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Is Van Life for Me?

Is your Instagram full of #vanlife? Do you dream of living in a van? I have not been nor do I think I could be a full- time van lifer at this point in my life. I have too many hobbies which use specialized gear, GEAR which takes up SPACE. Now don’t get me wrong, I love having a van, it just happens to be the biggest piece of gear I own. It’s great as a mobile home base and super useful for my lifestyle. I just don’t think I could live in it full-time, even though I stay in it for about 150 days a year and some of those days I am even parked in my own driveway. Hey, it beats carrying everything in from the van if I am only stopping at home for a few days.

If I were to be a full-time van lifer, I would just snowboard all the time. I mean I can see the appeal of driving around visiting the National Parks, but I did that when I was young enough to see them on foot. Driving from campsite to campsite cooking in a fancy kitchen, in a van, just does not entice me at this juncture in life. If I were to do this the van would become a house instead of a piece of gear! I get it, I could totally do the Apre’ ski with a fancy dinner and beer at the van. A life on wheels traveling from mountain to mountain would be amazing, but not for more than a season, because I have hobbies. Even with the above mentioned scenario I don’t really think I could spend the year just in the van. I feel I could come close, though. It’s not the living in the van that would stop me, it’s not having a place for my other gear. I would want to do another sport at some point, and lets face it, if I live in a van full time and am traveling odds are I won’t have everything I need to participate in what I want to do.

For my lifestyle, the van as gear works great. It provides me with transportation to where I am working at the time, allowing me to carry a large amount of gear with me. Once I get to where I am working I can unload all the adventure gear I need and have the van as a mobile base again. An example is when I worked in Oregon for the Forest Service, I drove 3,000 hard miles using the van as an extremely cramped bedroom. I had 3 kayaks, 2 sets of skis, 2 snowboards, backpacking gear, and on and on. Oh and, of course, work gear. The van made it possible to carry all this stuff but, I could not have managed to live out of it while traveling.  Although I did once with another person for a month on the way back from a previous job. In that instance, however, I only had 2 kayaks and no work gear. The work gear put me over the edge of livability :). With this van as a piece of gear scenario I could then set off on my off time to explore the area and enjoy a multitude of activities which wouldn’t have been available if I was a full-time van dweller.

Maybe it’s the fact that I am an 80 percenter that I can’t commit to living in a van 100% of the time. I really enjoy having the versatility of it and I actually like sleeping in it, but I don’t see myself ever committing to being a full-time rubber tramp. Maybe when I am older it will be a different story, but for now I like the van as my most useful piece of outdoor gear.

Do you think you could live in a van full time? What makes you think you could/couldn’t?

The Build 3

The ladder took a lot of pondering. There was not only the decision of where to place it but also which ladder to get. In my mind there were three possible placements for the ladder; on the back right or left or on the drivers side of the van. The passenger side was not an option because of the sliding door. I went with the back of the van in case I wanted to attach anything to the ladder, such as a bike rack. I chose to put it on the right side for no particular reason, I think its because that is where I have seen them on other vans. (I think the hitch would be the best placement for the bike rack but haven’t gotten around to installing one yet. It would be best to have one that swings laterally so you can still use the rear doors.)

Now that I knew where I wanted to put it, I had to get the ladder. Since I have the shorter van, I actually think the shiny silver ladder you see on vans like the Ford Econoline would fit best because they have the hook that goes over the door to help support the ladder. I chose the standard black bolt on ladder you see on all the new camper vans because, hey what could go wrong with group think and my research informed me you could cut the ladder to the correct height. I decided just to put it on a little too long because it seemed easier than cutting the ladder off. The main issue I had was the attachment points on the ladder went really close to my window because of the short van. I drilled my holes at an angle above the window and the attachment still rests against the very top of the glass. I have had no problems with this other then having to buy longer bolts to attach it due to the angle I drilled it at.

