“When I was on the road, I just tried doing everything I could while I was there. You never know if you will ever have a chance to go back again.” — Kevin Sterling, VWvortex member LKR32
Kevin Sterling, halfway through his celebrated cross-country road trip, had plenty of time to think about a souvenir to best honor the occasion. He collected shotglasses, but such a common project didn’t capture the appropriate level of grandiosity. Another of Kevin’s goals, to visit as many major league baseball stadiums as possible, provided a familiar source of recreation and a satisfying sense of accomplishment, but yielded no tangible keepsakes beyond those available in any shopping mall. But Kevin’s beloved Volkswagen R32, his only constant companion throughout the journey, was adorned with stickers every time he attended a car show or VW club meet. Like the ‘60s and ‘70s, when hippies decorated their VW buses like rolling scrapbooks, Kevin’s collection of vinyl is a source of pride. Unlike the hippies, he actually remembers the roads he drove and sights he saw.
In many road trip stories, the vehicle itself gets less credit than deserved, especially considering the abuse it’s expected to withstand. VW’s iconic R32 is less content than most to stay in the shadows; consider the bond that many R32 drivers form with their cars, and the extent to which the R32 guided the trip is completely understandable.
One of Kevin’s oft-repeated goals was to drive as many well-known scenic roads as possible, but he’d had a dry spell since departing the mountain twisties of the southeast. While crossing Arizona on the way to the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam (both on his mandatory list of American landmarks) he tackled the Sky Island Scenic Byway, which begins in the desert and ascends nearly 40 miles through Mount Lemmon’s coniferous forests.
It was obvious early on that Kevin couldn’t be a stickler about cleanliness; he had trekked down the East Coast, across the Gulf Coast, and through mountains and dunes. Fortunately, he had been keeping the VWvortex R32 forum updated on his progress, and other R32 drivers sympathized with his plight. When he arrived in Tucson, Brandon (forum member azsightsound) helped detail the car. Other VWvortex members in the region were helpful as well.
“I took every opportunity I could to give it a good wash, and made sure it still got serviced when it needed to be,” Kevin said. “I stayed with an R32 owner in Los Angeles [named] Chris (known on VWvortex as QBNR32). He is a very good tech at a high end dealership. Five minutes after meeting him, he had my R32 up on jack stands and gave the R a full service free of charge.”
If Kevin’s earlier hypothesis holds true, that many Americans know their country primarily through representation in the media and pop culture, then it’s easy to see why he was drawn to California. Its reputation for being perpetually sunny captivated him clear across from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and wholly delivered on its promise. Also thanks in part to Kevin’s host, Garey (VRsexxy), San Diego was his favorite stop on the trip. His dream, the impetus of his journey, came true on September 1. The trip odometer read just shy of 5000 miles.
“Within a few moments of arriving in town, I told [Garey] we needed to go to the ocean,” said Kevin. “We went down to Pacific Beach, walked down the pier and hung out there for a while until the sun had finally set. Just was an awesome feeling because I felt like I finally completed my dream of seeing California.”
Kevin enjoyed almost two weeks in California. He saw the Golden Gate Bridge and toured Alcatraz. He brought the R32 to Dubfest on September 10, claiming a SoCalR32 sticker and boasting a total of 5341 miles traveled to date. He took in a couple of ball games. The Padres/Dodgers matchup was uneventful, but the Giants game happened to be on September 11, which reminded him of being home in New York during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, six years earlier.
California made such an impact that Kevin later said he’d consider relocating.
“It was a great vibe, the beaches and the ocean are surreal,” he explained. “I’m not sure when it would be, but sometime in my lifetime I’d like to give California a chance.”
For any car enthusiast, proximity to one of the country’s most picturesque roads is a bonus. For five days, Kevin admired the shoreline from behind the wheel of the R32, progressing through California and Oregon and landing in Seattle.
“The Pacific Coast Highway was a great way to drive up the West Coast,” he recalled. “You are driving alongside the ocean all day long, with spectacular views. Very twisty roads.”
Drizzly Seattle was a drastic change after the sunny southwest, which set the tone for the remainder of the trip. Although Kevin caught a Seattle Mariners game on September 16, he was feeling the strain of life on the road, and was eager to return to familiar ground. In a forum posting around that time, Kevin wrote, “After a month on the road, I am exhausted but the adrenaline has always pulled me through.”
With the majority of his virtual to-do list checked off, Kevin bid adieu to the left coast. There weren’t many stops left, nor did he anticipate meeting many R32 owners between Seattle and New York. It was more of a time of solitude and reflection. A couple of days were sufficient to visit Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park. He opted to drive partway along scenic Route 12, the Lewis and Clark Trail, rather than cutting I-90 through Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Eager to get home, he drove from sunup to sundown, sometimes catching his rest in the car. For the most part, the days of couch-hopping amongst VWvortexers had passed; these nights were generally spent in solitude.
“It takes some getting used to, sleeping in the R32 seats,” he noted. “They are very bolstered.”
The last real stop was in Illinois. After meeting up with forum member Andres (vwapasionado)
in Chicago’s south suburbs, Kevin headed to VWvortex headquarters in Lombard.
“I wanted to show the guys there what their site has done for me,” Kevin said. “I did not know anyone previously prior to meeting up with them on this trip, and without Vortex and this thread, it all wouldn’t have been possible. It was very nice, seemed like a laid-back place to work.”
From Chicago, Kevin hopped on the highway and drove 15 hours straight through, arriving in New York on September 22. Odometer reading: 10,554 miles. Over five weeks, he’d visited 29 states, 12 major cities, and 5 national parks.
Since returning home, Kevin has maintained his new friendships online and over the phone, sometimes offering advice to other forum members planning similar trips. He has suggested starting with a list of must-see places, but staying flexible.
“In the places where I met up with R32 owners, they would show me around the cities. Many things I wouldn’t have known about if it wasn’t for them,” he said. “I did more than I thought, experienced more, and met many more people than I originally expected.”
Kevin noted that despite best intentions to spend carefully, it will be expensive and there are sometimes surprises (in his case, he needed several sets of new tires; the upside is that the R32 averaged 26 mpg). He acknowledges good music is a factor, but sometimes it’s more appealing to simply enjoy the car.
“XM Radio has been a gift from above,” he said, but he admits he “spent more time with the music off, windows down and just listening to the exhaust on the open road.”
And finally, it’s important to be open-minded and trust a tight-knit group of like-minded people; otherwise, he couldn’t have imagined being on the road alone for weeks at a time.
“I don’t know any other community that would just open up their homes for someone they didn’t know. Everyone went out of their way to make me feel welcome. It really shows that there are a lot of good-hearted people in this world,” Kevin said. He didn’t keep track of how many forum members he met, estimating the number is upwards of 150.
“It is just too hard to count how many R32, VW, and Audi owners I met up with through personal meetings, clubs, get-togethers, and shows,” he said. “Some I knew [before] just by screennames on the forum.”
Kevin’s traveled more frequently in the months since his homecoming. He’s left New York a couple of times to attend car-related events and see friends, but rarely drives the R32. He bought a new car for daily use, a 2008 Rabbit, and prefers to leave the R safe in the garage. Shortly after the beginning of the year, though, Kevin found a place to live on his own. Although he’s excited to be leaving the nest and continue trying new things, his new apartment has only one parking spot, so he may have to make a difficult choice. He said it would be hard to sell the car because of the emotional attachment he’s developed, but is considering letting go, after all. If it’s because his trip has inspired him to pursue his independence, the sacrifice of the R32 is just that much more significant.
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