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In the Beginning

In the beginning, back in 1995, Dave didn’t know about the Expedition Show, and all that Jive.

I was going to continue with the AC/DC play on ‘Let there be Truck’, but by line two I had already decided I would have lost most of you, so I gave in. However, rest assured there will be more truck related puns throughout.  

So, this blog is more or less a brain dump for the process that became ‘What the TRUCK?’, or long winded, David’s big ass expedition build. That’s a big build, not that I have a big ass. Which I do. More on that later. Ok, more on the seats, later. Just in case anyone got really worried for a minute. 

Why this Blog?

There are plenty of people out there who have gone through this very process and documented their experiences. I will link to some of my favourites further on, so don’t worry. There will be much too read, sources to follow, and trucks to look at. 

Anyway, we begin.

I was born with a wanderlust. When I was young, back in the late sixties and seventies, I was lucky in that my father worked for British Airways. We travelled a lot because we could. It was a nightmare. 

Horrendous trans-Atlantic flights on cramped crew seats. Freezing in places that should be warm at Easter and boiling in places that should be cool in September. Missing luggage so many times, we kept spare stuff in carry on so we could survive days until the cases arrived. This was the ‘70’s more than it was British Airways! Having to run through terminals trying to get to a gate on time because we got confirmed on a flight at the last moment. No hanging around in Duty Free for our family. Stress, every time.

I’m not saying my dad was a jinx. But he was. Every trip seemed a disaster. Then one day I went to Paris with my girlfriend, and without said jinxed father, and it all went wrong anyway. Properly wrong. Allow me to describe what the worst day trip in my life was like; 

Fog so we couldn’t land in Paris. Arrived in Paris three hours late on a day trip of eight hours.  Trying to be gracious and take my girl for lunch, I asked a Gendarme for directions to Mac Donalds (hey, I was 18 and had blown all my money on the tickets to get there!) and a pigeon shat on me. The Policeman laughed le bollocks off. Got to see the Mona Lisa, which is tiny and quite disappointing, even though I love Renaissance art.  For the return leg the fog still existed, the plane was in a different airport and the coach to move us wouldn’t start and had to be bump started. Yes, a group of passengers (me included) got off with the crew and pushed so the coach driver could pop the clutch and get us going. 

It continued to get worse. 

We finally arrived at the other airport. No one knew where the plane was. The French had lost it. Apparently, it was parked somewhere on the French version of Luton airport, in the fog. Took an hour for them to find it and then we set off with a Police escort because we had cleared Customs and effectively the coach was a sealed part of Not France (I did wonder at the time if the French knew a group of Brits had invaded and were merrily driving around the Peripherique between Charles De Gaulle and Orly airports, eyeing up plunder). Anyway, the Gendarmerie van went into a tunnel under the airport. Our coach driver beeped his horn, flashed his lights, and shouted in French ‘the coach is too big for the tunnel idiot!’ but it was too late. We were stuck. Merde. We couldn’t reverse and we were now effectively blocking the main route to the other side of the airport. Chaos. The last Captain to look as stressed as our pilot at that point was Sullenburger, AFTER he crash landed on the Hudson River and got everyone off the plane. 

Finally, after transferring to an airport bus with a lower roof (flanked by Police and Customs so we couldn’t run off for more Duty Free) we set off again to our aircraft. We found it parked next to Air Force One. Yes, THAT Air Force One. So how anyone could have lost our plane is beyond me, however, the day had yet one more trick up its sleeve. We boarded, via the built-in rear stairs we are back in 1984 remember, and got ready. The plane started, then stopped. Started, then stopped. Eventually the Captain came on the intercom and literally said ‘you can only laugh really at this point’ and the Engineer came back down the aisle and disappeared out, down the steps. Sometime later reappearing, sleeves rolled up and wiping oil off a long flexible screwdriver with a rag. At that point I should have thought ‘Fate really doesn’t want us to get this flight, it’s tried really hard to make us miss it.’ But they hadn’t made Final Destination back then, so we stuck it out. The engines started and remained on and we were going home. And guess what? I lived, the rest of the passengers not so lucky… nah, I’m kidding. We got back fine. But I realised then we, as a family, not just my father, were cursed when it came to travelling. 

Over the course of the next few years following the debacle above I was;

In a street fight on a Greek Island and had to flee in a boat before the cops arrived, literally exiting the harbour as the flashing blue light pulled up, clutching a case like a pilot being smuggled away from the Nazi’s by Le Resistance. Not my fault by the way, rescued a guy who was being beaten by a gang of Greek boys. 

