Rolling up the passes of Tahoe, California as eighth graders, senior Jackson Lundgren and junior Tyler Daniels sat in the backseat of the Lundgren family van. The sun was beating down on them as sweat dripped from their foreheads. The van was overheating and, to make matters worse, there was only one solution to try to cool the engine: blast the heat in the van, on a 90-degree day traveling to the Black Rock Desert.
“It was a great bonding experience,” Daniels said. “You really get to know people when you’re put in a stressful situation.”
These memories ignited the duo’s love for one thing: Volkswagen vans, and it’s because of the adventures they’ve taken the drivers on — from the mountains of Squamish, BC, to the coasts of California. Each scratch, dent and stain holds memories of a lifestyle characterized by freedom, fun and the open road.
Daniels and Lundgren first met as children while they were members of both the Strawberry Seals swim team and the Boy Scouts. While those activities brought them together as kids, their shared passion for van-based adventures is what molded their friendship as adults.
Daniels made his van purchase his freshman year on Craigslist.
“I woke up in the dorms on Sunday morning and was just on Craigslist looking for cars, and put $1,000 in the manual, and the van was the only thing that came up,” Daniels said.
He had found a 1985 Volkswagen Vanagon with its original brown paint job, and the back windshield came with a vintage Mount Baker sticker. A skier himself, Daniels was excited about the fact he and the van already had something in common.
“I took it for a test drive, and told [the owner] right then and there I would buy it,” he said.
Before the ink was even dry on the van’s registration paperwork, Daniels was already calling Lundgren to tell him about his plans for their next great adventure.
“I woke up in the dorms on Sunday morning and was just on Craigslist looking for cars, and put $1,000 in the manual, and the van was the only thing that came up.”
“I drove straight to his house … he was in complete shock,” Daniels said.
Unlike Daniels, Lundgren inherited his van from his parents, who purchased it after finding it for sale in front of a Safeway shortly after Lundgren was born.
The van was a blue 1987 Volkswagen Vanagon GL, equipped with a Westfalia camper package which includes a pop-up top and a kitchenette inside the vehicle. Lundgren’s van has been upgraded extensively with the addition of a new motor and an upgraded suspension.
Daniels’ van purchase was made late in spring quarter and he soon realized he wanted to take it home for the summer. The trek would be a 900-mile journey, lasting around 14 hours, assuming the van had no problems.
The van was well-used, and had already racked up 208,000 miles on the odometer. Daniels was expecting to hit a few bumps in the road on his trip home since the van was not in perfect condition. The vehicle started, but it still had problems that needed fixing.
“I broke down three times, but I was able to get it restarted eventually each time,” he said.
Most of Daniels’ problems arose while he was driving through Oregon.
“I did have multiple gas station employees help me push my van out of all the gas stations in Oregon,” Daniels said. “They were kind souls.”
Lundgren’s most memorable van breakdown was when he destroyed the clutch at age 10 while his dad was trying to teach him how to drive in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. They had to drive the struggling car close to 1,000 miles back home, where it finally broke down and had to be towed the remaining eight blocks.
While Lundgren’s parents were teaching him how to drive a van, Daniels’ parents had no idea he was going to bring home a van.
His parents found out about the van purchase when he rolled up to his house in California a few days after finals ended. Daniels said they were not too upset about his purchase.
“I passed all my classes, so we were good,” Daniels said.
Daniels tore out the back seats and installed a folding bed made of plywood, with a storage space for food and camping gear built underneath. After investing in a new transmission by the start of summer, the van was ready for some camping trips.
Daniels took trips down to three different cities in California: Big Sur and Santa Cruz for one trip, and McCloud on a separate occasion.
Over the summer of 2016, Daniels drove all the way to a lookout point on the California coast with his roommate.
“I was trying to show him how beautiful it was and you couldn’t see more than 30 feet in front of you,” Daniels said. “It was just a straight wall of fog.”
Lundgren lived out of the van for three weeks during a camping trip, but said he’s not sure he could do it full time.
“To all those van life people on instagram — the 85-square-feet people — my hat is off to them,” Lundgren said. “That is a seriously small amount of space to live in.”
Daniels on the other hand thinks he could do it, however he has yet to spend three straight weeks in his van. His least favorite part about owning the van is the fuel economy, which he described as “dismal.” As for how much horsepower the van has, Daniels said “no one knows for sure, but not a lot.”
Lundgren, on the other hand, has been pulled over in the van no less than 12 times since he started driving it (legally) when he was 16. With the new motor, Lundgren’s van can cruise at 80 mph. He described one of his favorite things to do as driving “past someone in a Audi or BMW going 90 miles per hour and giving them a wave as I pass them.”
Daniels’ favorite part is seeing the faces of other drivers when they see him on the road.
“It’s just a happy car, so I get a lot of happy reactions from people, where I feel like a lot of cars don’t get any,” he said.
Lundgren and Daniels feel owning vans opened a whole world up to camping and outdoor sports for them. Both of them would buy another van in the future.
“There is no community stronger than the VW van community,” Lundgren said.
Having the ability to sleep wherever you want is something that has hooked each of them. Both students’ vans are full of memories and crazy experiences they could talk about for hours.
“I am just trying to think what stories my parents know about too,” Lundgren said with a smirk on his face.
For now, the vans are still rolling around Bellingham, turning heads, making memories and probably breaking down somewhere along the Mount Baker Highway.