And just like that, we’re back in Wisconsin. Our adventure in Colorado came to an abrupt end, with equal measures of regret and relief. Without getting into too many details, I will say this: I never want to work with tourists again. Rich, entitled, whiny tourists. They are the worst. Oh, and mask mandates. I will never work where I have to be the mask police again.
Having said that, Colorado was wonderful. Being able to look out our window and see snow covered mountains has been so uplifting. I’ve snowboarded more in the last two months that I have in the last twelve years. We met so many great co-workers, many of whom shared our passion for the outdoors. We’ll miss it.
Luckily, we’ve kept our options open over the last year, and our former trucking company welcomed us back with open arms. We are finishing up our orientation now, and have already been assigned our truck (another Volvo, YES!). We signed a lease on an apartment near Appleton, and should be moving in at the beginning of February.
So, we’re back to “normal” life, for now. As normal as driving a big rig all over the country can be, anyway. We’re so grateful for the opportunity to traipse around the country for the past seven months. We’ve seen and experienced so much, from California, to Oregon, and eventually to Colorado. We encourage everyone to chase your own adventure, your own passions. You only have a short time on this planet, and you owe it to yourself to live it to the fullest. Stay tuned for what’s next…
Tim: “We live in freakin’ Colorado!” It seems like every day, Charisse and I say this to each other, like we can’t believe our good fortune. It really is beautiful here, and the opportunities for outdoor adventure are nearly limitless. We’ve already gotten a bit of snowboarding in, as nearby Keystone resort is partially open. Charisse is slowly building her skills. Before long, she’ll be ripping down the mountain with me.
Our new jobs as transit bus drivers for the Town are going great. Because the ski resort isn’t open yet, the town is pretty quiet, except on weekends. So that can make for monotonous circuits around town driving the buses. Except when moose decide to make an appearance! Yes, we regularly see moose as we drive our routes. Big bulls, cows, and sometimes calves, all meandering around through people’s yards. We also see a lot of fox, along with coyotes and deer.
Although mountain biking is mostly done for the season, we were able to get in a few fun rides here, and we’ve been happy to get some hiking in, too, before the snow really flies. There is so much history here, with old gold mines and structures dotting the landscape.
We’ve also decided to attempt to hike the 567 mile Colorado Trail. I’ll be detailing THAT new quest in a separate post.
Other than that, we’ve just been trying to soak up everything that Breck has to offer. Museums and shops run the length of historic Main Street. Dining opportunities (a lot of them with awesome happy hour specials) are endless, and every place seems to have an outdoor patio to enjoy the views. And of course, the beer tastes so good after a day enjoying the outdoors!
Maverick: Rooster has been saying for a while now he’d like to spend just one season as a “ski bum”, working at or near a ski resort and living on the cheap. And being in Kernville all summer at MRA had just whet our appetite for this nomadic/seasonal lifestyle. So we began looking at ski resort jobs: snow grooming, lift operation, making snow. While all sounded interesting in their own way, we started looking seriously at shuttle driving positions throughout the western states, leveraging our CDL’s to make a bit more money.
We honed in on Breckenridge, Colorado (at 9600 ft in elevation), which is a mecca for outdoor adventurers of every type. It has a beautiful downtown filled with shops, amazing food, and breweries. Whether you’re into summer sports (hiking, biking) or winter (ski, snowboard, etc), the options are limitless.
We interviewed for several driving positions, and landed jobs with the town for Breck FreeRide, a free transit service for locals and tourists. Furnished housing was available at a huge discount, the money was right, and…you know…BRECKENRIDGE!! Easy decision.
When we left bike mechanic school in Ashland, we did some mountain biking in Bend and Moab, then headed home to Wisconsin for a brief visit with family and friends. We arrived on October 4th. We rolled in at the perfect time, too…the aspens were golden and daily temps were still in the 70’s. By the end of the day, we were fully moved in, and started work the next morning. Our new team is fantastic, and we’ve been in training all week. Driving a bus isn’t all that dissimilar to the big rig we were used to, and we have both caught on quickly. We’ll likely be set loose on our own routes this coming week.
