It was an idea borne out of a coast-to-coast cycle tour we did a couple years ago in Scotland. We had run across two situations. First, there was the sweetest, most massively expensive, fully-kitted van build sitting on a monster truck chassis in Malaig that impressed us to know end; then we ran into this sweet Belgian couple and their three kids in a camper van at our campground — well, their version of a camper van, which included a very large old van, a modified pop-up on top of the van (two berth, complete with a ladder… imagine a really stable treehouse that kind of just folded out and back into itself), and a sweet table/kitchen that sat under the folded out tent up top. These people: They. were. both. living. the. life.
Why couldn’t we do that? Hey, let’s quit our jobs and buy a van and travel for a year. Okay, cool!
Two years later, we actually did that. I left my job at the end of August and TIMBL left his in January. I spent my last four months in Paris relaxing and just being in Paris because I needed to decompress after years of being in a career I didn’t like. After he quit, we moved to western France for a bit before heading to the US in May. We would have six months.
The first two of those we had scheduled to be in Knoxville to work on my house a little (read: a lot) and buy a van and get it road ready for this adventure. In between, we caught up with friends, TIMBL made new cycling buddies, I got out cycling and mountain biking a couple times, we had our first van bday party for TIMBL, saw the US National Cycling Races, and we hosted our lovely friends who came through to visit us while there. It was a very challenging, but excellent two months. The house is almost in rentable condition and the van got built out to a level we were comfy with.
Comfy. What is comfort? Well, with the house it means just making it liveable again after three years of tenants in it. I couldn’t do any major renovations, but I could make it pretty, so I focused on that.
Comfort with the van, well, it means it’s not the most gorgeous thing around. I mean, we weren’t going for aesthetics on this van build; we needed form and function so we could get out and go. So, all you instagram #vanlifers out there can suck it with your beautiful builds! JaaaayKaaaaaay. I mean, honestly, we needed you for inspiration — but we knew we weren’t going to achieve anything close to what so many of you have.
First off, our van isn’t new, it isn’t white, and it isn’t a Sprinter. It isn’t fully kitted out with a built-in kitchen, fancy interior siding, or little precious touches. But, it also didn’t cost $15k+ and this is only attempt #1 at being on the road together, so we weren’t ready to break the bank on a build. Enter #projectbudgetvanbuild.
Instead, we’re rolling a dark green, polish-peeling-up-top, V8 that likes at most 6-7 cylinders in use, 1995 Ford E-150 conversion van. It’s called Number 1: The Larch (see Monty Python for reference).
I’ll detail the buildout in another post, but The Larch is pretty perfect for us and our needs on this trip – at least so far. He has a convertible, platform couch-to-bed and a lovely, makeshift, but sturdy kitchen and pantry area, tons of on- and under-shelf storage and holds everything we need it to hold:
- our clothes and shoes (mostly MY shoes, bite me minimalism on the road – I brought options);
- bathroom essentials;
- kitchen cookware, flatware, other essentials and food;
- cycling wear and gear;
- back-country camping and hiking gear;
- two bikes;
- books and other non-essential items, such as our vast and growing collection of sunglasses and hats.
The Larch is ready. We’re ready. We just stopped in Indianapolis for a night to see our friends Danelle and Henry, then dropped our friend Suzan in Chicago for her flight (after we all dipped our toes in Lake Michigan and ate the most stellar deep dish pizza I’ve ever had (seriously, check out La Barra in Riverside — for me it was a fulfilled promise to someone in Paris that I stop there, but you should do it anyway!), and now we’re heading to a wedding in Sister Bay, Wisconsin.
Well, actually, now, at this precise moment, we’re spending our first official night in The Larch at a rest stop just over the Illinois-Wisconsin border and I’m shutting down for the night. As my grandma used to say, we’re done – D-U-N, done. More to come!
Where to next??