Welcome to the van.
Words and photos: Ethan Stone
Mt. Hood, OR to Seattle, WA
“I actually have no idea what we’re doing,” says Andy Parry with a mouthful of noodles.
We’re at a pho place near Tacoma, Washington, with pictures of balmy South Asian beaches and tantalizing Asian dishes on the wall. Between slurps of beefy broth, I've asked Andy what the plan is for tonight.
Until now I have only received vague details of the itinerary. We are to proceed from Mt. Hood to Seattle, retrieve Will Wesson and the Traveling Circus van, and head east for Montreal, where Andy, Will and the van are expected at the IF3 festival in a few weeks’ time. I've always wanted to check out IF3, and have some business in Montreal, too, and Andy has offered me a ride in the van... so now here I am, eating pho and finding out that we're supposed to pick up Will at the airport in an hour, and that we have no idea where we're sleeping tonight.
“Welcome to the Traveling Circus,” Andy says. It’s going to an interesting ride.
Seattle, WA to Anaconda, MT
“Well, they didn’t change the windshield.”
We have just arrived at K2 Sports's cavernous headquarters and warehouse in Seattle to pick up our conveyance to the East Coast. The Traveling Circus van is looking good after some much-needed repairs and replacements: new tires, new lights, and a thorough cleaning inside. No new windshield, though, and Andy and Will assure me that many other mechanical problems lurk beneath the pretty vinyl wrap.
Loading up the van.
We load up the van and Andy and Will get geared up for their upcoming trip to the UK while I prowl the halls, scoping all of the vintage K2 memorabilia adorning the walls--old posters with Glen Plake, the Mahre brothers, and many more--and ogling the chain-link enclosure marked "Line/Full Tilt Marketing Goods" until Line Marketing Guru Eric Newgard takes pity and gives me a fresh snap-back and a backpack.
Will and Andy, raiding the candy jar.
Ever wonder why Will is so slippery on rails?
We queeze in a quick skate on the headquarters mini-pipe, then hit the highway, headed east. I stretch out in the back seat for a nap, and by the time I wake, we’re cruising through the golden wheat fields of eastern Washington.
We talk about freeskiing. Will says that “freeskiing” is any skiing that takes place outside of a structured skiing environment—-like when race coaches tell their kids to “go freeski for a lap,” to leave the training course behind and go skiing just for fun. In his view, freeskiing cannot be competitive, and once it becomes a competition, it’s no longer freeskiing.
Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Missoula. We make short work of the Idaho panhandle, stopping only at the 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar in Hougen, Montana for a mandatory tourist visit. Andy buys a set of camouflaged throwing knives, and very quickly we determine that camouflaged throwing knives are a very bad idea. Good luck finding those suckers!
In Missoula I am given the protocol briefing on Safeway stops with the Traveling Circus crew: Get what you need, then meet at the sandwich counter for WiFi. Will and Andy are seasoned road warriors, and Safeways—-with their soups, sandwiches and free WiFi—-have become indispensable waypoints.
We spend the next few hours listening to documentaries about aliens on Youtube, like the former Canadian Minister of Defence’s UFO revelations and conspiracies about aliens and the Vatican, before pulling over for the night next to a small lake somewhere near Anaconda, Montana. With the Milky Way splashed across the sky above our heads, we watch for shooting stars, and ponder the existence of extraterrestrial life.
Sunrise outside Anaconda, Montana.
Anaconda, MT to Lander, WY
“What’s the password for the TC Instagram again?” Andy asks, for the third time today.
Andy, waiting impatiently on a geyser.
We’re at Yellowstone, waiting for Old Faithful. Andy has been impatient, demanding that the geysers produce their spurts as soon as he’s ready. He doesn’t like to wait. I entertain myself by taking photos of what I consider the most interesting visual aspect of Old Faithful--the endless camera-toting tourist hordes.
Gaping at Old Faithful.
We have spent the morning walking among bubbling cauldrons and steaming pools. In all their journeys across the country, Andy and Will have never been to Yellowstone, so now we're packing it all in.
