Processing the Loss (Hendy Woods 3, MacKerricher 2, Manchester 2, & Salt Point 3) #vanlife


Hi there. We are alive. We’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and regrouping, and we were lucky to have had a week over Thanksgiving Break to focus on only that. After the accident, we needed to clear everything out of Dory and kiss her goodbye for a while. That stung, but we vowed to keep going. By the way, in case you have not yet heard the “Keep Going Song” by the Bengsons, here it is. I have it on repeat. You’re welcome.

The first step on our road to recovery was to get back on the horse, which in this case, took the form of a Class B “Coachmen Beyond” motor home, rented though We had some super sweet reservations made six months in advance for this week and we had been very excited about them. So, rather than wander around the house, rattling chains and moaning, we plowed forward and clicked “yes” on a whole slew of very expensive therapy items without thinking them through too much.


What this looked like in action for Richard was a really full Friday. He picked Bruce up from the body shop at 9am, looking shiny and good as new (Bruce, that is). The mechanics even said they did some kind of tests on the frame and gave him a clean bill of health to tow again. Not so sure what I think about that, but it sounded like good news anyway. From there, Richard drove about an hour and a half up to Woodland to pick up the van. He got a super thorough training from Spence, the van owner, and then drove it all the way back home. Some of you may not realize that Richard can drive. In fact he can, but it is not his favorite thing. Desperate times though, so he not only drove this thing home, but all the way back up to Hendy Woods, which we didn’t get to until after dark. When I got home in the afternoon, I saw this enormous vehicle parked in front of our house and I was like “No way am I driving that.” In pictures it looked “cute.”

“No problem, I’ll drive!” Richard said, and literally just started throwing things inside. We attempted to “pack” the more delicate items the best we could and took off. Like super slowly. You could say it is funny that our current version of roughing it barely fits into a gigantic 22 foot vehicle. I’ve come a long way from my backpacking days. But we made it to Hendy Woods in one piece and there we got to figure out how we were going to live in this new environment for 9 days, as well as how we were going to live without Dory every weekend.

Don’t judge. For us, this IS downsizing.

Turns out leveling a van is not that different.

Everything was on the table to consider. We walked it all the way back to the foundational questions of what we were trying to get out of camping and what were the non-negotiables that would take us across the line into “not worth it.” We considered everything; tents, really fancy tents, pop ups, T@Bs, Basecamps, really big trailers, vans, all of it. And we then made a list of bottom line needs and started crossing things off. Know where we landed? Alto 1723. That’s it. That’s the thing that works for us and that is IT. If we were infinitely wealthy, I suppose we could buy the house next to us and turn it into RV storage, but barring that, we need something that goes in our garage so that it can be packed and ready to go, without too much work, every Friday afternoon. Additionally, and in order of priority, we need: 1) indoor toilet, 2) indoor shower, 3) indoor gas stove, 4) bed large enough for bed roll, 5) heater, 6) bike rack, 7) tow car (ie not a van). If you cross reference that list against something that can be stored inside a garage, you land on: Alto 1723. So given the fact that this is such an integral part of our family’s collective mental health, and given the expectation we now have that we will definitely crash again, we need something that does not ground us for 2 years while waiting for a new one from Quebec. I’ll cut to the chase: we decided it would not be all that crazy to have a spare Alto.

I will tell you that Safari Condo has been absolutely awesome to us. Here is what they said about production time: “We actually sacrificed one of our stock and gave the production spot to you. We were able to do this since our 2021 Spring RV show were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without any RV shows we were able to deal with having fewer stock units. We were also happy to be able to help you since you have both been wonderful and dedicated promoters of our trailers and company. Showing it to future owners and even appearing on TV shows with it. We take care of our customers in need/bad situations and we try as hard as we can to help them. Getting you DORY 2.0 this fast is a way to say thank you.” *sniff* ❤️

So we will not have to wait two years for a new one, and we love them to pieces for that. But we are scared now and wouldn’t expect them to do this for us again. We had joked/not joked before about needing a “backup Dory.” This experience has shaken us badly, and the only way we can move past the fear is to basically plan for the next crash now. Even as I was pondering what we might name a new Alto, there is a part of me that views everything as temporary. So if I were to go with some other name, like “Marlin” for example, there are only so many names in the Nemoverse that I’d be willing to use for a trailer. We’d run out. So we will serialize. We will soon have “Dory2” and I’m sure we will learn to love her – until she crashes. Kidding/not kidding.

Better to be messy in your own home.

In the meantime, it will still be several months before she arrives and we are bad enough at staying home single weekends, that we figured we needed an in between solution. Randy worked out an amazing deal with an Altoistes couple to use their 1713 for the interim. We kind of feel like we’ve been living the ending scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life” with all of the kindness that has come our way these past weeks. We are seriously overwhelmed, and very grateful for all the love. One thing that became immediately apparent in the van though, was that when you are in someone else’s vehicle, it is nerve wracking. Besides really wanting to not crash the thing, you also don’t want to get it dirty, scratched, etc. We took good care of Dory, but if we messed her up, that was on us. I would feel horrible messing up someone else’s RV. So we vowed to be ready to jump on any used 1723 that came on the market. The only problem is that they hardly ever do, and when they occasionally show up, they sell in minutes.

