(Maverick) Nearly every time we’ve run to CA, we go over Donner Pass, and at the top of Donner Pass is an entrance to the PCT. Most times when rolling through this area, it’s dark or one of us is sleeping, and we had yet to catch a time we were both awake and could hop on the trail together. We made it happen this trip.
As we got ready to hit the trail for a few hours, we met a hiker who’s actively on the trail this year. Typically, 2,000-3,000 people can be found on trail any given year, but this year, with the virus and shutdowns, he estimated only a few hundred were on the trail this season. His trail name is Too Clean (apparently, he shaves regularly, and doesn’t sweat much). He asked our trail names, which we haven’t had a good reason to use in months. So fun to say them again! We walked and chatted with him to the trail, grabbed a pic, and wished him an awesome journey. He talked about how he’d hiked the Appalachian Trail a few years back, and after he finishes the PCT this year, plans to hike the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) next year. Hikers who’ve completed all three trails have done what’s known as the “Triple Crown” (a combined total of 7,900 miles), a pretty amazing feat.
After parting ways, we jumped on the trail. Wildflowers were scattered across the landscape, big rocks loomed on each side, and we passed by several crystal clear lakes. Wanting to get away from the interstate buzz and the chatter of day hikers, we pushed further and further until we really weren’t on a discernible trail anymore. Clambering over rocks and forging through brambles, we found some peace with a view. We laid on the warm rock and soaked it all up.
It was hard not to just keep walking, but we turned back in time to enjoy a relaxing dinner at the rest stop before pushing on. Next time, we’ll head the other direction from this spot on the trail and see what we can see. ☺️
(Charisse) This state gets its’ very own blog post. Why? Because it continues to absolutely take my breath away every moment I’m in it. And really, that’s all there is to say. The photos speak for themselves. Enjoy. 😊
The centerpiece of any vanlife upfit is the bed. It’s by far the biggest piece of furniture in the build, and the entire floorplan tends to revolve around it.
There are so many different designs out there, and it took awhile to figure out what we wanted. Initially, we wanted an elevated bunk so that we could get the mountain bikes underneath it. But this is a low roof van, so the height we needed would have given us barely any room between our noses and the roof of the van. I’ve spent some time on ships in the Navy, and I can attest to a bit of claustrophobia with that type of setup.
The next best thing is what many RV’s have: a bed that pops up into a dinette. This is a popular design in the vanlife world as it uses precious space for multiple uses. Plus, this design tends to leave room underneath for storage.
When it came time to draft up some plans for this thing, we looked no further than the big rig that we drive for a living. Our Volvo 860 came equipped with a dinette/bunk, and it has been our savior on the road. We prepare and eat nearly all of our meals inside the truck, and without a table, it would be nearly impossible. It does have an unusual size, 42×78, which is wider than a twin, but narrower than a full. In the truck, it is just big enough for both of us to sleep comfortably. This size also leaves enough room left over to build our kitchen and cabinets.
For the most part, I just copied the measurements for the dinette in our Volvo, with one exception: overall height. In our semi, the platform height is about 15″, which is a pretty standard height to sit at. But if I would have used that height in the van, I would have to slouch in my seat, or my head would hit the ceiling. After taking into consideration my overall height of 6’0″, my “seated height” (from bottom of my butt to top of my head), the finished drop of the ceiling, and thickness of the cushions, I came up with a platform height of 12″. It’s kind of a weird height to sit at, but it’ll work just fine.
At this juncture, I should note that I do have a small bit of construction experience. I was a Navy Seabee Builder for a couple years. Plus, I remodeled and finished the entire basement in our 100 year old house. For our readers that might be dreaming about vanlife, but don’t have construction experience, I wouldn’t be discouraged. At least half of the blogs I read are written by people that admit to absolutely no experience in building stuff, or with hand or power tools. Luckily, the internet provides endless information on how to get after it. And somewhere in your circle of friends and family is a handy guy (or girl) that would love to lend you their expertise.
And it’s not like I’m an expert. I consulted several different websites, often asking questions on how they did certain things. When I started drawing up the plans for this, I really didn’t know what size plywood to use. After asking around, I settled on 1/2″ as being strong enough to not flex too much, while keeping the weight down. The exception was on the backs, where I didn’t want any flex at all. Here I used 3/4″ plywood.
