We Live Here Now

This is the story about how we went from a Syncro to owning a Troopy.

Part One:
The End Was Near

“The key turned; the engine came to life. A smile, some goose bumps, hand on the shifter. Ahead of us lay a new life to be lived on our terms.”

We’ve used those words to describe the moment we first left the confines of our traditional, picket fence lifestyle and hit the road some four and a half years ago. That moment in our lives came to an end in October of 2017. Or so we thought.

We’d been on the road since December 2013 before calling it quits. The last 2 years of our travels were a struggle that made the entire endeavor feel unsatisfying and stressful. We fought against vendors and our Syncro every day for two years, and staying on the road only prolonged the agony with each subsequent breakdown or set back. Stopping our travels was the first step to freeing ourselves from an unending cycle: Travel, breakdown, work, repeat. We were tired and needed a drastic change—a reset, something within our comfort zone, something familiar.

With no new destinations or journeys ahead, and freed from the stress of yet another breakdown in our van, we applied for a home loan and were looking hard at buying a house in Fort Collins, CO. We toured the property and were beset with a flurry of mixed emotions. It wasn’t the fear of a house payment that made us feel odd, but the impending sense of being permanently glued in place. The idea of taking road trips or weekend jaunts into a forest or desert somewhere didn’t feel the same as the freedom of endless miles of open road. We felt caught in the middle of stopping and going; as if stuck in some perpetual yellow light existence: Slowing down, ready to stop, but pretty sure we could make it through the intersection.

We’d spent 1,386 days on the road, traveled 80,000 miles, and the persistent motion of that time proved to be an unshakeable addiction. In that time, we got to see every coast in the country, ventured south to Mexico, and north into Canada. We traversed deserts, mountains, plains, forests, cities, and almost everything in between.

“Something doesn’t have to be ‘forever’ in order to be special,” we told ourselves as if trying to convince each other that a permanent end was what we needed. Out there on the road, every moment was special. Extraordinarily hard, but special nonetheless. The house in Fort Collins was everything we wanted, so we made the only decision that made sense to us: We passed on buying a house and bought a brand new Toyota 4Runner instead.


Part Two:
“I sat behind the wheel and watched the raindrops as they gathered on the windshield and raced down into the humming motor.” – Mineral

Hindsight is 20/20, and all we can do is learn from that when we find ourselves in similar situations. I spent months agonizing over what went wrong with our Syncro build and trying to take an inventory of what I could’ve done differently. My greatest failure in building our Syncro was my impatience. That character flaw has always been one of my most enduring struggles, and through a complex and convoluted series of events it’s what led us to entrusting Kirk, the owner of NorthWesty in Seattle, with guiding us in finishing our build on the Syncro. The experience with him registers as one of the lowest, most frustrating times of my life. It was a web of lies, broken promises, schizophrenic instructions, and truly surreal personal interactions with him that became our day-to-day reality at that shop.

After it became clear that working hand-in-hand with him and entrusting him to “assist” us with our engine conversion was an exercise in futility, we threw our hands up and decided to just let him finish the majority of the conversion work. Working with him was so awful that we were sure if we kept interacting on a daily basis, the center would collapse and we would end up either being on the receiving end of one his belittling and dehumanizing tirades he usually directed at employees, or worse we would lose our shit with him and be in an awful place as far as finishing our engine conversion. We felt like we were hostages to his vacillation, ineptitude, procrastination, and personality. To avoid confrontation and to maintain our sanity we opted to let him do what he professes he is an expert at: finish a diesel engine conversion that he swore would run just like his Syncro. What could go wrong?

So, we paid him whole-ass money for a half-ass engine conversion, an engine conversion which to this day he suggests he didn’t do1, even though we hold an $18,800 receipt in our hands for his shoddy work (which he claims was our work2, and which every TDI mechanic we have taken the van to said the wiring in the engine is a total hack job and the wiring diagram Kirk provided us doesn’t even match the wiring harness in the engine bay.3) It’s enough to make us wonder if we were living in some kind of Kafkaesque nightmare in dealing with him. But that’s another story, which I have yet to figure out how to recount because of how surreal it was to deal with someone as detached and manipulative as Kirk (who is so fond of his own honesty and integrity that he rates and reviews his business on Google Reviews with 5 stars.)

Our beloved Ripley beat us down and drained our bank account with rebuilding the gearbox numerous times, redoing the suspension numerous times, trying to figure out why we kept blowing axles and cv joints, why we were having so many boost issues, starting problems, throwing different codes, and why it seemed that no matter what we fixed, something else would always break. We were working our asses off every month just to keep our van on the road. We were spending more time in mechanic shops chasing down electrical issues caused by the engine conversion than actually traveling, ironically.

