Welcome my children to Ancient Syncrology. Oh come on...it was bound to happen. Did you honestly think I was going to get a mortgage, settle down and pretend to be a respectable member of society?! No chance. Bicycle Touring Apocalypse is going full nomad, living on the road in a 1986 VW Syncro in pursuit of the best rides in Europe & beyond.
Syncrology will be covering all aspects of nomadic living from the gradual conversion of my camper to apocalyptic beast, making money remotely, keeping in shape whilst travelling, cooking on the road and much more. I don’t claim to be an expert and part of Syncrology will be sharing my challenges, ups & downs and the sacrifices I’ve made to make all this possible. Right, so without further ado, I’d like to introduce Apocatron, my new home on wheels.
Apocatron is a 1986 Volkswagen Syncro, effectively an overlanding version of the traditional T3/T25 campervan. Consequently, the Syncro ( or ‘ Vanagon ’ in the USA ) features raised off-road suspension and the ability to switch between 2 & 4WD. These vans may not have the same off-road following as Land Rovers or Toyota Land Cruisers, but they have generated a considerable cult following due to their remarkable performance off-road. Furthermore, it’s important to remember that the VW Syncro remains a fully functioning home-on-wheels and is therefore often the vehicle of choice for round the world expeditions. The Syncro, like most classic vehicles, is not without its problems and can be expensive to repair in comparison to the standard T3/T25. However, you know what they say…‘ in for a penny, in for a…s#*t tonne of debt ' and for me the price is negligible when you consider the Syncro’s go anywhere ability….oh and the fact I really really really wanted one!
VW Syncros are rare in the UK, particularly in right hand drive, and consequently go for silly money. It took a great deal of research to find a van within my budget. Thankfully, after months of searching…and selling my lungs, kidneys and liver…I found an absolute gem, organized a viewing and well the rest is history…including my vital organs.
The van is by no means perfect and had a number of small cosmetic rust patches, a pretty useless fridge ( not that I need one in the cold weather ) and the exhaust needs replacing…but that’s it! The interior’s basic but functional and the engine’s not the most desirable ( 1.9 WBX ) but running sweet and after ten thousand miles in four months I can’t complain! I had the van professionally inspected by Kent VW ( www.kentvolkswagen.co.uk ) and was told the van is in excellent condition underneath with minimal rot in any of the susceptible areas. The van will be undergoing extensive work over the next six months and I will be blogging the entire process. The first major overhaul has already taken place and will be featured in the next instalment of Syncrology.
Work done, it was time for a test-run. A 3500 mile road trip across Europe with four of my best mates was in order….well, no point messing about. I mean, what better way to ease the van into its new life than climbing huge ascents through the Pyrennes…loaded with 500kg of bodyweight/luggage…in a 2+ tonne camper….in 38 degree heat. My amigo Briggs works in Barcelona so I offered to drop him back after his month spent catching up with family/friends in the UK ( …It goes without saying that he now owes me lifts home from the pub for the rest of his life ). So it was decided, I booked the cheapest ferry available, got together the rest of society’s cretins and made haste to Dover! The ‘ Return of the Toad ’ ( A.K.A Briggs ) would not simply be a test of the vans mechanics, but also its interior comfort and general livability. I mean, five large males sleeping in a four-berth campervan ( a tight four berth at that! ) in mid summer…well, if the van could handle that….it could survive the apocalypse!
We had two guys up top ( …generally complaining about the horrific heat ), two down bottom and one guy on a makeshift bed that ran between the two front seats all the way to the foot of the rock ‘n’ roll bed ( the fifth bed was actually pretty comfortable ). During the two weeks we were away, we only stayed at one campsite and instead pitched up in lay-bys and rural areas, which were perfectly adequate. Service stations on toll roads often provide particularly good camping facilities including showers, picnic tables, wifi and wooded areas to pitch tents. However, I would personally avoid toll roads through Europe unless you’re really pushed for time, you can always find somewhere wild to camp and I’d rather save the money! That said, always check how much distance/time the toll roads will save you, if it saves three hours and costs ten euros then it’ll probably be cheaper than the extra fuel! Food for thought. I’m going to share just a quick overview of the road trip to Barcelona and let the photos do the rest ( including more recent shots from some of my other adventures since returning to the UK ).