I probably could have used finish grade plywood, but it was really expensive, so I settled for a couple grades down. At my disposal for cutting were the following: a table saw with 40 and 80 tooth blades, a circular saw, a jigsaw for corners and detail work, and a miter saw. Before assembling, I gave all the pieces a good sanding with an orbital, using 60 and 120 grit sand paper. I created a very simple frame using 2×4’s, and simply attached the plywood to them. For structural pieces, I used 1 1/2″ and 2 3/4″ construction screws, while using my finish nailer on the non-structural bits.
At this point, I knew I had to finish the wall that this was going up against. So in between coats of paint on the dinette, I did just that to the drivers side. (I will outline everything I did to get this and the other wall finished in a future post). When it was dry, I installed the hinges on the storage doors, and cut a 1 1/2″ hole to lift them with.
The first fitting revealed a slight issue that I suspected when I started this project. In addition to the van’s vertical curvature that caused my window snafu, there’s also a slight horizontal curvature. That meant that the dinette wouldn’t sit flat to the wall no matter what I did. So I did what generations of carpenters have done to cover their mistakes: covered it up with trim. Problem solved.
Before I did the finish trim, I secured the dinette to the floor using angle brackets and wood screws. Next, I attached the heavier backs, also with construction screws. I was having doubts about how flexible the table might be, so I reinforced with a second sheet of 1/2″ plywood.
For the table leg and associated hardware, I again had to decide on a suitable height. Just by wild coincidence, the window sill seemed to be a great height off the floor at 27″. I installed the bracket (from Vintage Technologies, $38) directly to the sill. The leg and brackets came from RecPro, and were $65. I haven’t decided on if I want to install the floor bracket, it seems to be sturdy without it.
To test fit everything, I grabbed the cushions out of the Volvo. It was perfect. It was big enough to sleep both of us, and my head wasn’t bumping the ceiling. We will be making our own cushions once we decide on the fabric design, and I can get my hands on an industrial sewing machine.
And that’s it! It’s livable now, and we’re really excited to see it take shape. We still have plenty of space along the passenger side for the kitchen, and in the back for the “garage”. Maybe for now, we’ll pause and actually enjoy this thing a couple times this summer. Because next up will be the daunting (and very pricey) task of getting an electrical system into this thing. We have lights, outlets, a fridge, and the fan to run. And lasers: pew-pew!!
Post script: Along with all of this fun stuff, this van has gotten a bit of maintenance as well. Two problems cropped up that were fixed free of charge at the dealership we bought from. First, we had a power steering leak. They found a leaky hose that hadn’t been tightened when the transmission was replaced. Next, we realized that when we bought this thing in the spring, I failed to check the AC. The dealer found a cut line, replaced it, and recharged the system.
We were getting a little water intrusion at the back doors, and decided to replace the large door seal. This we got from GM Parts Direct for $83. I also started to notice a pulse in the steering wheel under hard braking, the telltale sign of warped front rotors. I sourced both the pads and rotors from Autozone for $150, and replaced them myself.
Lastly, we only received one key when we bought this. Unfortunately, this isn’t a simple key you can have cut at Menards. I went to Bergstrom Chevrolet of Neenah, where they cut me a new one for $45.
Other than that, it’s been a nice ride overall. It’s fairly quiet, has adequate power, and everything works. It’s been giving me about 15 mpg in mixed city and highway driving, about what I expected. Can’t complain.
If you read my last blog post about the cutting large holes in my van, you know I made a pretty major mistake in thinking that a flat RV window was going to conform to the curved sides of our Chevy Express. I was actually pretty stressed about leaving a gaping hole in the side for a couple weeks to source and ship the proper window. Turns out it wasn’t that big a deal: I just put the cut piece back in place and duct taped the hell out of it.
In the meantime, I was impatient, and decided to continue work. I finished one wall in the van, and built the dinette/bunk. Doing some of these steps out of order proved to be a total PITA later, as I’ll point out. I’ll be detailing all the work that went into the walls and bunk in future posts.
