Alvin and I have been living in Ely since December, and have loved living so close to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the beauty of the north woods. We’ve enjoyed trail runs, cross country skiing, and getting to know the locals. As much as we enjoy living there, the reality of living in an old mining and logging town was hard for us. We feel strongly that the Boundary Waters need to be protected from sulfide-ore copper mining (Learn more about the issue at Save the Boundary Waters). We struggle with our strong opinions as outsiders, coming into a place we aren’t originally from, our opinions differ from most of the local community who sees mining as the only way of life up there. Ely will always be a very special place to us, that we will continue to go back to (most of our stuff is still there anyways), but our dreams continue to expand and we must follow them. Both of our dreams have common themes: farming, self-sufficiency, sustainability, education, and adventure.
Life is short, too short to put off your dreams to a later date. We decided we would leave Ely this winter, with thoughts of coming back for the summer season, and hit the road in our 85′ Westfalia van. The plan: start checking off our list of 100 dreams. The van needed a lot of fixes and handy Alvin spent many hours on repair. We hit the road in the middle of September for Omaha to visit friends and family before going to BC to get hitched! From BC we would start WWOOFing and spend the fall/winter traveling from BC to Baja while working on various farms. Of course, you should never plan hard deadlines when you’re traveling in a Westfalia because they’re known for breaking down. Apparently, we haven’t learned that lesson yet. We found ourselves in Omaha for over a week getting the transmission rebuilt. Luckily, we had friends and family to visit and stay with.
At Margaritaville on the Taco Ride in Council Bluffs
After finally making it out of Omaha, we still thought we could make our wedding at a later date. Alvin’s daughter (who became an ordained minister during the 7th inning of a Twins game) had flown from Minneapolis to the PNW to marry us. We thought we could still meet her before her flight home if we hurried. The universe had different thoughts. While driving 65mph down the highway, all of a sudden we hear a gut wrenching crash from under the van. Last year while driving home from BC our engine fell out of the van while driving. No seriously, it did. With that in our minds, wide eyed and hearts in our throat, we pulled over to find that our tire was missing! The rear wheel spindle had broken, sending our entire wheel into the unknown. Shocked, not quite able to understand what just happened and how, we searched for our tire for about an hour with no success. “It could be miles away by now,” a police officer told us reassuringly. The closest town with towing service was over 50 miles away in Missoula. Luckily, Sparr’s Towing came to the rescue with one of the nicest tow guys I’ve ever met that immediately gave me an encouraging hug.
At this point, a lot of people would have given up, sold the van, and ran home with their tail between their legs. I won’t lie and say that thought didn’t cross my mind. Van life takes grit. Ask any one of the many living the life on the road. Because of this common understanding for the struggles it brings, the community of vanlifers is amazing. We’re really just starting to scratch the surface now. Within 24-hrs of being camped out in the Sparr’s parking lot, Ron pulls up and asks what’s up with our van. He’s a local Westfalia owner and lover. We chatted and almost immediately, he whipped out his phone and started calling around inquiring about the parts we needed. Ron knows all the right people and was our saving grace. He took us to a hidden yard full of Volkswagens to pull our missing parts off and old Westy. He took us to an awesome mechanic that will fix the van for half the price of anyone else in town. He showed us around town, sharing history and stories about his life. Without Ron, there’s no telling where we would be right now, we are so thankful for him. Our Missoula road angel.