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I decided to add some more insulation to the van after my first winter staying at Mt. Bachelor. The front of the vehicle was letting so much cold air seep in along with the fan I installed in the roof. I kept the blinds in the back and front down to help hold in the heat during the rest of the winter. It didn’t help a lot but it was better than not doing it. When I got back to my home base in WV I used the leftover 1″ foam board insulation to fill the gap in my fan and also placed it on the front floor of the van, except the drivers side. I was afraid the foam would interfere with my braking ability. Reflectix, reflective roll insulation, was used to insulate the windows. I used rare earth magnets to attach it to the frame around the windows in the rear of the van. For the front, driver side and passenger side windows I just cut the Reflectix a little larger than the windows and jammed it into the windows with the tops tucked under the seams to keep it in place. I was surprised by how much of a difference this stuff makes in keeping the heat in, it also helps to keep it cool in the hotter months by blocking the sun.

When spring came to the Bend, OR area I would spend the mornings riding on snow then either kayaking or mountain biking in the afternoons. The warmer temperature at the lower elevations was a welcome change.  However, the shoulder seasons are difficult if you are keeping all your gear in the van. The Thule rocket box helped a lot to keep all the slush covered ski/snowboarding gear outside of the vehicle.  The downfall was that all the kayaking gear now had to live in the van. All the wet stuff fits into the kayak so that is a plus. Anyone have any suggestions for all that gear storage?

Before Grand Canyon from Oregon 2 1663

 

 

 

 

 

The Build 2

 

After all the insulation, walls, ceiling and floor were installed I moved to the finishing touches, starting with the cabinets against the drivers side wall. The top horizontal cabinet was not partitioned, so as to fit snowboards or paddles. I did drill a couple holes and tie paracord on both ends inside of the cabinet so I could tie things down.

 

The vertical cabinet on the right has a dowel rod inserted in it so I can hang clothing while the one on the left is open with Tupperware stacked with various items in each ranging from toiletries to books.

Whiteboard and bug net

Next I went to the passengers side and installed a whiteboard over the recess in the sliding door. I saw a friend have this in Joshua Tree and they were using it to set and mark off climbing goals. I thought this was a great idea, which it was in an arid environment, but not so much when it rains all the time. The fact that it’s on the door means that a lot of moisture comes in every time the door is opened and the sliding side door is an extremely convenient door to use. I don’t think I would do this again. Love the whiteboard concept but would stick it somewhere else.

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Then came the pine trim to cover the gaps in the Luan. Sad to say but some of the trim is still laying around the house and will probably never get put on because I wanted bug nets with magnets and wasn’t sure how to put them in. A bug net is sold that goes behind the seal on the side door, but I opted to buy two regular door sized nets, trim them then attach them with Velcro. This works fine, the only thing is it doesn’t attach at the bottom, but could be folded under the carpet. I haven’t felt inclined to do so yet, that attitude is why I think the trim will never be finished.

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Then came the decision about power…I did “some research” and decided I needed to do more research if I waned to install a solar system myself. However, since I am an 80%er I decided to just buy a battery jumper instead so when I killed my battery running stuff I could just jump it. Luckily my fan takes a couple days to drain my battery without me starting the vehicle and on the plus side the jumper came with an A/C port and 4 USB ports. All this for minimal research I call that a win! Seriously though I don’t think solar was for me. I would have cracked the panels with kayaks loading them on the roof by now if I had them. The option of a suitcase panels for when I am more stationary with the van is an option I am considering.

Roof racks and a ladder were next on the list. I got the Van Tech racks since they fit onto the van without any modifications. Really wanted a Rhino-Rack system but wasn’t sure if it would fit over the fan I already installed. The Rhino-Rack has a platform and almost every add on you can think of. I added a couple deck boards to the Van Tech racks to give me room to walk but it is far from a platform. I don’t have an awning on my van yet, with the way the roof drains on the ProMaster 1500 2016 all the water would come down where the sliding door is anyway and run between the door and the awning. If I were more ambitious I could probably make something to divert the water, but then I would miss out on another day of adventuring.
The ladder….. To be continued

 

 

 

 

The Build

I used as much recycled or scrap material as possible for environmental reasons in the van build. That said, unfortunately I still had to purchase a majority of the supplies.