I decided to get a much larger window from a conversion van, instead of having two smaller windows. After some research, I settled on one from CR Laurence. I like this one because it is “all glass”, and has more of a factory look. Plus I really liked having a crank-out lower section.It retailed for $450, but I was able to find a used one from Waldoch in Minnesota for $250. Unfortunately, it showed up without the screen, so I’ll have to have that made later.
Cutting out the rest of the body metal was fairly uneventful. Again, I laid down some tape (I used duct, but I’d recommend masking) to protect the paint. Once the metal was out of the way, I found myself regretting my impatience from the previous weeks. How was I going to cut out the inner wall that I had just installed? I got out my sawzall, which seemed to work pretty well. Problem is, it’ll cut into metal just as easily as wood, and I caught myself sawing into the outer body metal a couple times. Plus, my interior paint job looked like hell after the jigsaw got a hold of it. Luckily, nothing I couldn’t cover up.
Once I had a hole all the way through, the window was fairly easy to install. There was an inner ring that sandwiched the body metal to the window, securing it with sheet metal screws.
Here is where I had to get creative with some finish carpentry work. The wall I had installed followed the contour of the van, so I had to create an inner frame that followed that contour. I used some leftover paneling that I had from the wall, and used the jigsaw to create pieces that would fit. It took a lot of trial and error, but I feel like they turned out all alright. I then used some thin trim pieces to round out the look. I will say that having a miter saw and air compressor with finish nailer helped immensely here. I can’t imagine having to nail all these by hand.
So there you have it. Probably the most heart-stopping parts of this build are in the books, but I’m sure more challenges lie ahead. Hope you enjoy!
(Charisse) My cousin, Alyssa, and her husband, Rick, own a sustainable farm in the small town of Tipton, IA, where they raise and sell pastured chicken and eggs. https://www.augustacres.com/ Their acreage is just beautiful, with a stream running through it, and several old barns and outbuildings. We got a tour of their pastures, orchards, and garden. We got to see their home, which is a modest size, but extremely well organized and comfortable. And then, there were all the animals and their adorable gaggle of kids. We saw ducks, chickens/baby chicks, peacocks, cats/kittens, dogs, goats, sheep, cows/bulls, and a pony. I literally couldn’t help myself, and was as giddy as a little girl around so many critters.
But what really tickled our funny bone was their awkward adolescent goose, Lucky. The kids found his unhatched egg in the mouth of one of their dogs, rescued it from an untimely death (hence the name), and incubated the egg until it hatched. Apparently, wild birds do a thing called “imprinting”, and if their first exposure is to humans, they will identify/bond with humans for life, rather than their own species. Lucky is no exception. He follows Rick, Alyssa, and the kids around the farm as if he’s one of them, and even clumsily waddle-runs next to the Kubota as they drive around to do their chores. Here he is in all his awkward glory.
We’ll definitely be back soon to see how their farm and family are growing!!
Ask any vanlifer what the hardest part of their build was, and they’ll tell you it was putting in the roof fan. It’s not all that complex or physically demanding, but the mental anguish that comes with CUTTING A LARGE HOLE IN A PERFECTLY GOOD VAN is palpable. But it’s a rite of passage that all of us go through. Once it’s done, you realize it’s not that big of a deal. But I was still sweating it.
Why a roof fan? They are nearly mandatory if you’re going to be spending any time sleeping inside. They make a huge difference in keeping the interior temperature comfortable, and whisk away cooking and “other” odors. Plus, just breathing as you sleep causes condensation, which will eventually lead to mold.
After doing a lot of research, we went for the top of the line Maxxfan Deluxe, sourced from Amazon for $265. This one is unique in that it can be fully open in a downpour. It has 10 speeds, blows in or out, raises electrically, and comes with a remote control. It had great reviews across the board.
So, on to the install! We decided to put it nearly in the center of the van. This kept it out in front of the roof box, while still leaving plenty of room in the front of the roof for solar panels. Plus, it will be close to where we are putting the cooking stove.
I started by measuring it out and using a carpenters square to get the precise line. Some people say to use the trim ring, but I found that I couldn’t get a Sharpie in there. I then used masking tape to give myself a good sight line.
And now we’re at the point of no return. I took a deep breath, and drilled all four corners to create space to put the jigsaw blade.
