Sudden Death

Words by Katy Anne, Photos by Ilana Freddye

"No one tells great stories about their van that made it up the hill." We've been running that phrase through our heads. It's what we told each other six months ago when we were shopping for our first rig. We'd been obsessing over finding something reliable, cute, and affordable -- until one day when we decided to let reliability go. That decision made for the story we've been telling. 

This was never supposed to be about making it up the hill. It's about running out of gas in San Francisco, about learning how to drive a '73 manual truck and how to tune a carburetor, about breaking down in small towns, the auto shops and the mechanics we've met, the people who've helped us get moving again, the slices of life we've had the opportunity to witness, in Phoenix and Dallas and Eastern California, the experience of being stranded, the things that go through your head.

So maybe it's not all that surprising that we broke down again 2 weeks ago, 20 miles outside Roswell, NM. We'd been in the desert for 7 days camping off grid in Mojave and Sedona and White Sands, and it was all starting to feel a little...extraterrestrial. We heard a knocking under the hood that we convinced ourselves was a "sputtering" until we stopped to check the oil and found it empty and burnt black. We'd been burning through oil on our new engine and checking it every few hundred miles, but we weren't quick enough this time. We stayed in good spirits like we've learned to but it did feel a little ominous... standing on the side of an empty road on a bright desert day, a breeze blowing through us, staring at the charred black oil. 

AAA towed us into Roswell, to a good Christian mechanic with three bibles in his lobby and plaques on the walls with phrases like "Freedom isn't free." 

I like to think we crash-landed there, a lot like that UFO in 1947 (a story I'm still tempted to believe). Honestly it feels like everyone in Roswell just crash-landed there, got stuck and decided to stay. It's not the vibrant alien-themed place we expected it to be. It's just a small conservative town with a weird story, dotted with fast food chains and dilapidated buildings. We went to the UFO museum as it was closing and then paid $3 to take pictures with plastic aliens that hadn't been dusted since the 80's. 

It wasn't too long before our mechanic called to tell us our engine was completely dead and beyond repair. He offered us a new one for $5K and let us sleep in his lot for the night. We drank two bottles of wine that night, stopping to laugh and then lament and then laugh again. 

The next morning, we woke up fuzzy-eyed and started moving everything out of the Sunrader and into boxes. We didn't know what the hell to do, but we knew that neither of us had another $5K to shell out into this car that seemed content on dying. We listened to "Closing Time" and went through all our things we've collected, the copper pot we bought in Montana, our uneaten food, our "Fuck the Patriarchy" needlepoint, the curtains we never got around to sewing. 

It was all equally hard to reconcile as it was a predictable part of the story - this life has always been about movement and adaptation. So just like that, we said goodbye to a car that lasted us two months. We had four days to get to Denver for work so we packed everything into a rented minivan and started driving... and the Sunrader, we assume, is still there, at a junk yard in Roswell, where we let it go. 

We'll be posting about our week in the desert + some recipes from Mojave and Sedona and White Sands, while we figure out what's next. We're thinking #planelife for a while.