I spent the summer of 2001 driving a Volkswagen bus from Louisiana to Maine. I was 27 then and drained from my first year in a Ph.D. program. The blue bus, I think now, was a push back against a year of feeling overly cerebral. At the time, the bus even seemed a little bit magic. I had found it in the parking lot of my apartment complex, as I was walking to purchase a newspaper and scan the classifieds for a VW bus. Its owner happened to be in town for the weekend, and I bought it before he left.
Someone had painted the bus blue, smurf blue. I have never since seen that color on a VW bus. It had a pop-up top for sleeping, as well as a refrigerator, sink, and stove. The inside of its cabinets smelled like maple syrup. I stuffed books in most of them.
I found a road trip buddy, the man I would later marry, and we spent our first night in the bus in the driveway of my future in-laws. My future mother-in-law left us a note in the front seat while we were sleeping, wishing us well on the trip. It probably goes without saying that we have gotten along well since then.
After that night, we camped in Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida. We slept in truck stops, wedged between 18-wheelers. We slept in the parking lots of gas stations. We slept in a campground in Myrtle Beach. We slept in the streets of small towns. We slept in the front yard of a woman I knew in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
I got out of my head that summer. I cooked meals while riding on ferries that crossed the Atlantic. I went whale watching. I met VW enthusiasts who embraced us like we were part of their family. I swam in streams. I heard loons cry out in Maine. I saw coyotes. I ate ice cream from small stands adjacent to dairies. I could see the cows while I ate. I ate ice cream at the Ben and Jerry’s factory. I saw chickens that looked like Phyllis Diller. And I swam at a beach in Rhode Island where mica floated in the water so that every wave sparkled with glorious beauty.
I came back to my Ph.D. program with renewed enthusiasm and a conviction that the spirit must be fed, as well as the mind. I did sell the bus, again for two thousand dollars, but I kept the most important parts of the trip: my partner and a new surge of resilience.