Category Archives: Musings

A Retreat Just South of Melbourne Beach

Residing in Tampa, Florida, Robert Payne is a frequent visitor to the East Coast of Florida where he reports on various hotels and accommodations in the area.


Seashell Suites

Against my better judgement, I am going to reveal a secret and tell you about a place that I like to stay when traveling to Melbourne Beach and Sebastian Inlet. But first, let me say that I’ve stayed in many different hotels, motels, condominiums, and campgrounds between Cocoa and Melbourne Beach. Living in relatively close proximity here in Tampa, Florida gives me the opportunity to frequent the area for its surfing opportunities, beautiful beaches, and breathtaking blue water. If there happens to be a shuttle launch – even better! Needless to say I’ve experimented with accommodations up and down the coastline, and Seashell Suites is definitely a good spot to stay.

Getting There

You definitely want to bring all the supplies you’ll need before your arrival. As you leave the town of Melbourne Beach and head south on A1A, the predominant square structures that compose giant hotels, condos, and shopping centers fall away behind you and are replaced with hardly anything but rolling dunes covered with green sea grapes, glimpses of the blue sea on your left, and the Indian River on your right. This narrow strip of land leads to the point of Ponce de Leon’s landing long ago – where the nation’s first National Wildlife Refuge, Pelican Island, was created – and the entrance to Sea Shell Suites just 2 miles from Sebastian Inlet.


The Resort

Upon arrival, it is immediately clear this eco-friendly resort went through a recent and extensive remodel, for everything shines like new. Surveying the grounds you’ll notice the careful detail to landscaping and decor. Copper trimming, plantation shutters, recessed solar lighting, boxes of blooming hibiscus, and whimsical sculptures are just some of the treatments. Walk down the stone pathway past the pool and sauna, and you’ll see a wonderful piazza for grilling and relaxing at night. Ahead the path rises gradually up over the dune and out to a verandah with wide open vistas of the ocean and its unspoiled beach. Lounge on the chairs and soak up the view, or grab a beach chair and a fishing rod. There is good surfing directly in front of the property, or you can walk south on the beach towards Sebastian Inlet to an area I found to be even better.

The Rooms

If you are like me, what you worry most about in a place like this is noise. I can tell you that even when Seashell Suites is completely booked, and you are staying in a suite right smack dab in the middle of the other 8 suites, you’ll have a really tough time hearing anyone else. If I could put anything extra on my wish list, I would prefer the rooms be slightly bigger with another bathroom. Of course, I also have a good appreciation for the regulations and prices that exist in this area, so I can understand the constraints the owner was faced with when building. The fact is there are only a few suites on the property, and they are well-appointed with free WiFi and two flat screens to keep you amused. But aside from cooking and sleeping, I doubt you’ll spend much time inside your room. You’ll even want to take your meals outside.


The Beach

In contrast to the hustle and bustle of the beaches further north, you will have the white sand in front of Seashell Suites practically to yourself. Walk in either direction, and you’ll enjoy miles of unencumbered coastline. One morning I arose to watch the sunrise, and a Great Horned Owl flew directly above me and landed on a perch close by. Turtles come upon the beach to nest, and dolphin feed offshore. It is not only beautiful, but you’ll find a state of relaxation that often eludes us in our every day lives.

Shuttle_Launch Other Things to Do

If you can muster up the energy to leave then it is certainly worth checking out Sebastian Inlet State Park and Pelican Island, which features trails and a bird viewing station. There are bikes available, and sea kayaking and fishing charters that can be arranged, as well as surf lessons.

If you are coming for the shuttle launch, I would highly recommend coming the day before. You can see the shuttle from SeaShell Suites, but it is much better to drive up to Cocoa Beach or Titusville. Keep in mind it is roughly an hour both ways, and traffic surrounding the launch can be slow. Nevertheless, it is definitely worth it. People only begin to understand the awesome power and incredible engineering involved when they witness it firsthand. Just think about the fact that the astronauts are traveling 17,500 mph only 8 minutes after liftoff.

I have a few other secrets to share with you regarding the Space Coast and the surrounding areas of Cocoa and Melbourne Beach, but I’ll save those for next time. Meanwhile, let’s hope the engineers for BP and the Coast Guard get the oil spill under control and cleaned up. Florida is counting on you.

The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Robert Payne.