Next, I simply grabbed my jig saw (ensuring that I had a sharp blade), and connected the dots. Some people prefer to use electric metal shears because it creates less metal shavings, and I would definetely recommend that if you have access to one. DO NOT use a sawzall or grinder! Pro tip: Make sure you lay down something to collect all these shavings, AND to prevent the cut piece from dropping and damaging your pretty new floor. Whoops!
Once it was done, I sat back and thought, “In essence, I’ve just totalled my vehicle”. No matter, ONWARD!
I hit the cut edge with some rust inhibitor and let that dry. Afterwards, I cleaned the surface and vacuumed up all the shavings.
Here’s where I cut a corner that I might have to come back and redo. Every blog I read said that the best adhesive/sealant was from this brand called Dicor. But it was Sunday during the pandemic, and the only thing open was Walmart, so I had to settle for a similar product. I layed down a bead on the roof where the fan frame was going to rest, then set it in. The kit came with some self tapping screws to really secure it to the metal. I put a bit of sealant on the head of each screw as well. The Walmart sealant wasn’t all that easy to work with, being a little too thick to make it pretty. Looks like it’ll keep out water though.
Then, I simply attached the fan to the frame, ensuring that the wiring didn’t get pinched.
I came back inside, and temporarily wired it to the dome light circuit. It works perfect! The remote has a thermostat that allows you to set a temp, and the fan will do the rest. (Within reason of course, it’s not an AC unit.) I will eventually be running the wiring into the fuse box I’ll be creating for the electrical system.
And there you have it!
Post script: I felt pretty awesome about this afterward. This was a big step, and something I had never done before. It boosted my confidence enough to do something stupid, like the following…
We knew we wanted to install some windows on the drivers side to bring some light in where the dinette would be. So I ordered what I thought would be the correct RV windows. What I failed to account for was that the sides of our van have some curvature. And the windows had none:
So, there will be a big gaping hole in the side of the van till the correct window gets here. Because I’m a big dummy.
And now the real fun begins! Most of the sites we’ve seen say that the floor should go in first, so that’s where we started.
First, we removed the rubber mat that came with the van. We kept it so that we could use it as a template to cut our insulation and subfloor. Once that was up we could see some of the holes that had been drilled through the floor by the previous owner. We used Rust Inhibitor and caulk to seal these up.
Many of the blogs we’ve seen recommend using some sort of car audio soundproofing mat to reduce noise levels inside the big metal can that is our van. It’s basically a rubbery tar mat with some aluminum foil as structure. We used Stinger mat from Extreme Audio in Appleton. Opinions vary on how much coverage to apply, so we settled on doing about 40% of the floor, with nearly full coverage on the wheel wells. We’ll probably do about 25% on the walls and ceiling. That added up to about 72 square feet to do the entire van, and it cost about $170.
You can cut it with a utility knife into any shape you please, and use the adhesive backing to adhere it. With a little heat and a roller, it goes on pretty easy. And this is one of the areas where you don’t have to be too perfect. We cut it into strips and layed it in the low ribs on the floor.
On to insulation. We chose extruded polystyrene (XPS) because of it’s durability and high-ish R-value (R-3 on the 1/2″ sheets) for such a thin layer. Our van is a low roof, so you really have to be mindful of headroom, and flooring thickness affects that. As you’ll see later, we wound up with a total thickness of 1 1/2″ for the floor. We needed 3 sheets of 4x8x1/2″ to do the entire floor, at a cost of about $14 each at Menards.
We used the rubber mat to rough trace the shape we needed, then cut with a sharp utility knife, trimming as needed. To secure it to the floor, we used 3M spray adhesive. On the seams, we simply used duct tape.
The plywood subfloor was next. I really wanted to use 1/4″ (again, conserving headroom), but that didn’t seem like enough to bolt the bunk and furniture too. We settled on 3/8″ underlayment quality plywood. These 4×8 sheets were bought at Menards, and cost about $15 each. We again using the leftover rubber mat to trace out our outline. Our primary tool for cutting was a jigsaw, although we did use a table saw and skil saw for some cuts.
One decision I made that might come back to haunt me is using self tapping metal screws to bolt the subfloor to the van. Other vanlifers seem to simply use adhesive to glue the plywood to the insulation. I simply couldn’t see that being a good foundation for bolting furniture and shelves to. So I punched dozens of screws through the floor of the van, potentially creating a moisture and corrosion nightmare. Time will tell.
