THOMAS: A LEGEND IS BORN

Can you believe it? I’m already into another vehicle/ travel set up, it’s almost as if I can’t make up my mind. I know in my last blog, which was a long time ago, I dropped the first image of my latest project. A lot has happened since then, seriously, that’s no understatement. To catch you up on my vehicle endeavors I’ll give you an overview of what’s happened since I “announced” the purchase of Thomas.

Turns out Thomas had a bent frame, bent motor mounts and a myriad of electrical issues. After I purchased the truck I had it towed to my Disturbed Industries Automotive to have my friend Ryan look over it then shortly after drove home to Alberta to start work. The plan was to have Ryan do whatever work on the truck that was necessary to get it road worthy and legal to drive. I would return from Alberta when the work was done and drive the truck back home. A couple of weeks or so after I returned home I got the bad news about what Ryan had found. I immediately had the truck towed to another friends place so it wasn’t in the way while I figured out what I had to do. After talking with my close friend Duane we decided to poke around Thomas’ insides a little more. After some further diagnostics Duane discovered that Thomas’ motor was not in fact blown (I bought Thomas with the intention to put another used motor in knowing that the motor wasn’t running) but was actually running fairly well. But, the fact that there was a bent frame still remained. While all this truck drama was occurring I was looking into the details of importing a new van to Canada (I had purchased Thomas as a boot-around-the-farm-truck). The process was looking rather daunting and I was becoming less and less certain of my decision to purchase another Hiace. As I put more focus on Thomas I got to recalling all the good times in my 1988 Toyota pickup. I started to realize that I had a really good platform for a mobile living situation right in my lap. A reliable pickup that has a fairly basic motor, suspension and inner workings, plus parts can be located easily anywhere in North and South America and it has a 7.5ft bed, perfect for mounting a camper. All I had to do was figure out the frame problem, which coincidentally wasn’t that difficult because it turns out Ryan had another long bed Toyota pickup sitting in his shop with a perfect frame and rust free cab. Bingo. So yes, I bought a second truck. I had the second truck towed to Duane’s shop and he got started on swapping motors and anything worth saving from Thomas 1.0 to Thomas 2.0. A couple weeks later I flew to BC and spent a weekend slaving away on the truck with Duane to get it driveable so that I could return home. After some 24-30hrs of work over a weekend I started the truck and drove from BC to Alberta without so much as a hiccup from the 31 year old clunker that had just been two trucks.

 This here marks the burial place of Thomas 1.0. Naw, actually he went to the scrappers.

This here marks the burial place of Thomas 1.0. Naw, actually he went to the scrappers.

 The truck starts, the truck runs, the truck moves under its own power. Time to drive to Alberta! Thanks Duane and Blake!

The truck starts, the truck runs, the truck moves under its own power. Time to drive to Alberta! Thanks Duane and Blake!

 What Thomas 1.0 evolved into.

What Thomas 1.0 evolved into.

SO! Fast forward a little, the truck has a new paint job, straightened body panels, new suspension, new front end, new armor and a boat load of other stuff. Phase one of Thomas’ transformation is complete, he’s ready and able to go on short term trips, can carry our camping-based kit and has my Autohome RTT mounted up top for sleeping in. Alison and I hopped into drive back to BC for a month of cycling, exploring, camping and perfect chaos. I’ll keep the summer coverage brief because I intended this blog to be more about building Thomas, but I have been due for a recap blog.

 One of my favorite spots along the river near Nordegg.

One of my favorite spots along the river near Nordegg.

 Happy camper!

Happy camper!

 The new setup with Thomas was mediocre at best, it was difficult to retrieve stuff from the box of the truck with the bike rack on the back, and we had no fridge to keep our food cool, but first steps to something greater aren’t always easy.

The new setup with Thomas was mediocre at best, it was difficult to retrieve stuff from the box of the truck with the bike rack on the back, and we had no fridge to keep our food cool, but first steps to something greater aren’t always easy.

 Despite the new-found difficulties of our “back-to-basics” build we were more than stoked to be back in the mountains.

Despite the new-found difficulties of our “back-to-basics” build we were more than stoked to be back in the mountains.

 Morning RTT views.

Morning RTT views.