Before Grand Canyon from Oregon 2 188
New carpet

I stripped the van, cleaning it, and adding a insulating carpetish floor before adding the same bed to a different location. It was moved from behind the sliding door which was great for views, but terrible for functionality to the rear of the van positioned across the back with your head towards the passenger sidewall and feet towards the drivers sidewall. It is not always comfortable to sleep in this position since some times the vehicle is parked on an angle causing your head to be positioned downhill, but this is more comfortable then smacking ones head on the cabinets that run almost the length of the drivers sidewall about halfway over the bed. I fabricated the cabinets this way, so I had room to store snowboards inside if need be.

The bed was attached to the wall on the drivers side by bolting it directly into the van; the other side has legs. I chose to have legs on one side so it would allow the bed frame to move a little while driving and absorb some of the road vibrations. This took up some space with legs sticking down, but I thought it was better than the bed frame cracking or breaking. If I build another van I would position the bed to sleep longways sacrificing the room, because at 6’1″ I barely fit diagonally.

Cutting, varnishing, and fitting the cabinets took some time. On the plus side, I managed to get a discount on some of the wood because I got blemished material. They did not fit flush on the first dry fit attempt because of my decision to orient the bed width ways and my height did not allow for framing. It took some time but eventually I got square things to fit in a curved space. The cabinets were mostly attached directly into the ridges on the van. Would definitely frame out a van in the future to make it square before trying to build cabinets.

Once the cabinets were made and dry fitted, the insulation was cut and added to the recesses in the van with spray foam added to the ridges. I was able to get some free expired cans of spray foam for the cracks and crevices. I chose 1″ foam board insulation, with an r value of 5, because it fit flush in the recesses of the van. This was again chosen because of my height and trying to sleep width ways. In the future I would just spray foam everything and frame in the sides of the van.

After the insulation was cut and dry fitted, I cut a hole in the roof to install the Maxxfan. I tried to minimized the paint and rug damage that the grinder caused from sparks being thrown everywhere as I ground through the ceiling. Cardboard was placed and taped at strategic locations to help with this. I would say cutting through the ceiling was more nerve wracking then drilling holes into the frame to attach things. I mean if I fucked up the screws made small holes compared to grinding a massive square, hopefully square anyway, hole in the roof!

All the insulation was installed with a Locktite type Silicone, this would make sure it stayed in place until I could get the reclaimed walls and mostly reclaimed ceiling into place. The walls are older beadboard that had to have mold sanded off and the ceiling is Luan. After multiple coats of varnish they are screwed into place with self taping screws.

Build to be continued…..

My First Adventure with the Van Part 3

Waiting for the snow to melt in the relentless blazing sun, I really regret not having sun tan lotion or chap stick. My lips crack as I sip the tiny bit of water that settled in the corner of the pot, a disappointing amount accumulated from the massive amount of snow I had been melting. Taking in the view of the snow covered mountains making a perfect crescent mirror image of themselves in the still indigo water, over the rim of the pot as I finish the last drop of water. Semi hydrated I continued my trek. Aiming for a saddle between the rim of the caldera that formed the lake and a large outcropping of cliffs that ended on the mountain that formed the other side of the saddle, I absentmindedly rub the scab that has formed on the tip of my nose from the unforgiving sun, probably accelerated from my lack of water. Five miles later I had to stop and melt snow for water again with the stove, now extremely low on fuel. I had a splitting headache from dehydration. I melted two pots I was so thirsty. Shortly after I started skiing again I arrived on the south facing side of the lake. I had an amazing view of the lake and there were bare spots lacking snow where I could set up for the night. I shoved a bunch of snow into my water bottle to sleep with to passively melt, since I had limited fuel for melting water. After finishing setting up camp, I rushed down to the rim of the caldera to watch the sunset. The far side of the lake was cast in beautiful pink hues that reflected the snow covered mountains surrounding the lake.