On to the top layer. Charisse and I vacillated wildly on what to do here. I initially wanted a very thin layer of linoleum. Charisse wanted a classier laminate, but I knew that most panels were 1/2″ thick. Luckily, she scoured her resources till she found a very handsome board that was only a 1/4″ thick. Sourced from Home Depot, we needed 3 boxes at $60 each to complete our floor.
With the help of a laminate flooring kit, this tongue and groove style paneling was pretty easy to install. For cutting, we used the jigsaw again, but switched to a fine carpentry bit to prevent chipping the laminate. (Pro tip: spend the extra $$ for quality blades. I’m partial to Bosch). As you can see, we only used the laminate up to the back of the wheel wells. From there to the back doors is the “garage”, and we will simply be using rubber matting here.
One detail I had to reconcile was that because of the extra height of all this flooring, the side door footwell would not be at the proper height. So I basically built up the floor with 2×4’s, and secured the plastic footwell to those. Seems a little janky, but serves the purpose.
And that’s it, the floor is in! We really love the style that Charisse picked out, and this should be a great foundation for the rest of the build. Feel free to comment!
(Charisse) Though Tim and I continue to fine-tune how we eat to make it as clean as possible, we both battle a bit of a sweet tooth. Freshly baked Cinnabon (unfortunately available at a lot of truck stops) and Haagen Dazs ice cream cause regrettable lapses in judgement for me, while donuts and candy bars call to Tim like sirens. In an effort to steer away from these processed monstrosities (most of the time, anyway), I’ve found three recipes that curb our cravings and are now our go-to before we line up at the Cinnabon counter. They’re all low-carb, and contain healthy fats and small amounts of sweetener.
#1 Chia Pudding: Um…chia? Isn’t that what they used to grow plants on terra cotta animals back in the 80’s??? Why yes, it is! And it’s surprisingly nutritious. It plumps up like tapioca in a rich, mousse-like pudding made with coconut milk, and it is de-lish! I often make it with cacao or cocoa powder, but made strawberry this time. So, so good. We usually eat a couple of spoonfuls after dinner.
#2 Chocolate protein bites: These chocolate-y snack bites are loaded with nutritious goodness and are a quick hit to fill you up on the go. I add a few dark chocolate chips because, you know…well, I don’t have a good reason. They just add extra yumminess.
#3 Almond flour muffins: Seriously, this one is my new favorite. The recipe calls for bananas, and I used them last time, but tried pumpkin instead today. To…die…for. The weird thing about these is they get better with age (don’t we all wish). I keep them in the fridge (they freeze well, too), and every day they taste better and better. Again, I added a few dark chocolate chips for good measure. You could certainly omit, but…who would do such a thing?
Armed with our reasonably healthy treats, we’re headed for California again this afternoon. If you struggle with hankerings for sweets, give one (or all) of these a try! They sure are working well for us. If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment, PM me on Facebook, or email me at email@example.com.
(Charisse) Road noise. Reefer noise. Traffic. Wind. Pelting rain or hail. Forklifts going in and out of the trailer. Climbing up and charging down mountain passes. Stopping and starting at traffic lights. Potholes the size of craters at crusty truck stops. Rumble strips on the shoulder of the interstate. Hard braking for some idiot driver who just jumped out in front of your 80,000-lb. situation at 60 mph.
Now imagine you’re trying to sleep.
I am here to tell you…learning how to sleep in a moving semi truck has been one of the greatest challenges we’ve faced as a trucking team. It has taken months of trial and error to arrive at a point where we sleep reasonably well, most of the time.
It took a combination of tools to get this whole scene under control:
First, we had to get the right mattress. After trying the cushions that came with the truck, then experimenting with a thin layer of memory foam, then moving to a bouncy mattress that exacerbated all movement, we landed on a two-layer foam mattress with a cooling top layer (I’m a hot sleeper).
The right pillow makes all the difference, too, and we each found one that worked best for us. To reduce body movement, we bought a weighted blanket with a cooling element on one side so I don’t roast. We added cool, comfortable fitted and flat sheets to slip between.
