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Oh Darling, Let’s Be Adventurers!

May 27, 2017 Fear, Freewheeling, Fun No Comments

We are nothing if not adventurous, Greg and I. Booze and snacks aside, I’d say that adventure is somewhat of a defining quality in our relationship. From running and kayaking (and faulty spray tans!) on our first date, to SCUBA diving the day before our wedding in Belize, to our triathlon escapades, to pretty much every trip in the van. Who am I kidding? Relaxing in our backyard hot tub turns into an adventure around here.

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10 years of adventure – 2013

It’s something I really like about us. Greg has brought out the adventure in me, and I like myself more because of it. It requires one to have the “I’m up for anything” mentality, which is sometimes hard to come by. Finding happiness in being up for anything requires that you not let yourself attach too much expectation to the outcome. I think that’s where people get hung up.

Remember how fun this was?

Remember how fun this was? Me either.

 

I was feeling stale with things at the end of 2015. Everything seemed to be the same-old without any big prospects on the horizon. Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t looking to sign up for another Ironman or have kids or anything crazy like that. I was considering volunteer opportunities. I was considering learning a foreign language. I was considering looking for a new job.

I mentioned my feelings to Greg and he confessed to feeling the same way. I shared my ideas and he introduced another: taking a year off to travel. I paused and spent about 23 seconds to consider all of the possibilities before yelling, “AREYOUFUCKINGKIDDINGME?!?!? YESSSSSS!”

And then I remembered who I was dealing with. So I reined it in, like, “I mean, that would be fun. If you think so. I’d be game. I don’t know. I mean…”
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His first idea was to buy a boat and sail the Mediterranean, but we quickly abandoned that plan and opted for traveling around Europe in a new, custom-built (by him) campervan. He said it was something he’d been giving some thought to for a while. He was about to celebrate a milestone birthday and it might be a fun way to shake things up.  It would take a lot of work, a lot of planning, but could really be fun. I think I cried happy tears, then I started making lists.

The adventure has begun, as you have seen with the new van being built. We’re also riding the documentation roller coaster with having our birth certificates and marriage license apostilled, trying to finagle a long-term visa without a residence/address, getting all of our adventure gear over there (four bikes, four sets of skis, kayaks, necessary clothing/helmets for these sports, etc.), and making sure Miles has the appropriate authorization. We’ve said from the very beginning: If Miles doesn’t go, we don’t go.

And then there’s the adventure of what to do with the house while we’re gone — to rent or to sell? We’ve decided to rent and are working to find renters within our network (rather than the scary Craigslist universe). Things look promising after calling upon my Facebook network for help.

Things are falling into place, as they tend to do when you research and plan like crazy. After more than a year of scheming, it feels surreal that it’s actually happening. We bought three one-way tickets to Germany today.

Here we go!
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Van 2.0: Framing – Living Space and Garage

April 12, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

With the basic steps of insulating, paneling, and upholstering the van, Greg got to work framing in the living space and garage. This was a really exciting step because it gave us a true sense of where everything would be and just how much/little room we would have.

Living Space
The design of this van is completely different than our last build-out. In the last van, the bed was bunk-style over the cockpit and the entire back of the van was couch/storage/kitchen. Our bikes and skis were hauled on racks on the back of the van.

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We bought a longer rig this time (23 ft. vs. 18 ft.), so we put the bed in the back. As a reference point, Greg designed the base of the bed frame to be the same height as the countertop, which is waist-height for me (I’m 5’7″).

As Greg was researching other vans and designing the configuration, it became clear to him that the most efficient use of space would be to have the kitchen area directly behind the driver’s seat. When he showed me those plans, I pushed back and asked if he could reconfigure everything so that the couch was facing the sliding door behind the passenger seat. When we swivel the front seats around, that little area becomes something of a “living room” and all of those seats become a great view on the world while sitting in the comfort of the van. He is a very nice (and talented!) person and accommodated me, drawing up entirely new plans.

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In the new configuration, the kitchen is in front of the bed and there’s a small space for a custom-built couch right behind the driver’s seat. With those plans in mind, he went to work buying the aluminum framing and wood (1/2″ pine plywood clad with a layer of birch, Home Depot) and got to work.

When you enter the van from the sliding door behind the passenger seat, there is an L-shaped countertop that runs along that wall and the entire foot of the bed.

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Underneath the cooktop+sink, he has plans to install a small panel for electrical switches, storage drawers, the inner workings of the sink, and space for trash/recycling. Underneath the long countertop will be the 40-gallon water tank (with storage above it), the interior heater (powered by propane, housed under the van), and a fair amount of cabling/venting/wiring.

Next to the bed, on the driver’s side, is a “floating closet.” It is a wall-mounted storage unit that will hold our clothes and such. As I look at this space and I look at the closet space I currently have, I realize just how much work I have to do in deciding which ~20 pieces of clothing (and shoes! and toiletries! and whatnot!) I’m taking on this adventure. *gulp*

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Getting all of this framed in was a really good indicator of how things would come together. Satisfied that it would work, Greg picked up where he had left off on the garage.