It’s shoulder season here, so the streets aren’t too busy…yet. We’ve heard that once the snow flies and the resort opens, this place gets absolutely crazy. A gondola up to the slopes leaves right out of town, so we’ve got easy access up the mountain. Which, with our freshly minted Epic Pass, we plan to use to the fullest extent possible!
Rooster’s already a snowboarder; I’ve tried skiing in the past, and never fell in love with it. So, I’m strapping on a snowboard and learning at the grand ol’ age of 47…and I am SO excited!! Our to do list this week has been to hit up all of the pre-season sales to get some great deals on gear, and as I write this today, we’re fully set up to hit the slopes when the snow flies. We had a light dusting last night, so after getting the bindings installed on my board this morning, we were out in the frosty grass outside our apartment doing some skills and drills.
While the elevation change has been a big adjustment (our first day walking briskly to work had us pretty breathless), neither of us really experienced elevation sickness, which we’re grateful for. Walking or biking or hopping on the bus to do errands and explore town has been a welcome change from needing a vehicle to go everywhere. We’ll be excited to share more pics and videos once we’re both hitting the slopes, with plenty of me falling down, no doubt. For now, enjoy the scenery we’ve witnessed this past week, and stay tuned!
Rooster: Maverick decided she wanted to wrench on bicycles. She had been helping me with a couple of the bikes that needed fixing at MRA, and really fell in love with the satisfaction that comes from resurrecting an ailing machine. She also wanted to maintain her own mountain bike without relying on me. Plus, if we want to keep up this nomadic lifestyle, it helps to have some portable skills. It was a great idea.
So we both decided to take a course on bicycle mechanics. I’ve been wrenching on bikes since I was a kid, but I’m a self-taught hack, so it was time to learn the proper way to do things. We found a week long course in Ashland, Oregon called United Bicycle Institute (UBI).
The instructors and facility were amazing, and I can’t believe how much we learned in just one week. The bike industry is exploding with new technology and riding styles right now, and it was almost overwhelming to explore the possibilities. Plus, Ashland is a beautiful town, with a great biking culture. These folks are hardcore. I was invited with some locals on their “casual” Wednesday night ride, and it nearly broke me: it started with a 4 mile climb with over 1600 feet of elevation gain. Easily the hardest climb I’ve ever done. Then, bombing amazing single track back into town. Total stoke!
Since we were in Oregon, we decided to take a trip up to Bend. I had been there a couple years back with my Mantrek buddies, and had been telling Mav that we had to ride Mt. Bachelor. It’s a ski resort that has lift serviced mountain biking (no climbing!), and there were a couple runs that I knew she would love.
But Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating. At around 6000’ of elevation, even the parking lot was getting a layer of wet, windy snow. The mountain bike park decided to shut down. We headed back down to Bend, and it was raining pretty hard there too. But we decided to wait it out. We were rewarded with enough of a break in the weather to enjoy an afternoon session on some local trails.
So, as I write this, we are back on the road. We are heading back to Wisconsin to visit friends and family. In addition, we’ll be preparing for our next adventure, which I’ll detail soon!
Rooster: I’ve been slacking! Our time in Kernville has been a whirlwind of activity. As I write this, we’ve already left California for new adventures. I’ll get to those in future posts, but let’s wrap up all the great times we had on the Kern River.
We had previously mentioned on Facebook that a fire that sprung up nearby in August, but it’s hard to convey the devastation that these things cause. As we left Kernville on Friday, the French Fire had consumed over 25,000 acres, and was only about 55% contained. It had burned several buildings and a couple residences. The smoke in the air ranged from being a mild eyesore to blocking the sun, irritating your eyes and lungs. While Kernville itself was never critically in danger, Maverick and I often drove up into the high country after work to get away from the smoke, and stayed overnight in the van. But even that option was taken away when California closed all National Forests in the state. Other, even more destructive fires had stretched the fire and support crews so thin that they closed most public lands.