Some people chalk up this kind of difficulty to just another part of the “flow” we all find ourselves in. Someone once told me that I lack the chill to own a VW. Maybe. Or maybe I lack the wherewithal to keep asking Jessica to put in 10 hour work days alongside me just so we can pay bills and keep our van running long enough to make it to the next mechanic shop’s lift. Maybe the aforementioned struggles will give some folks a little perspective. It’s easy for onlookers to sit back in their cozy homes, double tapping photos on social media, pontificating about how much “chill” we lack (or the staggeringly inaccurate characterizations that we demand free shit) while Jessica and I hang out under our van over and over again turning wrenches and swiping our debit cards for more parts.

So, I sat just outside of the dealership, a foreign steering wheel in my hand, glowing gauges, a nav screen, fully functional dials, knobs, buttons, and an odometer that read seventy one miles. Staring back up at me was a Toyota logo.

I could see Ripley, our tried-and-sometimes-true Syncro, through the 4Runner’s windshield. I’d touched nearly every nut and bolt on that van, planned every piece of it meticulously, taken care to build it to be as capable and reliable as one could make a VW Vanagon. But I failed.

Thoughts of the struggles, dreams of the future, memories of turning wrench after wrench flickering passed my mind’s eye in a confused and jumbled procession of sadness, nostalgia, defeat, resolution, and guilt. She was so badass, and after 2 years of trying to get her running right, she finally did. But Jess and I were spent, and any travel we engaged in was marred with the sense of dread that at any moment we would be under Ripley again diagnosing another problem, calling a tow truck, sitting in a mechanic’s shop working from their wifi, waiting to hear what was wrong this time. Our friends MAK and Owen call this state of existence “Vanagon PTSD”. It would be a hilarious moniker if not for how utterly true it is.

After that flood of memories, thoughts, and emotions I started crying. I haven’t sobbed in years. But I did. We hadn’t even left the dealership and I just sat there crying with Jessica looking on and consoling me. It hurt like hell to try so hard at something, only to come to the conclusion that the only way to move forward was to sever ties and move on.

There is something called the fallacy of sunk costs, sometimes known as the gambler’s fallacy. It goes something like this: The more money you pour into something, the more chances you think you have to get that thing right. And so you pour money into a transmission thinking it’ll be right only to learn 500 miles later that you need to find another $4k to get it redone because the initial $6k you spent didn’t cover all the bases, and then in 45k miles you spend another $3k because the Syncro gearbox just doesn’t handle the hammering of a diesel engine very well, so you throw money at it again but this time you’ll do it right. Or you pour your money into new a suspension because this time it won’t break (until it does). Or you pour another $2k into chasing down an engine gremlin that gets fixed, except that makes something else break because now the pressure is transferred to that new part. So you pour money into that because this time, this time, you’ll get it right. Except you don’t and you never will because now you’re caught in the cycle of perfecting the unperfectable, finishing the unfinishable. The only way to stop the cycle is to walk away. And so we did.

The feeling of failure that enveloped me at that moment hurt so fucking bad. It was as if I was breaking up with a girl I’d loved in the deepest most passionate way possible, but knew in my gut that the relationship was all intensity and fury, caught in an unending hurricane of passion and discord. We all know that love. It’s who musicians write songs about. The highs are the highest, but too often they’re interrupted by painful and costly lows.

We drove away from the dealership that night and the next morning we mothballed Ripley in Fort Collins at a friend’s shop. Accompanying her was a fresh new For Sale sign, a listing on Craigslist and the Samba. We crossed our fingers that she would find a new home soon, someone who wouldn’t carry our baggage with her, and we waved goodbye.

Part Three:
Welcome Home, Son

To those who have never overlanded, the surprising thing you’ll find out on the road is not so much the incredible places you’ll visit but the people you meet along the way that will change your life in ways you never imagined. It’s an addiction to be surrounded by so much generosity, to hear people’s differing perspectives, to know all that connects the sinews of new relationships is the asphalt that leads you to them.

When we toured the house in Fort Collins, we took our friend MAK with us. She is one half of the dynamic internet duo known as Bound for Nowhere (the other half is Owen.) In my life, I have met people all across the competency spectrum: Men who sat next to me on gun trucks in Iraq, their skills and expertise I entrusted my life with; the unskilled, uneducated laborers who used to work for me in my past business that couldn’t be depended on to show up to work sober; and the highly skilled, 14 hours a day, work-a-holics I have spent the last 7 years of my life collaborating with in the advertising industry. Not one of them comes as close to my ideal of work-life balance, skill level, and dedication to craft that MAK and Owen do. Period. They are clearly grounded, and lack the typical flightiness we encounter all too often out here on the road. Their perspectives are ones we take seriously and internalize.