Garage
A reasonable amount of preliminary work had been done on the garage and once the living space was framed, Greg went back to work building it out.

From the above picture, you can see that he has glued down an industrial carpet and has the bike drawers installed. We saw this feature with a couple of other build-outs and it’s a great way to get the bikes in/out. In the below picture, you can see the how the road bikes fit (near drawer), as well as the wider drawer built for the mountain bikes behind it.

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In addition, he has the wheel wells framed for additional storage of miscellaneous items (snow chains, tools, etc.). You can also see the ski storage he has built along the passenger wall. He’s really done a great job of maximizing all the space and keeping things tidy.

All that said, here’s how the front of the house looked as of November 28, 2016 (3 months after bringing the empty rig home):

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There has been so much work done since these photos were taken. A lot of small, but important, decisions. A lot of “measure twice, cut once” moments. There have been a few in-van drinks to celebrate the interim triumphs. Or maybe that’s just me drinking in the van, supporting the guy who is working tirelessly at it…

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More updates with the cabinets, the windows, the flooring, the countertops, the electrical… so many things! We’re remarkably close to the first “let’s just take her over to the coast for an overnight test run,” which is exciting!

For more timely updates, feel free to follow me on Instagram.

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Van 2.0: Insulation, Paneling, Upholstery

February 20, 2017 Freewheeling 2 Comments

First things first. When you start with an empty shell, the obvious first step is to insulate and soundproof it. After driving 2000 miles in an empty shell, the importance of this step cannot be understated.

Greg started off by lining all the walls and inner “pockets” with 3M insulation. He left spots for where there would be windows. He’ll fill that insulation around the windows when they go in.

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Greg then measured all of the grooves in the floor and went to work cutting 3/16″ plywood that would be polyurethaned and then glued into the grooves. This process was tedious, to say the least. He’d cut them and I’d go to work putting the polyurethane on while he moved on to other tasks.

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Once the basics were done, he started building panels for the walls and ceiling. Of note, if you’re starting from scratch: when he ordered the van with no windows, he expected it to have walls/paneling. He was unpleasantly surprised to find it as bare bones (down to the metal) as it was.

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This is not an OSHA-approved workspace

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This was also tedious, cutting each panel to size and cutting around all of the little nuances, then putting two coats of polyurethane on each.

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Once it was confirmed the panels were cut appropriately and ready to go, he started upholstering them. For the ceiling, we went with a pewter/gray tweed that is a good match to the upholstery that’s in the cab of the van, and a tonal black/gray tweed for the walls.

Between the two of us, we didn’t get pictures of the actual upholstering process because it’s pretty boring. He cut the fabric, leaving a couple of inches around the outside of the wood panels, then used a 3M spray adhesive to attach it. He folded the ends over and made cuts as necessary to create a finished look. Pretty basic stuff. He used 3/4″ self-drilling screws to attach them to the walls and ceiling (black screws for the walls, silver for the ceiling).

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Beginning with the end in mind — and because it would help while working at night — he also got the ceiling panels wired up with LED lighting.

The last picture shows us getting a bit ahead of the story because it shows the framing of some important components. That’s where we’ll pick up the build-out.

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The Best $12 I’ve Ever Spent

January 24, 2017 Family, Fear, Freewheeling No Comments

Dad and I rolled out of Kansas City at 2 PM on Tuesday, September 6. I had mapped out our route, but we had no set plan for the trip. By that, I mean that I didn’t have an idea of how far I wanted to make it on any given day. “As far as possible” is the closest thing I can give you as an answer to that question.

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I needed him to drive the first leg for a couple of reasons:

  1. I was really scared of driving this behemoth.
  2. I needed to go through all my emails with the salesperson at the dealership to figure out how this van could have possibly been ordered without cruise control. In taking possession of the vehicle, the first question I asked when I sat in the driver’s seat was, “Where’s the cruise control?” When I told Greg the bad news, he texted back to say he was “distraught.” Ugh.

Dad drove through the first tank of gas, which was 217 miles. In that amount of time, we realized that it was too noisy to turn on the radio or listen to an audiobook or podcast. It was basically too loud to hold a conversation at all. I was stressed, so was he. Not the super-number-one-good times we had hoped for. On top of all of this, my dad is 72 years old and had a nasty summer cold. Yay.

We stopped at a Casey’s General Store in Kingman, KS to fill the tank and get some much-needed provisions: a styrofoam cooler, ice, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and Budweiser. The outside temperature was over 100*F coming across the west-facing Kansas plains and the wind was blowing like crazy. Keep in mind, we’re in a black metal box with no insulation or soundproofing.

I took over the wheel and got us to Texhoma, another 230 miles, which involved a late night thunderstorm and crazy cross-winds. It was not an easy drive, to say the least. But I am goal-oriented to a fault, and it felt good to check the boxes crossing from Iowa (my parents’ house) to Missouri (dealership) to Kansas (lunch with aunt and uncle) to Oklahoma (60 miles across the panhandle) to the Texas border in one day. We stayed at a very clean and comfortable hotel and got a good night’s rest to continue on our journey.