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Day 3

I had terrible cramps during the night, my calves cramping with such force and pain it felt like someone was putting me into an ankle lock. Extending then flexing my leg offered no immediate relief. I really needed to hydrate, laying in pain I decided I would use more fuel tomorrow. I really need to drink enough to relieve this cramping. I had a very fitful night, more cramps and once I woke up thinking I was suffocating. “Get me out of this bag, where’s the zipper? Shit I have the draft color pulled tight. Where’s the cord!? Relax and breath. I can’t, I am suffocating.” Okay I got the cord, damn that’s the one for the hood. Finally I get the two cords released and the zipper open only to realize that I was kind of suffocating. In the night I had managed to scoot around enough that my face was smashed against the bivy’s wall. I opened the bivy all the way and shivered for the rest of the night. Being cold was better then feeling claustrophobic. I got an early start, since I couldn’t go back to sleep. I drank the bottle of snow that had melted in the sleeping bag from the night before. I melted two pots of snow while I was packing and greedily drank them. A couple more cramps made their appearance while skiing that morning, I was beginning to feel mentally and physically exhausted from the lack of water. I melted more snow for lunch and used a garbage bag to get a little more while I made lunch then rested. Feeling physically better from the reprive I pushed on, but route finding was still taking a toll on me mentally. During my last break of the day someone skied passed me and said. “It was great to be following your tracks.” I have to agree with him it was amazing following his tracks. I was on auto pilot, no longer needing to concentrate on reading the topography and finding my way.

 

My mind free I had more time looking and enjoying my beautiful surroundings. I had veered away from the lake, but the snow covered pine forest had a fairy tale beauty of its own. The silence was only interrupted by the crunch of skis and the occasional sound of the snow rolling down the hill or falling from the tress. The guy I was following took the low route to avoid more avalanche terrain. Following him, looking up at the high route as I went, I could see snow cascading down to the trail from the slope above. There were some interesting snow features along the trail, it appeared that a small piece of snow would breakaway and it roll down the hill as it went collecting the snow like a large fruit rollup, to settle at the base of the hill.

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The tracks I was following cut back up the hill a few miles later, consulting my map I decided to do a few extra miles and avoid the steep terrain. Making it back to the van a few miles later having crossed paths with one more group snowshoeing towards me from the parking lot.

Driving back to my new place I reflected on how trying that trip was. I knew going into it that I had the wrong gear (heavy skis downhill and boots, a light sleeping bag, not enough fuel nor sun screen), but the added lack of experience in this environment really made this extended weekend trip feel more challenging then some of my month long adventures.

My First Adventure with the Van Part 2

I talked to the couple for a little bit before skiing off a little ways to give them some space. I didn’t have a shovel to build a platform or wind break in the snow, so I found a sheltered spot in a tree well and stomped a flat platform with my skis.  Setting up in the snow with gusting wind was challenging. Once I was in my bivy sack, I set my stove up to melt snow for drinking water. Once I was set up I pulled out my lighter and instantly dropped it in the snow. It wouldn’t light because of the moisture. Crestfallen I dug through my black MSR bag that I kept all my stove supplies in to get my matches and wouldn’t you know the matches that I have kept in the bag and never had to use for 13 years were not there. Shit I wonder at what point I took them out or lost them. I remember putting them in there before a trip in the Sierras but had no recollection of taking them out!

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I stuck the lighter in my sleeping bag to dry out and occasionally flicked the flint to speed up the process, the smell of flint occasionally wafting out.  Eventually I got it to work and melted snow to drink. When I was dismantling the stove from the red fuel bottle I noticed that the fuel bottle was over halfway empty. I had forgotten to fill it up before I started the ski trip. I had been using it to make coffee on my cross county trip and I really like coffee so I should have remembered I had used most of the fuel before I left. I would suffer from dehydration for the rest of the trip.