After departing the ferry at Calais ( around 3am ) we made haste to Bordeaux avoiding all toll roads and instead taking the scenic route. The van purred through southern France along stunning b-roads as we hauled ass from Bordeaux to the truly epic Spanish surf resort, San Sebastian. We all agreed that our time spent fighting for our lives in the most insane waves we’d ever seen had to be one of best memories from the trip. We left San Sebastian and gradually made our way to Barcelona along a deserted dual carriageway that weaved through the mountains. The silky smooth road went on for hundreds of KM’s and treated us to some absolutely breath taking scenery. That night we pulled into a layby, set up the tablet and had ourselves an ultra romantic film night…well…Kevin & Perry. Me and Joe ( another keen photographer – Instagram: joe_stokes_ ) got up at 3am to shoot long exposures of the stars, whilst agreeing that life doesn’t really get much better!
The next day we made it to Barcelona and spent our first night in a camp site ( something I’d highly recommend if you’re leaving the van unattended in the city…we found out the hard way! ). We allocated just one day to explore Barcelona and Briggs did an absolutely stellar job in somehow cramming three days worth of sightseeing into twenty-four hours. The next day we head to a water park ( Illa Fantasia ) on the outskirts of the city, parked up in the ‘ secure ’ car park and spent the next three hours enjoying ourselves. However, the trip took a drastic turn for the worst when we returned to the van to find it completely trashed.
As a pretty seasoned traveler I know that you never leave valuables in a vehicle and had stressed the importance of this to my mates, unfortunately this time I had been the one to leave some gear hidden away in the van. I worked my way around the Syncro calmly and took in the damage, relieved that I had all my valuables in my day sack…and then it hit me. The previous night I had got my Macbook, Go-Pro gear and a few other valuables out with the intention of getting on top of some of my work. Instead, I’d decided to do it in the morning and thus slipped the gear into one of the cupboards. It took me about ten minutes for the penny to drop. As I more frantically searched through the sea of clothes and personal items I realised they’d also taken some of the upgrades I’d made to the van. All in all, I lost over £1500 worth of stuff….and felt pretty crappy. However, in these moments it’s important to see the positives…me and all my mates were safe and I couldn’t help laughing as they pointed out the thieves had failed to take Lord of the Rings Monopoly & Settlers of Catan…amateurs!
We immediately called over the parking ‘ security staff ’ and asked how they couldn’t have seen the van be completely ransacked in broad daylight to which they replied ‘ this is Spain ’ and walked off…cheers. However, whilst clearing up the mess I noticed a shifty guy with parking written on his back inspect all the cars in the distance and disappear behind a truck in the far corner. I went to investigate and found him sitting in a clapped out car hidden from view, I asked him politely to get out of the car numerous times and eventually he did. I enquired why he had parking written on his back when he clearly didn’t work for the water park but he gave no answer, Briggs also quizzed him in Spanish but to no avail. Meanwhile, the ‘ security ’ guard, who had shown absolutely no interest previously, rushed down out of breath and asked me not to speak to the guy sitting in the car…it all started to make sense. I demanded to see inside the car knowing that the Spanish police would do nothing, but our stuff had been taken elsewhere. After the police refused to come out we spent over three hours going to numerous stations before anyone would talk to us. Anyways, I wanted to share this rather unfortunate turn of events to stress the importance of always double checking you have all valuables before leaving your vehicle for any period of time. We live and we learn. Quite honestly in the grand scheme of things it was just a blip in a truly incredible road trip. The guys asked if I wanted to head back early, but there was no way I was going to let the robbery ruin my adventure, after all, we still had Lord of the Rings Monopoly! We headed to a friends village in the mountains and that night joined the annual village party….2am – 7 am…live bands, traditional Spanish music, dancing and my best mates…it was epic. The next day we spent chilling at our friends flat and playing shoulder wars in the pool before saying our goodbyes to Briggs and making our way home through the Pyrenees.
The van smashed the journey back to the UK in less than two days and successfully completed a truly epic adventure. Since returning home its explored Devon, Cornwall, Wales, Somerset and will be accompanying me to the Isle of Skye.
Right, so there’s a brief overview of the vans progress so far, the next instalment will be discussing stage one of the restoration process. As always thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the first entry of Ancient Syncrology.
| Photos taken on Canon 6D + Canon AE-1 35mm film camera |