been on the road in the USA.
At these rallies we would bring some of these overlanders over to our beloved Falkor and ask whether they thought this was the right vehicle to take on a globe spanning overland trip. Brad and Sheena of Drive Nacho Drive did a trip around the world in a 2wd van just like ours with less living space and in some ways, less upgraded features. And while they made it, it wasn’t without a staggering amount of break downs and set backs. Their story is truly inspiring and speaks to the can-do spirit of so many overlanders. Doing a trip around the world in a 2wd is not optimal, but they did it. Another couple who’ve been traveling around the world for 15yrs in their much smaller Mitsubishi Delica were fairly adamant that executing such a trip without 4wd would be a treacherous undertaking where a lot of locations may be inaccessible due to not having a 4wd system to fall back on. They also pointed out that our beloved Falkor may be too tall for a shipping container and so we’d being paying through the nose to ship him to different continents or worse, we’d have to ship him tied to the deck of a ship where he’d be exposed to sea salt and at a high risk of theft from crew members aboard cargo ships. That was disheartening to hear as one of our favorite features of our beloved Falkor is his hightop. Yet other overlanders recommended switching platforms to a more reliable 4wd system like a Toyota or Sprinter van. And others said if we were going to do this trip, that a Subaru engine was not the ideal power plant to have in our van. As with everything, everyone has an opinion. They all come to the table with their own biases about what sorts of trade-offs are worth making. We listened closely, we thought about it, we discussed it for a long while and then in September last year we decided that we should switch to a 4wd van if for no other reason than to never have to say to ourselves that we won’t attempt a tough road because our 2wd definitely won’t make it.
After getting the Syncro, everything started to go wrong as is our tradition.
And so when a Syncro Vanagon that fit many of our specifications came up for sale in nearby Durango, Colorado (we were staying in Ft Collins, Co. at the time) we decided to take the leap and become Syncronauts. From the start of our life on the road a Syncro was what we wanted anyways so it wasn’t that hard of a decision.
After getting the Syncro, everything started to go wrong as is our tradition. First it became apparent that the brakes it had had parts that were very hard to source which is a no-go for overland travel, the Subaru engine it came with blew 600 miles after we picked it up, and it turns out that while the transmission had been rebuilt only 30k miles ago, it had some pretty severe damage to the pinion in the front diff, it didn’t have South African Oiling Plates and some of the gears already had nicks and chips in them. So, this $18k Syncro we bought that we thought needed minimal work to become road worthy turned into an utter nightmare. We’ll write more about that another time but I point it out because it’s relevant to the larger story here: what was the plan for our beloved Falkor?
This was agonizing. Falkor was a member of our family. He was to be our “forever car” and so would be with us until the end of time. And besides, we all know that having a Luck Wagon is the only way to go on a quest, dammit! Maybe all these bad things were happening to our new Syncro because Falkor was casting a bad luck spell….let’s hope that doesn’t stick too long. We initially debated putting him up as a camper rental and using the revenue he generated to help partially fund our travels, but that was a dead end as the insurance was incredibly expensive for that and who would manage the logistics of renting him, maintaining him, storing him, etc? Then we thought maybe we’d rent him to a friend for a long while, maybe someone out there who wanted to try the #vanlife thing would want to rent him, but again we ran into the insurance issue and honestly, he’s a finicky van that requires regular upkeep and monitoring of his systems. That’s a lot of commitment for anyone renting him whether short or long term. So, renting was out.
We also considered keeping him and letting our family in Tennessee have him while we were out gallivanting. This idea was mulled over for a few months and then rejected. Our family, lovely as they are, probably wouldn’t put him to much use and he would just mostly sit around not doing what he does best: going on dirt road rampages around the American West. We scuttled that idea too.
The last ditch hope was that we could just keep him at a friends house in Manitou Springs where Falkor would be well taken care of, see some adventures and stay in the family, and for a while that was the decision.
The more we worked on our Syncro, the more evident it became we’d been sold a turd. After removing the carpet and interior panels we discovered massive amounts of rust on the floor board and behind the driver side rear panel. After removing the engine and transmission we discovered massive amounts of rust in front of the gas tank, rust on the spring perches, rusted and seized bolts, rusted seams, rusted shock mounts and so on. It became increasingly clear the more we dug into our Syncro that our budget wasn’t going to be nearly enough and that the timeline we had made for the build was naively optimistic. And so, with as much money as we had already poured into the Syncro we decided that selling Falkor was the only way to help fund the Syncro build so that we could have as reliable an overland rig as possible.