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We were up early the next morning for more of the same. There was a strong cross-wind, but we got lucky that it was an overcast day. I drove 12+ hours that day — 865 miles without cruise control — taking us from the Texas/Oklahoma border to Boulder City, Nevada.

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We were, of course, on Route 66. We knew we needed gas at some point, and there were hundreds of billboards littering the highway advertising their wares (as well as fuel, though prices were not always given). The highlight of that stretch was pulling into the Flying C Ranch, only to find that the gas was at $0.56/gallon higher than it was elsewhere along the route. Blasphemy! We saw that and I hit the gas on our way out of there, unintentionally spraying other weary travelers with the muddy water from a puddle. I legitimately felt/feel bad, but that gave us a much-needed laugh!

We stopped down the road at Clines Corners (where we probably paid just as much for gas). We also secured some M&Ms and a Mexican blanket that served as a barrier between the cockpit and the black hole that was the rest of the van. It helped the situation so much. We honestly couldn’t believe how much “soundproofing” this very primitive solution provided. That’s the best $12 I’ve ever spent. I’m sad I did not get a picture. We probably looked like fugitives driving down the highway in a windowless van and a Mexican blanket behind the cockpit!

Handy little compartment for my M&Ms.

Handy little compartment for my M&Ms.

Dad splurged for rooms at a historic hotel in downtown Boulder City, Nevada that night. We were hoping to meet up with Greg’s uncle and aunt, but they were otherwise detained. I made some wrong turns on my run the next morning that sent me farther than I wanted to go, and that set us behind on our plans to meet up with Dad’s 92-year-old sister in Las Vegas. Visiting with Maureen and her family was the most important stop on our trip. While we got there late, we had a very nice visit; it will possibly/probably be the last time we see her. What a blessing!

I’m going to add this tidbit here, mostly so that I remember it: We were sitting at an outside cafe in Boulder City, having a nice dinner and enjoying the fresh air. Dad made a point of stopping me in conversation to tell me he was proud of me. That he never once felt scared with me behind the wheel, and that I must have felt scared when he was driving (which was true, making me even more scared to drive). That it’s a tough rig to drive in these conditions and that I was doing a good job. I may be 42 years old, but sincere praise from my dad still goes a long way.

From there, it was more of the same for the next 600 miles. Me driving, Dad looking happily out the window and remarking as he saw fit:

“Why is that fence there?”
“Who put that highway there?”
“Why are there so many trains going this way?”

“That mother fucker doesn’t know what he’s doing. Get around him, and quick.”

So what I’m trying to say is: I own the highway. I am at one with the truckers. But only because of my dad. In all honesty, this was the best thing that could have happened. As not-fun as it was for either of us, I got really comfortable driving a really uncomfortable and out-of-my-comfort-zone vehicle. If Greg had taken possession of the van and driven it home (even if I was with him), I would not have driven it because I would have been too afraid. I needed to do this.

My dad’s words: “I’m never going to drive this vehicle again. You need to learn to do this.” He was right, of course, as dads are. He taught me, and he did it in a way that didn’t make me feel stupid or inferior or that I should somehow know how to do this already, having never done it before. He taught me to use the mirrors for maneuvering on the highway, to park in less-than-ideal situations, to park the rig in my own very tight driveway!

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Vans aplenty!

Greg wasted no time getting to work. Dad and I rolled in on a Thursday evening and Greg got to work the next day. We’ve documented the process, which I’ll share here, of course. This is where the real fun begins!

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Van 2.0

January 9, 2017 Family, Freewheeling No Comments

If you read my Welcome, 2017 post and/or if you follow me on Instagram, you know that we bought a new van in September. Well, we bought it in April, but we had to wait for it to be built.

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Brand new 2017 Ford Transit! (The color is called “magnetic.” We get asked all the time.) And as you can see below, we opted for no interior options. Well, that’s not exactly true. One of the amenities that we did opt for was cruise control, and our sales guy missed that on the last iteration of back-and-forth. Not cool. We got an aftermarket kit that Greg has installed, but that was no help for me driving 2000 miles across the desert…

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My parents and I picked it up outside of Kansas City, fresh off the assembly line, and my dad and I drove it back to California so Greg could get to work building it out. The odometer had 11 miles on it when we hit the road. Don’t worry, there are stories.

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Right off the bat, I’m sure you have a million questions and I’m going to answer them in a very comprehensive post. I can’t really talk about the whats and whys of everything right now. I promise, I will fill you in when the time is right. Sorry for being so cryptic, but I’m honoring Greg’s requests on this.

Anyway, NEW VAN!

I have a ton of pictures and descriptions of the build-out. Greg designed it (allowing me a lot of input on my preferences) and is doing a crazy-good job of making it come to life. Every day, he comes home from “real” work and changes his clothes to go work out in the garage and van for the rest of the evening. He had a holiday break from December 23 through January 2 and the amount of work that he got done in those 10 days is amazing.

I can’t wait to show you the progress!

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