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Day 2

Woke up to a clear blue day after a night freezing and shivering with no sleep. It was 30 degrees when I went to get the permit at 4:30 the previous night and I only had a 20 degree sleeping bag with me. So I knew I was in for a long cold night! I skied up to the rim of the lake multiple times to look at the spectacular view and take photos. Haven’t seen a bad photo of this spectacular place yet. I began to get exhausted around noon from all the side trips to look at the lake. There were also no tracks to follow so route finding took some time with backtracking due to large cornices that could not be skied down. I had to cross an avalanche field at about noon that day. Right before I came to the avalanche field my left ski came off!! This did not instill a sense of confidence in my crossing the slope. As I started across the field I stayed on the ridge as much as possible. Feeling that it would have been better to fall toward the right which was only a 30 foot drop to the snow as compared to the left which would have ended in certain death, buried beneath the snow or bouncing off a tree when a slab broke off. Then I heard a thump…. I closed my eyes and my heart stopped, I thought I was dead. A small slab had broke off the right side and laid 30 feet below me. I instantly thought I am in over my head, I don’t know how to check the snow pack, there are no tracks to follow why are there no tracks!? Do people who actually know this stuff know not to cross!?! I am doing it early while the snow is still firm… that’s a good thing right!?! Okay keep GOING! Suddenly I was on a slope with no more right ridge and its perceived safety. Okay kick the down hill ski in hard like it’s a crampon and repeat. Over and over I repeated this until I was more then halfway across when I noticed the ski on the down hill ski was coming loose. I imagine this is from kicking the edge of the ski into snow with such nervous force from the fear that gripped me. Okay I see a tree well, I just have to make it there. Once there I took my ski off as soon as possible, hastily reattaching the skin not wanting to stay on the avalanche slope any longer then needed. I finally make it across relieved and mentally exhausted, stopping to eat and passively make water by melting the snow on a trash bag and in black pots while I got lost in the view.

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My First Adventure with the Van Part 1

Skiing Around Crater Lake

Day 1

I arrived at the Crater Lake station just before it closed for the night. I needed to get a back country permit for the next three nights. I opened the door to the ranger station and walked down a short dark corridor before entering the more modern part of the building.

There was a couple in front of me getting a back country permit for the night. They were doing an out and back snowshoe. I looked at their down parkas and then downwards taking in the rest of their winter outfits. Then looked at my attire consisting of river shoes, jeans and a long sleeve shirt. I was crunched for time and had not planned for this trip.

For the past few days I had driven across the country from Morgantown, WV to Glide, OR, so I had most of what I needed, more or less, in my van. I had stopped at Crater Lake the day before and the gate was locked, so I had hiked the 6 mile round trip. A ranger informed me after that hike I could ski around the lake. Usually one has to camp a certain number of miles from a paved road but almost all the roads were buried under several feet of snow, so I could pretty much camp where I wanted. So here I was getting my back country permit, the very day I checked in for my new job hours before. After meeting Janie, my new boss, and getting a briefing about my new job, I had informed her that if I did’t show up for work Monday morning it was because I got lost or died. She starred at me blankly as I relaid what the ranger at Crater Lake had said. I am sure she thought I was an idiot. At last I decided to fork up some cash and stay at a campground the night before so I could shower and I wouldn’t show up at my new job smelling as though I had just driven across the country I thought as I bolted out the door to make it to Crater Lake.

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The ranger asked me the standard questions you would ask anyone about to go on a three day ski tour who was wearing open river shoes in the winter. “Do you have any clue what you are doing?!” I replied “Kind of.” Then he asked, “Do you have a GPS?” “Yes at home” “well do you have a good map.” “Nope, can I buy one?” “Here is one for $12”

By the time I tore everything apart in my van looking for and packing what I would need, a little over an hour had passed. I started my climb a little aggravated because I had planned to park at the top because the gate was open, but the ranger informed me I had to park at the bottom and re ski the 3 miles I had hiked the day before. I ended up passing the couple who had gotten the permit an hour or so before me.

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There were whiteout conditions and route finding was hard once I passed them. I got to the top and decided to drop down a mellow slope and do some turns. I got slightly lost and could here the couple talking so they passed me on my way back down the mountain. Since it was snowing and windy, I thought it would be ridiculous to pull out the map I had just bought and not looked at yet. I followed the sounds of where I had heard them talking on my way down. The snow crunching under my skis and wind blowing it around made it hard but I finally caught them again after adding about four extra miles to my route.