MAK fed into our vision of what we could do with the house, but she also served as a calming reminder that we didn’t have to settle down. Her offer to us was to take our 4Runner east with her and Owen, spend some time thinking about our decision to stop traveling, and also explore other potential places to live in cities in the Southeast, a place our hearts will forever call home.

The next morning we took them up on their offer, and so we pointed our new 4Runner towards Kansas to catch up with them.

Jessica held the steering wheel this time. I could see her eyes narrowing and her lips quivering. As we put more miles between us and Ripley, she too broke down in tears. For her, it was finally real. Our past was back in Fort Collins, inside Ripley, and the miles between us now were the real life incarnation of breaking away from our time in a VW and its community. You may read this and think that we’re being dramatic millennials4, scared of our thin shadows, melting snowflakes in the palm of life’s changes. Maybe. Or maybe leaving the place you’ve called home, a familiar though taxing set of four walls, just fucking hurts. 

That night, we met our friends at a Pizza Hut in Atwood, Kansas. Our murdered-out Toyota 4Runner, which we named Wednesday after the character in The Addams Family, sat next to 2 Toyota Sunraders in the parking lot. It was our first Toyota meet-up. Admittedly it was less magical than when we did our first CaraVanagon around the Pacific Northwest, but we were in good company, and it was a reminder that as we got further down the road, traveling with familiar faces, watching white stripes appear and disappear on the asphalt below, the intense hurt of leaving Ripley would subside. It was becoming clearer that we do this for the people we meet and come to love and not for the steel, rubber, and oil that is too often at the center of #vanlife.

MAK and Owen were on their way back east to build out their new Toyota Sunrader camper. Owen, stoic as ever, was driving and Mak was at the helm of their brown 2WD Vanagon named Stanley. We were bringing up the rear in our new, shiny, black on black on black 4Runner. Both us and our traveling companions had been run through the Vanagon gauntlet and came out on the other side heart broken by our vehicles, but determined to figure out a way to recapture the magic of travel and wandering.

Being with them for the week or so it took us to get to Nashville where we parted ways offered us some much needed perspective and time to talk through our frustrations, the apathy I felt towards travel, the disillusionment I’d come to experience with social media and so much more. Each of these things played a role in making travel less about the journey and more about keeping our machines working and feeding the insatiable beast of content creation to an ever growing and distracted audience on platforms like Instagram and YouTube. Long talks on open roads offered kernels of truths and waypoints to reach as we tried to figure what to do next and how to do it in a healthy, sustainable way.

Part Four:
Best Laid Plans

That road trip with MAK and Owen ultimately turned into a 7,000 mile jaunt around the country. It was filled with tears that Jessica and I both spilled over failing to get our Syncro reliable enough to pursue our dream of traveling the world in it. After the blurriness in our eyes receded, clarity settled in. The 4Runner never broke down in that time, and we visited a number of cities that were at the top of our list of places live: Fort Collins, Nashville, Johnson City, Asheville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, New Orleans, Austin, Marfa. Though incessant motion beckoned, so too did the stillness that comes with having a house, a community, a favorite watering hole, and some measure of quiet where we could dedicate our minds and efforts to whatever chapter of our life lies ahead.

In that intersection of our life, the yellow light before us was burning brighter. Do we stop? Do we go? It became clear to us, after 7,000 miles, that the road was our home. But maybe what we needed was a vacation from that home. So, we didn’t stop. We kept going, looking for a place to rent for a short while until one afternoon in Marfa, TX, just before we were scheduled to look at a place to lease, a house we had been eyeing for rent in another city became available on Craigslist. A few phone calls later and we had a plan in motion: Finish building out our 4Runner and go live in La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico for 90 days. Perhaps stopping for a few months in between travel would allow us to experience the joys of both a stationary and mobile life.   

From Marfa we made our way north, scouring Craigslist and overland forums for a rooftop tent and ARB fridge for our 4Runner. If we were going to travel to Baja, we wanted to make our 4Runner overland ready in case we wanted to continue traveling south from there and into Central America. We knew we couldn’t give up living on the road, quitting that lifestyle just didn’t seem 100% right. We also knew that traveling in a hopelessly unreliable rig and constantly moving around, hunting for WiFi and living in such a small space all the time wasn’t going to work for us either. So we opted to make our 4Runner a mix of overland rig/daily driver. A vehicle capable of getting us to AirBNBs in new, cool places and getting us out and off the beaten path to explore the world around us. It seemed like the perfect arrangement.

