I find it fascinating how aspirations evolve. They often sit and simmer -- sometimes for days, sometimes for months, sometimes for years -- while aspirations are tried on for size and feel. Hesitancies abound and obstacles intimidate. After all, it can be challenging to muster the momentum required to give aspiration flight.
And then something happens. All the sudden -- sometimes with reason and sometimes just because -- an aspiration is granted commitment. As soon as I commit, all hesitancy fades, and as Goethe would say, providence moves. The next thing I know, my aspiration is a reality. That's how it was with piercing my nose. With quitting my job. With going home-free and later car-free. And that's how it was with my van.
|Home, sweet home.
On October 12th of last year, momentum rallied itself. How am I going to build a van? Where am I going to park the van when I travel overseas? Do I really want another vehicle when I have relished in being car-free the last few years? On that day, these questions shrank in size. They became distant specks in my rearview mirror.
On that day, a Monday, I found myself looking for vans. Like, seriously looking. I had done my homework. I knew what I wanted. I had weighed the pros and cons of Sprinters versus Transits versus Promasters, and I had decided on a Promaster. I was hoping to buy a used vehicle, but there were few on the market. The ones that were available had taken heavy abuse from rough beginnings in commercial applications, and the used vehicles I was coming across weren't that less expensive compared to new vans. I had committed to buying a van, and the only way to do that was to switch my search to new vans.
I reached out to 23 (egads!) Ram dealers in the Pacific NW. The pickings were slim, as I wasn't the only one doing a van build as a "Covid project." I found a new Promaster that suited my needs. When I discovered that multiple dealers were offering to sell me a single van, all with the same VIN, I had multiple dealers arm wrestling with each other, competing to offer me the lowest price. Three days later, I had myself a van -- a 2020 RAM Promaster 2500 Hightop.
Given how challenging it was to buy a van in the pandemic-induced world of shortages, I anticipated it would be challenging to acquire all the materials required for the build. Sure enough, numerous components were nearing out-of-stock status. I put my head down and dedicated the next two weeks to compiling a massive materials/appliances list -- insulation, a ceiling vent fan, a fridge, a sink, solar panels, an inverter, circuit breakers in multiple sizes, etc. I then glued myself to my laptop and purchased everything I needed for the build.
The van was merely a shell when I started the build. It wasn't much more than a box, four tires, two seats, and a steering wheel.
|This is what the van looked like pre-build...
I gutted the van, removing the factory-installed panels and floor. From there, I proceeded to build the van from the bottom up. With a snap of the fingers and the passage of five and a half long months, the gutted van was converted into a living space.
|...and this is what the van looks like post-build.
I had neither the know-how nor the tools to build the van myself. More importantly, I wasn't interested in spending time or energy to acquire these. Had I let that get in the way, there would be no van. Fortunately, I had a vision, and I had wonderful friends who helped bring my vision to fruition.
|Alex helped me with the first part of the build.
He established the framework for the van,
constructed everything in the garage, and was the
brains behind my power plant.
|Doug cut a hole in the roof and installed the vent fan.
|Chris was my master craftsman.
He did an immaculate job with all the woodwork.
|And then there was Mom.
She provided expertise in creating my cushions and privacy curtain.
A million thanks to Alex, Doug, Chris, and Mom. Without you, I'd be living in a barren and not-so-homey van.
And now for the grand tour:
|This is my garage. The whole van was designed around
the ability to carry two bikes. There is plenty of space
for other adventure gear, too.
|The bikes are mounted on a sliding drawer,
which enables for easy loading and unloading.
|Below the bed is my closet,
with space for hanging clothes and storing shoes.
Inside the closet, to the left, is my electrical system (aka "power plant").
|To the left of my closet is my seating area.
|Beneath the seating area is plenty of storage space.
|Behind the bench is a fold-down table.
This is where I use my Instant Pot,
my only means of cooking in the van.
I have an inverter, which enables me to have AC power.
|Across from the bench is the kitchen space.
Here is the transition from the bedroom to the kitchen.
|The table slides out from underneath the kitchen counter.
The van turned out exactly as I had envisioned. I love that my van enables me to be self-sufficient. I love that I can carry everything with me -- my bicycles, my backpacking gear, my packraft, my electric toothbrush, everything. I love that I can close the doors and have a safe, comfortable, and private space in which I can be me. Although it is a relatively simple build by design (there is no shower, no flushing toilet, no heat, no electrically-pumped water), it feels luxurious to me. Especially since I have been without my own living space for more than eight years. And double-especially since I have spent many of those last eight years traveling by bicycle, living out of panniers, and sleeping in a tent.
Many have asked whether I would document the van build in detail. There are plenty of individuals out there who have established a solid presence in the social media space with their van build and van lives. My interests lie elsewhere. My van is not my end goal, but rather a vehicle I will use (no pun intended) to live my life. I will, however, leave you with a few photos from the build.
|Cutting the plywood underlay for the floor.
|Mounting the solar panels on the roof.
|Chris's workshop, with every tool imaginable.
There was plenty of space for the van in the shop,
which was helpful when working on the build in the middle of winter.
|This my favorite photo from the van build --
six cabinet doors being held hostage by an army of clamps
|And finally, me in my build get-up.
Yeah for bringing the van aspiration to fruition! Now it's time to get on with living!