#VanLife Hunting: My Amazing 30th Birthday Present from My Deceased Father
I've never had God work so fast in my life.
In my experience, prayers are answered on a much slower scale. Not often realized until long past the initial beseeching.
And such has been my experience since June 2014, when I started planning my world record road trip to all 400+ U.S. national parks.
Often told by my friends I have "too many pots boiling on my stovetop," I balanced this idea to experience the national parks with my other life interests. I wondered if it'd be wise to give up my stable jobs? If I should relinquish control of the LGBT/Christian non-profit I'd started? And most notably, if I was ready to put on a backburner the goal I've had since age 17: to join the professional men's choir Chanticleer and finally put my two music degrees to use as a "real," full-time professional musician.
So my prayer over the past two years has been, "God, whether it's X, or Y, or Z (or some lettered option I don't even know), lead me to where I'm supposed to be."
When I didn't get into Chanticleer in February 2015, it felt like a dull sign. When some administration changes came at my stable jobs, it was another small nudge. When Chanticleer's February 2016 auditions didn't go my way, another loud drum of support for the national parks trip. And finally, when I didn't earn a spot with the U.S. Air Force "Singing Sergeants" on March 1 (less than two months before my trip's launch), it was the final cadence to my prayer.
Maybe God didn't send me a burning bush, but I got the message another way.
So post-March 1, knowing this national parks trip was now it, I needed to seriously--and quickly--buy the vehicle to take this trip in. After two years of envisioning this journey in everything from a Suburban towing a 25 ft. Airstream to nightly pulling out a tent from a Volkswagen Passat, I finally settled on joining the #vanlife movement by building out a Sprinter van like so many hip Instagram stars.
And like many of those wanderlusts, my budget was low: $10,000.
I scoured Craigslist and visited dealerships for a solid week before I found the PERFECT Sprinter van online. It was so perfect that I called a friend skilled at buying used cars and asked her to join me when I went to the dealership.
"Have you prayed about it?" asked my friend and co-worker at my Catholic boarding school. "You should go to the chapel and take some time before we go."
So to the chapel I went.
Now, anyone who knew my dad will tell you that he was a mechanical MacGyver. He once took two Volkswagen Beetles, a 1974 and 1977, and combined them into one (1975.5?) car. And countless former students from his campus ministry will recount tales of duck tape, rope , and wire hangers getting their cars home after a frantic call to "Pastor Larry."
(Dad, after chemo/radiation, still fixing cars.)
I did not inherit his inherent skill.
And any attempts to teach it to me while he was alive were swiftly shot down by my teenage obsession with anything videogame related.
So with my proverbial tail between my legs, I lamented in prayer, "God, I have no idea what to do about this van! If you allow it, I could really use my dad's help on this. Please let him guide me to the right van. And help lead me there, cause I have no idea what I'm doing."
So my friend and I went to the dealership and I negotiated my first used vehicle. I didn't walk out with it (and it actually turned out to not be the perfect Sprinter it appeared), but I was proud when my friend said, "You played that negotiation perfectly!" and I felt like maybe I at least inherited a little of the used-car-buying skills my dad's students say were equally legendary to his mechanical skill.
Returning to my online hunt, I spent the next few days chasing dealership leads and discovering that apart from the iconic Sprinter, other manufacturers made similar high-top vans. So I expanded my scope to include Ford Transits, Nissan NVs, and Ram ProMasters.
I even tried pitching Ford to make #TransitLife a thing:
My late-night searches revealed a number of plausible and far-from-realistic leads. Most were at least 10 years old, with over 100,000 miles, and none had cruise-control (a feature so important to my road-trip loving father that he said he'd take it over air conditioning).
But I did stumble on one ad for a barely used ProMaster:
...listed for $28,000.
To top off being $18,000 over my budget, this ad was sketch. Few details and not even one picture of the actual van. Just a manufacturer provided stock photo.
Screamed of "Craigslist Killer".
Yet for some unknown reason, I sent off an email, and at the end of my short paragraph requesting the van's cargo measurements, I did what I did on all inquiries; wrote:
"This is the world record journey I want it for: https://youtu.be/150ohFWmYsc"
Listing the link to my two-minute explanatory video (embedded below) in hopes that some dealership would see the potential for advertising.
Though 75% of my Craigslist emails never even drew a response, early the next morning I received a reply with the measurements and a sentence that read:
"FYI, I did the exact same trip when I lost my wife and son."
Intrigued by the seller's similar experience, I asked for more details--but didn't lose focus of the goal: the van was priced above other comparable vehicles in the area and I especially wanted pictures of the actual van before I'd drive 50 miles to where it was located.
Yet for some unknown reason, I climbed in my car and started the drive, calling the potential Craigslist Killer on the way and starting to hear about his road trip--which, the more we talked, seemed less and less like some twisted plot to lure me to a precarious meeting.
When I arrived, we continued our conversation. After his losses, including his wife to cancer, he took a road trip eerily similar (in length and route) to my own 16,400 mile "Dream Road Trip" which I'd done as an extension of the healing road trip completed days after the funeral for my dad--who also passed from cancer.
(Mikah's 16,400 mile "Dream Road Trip" from 2011-2012)
We talked for nearly 30 minutes about our loved ones, our road trips, and the role faith played in our healing; all before even discussing the van.
And the van...
It. Was. Perfect.
6' 4" in cargo height, it easily handled my 6' 1" frame. At over 10 feet long, it was the ideal length for installing a bed while still allowing space for a fridge, solar battery station, and water tank. And among the Bluetooth, GPS, and Backup-Cam features that made it tantalizing to a millennial, it had one feature unique from every other cargo van I surveyed: Cruise-Control.
I wondered if this was the sign I had prayed for. It was FAR too coincidental to not be the nudge I asked my cruise-control loving father to give me.
But a mere six days after the fact?
Never had I experienced God working so fast. And also, the van was too much. So far beyond my budget that when I left the Craigslist seller, I stopped at a few dealerships on the drive home. It didn't matter how perfect the van was: the owner couldn't come down on the price and I couldn't come up.
But we stayed in touch over text message. We discussed the possibility of coming to an arrangement where I could publicize his business, Unwined Candles, in exchange for lowering the price of the van.
A few days passed and the ideas came and went, but it didn't look like it'd work. I scheduled a few more dealership appointments to check out vans in my price range.
Yet for some unknown reason, a week after our initial meeting--and a day after my 30th birthday, I drove the 50 miles back to Unwined Candles and met with all the owners.
We put our heads together. Found a way to arrange it so each party got what they needed. And I'm so exceedingly beyond proud to announce that I'm now partnering with Unwined Candles to publicize and sell their all-natural, recycled-material products (fitting for a national parks trip), and in return, 40% of the purchase price for any order using the Discount Code "TBCMikah" will go toward paying off the van. At which point, I'll own the van and continue to work with Unwined Candles and receive 40% of the TBCMikah Discount Code sales to help fund my trip over the three year journey.
I can't even begin to explain how perfect this feels. Having checked out their business, and met all the owners, I am thrilled to work with a company genuinely sharing so many of the values that have put and kept me on the road all these years of traveling to honor that first, post-funeral road trip.
I couldn't have asked for a more fitting 30th birthday present from my father. Were he still alive, his assistance is exactly what I would have requested as my gift.
There is no way this arrangement wasn't written in the stars, and leave it to Larry Meyer to figure out a deal that helps all parties involved.
Even if he couldn't physically help me shop for a van, my dad helped me get it; I have no doubt of that.
God is good. All the time. All the time, God is good.
(Larry Meyer, one month into 2.5 years of cancer treatment. Originally from the Daily Nebraskan)