We were able to build out the 4Runner in under a month. We set off towards Baja California Sur equipped with a fridge, a cabinet system from Goose Gear, a Maggiolina rooftop tent, a winch, lights, a badass suspension upgrade, and a number of other amenities for overland travel. It was kitted to the hilt but not overdone like so many “overland” 4Runners you see on social media. It was as reliable as the sunrise, fairly fuel efficient, and so incredibly comfortable that it felt like we were driving in the future. It was, by far, the nicest vehicle we’d ever owned, and it got us to La Paz from Colorado Springs without so much as a fart, hiccup, or fart induced by a hiccup, i.e. breakdown.

However, I’d be lying if I told you we loved overlanding in it. While its off-road prowess staggered us, and being in such a reliable rig was far different from what we had been accustomed to in our 4 years on the road (let’s see… 5 blown motors, 4 fried gearboxes, and innumerable little annoyances and suspension redos,) the 4Runner didn’t feel like “us”, and when we were out in the wild, it just never felt like home. The rooftop tent was comfortable, but you couldn’t really be in it during the day when the sun was beating down. The kitchen setup was super functional and well put together, but in the rain, cooking or even accessing the fridge wasn’t possible without getting soaked. Living had to be done primarily outside, and while I like being outside, it wasn’t that great when it was really cold, raining, or really hot. Essentially it was no different from car camping. There’s nothing wrong with car camping, but when you do it for a few weeks on end, it kind of sucks. And, don’t forget, we’d just come from owning a Westfalia Syncro, quite possibly the best overlanding platform living-space wise that’s ever been made (and I’ll fight anyone to the death who says otherwise.) In a word, the 4Runner just didn’t feel like home (ok, that’s seven words but whatever.)

However, living in the apartment in La Paz was a little bit of heaven, at least the part where we had a stationary place to dedicate our minds to work and focus our efforts on becoming financially stable again. The not so great parts of it were the gaping holes in the walls that allowed all manner of bugs in, rain coming in like a sieve, asshole drivers revving their motors at all hours of the night, and the break in. We’d chosen that apartment because of price, location, and because it had a lockable gate where we could safely park our 4Runner.

Jessica had been sick for about 2 weeks: Fever, nausea, eye infections, a cough. I was starting to come down with it as well. One night, after taking the Toyota out to do some shopping, I came back to the house feeling like shit. I closed our gate, took some medicine, and passed out with Jessica. She was sleeping downstairs and I was upstairs. At 8:30 that morning she got up to let our dogs out and nothing was amiss. She came back to bed, and we both slept until 11:30 A.M. When she got up again to let out Linus our dachshund, she yelled “SOMEONE BROKE INTO THE 4RUNNER!” Nearly everything inside had been taken: Our GoalZero battery, my Zhiyun Crane gimbal for filming, all our first aid gear, our Garmin GPS device, other camera gear, our winch controller, exterior LED lights, and a bunch of other stuff. It was heartbreaking and infuriating. It was especially infuriating when I discovered that the thieves had got in through the locked gate I hadn’t locked securely enough the night before. It was all my fault.5

Mexico was a mixed bag. We ventured out a few weekends while there, but really we spent most of our time working 80 hours a week. Because we weren’t pouring that money into a van anymore, we were able to pay off every single penny of our debts. More importantly, the contours of how we wanted to travel were beginning to take shape. We quite liked traveling to our little Baja apartment, and even though there were more negatives than we had anticipated, stopping for a short while allowed us plenty of time to take an inventory of our lives, execute some projects we had on the back burner, and pay off all our debts. However, it was becoming more evident that long term travel in the 4Runner just wasn’t the right fit for us.

Part Five:

Getting off of our Live Work Wander Instagram account was cathartic for me. For too long it had become an addictive time suck, and my self-worth had become tied to a poisonous measuring stick dictated by a pink bubble indicating likes, followers, comments and tags. But my hiatus from the platform was short lived as I soon began sharing unfiltered, unvetted posts with people I know on my personal account. It was there, using the discover feature on Instagram, that I found a company that converted 70, 80, 100, and 200 Series LandCruisers into box style campers. I thought that if they could convert trucks as small as the 74 series LandCruiser into that kind of camper maybe they’d be willing to convert our 4Runner. Maybe having the 4Runner be more livable would solve our dissatisfaction with the rig’s space. So, in early February I gave them a call.

