Two for the Road

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Jun 16, 2016 1:15 PM
Steve and Mary Hicks left their Middle Cove, Newfoundland home to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

Steve Hicks is a car guy. He's also a hippie at heart. And he's always dreamed of cruising the back roads of North America with his wife Mary. Six years ago, he bought a 1973 VW Westfalia with plans to fix it up and deck it out for the road trip of a lifetime. But then a health scare brought that to a screeching halt.

Just as he started the restoration project, Steve was diagnosed with cancer. While his trip had to be put on hold, it was never cancelled. Through a series of chemotherapy and surgery, he never lost sight of his dream. In fact, his sickness convinced the couple it was time to slow down in their hectic life and switch their focus from house payments and careers to checking important things off their bucket list. So as soon as he was able in 2012, Steve returned to fixing up the camper and the couple concentrated on saving enough money to take a year off work. Now at 53, four years since his last treatment, Steve is exploring a backcountry road somewhere with Mary in their red VW Wesfalia embellished with peace signs and flowers.

The open road ahead
It was a cold night on September 5, 2015, when Steve and Mary loaded up their VW camper bus, said goodbye to their two grown daughters and their Great Dane Duke, and hit the road. No itinerary, no reservations and no plan other than to cruise into California with the peace, love and free spirits of flower children.

As they drove away, they took one last look at the icy Atlantic Ocean and fantasized about soon dipping their toes into the warm Pacific.

“Preparing for this trip for three years, you have all kinds of dreams of how awesome it will be. You kind of overlook some of the stuff that actually happens. Like, we never ever dreamt that it would rain. In our dreams it was always sunny skies,” says Steve.

But they weren’t on the road long before the dreams faded and reality hit - the cold, damp reality of driving across Newfoundland in the September rain, in an old bus with no heat. “We left at 7 that night and it was cold. It was so cold that Mary and myself, we had a blanket, and as we were driving we were wrapped up in a blanket because there’s no dash heat. That wasn’t part of my dream,” says Steve. Cold and damp with a long road ahead of them, Steve and his wife of almost 30 years snuggled up in the bus as they drove west on the TCH.

As the days and weeks stretched out, the Hickses have settled comfortably into a life of no routine. They answer to no one but themselves.

“We just do what we want to do; we don’t worry about anything - very stress free - and we’ve slowed down to the point that we don’t know how we’ll go back to work and deal with the daily influx of emails and schedules,” says Steve, an instructor at College of the North Atlantic. “We get up in the morning and wonder where are we going today? Wherever the road takes us. We are slow travellers, the bus don’t go very fast.” The camper’s maximum speed is 90 km/h, so in a typical day Steve drives for about five hours and covers anywhere from 75-200 km, depending on how often they stop.

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The Hickses' 1973 VW Westfalia on the open road

They may be driving in the slow lane, but the Hickses have covered a lot of ground. They crossed the border into the United States last fall, driving through small villages and farms; taking in the autumn scenery in the New England States. These guys aren’t doing the tourist thing. They always take the road less travelled and they don’t stay in RV parks. “We stay in state parks, national forests, anywhere the bus blends in with the environment,” says Steve.

They finished the fall season cruising the narrow country roads through the Blue Range Mountains in Virginia, taking time to look in the rear view mirror as the autumn leaves tumbled behind the bus. “We plan a day at a time, and even our daily plans can change if we see something and we want to stop…” and even when they don’t want to stop. Like when the bus broke down while driving through a desolate, run-down town in Oklahoma and they needed a tow. They made friends and repairs, and were cruising again in no time.

Through the dry desert Joshua trees and into the tall pines, the Hickses headed west to the California coast, getting nods from fellow flowerchildren along the way. “The bus is just a magnet for meeting all these people you wouldn’t normally talk to,” says Steve. “In California, where there’s lots of these buses, everyone was giving us the peace sign.” The hippie-approved travellers cruised along the Pacific Coast Highway, sleeping under the giant Californian redwood trees and reminiscing with other baby boomers about the era of peace and love. Nostalgia at its finest. They eventually dipped their toes in the Pacific Ocean, making it an official coast-to-coast journey.

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Mary plays her harp among the California redwoods.

The couple headed south to Big Sur, a sparsely populated, rugged stretch of the California coast surrounded by mountains and the Pacific Ocean - a dreamer's paradise. “To be one with Mother Earth was awesome. Mary took the opportunity to pick a few strings on her harp as the sun peeked through the early morning dew. It was quite moving. It was the first time since Tennessee that we had a forest around us. There are no words to describe the beauty of harp strings being plucked among the redwoods,” described Steve in his travel blog. It was the perfect romantic setting for the two lovebirds to take some time to connect with nature.

Speaking of now you’re probably wondering how this husband and wife travel team have managed spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week together for a year. Steve says the couple hasn’t lost sight of each other, even for a second. “We’ve grown closer. We’ve been married for 28 years. We’ve always done stuff together. Mary’s been my best friend from day one. My soul mate, I guess.” He says he wouldn’t dream of making any journey without her. 

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Steve and Mary, soul mates married for 28 years, in San Francisco

After more than five months on the move, the Hickses took a break and vacationed in Mexico. They headed north back into Canada this spring. Now, they’re making their way east and plan to be back home in Newfoundland sometime in the coming weeks. It’s been a winding road with plenty of unexpected twists, but Steve has his health and the love of his life, and he’s gaining new perspectives along the way. - By Amy Stoodley

Follow Steve’s travel blog to see more of what he and Mary have been up to.