 Icefield Parkway views never disappoint.

Icefield Parkway views never disappoint.

 I discovered a viewpoint near Oyama in the Okanagan after arriving to a downpour in our previous planned spot.

I discovered a viewpoint near Oyama in the Okanagan after arriving to a downpour in our previous planned spot.

 Viewpoint of epicness.

Viewpoint of epicness.

 Nowadays it’s a rare occasion to be camping with Alison, so we find ourselves all smiles when we do.

Nowadays it’s a rare occasion to be camping with Alison, so we find ourselves all smiles when we do.

 Spot courtesy of iOverlander

Spot courtesy of iOverlander

 A very blown-out shot of us with our buddy Thomas about to hit the road again.

A very blown-out shot of us with our buddy Thomas about to hit the road again.

 Gas Town Grand Prix, 2018

Gas Town Grand Prix, 2018

 Gas Town Grand Prix, 2018

Gas Town Grand Prix, 2018

 My dad being my dad at the New Westminster Criterium

My dad being my dad at the New Westminster Criterium

 Gas Town Grand Prix, 2018

Gas Town Grand Prix, 2018

 “Byeeeeeee”, Gas Town Grand Prix, 2018

“Byeeeeeee”, Gas Town Grand Prix, 2018

 I have funny parents, never a dull moment.

I have funny parents, never a dull moment.

 Gas Town Grand Prix, 2018

Gas Town Grand Prix, 2018

 Burnaby Criterium, 2018

Burnaby Criterium, 2018

 Gas Town Grand Prix, 2018

Gas Town Grand Prix, 2018

 Burnaby Critierium, 2018

Burnaby Critierium, 2018

 Poco Criterium, 2018

Poco Criterium, 2018

 Tour de Whiterock, 2018

Tour de Whiterock, 2018

 Tour de White Rock, 2018

Tour de White Rock, 2018

 Tour de Whiterock, 2018

Tour de Whiterock, 2018

 Due to Alison being gone during our 7 year anniversary we decided to celebrate early by escaping to one of our favorite spots.

Due to Alison being gone during our 7 year anniversary we decided to celebrate early by escaping to one of our favorite spots.

 The luxury of camping, mid-afternoon naps.

The luxury of camping, mid-afternoon naps.

 Camp level, 1000

Camp level, 1000

 Riding the stoke…

Riding the stoke…

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 I’ll never not miss BC mountains.

I’ll never not miss BC mountains.

 Returning to Alberta by myself I decided to take the long way home and managed to make what should have been a two journey into a week of driving. This is overlooking Osoyoos, BC.

Returning to Alberta by myself I decided to take the long way home and managed to make what should have been a two journey into a week of driving. This is overlooking Osoyoos, BC.

 Mountain top chill out spots. I discovered that my stove was missing it’s gas attachment, so I ate smoked oyster on crackers for dinner. I’ll be honest, I was a little more worried about bears coming to visit me that night due to the smelly oyster can I had hidden away in the garbage.

Mountain top chill out spots. I discovered that my stove was missing it’s gas attachment, so I ate smoked oyster on crackers for dinner. I’ll be honest, I was a little more worried about bears coming to visit me that night due to the smelly oyster can I had hidden away in the garbage.

 Can’t get enough of these sunset colors.

Can’t get enough of these sunset colors.

 Morning views.

Morning views.

 My compatriots from Southern BC, Jessey and Tommie. These gems were supposed to accompany me on my Alaska/Yukon trip last summer but after a broken ankle a week before departure Jessey had to throw in the towel.

My compatriots from Southern BC, Jessey and Tommie. These gems were supposed to accompany me on my Alaska/Yukon trip last summer but after a broken ankle a week before departure Jessey had to throw in the towel.

 After years of meet-up attempts I finally caught up with Travis Perry and camped with him just outside of Nelson, BC.

After years of meet-up attempts I finally caught up with Travis Perry and camped with him just outside of Nelson, BC.

 Later the next day we decided to drive up a mountain just outside of Kaslo to peek some peaks and gold mines.

Later the next day we decided to drive up a mountain just outside of Kaslo to peek some peaks and gold mines.

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 Dusty ascents: minutes after this shot was taken we were stopped dead in our tracks as the grade became too steep and loose for our truck to climb any further.