For a starting price of $60,000 they could ship the truck to Germany, cut off the back down to the frame and install a carbon fiber shell with an aluminum cabinet interior on our 4Runner. The waiting list to get that work done was a year long. We were ok with that timeline. But as the conversation continued, the rep mentioned that if we didn’t want to wait that long, they had legally imported a finished out 70 Series Toyota Land Cruiser Troop Carrier. It was priced reasonably, and not too far off from the max we were willing to spend provided we got our Syncro sold.

“Hmmmmm, very interesting,” we thought. We told the rep we would think about it and hung up the phone.

Back before we decided to get off the road in October of 2017, we’d spent July and August talking with vehicle importers about finding us a 75 Series LC Troop Carrier and importing one into the States for us to use as our new rig. But every truck we found for sale either had too much rust, too many miles, was right hand drive or simply looked like it would require too much time and money to outfit, and after the Syncro build the last thing we wanted was to find ourselves restoring and building another old rig. So we gave up on the Troop Carrier hunt until that day in February. Somewhere in Telluride, Co. was sitting a fully restored, fully built out, left hand drive, 100% legally imported, 70 Series Troop Carrier (the newer version of the 75) for a price we could conceivably afford if we could just sell the Syncro.

And then lighting struck. We had roughly 45 more days left our lease in La Paz when one day in late February my phone rings with a phone number from Boulder, Co. On the other side was the sound of a woman’s voice calling to inquire about test driving Ripley. We couldn’t believe it. Ripley had sat in Fort Collins listed on every Craigslist in every major Vanagon market in the US since November but we hadn’t received a single serious inquiry or request to test drive her. Our asking price was $65,000, even though we spent a blinding amount more than that on her. That price was scoffed at by idiots from coast to coast who know nothing of the value of restored Syncros. We had people offer us $6,500 for her a number of times and one Syncro owner, who we did business with in the past and who should’ve known better, belittled and scoffed at us on the Vanagon Owners Group on Facebook for asking that price. He said that on a good day our van might be worth $45,000 and that we were just attempting to leverage our “social media fame” by asking for an additional $20,000 for our Syncro. It was the poor taste and the many hand wringing bullshit comments like that that really turned us off to being such a public part of the Vanagon community, and made us thankful when we left our van behind. 

But here I was talking with a potential buyer who didn’t seem troubled much by the price. A day later she test drove Ripley and a week later we were on a flight to Denver, Colorado to sign over our van for a price far above the $45,000 that person said we could only hope to fetch on a good day. Apparently, we’d stumbled on the best day of our lives or that person was very fucking wrong about what our Syncro was worth. With the Syncro signed over, we said a mildly tearful goodbye, and as we drove away we called the owner of the Troopy to see if it was still available. The next morning we left Fort Collins, CO. at 5:30 A.M., and drove 4 hours to meet the Troopy’s owner in Salida, CO.

We test drove the truck and were staggered at how well it handled, how capable it was off-road, and the living space within it. It was as if our 4Runner and our Syncro had made sweet love into the night and this Troopy was their child. It had the capability and reliability of our 4Runner and damn near the living space, maneuverability, and efficiency of our Syncro. It had a turbo diesel engine, a place to sleep inside, ample storage, low miles, no rust and it was a Troopy: A vehicle known for its ruggedness, toughness, its worldwide availability of parts, and its off-road prowess. We were sold.

Part Six:
The Troopy

We were dizzy with delight. Since announcing in October that we were getting off the road we had been through so many emotions, but also accomplished so much. The clarity that came from divorcing ourselves from content creation, feeding the beast of social media, leaving our money pit Syncro behind, and putting our heads down to do what we believed in (working, producing, creating value, and traveling without the pressure of adding to the endless feed people scroll through) brought us our first long streak of good luck we had experienced in a long, long time. From slowing our roll, to buying the 4Runner (without which we’d never discovered the Troopy where I sit now typing out this all-too-long post), moving to Baja, putting our heads down, and selling our Syncro just in time to afford the Troopy. This time away has been magical. Then, as luck or planning would have it, we sold our 4Runner to a close friend and overlander in training.

