About three days into our trip, I found myself sitting on a beach in St. Vincent’s Bay, Newfoundland. It’s pretty stunning in general, but for about six weeks every summer it becomes a particularly breath-taking place to be. Humpback whales are abundant in these waters during that time, and this beach is the perfect spot for land-based whale watching, with humpbacks coming within ten meters of the spectators on the beach. The sea here is teaming with little fish that the whales are feeding on, and the odd bigger wave washes a handful of them ashore – easiest fish BBQ ever.

As I sat there, in awe of these majestic creatures, it occurred to me that this was the first time I had been completely relaxed in a good long while. The previous months had been a crazy frenzy. In preparation for our big trip, my wife and I had bought an old German fire engine. The week I was trying to finish my PhD (a relatively stressful feat in itself) and weekends were spent toiling away on the fire engine to build the perfect campervan. Although we were busy seven days a week, there was something incredibly satisfying about swapping the lab for a real hands-on job with guaranteed progress every weekend.

“We’ve met a lot of amazing people too, and travelling in an old fire truck definitely helps. It’s a great conversation starter”

Most of the rest of our time was spent planning the trip, trying to sort out the logistics of shipping our van to Canada, and insurance for ourselves and the camper. Just two weeks before our departure date I passed my viva. Somehow we also found time to throw in a surprise wedding at our leaving party just ten days before our flight to St. John’s, Newfoundland (at only 5.5 hours flight time from London, this amazing little town should be on everyone’s bucket list!).

We’d been planning this trip for a very long time, and we had both dreamt about driving the Pan-American highway before we’d even met. Now it was finally happening! We had shipped our old fire truck from Liverpool to Halifax on the east coast of Canada. From there we drove across Canada to the west coast and up to Alaska. The plan is to follow the west coast from there until, about 18 months later, we hit Ushuaia in Argentina, the southernmost city in the world.

“We could easily spend our entire trip in Canada and still wouldn’t be able to explore all its breath-taking wilderness”

It’s easy to think you understand that Canada is a big country by looking at the map, but we’ve now realised that only by driving from one coast to the other can you really appreciate just how big it really is. We’ve taken about three months to drive coast to coast and put about 18,000 extra kilometres on the clock of our trusty van. In between, we’ve often felt that we could easily spend our entire trip in this amazing country and still wouldn’t be able to explore all its breath-taking wilderness. There are some great cities too, but it’s the end-of-the-road communities and sitting by a campfire (many lit with pages from my thesis, very therapeutic) in the middle of nowhere in the Yukon that have left the biggest impressions on us. We’ve met a lot of amazing people too, and travelling in an old fire truck definitely helps. It’s a great conversation starter.

Late in October, on our way south from Alaska along the west coast, we hit black ice in northern BC and tipped over the van in a ditch. Dream over? Unfortunately, the damage to the vehicle was pretty substantial. We had crashed in the middle of nowhere and needed to get towed about 700 km to the nearest garage that could help. Two months later we’re still waiting for spare parts from Germany. Fed up with the relentless rain in Vancouver, we hired a car to explore the west coast of the USA whilst we’re waiting. The trip must go on! We’re very sad not to be in our van for this part of our trip, but once it’s back on the road, we’ll head down to Mexico and pick up our trip from there. For now we’re just excited to explore some more of America’s great National Parks.

If you’re interested to find out whether we’re back in our fire truck or want to hear some more stories from on the road, check out @guidiary on facebook and Instagram.