Dusty ascents: minutes after this shot was taken we were stopped dead in our tracks as the grade became too steep and loose for our truck to climb any further.

 We were forced to back down the steep trail into this little pull out. I assure you, trying the exit the truck was difficult without falling out.

We were forced to back down the steep trail into this little pull out. I assure you, trying the exit the truck was difficult without falling out.

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 Can’t beat Kootney views.

Can’t beat Kootney views.

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 Sitting damn near 6000ft has it’s perks. Travis managed to make it to 6008ft.

Sitting damn near 6000ft has it’s perks. Travis managed to make it to 6008ft.

 Who would have known that Alison’s bike would make it to such heights via 4x4 truck.

Who would have known that Alison’s bike would make it to such heights via 4x4 truck.

 Nature cake.

Nature cake.

 Thomas looking rather regal in his crowsnest perch.

Thomas looking rather regal in his crowsnest perch.

 Pre Kootney lake ferry.

Pre Kootney lake ferry.

 Sailing into the sunset. It was a little odd for me to be standing on a fresh water ferry crossing a lake in the middle of a province.

Sailing into the sunset. It was a little odd for me to be standing on a fresh water ferry crossing a lake in the middle of a province.

 Before exiting the mountains I met up with my friend Alec and Erin for a little camping and proceeded to travel a large portion of the 40 which is a forestry trunk road paralleling the Rockies as far south as Crowsnest Pass and as far North as Grand Prairie.

Before exiting the mountains I met up with my friend Alec and Erin for a little camping and proceeded to travel a large portion of the 40 which is a forestry trunk road paralleling the Rockies as far south as Crowsnest Pass and as far North as Grand Prairie.

 Alec has adopted much of my previous Tacoma parts and now sports a pretty sweet little living space inside the canopy he bought from me.

Alec has adopted much of my previous Tacoma parts and now sports a pretty sweet little living space inside the canopy he bought from me.

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 One happy dog.

One happy dog.

 Thomas hiding in the foliage.

Thomas hiding in the foliage.

 It’s hard to resist a little swamp romping.

It’s hard to resist a little swamp romping.

 Hummingbird Falls

Hummingbird Falls

 Ram Falls

Ram Falls

 Alec and I made the trek down to the rivers edge and then up river to get a swim at the base of Ram Falls.

Alec and I made the trek down to the rivers edge and then up river to get a swim at the base of Ram Falls.

 Huzzah, waterfalls!

Huzzah, waterfalls!

 In the spirit of camping, boots, hatchet, trucks and tents.

In the spirit of camping, boots, hatchet, trucks and tents.

 Peaceful.

Peaceful.

 More swamp romping.

More swamp romping.

 At this point I had shed the company of friends and forged my own path in the Alberta wilds. Highway 40 did not disappoint and I reckon I’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the future.

At this point I had shed the company of friends and forged my own path in the Alberta wilds. Highway 40 did not disappoint and I reckon I’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the future.

 Pepper Lake, along the 40.

Pepper Lake, along the 40.

 A little piece of paradise. I stopped early in the this spot, not wanting to drive any more and sat by the fire attempting to play harmonica and eating snacks.

A little piece of paradise. I stopped early in the this spot, not wanting to drive any more and sat by the fire attempting to play harmonica and eating snacks.

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 These are my camp colors.

These are my camp colors.

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 It’s views like these that drive me to keep exploring.

It’s views like these that drive me to keep exploring.

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Now I’m back on the farm and working yet again. Thomas has undergone a few more upgrades, but more importantly…step one of phase two has begun. I’ve returned to my plans of building an aluminum camper. I had intended to do so using Turbo (my 2013 Toyota Tacoma) as a foundation but Norton happened and that plan was 86’d. Returning to the camper concept I’ve decided to do all the work myself and save money where I can so that when it comes to travel I can go further for longer. Step one of phase two involves ditching the truck box and building a flatbed for the camper to sit on. I had intended to build the camper inside the truck box but ultimately decided against that to avoid complications and loss of space later on down the road in the construction of the camper. I opted to build a ute tray style flatbed, something you don’t see a lot of here in Canada. Construction of phase two has already commenced and I’ve made significant progress. Take a look…

 RTT’less with new shoes, Thomas is looking pretty sharp and a whole lot lighter.

