The Invasive Species in the Wheel Well
Steward bigfoot with flashlight beaming from under face. Orange tent and starry sky in background.

Let’s get our blood pumping for the spookiest of months — with a new invasive species urban legend! 

I guarantee you haven’t heard this one. 

So: it’s autumn. A couple has left their upper Midwest world behind. They’re living the van life! They’re winery-hopping with their favorite music on, parking to sleep by the Atlantic, finding the best pizza spots in New Jersey, hitting up the Catskills, working remotely at all the hippest pie shops and maple syrup joints. Up next: White Mountain National Forest. It’s a regular New England van dream.

One day in the mountains they get this feeling that another vehicle is following them. It’s a public lands fire engine! Every move the couple makes, the engine follows, and uniformed employees seem to have binoculars trained on the van! The van turns left, the engine turns left. The van turns around in a parking lot, the engine does the same. As they keep driving, the engine gets closer, closer, and flashes its brights! What the heck?! Turn, flash, flash, turn, all through the forest they go. 

Finally, the couple is totally lost. Scared. Out of gas. They pull onto the shadiest of back roads, get out and shakingly confront the drivers of the engine. 

“Wh-wh-what are you doing?” the van driver asks the foresters. 

“We saw your van back at the visitors center,” one of them says. “We noticed gray splotches under your wheel wells, and we thought they might be spotted lanternfly egg masses. We flashed our brights to get a better look.”

Spotted-what? Aghast, the couple squats down to look. And sure enough, plastered to the metal were smears of a substance that looked like cracked mortar. “I thought this was just mud,” one says to the other. “Check under the van,” a forester says. The bottom of the van was covered in splotches.

“You two could have been spreading a serious problem,” the forester says, as she scrapes the eggs off the van and into a jar of rubbing alcohol. “The spotted lanternfly is an invasive species that destroys timber and crops. That Cape Cod wine you enjoy so much?”

“How do you know about that?” 

“Its grapevines can get ravaged by this invasive insect,” she said, pointing to the collection of winery stickers plastered to their back door. “It’s important to check your vehicle regularly to make sure you don’t spread invasive species from state-to-state.”

With that, the forester did one last check of the van, gave them some gas, and drove off into the night.

Our PlayCleanGo invasive species prevention tips for RV camping apply to van life, too! Learn the tips, love the tips, and you’ll avoid becoming the next invasive species urban legend.


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