Tampa Twilight Criterium


I really enjoyed attending the Tampa Twilight Criterium in downtown Tampa on Saturday afternoon. I took my son with me in a backpack, and while I took photos, he provided commentary – “Whoooooooah!” – I think he was impressed that they were just a little faster than his Red Ryder.

Having done a few of these myself, I can relate to the challenges of working with a city to orchestrate an event like this. But the organizers, police, and City of Tampa were all accommodating and everything seemed to go smoothly.

My camera doesn’t really have the chops for this kind of combined light and speed, but I made the best of it and am happy with how a few came out. I just feel lucky I didn’t get my block knocked off. Hopefully the guys didn’t mind!


More on Flickr…

Gulf Coast Surfing


Luke grabbed this shot of me yesterday out at “The Street” in AMI. I like it for the perspective and because it shows how beautiful the water and waves around Tampa Bay can be. Normally, I would be riding a shortboard in conditions like this, but with mine in the shop, I decided to give the longboard a try. It can be pretty exciting trying to maneuver a longboard in steep, shallow waves.  I got worked a few times, but I also managed to pull into some hollow barrels. I’ve said it already, but what a great season of surfing on the Gulf this winter/spring. Now to get rid of some junk in the trunk…


Park City and the (De) Evolution of a Skier

Park City

I walk upright and could tease a termite out of a mound with just one stick. I’m an educated man – I’ve read stuff – and what not. And after skiing in the Lake Tahoe area for almost 10 years, crisscrossing and crossing the entire Sierra Nevada chain, and making repeated trips to Utah and Park City for 6 years running, one would think I possess a certain amount of reason when it comes to venturing out in the backcountry. But apparently that is not the case. However, before you judge me hear me out.

I live in Florida now, and I’m also a new father. The amount of ski days I got this year can be counted on one hand. So, to say I was chomping at the bit when I got to Park City last week would be an understatement. 17-inches of new snow did little to abate my excitement.


Powder Between Friends

What could be better than having nothing to do but rip endless fields of powder with good friends? Nothing. Except for here’s the problem: Occasionally, I like to earn my turns, and none of my friends on this trip wanted to hike. Furthermore, not a single one of them owns any backcountry gear. Okay, I guess I’ll simply stay in bounds and enjoy what the ski resort has to offer. But…but…look at all that untracked POW!!! Taunting me like Christmas candy and piles of cash shoved in to a well in the midst of a dry, scorching dessert. I resisted the first day…and the second.

Up until then I’d politely followed the group, accommodated late starts, pursued whims, and endured long lunches. And it didn’t really matter because Park City Mountain Resort continually served up runs of untracked powder on fun, steep terrain. One can happily ski the Jupiter and McConkey’s bowls all day long until it occurs to them that there is so much more hiding in Thaynes, King Con, or even Bonanza.

Park City Powder

But when it came to the third day I was ready for something off-piste. Our group had made the short trip over to The Canyons Resort, and I could see many of the classic backcountry runs the ski resort is known for slowly but surely being marred by unencumbered skiers and snowboarders. I could not idly ski by any longer. So when Ninety-Nine 90 dropped us off for the third time that day, I politely waved to my party and said that I would see them at Peak 5.

The Draw of the Dutch

I quickly made my way up and out along the skier’s right ridge, stopping only for a moment at Dutch’s notch to kick out of my skis again. I began hiking up to the far peak where the snow was the most preserved, and I was at the top in no time. I took note of the fact that I was not alone, which made me feel a little safer. It was a false sense of security, however, because the beacon I was carrying offered little assurance that anyone else on the peak had one, let alone a shovel, probe, or concern for my well-being. But my run was just what we all dream of with shots of powder intermittently blinding me before arcing in to the next turn. I got down to Peak 5 and immediately decided that I would take another backcountry run – alone.


Peak 5 Slide

With great intention, I pulled the gate open at the back of Peak 5 and began hiking up the ridge. The snow was deeper than I expected and the going was slow. I felt low on energy and decided I would cut out early, catch my friends at lunch, and come back refreshed and hopefully with a companion. I was unfamiliar with my exact surroundings, but having skied along this ridge many times in past years, I nonchalantly began ripping down through the trees. I could see a substantial rise approaching, so I threw in a hard edge and abruptly stopped to get a closer look. This action immediately set off a small slide to my left and below, and while seemingly insignificant by the looks of the photos, it would have carried me over a series of rock shelves and down in to a grove of trees – alone.

