Nov 2014

Blog, North America

DISCUSSION 37 Comments


0- intro

On a snowy day nearly three years ago I shat my last shit in my own house. Soon thereafter we crossed the border into Mexico and I saw a cinderblock shanty on the side of an embankment. It had a broken down truck next to it and there were various rusty signs in Spanish around it littering the roadside. I thought to myself, I have shat my last shit in my own house, and I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone for the next three years, and there will be nothing I can do about that. Our driftwood raft had lost sight of land, and one day, inshallah, we would find land again.

1-first night in mexico

It was skydiving. A first kiss. The last click of the climbing roller coaster car before gravity takes over, and then the acceleration. It was that feeling of pure and unbridled ecstasy, and we went to sleep with it. And then we woke up with it. We surfed with it, ate tacos with it, and brushed our teeth with it. We shat behind cactus in the desert with it. And behind palm trees, and on volcanoes and beside rivers with it. We were walking into the unknown with a thousand days ahead of us and nowhere to be, except farther.


So we drove farther and farther and farther, and wherever we went, it was always farther. But Galileo was right, and when we arrived in Nova Scotia after driving almost all the way around the world we were no longer driving farther, but each day drawing nearer. The chute had been pulled. The rollercoaster was decelerating. There was no more farther, only nearer.

When we landed in Halifax, David was there to meet us at the airport. It’s one of the unforeseen joys that has resulted from the sharing of our private lives through stories made public: we have a global family. We drove an hour out of town to where he and his fiancée live, and promptly fell asleep on the couch.


Sherry prepared breakfast in the morning. She set the plates out on the table, shuffled around the kitchen and then sat down nervously.

“I have to tell you guys,” she said, “when David told me that he was bringing over some people who live in their van, I was pretty nervous. What if you guys were murderers or something?”

I stared into Sherry’s eyes, letting an awkward amount of time pass before speaking. “You were right to be nervous,” I said. I forked some egg into my mouth and continued to stare at her with my beady eyes.

“Oh my. Do you want a coffee? I have some K-cups.”

K-cups are just one of many things that have risen to common household status while we were away, and which made our arrival back in North America feel much like the emergence from a mother’s womb to gaze cluelessly at an unfamiliar world of new and strange things.

There’s Instagram, for example, to further complicate your digital life; TaskRabbit to manage to your already overcomplicated physical life. The resurgence of foods once enjoyed by devolved humanoids during the Paleolithic era, like squab quiche and walnut coconut tofu shakes and lobster eggs benedict. People share photos of their #paleoquiche on newly popular Instagram. Kale. Leggings as pants. E-cigarettes. Phones with no buttons. Shaving one side of your head.

David and Sherry introduced us to the Canadian side of North America, which, despite having spent nearly 10,000 days living within two days drive of it, we’d never experienced before. Maple syrup. Funny accents. Tim Horton’s. Fish n’ chips. Ellen Page. Being nice. Maple syrup. And as the days passed we came to regard Halifax, despite its reputation as the wild and lawless eastern outpost of the Dangerous North, as the coolest city in North America east of the Rockies. Sorry Cleveland.


6-Maple syrup

When the slow boat arrived from Belgium, we collected Nacho at the port and carried on down the coast. In Lunenburg we were met with more Canadian hospitality, and our new hosts Dave, Paula, and Paula’s daughter Claire, treated us like family. With each passing day we hiked through coastal forests, went cliff diving from waterfalls, and cooked up freshly caught and hand-delivered lobster and scallops with Paula’s parents. Meanwhile Claire, an up-and-coming singer and songwriter, took time between local performances to zip around the coast with Sheena.

8-Dave and Paula





Dave, a TV stuntman, tried throughout our stay to convince me to run over him with Nacho.

“But Dave, Nacho doesn’t have a hood, so you wouldn’t be able to buckle and roll.”

“Yeah, but maybe I could jump right before you hit me and I would fly over the van.”

“But what if you smash our solar panel?”

He later suggested that I wear a special stunt hat that would allow him to break a broomstick over my head, which I was keen to try. But in the end we settled for a real life stunt, in which the two of us attempted to install new rear Syncro springs on Nacho, graciously donated to us by the good folks at GoWesty when they heard that we’d driven all this way with nearly bottomed out rear suspension stuffed with tennis balls.

