Friday, December 4, 2009

the adventure of the great Westfalia

So....I bought my dream car. A 1978 Volkswagen Westfalia. It's beautiful. What is even more beautiful is the adventure that I embarked upon just a few short days ago to retrieve it from its previous owner. At a ridiculously early hour (try 5am) on Monday morning, my friend Matt and I headed out of Birmingham heading towards Asheville, NC. Generally to get to Asheville, I-40 is the fastest way but alas, a land slide has occured between Knoxville and Asheville closing down I-40 and making the short drive a much longer one so I opted to go the back way through Ocoee, TN. Little did I know that Highway 64 has also been closed due to, you guessed it, a land slide. So a little quick configuring on my Tom-tom and we have a detour. Well, Tom-tom is not always the smartest little navigator and he began to tell me to turn on these tiny back roads in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. If I was looking for the scenic route, Tom-tom gave it to me complete with a dead-end on a gravel road about 2 hours into the back country. After much frustration, two funeral processions, and several car accidents, Matt and I arrived in Asheville and began the initial meeting with the Westy and its owner. All went well and we went on our way to sit down at Barley's Taproom to enjoy a good local brew and a much-needed dinner. I recommend Pisgah's Belgian-style tripel named Solstice. After filling our bellies, we did some quick shopping around Asheville that included Hops and Vines where I spent over $50 on some brews not yet available in Alabama. I also bought some sweet knit hobo gloves at a head shop that turned out to be perfect for driving the Westy in the cold. We finally checked into our room at the Arthaus Hostel and enjoyed a beer and some fine guitar picking from Matt before getting some shut-eye. The next day was filled with excitement of banks and paperwork of actually purchasing the bus (really, it was exciting but I'm sure no one wants the gritty details). Once said and done, Matt and I got into our respective rides with Matt driving my Camry and me taking the Westy for her maiden voyage to drive up to my favorite place in the mountains known as Max Patch. This is where I-40 plays a trick once again. The exit that I know how to get to Max Patch from is in all reality where the land slide is. Bummer. Tom-tom also screwed up again and took me to a Wal-Mart that doesn't exist anymore. Instead, we shop at the Food Lion next door which was a trip especially all the wonderful stares I was getting for being a slightly dirty-looking hippie with an armful of food (which if you've ever been in back country North Carolina, people are pretty interesting around there....I mean, really interesting). With a quick phone call to my mom, I get the details on the way to detour up to Max Patch but end up getting lost again and I have to three-point turn my Westy on a mountainside with only a gravel pull-off. Talk about an adrenaline rush. After I find my way and finally know how to reach the destination, I pull off at a gas station to top off the oil and have a quick talk with one of the gas station employees (another really interesting North Carolina resident). He asked the usual questions of "Are y'all hiking the AT?""Do you think this thing will make it to the top?" and a definite quote from him: "I saw you drive past here just a minute ago, fairly certain I heard you coming back and knew you musta gotten lost on your way." Oh, to be heard. Anyways, we finally make it Max Patch just after sunset and it is incredibly cold but incredibly beautiful. The moon was out and allowed enough light that we didn't have to use a flashlight. There were little patches of snow on the ground and a wind strong enough to blow you flat over. We stayed out as long as we could stand with the cold before hiding from the wind in the Westy for the rest of the night. All night the wind was shaking and howling against the side of the bus. We woke up to gray light and more nasty, cold, windy, and wet weather. Once our trek down the mountain was complete I stopped at the gas station again to encounter yet more interesting people who I am pretty sure think I'm nuts at this point. After getting advice from the locals on how to dispense my gas, we start our long drive back to Birmingham. Although the drive was long, it was rather uneventful considering I was driving a vehicle over 30 years old. I was a little nervous about not having a valid license plate but I passed several sheriffs and two state troopers with no flashing lights in the rearview so I wiped a little sweat off each time. The only incident I can say happened was at the rest stop just inside the Alabama state line where my starter refused to work. I was lucky that Matt found the solution in a fabulous book that the previous owner left me called "How to Keep Your Aircooled Volkswagen Running Forever." So as the advice went, I popped it into third gear and got out to help Matt push the Westy a few feet back (the thing is heavy and we actually had to have a good Sumaritan come help push). And holy of holies, it started right up. So 8 hours of driving, $30 in gas, and one sore butt later, the Westy pulls into Birmingham and is officially my dream car come true.