Travels with Oatis
Before I start in on how Oatis came to be our little home on wheels, I want to sort out the name situation.. as we are aware there may be some questions on this interesting spelling and name origin.
So, clearly Geoff and Lyndsi are not the usual spellings of OUR names. This is key. We like weird ways of doing things and weird ways of spelling things. And, our name spellings definitely add to our uniqueness and quirkiness in this world. Naturally, we needed something unique for our van as well. After picking up the van we stopped at a Starbucks in Flint, Michigan (more on this later), I had about 7 gift cards that would keep us fed and caffeinated for weeks. Geoff sat at a window, peering out thinking of the van’s eventual name. I ordered us oatmeal and lattes and walked them over to him. Geoff said, “Hey, the van looks like our breakfast!…Oats, what about Oatis?”
There you have it! The Oatswagen!
So, how did Oatis become ours?
It all started with Geoff's love of Volkswagen's and my love for the open road. When we met, Geoff had a little '68 Volkswagen Fastback that he bought when he was a teenager. The Fastback was his first car. In the 10 years of owning it, he nearly rebuilt the entire thing with the help of friends and dad.
When we were first together, the Fastback quickly became our "date car”. We created many of our first memories around the Fastback, including Geoff teaching me how to drive a stick shift! Geoff put his blood, sweat and tears into the little nugget and, in my opinion, learned everything there is to know about old VW’s.
***** If you don't know what a Fastback is, open a new browser and look it up right now, its an adorable little thing that is sure to put a big smile on your face. *****
What does this all have to do with our Westy? Well, a lot actually. If you have read through the rest of our website, you know that we have done many roads trips together. The dream of owning a VW bus started very early on. I remember the conversation vividly. It was on our first road trip from Kansas City to California back in 2011. Since then, we knew we would have to make our van-dream a reality one day.
Fast forward to early 2014. Long story short, the universe told us it was time. We were contacted about a '68 Westfalia for sale in Santa Barbara (anyone close to us knew we wanted one). While, at the same time, a few guys from Geoff's Volkswagen car club showed interest in buying the Fastback. Never ones to pass up signs from above, we felt it was time. That spring we sat down and specified what was going to be most important to us in finding our dream van as well as our price point. We also began the process of letting go of the Fastback. The van in Santa Barbara didn't quite fit the bill at the time, but it did spark what became months of searching.
I’m going to pause for a moment here and speak on how grateful I am for Geoff's knowledge about cars. If you have heard anything about owning a Westfalia, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that they can be temperamental little shits. One day they can be fine and the next day 4 things are wrong, leaving you in tears. The next day everything is fine again and you have no idea what happened; what switch you turned, what wires you connected or what knob you tightened to make things right again. Its comical (when your not in tears) the weird things that go on with making a Westy run. SO, with our knowledge of the manny quirks to owning one of these vans, Geoff spent hours questioning van sellers from all over the country about every nook and cranny of the motor, transmission, etc. etc. etc. My point? This guy knows his cars and has likely saved us thousands of dollars and lots of heartache in Westy malfunction. Thank goodness for my van-man!
For me, it was important to find a van that had a decent interior condition.. a working fridge, original seating/interior, appliances that work, seats that turn, and something that hasn't been beat to sh!t over the last 30+ years. We decided on a later model as opposed to the original body type. We wanted something that would be functional for our lifestyle and landed our search between the ’84 – ’87 models.
We logged some serious time researching Craigslist, the Samba and word of mouth through our Volkswagen community in SoCal. It became clear to us that buying a van in our state, even buying one from anywhere on the west coast, was going to be difficult. The west seems like the epicenter for Westy’s (pun intended). Geoff say’s “they come west to live the good life, which makes them EXPENSIVE.” It became clear to us that buying a van was likely going to include a road trip… HELL YA!
We ended up finding the perfect van for us in Flint, Michigan. *** Another case of the universe aligning. *** We contacted the seller of what would be our Oatis, who became a friend over the course of this mission. We already had a trip planned to Michigan later that summer to visit family. THIS was our van, a 1984 Westfalia Vanagon, Wolfsburg edition. Everything was original and everything worked. This was IT! We would buy it in Michigan and drive it back home. Oatis’ seller even held it for us for three months until our trip later that summer... pretty sure that doesn’t happen too often in the world of buying and selling cars/homes. We quickly canceled our return flight and started planning our road trip from Michigan to California.
A lot of people told us we were stupid for doing this, including people we respected in Geoff’s car club. It was tough, scary, intimidating, nerve racking and a whole lot of other emotions. Westfalia track records are not the greatest and the idea that we could break down in middle America, or worse, what if we were getting a lemon?.. it all became a scary possibility. These thoughts and many more ran through our heads. We spent every last dime we had at the time + sold the Fastback. We put our heart and soul into making our van-dream a reality and it was a wing and a prayer that made the whole thing happen. We’ve learned that sometimes in life, it takes a lot of faith and a bit of stupidity to make your dreams come true.
Despite all our reservations, we went for it. When it was finally time for our trip to Michigan, we were like new parents going to meet our child for the first time. To add to our mix of emotions, there were crazy summer storms that delayed our flight for hours. We paced the airport, with the looming possibility of not getting to Michigan that night. But the clouds lifted and the owner agreed to drive to Detroit in the van to pick us up.
We could hardly contain ourselves! Geoff and I walked hand-in-hand, exited the luggage claim to catch the first sight of our beautiful van parked at the curb.
This memory will stay with us forever. It was way better than all the photos we had seen. The interior was immaculate. It drove smoothly. The only hiccup was the exhaust. Michigan has no smog laws, so the van’s exhaust was hanging by bailing wire and rusty bolts. It sounded like a lawn mower and backfired on occasion leaving people on the ground screaming “shots fired!!”
But no matter, we were BEYOND STOKED!
Because the storms were so bad, we ended up sleeping in our new van in the driveway of our sellers’ home that first night. The whole picture is hilarious looking back now. I can’t believe things worked out and how lucky we got. Our road trip home was unforgettable. We took Oatis on a ferry over Lake Michigan and went the northern route through Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and HOME to California. Some highlights were stopping at the Black Hills, Yellowstone and Zion.
All in all, the experience of buying our van was one for the books. The dream-came-true. Since getting it back home, Geoff has continued to do lots of work to keep it running as prime as possible. Work on these vehicles are never, ever done. But the pain and paroles are worth the experiences we’ve had and then some. I wouldn’t trade one step of the process. Its all part of the wild ride of life.
One day, we hope to try out full time van life but for now we are content + grateful for our mini-adventures. That brings us to the photos here; some images from our little life on the road. We’ve wanted to share our van story for some time now, so thanks for reading! Hope you enjoy!