Nearly froze to death in a then TV Celeb, now convicted sex offender’s, caravan in France because there was no heating and no one knew that it got really cold at night because it was South of France so no, the caravan didn’t have blown air heating. But looking back it was ok, as the owner wasn’t staying there at the time.  

Became stranded in Chicago O’Hare airport over night because a 90-day drought broke with massive thunderstorms, 20 minutes after I landed. The airport staff were out dancing in the rain, but my connection got cancelled. I was graciously thanked however, as if by being British I had personally towed the clouds all the way over myself. 

Got detained in Colorado, USA within 24 hours of getting there for a misdemeanour I never committed. Top tip – show American cops the inside page of your British Passport. The bit where ‘Her Britannic Majesty demands you treat me with respect’ they love that shit. 

Got detained 24 hours later, BY THE SAME COP, because I was at the wrong party, at the wrong time. Actually, I was at the right party. Girls loved my English accent and because they had yet to find out that I was actually a travel jinxed dickhead, I was getting along nicely. Until Boulder PD rolled in because the party was spilling into the street and even though the party host had twice turned the music down as promised, someone turned it up again. Naïve me was nowhere near quick enough when someone shouted ‘It’s a raid, everybody split’. Luckily the same cop didn’t want to go through the whole sequence of passport reading again so I got sent away pretty quickly.  

Note that I was, and still am, not a bad boy. I had (and still haven’t) never been detained in England (I was once frog-marched home by a copper holding my ear and presented to my mother with the words “Is this yours?” but not sure that counts as ‘detained’).

Was ill in Thailand – no, proper sick. I was delirious from a fever with a temp of 103. Ex-wife had me lying in a cold bath with ice to bring my temperature down. Don’t ‘ah’ her, it wasn’t done with any nursing concern - she just didn’t want to miss the flight home the next day! I went home holding ice cream tubs to my head so the aircrew didn’t know I was ill.

Nearly got arrested entering California because despite there being a million signs saying ‘DO NOT BRING FRUIT’ I had an apple as a snack on the centre console of the hire car. Which,  oddly, got spotted at the check point. Apparently, my road trip snack was included under ‘bringing fruit in’. However, that wasn’t the reason for the near arrest. That was because of my refusal to dispose of the apple until I had eaten it, because I’d paid for it. In my defence, I was young and a bit of a dickhead. I should say I have changed now. I am no longer young.    

Luckily this terrible travel all changed when we (myself and ex) got a dog. 

Dave's Bull-Terrier

An English Bull Terrier bitch affectionately known as D.oh.D (Dick of a Dog) not her name, just called that because she was an all-round clown. If you don’t believe me, look up ‘English Bull Terrier’ on YouTube. To cater for the DoD, we decided not to travel abroad and my Land Rover became our camping bus until one day, after setting up camp, DohD decided to check out someone’s barbeque and to get to it, ripped he corkscrew dog post she was clipped to out of the ground. As she ran around the lead and corkscrew flailed like some medieval weapon, smacking tent ropes as she went. Of course, the first I knew of this was the sounds of ‘What the Truck dog?’ and ‘Oi, get your trucking dog!’ Took me hours to put everyone’s ropes back, all while apologising and promising I would either leave or drown the dog at high tide…    

Our first long trip in the Defender was to Southern Spain when my ex casually asked me one day how far it was to drive to Malaga in Spain. Not knowing too well, and not wanting to look like I didn’t know (I was the Geography genius between us after all) I said ‘not far’. And thereby I learnt a lesson – I am rubbish at estimating time over distances!

In my defence, I didn’t know that we were being joined by her friend. Lovely woman, but someone who couldn’t go more than 2 hours without a cigarette and a coffee. Had I known this, my answer to the earlier question should instead have been ‘FOREVER’. 

The journey was amazing. I had never toured through France or Spain before. I saw the beauty and variety in the landscapes, met people, enjoyed the driving, nearly died but I wasn’t the driver, nearly died again and I was driving that time and had been driving solid (minus coffee and cig breaks) for 15 hours. Note: Don’t be stupid. Rest. Ignore your wife’s refusal that when she drove we nearly died, and insist she take her turn. And avoid driving the wrong way around a roundabout in a foreign Country because you are tired and it’s the shorter route. Just because it’s two in the morning in the middle of nowhere doesn’t mean traffic won’t suddenly appear out of nowhere. And in case you are reading this whoever you were, “J’aim excuse monsieur. Pardonez mon fuckup”.

