Hot Just Like an Oven

The last 3 weeks have been spent in very warm temperatures with the best company. After our few quick days in Portland we drove up to Northern Idaho to spend a week a half in Priest Lake, Idaho with the Larsen side of the family (Katie’s). The family has a cabin on the water, where they take their family vacation every year. The family was there in different shifts, but we were able to see both my parents, sister Jessica and her husband Tom, younger brother Ben and his girlfriend Jesse, my dear friend Emily, and sister Lauren’s boyfriend Hung (Lauren, Chris, Devon & Marshall were unable to join us sadly).

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The house was filled with family, great food, and lots of quality time. Most mornings started slowly with coffee on the deck in our pajamas. We spent every day relaxing, laying in the sun, participating in watersports on the boat, and jet skiing around the lake. We barely ever changed out of our swimsuits. Most nights ended with sunset boat cruises/wake surfing, bonfires, spike ball tournaments, MANY games of Uno, or competitive Catch Phrase. The combination of Larsen-lake-style vacation and having meals provided for a week and a half left us completely rejuvenated and ready to drive across the country.

Prior to moving into the van full-time, we planned a trip to New Orleans with our gal Gianna to visit our buddy Quinn (he just got into Tulane University, School of Medicine!!!) At the time, we weren’t exactly sure where we would be but just thought “we have all the time in the world so we can drive wherever!” Although this is true, we didn’t realize the drive would include 2,444 miles across the entire country. Regardless, we hit the road and drove 4 days straight through Idaho, Montana, the tip of Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, and finally arrived in Louisiana on the 29th of July (yes-you read that correctly). We were exhausted by the time we arrived, but so excited to explore the city of NOLA with a very energetic and adventurous duo. Here’s a snippet from Gianna to introduce my recap of our extended weekend:

“This week we spent our days in a city where you can see alligators roam, flash for beads, hear live music in every other bar, and eat meat and beignets for every meal – all while walking around with an open container of alcohol. Our bodies nearly shut down between the humidity and red meat intake. In New Orleans, rules are pretty lax. For example, a drivethru daiquiri place exists. As they say, ‘New Orleans or die!’”

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I think it’s safe to say that we were pretty surprised at the laid back environment of New Orleans. Maybe I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I was positively surprised with the city as a whole. Not only is the city picture-perfect with its porches and abundance of hanging/porch plants, the vibe of the entire city is something we fell into groove with naturally. People were (mostly) friendly, all bars serve you drinks in “to-go” cups (you can walk around the city with alcohol WHAT), and the temperature/humidity relaxed to a very comfortable climate at night.

The first night was spent eating dinner at Dat Dog on Magazine Street and then exploring the nightlife by foot. We walked through the French Quarter, Bourbon Street, Frenchmen Street, and more. I didn’t realize how much ground we had covered but looking back, we were out and about for almost 8 hours. The streets are CRAZY at night, filled with neon cups of alcohol, various colored beads, and groups of people in shirts that read “drunk #1, drunk #2, etc.” We completed the night at the Casino (Evan’s first experience at a casino!) then called it a night.

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We began the next day slowly at Café du Monde, an old coffee stand in the French Quarter that opened in 1862, only accepts cash, and has amazing beignets. Afterwards, we walked around, scoping out different shops in the area. Evan and I branched off for a little, laid in the grass at Jackson Square and listened to a violin duo that was performing on the street. The amount of musical talent within New Orleans is mind-blowing. We followed up the afternoon with more music and went to see the Hot 8 Brass Band, a Grammy-nominated brass band local to New Orleans. This was such a fun experience! The group is well known for their 2005 version of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”, hence the title of this post. If you have a moment, I’d highly recommend that you click here to check out some of their music and give it a listen. You won’t be disappointed.

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The last day of July was busy, driving around New Orleans and hitting various parts of the city. Some of the pit stops included Tulane’s bookstore (GG wanted a shirt to rep Quinn – how cute) and City Park. One of the comedic events of the trip occurred during this day at New Orleans Museum of Art and Sculpture Garden. We showed up at 5:30, and last call for entrance is usually 5:15. The guard wouldn’t budge on the entrance and my somber response was “oh okay, I’ll just look it up on Google images.” When we turned to walk away, the guard checked his watch again and said, “you can do a quick loop”. I’m beyond grateful he did because I was able to watch Gianna climb on Quinn’s shoulders to try to mimic a statue. See below.

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We explored some of the lower ninth ward and viewed various houses that Brad Pitt’s Make It Right foundation is known for building.  You can read into the details of this foundation and project online, but basically the foundation did their best to build about 150 sustainable homes, prepped for future natural disasters and containing solar panels for energy. The homes definitely stand out in the neighborhood, as this was one of the city’s hardest hit neighborhoods. Maybe it’s because I live on the opposite side of the country, or maybe it’s because I am naïve, but I didn’t realize how prominent the aftermath of Katrina still was in this city. A woman in the Tulane bookstore explained for almost 30 minutes how Katrina affected her family. Our Uber driver brought up Katrina and how he thought he’d be out of town for 2 days when the storm hit but it ended up being a year.  As traveling is supposed to do, this has reminded me how small I am in a very, very big world. Disasters don’t just go away overnight. If you have any recommended reading on Katrina or suggestions on how I can continue to educate myself regarding the event, please, please, please send me an email.

