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Descend on Bend 2016 – A Festival of VW Vanagons at Hole in the Ground – Part 2

This is part 2 of my writeup for 2016 Descend on Bend at Hole in the Ground, Oregon – Read part 1 here

photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

One of the first things I realized upon getting to Hole in the Ground was that my iPhone wasn’t recognizing my charger. Since I’ve come to use it as my camera and video camera – I didn’t have a backup plan to take pictures. Within two hours of getting there – my battery was dead. This was a bummer – I had a solar charger, a back up battery, and a cigarette lighter charger to keep that from happening…but the problem wasn’t with any of those or the cord – it was with the lightning jack in the phone. Finally on Day 2 Hanane managed to get it to charge, but it never got fully charged again and mostly just sat in the van connected to the cord since walking around with it was killing it. As a result of all of that – I don’t have lots of pictures or videos and so I’m thankful to Kevin and Zelima Dempsey for sharing their photos with us – the photos in this post are theirs.
Photo by Zelima Dempsey
Photo by Zelima Dempsey

The next thing I realized was that there were a lot of 1987 Westphalia Vanagons – and not one of them was the same as another. Infinite variation within a single type. Misefrou is a merlot colored weekender Wolfsburg edition with an add-a-room from Bus Depot, a laminate floor, and custom cabinets from the last owner.Kevin and Zelima’s vanagon (Zesty the Westy) is a silver 1987 Westphalia Full Camper tricked out with LED lights, sweet cargo racks on back, a retractable canopy, and more. Another couple’s 1987 Westy was a shade darker red/purple (cabernet?) than ours and had a bike rack, a rocket storage on top, and a totally different interior. With close to 300 vehicles there – I did not see any two that were identical. And that seems like a pretty good point to segue into the breakdown of VW Vans…
photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

From 1949-1979 – Volkswagen produced the VW Bus in a number of different models – microbus, transporter, Westphalia camper, split window, bay window, 21-window, safari window, 23 window, Kombi, Samba, and the list goes on – 30 years of VW bus variations with mostly Type 1 and Type 2 (pancake) engines. There were also a number of aftermarket conversions that could turn a tin-top into a pop-top camper – one of which the ‘Riviera’ I had on my 71 bus on Kauai. From 1980-1992 – Volkswagen produced the wildly different Vanagon. With more interior room, a squared body, and from mid-1983 a water cooled engine which provided more power, real heat, and eliminated the need to adjust the valves with every oil change. There were tin tops, pop tops, weekender (camper without stove & sink) and from 1985-1992 a four wheel drive model called the Syncro. From 1993-2003 VW produced a completely redesigned van and camper called the Eurovan. While offering some improvements in handling and power, Eurovans lack the clearance and quirky feel of buses and Vanagons – and also have a motor in the front. Since 2003, the Eurovan has not been offered in the US – though a newer model – the T-5 is still produced and sold in Europe. Bus fans have been waiting for more than a decade for VW to introduce a new US model…
photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

In a nutshell – that’s the history of buses, Vanagons, and Eurovans – but the devil is in the details and the details come from individual (and often multiple) owners. Solar panels, gas water heaters, diesel powered heaters, high tops, low profile, Syncro conversions, replaced VW engines with more powerful and reliable Subaru engines, and the mods mods mods keep coming.
photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

And this is a good place to note that it really is a certain kind of person who decides to own, live in, travel in, customize, or just love a VW van. I’d always known this…we wave at each other on the road. There is a little thrill that goes through you when you see another Veedub. This gathering at Hole-in-the-Ground confirmed what I had always known, but never seen in a mass gathering.
photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

Here in Reedsport – it’s rare for me to meet anyone who has been outside of the USA. There is one fisherman with a VW bus he painted green with latex house paint – I spoke with him once and he had the same enthusiasm for his vehicle as he would have had for say a Chevy Cavalier…he never waves when I pass with the Vanagon. He is the exception. The people I met at Hole-in-the-Ground were a completely different type. Andrew, in a yellow bus next to us had lived in Cairo, Kevin had been to Egypt, Watson in the sprinter van had surfed in Morocco – and those were just the three vehicles closest to us. Every person I spoke with had a story, had a thirst to see the world, had adventure written on their soul, and as a result had an openness to different types of people and different ways of life. We met people from Wales, from Germany, from New Zealand, from Canada and saw vehicles that had driven from New York, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, and everywhere – just to spend time with this tribe.
The Raffle photo by Kevin Dempsey
The Raffle photo by Kevin Dempsey

On Saturday – it was cold and rainy – I mean really cold, really rainy, and really windy. And yet, hundreds of people came out to the raffle drawing, brought and shared food at the potluck meal, and stood around the big fire Silver Moon brewing came out and set up a bar on the crater. There was a huge VW bouncy house. Kids were running around freely – if I were to lump the demographics – I would say that the bulk of people were between 32 and 50, mostly white but there were people of all shades and ages and all were equal – though I will say that the Syncro owners might view themselves as just a little more equal (and perhaps rightly so – van speaking that is).
photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

The cold and rain drove a lot of people into their vans as night fell. I was fortunate to sit around a small fire with a group of new friends and share adult beverages as the day ended. And here, I feel the need to share something unpleasant about myself – I drank a little too much. I’m not used to such good company nor to drinking as much. All of that is fine, but when a man came to the fire to share and promote his story – I acted like an asshole when he made a comment that I interpreted as racist/white supremacist. Mind you, I think we all have a duty to stand up to racist/homophobic/religiophobic and other forms of hatred and at the time – I thought I was doing just that – but in hindsight- I have to acknowledge that I may have misunderstood him and my reaction was too strong – charged as it was by alcohol. In any event, I’m glad that he decided to be peaceful and moved along and if I misunderstood – I offer my apology here.

In the morning, the rain was pretty light as I broke the add-a-room down. There was no way to dry it before putting it up – and that is probably the biggest issue I have with it – it is large and not easy to dry out or store. We did a little bit of off-roading to get out and waved goodbye to all of our new friends. On the way home, we drove through our first snowstorm since coming to the USA. Missy handled well, kept us warm, and stayed on the road. Sophia was ecstatic at seeing snow. I was ecstatic at having found my tribe.

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Vago Damitio

Mr. Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook

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