Slide Slide_2
Click Here to View Larger Click Here to View Larger

I shook this whole occurrence off quickly, traversed around the rocks, and went off to meet my friends only after enjoying a few more precious powder turns. Now here’s where it just gets plain dumb.

Not only do I know how Utah’s light snow can be, and often is, lethal, but I had just seen proof it was unstable on the very same day. But what do I proceed to go and do? Convince my friends, who are novices when it comes to the backcountry and avalanche conditions, to go and do a hike with me off the back of Peak 5. Nice!

Three of us did the hike, this time dropping the large open bowl to skier’s right. Fortunately, nothing bad happened. The run was in fact fantastic, and it was made even sweeter when we just barely caught the last lift out of there right at 4pm on the nose. But a conversation later transpired between me and one of my best childhood friends that has stuck with me ever since.  He asked,

“How would you get out of an avalanche?”

Avalanche Safety

Really, there are no easier answers to this question; in fact, more experts die in avalanches than any other group. The best course of action is avoidance through the proper study of snow conditions. This means taking in to account no less than the amount of recent snowfall, layers, temperature, aspect, and degree of slope. After evaluating these factors, you of course want to make sure everyone in your party is equipped with a beacon, probe, shovel, and knowledge of how to use each one of them. Even then there are inherent risks, as well as weaknesses. For example, plastic shovels are pathetic in comparison to metal blades, for the snow can be extremely difficult to dig through. Regarding beacons, I can remember besting a Squaw Valley Ski Patroller during an avalanche training course only because I had a more modern beacon. His transceiver beeped directions to the hidden victim, but my digital version literally pointed the way.


If you get caught in an avalanche you must try to stay on the surface by using a backwards swimming motion. I have a friend who pulled this one off when he slid from top to bottom in the Chutes at Mount Rose Ski Resort. He was lucky enough to have part of his face and arm sticking out when he finally came to rest, but he still had to be dug out of the binding snow. In most cases, however, the slide victim is not so lucky. Some are smashed in to trees and rocks and immediately die from the resulting trauma. Others are literally ground in to a bloody mass from lacerations and the mashing of heavy pieces of ice. None of it is pretty. As I explained all of this to my friend he said, “I’m to old for this shit – I’ve got kids!”  As if waking from a pervasive fog I thought to myself, so do I.

Choosing Your Line

It is here at this point that you are possibly expecting me to say, I’ll never go out in the backcountry again. But that is not likely. What I will say is that I will always strive to ski with a buddy, choose the safest slopes possible, pack extra backcountry gear, or rent it, and always be clear with myself and any accomplices on the inherent dangers involved. Keep in mind what a rather poignant Summit County Sheriff once said, ”If you’re an adult and you want to go and risk your life, it’s your business…We just have to clean up the mess.” 

Trust me, I want to avoid the mess as much as the next sane person. I used to debate with a good friend about the dangers of outdoor sports, and he would argue that a person was more likely to be killed in a car accident. I would disagree. I was still disagreeing when an earthquake dislodged a boulder on to a highway that almost killed me. My car was totaled and I was lucky to walk away from it. It pains me to think I could have died riding a proverbial groomer.

Our lines in life are rarely clean, but they are certainly made better by applying the knowledge, skills, and patience we do have. These are the attributes we need to take our pursuits out of bounds and push the limits, and still make it back to the parking lot to take our boots off when the day is done.




The basic premise of Gasparilla is really quite simple. Close off two adjoining streets, parade a bunch of pirates down one of them, and invite people to come out and party on the other one. Sounds easy enough, but the reality is Gasparilla is a logistical bear that Tampa Bay has been trying to perfect for more than 100 years.


The big invasion can attract upwards of 350,000 people, and they don’t come to sit idly by. Nope, they come to party and parade their own versions of pirate garb to fellow marauding mateys, while collecting as many Mardi Gras beads as possible. Some residents, especially along the parade route, feel that Gasparilla is out of control. Having witnessed 3 such events I can hardly blame them for their concerns. The amount of trash that ends up on the streets and in the waters of Tampa Bay is staggering – the noise is deafening -there are inevitably fights and arrests – and you can be sure it attracts Tampa’s best and brightest. All of this has most self-respecting retirees fleeing for more sheltered pastures. But when I put my branding and marketing hat on I see it as a tradition the city can’t afford to quit.