RTT’less with new shoes, Thomas is looking pretty sharp and a whole lot lighter.

 A glamour shot of Willow soaking up the trucklife

A glamour shot of Willow soaking up the trucklife

 Discovering little trails in the prairies of Alberta can actually be pretty fun.

Discovering little trails in the prairies of Alberta can actually be pretty fun.

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 This is the last shot I have of Thomas before he lost his truck box.

This is the last shot I have of Thomas before he lost his truck box.

 Building begins and structure begins to take form.

Building begins and structure begins to take form.

 Truck boxes being fabbed.

Truck boxes being fabbed.

 I didn’t manage to take too many photos of the building process so here’s the finished product.

I didn’t manage to take too many photos of the building process so here’s the finished product.

 The bed sides and headache rack can be removed easily to allow for the camper to be bolted in place.

The bed sides and headache rack can be removed easily to allow for the camper to be bolted in place.

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It was my decision to stay on the farm for the winter right from the get-go. I knew that I would have to spend a significant amount of time while working to both afford and properly build my next project. I knew that this decision wasn’t going to be a popular one going into the winter. I’m already watching some of my favorite people on instagram traveling around and feeling the pull of the road and the freedom of adventure. But, sometimes you have to sacrifice what you love to do for a time to enable yourself to do that same thing for much longer.

WRAPPING UP & LOOKING BACK: TRANSITIONING BACK TO FARMLIFE

"All good things come to an end," yeah, I suppose that's true, but it doesn't mean that the next thing is inherently bad.  My time on the road has come to a close and I am now transitioning back into life on the farm in Alberta.  Were this me a few years ago I'd be telling you how it's a struggle to come back to the farm and start work after such a long time away, but it's not and a lot has changed since then.  Although I'm turning the page on a chapter of my life that was full of travel and adventure, I am about to start a chapter that, yes, contains a lot of work, but also will contain loads of opportunity to exercise my creativity.  And during those times when I'm in the seat of a tractor, I have a massive collection of photos from my adventures to look back on to remind me why I work those long hours.  Speaking of massive collections of photos, lets take a look back at my recent trip and some of the highlights.

It still amazes me when I look at all the places that I've been in the last three months.  Living out of my van opened up so many unique experiences and allowed me to really open myself up to different environments that I drove through.  My little Toyota Hiace van performed perfectly and never gave me any trouble.  All in all, the trip went off without a hitch.  

It's been interesting coming back to Canada after traveling all the way to the Southern tip of the Baja Peninsula; it's like a fog has lifted and I've realized how many exciting new exploration opportunities exist in my back yard, in my very own country.  You might think I'm crazy for saying this, but I was disinterested in exploring Canada for a little while.  I was so focused on exploring down South that BC forests and Alberta mountains didn't strike me as interesting.  While I was back home at my parents place in Alberta I did my best to get out into the mountains during the brief breaks in the rain.  I found places I had never seen in the 20 years of living in that area and they were just off of side roads I had driven by multiple times.  Now that I'm back on the farm for a large chunk of time I have the opportunity to do some short term trips into the Alberta Rockies to see what I can find there.  I've gained so much from my long term travels, but at the very least, my traveling has put in me a drive to explore local and gain a better understanding of the beauty that is within a few hours reach.

If you're reading this right now, you're one of the few that will be let into a little secret of mine that I've been keeping for the last few months.  I spoke of big plans to come as I prepare to travel for a year and then one day travel south to Patagonia.  Unfortunately Norton is not fit for these journeys as he is a little too small to store all that we need on a year-long trip, so I will be posting him up for sale soon and transitioning into something a little different.  But for now, I've made an exciting new purchase to facilitate my explorations while I work on the farm.  Here's to new adventures and new places.  Everyone...meet, Thomas.