And as I type this, we are sitting on a ridge in our Troopy. To our west lies the Grand Teton Mountain Range. We are fully outfitted with 300ah of power, 25 gallons of water, and 67 gallons of fuel capable of getting us around 1,400 miles of range. Under the hood sits Toyota’s reliable 1HD-T engine married to a H151F gearbox designed for the abuses of off-road, hard mile travel Troopies are known for. Within the vehicle there are cabinets, a fridge, a stove, and a bed. We couldn’t be happier. We come outside every morning and look at our Troopy and finally feel a sense of peace. Though we still dread a break down whenever we set off down some unmarked trail, this Troopy has been the reliable, hard working beast it was designed to be. It feels amazing being back out on the road. The magic of travel is back, and we have a plan for moving forward that involves setting off towards Alaska and northern Canada. We know this car won’t always work perfectly, but we know that we can count on it more than our previous rigs. Every one of our rigs blew the motor (or needed substantial engine work) before we even reached 3,000 miles. We are well over that mark in our Troopy, and with fingers tightly crossed we’ll go even further.


Part Seven:
Finally, the Conclusion

I won’t ever regret the time we spent in our VWs. They taught me about cars in more ways than I care to remember. Before we owned them, I could barely tell you how to check the oil. Now I’m confident enough to read a guidebook on how to swap out a blown cv joint on a solid axle truck and actually execute the job. Many of the people we met in the VW community will be lifelong friends, and if not for our VW we may never have met them.

Though I’ve been critical of social media it bears mentioning that without it, we may not have discovered MAK and Owen ,whose perspectives and gentle nudging pointed us, if only slightly, to where we are now. We’ve learned to take the good with the bad, and that goes for overlanding, social media, and personal relationships. All that is due to the quirky VWs we drove around for too long and threw way too much money at. But such is life. The only way to do it is to live it.

It’s weird to me when I recount this story and all its meandering ins and outs, many of which you’ll be grateful to know I’ve left out, that have led us to this point. We’ve wanted a Troop Carrier for longer than I have let on here. Mostly because they are bulletproof reliable, capable, have enough space for what we want to do, and, partly for personal reasons. I look at how all of this fell into place, mostly by coincidence, some by luck, and some by intentional planning, and I can’t help but fight the feeling that this whole thing feels awfully guided.

I’m not religious. When I hear someone say “the Universe X or Y” I know with near certainty that person and I will not see eye to eye on what makes up the real, what Truth is, or why things might happen. Same goes for anyone who proclaims they are praying for me: No thanks. Superstition is not how we crawled out of the muck and built skyscrapers, and it sure as fuck isn’t how Jessica and I got to this point. I’m willing to admit we didn’t plan it. With all of our reason, cost/benefit analysis, nights by the campfire trying to figure out what was next, a lot of this just kind of happened at a time when we were in a position to take advantage of it. Funny thing is, us humans don’t point out how things seem to fall into place unless there’s a direct opportunity there to benefit from. Selling a Syncro in February is just that: selling a Syncro in February. A Troopy for sale at the same time is just that. Taking advantage of that coincidence is what I call opportunity. We could’ve made a hundred other decisions that would have been equally rational, but when opportunity of the kind we were presented with knocked, we reasoned through it, did some cost/benefit, and took a risk to act on it.6

So how do I explain our apparent good fortune in these last few months? I don’t know. It was partly committing to rendering real our rational self-interests and partly the confluence of circumstance converted into opportunity. It’s a much less romantic place to end up, I admit. However, we’ve learned that yellow lights exist for a reason: To slow you down and make you assess before moving on. 



