April 15, 2014
Dean and Marie’s Bluebird Bus
I first met Dean two and half years ago in Portland. Driving up 42nd street, I noticed a handful of Vanagons and old Volvo’s parked in front of garage. Pulling a U turn, I came back around to check out the vans. I had just started the Vanlife project and left no potential van undocumented. Pulling to a stop just past the garage, I jumped out with my camera in hand to take photos of a beige Vanagon with Volvo badges.
“What does that have in it?” a bearded and ponytailed man wearing a mechanics suit asked, motioning towards my Syncro.
“An Audi 2 liter,” I answered turning around, still brandishing my camera. ”Its called a TICO conversion.”
“In-line 4, on its side?”
“Sure is, 35 degrees I believe… Whats with that Vanagon over there with the Volvo badges?”
“It has a Volvo engine from a 240 in it.”
“I gotta see that.”
After twenty minutes of looking at each other’s vans, Dean had to get back to work. I took his card and went on my way towards California. After winter spent surfing in Southern California and Mexico, I was back in Portland and needed an oil change. Retracing my steps back to the garage off of 42nd in North East. Dean had an opening and I sat around as they changed the oil. In addition to a slew of Volvos and miscellaneous VW’s, a Bluebird bus with a Vanagon attached to the roof sat in the driveway.
“Whats up with that Bus? Its epic.”
“It’s my girlfriends, we are getting it set up to live in.”
“No way, What year is it?”
“2002 bus and an 86 Vanagon.”
When I sold my Syncro to my mom a year ago, Dean kept working on it and, they too became friends. Dean and his girlfriend, Marie, had since moved into their bus in South East Portland. They wanted more space for a garden and animals and asked my Mom if they could park their bus on some property she owns in the Columbia River Gorge. Six months ago, they moved out of a driveway in Southeast and into the Columbia River Gorge. They are setting up a greenhouse, extensive garden, rabbits, pigs, outdoor shower and 400watt solar set up. This summer, Marie’s honey CSA will be up and running and selling honey from bee’s that live in the area. It’s called the Bluebird Apiary.
Animals of low moral standing.
Wood storage and wires running from the solar panels to the battery bank.
The buses heater and cooking stove.
The chimney comes off a above at the window level of the Vanagon when its time to drive. The bus gets 8 mpg on the highway. The Vanagon, or penthouse as Dean and Marie call it, is where the bed is.
The sink with running water.
Making tea on the trash burner stove. They don’t actually burn the trash but this style of stove is called that.
It’s been very inspiring to see Dean and Marie’s bus take shape. They’ve done all of the work themselves and found most stuff on Craigslist. It’s built for function and theres a beauty that goes along with that. I’ll update more as their place comes along.
Here are some more links,
Dean’s Car Care (Yelp).
March 25, 2014
Rained Out In February
The forecast called for rain beginning Thursday and lasting through the weekend. California was in the midst of the worst drought in decades and I took the forecast with little more than glimmer of consideration. Trevor, Maddie, Chelsea and I caravanned up from Santa Barbara to Big Sur on Wednesday morning. The weather was stereotypical of Central California; mid sixties and the typical north wind. The stars shined bright and uninhibited by clouds as we circled the wagons a few hours after dark. Light tapping started on the aluminum roof of my camper late Wednesday night and by morning, the dishes from the night before were over flowing with the first rain the area had seen in months.
With the exception of few hour long breaks in the storm, it rained sideways for the next 72 hours. Searching for shelter, we parked in the lee of trees and under the cover of red woods. Instead of hiking around the hills and surfing point breaks, we hunkered down in our campers and schemed plans for spring and summer.
Slippery when wet.
Chelsea and Maddie taking a dip.
Frying up some veggies.
Check out the Woody and The Blue Ox shorts here.
Sand Dollar Beach.
A soggy campfire.
Rain for days.
A break in the storm.
Trevor cooking up an afternoon snack.
“I’m ready for spring and summer.”
“Weather like this makes it better when it comes though.”
Here are some more links,
Escape from Bigfoot Country (Vimeo).
March 11, 2014
Tucker and his 28′ Newport
The boat rocked slightly throughout the night. Except for the squawking of the occasional seagull and the sporadic sound of a diesel generator firing on in one of the many boats in the marina, Tucker’s 28 foot Newport felt a lot like my camper. Tired from the days drive, I slept soundly in my down sleeping bag. The sun rose over the Oakland hill shortly before seven and illuminated the cabin. A small 12v fan circulated air as the fiberglass hull warmed up.
“Tucker…you up mon?”
“Good morninggg Vietnam!” He responded after a few groggy seconds.
“Ohh someone is a lil twwiired. Haha Lets get some coffee started in a few?”
“I’m up, I’m up,” Tucker replied.
Within minutes, the kettle was boiling on the electric hot plate in the cabin. Crawling out of my sleeping bag, I rotated around on my hip in the tight space of the ship’s birth and walked hunched over to the couch that converts into a full size bed. The quarters were tight, but certainly livable, at 6’3, I found the headroom a little low, but manageable. A few 12v air circulators kept the fresh air from the bay moving around. The space felt homey.
“This is great. I see why you’re so pumped on living in a boat. It’s just like a van, but more spacious.”
“It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
“Sure Seems like it.”
I first met Tucker 8 years ago when we were freshmen in college. We became fast friends and spent the majority of the next three years of college hanging out together. Tucker, a Maine native, came west for the first time with me two years ago on a road trip from Portland to San Francisco. A year later, he packed up his belongings into a van and moved out to Oakland. He now lives on his boat and works as a designer/carpenter and works out of his Astro van around the Bay Area. The low overhead afforded by living on a boat lets Tucker be selective with the kind of projects he works on as well as giving him the freedom to travel whenever he wants.
Tucker’s simple kitchen runs off of shore power 120v.
Opening up the hatch for some added headroom.
Succulents in the port window.
The same succulents, but viewed from the ship’s cabin.
Greg and Emily. They live one boat down on a 29 footer. Greg and Tucker are partners in a design build business called Perspective Design Build.
Tucker making coffee.
Tucker enjoying a breakfast burrito.
After half an hour of enjoying coffee and breakfast, I grabbed my sleeping bag and backpack and crawled out of Tucker’s boat onto the dock. At 7:40, the marina was still asleep, as we headed past a handful of other pleasure boats and live-aboards.
“This is a pretty crazy set up,” I said as we passed through the gate on onto dry land.
“Next time we’ll go for a sail around The Bay.”
“Deal. I’m baking Boatlife.”
Here are some more links,
Perspective Design Build.
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.