Descend on Bend 2016 – A Festival of VW Vanagons at Hole in the Ground – Part 2

This is part 2 of my writeup for 2016 Descend on Bend at Hole in the Ground, Oregon – Read part 1 here

photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

One of the first things I realized upon getting to Hole in the Ground was that my iPhone wasn’t recognizing my charger. Since I’ve come to use it as my camera and video camera – I didn’t have a backup plan to take pictures. Within two hours of getting there – my battery was dead. This was a bummer – I had a solar charger, a back up battery, and a cigarette lighter charger to keep that from happening…but the problem wasn’t with any of those or the cord – it was with the lightning jack in the phone. Finally on Day 2 Hanane managed to get it to charge, but it never got fully charged again and mostly just sat in the van connected to the cord since walking around with it was killing it. As a result of all of that – I don’t have lots of pictures or videos and so I’m thankful to Kevin and Zelima Dempsey for sharing their photos with us – the photos in this post are theirs.

Photo by Zelima Dempsey
Photo by Zelima Dempsey

The next thing I realized was that there were a lot of 1987 Westphalia Vanagons – and not one of them was the same as another. Infinite variation within a single type. Misefrou is a merlot colored weekender Wolfsburg edition with an add-a-room from Bus Depot, a laminate floor, and custom cabinets from the last owner.Kevin and Zelima’s vanagon (Zesty the Westy) is a silver 1987 Westphalia Full Camper tricked out with LED lights, sweet cargo racks on back, a retractable canopy, and more. Another couple’s 1987 Westy was a shade darker red/purple (cabernet?) than ours and had a bike rack, a rocket storage on top, and a totally different interior. With close to 300 vehicles there – I did not see any two that were identical. And that seems like a pretty good point to segue into the breakdown of VW Vans…

photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

From 1949-1979 – Volkswagen produced the VW Bus in a number of different models – microbus, transporter, Westphalia camper, split window, bay window, 21-window, safari window, 23 window, Kombi, Samba, and the list goes on – 30 years of VW bus variations with mostly Type 1 and Type 2 (pancake) engines. There were also a number of aftermarket conversions that could turn a tin-top into a pop-top camper – one of which the ‘Riviera’ I had on my 71 bus on Kauai. From 1980-1992 – Volkswagen produced the wildly different Vanagon. With more interior room, a squared body, and from mid-1983 a water cooled engine which provided more power, real heat, and eliminated the need to adjust the valves with every oil change. There were tin tops, pop tops, weekender (camper without stove & sink) and from 1985-1992 a four wheel drive model called the Syncro. From 1993-2003 VW produced a completely redesigned van and camper called the Eurovan. While offering some improvements in handling and power, Eurovans lack the clearance and quirky feel of buses and Vanagons – and also have a motor in the front. Since 2003, the Eurovan has not been offered in the US – though a newer model – the T-5 is still produced and sold in Europe. Bus fans have been waiting for more than a decade for VW to introduce a new US model…

photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

In a nutshell – that’s the history of buses, Vanagons, and Eurovans – but the devil is in the details and the details come from individual (and often multiple) owners. Solar panels, gas water heaters, diesel powered heaters, high tops, low profile, Syncro conversions, replaced VW engines with more powerful and reliable Subaru engines, and the mods mods mods keep coming.

photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

And this is a good place to note that it really is a certain kind of person who decides to own, live in, travel in, customize, or just love a VW van. I’d always known this…we wave at each other on the road. There is a little thrill that goes through you when you see another Veedub. This gathering at Hole-in-the-Ground confirmed what I had always known, but never seen in a mass gathering.

photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

Here in Reedsport – it’s rare for me to meet anyone who has been outside of the USA. There is one fisherman with a VW bus he painted green with latex house paint – I spoke with him once and he had the same enthusiasm for his vehicle as he would have had for say a Chevy Cavalier…he never waves when I pass with the Vanagon. He is the exception. The people I met at Hole-in-the-Ground were a completely different type. Andrew, in a yellow bus next to us had lived in Cairo, Kevin had been to Egypt, Watson in the sprinter van had surfed in Morocco – and those were just the three vehicles closest to us. Every person I spoke with had a story, had a thirst to see the world, had adventure written on their soul, and as a result had an openness to different types of people and different ways of life. We met people from Wales, from Germany, from New Zealand, from Canada and saw vehicles that had driven from New York, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, and everywhere – just to spend time with this tribe.

The Raffle photo by Kevin Dempsey
The Raffle photo by Kevin Dempsey

On Saturday – it was cold and rainy – I mean really cold, really rainy, and really windy. And yet, hundreds of people came out to the raffle drawing, brought and shared food at the potluck meal, and stood around the big fire Silver Moon brewing came out and set up a bar on the crater. There was a huge VW bouncy house. Kids were running around freely – if I were to lump the demographics – I would say that the bulk of people were between 32 and 50, mostly white but there were people of all shades and ages and all were equal – though I will say that the Syncro owners might view themselves as just a little more equal (and perhaps rightly so – van speaking that is).

photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

The cold and rain drove a lot of people into their vans as night fell. I was fortunate to sit around a small fire with a group of new friends and share adult beverages as the day ended. And here, I feel the need to share something unpleasant about myself – I drank a little too much. I’m not used to such good company nor to drinking as much. All of that is fine, but when a man came to the fire to share and promote his story – I acted like an asshole when he made a comment that I interpreted as racist/white supremacist. Mind you, I think we all have a duty to stand up to racist/homophobic/religiophobic and other forms of hatred and at the time – I thought I was doing just that – but in hindsight- I have to acknowledge that I may have misunderstood him and my reaction was too strong – charged as it was by alcohol. In any event, I’m glad that he decided to be peaceful and moved along and if I misunderstood – I offer my apology here.