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LIVING IN A VAN: LEAVING BEHIND NORMAL AND LIVING EXTRAORDINARY

"Camera in hand, raw earth beneath my feet and miles of road before me I step out into the great wide open in search of a home on the road." Sounds pretty romantic doesn't it?  I wrote that last year while driving North along the 395 in Southern California.  I had been on the road by myself for about a week at that point and I was just beginning to discover a freedom that I hadn't really known before.  It was at that point that I realized that I was OK with becoming a dirtbag or a desert rat or a van dweller.  In fact, I discovered I was intensely eager to make my life capable of fitting inside a small space.  Learning about the benefits of a smaller more versatile living situation has been a long and fairly slow process for me but I've seen the light and I'm running to catch it now. 

 Finding inspirations in straight roads and the organized chaos of the environment around me.

Finding inspirations in straight roads and the organized chaos of the environment around me.

 A one burner stove, cooking bacon in the bone chilling wind while attempting to soak up as much of the early morning sunlight as possible.

A one burner stove, cooking bacon in the bone chilling wind while attempting to soak up as much of the early morning sunlight as possible.

 Waking up to epic.

Waking up to epic.

I don't think I've written anything about why I want to live in a van so bad and before I start, I assure you it's not because everyone is doing it.  I believe, the reason I want to live in a van is simply because I want to follow my passion(s).  In the past I've had a hard time defining what it was that I'm passionate about. I've often been jealous of those people that do have a passion, especially those that discovered their passion early on.  Throughout high school and the years after I dabbled in A LOT of different disciplines, but never really latched on to anything, it's why I often tell people that I'm a Jack of all trades and master of none; however, as I've thought about it more I've realized a common element in all those things that I have enjoyed in the past, they were all different sorts of creative outlets and always had to do with making something and having a story to tell about it. 

 When your exit is just as beautiful as your entrance.

When your exit is just as beautiful as your entrance.

 Camping below sea level and experiencing winds so strong you fear your van will tip over.

Camping below sea level and experiencing winds so strong you fear your van will tip over.

 Learning to live, laugh and love but also forgive and forget in space no bigger than your bathroom.

Learning to live, laugh and love but also forgive and forget in space no bigger than your bathroom.

The last few years I've been in and out of a lot of different vehicles and travel set ups, if you didn't know, just ask my family, they'll tell you; it seems funny to them that I can't settle on a vehicle or travel set up.  To be honest though, I have bought and sold a lot in the last four or five years.  It's frustrated me, this joking, because to me the progression all seems perfectly logical and so what if I buy and sell a lot of stuff? What I'm realizing now is that all of those vehicles, they were part of my creative outlet and journey to the ultimate means of pursuing more creative outlets.  Each and every one of those vehicles was a blank canvas when I bought it and I painted each canvas well before it moved on.  I now look back on building the interior of the van and how much I enjoyed doing so, how much joy it brought me.  Every morning I woke up and was eager to go to work on my project.  I will continue to build vehicles because I enjoy it, because I learn new skills and it feeds my creative needs.

 Watching the sunset on a snow capped mountain while being parked in a desert.

Watching the sunset on a snow capped mountain while being parked in a desert.

 Being thrilled that you can feel your hands again when you drive from one place with less snow than the last.

Being thrilled that you can feel your hands again when you drive from one place with less snow than the last.

Being in the van and having the freedom to move about wherever I want but also being forced into a small space with no couch, no TV and no internet I've found that I need to entertain myself some how.  While in Mexico I drew a lot, I designed new van stuff, I drew pictures of Norton in cool places, I read books but then I realized that I had this incredible desire to create and learn.  I wanted to learn about culture and language, I want to learn an instrument and I want to learn new skills like surviving in the outdoors and fine woodworking.  Having this time to be away from a screen, away from a job, away from cities and busyness has allowed my mind to clear, revealing that there are things I need in my life that I have been ignoring.  

 Meeting new friends at every turn.

Meeting new friends at every turn.

 Then bumping bumping into them again.

Then bumping bumping into them again.

 Exploring into places with no back up but yourself and your whits.

Exploring into places with no back up but yourself and your whits.

 Getting the quintessential shot.

Getting the quintessential shot.

