Wilderness Travelers: Part Two

The Buildup

How would it be to spend a week, 10 days, a month, a year without worry? Without the daily grind of home, work and paying bills. It’s a dream come true for us. 

The last 30 years have been the most stressful of my life. The career we entered was a 60 hour a week, every week, no paid vacation, no sympathy and no gratitude for a job well done. Ruthless and cut-throat. We started planning over 15 years ago to make our escape. We stashed away all the money we could and left enough for essentials. We invested in property, 401ks, annuities, and savings. As our nest egg grew so did our health problems from the stress. It was time to go and soon. So, in November 2018, we bought a 2015 Ford Transit 250 hightop shorty van, (we call her SleepyTurtle or The Turtle) in November of 2019, we sold our house. In March 2020, the business and in June 2020, we hit the road. 

We spent some time on the van in the past three years but in April 2020, we hit it full time. I learned about solar, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, and gas. No one showed me how, but the internet did come in handy. 

The last week of May we finally finished up the van and selling off all our belongings, and on pJune 1,2020, hit the road in our custom designed RV/Van, SleepyTurtle. All the amenities of our home built into a tiny home space. Hot water, a way too comfy bed (almost king size), running water, lights, solar, electric and a great stove. 

What we learned during the build and equipping the van was that this is going to be our home… one should not skimp! We bought a Camp Chef Mountaineer 40,000 btu stove, a pure sine wave generator, a custom rack and rock rails/tubular running boards and a mattress that would keep you in bed cozy and warm.   

All cabinets were custom build and made strong for rough washboard roads. We carry 50 gallons of water, 24 dedicated primarily for cooking and drinking and an additional 18 gallon tank for hot showers with an on demand ECOtemp hot water heater and the 7 gallon RoadShower solar hot water heater on the roof for emergencies. 

Built into one of the cabinets is a SnoMaster Classic 40cu chest type fridge. It holds a weeks worth of food and drinks. We chose the chest type for efficiency. The cold air stays in the fridge when opened vs a standard door which when opened, allows the cold air to pour out.  

We have a sink and grey water collection tank under the sink. We run off a 200ah AGM battery charged with a single 300w solar panel mounted on the custom rack. We have a 2000w pure sine wave generator which provides us with power on cloudy days or when parked in deep woods.  

Our biggest purchase took the most debate… the toilet. We debated over a cassette type or compost toilet. After a great amount of research we decided on the compost. We went with the Natures Head for ease of use. It was a major investment ($1,000) but after using it we find it worry free and no messy cleanup. The liquids and solids are kept separate for ease of cleanup, which requires the liquids tank to be dumped at least every 3 days of constant use. Every 6 months on the composting solid side. No smell no mess. 

The other thing to consider when you’re in your design phase. Do you want more storage or more living space? Everything must fit in this small space. We chose the storage over living space. Our bed frame is 40” tall providing a large enough garage space for all our water tanks, 2 mountain bikes and all necessary equipment. We built a 4 foot, 600 lb. slide to accommodate accessing the heavier boxes without climbing through the garage. 

We each have 2 large boxes for our clothes, a small box for socks, underwear, etc., and a box for personal essentials. We chose to keep everything in sealed plastic containers after a small mouse invasion early on in Colorado. We travel with Gandaulf, our 11 year old Corgi. Gandaulf even has his own cabinet for his food and toys. 

We decided on dual swivel seats. It is amazing how it opens up the living area when they are turned around. It also creates a small den behind them for Gandaulf to sleep and get away. 

The coolest part is our soft storage areas. We used the cargo nets from cars to organize our soft gear. Ingenious! We have hung them strategically so that it’s easy to access but tucked out of the way. They can be hung on the back doors for extra shoes, water hoses, and power cords, on the headliner for blackout blinds, window coverings, gloves, hats, etc. In the 12’ trailer we haul, we’ve hung them from the ceilings to make our space 3 dimensional.  We travel with a 50” Can-Am Maverick UTV and two electric assist bikes, for getting around where the van can’t go. 

We also added one small item as a last minute booster for our cell phones. We are now a personal cell phone tower that can boost our reception (in theory) so we can be a little further off grid but still in some service in case of emergencies. The jury is still out on this device. 

Wilderness Travelers: Part One

Life Off Grid

Life on the road is not a vacation. You are not going home. You are home. You didn’t skirt any chores, honey-do fix it project, or little things that need to be done, because there’s always something to fix on the van, and it’s sometimes harder on the road. 

Living off grid is a wonderful adventure if you have the right state of mind, as my grandparents used to say,”got enough gumption.” Where ever you land is where you call home. Some places feel like a place you’d like to stay and experience all it’s energy. Others are just quick over nights. 

I think that life in the wilderness affords you a certain peace of mind, softens the heart, and gives you a connection to the earth. You live with the flies, the mosquitos, the ants and mice. You’re in their home as a visitor. You live sometimes on dusty roads with the humidity just right, and the air just still enough, that the dust hangs like a heavy cloud, suffocating all manor of life, including you. Other times you’ll live on a desert plateau or a beach, or a mountain riverside. Each pallet a different experience. Each is your little place in the world at that second. Your footprint is very small. 

You may meet people here and there. Each with their own story to tell. Each exist in their struggle to belong, to find something they think is missing. Out on the road there’s only you to deal with (except in a COVID-19 pandemic). With COVID, anyone you meet and even the air you breathe can make you sick. In general most people are kind and courteous, following the rules. We are all on the same path to be calm and stay healthy.

I have a certain affinity for trees, perhaps I was a squirrel once. The taller the better. These enduring sentinels hold years upon years of memories of season upon season. In the Wild I connect to everything animate and inanimate. The depth of the silence, the rivers voice heard loud and clear and echoing through the canyons. The peel of a bird of preys call. This is a place of magic and whimsy. 

You need only 4 things when vagabonding… food, a clean source of water, gas (petrol and LPG) and a safe place to park. We prefer places away from people but this isn’t always possible. So you bend and accept whatever accommodations you can for that night. We are always able to move in the morning to a more suitable place to call home. Everything is fluid.