In search of… the van

The next adventure vehicle! A van!!! Why not right?! After I’d been in Minnesota for a couple of weeks, I started missing the boat life and the freedom that came along with it. I started thinking about buying another one and keeping it in a slip on Lake Superior. I did some shopping around but it was taking a good bit of time to sell mine and I didn’t want to have two boats so I decided that I’d just hold off and take care of a few other things first.

Being here and near friends and family, I started thinking that maybe a boat wasn’t going to be for me anyway, at least not at this point in my life. It’s just too far to commute from the town I’m in to deep waters of superior so I had almost giving up thinking that I’d live that way of life again. I’m sure I’ll revisit – but until then… behold, the quest for the van!

One day I was on YouTube looking up some music and building my ‘sailing tunes’ playlist to remind me of the fun I had on the water. I came across a video about someone converting a cargo van into a camper. At first I thought, man, that HAS to be cramped and just uncomfortable because…well, its… a van. 👀 LOL

The more I watched and learned about cargo van conversions I started to see that maybe it wasn’t as crazy of an idea as I’d originally thought. Well, for me, when that sort of stuff happens and the old creative brain starts kicking in, I go into power research mode and mentally ‘try on the lifestyle’. I’d convinced myself that buying and converting a cargo van was the right way to go. So did online research and looked up interior measurements of several types and models of vans, drew it out on my whiteboard, researched power needs and diagramed that on the whiteboard. I’d even drawn out a few floor plans!

The build itself isn’t actually that complex, and can be done in a fairly inexpensive way. There are several ways to do it obviously but in general, the insulation, building in sub-flooring, installing ventilation fans, lights, water, power (both shore power and solar), and creating a compact living space is all actually quite doable in a full size cargo van. They are purchased as an empty shell with a drivers seat and a passenger seat, sometimes a bulkhead separating this area from the cargo area…and that’s it. It’s a blank canvas to create whatever you want!

I zeroed in on a chevy express, 2500 extended cargo van. That seemed to be the ‘van of choice’ for dependability, price and configurability. It has plenty of floor space for a bed, a sink, a porta-potty and, if I did it properly, a shower! All of these things are important to me. One of the YouTube videos that I watched stressed the importance of not under estimating comfort. So I thought to myself, what are the minimal things that I need in order to feel comfy and tried to plan around that. One other thing I thought would be ‘better’ for me, would be the ability to stand up in the van. Now, I’m not a tall person, (5’7”) but I’m tall enough that I’d need to hunch over once inside of the van. So, after a bit of additional research, I decided that a high-top cargo van would be the way to go. Once I settled on the van and the build blueprint, I went to work searching for the next adventure vehicle!

I did some digging on available vans in the area, and was disappointed to learn that there wasn’t much available. First, there simply aren’t any high-top cargo vans that are even out there. At least on in the model that I’d chosen to go with. So, I dropped back a bit in my plans, and started looking for a standard height van, with the thought that I could add a high-top to the right vehicle. What I found as I searched is that any of the vans that I did find out there were either junk/rusted out/worn out boasting several hundred thousand miles and were just over priced for my taste. Being that this is would be new territory for me, I wanted a low entry fee as well as a plan that wouldn’t break the bank for the final build out.

Not accepting local defeat… I broadened my search across the nation, and changed my criteria (size/year/miles, etc…) to try to find a good balance of price and condition, and of course the elusive ‘good deal’. I was able to find a few vans that appeared to be pretty decent deals but not a ‘steal’ and definitely not a good enough deal for me to fly half way across the country and pull the trigger. Seemed like making, even a loosely put together, deal over the phone wasn’t a real great idea. Then, lets assume that the haggling resulted in a satisfactory gentlemen’s agreement (pending inspection of course). I’m no mechanic. I can spot a decent running, reliable car most of the time but there are so many things that I’m sure that I miss. With a deal like that, driving it back 1000+ miles with any kind of confidence, just didn’t sit too well with me.