Staying on the walkway for your own safety? So overrated.
In the afternoon we move on, cruising past the Tetons and opting to skip Jackson for a more direct route to Denver. We stop to watch a gorgeous sunset over the mountains, then head southeast on Route 287, making camp for the night south of Lander, Wyoming, up the rugged canyon of the interestingly named Agie Popo River.
This is one Wyoming sunset that will not go undocumented.
Andy and Will have their own beds in the back of the van, and tonight I attempt to sleep inside as well, on the rear seat. The windows are up (Will has a thing about bugs) and the inside of the van is as sweaty and pungent as an armpit. After an extremely uncomfortable ten minutes, I throw in the towel, and pitch my tent outside. I don’t know how those guys can sleep in that metal coffin.
Stars over Wyoming.
Lander, WY to Denver, CO
The cattle in the canyon have left us undisturbed through the night. We make quick time on the four-hour drive to Denver, stopping only to spray-paint the top of the van with a greeting to any aliens that might be looking down at us. Will adds a waving monster and some sound financial advice for the aliens: “Buy Gold.”
“What’s the stupid Instagram password again?” Andy asks.
In Denver, the Level 1 office is a flurry of activity. A bunch of the stars of Partly Cloudy are hanging out, kids are snagging autographs and overpriced hoodies, and Freedle Coty is putting the final touches on a brilliant pre-movie comedy roll for tonight’s big premiere. Some kind of hot-rod show is going down on the street outside—-lots of greasy dudes in leather jackets and girls dressed like pin-up dolls. Josh Berman takes some of the crew down the street in search of food. Andy walks along the row of classic cars, identifying each: “Bugatti. Bugatti. Bugatti.”
Andy greets some TC fans outside the Level 1 office.
The Partly Cloudy premiere goes down at the City Hall Amphitheatre in downtown Denver. Andy finagles one of the special free-drink wristbands from Josh Berman and I make sure to stay close whenever he heads for the bar. The theatre fills up and we watch The Wallisch Project, then Partly Cloudy comes on. We cheer loud for Will’s awesome opening segment, which I am still sober enough to appreciate. This cannot be said for the rest of the movie, which slowly blurs together into one big mess of free drinks, cheering crowds, and crazy skiing.
The premiere. Photo courtesy of Jordan Harper/Level 1.
Slowly the evening disappears in a haze. The afterparty has a strange vibe, with not enough people on the dance floor and overly aggressive security guards. After we’re booted from the bar at 2am, the zealous security personnel take pains to inform us that we will be maced if we don’t get off the sidewalk in front of their establishment. Thanks for the hospitality guys!
Denver, CO to Iowa 80
The next day it’s all business. We’ve got a lot of miles to cover through the “flyover states” of the Midwest. Andy puts in a solid 14-hour day behind the wheel, carrying us across Colorado, Nebraska and almost all of Iowa. In the van, we talk about skiing, what’s good, what’s bad, the industry, aliens, and so on. Meanwhile, Andy’s girlfriend keeps him updated on the status of his cat every few hours with photos and videos on his phone.
Making decisions with a group is never easy. Even with just three of us in the van, it’s difficult to please everyone in the choice of music, routes, stops, and so on. I prefer to sleep outside of cities, in the country, whereas Will likes to stay closer to civilization.
I wonder aloud what it’s like with six or seven dudes packed into the van, plus all their gear, trying to decide together where and when to ski, eat, and sleep. Will and Andy say that the secret is to declare that it’s somebody’s “birthday.” Whoever’s “birthday” it is gets to make all the decisions for the day.
We all agree on our home for the night: the parking lot the Iowa 80 Truckstop, purportedly the world’s largest, but for all its endless trinkets and souvenirs, we can’t find a decent FM transmitter for music in the van. Thirteen bucks to take a shower? No thanks, I think I’ll stay dirty.