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Van Life Before the Build

As I mentioned earlier, I had weeks until I was headed west as a seasonal employee for the Forest Service in Oregon. Staying in and using the van for about a year gave me time to get a feel for how I wanted to build the van, but at the same time limited me on my ability to build it all at once. I would be returning home in the winter months without a garage to build in and would be traveling in it the rest of the time, so I would not have the tools or ability to work on it long enough to complete it in one push. All in all this led me to have a build that was more for an extended weekend type as opposed to the full house like builds you see all over the internet. This actually ended up working in my favor and fitting my lifestyle a little better, since I didn’t have a second vehicle with me while working out west and I used my van to run shuttle for whitewater (ww) kayaking. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, ww kayaking normally involves two vehicles. You drop one vehicle off at point B, the takeout, where you finish and use the second vehicle to drive back to point A, the put, where you start. So, having the room to jam at least one kayak inside greatly improves my functionality at the loss of a built in shower, computer stand, sink, solar panel, battery and TV which I am okay with. I would have liked to have had the solar and battery, but it wasn’t worth it to me to lose the roof space. I am, however, still looking into a suitcase solar panel. If you do not participate in multiple adventure sports that are gear intensive I could see the draw of these other comforts, but to me the van is just a place to store for gear and often times a very cramped bedroom.

I got the chance to experience the van wide open without the build and I must admit I miss the functionality, but not the condensation build up dripping on my head in the mornings or at 1 pm on winter days when the van finally warms up enough for all the frozen moisture to begin dripping down from the ceiling. Or the coldness felt from accidentally touching the bare metal everywhere when I would roll over to protect my head from the drips with my sleeping bag. The area carpet I added and the meal boxes I slept on added some buffer but not as much shielding as an insulated van.

On my return trip home to WV from working in OR, I first went to White Salmon, WA for Thanksgiving with friends before driving south to San Diego to visit my family and to avoid as much snow as possible as I worked my way back across the US for about a month.

When I arrived at my brothers in late November 2017 I added the first thing to the van, a bed frame! I placed the frame to look out the sliding door just behind the front seats. I really liked being able to lay in the bed with the sliding side door open peering out as I had been accustom to without the van build. I didn’t think this would be super functional, but wanted to give it a try. I spent hours laying there for about a year envisioning how I wanted my van to function then trying to make the build around it. March 10, 2018 8 days shy of a full year from when I purchased it the actual build begins! Unfortunately the bed couldn’t stay behind the front seats, even though I loved the view from here, it just wasn’t accommodating anything else.

The Van

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I have dreamed of having a van since I was in high school. My parents had a blue Ford mini van, with seats that would fold down to make a bed. I remember borrowing it to go on a skiing trip. It was spring or fall in West Virginia, in 1996 and I packed it with a sleeping bag, pillow, Ramen Noodles, peanut butter, a pair of ski boots a little too small for me that I had bought from a flyer I had seen posted at work. This was before Craig’s List, hell the internet wasn’t even a thing where I lived! Well actually it still sucks in rural WV, often times more of a pain in the ass then what it’s worth. Anyway back to packing the van. I also got my skis and bindings where I worked, as a lifeguard at a pool in a gated community, that happened to have a little ski hill. It actually snowed here back then so they operated it without snow guns. The skis that were Fisher brand, white with rainbows on the tips; they were really cheap okay; were the last things to go into the van. I started my journey by driving south to Snowshoe, where I produced one of the multiple letters I had from the ski hill for my first free pass. It now cost around $20 even being a member of Ski Patrol. Next I would ski Timberline, Canaan, then finally the Wisp. I was in love with this van!!! That was the last time I would use it, life happened. Fast forward 21 years later and I finally have a van!!!!!

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I purchased a 2016 ProMaster 1500 short low top for $20,000 with taxes, new tires, and all the extra charges. I would then build it out roughly to my needs. I used as much recycled or scrape material as possible for environmental reasons. I will provide a detailed list of the cost of  the build in future posts. I had to forgo some things I wanted because I built it out over 3 years. I was leaving shortly, headed out west to Oregon to work as a river ranger. I piece mealed it together over that time sacrificing some comforts, so I would not have to keep tearing it apart to add stuff. I would highly suggest building it all out at once, so you can get what you want! 