I got a little discouraged, I think because there is a deep seated need for me to remain unbound, untethered and to make my own way. There are many options for van life, and if a person is handy enough, and diligent enough there are deals to be had out there. I haven’t completely given up on it but I thought maybe I should give it a rest and see if there are other options that may be a little easier and less expensive to get started with. I mean, I could buy a van for 2-5k, do the build inside and it would likely be pretty sweet – but, if the exterior condition and the mechanical condition are such that it just won’t last long, well…it seemed like a ‘not-so-good’ idea right now.

So when I didn’t see a boat as a feasible option, and now the van idea seemed to be more difficult than I felt like it should be, I went into sulk mode and decided van life may not be for me, at least not yet… 😕

Stay tuned for my next update. As Paul Harvey used to say “…the rest of the story”

Long overdue update

Hi All! It’s been a while since I’ve put out an update to this blog. The past 15 months have been no less interesting than you would expect out of me. Though, from my perspective, it has been an interesting period of time in my life. Many changes, not only in geographical location, but also in personal growth. I’ll try to recap the last several months.

Just before my last update in April of 2017, I’d scheduled an appointment with an ENT to discuss the crazy ringing in my ears. As it turned out it’s tinnitus and its pretty common. While getting all checked out the doc noted that I have something called (Osteosclerosis) in my ears. Which is abnormal hardening and unusual bone density elevation. This was causing the little inner ear bones to basically lock up and significantly reduce my ability to hear clearly.

There is a surgery that can be done to correct it ( where they can replace the inner ear bones with a prothstetic to restore hearing to near normal. So, after some though and some research I scheduled the surgery. It, surprisingly, does not require an overnight stay in the hospital. The surgery itself takes about 4 hours and they send you on home with, a pile of pain meds, to heal up. Well, the healing process was pretty challenging on the sailboat, but I got through it. It only took about a month or so to feel comfortable enough to call it ‘mostly healed’.

While I was laid up and not able to get out on the water (had to refrain from any strenuous activity while my ear healed up) I decided to take some time to be with my sister and near some people that are very close to me. So, I packed my stuff and moved over to Minnesota. Once I arrived and spent some time here I thought it might be good to sell the boat as I didn’t intend on heading back to California anytime soon. So on the market went the boat! It took about 9-10 months to sell. I was able to get pretty close to what I paid for it and thought that was good since I’d been able to enjoy it and learn how to sail while I had it. Free education…kind of, lol.

I stayed in my sisters travel trailer in her driveway for about a month. After that I found a nice little townhome in Rochester, MN. to park my rear and my gear for a bit. It was kind of a nice little place that backed up to the bike trail and a lot of trees. An end unit with only one neighbor to the west of me. The neighbor’s name is Rhonda, she and I started talking about the first week that I moved in. She was from the neighboring town (Austin, MN) and had just moved in about a month before I did. Well, we hit it off pretty well and have just recently rented a home together. So far its really great, she and I click very well. We don’t get in each other’s way and we do lots of things together. It’s probably the healthiest relationship that I think I’ve ever been in! 🙂 We are spending this year exploring our relationship to see where it goes and how it may align with each of our future plans. Updates on that as they become available over time!

Since I’ve been here in Minnesota, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the time that I’ve had with my nieces and nephews, and just being part of a group of people that I really care about. I think I was getting pretty lonely on the boat because I didn’t have a lot of people that I called friends, no real depth in relationships etc… So being here has been good for me, mentally and spiritually. I will say I’m not in as good of shape as I was while living in California. The weather here is a good bit different than I remember. The winter was seriously cold… weeks of below zero weather, snow, ice … apocalyptic looking terrain…ugh! It made it hard to get out and do much of anything. Just to take the dog out was a big ordeal. Bundle myself up, bundle the dog up…with booties for his little feet even.

