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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