How a Simple Van Life Test Run Turns Into Its Own Epic 3,000-Mile Road Trip


Things just kept happening, almost as if I wasn’t in control. I made for another small North Carolina town to meet up with legendary auto writer Jason Torchinsky and whip the infamous Changli. From there, my friend and I journeyed to my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, where I drove some of Myron Vernis’ legendary car collection and reconnected with old friends whom I hadn’t seen in years. Onto Dayton via friends in Columbus, to visit the finest collection of warbirds America has to offer at the Air Force Museum. Then down to Nashville, for yet more internet friends and a chance behind the wheel at a modern GTO. How could I pass up a chance to visit the Lane Motor Museum while there? Onwards to Asheville, for a relaxing evening in the mountains and a meetup with Allison Scott, a trans rights advocate who has personally inspired me.

Every moment was filled with enjoyment; it was a smorgasbord of lovely conversations with wonderful people and joyful days of travel. By the time we’d ventured back to Greensboro a few weeks later, my friend and I had covered nearly 3,000 miles and my trusty Nikon had snapped close to 2,000 photos.

My initial fears had evaporated—the van had handled everything like a champion. It wasn’t all perfect, of course. What road trip is? My turn signals quit on me at one point due to a loose hazard signal button, but it was repairable with a pocketknife in a Walmart parking lot, and it’s hard to be mad at a 25 year old vehicle for that regardless. More critically, my passenger side rear window was shattered in rural Tennessee by a rock thrown off by a passing semi truck, and required a stop at a rural Ace Hardware—the kind where I’m pretty sure that my friend and I were the only two trans women who had ever stepped foot inside—but we fixed it. My friend, a theatre tech, fashioned a new wooden panel insert for the window that still sits in the van right now and will likely carry me through the rest of my travels. Overnighting from Japan is still solely possible in The Fast and The Furious, and it’ll likely take me months to find a new window. But nothing happened that shook my now rock-steady faith in my turbodiesel home.

The part of being on the road that did that became a recurring—and intense—anxiety was using the restroom. I dress and present feminine, but I still don’t quite “pass” in some situations; that is, people can sometimes tell I’m transgender. When needing to relieve myself, I constantly battled with internal debate: Do I preemptively out myself as a trans woman and use a men’s room, potentially opening me up to harassment, or do I use a women’s room and try to pass, only to be subject to potential legal action and harassment?

I’d research relevant trans bathroom laws and past legal cases by state as I’d arrive in them to gauge risk, do my vocal training exercises to prevent my lower-pitched voice from putting me in danger, ensure I had shaved and plucked and concealed every errant facial hair the laser hadn’t vaporized yet, and pick out relative lulls in activity so I could race through the bathroom while it was totally vacant. 

Despite this, the trip—still a pre-trip, technically!—will surely be one of the most memorable experiences of my lifetime. I had done well the entire time on the road; no panic attacks, never at a loss for words, able to drive hundreds of miles in a single stint. I had done so much I could write ten thousand words about every single day I had in those incredible three weeks.

But we finally got back to my friend’s apartment in Greensboro, the whirlwind paused, and I fell apart. I was in the same place I had been four thousand miles ago. I still had to move out of my home. I still was no closer to clarity on who I was becoming or where I was going. I was coping with ceaseless, dawn to dusk activity; the moment it stopped, I crumbled under the weight of the realization I still couldn’t take my foot off the gas. I purposely packed my itinerary with incredible destinations and had fun doing it, but I still struggled to enjoy the journey and let myself relax.

And yet, it had been three weeks. I needed to pack and move. I drove home via the same route I initially took to Greensboro, caught up on all that I had neglected in the busiest three weeks of my life, and got back to moving all my possessions to storage. Home no longer feels like home, and I am already itching for the road. I’ve put nearly 7,000 miles on my Hiace since I bought it, and I have complete faith in my choice of vehicle. I think I can handle what the open road will throw at me as I look West. I just hope I can still learn to slow down a little. 

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