  1. His reasoning is that, because he didn’t mate the engine to the transmission and then bolt that entire assembly to the motor mounts (himself exclusively), it is therefore not a “complete conversion” from his shop even though he charged us for a complete conversion and the invoice he gave us reads “PD Install and Conversion.” Moreover, he was there turning wrenches on our vehicle the day we mated the engine and gearbox on the van to ensure that everything was mated up properly.
  2. It bears mentioning that when we asked him to complete the conversion, that is, after he’d helped mate the engine and gearbox and install it into the engine bay sans harness, hoses, ECU, valves, intercooler, drive-by-wire, and literally every other component that is not the block and gearbox itself, he promised to have it done within 4 days. Every day after those 4 days lapsed, we’d call to check on its status, he would say it would be done by close of business the next day. That went on for 2 full weeks until one day he said it was done. That evening Jessica went to pick up Ripley and it turns out that the gauges for the boost and EGT were not installed, the diff lock and 4WD knobs were still hanging loose, and the intercooler heat exchanger had not yet been mounted. So, it wasn’t done. And it never was. At one point about a year later we talked with him about the possibility of either returning the engine for a partial refund or fixing what was wrong. We opted to fix what was wrong and began the process with him. The last communication we got from Kirk regarding the first steps towards fixing our issues was “Okay, let me see what I can do in the next couple of days.” That was over 400 days ago. We’ve met many others who have experienced the same. Par for the course.
  3. He (Kirk the owner of NorthWesty) had given us a wiring diagram of the harness he’d built or sourced (not sure which, though I believe he built it) which didn’t match the harness he installed. In fact, no mechanic anywhere could figure out what harness was in our engine bay because the wiring diagram we were provided didn’t match many or any of the wires in that harness. It took Stephan at Stephan’s Auto Haus in Sacramento, California over a month to find a wiring diagram for our engine that about 75% matched our harness. That’s how poor of a job Kirk did.
  4. I, Jorge, the writer of this here way too honest and way too long piece, am certainly not a millennial, thank the gods. Though, I admit, I did receive participation trophies in Little League Baseball.
  5. Allow me a political aside for the moment. I have read some other overlander’s accounts of being the victims of theft. One I read said “Oh well, these poor people apparently needed this stuff more than I did.” That’s utter horseshit. It’s the kind of “go with the flow” moronic thinking that masquerades as chillness, but is really just excuse-making for other people acting like utter fuck wads and taking stuff that doesn’t belong to them. To write it off as the poor needing, say, a Zhiyun Crane gimbal more than me is a cop-out and a coping mechanism where the folks who utter that kind of bilge are mostly just stroking their moral ego by acting as if the theft was merely a coerced donation to the unfortunate. || Another such comment was made by a well respected overlander when they were broken into and had everything stolen from their Mitsubishi Delica in Greece. He excused it by saying something like “Well, that’s socialism. We need to spread our wealth to those who need it.” That’s a telling admission. I and others like me, well known thinkers, professors, Nobel Laurates etc have long argued that socialism is just a form theft with a government stamp of approval. That kind of commentary has resulted in sneering, scoffing, and dismissive hand waving from so-called “progressives” and dyed in the wool socialists for daring to equate wealth redistribution with theft. But there it is, from a socialist’s mouth equating having all of his belongings stolen from his van with socialism’s mandate to spread wealth to the needy. || Sorry, everyone, theft is fucking theft and it is a violation, not just of your earned property, but of your sense of security. There is no excuse. If they had stolen bread and water, I’d be less inclined to complain about the infuriating and childish characterizations too many travelers excuse theft with. Fuck thieves. Period. || One last bit, we were able to get back our GPS device when the thief was stupid enough to turn it on. Turns out that this thief had priors for assault and a pretty long rap sheet. If socialism is, at least in part, about empowering the poorest criminals among us with stolen goods, you can keep that morally bankrupt ideology.
  6. “The Universe” had nothing to do with our fortune anymore than The Universe had anything to do with not intervening in some way in Parkland, FL. To ascribe actions to a force outside ourselves to explain the order we perceive leads one to also have to account for life’s horrors. That means having to wonder why The Universe or Yahweh or Allah or The Earth Our Mother allows the unending atrocities we’re inundated with daily on the news. The answer is: Those figures have no reasons because they don’t act, and they don’t act because they aren’t real. They are phantasms. It’s relic of our biology attempting to find order in the chaos and give it a name and then infuse it with meaning. The failure of those entities to account for the horrors we regularly witness since man first stabbed man makes the idea of outside forces working to make your life a little better sound more than a bit foolish and self-centered.

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Eloquent as ever, Jorge. This shit could be a feature in some high-brow outdoors magazine.

Thanks for satiating our curiosity about the journey from Westy to Troopy. Bravo 👏.

Brad Hicks

Thanks for sharing the long story. I have been a fan since Falcor, and the winding journey y’all have taken draws me in. I can’t help it! It’s awesome that y’all ended up with the truck that you did… I love Land Cruisers. Oh yeah, and I’m praying for you!


So very well written, Jorge. We’ve been on the road nearly 2 years (in RVs only so far), but really find ourselves dreaming of overlanding around the world. We find ourselves wondering about some of the same things you’ve described as well as trying to downsize into yet another rig-whether it’s the one we take around the world or an in-between. Safe Travels!

Peter K. Vollers

Could not stop reading this. You guys simply MUST come to the infamous “Burning Man of Overlanding Events!” Overland wheeling to your heart’s content!

Rob Tabor
Rob Tabor

Give me your leg… I’m gonna make wookie to it!

Nice New Rig.. Boy your fingers say some eloquent things! I Look forward to new videos… and maybe meeting you guys at expo east 2018 dammit!