Well, what do you suppose happened? 🙂 We had several people alert us to an announcement on facebook, and the owner, having seen our sad story, made the commitment to sell to us, despite all the offers they got. I will do a whole post later about “Lola Too,” who is beautiful and currently in North Carolina, waiting to hitch a ride back here. We have our “heir and a spare,” as our Alto BFF put it so perfectly.

This loop is like a tour of California’s Greatest Hits.

As for the trip and the campgrounds, there’s not nearly as much to say. We’ve been to each of these places at least once before and they were everything we needed them to be. From the towering redwoods in the middle of Mendocino County, to Highway 1 down the coast, this is California at its best (and mostly not on fire). I will note that one of the things we were most excited about was the apple pie from Gowan’s Oak Tree, just outside Hendy Woods. This is the best pie I’ve ever had and a big part of the reason we did not want to abandon the reservations. We may or may not get reimbursed by insurance for the price of the rental, but even if it turns out to be a $3,000 pie, it was worth it.

The Coachmen Beyond van was pretty swanky and we learned immediately that we love the Truma Combi heater. Way back when we ordered Dory1, my Canadian boyfriend, Denis, tried to talk us into being the first Alto to get the Truma installed. Richard was concerned about it being a new technology in the US and worried about getting it repaired. We passed. I reached out to Denis last week to tell him he was so right and we were so wrong. He reacted like, “I know.” with a facial expression of “duh.” It is extremely quiet and maintains the temperature steadily. The Suburban, in contrast, comes on periodically and noisily. One tradeoff is that you can dry your towels over the vent from the Suburban, whereas the Truma spreads the heat across multiple outlets for more even heating. Plus, since vans are insulated vehicles, it was warm and cozy the whole time. I was also really excited about the larger 12v fridge because it fit a lot more. I was thinking this would be the increased size we would be getting in Lola and Dory2, but it turns out this one was 6 cu ft, as opposed to 4.3. Our current fridge is 3.5 cu ft, so we’ll get an increase, just not as big. In general, it was easy to use and had all the amenities, including an indoor bathroom and shower. The touchscreen control panel was super fancy and fun to use. So many gauges, and different lighting zones to turn on and off! It comes with a 12v television and though that is a smaller picture than Dory’s hanging rear screen projector system, I will say, it is a lot easier to use. If we were looking at something like this to buy, we’d get one with the bedroom area in the back so we could leave the bed made and still get to the bathroom without climbing over the bed. If you sleep with two single beds, this model would work nicely. We didn’t use the induction burner stove much. Our pans and milk frother do not work on it, so we pulled out our propane camping stove to do most of the cooking. The van drove well, getting on average 13 mpg, and yes, I learned to drive it the rest of the trip. In fact, I was not nervous about handling, even on the “roller coaster” section of Highway 1. I’d say it was nice enough that it seriously got us thinking about vans. The only thing is, when I want to follow Richard on some crazy bike ride, or if we want to go three miles off road to get to a trail head, I do not want to pack everything up, and this is not the vehicle I want to take on rough roads. For those reasons, we still want a trailer that stays put, paired with a tow vehicle that is fun to drive and can take some back country.

Our packing job was pretty impressive, considering. I did forget a hairbrush, and we forgot propane canisters for the propane stove, but those things were easy to come by in town. Morning #1 required a creative solution to hot milk for coffee, but it worked. My favorite packing fail was Richard’s. He packed half of all utensils: 2 forks instead of 4, 2 spoons, 2 knives, etc. So, as he is the one who generally likes using chopsticks, he didn’t pack any for me. How many did he pack for himself? One. That was amusing.

So, onward. I hope to have news soon about Lola Too’s arrival and subsequent adventures. Dory is sheltered in place at Randy’s until we can get things in place for her to come home. Dory2 will enter production way sooner than we’d even dared to hope. And there will even be a post for Bruce2 coming soon! So much has happened the past two weeks. Richard has adulted like he’s never adulted before. Between arguing with insurance adjusters that Altos are NOT the same as T@Bs, to getting finances made available (like a LOT, really FAST), to arguing with Honda salesmen that hitches really seem like they should be included in a trailer hitch package, to getting certified checks speed delivered across the country, all in a pandemic, he’s been a badass.

The details – like do I keep the pin map with all the places we’ve been in Dory1 or do I start over, do trips taken in a van count toward the campground visits numbering scheme, do I need to rename the blog – all those things will get figured out. Meanwhile California heads into another shut down and I will focus on all the kindness I’ve witnessed. As Clarence says: “Remember George, no man is a failure who has friends.” This experience is showing me that we have some really good friends out there.

Hendy Woods SP

MacKerricher SP

Manchester KOA

Salt Point SP

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