Courtesy Line Traveling Circus Instagram
Iowa 80 to Victor, NY
Day two of the flyover states. We get caught in traffic on I-80: a tanker truck carrying a load of vegetable oil has overturned, spilling its contents across both sides of the highway. After an hour of waiting, we sneak out of the jam-up and find a way around on county roads, endless cornfields streaming past on either side.
We’re starting to get to familiar territory for my two East Coast-bred companions. Will points out the exit for the Ohio town where Kyle Decker grew up, and shortly after, the town that Radio Ron of Meatheads fame is from.
An audiobook of George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” carries us the rest of the way to Victor, New York—Andy and Will’s hometown. We pull in at five in the morning and drop Will off at his parents’ house. I get the spare bedroom in the Parry household.
Andy at home. Photo: Traveling Circus Instagram
Victor, NY to Burlington, VT
In Victor the van gets an oil change, Andy and Will visit their families, and I get to try out Andy’s favorite local pizza shop. It reminds me of what people say about skiing on the East Coast-—that old ditty about how if you can ski here, you can ski anywhere. Well, if you can eat the pizza at this place, you can eat pizza anywhere. Soon enough we’re on our way again, headed for Burlington.
Along the way, Will and Andy point out all the features of their old stomping grounds—rails they’ve hit, rails they want to hit, rails they re-consider whether it’s possible to hit. We stop for pizza again.
It’s my first time in Burlington. Lake Champlain gleams in the afternoon sun as we walk through town to the Orage office, where the boys have a date to re-sign their contracts for the coming season. Mike Nick and Steve Herrick give us a warm welcome and fill us in on the details of the brand’s recent change of hands. Andy congratulates Mike Nick on the irony of his now being in control the company that bought out his own brand, Siver Cartel, back in the day.
Dinner is at Pizza Verita--yes, pizza again, but this joint features an oven imported from Europe that bakes at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and a menu that’s mostly in Italian. Yes, TC can be classy--but only when someone else is footing the bill.
After dinner, we walk through a downpour to a Burlington college flophouse that could have been used as a set for Animal House. It’s a huge, ramshackle shell of a once-grand Victorian townhouse whose current occupants seem to have been doing nothing but drinking since they moved in. The floor of the attic where Stept Productions filmer George Watts lives is sagging and ready to collapse into the room underneath at any time. It’s George’s 21st birthday, and his friends and housemates are hard at work getting him blackout drunk before heading to the bar. We hang out for a while watching the college shenanigans before heading to Steve’s place to crash.
Burlington to Montreal
In the morning we pay a visit to the Meatheads lair in Geoff McDonald’s basement, where the boys get more swag and Andy, always the charmer, crashes a remote-control helicopter into the TV.
We snag breakfast at a homey, Vermonty place outside of town with the Meatheads, where we’re confronted by two national executives of USASA who have spotted our two excessively branded vehicles in the parking lot and want to meet the famous people.
Rooster, Geoff, Andy and Will show off their excessively branded vehicles.
Farther north, we learn that “one does not simply drive into the Winooski traffic circle” from a crude Boromir print-out in the liquor store there, where we stop to stock up on inexpensive booze before the Canadian border.
At the border we’re waved to the side, and a pair of female Quebecois border officers start to search the van, before realizing that it’s either too messy or too smelly to make any serious effort. At the immigration counter, the officer interviewing us can’t keep a straight face when I tell him that my companions are professional skiers.
“Oh yes?” he asks, his eyes betraying fandom. “Do they have sponsors?” I list off a few - Line, Full Tilt, Bugatti. We have no further trouble.
On the other side of the border, all the signs are in French. Soon the Montreal skyline rises on the horizon. We’ve made it. Now please, get me the hell out of this van.
Stop-and-go traffic in Montreal.
At IF3, Traveling Circus was shot down in its bid for its fourth consecutive “Best Webisode” Award – the honor went instead to Switchback Entertainment’s “The Burn.” However, Andy and Will's inconsolable anguish was assuaged by a fan who brought them poutine.
"Road to IF3" edit by Will Wesson