Despite all this, work carried on at Mountain River Adventures. Because of our very low water year, whitewater rafting was over by mid July. We concentrated on standup paddleboard (SUP) and mountain biking trips, which Mav and I both had a chance to guide. The campground filled up every weekend with city folks looking for some fun on an unusually calm river. Being in the desert meant that we would often cap off a hot day of work by soaking in the river with a cold drink.
We had a very welcome visitor from Wisconsin: Robin, aka ”Toots Magoots”! She hiked the PCT in 2013, and was also the inspiration for us getting into trucking. We were able to give her a little taste of our life by taking her on a three day roadtrip. We started by going to the Sequoia National Forest to see the big trees. We camped there the first night, then took a long meandering drive to the base of Mount Whitney. Along the way we stopped at Kennedy Meadows to visit the general store there, an iconic place among PCT hikers. We camped at the Whitney Portal that night, and took a beautiful, but strenuous 14 mile hike the next day. Our destination was Meysan Lake, an alpine lake above 11,000 feet. Toots wasn’t leaving without jumping into the frigid waters, and Mav and I couldn’t let her do it alone! That night, we camped down in the Alabama Hills, an eerie landscape where hundreds of Westerns were filmed.
Living in the van has been mostly good. The absolute freedom we have to just bug out to a new place, and enjoy our coffee with a beautiful view makes us giddy at our good fortune. It’s also rewarding to live within such an efficient space. We have only what we need, and it’s all within arm’s reach. Even when we stayed in the campground, we would sit and stare at the mountains, enjoying the antics of the deer, lizards, and woodpeckers that shared our space.
The downsides have been few, with our small and not particularly comfortable bed topping the list. I’ve also been fighting through some electrical issues. Despite all the insulation we installed, our refrigerator still had to work overtime in the 100+ degree heat. This often led to the solar panels not being able to keep the battery topped off. A combination of more ventilation fans, an isolator, and a strategy of parking in the sun in the morning, and shade in the afternoon have improved matters somewhat. Once we start heading to cooler climes, I’m hoping this will become a non-issue.
As we move on, we reflect on our good health and fortune to be able to live this life. We have met so many great people this summer, and deepened relationships with others. Tops on this list are John and Rhonda at MRA, who have been so gracious and welcoming. We consider them lifelong friends, and know that our paths will cross again.
Enjoy the pictures, it was a struggle to pare them down! More updates to follow…
Life has been a happy blur since we arrived in Cali. It’s busy season at MRA, so there’s been no end to the projects and daily tasks that need accomplished. We’ve been spending time in the bustling office/store, driving shuttle buses/vans full of excited rafters, and turning wrenches on mountain bikes. We are SO loving it. But it’s been HOT. Oppressively hot. As you probably know, the west/southwest is experiencing unprecedented highs in temperature, and this area is no exception. Even when there’s wind, it’s like an oven blowing in your face. So, when we both had the same two days off, we ran to the mountains for an off-grid trip that would allow us to cool off and be rejuvenated.
Tim had spent an overnight in Big Meadow while I was in Washington, and just fell in love with the area and how secluded it was. And so, after a stop at McNally’s for a [locally] famous burger and milkshake, we drove the 90 minutes around winding roads, deeper into the Sequoia National Forest so I could experience what he’d found. It was beautiful, and not a soul in sight.
Our first afternoon, we lazed around in the hammock, played cards, and watched the meadow for animals (Tim had seen a bear the last time there). It was cold enough to need our sleeping bags that night in the van, versus the single sheet we’d been sleeping on since we arrived in the desert.