John H
John H

Jorge and Jessica, As an owner of a 1999 4Runner and an 1985 Westfalia, I like your move to the 70 Series*! A Vanagon is not a truck. At its best, the Westy is a nice passenger/camping van. Unfortunately, you know what a Westy can be at its worst. Your Toyota looks terrific. If it lives up to its well earned reputation for reliability and off-road prowess, you’ll be able to let your memories of Ripley rest in peace. And, you’ll truly be able to “drive hard”. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your YouTube videos and look forward to seeing your travels… Read more »

Matty G

What a saga! Trooper looks like a wonderful beast. Your willingness to be introspective is what kept me intrigued (and your writing style in general). I have an ’88 Westy (Cornelius), that I have been upgrading, fixing, stressing on, and loving on for 20 years now. We contemplated selling him recently after a stressful coolant blow up on Snoqualmie summit a year ago, but decided to drop real cash into a GoWesty 2450cc, their new engine management system, coolant system, and a whole bunch of other less critical upgrades. My hope is my patience (really just my place in life… Read more »

Randall J
Randall J

Hey, MattyG, I was wondering how the 2450 waterboxer + EMS has worked out for you? My own vanagon is having the same heart surgery performed right now, and I don’t see much discussion out there regarding people’s experiences with this. Thanks!

Alex Jomarron
Alex Jomarron

Just an amazing piece of writing. I’ve owned my 82 2wd diesel Westfalia for 7 years. It’s been frustrating at times. I retire in 9 months and will be living in it and my sailboat going around the world. I have considered selling the Westy and getting a Tacoma with a 4wd pop up camper. We’ll see how it goes. Thanks for writing this as I’ve felt this way, but haven’t been able to express it, even to myself.


Great read guys!


Hey Jorge & Jessica, Stumbled onto your article in, while researching over-landing in general , in a TROOPY particularly. I seem to have caught a viral fever after watching (a gazillion times) 4XOVERLAND by Andrew St P.W on youtube. I love driving, any car anywhere, so i had a compromised immune to begin with, anyways -OVER-LANDING is all i dream about now. I am educating myself, planning, mostly drooling with “J” over my laptop. Anyways, of all the videos i have seen, yours is the few blogs i have read. Drilled into your past youtube/instagram posts . I am… Read more »


Lacking the chill necessary to own a VW? Are you f***** kidding me? I’ve watched your videos and noticed that pretty much every video featured you guys making a major repair, and your chill never wavered. In fact, harnessing your levels of chill may be our only hope in surviving the pending climate crisis. I’ve owned 4 VW’s, the first (brand new when purchased by us) was in the shop more than 30 times in the first two years of ownership. It was in the shop that many times because A) it f***** broke all of the time and needed… Read more »


Saw you on the road near Valdez, Ak. Here’s a photo:

Russ Sherratt
Russ Sherratt

Hi there to both of you. I do enjoy your travels, and must confess the the totally horrible times saw y’all broke down was to say the least upsetting as a viewer. I’m slow and know it , but just found this read. Have been wanting wondering to know how the transition into the yellow flex monster took place. Low and behold, I have been enlightened. I’m a firm believer that in this life, you get what you desire when your prepared to receive it. The above writings clearly show the journey, required for y’all to get to troops time.… Read more »


Great setup Jorge/Jessica! glad you got a decent price for Ripley. Sucks the conversion didn’t go well, but maybe those issues brought you that much closer to your end all optimal setup instead of further delaying the inevitable?
Below is an interesting setup;

I’m still rocking my 1990 GL Vanagon hightop.

Timothy A Risk
Timothy A Risk

Jorge and Jessica. As a long time Vanagon owner/diyer and someone who is inspired by your journey and stories, I’ve been thinking about this change you made and wondering how it came to be. I actually searched to find the story of your experience with Kirk and found the rest about your move to the troopy. The gamblers fallacy is the perfect metaphor (ahem reality) of owning a modified syncro, let alone trying to live in one. It took a little bit of time to let go of my first vanagon after a similar experience. I also sold my last… Read more »


So on point. Just binged your YouTube, laughin’ And cryin’ And snorting from the confines/comforts of a lounge.
This Blog eloquently answers some of the harder questions I can see would be tricky to package for the anti-social media wormhole of fan girls and Troll fleas. Nonetheless, Thank you for sharing the hurts, the heroics and dick jokes.


So after watching the video on Troopy I came here and found this detailed article. Very interesting. One question though: Do you think the problems with Ripley mostly came form the mods (be it motor or others) or is it the platform? Because in German forums on that vehicle unmodified syncros are seen as reliable as heck. P.S: Americans and writing about socialism never ends well. Either you Americans (sorry for the generalisation) are either thinking of the lowest form of social welfare as socialism or think about thief’s. It really is better if you are not talk about that… Read more »