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Looking at where I've been and where I'm going in the van it's clear, this that lifestyle I've discovered is the most conducive to my development as a creator, as an artist and as I human being.  I've always had the fear of getting to the end of my life and regretting all the things I didn't do, by doing what I'm doing now, I don't have that fear.  Minimizing my life, fitting it all into a van has helped me realize how little I can live with and how easy it is for me to move around not only geographically but also career and opportunity-wise.  I'm starting to see my life before me open up to some incredible and adventurous possibilities and I'm EXCITED! I'm excited for my life!  How many people have a hard time saying that these days?  I'm one of the few who has escaped the clutches of a monotonous and dull life and I am so thankful for that.

 The fog is clearing and my path is apparent, now all I need is to go.

The fog is clearing and my path is apparent, now all I need is to go.

HEAT SEEKER: CLICHÉ’S FROM THE DIRECTIONLESS DIRTBAG

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything, I feel like I say that a lot, but this time I think it’s more true than the other times.  I'm not going to attempt to update you on everything, there’s so much that has happened and so much that I’ve been contemplating since I last wrote; one of those things being that I haven’t really written anything with much content in a long time.  Yes, I’ve provided plenty of content to be viewed, but many of my blogs as of late have been more of an update about my whereabouts and the things that I’ve seen in my travels.  One of the things that I love about traveling by myself is that I get piles of time to think through things in my life.  The first two weeks of my travels this winter I was moving around pretty quickly, trying to get set up for my trip into Mexico and meeting new people along the way.  I didn’t feel as though I was allowing myself a lot of time to just think, instead I’d spend the day outside talking with people around me, trying to photograph everything that I saw and then at night just settling in with a book before going to sleep.  In the time between my last blog and now I have traveled to the Southern tip of the Baja peninsula and back, admittedly it was quick and I was moving a lot, but I had a lot of time to think on the long drives.  As well, for the first time in my life I experienced something close to a third world country and a non-white culture.  So, here’s my dirtbag traveler cliché that I’ve alluded to in the this blogs title, I have returned from Mexico a changed man with a new outlook on life.

 

  I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting to find in Baja.  What I knew of the peninsula was that it was a largely white populated part of Mexico due to the influx of traveling American’s from Southern California in addition to the myriad of travelers from all around the world that come in search of Baja’s epic white sand beaches and vast and relatively untouched wilderness.  I figured that once I got down there it would be fairly similar to what I’ve known throughout the South Western states, I would be able to communicate in English with most people, there would be a well-developed civil structure etc.  I can assure you that the culture shock was pure and well realized the minute I crossed the border into Mexicali.  From the organized and maintained streets of Calexico you are ejected into the hustle and bustle of a busy and crowded Mexican border city.  Suddenly I could no longer read the signs, people were driving anywhere and everywhere without using signals, horns were blaring, people were trying to get my attention from every direction to buy their wares, it was like nothing I had experienced before.  I recognize that there are possibly American’s reading right now that have done the crossing numerous times and no longer believe that crossing into Mexico is such a harrowing experience, but for this white dude that’s never seen anything other than first world countries, it was a shocker.  

 

  Traveling throughout Baja I found that I began to develop a real thirst for the culture and everything that Mexico has to offer.  First off, I almost instantly fell in love with how anything goes on Mexican roads.  It’s so easy to navigate because no one cares what you do or don’t do.  So often we’d just pull off to the side of the road to consult our maps, park side by side still jutting out onto the road, obviously obstructing traffic a little and people would just calmly drive around you.  You can swing u-turns pretty much anywhere, speed limits are more of suggestions to Mexican drivers and the various modified vehicles are so much fun to look at because, again, anything goes.  I also fell in love with the food, if you’re smart(ish) and willing to pull off the road at any random taco stand you can discover some of the most fresh and delicious ingredients in your taco or burrito or enchilada, and then pay a few dollars USD and walk away  with a full belly.  I was also so stoked on how everything is so affordable if you’re traveling on the USD, by the end of the two weeks that I spent in Mexico I was almost $700USD ahead of my daily budget and that was while driving almost every day, purchasing groceries every few days and buying the odd tourist trinket.  Then there’s the language, Spanish is such an exciting and enticing language.  I now actually have a desire to learn a second language which I certainly didn’t have before.  All of these things are the immediate things that I learned and experienced, but the long lasting thing that I took away was the how this initial trip into Mexico has opened my eyes to what else is beyond the borders of North America.  For about two years now I’ve been saying that I just want to travel the United States and Canada and I didn’t really have a plan beyond that, but now I have a very real desire to complete my own Pan America trip and then possibly to travel throughout Africa and Europe one day. 