The next morning, we relaxed with coffee and a view, then packed up for the day’s adventure. We rode our mountain bikes two miles toward Siretta Peak (elev 9977’), our goal for the day, on loose, sandy roads. After locking them off-trail, we threw on our packs and started up the even sandier hiking trail. It was warm but gorgeous out. The trail was steep, gaining 2,000 feet in just over 2 miles. Near the top, the well-tread trail fell away, and we followed cairns to the pile of boulders we scrambled up to reach the summit. What an incredible view in all directions. After signing the register, we sat in the sun with a breeze and ate lunch, then headed back down to camp. The entire trek was only around 9 miles, but we’re still acclimating to being active at elevation, and spent the evening in rest/recovery mode. We’ve just scratched the surface of the playgrounds at our fingertips here, and are so excited to continue exploring!
What does that even mean? A “skoolie” is vanlife’s bigger cousin: a school bus that has been converted into a recreational vehicle. What they lose in mobility and fuel mileage, they make up for in space. We see lots of them around, and it’s really taking off in areas where rent has become incredibly expensive.
With that in mind, the owners here at Mountain River Adventures had a couple buses to sell. They both fell victim to California’s more restrictive regulations for older commercial vehicles. So I thought they would make a good skoolie candidates.
I put ads up in the usual places (FB and craigslist), but also on a site called skoolielivin.com. One bus eventually did sell to a production crew in Hollywood. Apparently ESPN is going to convert it into a “fan bus”. So keep an eye out for commercials with an old International bus, probably with LA Chargers colors.
But the other one is the subject of this post. Last night Maverick and I (we’ve reverted to our trail names here!) had the pleasure of handing the keys over to our new friend Deanna. She is a Los Angeles resident that has been searching for the right bus for quite a while. When she saw the ad for “Walkin’ Tall”, she knew she had to make the trip inland to see it.
And she fell in love with it! We’re so excited to see her enthusiasm and passion to start this new chapter in her life. She even kept the bus’ name! Feel free to follow her Instagram at walkintallsjourney_72521
Just a quick update and short video to let everyone know we made it to our new home. We had a great road trip, stopping in Iowa to see most of the Sinksen clan. We also stopped in Salt Lake City to see my sister Deana and nephew Sam.
We had very few problems, although we did discover a slight leak in the roof of the van during a downpour in Nebraska. Time to get the caulk gun out! We’re learning to live and work in this tiny space without killing each other, lol.
We are in Kernville California at Mountain River Adventures. We’ll be working in the office, on the grounds, and driving shuttle buses for rafters and bikers.
The van is parked near the climbing wall, where we can watch deer, birds, lizards, and the occasional skunk. We’re only about 50 yards from the Kern River, thus living up to our “van down by the river” ethos.
If anyone is thinking about a beautiful getaway in the Southern Sierras, this is it! Hiking, biking, rafting, fishing, kayaking, some craft breweries, and surprisingly good dining options are all here. Let us know, we would love to share this playground with everyone!
And with that, here’s a bunch of pics of me staring at wife’s rear end for thousands of miles…
Remember when we first started work on #vanlife, and I joked that soon we’d be living in a van down by the river? Irony is hysterical sometimes.
Charisse and I have been feeling a little burnt out with trucking. Or, more accurately, with the lack of free time. We actually love trucking. Our company has been sending us on western trips primarily, and we love the view out our windshield most days. Even the challenges of weather, traffic, and “hurry up and wait” are tolerable; obstacles to be overcome. We love our big Volvo, which Charisse has dubbed “Maximus”. Once in awhile, an opportunity arises to step out of the truck for a hike, a walk around a cool mountain town, or to feast on street tacos from a food truck. We have freedom to build in time to see loved ones along the way. It really is an interesting and unique life.
But it is a massive time commitment. The typical week for a trucker is: out for 5-5 ½ days, home for 1½-2. That’s over 120 hours a week in the truck. When you get home, it’s a flurry of trying to see a couple loved ones, make it to scheduled appointments, maybe get a little recreation in, and do all the laundry and food prep for the next trip. And, of course, enjoy some quality sleep in a bed that isn’t moving.