Many cities struggle to define themselves. You’ll often see destinations go through rebranding exercises every time there is a new head of marketing because no one can truly agree on what best communicates the location. Tampa, on the other hand, is steeped in pirate lore and will always be closely tied to the many bays, rivers, and estuaries that served as hiding places for these buccaneers who now, by the way, can play a mean game of football. People love events that are done well, and it is clear Gasparilla has found the sweet spot.


The annual economic impact of Gasparilla is said to be $46 million annually. In an economy where people are struggling to put food on the table, that’s some much needed change. To alleviate some past transgressions, this year an additional 100 police officers and many more port-o-pottys were added to the parade route.  Both were a welcome addition. The strategy of moving people downtown to the music stages was also a wise improvement.


All in all it was a fun time, and I certainly enjoyed capturing a bit of the revelry. The rain kept some people away, but for the most part it went unfelt.  A few days later it appears concerned residents have returned to their soft, cozy homes, the streets are clean, parade floats have been put up, and some where a poor turtle is swimming along with a string of beads stuck in its throat, gasping for the next Gasparilla.

More Gasparilla photos on Flickr.

Chronicles of Tampania


Dropped a little Gulf Coast angst this week with some fun waves here in the Tampa Bay area. El Nino, aka The Little Boy, keeps kicking up those high winds that ultimately lead to rideable surf. This particular day consisted of super glassy peelers breaking under beautiful, warm, sunny skies. As you will see from this short clip, there were some barrels to be had. Didn’t think the Gulf Coast had waves, did you?

AMI from Robert Payne on Vimeo.

Down the Line


Nature hasn’t produced much in the way of waves since I got this little camera. But this weekend at least gave me a chance to test it and work out any potential kinks. One thing for sure: I’m going to need some Rain-X to take care of those unwanted water spots on the housing.

Tahoe Powder Days

Yes, I’ve been dreaming of them. So when I received Wend’s Friday Photo newsletter focused on powder, I figured I should submit one of my own photographs in the contest. It is really quite easy, and a great use of Flickr to encourage reader participation and build brand awareness. Plus, you have a chance at winning some great outdoor gear! I scored this time around, now I just need to make my dreams a reality.


This week’s Friday Photo winner is Robert Payne for this shot he snapped while riding a chair lift in Lake Tahoe, California.

Here’s what Robert had to say about the event:

For me, this shot is emblematic of those powder days when you stand cold in the lift line, anticipation building with each reverberation from the bombs blasting in the early morning light. Finally, the line surges forward as you push for the first chair, and you can think of nothing but the straightest line back down the hill. On this particular day I did not count on one surprising obstacle. I couldn’t breath through the fine light snow that leaped into my face and was forced to stop, only for a moment, to keep from drowning in what was otherwise perfect bliss.

Congratulations Robert, you win a Camelbak hydration pack stuffed with two boxes of Clif Bars, a Katadyn Hiker PRO Water Microfilter, a ChicoBag and a package of Grabber hand warmers.

Every month we have a new Friday Photo theme. January’s theme will be ‘Ice’.

Want your own chance at winning? Submit your best ‘Ice‘ shots to our Flickr pool and then send an email with a few lines describing them to We get a lot of submissions so please write the title of your photo in the subject line and include where it was taken in the body of your email.

Gotham City


New York

The great thing about Gotham City is that you are guaranteed to experience something new even if you’re revisiting a familiar spot. Fortunately on this trip, I had the chance to retrace some steps as well as draw upon local friends (1 & 2) for new experiences. Of course, there are so many different things to do in this grand city, so I’m not going to detail the whole excursion. You know how to get to the Empire State Building, right? But here are few highlights:

First off, if you get a chance to see the Tim Burton exhibit at the MoMA you will be amazed at his mastery over multiple mediums. His artistic ability is more diverse than you would ever guess. It is not only wonderful to see the progression in Tim Burton’s career, but also peek inside his pernicious imagination. There is always something new to absorb at the MoMA, so it is worth a trip, every trip. And take the time to do the audio guide. If you are looking to conserve that cash then consider Target Free Friday Nights sponsored by Target.