A high-powered 12v fan for white noise, and eye covers/ear plugs to keep out intermittent light and front-of-cab sounds. Keeping the vents open/blowing out cool air and opening the windows helps with air flow. And for safety, a giant seat belt “net” to keep us from flying out of the sleeper berth.
Quite the ordeal, yes?
We’re still working to form a bedtime routine that helps us wind down, though our days and nights are anything but routine. Some light yoga or guided meditation would probably aid in drifting off to sleep much better than our current go-to of watching funny videos on Facebook, but we’re a work in progress.
We knew we had to get our sleep under control to stay healthy on the road, so it was worth all the frustrating fails to find the sweet spot. And now that we’re well-slept AND eating well (I’ve got an arsenal of instant pot and electric skillet recipes that we love!), time to move on to Healthy Truck Driver Phase #3…fitness. I’m disappointed it took so long to prioritize movement, but hey…adapting to this lifestyle has been one wild ride, so to speak. I’ve already worked up a spreadsheet (because we’re both nerds) of exercises that can be done in and out of the truck using minimal or no equipment. More on that in the coming weeks!
It’s time to start building this thing out! We are going to start with the roof rack, because it’s pretty much the easiest thing to get knocked out. Plus, it has the added benefit of making this look like less of a creeper van, lol.
One thing I want to get out of the way first. Followers of this blog are probably used to us posting beautiful pics of beautiful places, and saying a couple words about them. Or maybe talking a bit about our new career as truck drivers. We try to be concise and not get too wordy, for fear of losing everyone’s interest. The posts under the “Vanlife Build” umbrella are going to be a little different. As a community, vanlifers tend to be very generous with the details of their build, and we will be no exception. This blog is potentially reference material for someone else’s DIY build. That means a lot of facts, figures, costs, and decisions that might bore our casual followers to tears. Fear not, we will still be posting beautiful pics of beautiful places!
Speaking of reference material, there are literally thousands of websites and blogs that involve vanlife. We’ve poured over several. Some are good, and some are quite bad! The one we seem to go back to repeatedly is Gnomad Home. This young couple is inspiring, and have a very detailed website about their build and vanlife in general. They’ve even answered a couple of our questions. Anyone interested in should definitely check them out at https://gnomadhome.com or follow them on FB at https://www.facebook.com/gnomadhome/
Onward! When we bought the van, we knew we’d need a rack, possibly even two. We needed room for our cargo box, and our kayak cradles. We would have to mindful of the placement, because even though there’s an acre of real estate on the roof of this van, we would need to leave room for the roof vent and solar panels.
We settled on rain gutter towers from Yakima, paired with 78″ crossbars. Fair warning: Yakima does NOT give their stuff away. If you were add up every bike rack, snowboard rack, cargo box, kayak cradle, tower, and bar we’ve ever bought from Yakima, I’m sure they could have built another factory by now. On that note, these towers retail for $210. Luckily, I found them on FB Marketplace for $75. The crossbars were $100, sourced from REI. The cargo box is the Yakima Skybox 21, and was about $500 when we purchased it 15 years ago.
The kayak racks are also carryovers from our car. This is Yakima’s Sweet Roll, and they were about $200 a piece three years ago. If that seems a little pricey, it is. Until you try wrestling a 60 pound kayak into a standard J-cradle, on top of a car that’s only five feet tall. It sucks. And now we have a van where the rack is nearly eight feet off the ground. No thanks. The Sweet Roll are incredible: just pop the nose onto the back rollers, then slide it smoothly onto the front cradle. Worth every penny.
The install was pretty straight forward, with the hardest part being getting the spacing right for all the components. As you cans see, the Skybox tried to eat me! I haven’t measured, but I imagine we’ve got a 9 foot clearance, so no drive thru’s for us. But everything looks great, and is ready to haul our stuff.
One additional thing we did was replace the shocks. I noticed that the van had a lot of floatiness over bumps. The great thing about these big dumb vans is that they are fairly easy to work on, and parts are dirt cheap. We bought Gabriel units from Auto Zone for about $45 each. Despite this being a Wisconsin vehicle, there wasn’t a ton of rust. I sprayed all the bolts with PB Blaster about an hour before I started, and they all came loose with little resistance. Two hours later, the ride was much more controlled. A huge improvement for little effort.