Our last full day in New Orleans began driving south to the Barataria Preserve Trails in the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. **Side note: this area can be viewed in the oh-so-famous first season of True Detective (do yourself a favor and watch ASAP if you haven’t yet)** We completed a brief 2-mile walk/hike on the boardwalk of the park and saw a disgusting amount of monstrous insects: spiders, mosquitoes, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and (baby) alligators. The heat was rough but definitely worth it to see this section of Louisiana. We then drove back to the city of NOLA, stopped by Dr. Bob’s (a local artist whose art can be seen in nearly every restaurant/bar in the city), explored the Spanish Plaza at the waterfront, and cooled off with an overly-sweet snowball. Quinn took us on a self-guided tour through the garden district, where we all successfully sweated through our shirts and viewed Sandra Bullock’s NOLA mansion (please see photo of cat in front of the Manning brother’s childhood house…supposedly their father still lives there). The day was finished with fried chicken and jambalaya at Coop’s Place in the French Quarter and more local music.

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One of the places I really want to praise is Pat O’Brien’s bar. We ended up here numerous times throughout our trip and where you read “local music” there is a good chance I am talking about this bar. The piano room is set up with 2 grand pianos and huge mirrors on the wall tilted down (so the audience can view the piano keys). Every hour, the pianists switch out. Their set is based on requests the audience writes on napkins and places on the top of the piano. They play and sing completely by feel, often playing together. It is so, so cool and I am still thinking about it (even though they didn’t play either of our requests BUT, to their defense, we did request Blink 182…). If you are ever in NOLA, I would highly recommend grabbing a drink here for at least an hour.

We left New Orleans this morning with a gloomy goodbye. It is always hard to say goodbye to friends, especially when it’s unsure when you’ll see them again. (Quick background: I met Gianna and Quinn while studying abroad in South Africa. So although we are used to saying goodbye, it is always sad). This trip wraps up our phase of the road with friends and family. The next phase of the trip is (almost) completely unplanned but we know we will continue to make more friends along the way. We’re currently headed to Golden, Colorado for a van-meet up at Powder7. There are between 10-13 vans expected to show, which will be awesome to connect with others that are living a similar lifestyle. Beyond that, we have no idea where we will go and we couldn’t be more excited. As always, thanks for keeping up with us as we bounce around North America. Cheers y’all.

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7,000 Miles Later…

The last month has gotten a little away from us. Between the constant driving, the lack of cell service/internet, and the new scenery, we have been a little MIA. We’re going to do our very best to play catch-up on the last month, and we PROMISE, we will stay up to date on the blog from here forward.

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As recently stated, our last day of work was May 31st. We took another 2 weeks to finish off the build process, then packed the car and got ready to hit the road. Unfortunately, we both came down with horrid colds a few days prior to our take-off date, which delayed us a day or two. However, through a cocktail of dayquil, niquil, advil, throat coat, etc. we were able to leave just 2 days behind schedule. Packing was not as complicated as we anticipated, and if anything, we overpacked. Our van was filled to the BRIM as we hit highway 26 ready to head North of Oregon. I (Katie) was driving first and we quickly learned what it meant to do a true “ready-to-drive” check before hitting the road. As we headed towards Portland in bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic, we quickly came to a hault (more abruptly than I’d like to admit). We had forgotten to check if the cabinets were locked and before we knew it, our top/miscellaneous/junk drawer came FLYING off the tracks and onto the floor of the van. We had to abruptly turn around and head back to Beaverton to fix the cabinets. Afterwards, we were back on the road again.

We took our sweet time making it to Northern Washington. As many of you know, we have our McMemamin’s passports and we were able to visit 8 locations and earn 13 stamps. It’s safe to say that all we ate for 2 days was McMenamin’s food. Afterwards, we drove to Fall City to park on my younger brother (Ben)’s girlfriend’s farm. Her name is Jesse and she’s the sweetest. We were able to explore her 160 acres of land, feed her goat named Wilson some local grass, visit Snoqualmie Falls, and cross the border to Canada.

Our first leg through Canada consisted of Indian Reservations, lots of Central-Oregon-looking-land, expensive Diesel gas, and not knowing where to park overnight. We were too hesitant to park in a different country illegally, so we settled and paid 20 American dollars for a campsite near Lytton in BC territory. It ended up being a great first night on our own, where we pulled out our outdoor candle (thanks Grandma Donna!), a new tablecloth, cooked our first meal on the outdoor stove, and finished the night with Pinot Noir by the fire. The next morning, we were up and out by 11AM.

