First post, whoo!
Okay, now that is out of the way, welcome to our blog! Rachel and I (Dan) are excited to share our travels, adventures, photos and musing with you here. We are about to embark on a big year (years?) of travel and exploration, starting with a big summer-long road trip around the western United States in our Sprinter camper van.
We both love to travel and go camping and take road trips, and for several years I had been digging the idea of building our own custom getaway vehicle in which we could hit the road, go anywhere, show up and have fun, and travel at our own pace. We had kicked around this idea for a while, trying to figure out how/when/if we would ever do it. Through a series of interesting events in 2017, we finally realized that the time was now, and the only way to make our travel dream happen was to start working on it right now.
There is no easy way to put your career and other life commitments on hold, and there will rarely, if ever, be a convenient time to pull the trigger. It took a lot of difficult conversations and planning and saving to make this happen, but once we committed to take things in a different direction and decided to take that first step of buying a big ol’ van, I was all in. We knew getting to this point would be difficult, working toward a goal that requires you to grab the reins from life and yank hard away from the default and expected path laid out for you on your morning commute. Difficult it has certainly been, but knowing we have chosen a path not because it is convenient or the norm, but because it fulfills our hearts, has been tremendously rewarding in its own right.
A few months into 2017, I became the proud, fifth owner of a well-loved 2005 Dodge Sprinter cargo van with just shy of 200,000 original miles on the ticker. From the minute I got it home to our house outside Denver, it was all I could think about, talk about. I had somehow gotten the idea that I could turn this empty, 80 square foot beat-up steel box into a house-on-wheels that I could convince Rachel to live in. With me! I couldn’t stop talking about van things (I am not a mechanic, but I can wrench), construction things (I am not a contractor, but I can hammer), solar powered everything-things (I am not an electrician, but I can burn holes in my clothes with a soldering iron).
Over the better part of the next year and beyond, I poured over blogs, youtube videos, more blogs, the Sprinter van owner’s forums (sprinter-source.com, the members of which have built a tremendous knowledge base of DIY repair, maintenence and RV conversion discussions, and to whom I am overwhelmingly indebted for the retention of my sanity and the inspiration to actually complete this project). I turned our garage into a workshop, and gave up just about every weeknight and commited 12-hour back-to-back weekend days for several months on end to make this dream manifest.
Before starting on the camper conversion, I wanted to make sure the vehicle I was basing this on was reliable. The T1N generation Sprinter vans (2003-2006) have a reputation for running easily past the half-million mile mark (thank you pre-DEF German diesel motors!) IF IF IF they are well maintained, which can be tricky due to the lack of common parts and qualified mechanics. I worked through everything I could find under the hood. The drivetrain is original, but just about everything else that could wear out and I could rip out and replace, I did. New hoses, check. New radiator, coolant, thermostat, belt, pulleys, tensioner, fan drive clutch, check check check. New water pump, check, aw crap I screwed up the gasket seal and replace it again, check. New wiring, fuse blocks, glow plugs, alternator. Every fluid and every filter. New brakes, new suspension, new steering components, oh my. New gnarly all-terrain tires, obviously, check! I am sure there is more, but man, MAN, this thing drives like a champ now!
After all those busted knuckles I could finally start on the real deal! Converting a cargo box into a 4-season off-grid, two-adults-and-their-toys was quite the effort, and I will try to put in a fraction of that effort in relaying it to you in a somewhat entertaining manner. But not tonight. I’m sleepy now.
Happy travels and follow your dreams.