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Since I was leaving in about 3 weeks and hadn’t started packing; the only thing I did to the van before I left was throw down a rug, put in a new head unit with a USB input since the one in the van didn’t work, hang an organizer off the drivers side behind the seat, build a fold down table on the backdoor, and load the van with kayak, skis, camping stuff, well lets just say almost everything I owned. In lou of a bed platfrom because of lack of time and space I layered these commercial type MRE’s under a mattress and carefully pulled them out as I went so I wouldn’t have a sloping bed for too long as would happen when I almost finished a layer of the meals. After 7 months I finally added a bed platform after finishing off all the meals that were my bed. Once I made it home after a few more months of traveling I finally started the actual van build before for the next trip out west.

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Comparison Between Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail

I feel like most people I’ve talked to who hiked both the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) agree that the answer to which trail is harder is, “they are different trails it’s really hard to compare the two.” That being said most hikers would probably say the AT is more physically demanding while being more comfortable and the PCT is less physically demanding while more mentally taxing. This is strange because the PCT is around 500 miles longer, hell even the abbreviation for the PCT is longer then the abbreviation for the AT! Also, the highest point on the PCT coming in at 13,153 ft is at Forester Pass, with a lot of hikers making the trek to the top of Mount Whitney at 14,505 ft as a side hike, since you pass so close and the AT’s highest peak is only 6,643 ft at Clingmans Dome. How can the AT be more physically demanding, you ask? Well first off it seems to me the AT’s goal is to go straight up every peak along the way from Georgia to Maine while the PCT is graded for pack animals, so even though the summits are higher on the PCT the trail doesn’t go straight up! Well not all the time anyway and it might feel like it does some days, but the fact that I knocked out more miles per day on average on the PCT makes me feel that this statement is true.

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Forester Pass Vs Clingmans Dome

How’s the PCT more mentally tasking? It rained the whole time on the AT and I was almost completely drained by mosquito’s. While it hardly rained on the the PCT for 2,144 of the 2,700 miles and I was strolling along this nicely graded path. So what does being more comfortable mean? For example Clingmans Dome can be accessed by a fully-paved and only half a mile long road. This highest point on the AT has an alternative route to the white blazed trail that involves driving most of the way. After spending half an hour searching for the trail head to Forester pass I can only conclude you have to hike in on the JMT/PCT the two trails parallel each other for some distance or drive to Junction Pass and hike over it and then reach Forester pass. It’s all about the access and planning that makes the AT more comfortable and the PCT mentally taxing. The AT hike is basically running from town to town getting beer and resupplies every couple of days. While the PCT involves more planning and longer hitches into town. The ability to resupply is more limited and involves more mail drops and relying on other people to take you to and from the trail heads since towns are farther away. On the AT you’re hitching because you don’t want to walk the 2 miles while on the PCT you’re hitching because it would take another day to walk into town.

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It was easier to relax on the AT because you are basically following a beaten path that is hard to miss, while on the PCT snow totally covers the trail and there are more then one set of tracks to follow all taking slightly different paths hopefully to the same place. Its also hard to relax when you are sliding down a hill trying to stop yourself with an ice axe before you pitch into an alpine lake.

“Generally speaking, thru hikers on the PCT go to extreme lengths to cut down on their pack weight. While counting ounces is important on the AT, most typical AT pack weights are more than that of what you would see on the PCT. Even the most popular packs on the PCT are themselves from ultralight brands such as Gossamer Gear and ULA instead of Osprey or Gregory, as seen on the AT. Still, gear choices always vary heavily from one hiker to another.” – Carlie Gentry

The other major difference is the tree corridor you are in on the AT, the scenery is basically the same tree cover above. It’s not until you get to New Hampshire that you are really excited about the next view. Whereas most of the PCT is spent hiking from dramatic view to dramatic view. You also go from desert to rain forest while hiking the PCT with drastic changes in environment. With that being said for me I thought the desert was really challenging physically and mentally. If someone would have asked which was harder while I was still in the desert I would have said the PCT, but the desert is not the whole PCT just part of the experience. There was much more amazing sections to overall experience that is the PCT.

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I personally liked the PCT better and would hike all of it but the desert again if given the chance. While if given the chance to hike the AT again I would turn it down, with the exception of New Hampshire and Maine. I disliked the desert so much I am dreading hiking the CDT. I am only slightly nervous of the grizzly bear, but dread having to hike through the desert again!