In the morning, the rain was pretty light as I broke the add-a-room down. There was no way to dry it before putting it up – and that is probably the biggest issue I have with it – it is large and not easy to dry out or store. We did a little bit of off-roading to get out and waved goodbye to all of our new friends. On the way home, we drove through our first snowstorm since coming to the USA. Missy handled well, kept us warm, and stayed on the road. Sophia was ecstatic at seeing snow. I was ecstatic at having found my tribe.

Camping Oregon’s Sunset Beach State Park in October

My Volkswagen Vanagon went into the shop yesterday for some much needed repairs – in celebration of that, I’m going to post this memory of  our first camping trip in her from back in October of 2016. My goodness, how far we’ve come since then. 

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

Oregon’s weather is always a danger when you plan a camping trip and if you plan it in October at a state campground on the coast like Sunset  Beach State Park- the danger is magnified quite a lot.

 

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

Despite hot sunny days the week before, as we came close to our first planned outing in our new Vanagon (which we named Misefrou) the forecast called for rain, rain, and more rain. I’d been stowing gear in the van for two weeks and getting everything ready…I’d bought an Add-a-Room tent from Bus Depot and installed our old school Coleman refrigerator ice box. One block of ice keeps it going fr 4-5 days. It’s a great piece of gear. We had a propane burner and a butane burner – plenty of food and snacks, three heavy pendleton wool blankets, cook gear, folding camp chairs, a little teak table with detachable legs, a nice carpet to sit on in the add-a -room, games, my ukulele, and I made sure to put the girl’s sleeping bags in. We had a lantern and a couple of battery powered lights. I had my solar panel charger for our phones.

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

 

To keep things simple, I left Hanane out of the planning and told the girls to each pack a bag with clothes that could be worn in layers, toothbrushes, and a book.

I forgot a couple of things I never used to be without…my swiss army knife (with can opener) was in my other bag – so to open cans I had to resort to grinding the top of the can off on concrete – easier than it sounds and effective, but not ideal or as easy as a can opener. I also forgot to pack my sleeping bag! I didn’t bring my water bottle, which was a mistake because I didn’t hydrate nearly enough, and I didn’t bring a sponge or dishcloth for washing dishes. In addition, it would have been nice to bring a coloring book and crayons for Sophia and to buy firewood before leaving home because the tiny $5 bundles of firewood in the camp tend to burn like shit – green and not at all seasoned properly.

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

 

 

The add a room was awesome – heavy and bulky, not terrible to set up but not more than a 15-20 minute job.  If you have the space for it and the time to set it up – it doubles the size of a van. Hanane brought sheets which was nice, but they were that clingy polyester cotton blend, I think they call it cottonelle – not a good fit for a van or camping…or even for a bed in my opinion. I like cotton linen sheets and not much else. Lucky for us, it was not raining on the day we arrived – a little cold, but dry to set up the add a room. It rained at night which was alright, we had a little fire and got an early night’s rest – for about two hours.

Sunset Beach campground does not offer much in the way of privacy between camp sites…in fact, despite the beautiful surroundings, I wouldn’t go back unless it was a group camping experience with friends and family filling an entire section of the camp – we had empty spaces around us when we arrived but the neighbors from hell showed up at about 10pm. I’d put the curtain up in front of the van so the headlights shining in when they backed their tent trailer into their space weren’t that big a deal. The man was yelling at his wife to be louder as she directed him – she said  ” I don’t want to wake those people up, they are right there” of course we were already awake so I got to hear Mr. Asshole scream ” I don’t care if I wake them up” – Oh great. They had two couples in the tent trailer and someone sleeping in the car. At 2am the person in the car accidentally set off the car alarm and so we had flashing brights and honking horn in our face for five minutes while he tried to wake the deep sleeper in the  tent trailer (Mr. Asshole) to shut off the alarm. Then it happened again.  They woke up at 5am to go crabbing and woke us up again.

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

 

Day 2 was lovely. We hiked the coastline from Sunset Beach to Shore Acres State Park Botanical Gardens. The coastline was stunning and we had a picnic at Shore Acres. Back to camp and it was starting to drizzle a bit. We bought more wood and tried to have a fire, but the green wood wouldn’t burn hot and we decided to go to bed. The RV campers nearby had their gas generator fired up so they could watch a game and the expensive RV buses on the other side must have been searching for it as we watched their Satellite dish spinning and spinning like it was on the Mars Rover. So, we went to bed hearing bar-room cheers and soothing sound of a gas generator over the noises of nature which presumably might have still been there. The rain on the roof of the van blocked all that out finally.

 

It rained heavily. Hanane decided she didn’t like the upstairs bed – which is okay. It took me a while in my old bus to adapt to sleeping in a pop top. The rain stopped in the morning after breakfast.  We tried to dry off the add-a-room as we packed it, but it will need to be air dried on the next sunny day. It was nice that the rain let up while we packed up. It started again as we drove off.

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

 

It was a good test run. We learned a lot and had a lot of fun. Sophia proved herself ready for the ukulele and for learning to play chess. Lessons learned by me:

  1. Bring my Swiss Army Knife
  2. Bring water bottles for the whole family
  3. Cotton sheets or no sheets at all – also bring pillows
  4. Make sure the campground offers privacy between sites
  5. BYO Firewood

Camping has changed a lot since I was a kid. Campgrounds used to be full of families setting up tents, having fires, doing fun outdoorsy things, playing games, and stuff like that. Campgrounds now are filled with mostly far too expensive mobile homes, trailers, and 5th wheels mostly filled with retirees and seniors and instead of the old school camping activities…it is people sitting in their recliners watching TV in their home on wheels. I, personally, think that sucks but like the election of 2016 – there isn’t anything we can do about it.

 

 

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