That is all for now! Next up will likely be a post about prepping and installing the floor. The real work is about to begin…
(Charisse) On our way out to Cali on Tuesday, we saw something odd in the middle of nowhere, Nevada. A shrine, an artist’s expression, a bunch of random things held together by concrete…we had no idea what it was. We passed by it on I-80 before we had a chance to figure it out, wrote down the mile marker, and told ourselves we’d stop and figure it out the next time we went by. And today was that day.
Thunder Mountain Indian Monument
We found a frontage road right off the interstate and parked the truck, walking into this fenced area that held the most random collection of rusty and old stuff we’d ever seen. Some of it was held together with concrete, and some of it was thoughtfully leaned or placed or hung. A lot of glass bottles and old windshields were used in the walls. There’s a cool (but kinda sad) story about this place, and you can read about it here.
Apparently, everything on this property was found within a 50-mile radius between 1968 and present day. Some of it was cool, and some of it was downright creepy.
Worth the stop, for sure. So if you’re ever driving through the middle of nowhere in Nevada, it’s a must-see.
And just for fun, here’s a tumbleweed rolling down the road.
No, no we’re not, lol. But we have decided to upfit a cargo van for short (less than a week) excursions. I’ll be detailing the build as I go along.
But first, what is “Vanlife”? For some, it’s just downsized RV’ing. A slightly smaller and more maneuverable vehicle for going on vacation. For others, the extremely high cost of renting/owning a residence in big cities has pushed them into this alternative. But for many, it is the idea of being nomadic and free that is the main appeal. It represents adventure, travel, minimalism. Many of them have figured out ways to make their income mobile. They really are living in a van. There are literally thousands of blogs detailing peoples lives on the road. To me, these people are certainly living the best version of their life.
We fall into the downsized RV category, at least for now. The idea of having a mobile place to eat, cook, sleep, and carry our bikes/kayaks/assorted outdoor stuff was incredibly appealing to us. We see them all over the place, especially in the Southwest: upfitted VW’s, Sprinters and cargo vans, ready to go to remote places to mountain bike, climb, or paddle.
So I started looking for our vehicle. We briefly considered the travel trailer/pickup truck option instead. The main appeal there was a real bathroom with shower and a fully outfitted kitchen. Plus, it would already be built and ready to go. The drawbacks were the much higher cost and where to park all this stuff. A decent used pickup is well over $20,000 these days, and the cool trailer we had our eye on was at least that. We could have gone cheaper, but you still need a spot to park the trailer. So we went back to the van idea.
Not that vans are cheap. A new high-roof Sprinter or Ford Transit can easily push past $50,000. And that’s BEFORE you start upfitting. Used ones are difficult to find, and still a little pricey. Standard low-roof cargo vans seemed to be more reasonable and plentiful. We were finding plenty of ten year old Fords and Chevys with around 150,000 miles in the $10-12,000 range. But a lot of them were used by tradesmen, and were pretty hammered and rusty. Plus, these old vans are notoriously thirsty for gas. My search was leading nowhere.
Until I came across an ad for a 2015 Chevy Express long wheelbase, advertised for $6000. Surely that had to be a typo, right?. The pictures presented a very clean, shiny, dent free van. The interior looked nice. I knew that this fairly young van had the more modern 6-speed auto transmission, which would bring the mpg to a more acceptable level. Scrolling down, I finally found the reason: it had an eye popping 390,000 miles on the odometer! How was that even possible?
I called the dealer selling it, and she explained that it had been used by a local courier service to run coast to coast. They were all highway miles, the gentlest kind. This dealer had also performed all the services on it since new. It had new tires, brakes, and a fresh transmission. I looked over all the service records and Carfax, and everything checked out. The test drive confirmed that this was our van. I negotiated down to $5700, and we are now the proud owners of a white creeper van!
Over the next several months, I’ll be detailing the upfit. Our plans include a bed that converts to a table, a small kitchen, and a very rudimentary bathroom. We’ll have a garage in back for the bikes. Up top will be our kayak racks and cargo box. We’re looking at putting some solar panels up there to feed an electrical system for lights and a fridge. I’d like to keep the total budget (including van purchase) under $12,000. Please feel free to ask any questions as we go!