And so it was time to pick up the van. So many things that could go wrong…. (the van could be damaged, lost, maybe customs thought the bottom wasn’t clean enough, maybe I was missing some paperwork, maybe…, maybe…) The shipping company in the US had send me some paperwork and an address where I could pick up the car. The address was directly at the harbour in Newark. They also told me that the harbour opens at 8 and I should be there early so I don’t have to wait for the truck drivers. I could actually get to the harbour by public transport. So there I went again with my two backpacks (everything I own minus the van I was going to pick up). It took me 1,5 hour, two subways and a bus to get there (The bus stop before mine was the prison). The lady driving the bus asked me if I was sure that I wanted to get out at this weird stop in the middle of nowhere, where nobody ever gets out. I walked into the tiny “office” at the harbour at a quarter pas 8. There were already six truck drivers waiting. I gave my papers to the guy behind the window marked “pick-up” and sat down to wait. The truck drivers were wondering what I was doing there and what shipping a car across from Europe would cost. I showed them pictures of my van and they showed me pictures of their trucks and cars. About half an hour later a female truck driver walked in. One of the guys jokingly said that she probably would be the first one who would get to pick up a truck. And surprise, surprise… half an hour later even before any of the other guys got anything she got her stuff and could go again. At 11 (half an hour before the lunch break) they guy called me to his window and said if I could find my car I could drive it up to the office and he would try to get it released before they would go for lunch. I found my car in a large group of cars (some nice sports cars, a fire truck, …) There was a British car parked behind mine, I was told to move that one aside myself (just don’t crash it). I drove my car to the gate, signed some papers and then I had my car out of the harbour after only 3,5 hour wait (only one of the other guys got their stuff).
The Van at the harbour between all the other cars, in the back next to the fire truck.
I had to move this orange guy aside to get to my van
Of course it wasn’t all good. A quick check showed at least two things broken in my van. The 3rd brake light was hanging loose in the back and one of the cables had snapped. More annoyingly the driver window was half down and I could turn the handle all I wanted but the window wouldn’t move… This sucks… I can’t really park my car somewhere with the window half open. How the hell did they break this? Time to engineer the shit out of this! Luckily I had my toolbox in the van and with the help of a screwdriver I found out that the grooves in the handle that should grip in the turning mechanism were stripped clean. I could use the pliers on my Aeon Swiss Army knife (great goodbye present) to turn the mechanism which would move the window. Great! so only the handle was broken. Good thing the car comes with the spare handle! It’s located at the passengers window. So I moved the handle from the one door the other and I was ready to start driving.
First stop was to fill up the car. I wasn’t allowed to ship the car with a full tank so I had to find some diesel. Apparently New Jersey is a cheap state and I filled up my tank for 1.8 dollar per gallon (some 42 euro cent per liter). Second stop was a Walmart. I had to get food and other supplies. During my first driving day I saw my first road kill (a deer, followed in the next days by a raccoon and a beaver) and I saw the first accident happen (100 m ahead of me).
At about 13:00 I arrived at my campsite. Turns out mid April is very much preseason and only few camp sites are open. Except for the first two nights (because it was weekend), I’ve been more or less the only guest on the campsites. Anyway, the first campsite was in Stephens State Park New Jersey. I decided to stay for two nights so I would have time to make plans, get all my stuff sorted in the van and make some repairs. The campsite was very primitive next to a stream where a lot of people went fishing.That night I made a campfire and cooked my first meal on it (yeah, pasta!). The next day I had to do some engineering (fixed the third brake light, fixed the broken window handle) and went on a short hike looking for bears (only found squirrels).
The Van at the first campsite in Stephens State Park
Cooking my first campsite dinner on a campfire
After two days in the wild, all my batteries (second car battery, laptop, phone, navigation) were almost empty. So it was time for a drive. But first let me stop at Home Depot for some more engineering equipment. I had lunch at the Walkway over the Hudson, the longest pedestrian bridge in the world. In the evening on the campsite I gave the owners a tour through my van (they had never seen anything like this) and did some more engineering (fitting US plugs on my own electrical cables, improving the navigation/music system mounting). I made dinner on the stove in the van using the cleanest fuel there is, now my pots and plates are all black…
Day four had a morning stop with a short hike up to Kaaterskill Falls (New York), an first afternoon stop in Williamstown, a very stereotypical college town with green hills and classy buildings in Massachusetts and a second afternoon stop at the Bennington War Memorial in Vermont. You can climb the monument (with an elevator) and enjoy the view. Via some nice covered bridges I drove to my campsite for the night. In Brattleboro, Vermont.
The next day I first had to get some more diesel (50% more expensive, damn you nature loving hippies in Vermont) and another Walmart (lame excuse to quickly drive into New Hampshire). I can confirm that people at Walmart move around on electric scooters. Also this Walmart had a tank with live lobsters and shot guns because why not. Lunch was during a short hike down Quechee Gorge. I made a quick stop in the pretty town of Woodstock (not that one) and then drove the VT 100 scenic byway to the northern part of the state. Vermont (and the rest of New England) is extremely pretty, green hills, red wooden farms, loads of forests, streams and bridges. The roads were loads of fun to drive (good practise for mountain driving with 10% hills) but I really wanted to have someone else to drive so I could take pictures of the amazing scenery. The campsite of tonight is in Burlington. I’m now only an hour away from Canada. Let’s see tomorrow if they’ll let me cross the border.
Things I learned about camping in the US:
- April is very much pre season. Some campsites are open but they won’t be ready yet (no doors at the showers, no (hot) water.
- There are no sinks to do your dishes (Seriously… Where am I supposed to do my dishes? I really could use some advice on this one)
- State park camp sites with no amenities are way more expensive than privat sites with everything included
- You’re supposed to have a games room with kick-ass arcade machines
- Even when it’s warm during the day, it will be freezing at night (first night t-shirt and blanket; second night long underwear, socks and blanket; third night long underwear, socks, sleeping bag and blanket).
Fun signs next to the highway (sadly enough no pictures):
- “Help us with road safety. Our target for 2016 is 15 traffic deaths.” Not sure whether this should be reassuring or worrying. Also what happens if it is the end of the year and they’re only at 14?
- “Try to stay alive. At 65 or below” Are they saying that you only have to stay alive until you’re 65? That’s a bit harsh… (Turns out it’s for the driving speed 65 miles per hour.)
Arcade Fire – Keep the Car Running