February 11, 2014
My Toyota Camper
A year ago, I started fantasizing about campers other than my VW Syncro. It felt adulterous. I had been living in it for a year and half at this point and the cost of maintenance was catching up to me. Syncro’s are pretty amazing vans. Mine had an Audi engine, front and rear locking differentials and could go any where I wanted it. The problem was reliability. Only 300o were ever imported to the US, and very few people know how to work on them. Many times a minor break down such as a fuel pump or a starter turned into a week long search for a mechanic that was willing to work on it let a lone had access to the right parts. My van was made in 1987 and had 292 miles on it when I bought it. With the right maintenance, It will keep working forever, but my regiment of 40k miles per year were wearing on the car. From afar, VW van’s are very romantic. Living in one is a totally different story.
Unfortunately, there aren’t that many good alternatives to a Syncro in terms of capability, size and efficiently. Sportsmobile’s weigh twice as much and cost between $50-100k. Depending on the, year there are problems with the Diesel engines and the MPG are hard to swallow. Eurovans are plagued with electronic issues and never come in 4wd. A full size truck and camper is way to big. I wanted something, I could parallel park in a city and make my way around narrow forest service roads. Eventually, I settled on a Toyota Tacoma and a poptop camper.
Go to a remote area for an activity like surfing, snowboarding or climbing and you’ll likely see a Toyota truck with a pop top camper. Unlike a rare German 4×4, the parts are ubiquitous and any garage in the world can work on them. Sure they aren’t as “c00l” as a VW, but one break down in the Mojave desert cured me with my fixation of how cool my Syncro was.
After doing a bunch of research on forums like Wander the West and The Expedition Portal, I focused my attention on a Four Wheel PopTop camper. All though not the fanciest, they have been making campers for 40 years and have a cult following of people that use theirs in harsh situations. To maximize usable space, I decided to remove the stock bed and put an aluminum flatbed on the truck. This would allow for the side entry I loved about my van, as well as a lower center of gravity and increased storage around the wheel wells. On a tip from a friend, I got in touch with AT Overland in Prescott, Arizona and they helped design, source parts and work with Four Wheel to build the camper. The whole process from conception of the idea to delivery of the finished product in Prescott took eight months.
The ruberized canvas walls have an insulative layer that helps with condensation and keeps the camper warm in cold temperatures.
The camper is based off of a 2013 Toyota Tacoma Access Cab. The truck has a V6, six speed manual and the off road package. I upgraded the truck with a 2-inch lift from Old Man Emu, an ARB Bumper, Warn Winch, Airflow Snorkel, Firestone airbags in the back and a custom rear leaf set up from Deaver in Orange County.
Parked in Baja on the campers maiden voyage last summer.
When popped, the bed slides out to roughly the size of a Kingsize.
Extra fuel storage and some badges of honor from the road. Between the fuel cans are two Max Trax for putting under the tires in sticky situations.
AT Overland fabricated 4 Lockable aluminum boxes under the flatbed for extra storage room.
A 20,000 BTU furnace keeps me the camper warm during cold nights. This opened up a ton of possibilities for me.
Compared, to my Syncro, the Four Wheel Camper feels like a Four Seasons. It has an electric fridge (powered by two marine batteries and 160w panel) a two burner stove (two 10 pound cylinders) a furnace (runs off the propane and 20 gallons of freshwater and an outdoor shower.
This month marks the two and half year mark for living out of my vehicle. It’s flown by. My initial plan to spend a year on the road has morphed into a way of life. I love living out of a small space. It forces me to limit my possessions and conscious of the mess I make. Instead of buying something when I’m bored, I travel to a new place. My new camper gives me piece of mind to continue my travels . I’m hoping to have it for twenty years.
Here are some more links,
Gone Tomorrow (Ian Durkin),
Four Wheel Campers.
January 7, 2014
Lot Lizards at Mt. Bachelor
The forced air furnace kicked on with a whir, blasting hot air into my camper. It was still dark. Another hour or two until sunrise. Laying back down I grabbed a pillow and covered my eyes. Predawn light lit the camper and I pulled my upper body out of my mummy bag. The high pitched chug of two stroke engines bounced off a distant hillside as a crew of snowmobilers headed out into the backcountry. Rolling over, I opened the Velcro window and peered out. It was clear, and probably in the low 20′s. Turning up the thermostat, I slid into a sitting position on my bed and reached for my rubber boots.
Cracking the side door, I poked my head out and looked around. Swinging the door the rest of the way open, I stepped down on to the hard packed combination of snow and ice. A line of campers in various forms parked north to south against the snowbank. Walking around the back of my camper, I noticed a layer of ice underneath the curtain. “Must have been cold.. I haven’t seen ice there before,” I thought to myself. In a few hours, the Mt. Bachelor parking lot would be full of its fair share of Subarus and Volvos, but for now, it was empty.
Looking over at the back of Tim Eddy’s camper, a Ford ranger wearing a Four Wheel Camper parked next to mine, I noticed the same ice on his windows. Tim is a professional snowboarder that lives in a 200 square foot cabin he made with his girlfriend in Truckee, California and often snowboards with crazy fleece hats. Here’s a photo of him in action. Pulling my ungloved hand from my pocket, I rapped on the gold glass window.
“Tim, you awake man?”
“Carpe CARVE Brother! Carpe CARVE,” Tim bellowed with his signature exuberance.
I broke in to laughs. “I’m going to get some hot water going in a few. Want some coffee?
“I’m already working on my matte. Thanks though, I’ll come over in a few.”
