“It doesn’t look so bad on a map, but when you get out there, it’s a huge country.” — Kevin Sterling, VWvortex member LKR32
Kevin Sterling always wanted to see the country, but college and family responsibilities tethered him close to home; in his 22 years, he had never ventured beyond the greater New York City area.
Kevin’s senior year should have been a time for celebration, but instead of planning for the future and partying with his classmates, he was coping with personal crises; that year, all of his grandparents passed away. He was especially close to his last living grandfather. The two spoke often in the days and weeks before his death.
“The last time I spoke to him, he told me to see the world before I would regret not doing so,” recalled Kevin. “He told me that life goes too fast, and you cannot take time back. Make sure you live a happy and fulfilled life.”
These words echoed during Kevin’s college graduation. His grandfather passed away the following day.
Feeling restless, Kevin began to plan the trip he had long wanted. His inheritance made the trip financially possible, so he then took a leave of absence from his job and brought his R32 to be given a clean bill of health by a VW technician. He got an alignment to make sure his new suspension was set to go, and picked up a set of covers to protect his HID headlights. He considered taping the car to preserve the paint, but decided to take his chances, figuring he could always get it repainted.
Considerations of a small-scale trip were short-lived, and the route was loosely established beforehand, which helped boost his confidence. Kevin explained, “With this maybe being the only opportunity I would have to take a trip like this, I would do it the right way and take it coast to coast. Just from prior knowledge, from school, TV, and movies, we all know the major historic landmarks in America, and my intention was to see as much as I could.”
His priorities: Explore California and see the Pacific Ocean. Indulge a longtime zeal for baseball and visit as many major league ballparks as possible. And, of course, test the R32’s limits on the country’s greatest roads.
Kevin never considered taking a companion on the trip, but as his itinerary began to take shape, he saw a rare opportunity. He started a thread in VWvortex’s R32 forum to share the details of his trip, ask for advice about visiting different parts of the country, and arrange to meet a few forum members along the way. He wasn’t sure what kind of response he’d get.
“A few hours later, I had over 30 private messages from owners around the country,” said Kevin.
The VWvortex community and R32 together shaped Kevin’s journey in a way he never anticipated, steering him toward cities with dense Volkswagen populations. At the urging of forum members, Kevin left New York and headed down to the Induktion Motorsports R32 get-together in Maryland on August 18.
His endurance was challenged — and rewarded — straight away. In Virginia, he hopped on Skyline Drive and continued through to the Blue Ridge Parkway, 469 miles of narrow mountain pass, which took two days to complete. In an early forum post, he reminisced about the view of the mountains in the rearview, saying, “It’s amazing to look back and know you just carved the R through them.”
The Blue Ridge Parkway ends in North Carolina, and from there came the Tail of the Dragon, a stretch along the North Carolina/Tennessee line boasting 318 turns over 11 tantalizing miles. Kevin enjoyed several runs over two days; each north-south loop lasted about an hour. In the forum, he said, “I really feel like in the first four days of my trip, I have really driven the R32 like she is meant to be,” and who could argue? After all, how many United States highways have a Web site hyping the road’s casualties?
VWvortex posters were eager for installments on Kevin’s progress. He updated his itinerary from the road nearly every night, sharing his insights, experiences, and photographs. Although many of his experiences were positive, such as touring the Hyundai plant in Alabama, other posts were less upbeat. As he passed through New Orleans, for example, he described the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina, and said that he didn’t feel safe stopping alone in the city (although he did take time to snap a few pictures of the R32 in front of the Superdome). “Traveling alone hasn’t been too bad,” he said in another post. “The driving has kept me entertained and luckily everywhere I stay I can get the Internet so I can Vortex all night, to not be bored out of my mind and kept in touch with friends.”
Forum members looked forward to showing off their cities. Kevin was inundated with phone numbers and addresses, and get-togethers were organized in his honor. The VW spirit inspired virtual strangers, known in some cases only by VWvortex usernames and car statistics, to offer hospitality in the form of couches, food, beer, and in some cases, garage space.
The Texans of VWvortex were particularly welcoming. In Houston, Kevin met up with an R32 owner named Brett (better known to the forum as Skela). When Brett’s employer, BP, heard Kevin’s story and learned about his goal to visit ballparks, they passed along a ticket to see the Houston Astros play the Washington Nationals at Minute Maid Park.
“It was an absolute pleasure to meet such a young guy with his head on straight,” said Brett.
In San Antonio, a friendly group of forum members rescued Kevin from his campsite and took him out for dinner. From there, they went to the offices of MJM Autohaus, from whom Kevin had bought his new suspension just weeks before.
“This is the great thing about a road trip,” he said, “You never know what you will do next. I thought I’d be sitting in my cabin all alone tonight, and it turns out I’m hanging out in MJM’s shop.”
Kevin said that, as he pressed on, he tried not to think about the trip’s eventual end. Focusing on the road ahead, just a few days at a time, kept him from getting overwhelmed and was key to keeping his stress level under control.
“I didn’t realize just how big this country really is,” he said. “When you really get out on the road, it does take time to get from point to point.”
Although Kevin tried to keep his options open and avoided setting a tight agenda, he did hope to hit Los Angeles in time to attend Dubfest on September 9.
“My real dream has always been to see the west,” Kevin posted on the forum, about halfway through the trip. “I’m not stopping until I hit the Pacific Ocean. I’m not missing home too much, and honestly don’t know if I want to go home. I’m loving it out here on the road. Too much bad at home. It’s a beautiful country, and right now I’m happy, relaxed, and worry free.”
Editor’s note: When Kevin showed up at VWvortex’s Chicago office and told us about his adventure, we knew we just had to share the story. Stay tuned for Part Two (going live January 30) to hear about Kevin’s experiences in California, his visit to Chicago, and much more. In the meantime, here’s the thread that started it all.
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