We continued North on highway 12 and made our way to Prince George. We started to feel our first level of stir-crazy after 6 hours in the car so we decided to stop at 10-mile Lake for some tacos and a shower. It was a bit nerve-racking at first to go to a lake with biodegradable soap and a luffa but we split an IPA and found our courage. With 3 families watching us, we dove into the water, washed our hair/bodies, and relaxed on the shore, finally feeling clean. 

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We followed this glorious shower with some amazing parking-lot tacos on our outdoor stove. (I would have really liked to include more photos of this dinner but it’s hard tofind one without me licking the spoon). We finally finished the last of this leg and made it to Prince George. I wish I could report that living in a van is always beautiful views overlooking a glorious lake with zero mosquitos flying around, but, sometimes living in a van means parking in a Walmart parking lot at 11PM and falling into bed in the clothes you wore all day without brushing your teeth.

The following day, we FINALLY crossed the border into Alaska (yay back to American territory). My favorite question asked while crossing the numerous borders was, “may I ask what the relationship is?” (Evan’s last name is Larson and mine is Larsen….) We can both, without a doubt, express that this was the most beautiful part of the drive. Entering Skagway, Alaska, the land literally splits in 2 with mountain ranges on either side, a beautiful body of water running in the Valley, and an open view of the Ocean in front of you. We were SO happy to find a local brewery with amazing beer and to finally have reception again. We even splurged and bought 2 beers each and a burger. One of the things that has been challenging is to not get TOO excited when we finally have reception again. We’re trying to balance out our blogging, instagram page, touching base with family/friends, and still living in the moment/making sure that we are being attentive enough to one another. This night consisted of unplugging, enjoying each others’ company, and snuggling in the comfort of our own country again.

We thought a ferry from Skagway to Haines would be the most efficient way of transportation, and we were right, but we didn’t anticipate it costing ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FOUR DOLLARS to travel across a small channel of water. Whatever. We bought a ticket and called it good, and enjoyed the free morning before the ferry ride (we may or may not have had wine with breakfast). 

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It was so worth it because the view of arriving in Haines via water was absolutely breathtaking. I’m not sure what I expected Alaska to look like, but the amount of mountain ranges, glacier water, open land, is more than I could have imagined. We toured the small town of Haines (population 1,374 as of 1999, thanks Google…), grocery shopped, and ended up at a local taproom. It was clear that we were the only people present that didn’t live there……but somebody chased us down in the parking lot and asked to view our van. A fellow guy has been living out of his Mazda and climbed into our van to exchange road stories, build horrors, and a simple friendly face (turns out, he actually followed us on IG without realizing it already. We received a direct message from him the next day after we posted, saying he hadn’t realized that we were already connected on social media). He led us to a local friend of his who provided a recommendation for beautiful camping. We drove out to the site, with water that was more green than blue, cooked the biggest pan of stir fry I’ve ever seen, killed a 6-pack, and fell asleep very happy.

We woke up and did the normal duties, that are not quite as glamorous (once again) as people might think. This includes emptying the grey water tank, throwing out our trash, dumping our portable-toilet into the campsite toilet, etc. But it was all worth it when we drank fresh ground coffee out of our Hydroflasks by a green glacier lake with a BALD EAGLE flying overhead. Welcome to Alaska.

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Throughout this trip, there were very specific spots we were looking forward to seeing. One of the places was a free campsite, recommended by a cutie we follow on Instagram, next to Quill River, barely North of Kathleen Lake, on Haines Junction. Sounds complicated but as we passed it, we quickly recognized it and stopped. We set up a pretty sweet campsite, with a fire from wood we gathered, some local IPAs purchased in the previous town, and got ready for dinner and a shower.

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We recently purchased the Road Shower 2 and were so excited to use it for the first time. I was able to enjoy a thorough 2-minute shower, but Evan wasn’t so lucky. As he was soaped up and getting ready to rinse off, the shower stopped working, AND a car turned off the highway into our camping spot (give yourself a good minute to LOL at the chaos this ensued). We frantically got him a pair of shorts, but couldn’t figured out the water for him to fully rinse off. He managed to get comfortable and just called it good. Anyways, another car pulled up about an hour later, which held a very enthusiastic wildlife photographer, who we just adored. He stopped taking photos after a while, asked to see our van, and started dreaming with us about the life that living in a van allows and how amazing travel freedom is when you can manage it. We hope to stay connected via social media.

The rest of our trip is going to be summarized much quicker, as it is less action-packed and was spent really trying to get used to the new lifestyle. We made our way up to Fairbanks, where we spent a few days but were honestly not very impressed. We visited the Chena Hot Springs, which was a little over-priced and slightly too packed for our taste (sorry). But we got a free shower out of it so oh well! We then headed down to Anchorage, which we really enjoyed. We splurged for a dinner at 49th State Brewery (UH-MAZING, thanks Griffin) and watched a redbox almost every night.