In this stunt, Dave lay on his back and forced one spring into place with his feet after my usual improvisational and highly dangerous ratchet strap spring compression method failed to work. I expertly kept my hands in the way, and ended up smashing my fingertip when the spring released its energy and snapped into place. When we moved around to do the other spring, our factory VW jack buckled, causing Nacho to fall down onto the sidewall of the tire, which I’d pushed under the brake drum just moments before.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, Canada is a land of risky danger. But David, Sherry, Paula, Claire and Dave are the real deal. The friendly, smiling ambassadors of the Dangerous North.

improvised suspension stiffeners

10-spring compressor

11-jack fail

At last the time had come. After exploring more of Nova Scotia on our own, we found ourselves in the parking lot of a grocery store with a bag full of maple syrup and tea towels featuring pictures of hockey players and lumberjacks. There was nothing left to do, nowhere left to go, except America. Sheena mustered some courage and then spoke.

“Bradley, it’s time,” she said, scratching at the ground with the toe of her mary janes.

“Time for what, my sweet?”

She mumbled something under her breath.

“Excuse me?”

“I said I’m ready to drive.”

Up to this point I had driven every hard-earned mile of our trip since leaving home 45,000 miles ago. From time to time I would encourage Sheena to try, but she always declined.

“I hate driving this thing, it’s too quirky!” or “I never learned to drive a manual!” (A lie!)

She had recognized that we were in the final throes of this trip, and she would need to put down some miles lest I hold this over her head for the rest of her life. We situated a sleeping bag behind her back, the cable on the seat adjuster having broken long ago, and she familiarized herself with the controls.

“So I press on that and that at the same time, then push that stick and release that?”

“More or less. Just like riding a bike,” I said.

She turned the key and Nacho lurched forward and stalled. I reminded her that the clutch must always be in when stationary, and then she successfully started the engine. We were parked on a hill, so she coasted backwards, then put it in first and lurched forward.

“I’m driving!,” she wailed, and as she made a hard right turn her door flung open, and being that she hadn’t fastened her seat belt either, she very nearly fell out the open door of our moving vehicle while driving in the parking lot.

“Whoa! I almost fell out the door, did you see that? Jeez! Now how do I get out of here?” I instructed her to do a two point turn and exit the parking lot, but instead she crept forward and dropped off of the pavement at the back of the lot in between two orange cones and headed behind the store through mud and grass.

“What are you doing!?”

“I can’t stop! I need to keep it going or I’ll never get started again!”

We bounced along behind the store as I shook my head disapprovingly, and then we emerged on the other side and headed toward the street.

“Make sure there’s nobody coming, I can’t stop!”

Before I knew it we were screeching onto the highway to New Brunswick, and beyond it the US/Canadian border. It had been two and a half years since Nacho had slipped through the giant border fence protecting America from the treacherous outside world. And while we were gone, so much had changed.

We had certainly changed. Our worldview, our approach to problem solving, our patience. We had discovered that most of our homeland’s fear and negative misconceptions about the rest of the world are home-brewed, bubbling and stewing inside of those big protective walls. And of course there was the fact that every time we crossed a new border it usually involved some degree of ignorance of the rules on our part. The difference was that America can tend to take itself pretty seriously when it comes to rules, and this naturally had us a little worried.

19-sheena drives

We reached the border and stopped.

Three cars in front of us.



“Good morning,” I said as I came to a stop in front of the border guard.

“Passport,” The uniformed guard said. He grabbed our passports with a scowl on his face, trying to seem as intimidating as possible.

“Which places have you visited while outside of the United States?”

“Umm. Canada,” I said. It’s a pain to recount the whole trip every time someone asks, and I didn’t want to unnecessarily rouse suspicion. He began flipping through the pages of my passport and his eyebrows lifted in a Homeland Security kind of way. I interjected an explanation.

“Well, before that we drove through Europe.” Eyebrows still raised, still flipping pages. “And before that we were in India. And Nepal. And also Southeast Asia. And South America. And Central America. And Mexico. It was a very long trip, as you can imagine.”

“All in this thing?,” he asked, nodding his head toward Nacho. He panned the van with his eyes, noting the Indian, Iranian, and Turkish beads hanging from our rearview mirror, the broken side mirror from that bus in Kathmandu, the dented cargo box from a road marker in Cambodia, the Malaysian front license plate, and the big scrape from when I sideswiped that bus in India. This prompted a full explanation, which took a couple of minutes, during which time the border guard ran us through his mental screen to determine how likely it was that we were terrorists.

