Photos: Rhett Grametbauer

“One travels to run away from routine, that dreadful routine that kills all imagination and all our capacity for enthusiasm.” Truer words may have never been spoken, at least in my case, than these from the late Swiss adventurer, Ella Maillart. My decision to leave behind the everyday, mundane existence I had been condemned to live led me to the precipice of my life. I could either go back in the direction I had climbed for the first forty years of my time on Earth and finish my life sentence of an existence without substance or texture or I could make the conscious, yet irrational to many, decision of stepping off that steep cliff into the unknown. I was not sure of what scared me most, the known of what my future would hold if I did nothing or the unknown of what would happen if I actually left my driveway to live my dream and see every NFL stadium in 16 weeks. If I was running away from the routine of my life I would be doing so by driving a vehicle that is anything but mundane and affords the driver the smallest semblance of routine. My ’67 Volkswagen Bus (Hail Mary) offers many life skills to its owner. I say “owner” tentatively because after this trip there is some question as to who is the actual owner in the relationship. Thanks to her I have been stranded on the side of the road in rural North Carolina at 3:00 am in the morning, started and stopped my way through a debilitating September heat in Texas, driven a vehicle without brakes on three separate occasions causing me to contemplate my own mortality, and seen my fair share of the inside of tow trucks.

This may sound like more of me complaining but it is actually confirmation that the character and spirit of Hail Mary have changed my life forever. Not only did I get to see every NFL stadium but I did so while making new friends and challenging myself to overcome what would have been insurmountable obstacles before this trip. I owe it to her for being on the NFL Network, having a documentary on iTunes, Amazon, and others and she is the reason I had more than enough content for a book on my adventure. The culture and bond between owners of air-cooled Volkswagen vehicles is something from the outside looking in you cannot understand and from the inside looking out you cannot explain. I was indoctrinated into the culture as soon as I purchased Hail Mary in 2011. I remember turning down the street where she lived in Katy, Texas and taken back immediately by her colorful presence. My mechanic in Austin referred to it as mojo. Hail Mary’s mojo was used throughout the trip to make sure I saw every stadium. Some of my fondest memories of the trip aren’t related to football, but rather in spending time with VW people.



I met Bruce, a thin, middle-aged man, who was an air-cooled Volkswagen mechanic in Pompano Beach, Florida. The condition of Hail Mary drew immediate ire from Bruce—almost like a chef lifting the lid from a pot of something their understudy was cooking. He scolded parts of the engine as being all wrong and questioned where the seal to the engine compartment had gone. To his point, and my defense, we had a seal when we left Austin and it had mysteriously disappeared somewhere along the way to California to Ohio to Florida. Over a brief conversation Bruce’s gruff façade and dire prognosis of Hail Mary began to fade. He slowly started to open up about her condition, how an air-cooled VW engine works, his own VWs and his life. After hearing of our trip, Bruce confessed that he thought he would “find” himself in a VW Bus. He said on a whim when he was much younger, he moved to California in a bus and lived in it for two years. Apparently believing that I had gone on this trip on a similar whim he relented that what we were doing with Hail Mary was “crazy.”



I’ll never forget being thousands of miles from home, thousands of miles to our next destination and Bruce calling me crazy. I could either wear the comment as a badge of honor or one of stupidity.  I chose to look at Bruce’s comment as the former rather than the latter. I would not be able to own a VW Bus and not be eternally optimistic. I also remember walking underneath Hail Mary with Bruce. He explained how the heater worked and complimented her overall condition despite not having a seal for the engine. He even gave me the tubes for the heater so we wouldn’t freeze to death going to Green Bay. Bruce’s generosity and compassion are typical of Volkswagen owners and I could not have made this journey without them.



People who know my story often ask what is next for me and would I ever do it again. Until now I have questioned their sanity as much as they probably questioned mine when learning what I was going to do. Now, it is not a question of if Hail Mary and I will have our next adventure but when, where, what, and who. When will we go, where won’t we go, what will we do and who will we meet? Those are the questions that keep me going.


 

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