Yesterday was a work day on the van. We finally finished insulating and carpeting the floor of the cab and re-sealed some leaky spots in our fiberglass roof. They’re small steps, but it makes a HUGE difference– we can’t stop smiling as we climb into ol’ van Morrison and see our great “new” carpet instead of hot, messy metal floor. And we’re back to dreaming up all kinds of plans for our constant van build.
Seeking Motivation for Long Term Van Builds
I’ve come to realize that when you decide to DIY build a campervan over a long period of time, motivation is constantly ebbing and flowing. And not just motivation, but actual actions taken. It’s a balance between using the van and making the van more usable, and you can’t do both at the same time.
When I first bought the van in May 2017, motivation was high and I spent hours dreaming up designs, but I didn’t actually start working on it until September. Sure, I had great visions for the van, but I was way more interested in going places and using what I had. So Caleb, Penny and I logged some miles that summer– cigarette stained carpet, ripped seats, bulky wheelchair lift, haphazardly balanced mattress and all. We went to the Monterey Pop Festival, we drove to Arizona to see my mom, we went to the Valley of Fire in Nevada, we explored the Eastern Sierra, and took countless weekend trips in between. Everywhere we went, we dreamed up more ideas for our ideal vanbuild and thought grandiosely about getting it done “someday.”
It turns out that deadlines are very useful. So once the 115 degree Placerville summer gave way to cooler fall breezes, we were reminded of a deadline that wasn’t just “someday” anymore: an imminent move across the country. I needed to be back in North Carolina by January and that meant we needed all of our stuff to fit into the van while being able to travel comfortably.
To raise the stakes, I decided it was time to move into the van (well before it was ready), so we could save money on rent and get closer to nature. I always missed my times of living in my Jeep years ago, and I was itching to be mobile and self-sufficient again. Besides, “We can do anything for two months!” The goal was to live in a tent for two weeks while we finished the van and then move into the van for the rest of our time under the oaks in Coloma. We ended up living in the tent for 7 weeks of cold November rain, and barely scraped together a bed in time to load up the van with all of our earthly possessions and begin our big move.
Stepping Back for a While
By the time we got to North Carolina, motivation was slim, winter was in full swing, and we had other priorities and another “someday” deadline. While I finished my degree and Caleb began a new wilderness profession, the van was virtually untouched and unthought of, other than as a commuter car. And even that was minimal, I lived and worked in the same place and Caleb’s work had him out in the wilderness for 8 days at a time with no need for a car. Not to mention that with my courseload, free time was something of a fairy tale so I really only took the van out once or twice a week.
So as the van slowly deteriorated into a less usable state, we really only cared when there was an approaching deadline. Like a show, or a trip we had planned. The rest of the time, we drove gingerly, cursed the failing transmission, and crossed our fingers that it would start when we needed it to. Other than removing the headliner and taking it in for some bad-news checkups, motivation to improve the van was waning. The driver’s window was held up with duck tape, the crack in the roof from a mishap in LA was still leaking, and replacing the fan clutch turned into an overheated disaster.
But, it is our daily driver. And now that I’ve graduated and work a “real job,” I rely on the van a lot more than before. A few weeks ago, we finally bit the bullet and rebuilt the transmission. It wasn’t cheap, and though many people may have just called it a day and scrapped the whole van, we knew the transmission was still cheaper than starting over. But even so, you can’t shell out that kind of money without wanting it to be worth it. Thus, motivation AND action were renewed.
For the first time since we first loaded the van up in Placerville, CA last December, I finally emptied out the van. All of it. Yes, there was stuff stuffed in corners and crevices of that van for that long. I finally ordered a new window regulator and replaced the old one myself (yes, I’m bragging because I’m really proud of my newfound grease monkey skills). And I kept my eyes peeled for a rug to finish our cab floors with.
Eureka! I have found it! A perfectly sized, perfectly colored, FREE rug. I didn’t realize just how perfect until we cut it to size yesterday. It is the perfect width and length, only had to make room for the center console and engine. For so long we dealt with an unbearable, bare floor directly positioned over the hot, hot, engine. It wasn’t a bad heat source in the winter, but now that it’s summer, the ambient southern summer stickiness had nothing on our carfloor cooktop. Topped with our lack of working AC, you can imagine how excited we are to have made this small step in the vansformation.
We hope to move into the van next month, when our sublease is up in our current Montford home. The good news is that we will (hopefully) have a house to park at, with a kitchen and bathroom to use, so we really only need the van to be insulated and comfortable for sleeping. Our plan for the next couple weeks include:
- Taking it in to an RV electrician to finally figure out all of the random wires and battery switches
- Making insulated window covers
- Insulating the crap out of the walls and ceiling
- Building an over-cab shelf
- Building under bed drawers
Once we’ve got that all set, we’ve got another deadline on the horizon! I’m stoked to go to the Asheville Van Life Rally in September, and the added bonus is knowing that it will motivate me to get it looking pretty in time to show off!