A journey to nowhere

June 20, 2021, my sibling Averi Parece and I set off on a road trip. 

Before and during the trip, people kept asking where we were going. They thought there needed to be a destination for a journey, but we could only answer with one word.


Granted, that was only until we headed east — back home.

But why would you go on a road trip without a formal destination? 

For two years prior, Averi had performed with the Cadets, a drum corps that traveled the United States over the summer. With a hundred other young adults, she toured from Massachusetts to Wyoming playing the trumpet in major stadiums for committed fans. After racking up 35 states, she made it a life goal to visit all 50. 

Averi planned to continue traveling and teaching drum corps, but COVID disrupted those plans.

“We were not able to travel very much, and I was excited to go somewhere other than Mass because I felt stuck there,” Averi said.

Our parents were worried for Averi to go on a solo road trip, so they encouraged her to bring someone along. That’s where I came in.

“You’re probably the only person that can deal with me for 2.5 weeks in a car,” she added.

As children who grew up on National Geographic VHS tapes, we have both longed to visit anywhere that looks prettier than the suburbs of Boston. I have wanted to go to Yellowstone since childhood and Averi had similar dreams to visit parks in the Pacific Northwest. 

Armed with motive, we just needed transport. 

This came in the form of a Ford Transit Connect that was a birthday gift from Averi to Averi.

Now with wheels, we drove. 

Pip Pip the Magic Whip

The van was previously a plumbing van that “was found on Facebook Marketplace” for $2,200, Averi said. She test drove it on her birthday in March and started working on renovating it soon after. 

Pip got its name because of the decal that was previously on it. What was once Fix Pipe: Heating and Cooling, turned into “eat pip,” and then just “pip.”

#VanLife people have been renovating vans, busses, RVs, you name it, for a while now, which is where Averi got a lot of her inspiration. 

She watched a lot of videos, picking and choosing ideas that worked best for her and the van, she said. After coming up with a plan, she took to Facebook marketplace for materials. 

First up was insulating the walls and floors. Then installing carpet-like material for new walls and laminate flooring.

The frame of the bed was made up of six compartments created from two-by-fours and plywood. One for food, one for clothes, one for auto care and three others for miscellaneous items we needed. 

Our dad helped outfit Pip with a solar panel and inverter that powered the outlet in the van as well as the exit fan. 

It worked well, despite a slight problem causing the battery to emit a non-stop high-pitched noise when it was slightly undercharged. 

On top of all this new hardware sat the bed, made up of four cushions that could be rearranged to sit the table or get into a compartment individually. 

I proudly sewed those cushion covers three days before we left, making it my only assistance with the construction. 

All of this renovation cost another $1,100.

Although Pip hit 200,000 miles while on the trip, it made it through in mostly one piece.

After driving through a wildfire one day and then the 100-degree desert of Idaho the following day, our air conditioning gave out. 

And coincidently, the very next day, after visiting the Craters of the Moon, we noticed our tire getting flatter and flatter. We eventually stopped at a gas station to put on our spare…that had rusted itself to the bottom of the van. 

“The van survived the trip, which is A+ material,” Averi said. 

Oh the Places You’ll Go

With no destination, we had to have some plan, no matter how loose it was. 

Averi created a list of places she wanted to go, and then asked around for other places to visit. 

After the list was created, their locations were plotted on a map. From there it was a fun game of connect the dots. 

The route took us west to Illinois until we split north to Wisconsin. Once we hit the west coast, we went south and looped back. 

“Everything between New York and North Dakota is ugly,” Averi said.

Now having been there, I can confirm.

After a few cool finds here and there — the Indiana Dunes National Park was a hidden gem —we got out onto the great plains.

Our first big adventure was Teddy Roosevelt National Park, located far west in North Dakota and was Averi’s favorite. 

Have you ever accidentally hiked 16.2 miles? 

Because I have. 

“They had mileages and I didn’t really care to add the numbers,” Averi argued. 

The blisters we got from this hike were on our feet for the rest of the trip. 

“By the end, morale was low. There was a lack of water and sunscreen,” she added.

The next two stops were also big favorites: Yellowstone and Glacier, both national parks located in Montana. 

The most important thing I learned on this trip is that nature documentaries are not reality. We saw one interesting animal in the three days we were at Yellowstone, and I should be clear, once you see one Bison, you’ve seen ‘em all. 

And if you are wondering how many days you can sleep in Yellowstone without having to pay any money, the answer is two, but don’t ask how I know that information. 