After a bit of laziness, we headed South to the Kenai Peninsula and visited Chugach National Park in Girdwood, Alaska. IT WAS SO BEAUTIFUL. We did a 2-mile hike to Byron Glacier but mostly stayed near the main road, in fear of bears. They had free camping spots with pre-determined firepits, which is always appreciated as a van-dweller. The next day, we drove through the longest tunnel in North America titled Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel (spans 2.5 miles) to Whittier, Alaska. This was a small fishing town that you could walk across in 15 minutes but had a great view of many glaciers and fishing boats. We spent the night in town, with a firework show at midnight on July 3rd to kick off the national holiday. For the actual 4th of July, we met up with an old friend of mine named Matt Dunham. He was hospitable enough to offer us a free shower, local beer, and home-cooked chicken wings. We sat in lawn chairs in a circle as we ate, drank, and chatted. Our 4th couldn’t have been more relaxing and enjoyable.

We planned quite a few more stops on the way home but honestly, got a bit eager to see our loved ones and decided to just drive straight. It was still more than fine, with good breaks for meals and stretching in between. The highway is far from smooth but was definitely worth the views we were fortunate enough to see in Alaska. The month long trial run was good for us, as we were able to swing by home and re-set before hitting the road again (we had a very good friend’s wedding, Matt & April – congrats!) It gave us an opportunity to do a deep-clean of the van, go through every item we brought with us and decide if we still want it, and rearrange all the tubs in the back of the van. It’s safe to say that we feel even more prepared to be on the road now than we did last month.

This was WAY TOO LONG of a blog post and we promise to not drag you through this again. If you are anybody besides our Mother’s or Grandma’s, we’re honestly surprised you’re still reading this. But regardless, thank you. We love sharing this journey and every nitty-gritty detail of it with you. You are so appreciate! Post soon…

 

The Van Conversion is “COMPLETE”

Well, we can officially announce that the van conversion is all done! As many of you know, home conversions are never truly “complete”. There are always improvements you may wish to make, things you want to change, etc. But as of the end of June, we decided to be satisfied with all the work we completed, make a trip to Bed, Bath & Beyond, and move into the van. Some of the last-minute purchases we made include:

  • 3” inch memory foam mattress topper and 3” inch gel foam mattress topper from Costco
  • Giant slide-free cutting board that covers our sink for more food prep area
  • Pecos shower curtain from Pendleton to hang on the ½” copper rod we installed near the front cabin
  • 2 floor mats for the kitchen area
  • New bedding and pillows for our cozy bed
  • Sitting hammock for the sliding door area (thank you to Vanna the Transit for the idea!)
  • Magnet board and strip to hang photos
  • Thetford porta potti toilet
  • Leapair shower pop-up tent
  • Hand-held 12v car vacuum
  • LOTS of board/travel/card games (checkers, tic tac toe, yahtzee, connect 4, uno, phase 10, etc.)

A few notes on the list above…we went with 3” mattress toppers instead of a normal spring mattress because our bed frame is a custom size and we wanted to be able to slice through the mattresses easily. Additionally, it was cheaper AND Costco had a gel-foam mattress with a “seasonal feature” – one side cools and one side heats so you can flip the mattress topper when the seasons change. Additionally, the hammock is usually installed prior to the walls but our van was nearly complete. SO, we used 2 triangle-shaped pieces of hardware that are similar to a d-ring (I looked everywhere online and cannot, for the life of me, find what they are called…we bought them at Ace Hardware) and installed them to the original bolt that holds our sliding door track in place. Then, we used carabiners (REI sells these with a 6” strap already attached) and hooked these to the hardware. This ended up being super simple for us and takes just a brief moment to hang up when we want to use the hammock.

A lot of the last-minute work included small trim pieces throughout the van, including an aluminum angle piece installed on the step into the van. Some of the trim pieces, such as the corner caps above the front cabin, required custom cuts with a jigsaw, a process that took a while and more than 1 attempt. We also finished installing all the lights, the countertop, appliances, and strapping down the propane tank and the 7-gallon grey-water tank under our sink.

After we finished the rest of the “build” phase, we started filling the van with our new kitchen supplies, melamine dishes from Crate & Barrel, new pots and pans, and numerous containers from Storables. We then got to (finally) move all our personal belongings into the van. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at the amount of storage space this thing contains! Picking and choosing items and clothing that we wanted to bring on this journey was easier than expected. It’s been so nice to take this space that we’ve been working on for so long and give it a personal touch. The longer we live in it, the more we feel it reflects who we are. We’re hoping to get a blog post up soon that details some of the décor we’ve put up since hitting the road.

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We’ve been on the road for a little over 2 weeks and have already covered so much ground. As we continue on our adventure, our blog will focus more on van-living and less on the details of the van build. We will be sure to post as many travel photos as possible, as well as give you all an idea of what day-to-day life is like for us. Thanks for sticking with us through the entire build process. We look forward to sharing the next step of our journey!