Speaking of free, a trip to New York is not complete without a stroll through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and if you hit it on the first weekend of the month – AND you are a Bank of America customer – you save $20. That’s money you can spend on lunch at E.A.T. If you’ve never seen a grilled cheese that cost $14 then here is the place. But you guessed it, the food is good.

If you want some free cheese and find yourself near Bryant Park, you might want to drop down to the Cellar Bar in the bottom of The Bryant Park Hotel. Whether your order the Passion, Orgasm, or some other less scintillating drink, you’ll get some small appetizers gratis. The Cellar is a pretty cool space for drinking and getting served by scantily clad gothic waitresses.


Sex isn’t only used to sling drinks in New York. The Standard Hotel, Polshek’s new creation located in the old Meatpacking District, took a rather interesting approach, not only in its design, but the marketing of its decidedly nonstandard rooms. Here’s one advertisement before they fully completed the building:


NathanIf you find yourself in the Meatpacking District, check out the The High Line, which is an elevated walkway running through the West Side neighborhoods. The path used to act as a rail line bringing meat and supplies to the local warehouses and stores. Now it serves as a park with stunning views of the city juxtaposed to an integrated landscape featuring natural plants and grasses. The design was a collaborative effort between landscape architecture and urban design firm James Corner Field Operations, and architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro. There is much to see and you just never know what might leap out at you.

Before leaving the Meatpacking District behind, grab a burger at the Corner Bistro if you are hungry, or step inside the Chelsea Market and enjoy a delicious cappuccino at the Ninth Street Espresso.


I must admit I’ve never really checked out Brooklyn, but this time was different, and to say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement. With beautiful brownstone neighborhoods like Park Slope, entertainment venues such as the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), and even Prospect Park where, believe it or not, more than one tree co-habits, there is no wonder why so many young professionals call it home. There’s even good surfing at Rockaway Beach just 15 minutes away, and getting to and from Manhattan on the subway is generally smooth sailing. Oh, and then there are the restaurants.

Unlike New York, chefs in Brooklyn can literally afford to go out on their own and be more experimental. There are many fabulous eateries to choose from, but on this trip we followed up on a tip from a local “foodie” who sent us to No. 7. Everything was delicious. I had the Grilled Wagyu Bavette Steak, which was out-of-control good. Who would have thought blueberries and steak go together so well?

Walking off all these consumptive habits is an absolute requirement. I tromped and tromped, and Brooklyn was no exception. Starting from Park Slope, a great stroll unfolded through Carroll Gardens, out on to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, and down to DUMBO (down under manhattan bridge overpass) for a Bloody at Bubby’s. All along the way are beautiful vistas of the Manhattan skyline, Governor’s Island, and the East River. New York’s green initiatives are being seen and felt all around, and it will be great to return when the new park out on the piers below the Promenade is completed.


So all is good in Gotham. The most intimidating and liberating city around still serves up the most beautiful and inspiring architecture, art, food, people, and places that could capitalize a lifetime. Sort of like this book, which is definitely on my reading list. There should be a few more discoveries to be had in New York by the time I am done reading it. At the very least I should take a paddle.

Baja and Bust

baja Would you head down to Baja with two beautiful girls in a vintage VW van in the middle of the summer? Hell yes?

It is a long drive from Lake Tahoe to the southern tip of Baja, but the cost of gas and the time it takes are minor details when it comes to realizing a vision. There is a world to see, damn-it, and nothing is going to get in the way! Well, maybe except for a few wild horses, 18-year olds wielding machine guns at intermittent check points, and a spitter, sputtering VW van that would have looked better at a Grateful Dead concert, as opposed to whining down desert roads in the middle of nowhere.

And that’s just for starters.


The trip started off rather well, actually. Not a care in the world as we made our way south past countless uncrowded surf spots and rugged landscape cut only by  the occasional dirt road, cacti forest, and ancient lava path. There are so many odd sights that oscillate between the unholy edge of the forgotten universe and the final frontier. Dilapidated structures, skeletons of expired cars, and people nonchalantly pushing refuse from open car doors is juxtaposed to the life of the sea, the escape of the open desert, and the fervent land that marks the southern end of the Sierra Nevada range.

Once we cut across the peninsula we slept in palapas, snorkeled from sea kayaks, and ate fresh seafood. All the while the Sea of Cortez shimmered bright blue against the backdrop of Jesuit palms and volcanic isles. It was satiating and well worth the many miles of driving. It was not until we turned to go home that things went awry.

