The Honda Odyssey. Soccer moms love them, most men make fun of them, but they have proven themselves over time to be reliable family vehicles. They are not flamboyant and they certainly are not every boy's dream car. Most people don't even give them a second glance on the road. There is one Honda, however, that has defied all odds and proven to be much more than a family van. She is The Whale, and she is my home on the road.
It all began in 2003 when my parents were in the market for a new vehicle. After careful planning and consideration, they chose to make the leap from a Ford Windstar to a Honda Odyssey. Over time the van was used for daily runs to town and all other things a small family of four would need it for. Every now and then we would hook up our pop-up camper to the hitch and go camping in Rocky Gap State Park or some other local campground. My brother learned to drive using the Odyssey and so did I. The van was used in a pretty standard way, and when it turned 10 it had 182,000 miles on the odometer and a successful career as a family hauler behind it. Most people would think about buying a new car at this time, thinking that the van wouldn't last much longer, and if it wasn't a Honda most people would be correct in thinking this way. But the Whale was not finished yet...
I came into the picture in 2012 when I offered to buy the van from my parents. I had been searching for a pick up truck to turn into a mobile camper but I had come up empty handed. My parents were willing to part with the old girl and I took over ownership of the van. I christened it The Whale. I must be honest for a moment, I can't quite remember how the name came to be. I think it was because it was big and grey and reminded me of a Whale but I can't say for certain. Anyways, I began planning a major road trip in the summer of 2013 to finally begin exploring the western states of America.
It was time to put the Honda to the test!
Phase one of the Whale builds was not the prettiest. The bed was an old feather top mattress cover and everything was stored in plastic bins on top of the mattress. Every night the bins would have to be moved into the front seats and bungees stretched around the interior for sheets to hang on, and every morning it all had to be taken down and moved so the seats were usable.
It did the trick but it broke a major rule of van living. It was super complex. I know what you're thinking, "how can a bunch of bins be so complex?" because it took around 45 minutes to set up every night and the same to tear down in the morning. The easier you can make things on the road the better off you will be. Small things that may not bug you after a day or two will compound over two months and drive you up a wall.
Even with the added hassle of set up and tear down, the trip was fantastic. My road trip buddy Tim Knisley and I covered 16 states and roughly 7500 miles of open road in a little over 5 weeks of driving. It was the snowball that started the avalanche of what was yet to come!
After I worked for the summer at the CM Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming I headed back out on the road and picked up my brother, Perry Derrenbacher, in Salt Lake City and we continued the adventure through the southwest.
Another monumental moment occurred in the Whale when I was driving through Florida on my way home. The Whale hit the 200,000 mile mark!! I thought that was the beginning of the end and that I would only get another year or two of use out of it. The Whale had other plans...
After another 5 weeks and another 7000 miles (roughly), I was back home in Maryland. With the knowledge gained from the trip, I had plans to improve the Whale into a road tripping machine. Phase Two was next!