P.S. We have already met so many cool people on the road! Please feel free to get in touch with us if you are ever interested in collaborating for an adventure or if you have certain questions about the build process. We’ve already received quite a few emails with detailed questions and we love to chat with people about the build. We look forward to expanding our social circle during the next year 🙂

 

Picking Up The Pace

The last month has been beyond busy with continuously working on the van. We both were able to put in our 2-weeks notice at work, with our last day falling perfectly at the end of the month. Although our to-do list is still extensive, we have been able to cross numerous projects off the list. One of our biggest accomplishments has been installing the cabinets. We’ve also been able to slowly transition from buying and installing larger materials to focusing on more intimate details, such as decor and shelving. Here’s some of the latest additions to the build.

Kitchen:

The kitchen cabinets were built all in one piece with deep drawers for optimal storage space. With 3 drawers on the left and a large under-sink area, we will have plenty of space for all dishware and cooking supplies to prep 3 meals a day on the road. We purchased butcher block from Lumber Liquidators in Tigard and received a great price on the large piece. We even have enough extra butcher block to build a removable table that we can use when we swivel our seats around. Amazon has so many options but we landed on a base for the table that folds out and has an opening in the center to insert a metal pole. The underside of the tabletop has a mount that will secure the table on top of the pole and keep it sturdy enough to eat off (we purchased the metal pole from OnlineMetals.com).

Our sink is a stainless steel undermount sink made by Dawn that is small enough for the van but still functional enough to wash dishes in. Following similar plumbing styles of other van-dwellers, we purchased a pre-pressurized accumulator tank and a twist-on pipe strainer to utilize water flow and pressure. We made sure to purchase a pull-down faucet in hopes of conserving water when we clean-up meals, as our fresh water tank only holds 10 gallons. The grey water tank also holds 10 gallons and fits perfectly under the sink. The stove is made by Atwood (also stainless steel) and has two different sized burners. We haven’t quite put this section together but plan to buy the rest of the plumbing supplies this week.

Cabinets:

Although we designed and measured the cabinets ourselves, we ultimately decided to have them done professionally. Since our build includes hanging cabinets, we really wanted to make sure that the build was sturdy and would be secure with the constant rattling while driving. They turned out AMAZING. The hardware has a push feature that pops out to unlock and open the cabinet doors and secures the doors once pushed again. They even include a slow-close feature. The natural color of the fir wood turned out beautifully and we truly couldn’t be more happy.

Organization:

We both are VERY clean and thoroughly enjoy living in an organized space. WestMarine has awesome teak decor and we went a little crazy….we bought 2 utility shelves for under the sink to hold cleaning supplies, spice racks for around the kitchen, and (our favorite) a double-cup holder that coincidentally holds beer bottles perfectly.  Storables was also a necessary stop, where we found some metal baskets to install on the back doors, our paper towel/hand towel holders, and a few other small items. We don’t have any of these photos yet but we’ll be sure to post some as soon as we install all racks and shelving.

Miscellaneous:

Buying decor for the van is something we’ve been looking forward to for a while. We started with some necessities, such as window covers (hand-sewn canvas filled with reflectix for insulation), a propane tank, and a safe that we’ll bolt to the floor. Then we moved to more fun items: a teak shower mat, various tablecloths for the REI co-op kingdom table we recently bought, a hanging fruit basket, and a small hanging plant holder. The plugs near our bed include a 12-volt socket, which we found a small fan for. One of the bigger recent additions is the road shower 2, a custom quick-connect with a longer hose, and a new nossel. We also caved and bought an (expensive) mosquito net for the sliding door, allowing for even more airflow. Lastly, we found an awesome Hairo hand coffee grinder that doubles as a sealed canister to hold our coffee grounds.

With the cabinets installed, we were also able to finish more of the frame work. Particularly, the fridge is now in the van/hooked up and the bed frame is built, trim pieces and all. The under-cabinet lights are also in the works, with 1 installed already. Since everything is already wired, we were also able to install the lights switches (they work!). Other additions include more electrical wiring and installing (battery monitor system, solar charge controllers, etc.) and all our batteries in a custom battery box we built.

If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a beer. Thanks for reading and staying interested in our huge endeavor!

 

 

 

WOODent cha know?

Although we haven’t installed all of the wood yet, all of it is ordered or in our possession. We wanted to give a brief breakdown of the kind of wood we decided to use throughout the van build. Here goes!

Walls/Ceiling: Since we started planning the build, we always knew we wanted to use a lot of cedar. We love the look and feel of the wood and have always admired van builds that we’ve seen use this material. Similar to many other vans, we wanted to use tongue and groove cedar boards for the ceiling and walls. We ended up purchasing the cedar boards from Parr Lumber, choosing ¾-inch x 6-inches x 12-feet boards unstained. We didn’t want to wood to look too red, so we went with a more natural look of unstained wood. We also wanted the cedar to have some texture to the look, so we chose tight knot cedar. Additionally, we ordered a single 1-inch x 6-inches x 12-feet board for the middle of the ceiling. We purchased circular lights that are going to run on this middle board of the van and we wanted to make the lights stand out slightly. Lastly, we purchased 1/4 inch fir plywood for the lower panels, since they will barely show beneath the bed and behind the kitchen vanity. 