 

  I’ve long known that I don’t want a conventional lifestyle.  The thought of settling down with a family, having a good job and owning a house doesn’t (right now) appeal to me.  So, for the past few years I’ve slowly been developing on my solution for how I will live a life of adventure.  My plans have gone as far as about five years into the future, after working for a long period of time I want to live on the road for a year and travel throughout North America.  It will take a couple years of prep to afford a cushioned budget for the year of travel and then the year on the road itself will get me around the time that Alison will have gone to the Olympics once and we’ll be working towards the next; however, I hadn’t really planned past that.  Now, I have a mission, Patagonia.  I have a lot of friends now that have done or are traveling to the Southern tip of South America.  Before, when I had thought about doing the same trip I was scared off by the prospect of having the difficulty of communicating with the people as I traveled South.  I’ve realized now that learning Spanish was my only obstacle and it has now become an obstacle I will willingly conquer.  Traveling with my Swiss friends has also made me realize that I could possibly live the rest of my life traveling the world and how many experiences are out there waiting to be had, it’s just a matter of stepping beyond my comfort zone to find them.

 

 

  So, now with my new mission I have a focus for the future and I can begin planning for more epic adventure. On another note, I've been back in the US for almost a week now, I've spent a few nights in my favorite spot on Prewitt Ridge near Big Sur and met some incredible people.  Alison and I have traveled to Arizona for Valley of the Sun stage race, from there we'll drive to Utah to explore some of the National Parks.  

 

HUNTING FOR HEAT: ALL THE WAY DOWN TO J-TOWN

Van was done, snow was falling, temperatures were dropping...it was time to leave.  So, we did.  I'm still stoked on the fact that Norton was basically completely done when we left to head South.  It was so nice knowing that all I had to do was pack and go.  Now, it's been a while since I posted, two weeks tomorrow in fact, and a lot has happened since we departed Canada.  I'm currently in Joshua Tree, California where I've been chilling for the past few days while I prepare to cross the next border into Mexico and travel to the Southern tip of Baja.  It's been a pretty spectacular drive down.  As things often seem to occur for us in the first few days of travel, we saw a lot of rain and didn't get any solid sunshine till we were near the South West corner or Oregon.  The van has been great, slow...but great.  I've had no issues aside from a burnt out headlight, but we have noticed that Norton hates hills with a passion and I've become "that guy" who holds up a long line of traffic on the steep inclines with no passing lanes.  Norton has given us exactly what we were looking for, a small mobile home that we feel comfortable being in, that gets us out of the rain and doesn't cost much to operate.  On average we're filling up for $45USD and driving 450km on each tank.  Pretty decent in comparison to the truck with an average of $60USD and 350km to a tank.

Considering that it's been almost two weeks, I'm not going to go into too much detail on what we've been up to aside from driving, I'll let the pictures fill you in.

I was immensely pleased that instead of driving inland we chose to drive along the coast.  The South coast of Oregon is absolutely spectacular and not to mention its considerably warmer.  California was next on the hit list and it also did not disappoint.  First night in Cali we stayed with an old team mate of Alison's who lives in Arcata, then spent our New Years Eve up in the King Range Wilderness area where there's a rad mountain bike loop and terrain park nestled into the mountains.  The next night we drove to one of my favorite places to camp, Usal bay, where we enjoyed the sound of waves crashing against the shore below us.

The remainder of the coastal drive to San Francisco went smoothly and was rich with beautiful views and fun experiences for Alison and I.  We've learned to travel a little slower and were able to enjoy a few more beach walks and vista points.  Of course, we were still on a schedule which meant we couldn't stay there forever, but it was good to relax a little.

I dropped Alison off near San Francisco where she flew out with her team to Australia and I continued South to meet up with my friends Andres & Desiree from Switzerland.  We met up in Alaska at first in Fairbanks and then again on the Denali Highway and planned to meet up again down South and drive to Baja together.  I met with them at another favorite spot of mine, Prewitt Ridge.  After Prewitt ridge I parted ways with Andres & Desiree and drove directly to Joshua Tree while they went to LA.  