“Do you have any alcohol or tobacco?”

“What, us? Inside of here? Why, just two bottles of beer in the fridge, you know, for drinking in times of non-driving.”

“Can I search the van?”

Not seeing an elegant way to decline, we obliged.

“Where do you sleep?,” he asked, peering inside the sliding door.

Oh boy. I started to point at the couch, intending to tell him that we slept there, until I imagined him requesting that we demonstrate how the couch pulls into a bed, which would be impossible since I used power tools to ensure that the cushions would be unmovable. I shifted my finger upward.

“We sleep up there. The roof lifts up.” Sheena shot me a panicked glance, not remembering that I was the Garry Kasparov of border tacticians, and was thus already anticipating four moves ahead.

“Hmm. That’s crazy,” he said, and looked at the upper mattress for a minute. “You can close this thing up and go inside to stamp your Carnet.”

And with that we entered Maine. Back in America after all this time.

20-peggys cove

22-peggys cove

23-peggys cove

24-crossing into Maine

Once the initial elation of arriving back in America wore off, we almost immediately missed being away.

As I drove in a straight line on the well-groomed highway, unengaged and bored by the perfectly smooth surface and wide shoulders and tidy signage, I was overcome by a kind of sad realization.

I’ve shat my last shit in the wild.

I will no longer shit behind cactus and palm trees, on volcanoes and by rivers. The rollercoaster car has arrived at the unloading platform, the parachute has gone slack. Our raft has, after more than 900 days at sea, bumped into land, but we had found comfort adrift. Soon, I will begin a routine of shitting in my own climate-controlled house, each time staring at the same beige heater vent on the wall. This was my old comfort zone, but now I recognized that I had mistaken comfort for complacence. What I really wanted was a cinderblock shanty, a broken down truck and some rusty signs, and nowhere to go but farther.

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  1. Time to start planning your next adventure.

    Comment by steve on November 21, 2014 at 7:22 pm

  2. Sue

    Aw come on now, chin up! Now you can start a whole other adventure, drive Nacho, drive! Plan a different route, travel the states? Travel Canada. Canada has some pretty wild places, rough mountain passes and even gold panning in Barkerville, BC :) Life is not over my friend but only beginning. You have now had a taste of being on the road, you have experienced things that we can only imagine. You have tasted freedom (and a lot of very cool beers) and overcome many obstacles, only to emerge stronger. I will bet a beer in Victoria, BC that you have not shat your last shit in the woods!!!!!!
    I look forward to your next post.

    Comment by Sue on November 21, 2014 at 7:25 pm

  3. Sam thayer

    If the ferry across the Darien Gap is really running, I’M going to make a run south in two years. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Comment by Sam thayer on November 21, 2014 at 7:32 pm

  4. I hope you do, Sam, it’s the experience of a lifetime! Maybe I’ll stow away, but don’t tell Sheena.

    Comment by Brad on November 21, 2014 at 7:44 pm

  5. best post of the trip. racing down to baja in a few weeks to meet up with the bums. i’ll leave a shit and pour out some pacifico on the side of the road for you.

    Comment by baron on November 21, 2014 at 8:11 pm

  6. All good adventures come to an end. Then new adventures begin. Good luck with the next adventure whatever that may be :)

    Comment by Emma on November 21, 2014 at 8:34 pm

  7. mashoud

    Brad, Sheena.

    Welcome back to the U.S. and home to a different and loonier Senate and Congress…in that respect , IMO., it is all downhill. Now, perhaps, you have your work cut out and you may find a vocation in downloading your acquired wisdom of the rest of the planet and its humanity.. Not sure if it would be easier or more complex than the Shat regime.

    As usual, I was anticipating a scene with a Kafkaesque bend at the Fort Knox like border post. Alas! The whole scene seemed too tame from my experience. I have seen old people wet their pants because the guards would not let them use the Shat cubicle.

    Wanted to say, should you be driving towards Quebec and into Ontario, we are an hour from Montreal and you are welcome. Would be lovely to shake hands with the nicest young team that ever was.

    Ciao and inshallah, we meet someday. God Bless.

    Comment by mashoud on November 21, 2014 at 9:06 pm

  8. chip


    Comment by chip on November 21, 2014 at 9:19 pm

  9. Chad

    Nice trip guys! Even better writing. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    Comment by Chad on November 21, 2014 at 9:24 pm

  10. Welcome back! Are you guys ready for your next trip? The one without a guidebook or map? The one with highly unpredictable results, and the one with joys and fears unparalleled to any of your experiences thus far? The one with diapers, drool, smiles, and hugs?

    Comment by Nathan on November 21, 2014 at 10:05 pm

  11. Been a great trip and superb writing. Thanks.

    Comment by Steve Yoder on November 21, 2014 at 11:32 pm

  12. @Baron, well put! Say hello to Pat and Ali for us, and have a great time in Baja.

    Comment by Brad on November 22, 2014 at 12:36 am

  13. @Mashoud, we had planned to go to Quebec, but ended up going in a different direction altogether. Would have been great to meet you–your comments are always so eloquent and well thought out. As an interesting side note, for the longest time Sheena thought your name was “Mash Hound,” which seemed absurd to me, until I finally realized that she had been talking about Mashoud all that time. She still refers to you as Mash Hound when reading comments. Old habits die hard :)

    Comment by Brad on November 22, 2014 at 12:42 am

  14. Sarah

    I quit my cushy cubicle job in July, but have not found the inspiration to escape my safe zone yet. Your quote about mistaking “comfort for complacence” struck home!

    You are both an inspiration! I’m sure you will find excellent adventures wherever you go. Thanks for all the great stories!

    Comment by Sarah on November 22, 2014 at 6:13 am

  15. Sheena, Brad

    you guys may not realize how important, influent persons you actually are for some people.

    Currently in Mexico and on our own trip to Tierra fel fuego I was begining to get into the “whatthe f… am I doing here” phase and seriously questionning myself about going any farther. (but don’t tell my wife about it.)

    But after reading your post, it now all makes sense again.

    Thanks for the inspiration. Great writing.


    Comment by Marc on November 23, 2014 at 12:48 am

  16. Hang in there, Marc, you will look back on it as a profoundly worthwhile endeavor. From my own personal experience, we enjoyed Mexico and C. America quite a lot, but started to feel a bit of monotony after so much jungle. But once we hit South America, that was it for us. It’s the most amazing place on the planet for an overlander. So much variety, so much culture, and so much to do. You will return home kicking and screaming.

    Comment by Brad on November 23, 2014 at 6:58 am

  17. mario

    que aventura.!!!
    gracias por hacerme viajar con uds.

    Comment by mario on November 23, 2014 at 9:02 pm

  18. Brad, Sheena- been following you since day one. What an adventure. Don’t know how far you are to your home base or what route you are taking, but you have a cozy bed and a cold beer waiting for you in Fort Collins, Colorado if you pass by this way. Viva viajando! Viva Nacho!


    Comment by Dave Renfroe on November 24, 2014 at 7:23 am

  19. Very kind of you Dave, and thanks for sticking with us for so long! Next time we’re in Colorado we’ll take you up on your offer, though it may be a little while. I hear Colorado is rather cold in the winter! And Nacho without a heater…

    Comment by Brad on November 24, 2014 at 10:20 am

  20. Shaun

    love your blog and ready for the next book! Im sure it will be as great as the first. I dream of one day doing a similar adventure to Tiero del Fuego. If you happen to be in the Boston area, ive got a driveway (or spare bed if you wanted to indulge) and some cold beers.

    Comment by Shaun on November 25, 2014 at 9:04 pm

  21. Brad and sheena, I will miss your blog and look forward to hearing about your next adventure, whenever that might be. You are among a select few that pushed us over the edge. We just started our journey last week. Probably another week before crossing border to Mexico. I will miss your stories. Your Thailand posts are some of the funniests and the Indian ones very honest.

    Comment by Karie on November 25, 2014 at 9:49 pm

  22. canyon haverfield

    Hi Brad.. since you’ve targeted the subject of ‘shitzsting’ so broadly.. I’ll add, a touch.. One of this years most important personal discoveries was the addition of an Amazon bought, hand held,8 oz. capacity water flinging butt washing devise… saving miles of paper.. usually hugely more cleansing.. good feel,all around ! Plus it add just the right amount to every port potti flush ! $ 10 bucks !

    Comment by canyon haverfield on November 25, 2014 at 10:30 pm

  23. Marena

    … But let me tell you about my #paleoquiche…. ;)

    Comment by Marena on November 26, 2014 at 3:08 am

  24. @Karie, I’m excited for you; you will have an incredible experience out there. I wish I could do it all again!

    @Canyon, it sounds like an improvement on the Indian method of wiping ;)

    @Rena, don’t tell me about your #paleoquiche, just make it for me! :)

    Comment by Brad on November 26, 2014 at 5:17 am

  25. ernesto

    simplemente bello……

    Comment by ernesto on November 27, 2014 at 4:37 am

  26. Dan

    Wow, what a journey! I am going to miss reading, and living vicariously through your posts. The beer stash will get you through the inevitable homecoming blues ;-) Looking forward to whatever comes next. Thank you for the dreams!

    Comment by Dan on November 27, 2014 at 2:26 pm

  27. Giovani

    Time to trade in Nacho for a Land Cruiser 80 and begin overlanding.

    Comment by Giovani on November 29, 2014 at 8:44 pm

  28. What do you think we’ve been doing for the last 3 years, Giovani?

    Comment by Brad on November 30, 2014 at 7:02 pm

  29. Nathan

    Lol, I’m sure he was speaking with editorial sarcasm, RE: ExPo

    Comment by Nathan on November 30, 2014 at 8:32 pm

  30. Giovani

    Oops, didn’t mean it like that. I should’ve said you’ve completed that chapter, on to the next, perhaps a bigger more powerful 4×4 which can take you places Nacho could’t? Not taking anything away from Nacho which did an incredible job. I shouldn’t have used the term overloading because as you said it’s exactly what you two have been doing. I’ve been following your blog since South America and you two have accomplished an incredible journey.

    Comment by Giovani on November 30, 2014 at 10:07 pm

  31. No worries, Giovanni. As you can imagine I get a little defensive when people insinuate that we’re not “real overlanders” since we don’t have a 4×4 or whatever. I just misinterpreted your comment. I’d love to get a 4×4 VW Syncro and try to drive the Road of Bones through Siberia!

    Comment by Brad on December 1, 2014 at 5:54 am

  32. Dave

    as a long-time VW nut i’ve got nothing against Nacho, but if you had to have a Vanagon for this trip exactly why didn’t you buy a Syncro?

    (found your blog when you were in asia, went back and read the whole thing…)

    Comment by Dave on December 2, 2014 at 4:21 am

  33. Dave, actually there isn’t any good reason to have a 4×4 for this trip if you want my honest opinion. The 2wd Vanagon can go so many places by virtue of its rear wheel drive and rear engine combo. We went into some really hairy “4×4” places and very rarely got stuck. Furthermore, we very rarely (if ever) decided not to do something because we thought our vehicle was limiting us–and we really did some crazy stuff. With a Syncro there are so many more things that can go wrong, and that’s of bigger concern. Before we started our trip we met with a couple of Camel Trophy drivers and asked them what they thought of our plan to drive a 2wd van around the world, and their response was that people “overland” in 4x4s because they feel that it fits the image, but in reality you can go almost all the same places with a 2wd and some skill. They also pointed out that the vast majority of the local people who drive in the places we’re traveling to also drive 2wd vehicles. They just learn how to adapt, be it picking good lines, lowering air pressure, etc. If I were to do it all again, I’d choose exactly the same vehicle.

    Comment by Brad on December 2, 2014 at 9:21 am

  34. Dave

    good to know. at least you didn’t make the trip having not looked into it.

    very envious of your trip :)

    Comment by Dave on December 2, 2014 at 11:43 am

  35. Gren.T

    Hi Both, thank you so much for sharing your experiences and taking the time to rattle the keys, let’s hope you get to fertilize the foliage in foreign fields again soon.

    regards to you both

    Comment by Gren.T on December 5, 2014 at 12:49 am

  36. Mom

    I am so happy to have you home, but understand the culture shock after being away so long. I absolutely love how you included the highlights of your trip into one description of the physical markers the van still carries as a reminder of your amazing trek when the border guard questioned you and peered quizzically into the interior of Nacho.

    I agree with many of the other comments: knowing you, you are already planning your next adventure. Love you!

    Comment by Mom on December 5, 2014 at 5:41 pm

  37. Fabiano Di Cianno

    You both are increible, again, again and again! looking forward to see you in August to share some orchata.

    Comment by Fabiano Di Cianno on December 28, 2014 at 2:35 am

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