We knew some of these drawbacks going in. But the cumulative effect of almost two years of bad sleep and limited physical activity has been taking its toll. It’s time for a change. It’s time to get back outside.
If you’ve been reading our blog for awhile, you’ll remember that when we were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2019, we hopped off the trail for six weeks. The snowpack in the Sierra Nevadas had been nearly impassable, so we decided to pause and let it melt out. We found work at a whitewater rafting campground named Mountain River Adventures in Kernville, California. We worked on projects, in the office, on the climbing wall, and in the mountain bike rental department. The owners, John and Rhonda, welcomed us in graciously. We loved being around the “river rat” community, which isn’t very dissimilar to the hiker trash crowd. All in this beautiful playground where the mountains and desert meet.
On a whim, we called John and Rhonda, and asked if they had any work for us. After hammering out some details, we excitedly agreed to come down and work at least the rest of the rafting season, possibly longer. We’ll be hitting the road for California on June 20th. And we’re literally going to be living in a van down by the river!
After that? The only firm plan we have is to resume hiking on the PCT around June of 2022. That will last until about October 2022, after which we will probably return to Wisconsin. So from fall of this year to summer of next year, we are nomads. We have several possibilities to explore, from migrating south to work, remaining in Kernville (in an apartment, it gets cold there), picking up a trucking job, working at a ski resort, etc. We may be able to help John and Rhonda open the 2022 rafting season.
But we really are flying without a net here. Which is scary as hell, but exhilarating at the same time.
April 16th, 2020 was the day. It was the day when Charisse and I plopped down good money on a big, white, creeper van. COVID-19 was in it’s infancy, the stock market had just crashed, the political landscape was predictably in shambles, and increased racial tensions were on the horizon; perfect time for a bug-out vehicle!
April 16th, 2021 (exactly one year later) was the day I officially declared “mission accomplished”. It’s been a long, rewarding, and sometimes painful ride. We lost an entire summer of mountain biking/kayaking/hiking/recreating while building this thing, but I think it’s been worth it. We now have a fully independent vehicle capable of housing all our outdoor gear, keeping us warm/cool/dry/safe, with the capability to cook, eat, sleep, clean, use the bathroom, and………., relax.
We had a rough budget of about $13,000 when we started (including the van itself). I started a spreadsheet to detail every dollar we spent. I was initially diligent about updating it, but then started getting lazy sometime around the holidays. Luckily, by then most of the big ticket items were already purchased. We were up to $13,500 at that point, and with the awning and several odds and ends, I estimate we probably have about $15,000 invested. That does NOT include all the tools I bought and the sewing machine. Judging by what I see similar vans selling for, I estimate the van, (wait, CAMPER!) is now worth roughly $24,000.
We want to thank all our friends and family for the enthusiasm and support we’ve received while working through this crazy dream! We really hope you’ve enjoyed the process and the finished product. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or comments.
We especially hope that any potential vanlifers found this build to be informative and helpful. We have found so much useful information from other vanlifers, and we felt compelled to add our humble abode to the mix. Also, anyone wishing to get the entire text and pics of the Vanlife Build without looking through our clunky blog, contact me, and I’ll email the entire thing in a Word doc.
And now, it’s time for adventure!
Post script: Yesterday, I was sorting through all the boxes of left over building materials, trying to decide what to keep and what to trash. I came across the initial sketch I had drawn of the layout we wanted:
Pretty close! The fridge and pantry are where the bathroom was planned, the sink is further away from the stove, and toilet wound up wedged in the back. I might have to frame this somewhere in the van.
(Charisse) Our getaways usually revolve around an outdoor activity: mountain biking, kayaking, snow sports, backpacking, etc. But sometimes, what you really need is to take a couple days to rest, breathe, and completely unplug. And, we hadn’t planned much to celebrate Tim’s birthday or our anniversary, so off to the Airbnb app we went to find the perfect mini vacay. We hit the jackpot with this one.