Suited and booted.
Bryan Box and Austin Smith chewing the fat. Check out their Drink Water project here.
Scotty warming up in the front seat.
Whitney built this camper out her self and has spent the better part of three years living in it. It has a marine stove, bed for one and a 4×4 conversion.
The way to Mt. Bachelor.
For mote photos, checkout Start of Winter on Adobe Revel.
Kyle Shwartz and his Toyota Tundra with a Four Wheel Camper.
Alex Yoder and his Toyota Tundra with a Hallmark Camper.
Tim Eddy and his Ford Ranger with a Four Wheel Camper.
Scotty Wittlake and his Toyota Tacoma camper with an ARE top.
Whitney Bell and her converted Ford Camper Van.
The propane stove hissed on and with a flick of the lighter, the small blue flame illuminating the still dark camper. Reaching for faucet, I filled the kettle and placed it on the burner. The heat from the stove warmed the air. Looking down at my watch to check the time, I noticed the date, December 14th. Today was my 750th morning on the road since August of 2011. Time Flies. I thought to myself as I sifted through the a cabinet looking for my Aeropress.
“Rap rap rap,” The side door of my camper vibrated.
“You in there Foster?” Scotty asked.
“Yah man. Come in and grab some coffee.”
Here are some more links,
Start of Winter (Adobe Revel).
October 29, 2013
Farewell to Summer
It always passes quickly. Waking up with the sun at six transitions into seven and then seven thirty. The days shorten on the other end too. Living in your car makes you aware of when the sun rises and sets. Temperatures retreat below the acceptable level to sleep with just a wool blanket and I grab a down sleeping bag. Condensation covers the single-pain window of my camper in the mornings. Parks, that just a few weeks earlier buzzed with tourists in rental Mustangs, empty out. The first fall storms are on the way. Here are some shots from this summer.
Beach daze in Malibu.
Camping with Jay in the Sierra.
Monsoon season in Arizona.
Maddie and Trevor in the Los Padres.
Shades on shades.
Morning in the Mission.
Stoked Grove in Meiners Oak.
Bryan, Trevor and Cal having dinner.
Ryan Lovelace working on his 1948 Bus.
Marissa stretching in the morning.
Mobile changing room.
Ian Durkin on the West Coast.
Club Med, Lake Tahoe addition with Tahoe Messi and Ian Durkin.
Collection of roadkill skulls at Lloyd Khan’s house in Bolinas.
Bryan making dinner.
I’m ready for winter.
Here are some more links,
Out of Reception (Tumblr).
September 23, 2013
Home Is Where You Park It: Kickstarter Project
I started taking photos of vans and other campers that I came across in my travels in the fall of 2011. After rationalizing my interest in these campers, I wrote a post and put together some photos on my blog for a post called Vanlife. Here’s how it read:
“Not until experiencing something for myself can I really appreciate it. Call me thick headed, but it’s been true about autumn in New England, sex, and most recently, camper vehicles, or as I call it, van life. I purchased my Syncro with no prior knowledge of van life. Operating on the assumption that I liked the freedom and exploration offered by living out of a van, I committed to trying it out. A handful of interesting people’s stories of the road reassured me that it was the right thing to do. Ships of the open road are hard to understand when you’re not sailing them. Now that I am sailing my own, I have grown to appreciate the breed of adventurers they attract and the vehicles they drive.”
Two years later, I am just as excited to see a camper parked for the night or hanging out on the side of the highway. The vanlife hash tag has around 50k tags and I’ve photographed hundreds of campers. Some of the most inspiring and happiest people I’ve ever met live in there vehicles by choice. To document their campers and celebrate the notion that living in your car is fun, I’m launching a Kickstarter today to publish a photo book and some other vanlife related swag. To help with the design of the book, t-shirt and bumper stickers, I enlisted the help of some friends from Doubleday & Cartwright, a creative studio in New York that makes tshirts, The Victory Journal and works on special projects for brands like Nike, Puma and Samsung.
The book is going to be an 11×11 inch square and will have around 125 pages. We are still finalizing layout and I have to dial in the intro. It will have an extended intro about my moving into a van, photos of my favorite campers and then a handful of anecdotes of my encounters with fellow travelers. The book is $65 shipped in the US and will be signed by yours truly.
A sample spread with @specialopz‘s Vanagon in Mexico and Ford Econoline Camper near Ventura, California.
A full bleed or two never hurt anyone.
Another sample spread with Nick Dirk’s Van and a VW T2 in Portland Oregon.
Inspired by the 70s art of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers Comics and R Crumb, we made a limited edition pocket T-shirt. It’s available in sizes Extra Small to Extra Large and comes in heather grey or white. Shirts are $35 shipped in the US.
How do you dress up a t-shirt? Put a Pocket and a Vanlife/Home Is Where You Park it Logo On It.
Riffing on the similar inspiration as the T-shirt, we also made a handful of bumper stickers celebrating vehicular dwellers. Use with discretion though, the square community might object to these. $10 for your choice of one large and one small. Sizes ranging from 13″ to 3″.
Home Is Where You Park It. 13 inches wide and 3 inches for the small one.
I know It Was Somewhere Around Here. 6.5 Inches Wide.
If You Lived In Your Car You’d Be Home Now. 10 Inches wide for the large one and 3 Inches for the small.
Vanlife: Home Is Where You Park It. 3 Inches Wide.
I’m super excited about this project and hope that you will spread the word and support it on Kickstarter.
Here are some more links,
Home Is Where You Park It (Kickstarter),