Cooking and brewing were done on our Coleman twin burner stove which I had fastened, expedition style, to the back door of the 110. Tip1: don’t do this. You can’t brew with a fuel fired stove inside the filled Defender. Plus, if you have to brew in the cold (e.g. dawn), every time you stop to brew up, the heat leaves the vehicle and we all know Defenders aren’t good for quickly generating heat. Eventually I unscrewed it from there so we could brew on the wing top protector. The good news was my ex is a great cook and it was amazing what she could knock up on one burner whilst the kettle brewed on the other.

She was also fearless. Somewhere after San Sebastian, having crossed into Spain, we were lost whilst looking for a hotel that was so new, it didn’t appear anywhere other than the website I had booked it on. Eventually, down near the docks and close to midnight, she decided to break the golden rule and ask for directions. Not just ask mind, strolled right in to a busy bar and asked for help. Amazingly, shortly after the two ladies came back out (alive) and jumped in saying hurriedly “follow that guy, he’s going to lead us to the hotel. He thinks he knows where it is”. 

Said guy was getting very unsteadily into his car and then he set off at high speed across the city, onto motorways, all with no lights on. In a fully laden older Land Rover I was struggling to keep up. I was convinced it was all going to come to an end, either in an ambush in some unlit back alley as his dodgy criminal friends were rounded up while we drove to our certain robbery - or in a fireball on the AutoRoute. All thanks to our new, clearly drunk driving, Spanish guide. Suddenly he braked to halt and pointed out of his window, lit cigarette jabbing a glow in the direction of our hotel. Then he was gone, waving his cig in farewell. So, Bilbao Baggins as we named you, you were our saviour, thanks. I don’t advocate drink driving, but we were grateful.    

Later during the holiday, somewhere near Malaga, I drove past a bit of waste ground where there were four motorhomes parked up, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It was Easter holiday, and one particular van had a white picket fence and flowers in pots around it. It was clear they had been there some time. Interestingly, they all had German or Dutch registrations. I was intrigued. Did these people come down and over winter there? I needed to know more, because as a Brit from the grim and rainy North West, this idea would sit with me for many years to come.     

By the end of my three-thousand-mile road trip, I was hooked on the driving holiday. With no agenda, and no specific destinations, the whole “let’s stop here for a bit” won me over from the stress and fatigue of the long-haul air travel. You can keep Florida. A chilled drive down through rural France was far more my style.  

Soon after, a trip in the Defender down a twisty road after dark to visit friends led us to find that the amazing English bull terrier constitution didn’t run to cast iron stomach after all. Our friends weren’t too happy having just renovated their house only to find dog sick could slip down between the gaps in their beautiful oak floorboards and land on their underfloor heating. Reminding them every winter of our visit. It became apparent the Defender wasn’t suited for transporting the dog, or staying in. So began our search for something we could all enjoy.     

Enter my first van.

A motorhome christened ‘Beethoven’ (as in the band, CamperVan Beethoven. No? Me neither.) It was a 6m long Fiat based plastic palace. Four berths with front overhead bed, rear end lounge, wet room and kitchen. We loved it. All of three of us. 

DoD thought it was hers. If we were going somewhere and began loading the van, you could guarantee she could be found sitting on the driver’s seat, front paws on the steering wheel as if she would be driving us there herself. Marvellous times were had in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and many points in between. It had drawbacks, every vehicle does. You have to compromise in places and Beethoven was no exception. It was built with lightweight, caravan parts. Our van, a Swift brand never leaked, and was really good overall, but it did have a few issues with the odd breakage and things that were a pain to operate/ensure stayed where they should. We became adept at making wedges, retaining clips and sound dampers to put between rattily things. 

Luckily the travel curse of the Wilson’s seemed to have been broken, and most things went off without a hitch. Partly this was down to my ex-wife’s ability to not have a care in the world for timing, or destination. Partly this was down to the dog, who was happy wherever we went, as long as she came with us. And partly it was down to the fact the van had a toilet. 

Setting off on a trip once, we stopped at traffic lights near our house and the lovely Paul, a neighbour and fellow dog walker who drove a Jaguar convertible, pulled up next to us. His roof down, both Paul and car turned out immaculately as always. He laughed when he saw the van. 

“It’s not very glamourous”

he joked as he looked at our van and then indicated his Jag. 

“No.”

I said gravely

“But, you can’t go and have a shit in the back of yours. I can!”

and he was so comically affronted that when the lights changed, he didn’t move, laughing and waving his hand as if to ward off a stench. 

I was winning at van life.

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Tel : 079 4959 4266
Email : david@projectoverland.info

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