Guest Post: Cross Country in a Vintage Van

Adam works as a freelance photographer based out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but he also divides his time between skating on concrete and camping on dirt.     
He spent a year fixing up his 1970 VW Type 2 Bus (named Wendy) so he could travel from Pennsylvania to California and Oregon. This is the story of that cross-country trip this past summer.
Carrying the whole load, just rattling the whole way home.

I often reflect on the path that I’m currently on—how I owe it all to the town I grew up in and the bus I pulled out of its sleepy woods. They’ve afforded me the greatest idea of myself and may always continue to do so.

My story isn’t much different from any other 21 year old's. I live in a town that’s reduced to an exit off the highway. A village nestled between the Appalachian Mountains and Amish farms, inhabited by 800 other sleepy individuals—a place neither here nor there.

I like to think that the rest of the world hasn’t touched this corner of the world yet—no big malls, no shopping complexes.

As a young and eager photographer, I’d sit and watch the rest of the world as a naive and wide-eyed boy, yearning for something greater. The books, films and social media I watched made me angry to be “stuck” in the physical place I am, and I constantly searched for a way out. I believe that growing up in this place has taught me sincerity, honesty and moral structure. It helped me figure out what it means to be a business owner, a photographer in the 21st century and most importantly, a person. What I’ve learned here has transcended into the lifestyle of owning my air-cooled 1970 VW Bus, Wendy.

I was 19 at the time, struggling with the concept of staying in school, and pursuing a degree I wasn’t passionate about. I eventually dropped out to jump into photography full time because I was ready to embrace change. There isn’t much more to the story of how Wendy came to be. My brother and I passed her on the side of the road, speckled with moss from a few dormant years. A few days later, we struck a deal with the owner and started wrenching on her in my driveway.

Our overall goal was to fill her with friends, skateboards and cameras and take her across the country the following summer.

It was a year of repairing/renovating everything from a seized 1600cc motor, to minor overhauls like interior work. However, I can’t pretend I was a master mechanic. I was very green at the time and have only recently become more mechanically inclined, but that’s all part of owning such a delicate vehicle.

In June of 2016, my brother, two of my closest friends and I set off on our summer-long journey traveling across the lower 48 at 45 mph.

Starting in Pennsylvania, we made our way through the Midwest. Upon dealing with a few breakdowns in forgotten Dakota towns, we eventually arrived at our first destination: Badlands National Park.

After a few days of skating in the sun and meeting fellow travelers, we continued our trek west toward Wyoming and Montana.

After getting out of the tourist trap that is Yellowstone, we set up camp for a few days in Grand Teton National Park—my favorite destination of the trip. I’ve never felt a greater feeling of reward and gratification then when we crept our way into Wyoming’s Wind River and Teton Mountain Ranges. Seeing my big red bus in front of those massive granite monoliths made the past year of work and financial burden all worth it. This affirmed the notion that great things take time to come into fruition. It was the feeling I was chasing when we came up with the idea to do the trip, and a feeling that I’ll always hold in the highest regard.

After crawling through the 100-plus degree Nevada heat, we continued to patch up Wendy’s wounds and pushed onward to the golden state. We spent my birthday somewhere outside of Redding, California (I think at the base of Mt. Lassen), fixing an electrical issue, and probably taping a turn signal wire to its designated contact point that the Nevada heat had melted off.

Through the Sierras, we made our way out to the coast—another surreal moment of the trip. We spent fourth of July on a beach that had a scene like you would imagine in a cheesy movie depicting a California high school get-together: bonfire, fireworks, a guitar which we used to play Third Eye Blind’s “Jumper” on repeat, you get the picture.

The next few days we skateboarded through the Redwoods and up the Oregon Coast, where Wendy ultimately met her demise.

After a few days of camping along the coast, she called it quits at a seaside coffee shack outside of Seal Rock, Oregon.

Wendy eventually made her way back east to my driveway, where she’s currently in hibernation for winter. Her wounds have healed, and she’s ready for her next adventure.

While my memory of the trip is a little fuzzy and brief, I’m now left with the ring from it all. Owning a bus/van was never something I actively sought—I’m just a kid that fell into it. Although I still consider my bus to be a freedom vessel, the van life isn’t always about escaping to a far off place, but perhaps implementing all that it’s taught me into my daily life and my stab at photography. Buses require patience, meticulous work and an incredible amount of dedication. It’s honest; it’s pure; it’s rewarding. The trip I embarked on last summer is tangible proof that with the do-it-yourself attitude and hard work, you can truly do anything you set your mind to. As cliché as it is, there’s no shaking the truth.

It’s been a great gift to gain the knowledge I now know about these vintage cars, the community that’s helped me along the way and the introspection that an object has opened up.

I never imagined myself to be immersed in a culture of ‘junk,’ but I’m also never looking back. Who knows what comes next?

Follow Adam and his adventures

Edited by Kate MacDougall.
All photos credit to
Adam Naples and Cody James Miller.