The list to getting Falkor ready was long but he needed work and we didn’t want to sell anyone a rig that had a bunch of issues like had been to us so many times before. If we were going to sell him to someone, he’d be ready to go and ready to show someone else how amazing he is both on and off the road. The first thing we did was replace his ailing Subaru engine that had been initially installed. I can’t even begin to tell you how done I am with Subaru engines. Of course, I say that and plenty of people out there run them and don’t have nearly as many issues as I’ve had but I’m pretty biased against these engines because of my experience. With that being said, I’m still over Subarus and all the hype around them. Never again. Anyhow, the engine in Falkor was a complete mess. It was chewing more than a quart of oil every 200 miles. So we removed the engine and replaced it with a fresh rebuild. Fortunately the engine was under warranty. When the builder who warrantied the engine saw what shape our engine was in, he just gave us a whole other one because ours was pretty much useless.
After the engine, we replaced the brake master cylinder as it seems a lot of folks out there are having theirs fail which to us meant that soon Falkor’s would fail too. The front heater also needed fixing which we did and the Webasto heater wasn’t working. We shipped the Webasto off to the factory where they re-tuned it to work more efficiently at high elevation and then we reinstalled it in Falkor. That was covered under warranty thankfully. Side note, I don’t recommend the Webasto gas heater but I’ll write more about that another time. Lastly, we had our friend and master tech Stephen, owner of Mountain Bus Werks, do a full inspection and check everything to make sure that anyone that got Falkor was getting their money’s worth. I want a clear conscience sending off our beloved home to someone else. I wish more people selling these things did a little more due diligence and were a little more honest when parting with their rig, you know who you are.
Now I’m going to fast forward a bit here. A lot of things happened between when we decided to sell Falkor to when he was finally sold. We considered buying an LT40 and trading in Falkor and our Syncro for that rig but, long story short, that whole deal was utterly off-putting and went back to sticking with our Syncro and trying to sell Falkor.
I don’t exactly recall how it came about but I think we posted something on our Instagram account about our Syncro build and a person we’d met on the road a year ago inquired as to what was going to happen with Falkor. And that’s where our story now turns.
The weather was perfect, a light breeze blew, the sun was out. Santa Cruz is a sort of paradise. When I go there I look at people and wonder how they could possibly have any clue what the rest of the world is like. It’s perfect there and so why would you ever leave!? Our beloved Falkor sat parked on the street in front of Van Cafe, a janky-ass barrio garage (as our friend Hawk jokingly put it once) in Santa Cruz, after having had some service done by the fine fellas at Van Cafe. In front of him sat a meek, incredibly clean, Westy Vanagon that had the lovely smell of juniper incense and sage emanating from its open window. A tall, lovely brunette approached us and began to ask us questions about Falkor. “What kind of tires do you have? What size rims? Do you like them? What are you using for a fridge? How do you get power? Do you like the hightop?” and on and on she went with a battery of questions we were happy to answer.
She invited us to hang out with her by the beach for coffee and to get some work done at a cafe and we obliged. Later that week we met up again where we sat for a few hours together listening to street musicians play and then we went to a hot spring spa in Santa Cruz after yet another round of coffee. She was a delight, a kindred spirit, a fellow creative, someone with whom we felt an instant connection deeper than the common interest of our love for VW Vans. It was like we could connect with her life experiences because they, in many ways, mirrored ours. She had no pretension about her, she was open, wild and free but grounded in reality, focused, intensely sure about her place in the world at that moment. We’ve said somewhere else in an interview that we have a strong appreciation for people who exhibit competence and she was such a person. After a day or two together, as is always the case in the fleeting relationships we establish as overlanders, we went our separate ways.
Almost exactly a year later we get a direct message from her after we post about our Syncro on Instagram. “What are you doing with Falkor?” A month later Amy showed up in Colorado to take him on new adventures through the American West, to pound him on and off dirt roads, to live free and drive hard. Jess and I both cried at seeing him leave but strangely, he is still in our family as long as Amy has him. He was built for riding into sunsets and Amy chases those with a wild, free fervor that inspires us to keep building our Syncro so we can join her one day on the road, side by side with our Beloved Falkor.