It Started Slowly

Much has transpired since my last writing. So, I’ll give you some highlights and then tell you an entertaining story from the first leg of traveling/living in a van. First, the highlights:

Hosted the 1st Annual Ungrocery Dinner (pics from the event).

Drove 3,162 miles from Austin, Texas to Virginia.

Actually planned out the ultimate road trip (you know it – the Ungrocery Best Quest).

Started an Instagram to push content.

Started making drone videos of places (Folley Beach, SC and Asheville, NC)

Published my first food writing post.

Let’s go behind the scenes of #vanlife. The title of this short story is It Started Slowly.

If you’ve ever done a complete engine rebuild, I don’t recommend breaking in the new engine on a 1,054 mile trip from Texas to Georgia with a hard deadline of a friend’s wedding. But, that’s what I did.

We hosted the 1st Annual Ungrocery Dinner on a Monday and I returned all of the items on Tuesday then departed Wednesday May 24th for Atlanta, GA. I barely made it 50 miles before the van broke down. The engine was doing its job, but the cable from the ignition coil to the distributor was too loose and the van died in Georgetown, TX. For those of you who don’t know Texas geography, you could leisurely bike from Austin to Georgetown on a Saturday morning, so needless to say #vanlife was on life support early into her existence.

The engine had thrown oil everywhere and I was fortunate that Daniel and Carlos were literally pulling up behind me on the exit ramp when the van quit. We got it started and limped to Daniel’s father-in-law’s house. The most baffling part of the whole story: Carlos followed behind us and when we parked the van, he said “you guys were driving and I saw a piece of the engine fell off.” He stopped, picked it up, and I was able to secure it properly in the engine. But just think about it – the part could have fallen off any time during the 50 miles, especially when I was driving 70mph on the interstate. Instead, it fell off during the 1.2 miles Carlos was behind the van, no one hit it, and we were able to put it in properly. Baffling. Well, except that Carlos is the unsung hero of the story, per usual.

We worked on the van the next morning and celebrated with a last-lunch of tacos in the van. I drove off to make it to Atlanta! About the time I hit Waco, I looked in the rear view mirror to see oil spewing out of the back. You don’t need to know too much about vehicles to realize you’re about to have to eat a shit sandwich when you see that, so I pulled over to discover the dipstick sheath had come out of the engine block. An engine requires oil to keep the parts lubricated and the oil remains under pressure while the engine is running. Thus, if there’s a little hole in the engine block, say for example where the dipstick sheath was formerly attached, then all the pressurized oil now has an exit. That’s what happened to me. I stopped at a Buccee’s and the engine drooled oil.

After making a few phone calls trying to figure out how someone else would fix it, I finally said, “fuck it, I’ll fix it myself.” The fix I came up with involved using a silicon epoxy, which took 6 hours to dry. Seeing as it was late afternoon, this wasn’t optimal. I had now been gone from Austin for two days and hadn’t made it past Waco. I could have navigated waterways further in a kayak during the same time.

I worked in a nearby coffee shop until they closed, then laid down in the van to take a nap while the epoxy cured. I woke up around 11 PM, checked my work and decided it was time to test it. Plus, I had to make it to a rehearsal dinner in less than 24 hours that was still 1000 miles away.

I departed Waco at 11:34 PM with a healthy uncertainty. Thankfully, the van’s engine is in the rear. When it leaks oil, the oil catches a draft and the wind throws it up on the back window. This is good, because it allows an amateur like myself to know when something is going wrong. As I drove back roads through a beautiful, clear Texas night, I kept my eyes in the rearview to look for oil on the back window. Sometime around 2 AM, I became increasingly scared that my oil pressure was low. I called Daniel (yes, I realize he has a wife and a baby) to have him do some research on oil pressure. I was the only vehicle on a 2-lane highway in East Texas. All of a sudden a bright flash came from behind the van then began moving forward. It was the most radiant neon green I have ever seen in my life, streaking across the sky racing to the horizon illuminating everything with an eerie green hue. I’ve seen 9 meteor showers, and I’ve never seen whatever this was. I started yelling “OH SHIT OH SHIT” and naturally Daniel thought the van was igniting so he started yelling back “WHAT?! WHAT’S WRONG.” In fact, I recorded our conversation and here’s the rest of the transcript:






Turned out, it wasn’t a warhead from Kim Jung Un’s arsenal. I suppose it was a giant meteor burning through the atmosphere, though the color and magnitude were beyond anything I’d ever witnessed. The drive continued.

Sometime around 3:30 AM, I decided it’d be good to get some shut eye. I rolled into a 24 hour truck stop and parked Patches the van between a few big rigs. After a quick brush of the tooth, I was lying down to spend my first night in the bottom bunk. I set an alarm for a few hours later, got up at 6:30, brushed my teeth again and drove off.

About 6 hours later I had to stop in Mississippi to do the 500-mile oil change a new engine requires. Now you’re probably asking yourself, “where would you change the oil during a road trip?” Never change your oil on a black top parking lot in Mississippi during the summer. That’s what I did, and it was a different level of hot. The job got really fun when the trash bag holding the used-oil ripped and a steady stream of warm oil was pouring out on the hot black top of the local Walmart.

Thrilled to be leaving Mississippi, I put the throttle to the floor, hitting 0-60 in ~4 minutes, and cruising steady to Atlanta. I passed through Birmingham hours later, thrilled to be getting more than 20 miles-to-the-gallon. I couldn’t believe there was still a quarter tank left after having driven almost 300 miles on it. I typed out a text (yes, uh, while driving) to express how unbelievable this gas mileage was and the moment I was hitting send, I learned that my fuel gauge was broken — it doesn’t read below a quarter tank. I was out of gas and came to a puttering halt in West Alabama.

Running out of gas ensured that I’d miss the rehearsal dinner which I was already scheduled to show up late to anyways. Patches finally came to a stop in the Atlanta neighborhood of Brookhaven at 12:34am.

It’d been 3 days since I left Austin, but we made it, Patches and I. A thousand miles down, thousands more to go,

It started slowly…



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *