By Tom Nichols
I never heard any of my outdoor-loving friends in Arizona mention Grand Mesa National Forest. There are so many wonderfully eroded canyons and expansive mesas in Utah and Arizona, so many famous peaks and alpine parks in Colorado’s Front Range, it’s little wonder that Grand Mesa National Forest, the nation’s biggest tabletop mountain, is never mentioned.
By Tom Nichols
There’s nothing more liberating than returning to The Epic Van and setting course for Glacier National Park, the next leg of our Year Four adventure. I feel like a first-grader on the first day of summer vacation.
This may be totally stupid, but I have a hostile reaction when people say, “Oh, you’re driving around in an RV. Cool. My grandmother does that.”
This usually happens after I’ve told them of our totally awesome, unconventional, fearless life on the road. After I’ve specifically told them that I live in a big camper van. (Which, OK, technically is an RV but, in my world, is my free-spirit house on wheels.)
In La Manzanilla, Mexico, and its surrounding villages, shoes can be hard to come by.
Especially if you’re poor. And you’re a kid.
So Lucero Castelazo, who now runs her late mother’s place, Casa Maria en La Manzanilla, also carries on Maria’s charitable spirit, collecting and distributing shoes for kids who need them. She gets money from friends and buys discounted shoes from companies in her hometown of Leon, a shoe-manufacturing mecca. Then she hauls them in her white van to La Manzanilla.
When we visited for Christmas, we were lucky enough to be included in a couple of the distribution runs.
At the end of the main road in La Manzanilla, after the farmacia and the paleta shop and the sidewalk stand of charcoal-roasted chicken and the stacks of beach toys and the tiny bodegas and the place with the coldest cerveza, you come to a chain link fence marking the edge of the crocodile preserve.
I love Mexico. LOVE IT. The sun, heat and white-sand beaches take me back to Hawaii, where I grew up. The art is amazing, and the food makes me swoon in delight. I go whenever I get the chance.
I hadn’t been since we started our full-time adventure in The Epic Van more than three years ago and was in dire need of a fix. So, we decided to get out of The Epic Van, take a vacation from our endless vacation, and spend last Christmas with the Castelazo family in La Manzanilla, Mexico, a small fishing village on the Pacific coast south of Puerto Vallarta. We celebrated the holidays early with family and friends in Scottsdale, left The Epic Van in mom’s driveway, and jumped on a plane.
There’s a lot to love in Austin, Texas, and we only had 24 hours. So, we went for it. Here’s our visit hour by hour.
I remember seeing a photo of Lyndon Baines Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One after President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, LBJ’s wife Lady Bird and JFK’s widow Jackie by his side. The Kennedys were planning to spend the night at LBJ’s ranch on that day when Camelot died. I was eight years old.
Visiting LBJ’s ranch is a strange mix of nostalgia for simpler times and a fairy tale the president created about his own life as a Texas cattleman. You can visit his birthplace, his first school and a living-history farm that gives you a sense of the hardscrabble times in which he was growing up.
My grandparents were German, German-Swiss they would always point out. So the names, Otto, Ida, Ernst, the faces, the food and the artifacts in Fredricksburg, Texas, have a familiar ring for me.
Best laid plans often don’t work out. Sometimes it’s because you need a colonoscopy. Sometimes it’s more than that.
This life of freedom, of endless road trip, of permanent vacation, hangs by a silver thread of health, ours and that of our family. We’re always acutely aware of it and cherish every day in The Epic Van.
And as we continue to make ambitious travel plans, we recognize that, blowing where the wind takes us, means keeping plans fluid.
That’s how year four of our travels in The Epic Van have begun.