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 30, 2014
Fall into Winter in the Pacific Northwest
For the first time since moving away from Portland in 2006, I spent the fall and early winter in the Pacific Northwest. Typically, I’d headed south when the days shortened and the rain came. Short, wet days aren’t conducive to living in your car. This autumn the rain held off, and I hung around, exploring the area that I grew up in.
One of my old stomping grounds.
A timber framed cabin my mom and her partner in crime built in the Columbia River Gorge.
Heating with wood during the cold snaps.
Chelsea at Point Disappointment.
Erosion a few hundred yards from the ocean in a dense forest on the Olympic Peninsula.
Dean stoking the fire on his outdoor wood stove.
Morning in my Four Wheel Camper in Central Oregon.
A cold streak in the Columbia River Gorge.
Everything you need, nothing you don’t.
36° and misting in Eastern Oregon.
My dad checking out an abounded house in eastern Oregon.
Looking east from the Cape Horn Trail on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. For more photos, check out this album, Early January (Adobe Revel).
Sarah during a break in the storm.
It’s almost February now and ever so slowly, the days are getting longer. Tonight it’s supposed to get down toe the teens, I’m in the eastern Sierra. Living in your car and waking up with sunrise and falling asleep shortly after sunset makes you attentively aware of the seasons and weather. Maybe its the first snow, or the holidays, but this period of early winter is one of my favorites.
Here are some more links,
Ships of the Open Road (Pinterest),
Toyota Tacoma with a Four Wheel Camper Ute (Pinterest).
January 23, 2014
“Sir, very fresh food. Please come. American?”
I looked forward and kept walking through the crowd in Marrakech’s central square. If I acknowledged them in anyway, they would leave the security of their shop and follow me for thirty feet or so, carrying on about their products, value and track record. They also tended to hassle a single person less than one walking in pairs so I walked a few strides ahead of Edge, my childhood friend and former roommate in NYC.
“Parlez-vous Francais. English? Very good Tajine. Best in Marrakech.”
I kept walking.
The square was pandemonium. Swap out tourists and Moroccans with men and women clad in business casual attire and the scene resembled Bryant Park subway station circa 8:30 am on a Tuesday. The combination of tourists taking photos of snake charmers with iPads and locals getting across town had me confused as to weather I was witnessing a tourist spectacle or a legitimate place of commerce. Giving a group of middle age women walking around with syringes full of what I later learned was henna, a wide birth I kept on bearing towards a group of restaurants. Edge was thirty feet behind me.
A group of men, mostly locals, congregated in a circle. Pausing, I stood on my tiptoes and looked over the four-deep wall of people to see two early teen boys with their shirts off wearing boxing gloves. A referee/booky was collecting bets. I stood and watched while the MC jabbered in a combination of Arabic and French. This would be a twenty minute commitment, I thought to myself, and continued on.
As I approached the line of restaurants, a group of salesmen came out and stopped five feet from their last picnic table as if limited by an invisible, electric fence. My plan was to do a fly by and see which restaurant had the most non-tourist customers and go with that one. Before I could finish, a man in his early thirties wearing a GAP Athletic T-shirt broke rank and came up to me.
“Guaranteed no diarrhea for the last two years. Guarantee. My word.”
I burst out laughing and stopped dead in my tracks. ”How can you guarantee something like that?”
The man smiled with a look of success. ”For you sir, I make very good price.”
Regaining my composure, I continued you on towards the last row.
Look behind him.
A brass bathtub.
So many dates.
I’ve been using Adobe Revel to host and share my photos as part of their Ambassador Program. Take a look at these photos from Morocco and more here.
Edge in Essaouira.
Loc’ dog in the Sahara.
A 400 year old Riad in Fes.
4×4′s in Eastern Morocco.
“Your days are numbered”
As far as the eye can see. Sand.
OG BMX BIKE!
Reaching the end of the row, I stopped and waited for Edge.
“Did one of those dudes say something about no diarrhea for the last two years?”
“Yah…I died laughing.”
“How the fuck do you guarantee that?” I asked, hoping to get an answer for the question that the man from the restaurant left unanswered.
“No clue. Pretty bold claim.”
“Certainly. Which one of those spots do you want to eat at?”
Here are some more links,
Morocco (Adobe Revel).
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).