“We may have illegally slept at Old Faithful,” said Averi, not admitting to trespassing. 

Although we could not hike the trail we wanted hike in Glacier because of a previous bear sighting, we did get to see a marmot chewing multiple people’s car wires, so I think it balances out.

Glacier was undoubtably the most beautiful place we camped. 

Other favorites include Makoshika State Park, a site that has been home to many prehistoric fossils, and seeing a sunset on the west coast for the first time. 

It was a race to see that sunset as we parked at a random beach made for ATVs and sprinted across a hundred feet of sand with our dinners in our hands. Then we almost got our van stuck in the sand, but seeing a sea lion pop in and out of the waves was worth it. 

We then opted for the less-natural landscapes of Seattle and Portland. 

“Portland was just stressful,” Averi said. 

Our plan of never knowing where we were going to stay the night or do the next day did not mesh well with cities. Neither of us enjoy navigating cities, which didn’t help the cause. 

Another big hit was the Grand Tetons National Park. Averi’s friend from drum corps had coincidently taken a trip there with some friends a few days before we arrived.

He ended up staying with us for the two nights we were there. We then dropped him off at the airport — on the way to get our tire fixed. 

From South Dakota to Boston, Massachusetts it’s about a 24-hour drive. Because of the tire setback, we had two days to book it home. 

We took few stops and lived off our dwindling food supply. 

Bison, Moose, and Bears, Oh My!

I mentioned we did not see many animals at Yellowstone or Glacier, but fear not, wildlife was seen.

The night before our accidental 16-mile hike, we watched the sunset over Teddy Roosevelt National Park. 

After sunset, we headed down the road to a small picnic area next to the in-park campsite and cooked our dinner of eggs and bacon. It was getting darker and darker when we heard some rustling. 

Not 10 feet behind me strolled a fully grown bison, thankfully separated by a line of trees. Had it chosen the next cookout site, we would have been face to face with a 1,000-pound animal. 

While on the hike of hell, we came across an entire heard of bison. Hundreds of massive animals blocked a majority of the trail. Two even scratched their sides with the wooden pole marker. 

We have lived in New England our whole lives, traveling to Maine and New Hampshire often. I have never seen a moose.

It took driving to Wyoming and hiking for a few hours to see two moose. One sat on the other side of the river as we enjoyed our lunch on the other. 

Some other animals that need to be mentioned are the big horned sheep at Glacier, a (presumed) baby owl and two cool slugs in the Hoh Rainforest, and ground squirrels. 

Yes, ground squirrels make the list because I didn’t know they existed until one was staking out our picnic table to steal food.

All parks require guests to stay an appropriate distance from all wild animals, which we respected when we could (i.e. a bison stalking up behind me). 

We were also shocked by a small fuzzy thing rustling in the bushes about 20 feet from us in the Grand Tetons. 

Averi’s first thought was that it was a capybara, as if they live there. 

After a few seconds of confusion, a fuzzy little head with two small round ears popped out of the bushes. 

A young bear is not much of a danger to three grown people, but a young bear usually means an angry mother. 

We speed-walked out of there, managing only to catch a blurry picture. 

And the stories you’ll have

When asked about stories she wanted to share, Averi replied, “that time you ordered a mushroom burger, and it was chicken.” 

That’s the whole story.

We parked the van for the night in some interesting places. Many of those, the side of random dirt roads. 

While driving to one of these sites, something scampered across our folded windshields. A small mouse was running across the hood of our car. 

Speeding up then suddenly slamming the brakes took care of the stowaway in a dramatic Lion King moment where it tried to hold on for dear life. 

One of our less-impressive sights to see was the redwoods. 

“The Oregon redwoods are lame AF, might as well just drive the half an hour to California,” Averi said. 

Which is exactly what we did. A small detour that resulted in much better sightseeing. 

Of course, a month-long road trip warrants many pictures. Other tourists along the way offered to take pictures of us for posterity, but we politely declined. 

We opted to take badly framed, poorly posed, self-timed photos where we pointed at the cool things we saw. 

Another photo series that was a running joke was our shadow photos. Starting at the sulfur hot springs and cauldrons of Yellowstone. When placing our camera down was not an option, we took photos of our shadows. 

Roxy Rhonda Rex, a small green dinosaur we bought on the second day, starred in Averi’s Instagram diary of the trip. 

I also almost sat on a cactus.

We returned 27 days later on July 16. But I haven’t answered your biggest question.

Where did we go to the bathroom?

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