Floors: Originally, we fell in love with dark bamboo floors and were set on using the material for our small section of hardwood near the kitchen area. We went to Home Depot, picked out the color we liked, and went to purchase it. One of the workers asked what it was for and when we explained, he highly recommended that we use a different material due to lack of flexibility in bamboo, requirements for cutting the wood, and swelling if the floor gets wet. After much discussion and hesitation, we decided to purchase laminate flooring. It is super easy to install, more waterproof than wood, flexible, and thin (we only have about 2 inches of wiggle room when considering the floor and ceiling because Evan is so tall). Our laminate floor looks very similar to dark bamboo so we thought it was a compromise. Purchased at Home Depot, the floor is made by Stanhope and has a Hickory color to it. You can view it HERE if you’d like!

Door Panels: As described in our “Phase 2” post, we purchased RB Component’s wood panels for our back doors and sliding passenger door. All these panels are made from ¼” White Birch Plywood. We figured the amount of time and precision it would take to cut these ourselves wasn’t worth it. Instead, we bought these panels that are already cut for our doors and decided to sand and stain them ourselves. We finished the last coat on them and have already started to install them!

Cabinets: Our hanging cabinets, kitchen vanity, “dresser” drawers, and frame for our fridge are all made of fir. We decided to have these built professionally since they are such a focal point of the entire van. We really wanted them to look crisp and well done. We took all the measurements, designed the cabinets, and placed the order. We have about a month until we get these back and we can’t wait to see the final product!

**EDIT TO LAST POST: When we published our last post, we were in the midst of finishing off the insulation, particularly the denim batting. We had finished part of the vapor barrier phase and, after conducting further research, decided that we did not want to include a vapor barrier. We talked to people for advice and read a bunch online about the need for semi-permeable vapor barriers instead of a solid black vapor barrier that we were using. We weren’t able to find anything semi-permeable to use so we decided to cut out the vapor barrier in fear of condensation getting behind it and allowing moisture in the denim batting. We also decided to put a layer of rigid foam board in the walls as an additional layer of insulation, to avoid using only denim batting, which could potentially soak up a lot of moisture and give us issues down the road. The floors and ceiling are still insulated in the manner that was described in our “Phase 2: Electrical System and Insulation” post.

 

Accessories, Accessories, Accessories!

As we briefly mentioned in our last post, we have done our best to continue making small additions to the van throughout the large phases to make sure that we don’t have a gazillion things to do near the end of the build. These purchases may be considered less necessary in the van conversion world, but one of the main reasons we’re doing the conversion ourselves (as opposed to buying a pre-converted van) is so we can create this into our own personal home with all the special touches, details, and accessories we love. Here’s a breakdown of some of our favorite additions so far.

Seat Swivels:
We installed sprinter swivel seat base adapters with offset pivots from Sprinter Upgrades. We went with these specific seat swivels because they are compatible with the year of our vehicle (2016) and with our heated seats. When we thought about living in the van, we really liked the idea of having a bed that we didn’t have to maneuver every night or set up. Most builds we have seen require this, as their bed area doubles as their table/dining area. Instead, we’ve decided to use the seat swivels and install a removable RV table that will serve as our dining area when the seats are swivelled towards the rear of the car. They were easy to install and came with step-by-step instructions and photos. (Side note: the back right bracket hole of the passenger seat swivel did not align perfectly with the original seat base so we had to enlarge the hole with a drill bit. The seat swivels also didn’t come with washers so we ended up buying our own.)

Tires/Wheels:
We replaced the original wheels and tires with BF Goodrich KO2 All Terrain tires to allow us to explore farther off the beaten path. The wheels are factory Mercedes wheels and powder coated flat black. We also have custom center caps that we are working on resizing to finish off the clean look.

Ladder:
We went back and forth on the idea of putting a ladder on the back or the side of the van. We originally decided against it but reconsidered after we started seeing more and more vans around Portland with a ladder (we both just really love the exterior look with an added ladder). We also wanted to ensure that we had a way to reach the solar panels in case of emergency and for routine cleaning. Our ladder is from Aluminess and is built for the drivers side of the vehicle, customized for a high roof sprinter. We are SUPER excited about the look of the ladder, especially since we were able to install it between our passenger side windows as to avoid blocking any window views. (Side note: the L-shaped brackets that mount to the factory roof rails did not line up with the holes in the ladder. We were again required to make the bracket holes bigger, this time with a step bit and a fender washer, to align them before mounting the ladder.)

One other brief update! We have measured for our cabinets and submitted our designs. We are getting these professionally built through a family friend and cannot way to see the outcome. Thanks for following us along the process! More updates coming soon.

