Sitting bored in a community college class, 2014 Susan Moore High School graduate Indya Foster mentally replayed a 2015 trip she made up the East Coast with her boyfriend, Hunter Guthrie. As she relived that, she fantasized of times she might have on a grand road trip. She could imagine traveling in her Toyota Camry with Mallie, her roughly 120-pound Great Dane, on a far west tour. The dream blossomed in her mind, as she considered potential adventures.
As Foster’s excitement grew, she shared her dream with Guthrie. He writes, “Indya and I were talking casually one day [in early] October 2016 (after we had been dating for two years). She began describing to me this idea — a grand idea that she and Mallie would get in her car and camp throughout the country over a couple of weeks. So, I talked myself into Mallie’s spot and a sleeper-van into the Camry’s spot.”
Guthrie, a 2013 graduate of Oneonta High School, details the two initially considered a tent but eventually settled on converting a van for the excursion. Guthrie, presently an Oneonta Regions Bank loan officer, and Foster, a work-at-home reservation broker for Hilton Hotels and Resorts, began saving money and setting up a possible budget.
From a Craigslist posting, the duo felt they had found the right van in Altoona and within their budget at $1,500. Before they could act, the owner sold it. Driving home from school around two weeks later, Foster spied a 1999 Dodge “California Comfort” for sale in a Hanceville parking lot.
Foster and Guthrie’s parents Johnny and Dawn test drove the 124,000-mile vehicle the next day and made the $2,400 purchase the day after that. From there, the young couple, aided considerably by Google forums, Youtube videos, and Guthrie’s Jack-of-all-trades dad, started reconfiguring the vehicle to meet their envisioned needs.
Guthrie reports they allocated five months for the conversion but completed it in “closer to four.” Reviewing the primarily weekend work, Guthrie explains they removed the middle seats for a living area and configured a storage area with sink. “The van already had an electric leather and cloth bed.” Removing the metal plate which had held the middle seats proved one of the more daunting tasks.
On Valentine’s Day, 2017, high school softball player and cheerleader Foster surprised Guthrie, himself a high school second base golden glove winner and huge New York Yankees fan, with June 15 tickets to a Yankees game in Oakland. That date became the pivotal point in their plans.
Guthrie elaborates that beyond that, “we marked various places (historical, natural, stadia, etc.) we hoped to see. Many we did not make . . . [, but] we were VERY flexible . . . [M]ost days we woke up, looked at the map, did research and . . . saw what we found interesting.” He also contends they divided the money they had left by the planned remaining days to determine how much they could spend that day.
Guthrie says, immediately after their March 21 departure, his dad reportedly offered others a $100 over/ under bet the pair would be back in two weeks. The actual time ran 110 days, covered 15,300 miles, and included every western state except Oklahoma.
Amazingly during the trip, the pair had no mechanical problems and report they only had to buy two new tires. Foster says the major expense was gas, as they spent most nights at RV sites, in national parks or forests, at spots where they saw a lot of parked trucks or in Walmart parking lots. Guthrie contends that beyond Texas, one finds numerous campers in remote corners outside the box retailer. He estimates that the two spent only five or six nights in big-city hotels where real estate prices frequently preclude nearby commercial campsites.
Nine days into the trip, in San Antonio on Foster’s 21st birthday, thieves smashed a window and made off with blanket-covered bags which included Foster’s “purse, camera and lens, shower supplies, and makeup.” While the robbers missed some more valuable supplies such as computers, pistols, and phones, they did have Foster’s identification, including her social security card.
Friends donated money to help and found ways to provide facsimiles of her license. Guthrie notes Foster could not purchase a drink on her first legal opportunity. He also recounts how they drove across a big expanse of Texas with a plastic bag taped over the passenger window flapping annoyingly.
The sand and the land
No road trip would be complete without exciting accounts. Guthrie writes of several. One provides a touching tale dealing with national park rangers.
“[A]t Lake Powell in Utah, we were fishing . . . [relying] on catching something for dinner. We were two hours from the closest store or market. We stayed down on the lake past dark, and as I was driving us out, we managed to get the van stuck in the sand.” [Notice the interesting narrative: “I” was driving, “we” managed to get the van stuck.]
He continues, “Miles away from the nearest person and our campsite, the lovely National Park Service had two rangers (who had previously checked our fishing permit) come and help dig us out. It took over two hours, but ultimately, we were freed from the banks of the Powell.”
In another account, he relates that at New Mexico’s Bandelier National Monument the apparent fit youth asked for a 12-14 mile hike. Provided information on one from an excited ranger, the two set out. Upon reaching the terminus, the tired Guthrie telephoned asking of a speedier way out.
The ranger told him the quickest way out was the way they had entered and that they should start immediately lest they get caught in darkness with cougars, bears, snakes, and other threats. Guthrie says he has never been so physically spent as he was on that trek.
He reveals a few other of the more memorable experiences. The two found the skimpy clothing of Gay Pride marchers in Seattle “shocking.” They marveled at the reported once-in-a-decade “full cloud inversion” filling the Grand Canyon. A heavy mid-May snowstorm in Colorado Springs stranded them in their van with their electric heater “for three full days.”
While they surely can offer more tidbits, one of the more lasting may be their experience at Horseshoe Bend in Page, Ariz. An older man approached them and asked of their accent and story. He offered to buy them drinks for Cinco de Mayo. A bit hesitatingly, Guthrie accepted for the two. The man from that chance encounter, who has made millions in the cosmetics industry, has since hosted the two at his Phoenix home, on a New York City River cruise, and at a residence he holds in Panama. The three have become fast friends.
An unanticipated result Guthrie cites is his discovery of reading. He explains that at times tiring of each other and with spotty cell service, the two began buying books at their frequent thrift store trips. He discovered the wonder of reading as did Foster, whose parents Kevin and Dorian named her for a Gone With The Wind character.
Some may ask how this ranks as a first trip of a lifetime. Guthrie has outlined another proposed adventure following his and Foster’s planned graduations from Athens State with education degrees. He envisions outfitting another van, traveling again up the East Coast, to and across Canada, into Alaska, and selling the van there for a flight back to Alabama.