I’ve decided that the people that choose to live here have either never been anywhere else and don’t realize that there is actually some ‘earth like’ areas out there that don’t require you to consider how you might obtain some seal blubber to sustain yourself during the coldest months of the year. Or, they stay here because they are simply crazy. No offense to the people here in Minnesota, but you all are crazy to stay here. The summer is like a hotbox of humidity. While the temps might only be in the high 70’s or low to mid 80’s it feels like walking around inside of a wet blanket, in a clothes dryer, that just won’t get dry. It’s miserable. Now, there are a handful of days when the weather is very nice. People here say that’s why they stay here. For those nice days that are like “paradise” … I wonder if it feels like paradise by comparison to the hell of the other seasons? 😐

It is my theory that the bugs belong to some sort of militant corp. The reason I think this is because when it is nice they seem to infiltrate in battle squadrons. First the little ‘no-see-ums’, they are sneaky because you can’t see them. Get it… no-see-um’s … clever right? No, I didn’t think so either. Anyway, there you are sitting outside in late afternoon as the sun is going down, trying to reclaim the outdoors as some temporary living space. Then with out warning, no buzzing, no visual on the attacker and boom, bite,bite,bite! Out of nowhere and the bites are definitely attention getters!

Well that lasts for a few days, maybe longer, then come the flies. They are bold too. Not only do they represent the fearless kamikaze pilots of WWII by diving directly into your face attempting to crash into your nostrils or your eyeballs, but they bite too! These are the black flies, people around here, just smile and shake their heads like “oh those crazy flies, yep, we have ‘em!” and don’t seem to even give it a second thought.

Then…the state bird makes an appearance. No, I’m not talking about the Loons…I’m talking about the mosquitos. They are huge, unafraid and thirsty. They come in packs…err..swarms. A bunch of them will distract you on your left while the remainder hit you hard on the right. Their tactics are effective and frustrating. If that’s not enough for you, well let me tell you about the rest of the infantry. They’re hiding in the woods, the weeds, the tall grass… basically everywhere. Ticks, and lots of them. No need to go into the details of Lyme disease, but just know that it will probably kill you if you get it.

They boast all kinds of wonderful fishing and hunting here. I’ll admit, it is literally some of the best fishing areas in the United States for trout, bass, walleye, northern pike, Muskie… lots of big and tasty game fish. The deer are plentiful and are nearly all corn fed as they invade the farmers crops around here. Guess the love of corn on the cob spans generations and species, huh…who knew?!

Now, if you decide to brave the winter and drill through 18-24 inches of ice to go an catch some of the huge game fish available, good fo you… bundle up. Maybe light a literal fire INSIDE of your snow suit… seems to me the only way to ensure you won’t freeze to death. If you decide to go after the fish in summer…great! Bathe in 2000% deet, don’t worry about the long term effects to your organs or your skin (which I think is actually an organ too…), just lather it on all over the place and get on out there to catch some fish.

Oh, but while you do that, make sure that you also wear a hazmat suit before entering the woods or traipsing around the rivers/streams looking for trout. Why you ask? Oh, this little thing called poison oak…that’s a wonderful thing straight from heaven. It truly makes you appreciate smooth skin and no itching. Because when you come in contact with it, and you scratch what feels like just a normal itch… suddenly you feel like you can’t stop until you scratch enough to wear your skin completely off! “Hey is that dude on drugs, is he seeing invisible bugs on his skin?? – Oh, no, not at all..he’s just got into some poison oak”. 😐

If that’s not enough to inspire you to get on out into the great Minnesota outdoors, how about this one… there is a plant around here called poisonous parsnip…now that’s some nasty stuff right there. Not only will it cause a rash, itching and blisters on your skin, it can also cause permanent damage to your skin and make you sensitive to the suns rays such that you have to forever wear long sleeves or pants for fear of your skin being boiled off of your body. Sigh… I suppose there are positives and negatives in every state, this one just seems to have an imbalance of negatives. 🙂

All-in-all, its really not a bad place. While I embellish some of the things that are distasteful to me, it does offer some beautiful scenery, great fishing, great hunting and nice people. I am fairly confident that this will be a good temporary stay as I plan to be here for another 12 months. After that, I’m strongly considering a move back to the west coast or somewhere in between here and there. More on that later.

Now you are all caught up – some of the details have been left out to protect the guilty, but the overall picture is now complete. More updates to come…stay tuned.