Who Needs Money?

The first hint of disaster started with an invitation to go out in the boat with a stranger. He was fine, really, a good man, and we had fun water skiing and cruising about. But we left many of our possessions locked in the van while out on the water. Upon return, we discovered that our cash and valuables were gone, unwillingly donated to the local population. Packing our remaining belongings was bittersweet, but we shrugged it off and shelved it as a lesson learned.

Baja Beach Diet

The trip back was uneventful until minor grumbles turned to a painful roar. We were sick. Was it the fruit in the fish tacos, the ice in the margaritas? Either way, it was time to sequester ourselves in a hotel equipped with proper facilities until we weathered the storm. The next morning we were weak, but we climbed into the van once more. Moods lightened as we moved north and came closer and closer to the border. Then something strange happened.

Road Wars

A white Ford Explorer with California plates purposely moved past us and positioned itself directly in front of us. Next, a Honda pushed up and paired itself right alongside the other car. Then they began to slow. We respectfully moved into the left lane and tried to pass but neither car budged. After a while traffic built up, and the Honda innocently allowed the other cars to go on. We attempted to join them, but they quickly resumed their previous position and blocked us from passing.

It went on like this for some time until we eventually came across an exit and took it. We waited for a few minutes and then made our way back on the road. There they were waiting for us. They menacingly moved back into their positions in front. Frustration turned to fear.

Not long after we came to a toll. Fortunately, our line progressed faster, and we sped out in front of the two other cars. Despite our advance, the VW engine was no match, and the Ford and Honda quickly caught up to us to continue their harassment.

Finally, we slowed down to 20 in a 60mph zone and held fast. The two cars kept motioning us to come forward, wielding what looked like a flare or gun, but we stayed firm. Eventually they grew tired of our lack of engagement and sped off towards Tijuana, the city marking the border we were now craving with renewed intensity.

The Dividing Line

At the border the traffic often stacks up in long lines as officials check for illegal items and individuals. For whatever reason our line crept forward faster than the others. As if it had been scripted, our would-be assailants quickly came in to view in the adjoining line.

We told each other not to look over. Don’t engage them, we reasoned, and they will surely do the same. After all, there are border officials and countless people around. But it was not long after we passed them that trouble presented itself at the driver-side window.

I looked over and young girl was wrapping on the window saying, “you almost killed my friend…you almost killed my friend!” The window was roughly a third of the way down, so I purposefully rolled it up and tried to ignore her. Moments later a large figure filled the pane and began beating the glass with a stick and shouting in Spanish. He was joined by a smaller accomplice, and together they were an ominous threat. I motioned that I had no idea what they were saying.

The brutish fellow opted to hand the stick to his counterpart, and he reached back and effortlessly pushed his fist through the window. Shards of glass went everywhere. All I could think of was to get myself out of the seat belt. The problem, however, was that the latch was in the shadow of the fist-wielding man crusher and his stick-swinging sidekick. The girls were tugging upon me and screaming.

The Aftermath

As soon as it had started it was over. I was bleeding from various places due to the glass, as well as a sharp gash from the stick. That was about it though, and I felt fortunate it had not been worse. Police soon arrived, but the perpetrators had pushed their way out of traffic and sped away into the concealing streets of Tijuana. Filing a police report felt like the most futile thing I have ever done in my life.

We shook ourselves off, moved back into line, and made our way back into the States. I was sitting in the rear of the van collecting myself, running through scenes from Reservoir Dogs, when suddenly a loud pop shocked our already frayed nerves.

As the two assailants made their escape, one of them left a parting gift consisting of a small hole in the long horizontal window in the rear of the van. Caught up in the shock of random violence, we had not noticed the damage. When we got up to speed the inward wind pressure completed the job, and showered glass throughout the interior of the vehicle.


Baja Builds Character?

We earned our Baja badges: cardboard duct-taped to where the windows once were, a wild look in our eyes, and a very strong desire to get back home. Despite everything that happened, I am extremely happy it was not worse. Thoughts of the van’s engine bursting into flames, being caught by treacherous characters at an impromptu camp spot, or worse have all occupied my mind at one time or another. Something tells me that two girls in a VW van will not be the means in which I return to this unforgiving land.