Tucked away in the hills of southwestern Wisconsin, is Griff Run, a tiny cottage on an alpaca farm.
Have I mentioned I’m obsessed with alpacas?
Though everything was still brown from winter, this adorable farm couldn’t have been a happier, more peaceful, more colorful place to hang out for a couple of days. With four alpacas, three friendly dogs (2 huge Pyradors and a Goldendoodle), a big, sweet tomcat, and chickens, we got our animal fix like nobody’s business.
Shawna and Matt were so welcoming and toured us around their property, telling us of the plans they have to expand on the Airbnb circuit. Thoughtful touches like fresh eggs in our fridge, locally-roasted coffee beans, and alpaca treats made us feel right at home. We read, played cards, drank wine, slept in, enjoyed a leisurely coffee and breakfast, played with the dogs, and giggled (mostly me) while we hung out with the chickens and alpacas.
We spent both nights doing this after dinner.
And we got to check out their cool old root cellar.
We did end up taking a hike the next day around the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, with a picnic at the end near an artesian well and THIS…
And now, please enjoy the ridiculous number of pics and videos below of my favorite animal on the planet. Maybe you’ll be obsessed with them, too.
I hadn’t planned on getting an awning for the side of the van. For some reason, I mistakenly thought they all cost around $2000. I figured we’d just get one of those pop-up canopies, and put it next to the van when we stopped. But then I got word that a coworker’s brother might be selling one, so I decided to see what price he had in mind.
I’m really glad I did! He had a nearly new ARB 2500 Touring, which retails for around $350. It’s 8′ x 8′, and comes in a soft pouch that attaches to the top of the van. Included in the sale was the matching screen house, which retails for another $220. All this for the bargain price of $300!
ARB seems to be the leading manufacturer of a variety of canopies, and this seems very well built. It has a long aluminum frame that has channels for specially designed bolts to slide into. That’s really the only hardware it comes with. ARB realizes that the configurations to mount this to your roof are nearly endless, so their website has a couple of suggestions for accessories you can get. Plus, consulting “YouTube University” is always helpful.
I knew that I had to somehow tie this in with my existing Yakima roof system. I settled on these very beefy “L” brackets from ARB. They were $22 each, and I needed two (Amazon). I also realized that I was going to need yet another crossbar, this one near the side doors. Luckily, I still had a pair of used rain gutter risers from the purchase I made for the wind deflector. I purchased a pair of 66″ Yakima crossbars from REI (normally $100, but my REI dividend covered it. Love REI).
First, I attached the L brackets to the frame, using the existing hardware. I left them loose to slide them to fit.
The next thing was to drill three holes each in the two crossbars it would be hanging from. I wasn’t a big fan of doing that, but the alternative was using something like a hose clamp.
Charisse and I took the whole assembly outside, and bolted it to the underside of the crossbars. It looked great, but…, it sure was sticking out there a lot. There was a fairly wide gap between the roof of the van and the awning frame. At first, I didn’t think there was much I could do, because the L brackets were already tight up to the risers. But the more I looked at the L brackets, I realized they were so beefy, I could get away with hacking off a good 2-3″. This would move the whole assembly closer to the van. Where’s my saw?
So, back onto the van it went. MUCH better.
Now, it was time to play around with this thing. I will say that it is a lot easier to set this up with two people, only taking about two minutes to get the awning into place. With one person, it is incredibly awkward, but still doable. The screen house uses a clever channel system to attach to the front and back, with C clips and stakes to hold the rest into place. It seems very secure once it’s all staked. And there you have it!
Post script: You may have noticed that the entire assembly is positioned to cover the side “barn doors”. This was because we had this idea that maybe, with the screen up and keeping the bugs away, we could leave the doors open at night. It turns out the screen zipper doesn’t line up at all with the door. Plus the open doors really intrude into the awning space. So I will be repositioning the entire thing aft about 3 feet.