Phase 2: Electrical System and Insulation

First and foremost, we apologize for our absence in posts. The last few months have been filled with research, hardware store visits, trial and error, and accomplished goals. Our van now has a large majority of the insulation completed and most of the wires put in place. We spent a month or so conducting research and buying all the materials we would need for the electrical system and the installation process. Our schedules really picked up over the holidays (especially with the snow storms here in Portland), causing the conversion process to slow down a bit but we have continued to chip away at our to-do list whenever we have free time (we both are currently working full-time). Here is what we purchased for the electrical system and the insulation:

INSULATION

  • Dynamat
  • Reflectix
  • 3M high-strength 90 Spray Adhesive
  • Reflective foil tape
  • RMax Thermasheath Polyisocyanurate rigid foam board
  • UltraTouch Denim Insulation
  • Black plastic sheeting for vapor barrier
  • Black duct tape

ELECTRICAL SYSTEM

  • 3 Renogy 100 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panels
  • 4 Vmaxtanks Deep Cycle Marine Grade Batteries
  • Renogy 20 Amp Solar Charge Controller
  • Blue Sea Systems Fuse Block (with 12 circuits)
  • Krieger 2000 Watt Dual Power Inverter
  • TurnRaise LED Panel Circuit Breakers with 2 USBs and a 12V socket (we ended up exchanging this for JR black double and triple switches and a marine grade triple panel lighter outlet/charger outlet/voltmeter)
  • Nova Kool R3800 AC/DC single door refrigerator/freezer
  • SHURflo Water Pump
  • Under cabinet LED lights (12 bars)
  • RV Recessed Circular ceiling lights (4)
  • A bunch of wire/different gauge sizes: 2/0, 4, 12, 16
  • 1/0 gauge stud copper lugs
  • TEMCo glue lined marine heat shrink tubing (black and red, varying sizes)
  • TEMCo hammer lug crimper
  • Split-Loom cable organizer (varying sizes)

We began the insulation process by dynamatting most blank surfaces throughout the entire van (ceiling, walls, floor, doors, everything). This helps the van sound less like an empty tin can while we drive around, and also helps soundproof the entire car. We then layered the interior in reflectix, a multipurpose insulation material that looks a little like shiny bubble wrap. We used the spray-adhesive to stick the reflectix to the van and then taped down the edges using the reflective foil tape. Although this is a little overboard, both Evan and I are a little particular with how we like to do projects and figured we would rather do too much than too little. We finished off the ceiling with rigid foam board between the support beams as its final layer of insulation. Lastly, we stuffed all possible areas with the UltraTouch denim batt insulation, adding yet another layer of insulation to the cargo section of the van. We covered all the denim batting with vapor barrier then sealed the vapor barrier with duct tape, to ensure that no moisture sneaks into the insulation layers.

We originally thought we had the wiring down, but our plan had to be adjusted many times over the last few months. While we have bought (hopefully) all of the necessary pieces for our electrical system, we will not be able to truly put it together until later in the build (FYI: we laid most of the wires between the reflectix and the denim batting, to help secure the wires down and avoid rattling while driving around). As of now, we have the following wires laid:

  • 2/0 gauge for between the batteries and inverter
  • 4 gauge for the fuse box and fridge
  • 12 gauge for the ceiling fan
  • 12 gauge for the lights and water pump
  • 10 gauge for the solar panels to the control charger

The wiring required a few holes to be drilled in the interior frame of the car, to ensure that wires would be tucked behind the necessary insulation. We used split-loom to keep large clumps of wire together and zip ties to secure the run of the wire to the walls throughout the van. The end of each positive/negative wire is currently labelled and sealed off with blue tape, to allow the process of connecting the actual electrical system items to their wires to be a little easier. Once we install the wall, floor and ceiling boards, we can begin to connect the necessary electrical items to their corresponding wires. **We have not made a decision yet about connecting the batteries to the alternator. We have heard both positive and negative things, and are just not fully convinced that the outcome will be worth the amount of work this will require. If anybody has any comments or recommendations, please leave a comment!**

The other section of the electrical system we were able to tackle is the battery bank. We cut 2/0 gauge wire into roughly 6.5” sections, used a box cutter to remove a small section of the exterior material on the wire and put a stud copper lug on each side. The TEMCo hammer lug crimper worked wonders to secure the lugs on each end of the wires – we would definitely recommend buying it for this step of the process. We then cut small sections of the heat shrink tubing, slipped these over each connecting lug/wire, and melted the tubing with a heat gun (highly recommend buying the glue lined marine tubing!) We did this process 10 times, creating enough battery connectors to have 3 positives and 3 negatives connecting the 4 batteries, and 2 extra of each in case of emergency for later down the road. Finally, we built a thick wooden box to hold the batteries that will sit in the back of the van.

