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.

Wood floors.

Wood storage

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.

Chopping tomatos.

Slippery when wet.

Chelsea and Maddie taking a dip.

Frying up some veggies.


Target practice.

Check out the Woody and The Blue Ox shorts here.

Sand Dollar Beach.

A soggy campfire.

Rain for days.

A break in the storm.

Chelsea blasting.

Trevor cooking up an afternoon snack.

“I’m ready for spring and summer.”

“No shit.”

“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.

The V-Berth.

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 27, 2014

Surf Safari

A fall of high pressure systems and the least activity that NOAA has ever recorded in the Pacific finally subsided and the North Pacific came to life in early January.  I packed up my boards, left the Columbia River Gorge and headed south along the east side of the Cascades.   I aimed for Santa Barbara, an area I’ve become fond of during the last two and half years of roaming up and down the coast.  Setting the cruise control at 55, I arrived two days before the first of 5 swells was scheduled to arrive.

For next twenty days, I bounced around the area from Ventura to Goleta. I surfed until my wetsuits gave me rashes in my armpits and behind the knees.  Like so many other surfers on the West Coast,  I had a thirst to fill.  I started the swell with three functional boards and ended with one intact.  These are a some photos from mid January to the beginning of February.

Trevor showing off some finds from the Eastern Sierra.

Stoked on Ryan Lovelace’s rolling house.

Parking lot surfing.

The wood stove in Ryan Lovelace’s Cosmic Collider.

Shred sleds at low tide.

Trevor’s Camper.

Taking a breather.

Cyrus Sutton’s quiver nestled in the back of his camper.

A tried and true set up for camping and getting out there.  A 4×4 pick with a canopy is best bang for your buck in terms of capability and reliability.  I’m partial to Japanese trucks because of their size and proven record.

Tan lines.

Surfboard watch dog.

Cyrus’s camper.

Calling it a day.

Suiting up.

Switching out fins.

Home is certainly where you park it! Ryan’s rolling home will be in the book.  You can pre-order it here.  It ships in a month and a half or so.

Old timers, the same that speak fondly of the days before leashes, will talk about this three week stretch of waves for years to come, most likely even decades.  While the waves were happening, it is hard to acknowledge how good they are.    This was different.

Here are some links,

Woody and The Blue Ox (Vimeo).