In addition to starting the electrical system and nearly completing the insulation, we also purchased some miscellaneous items to help speed along the conversion process and make weekend trips more comfortable. Our van acquired an abnormal amount of sand during our first beach trip so we bought a WeatherTech custom fit floor liner for the front of the van.  We also picked up some matte black exterior decor, including license plate frames and a new Mercedes emblem for the front of the car. We also purchased RB component’s wood panels for our back doors and the sliding passenger door, that we plan to seal and install within the next few weeks. Lastly, we caved and bought a Mr. Heater Buddy, an indoor-safe portable heater. The van came with a floor heater in the cargo section but is wired where we want to build our kitchen cabinets and also doesn’t heat the van if it isn’t running. The heater was not very expensive and runs on propane, so it won’t add to the amount of juice needed from the solar panels.

We want to end with a HUGE shoutout to Jeff Larson. He was so much help with running the wires for the electrical system. His assistance saved us so much time and stress, and we’re beyond grateful for his help in this process. Now that the van is (nearly) insulated and the electrical system is partially completed, we’re hoping the build speed starts to really pick up. We’re excited to start working on the ceiling paneling, the walls, and the floor. No more driving around in an empty metal cargo van!

Phase 1: Window and Fan Installation

We have officially completed our first step in the conversion of our new sprinter! We bought the van without any windows or ventilation system in place – basically an empty cargo van. Tom Krause, the employee at Mercedes in Wilsonville that helped us find the van, was very down-to-earth when discussing suggestions of the conversion process. He has done some conversion work himself and was able to provide suggestions and advice based on his own personal experience. This came in handy not only when deciding what size of sprinter to buy, but also when laying out the blueprint of the cargo and figuring out the best way to begin the conversion.

Although there are companies that specialize in converting customized sprinters, they tend to have very high labor costs and extraordinarily long waiting lists. One of the main reasons we chose not to buy a pre-converted van was so we could save money and customize the interior specific to our taste. We decided on buying our windows on Amazon for much cheaper and finding a body shop that we trusted to do the installation for us (BIG thank you to Mathew Haldeman at Kuni BMW). By going this route, we saved ourselves over $500 per window.

The windows we decided to purchase are all made by C.R. Laurence, a very common brand of windows in the community of sprinter converting. The sliding door window is the largest in the cargo, a t-vent style window with two lower panels that open up to allow airflow. We decided on sliding windows for the rest of the van, which are much smaller and allow more privacy. For the driver’s side of the vehicle, we purchased two identical sliding windows, measuring 41-1/4” by 16-3/4”. We also added a window to the rear panel of the passenger’s side, similar to the driver’s side windows but smaller, measuring 25-1/4” by 16-3/4”.

Since we plan on cooking inside the van, we purchased a ceiling fan from RB Component to allow ventilation. We chose the basic 1250 model of the Fan-Tastic Vent Roof Van (12v/low power consumption, varying speeds, in/out ventilation). The combination of open windows and the ceiling van will (hopefully) allow enough airflow to avoid lingering smells of whatever we cooked for breakfast/lunch/dinner. We’re looking forward to taking our van on continuous weekend test trips throughout the build process, in hopes of figuring out what is working, what we should do differently, and what is the most practical for living conditions.

Next up: all the wiring! This chapter of the build has already required the most amount of research, since we’re planning to do all the work and installation ourselves. If anybody has any tips or suggestions, particularly regarding installing your own solar panels, please get in contact with us! We’d love to hear from you. Wish us luck!

Let’s Stop Talking About it and Buy a Van

Hi everyone! Welcome to our VERY FIRST BLOG POST! We wanted an efficient way to share the entire process of our new adventure with our friends and family. This will allow you all to read about the conversion process of our new adventure mobile, follow us on our travels, and see photos of everything along the way.

To get everybody up to speed, we recently acquired a 2016 Mercedes Sprinter. This idea came about when we started dating, just before the summer of 2015. Throughout our first few dates there was a common theme of conversation: incorporating long-term travel into our future together. We talked about different ways to make this happen and ultimately decided that we wanted to travel in a way that would provide freedom, convenience, and simplicity. What better way to make this happen than a self-converted home on wheels, designed and built by yours truly! We began brainstorming vehicles, layouts, wish lists and budgets. We landed on the idea of a sprinter and after months, and months, and MONTHS of searching for the perfect van, we decided to buy new. This allowed us to pick out the features we wanted, ensure that we got the exact size of sprinter that we were looking for, and guarantee that there would be no issues that often arise with purchasing a used car.

Tom Krause at Mercedes-Benz of Wilsonville was great with our search for a sprinter. We were able to view multiple vehicles and request certain specs before deciding on anything. We landed on a 4-cylinder sprinter in tenorite grey metallic. Some of the features that sold us on this exact sprinter were the seats (leather and heated), the driver efficiency package (cruise control, fog lamps, navigation system), and the high roof. The sprinter has a 144” wheelbase, 10.4 feet of cargo space and just under 6.5 feet of standing room inside.

Since we have been dreaming of this for a year, we already have a rough sketch of what we would like the conversion to look like. We have a general idea of the layout, the materials we would like to use on the build, and the long list of items we will need to purchase in order to live in a car for an extended amount of time. Our first step is purchasing and installing windows for the van and a ceiling fan for ventilation. We will keep you all posted on photos of the first alteration!