THE HIACE CHRONICLES: FINISHING TOUCHES

For the past week my head has been buried in the desert sands of Southern California and Arizona...while I've worked I've thought of nothing else but heading to the desert.  I'd say it's getting pretty close to that departure date.  Now with the van 98% finished it's even harder to resist the pull of warm weather and sunshine.  

A lot has happened in the past week (two weeks? I can't keep track) since we returned from our family Christmas in Alberta.  The electrical is 100% done, thank heavens.  I managed to wire all my lights backwards and thus had to fix that problem.  I thought that I had somehow managed to wreck my fantastic fan while installing it and after pulling all the wiring out and testing everything I found out that I had to crank up the hatch for the fan to start.  DOH!!!  The interior lights are the perfect temperature and really give us a ton of light.  The fridge was installed and I built a new shelf above one of the windows for a little extra storage.  The van is getting closer and closer to that home status that I'm so excited about.

 Roof storage is something I needed more of, so I repurposed a tool box and created more roof top storage.

Roof storage is something I needed more of, so I repurposed a tool box and created more roof top storage.

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 Axe mount in place.

Axe mount in place.

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 This plug connects to my battery tender which will safely charge my batteries to 100% when charging off shore power.

This plug connects to my battery tender which will safely charge my batteries to 100% when charging off shore power.

 The little shelf above our window.

The little shelf above our window.

 We're now able to enjoy meals inside the van, it's glorious.  Also, note the little hide-away desk/ table that Alison's bowl is on.  That's something I haven't shown in this blog yet.

We're now able to enjoy meals inside the van, it's glorious.  Also, note the little hide-away desk/ table that Alison's bowl is on.  That's something I haven't shown in this blog yet.

 Fridge is in!

Fridge is in!

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In addition to all the fun interior work I did, I also got some exterior stuff out of the way.  A job a serious avoiding was my exterior lights.  I've learned the hard way in the past that venturing into the desert at without good lighting can be a frustrating endeavor.  This is why I kept all the auxiliary lighting off my truck and have now installed it on my vans roof rack.  The wiring wasn't too bad, although getting my body under the dash so that I could see where I was running the wire was definitely a challenge.

 Rocker switches from truck.

Rocker switches from truck.

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 20" single row light bar.

20" single row light bar.

 Side lights.

Side lights.

 Reverse light!

Reverse light!

 More of the random Japanese tech that I pulled out of the dash.  It's looking a lot cleaner under there now.

More of the random Japanese tech that I pulled out of the dash.  It's looking a lot cleaner under there now.

 My brass divider curtain rail.

My brass divider curtain rail.

 I put cedar lath inside the cubbies to keep everything in.

I put cedar lath inside the cubbies to keep everything in.

 Finishing trim touches.

Finishing trim touches.

 Last, but not least, I have a deck on the top of the van now!  Huzzah!

Last, but not least, I have a deck on the top of the van now!  Huzzah!

THE HIACE CHRONICLES: HOME STRETCH

It's been almost about 22 days straight of van build and I'm proud to say, I'm almost done.  This weekend I have finalized the wood build portion of the van build, which means I am no longer building anything structural, I am no longer designing anything new, I have more or less driven my last screw and cut my last piece of wood.  Guaranteed I will be eating my words in a few days, but I have my hopes that that won't be the case.  This past week has been filled with rainfall so pretty much every day I was pulling out the tarp, setting it up, working for the day then pulling it all down.  The days that had a little less rain I made sure to get as much work done as possible outside the confines of my tent building area.  I've wired all my lights, fantastic fan, plugins, fuse panels, inverter etc, all I have yet to wire is my solar which I'm waiting for a sunny day to drill holes through the roof.  So, really, all I have left to do is sand and make minor adjustments. I'm left with a few weeks to mull through all the things I could do better instead of leaving and thinking about it all on the road where my ability to do anything about those things is limited.  I'm expecting that when it's time to leave I will be 100% (or at least 90%) ready to leave.  The excitement is definitely building...

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In my last blog I left with the kitchen just being started.  In the time between then and now I finished the basic shell of the kitchen, built the electrical panel & water storage cabinet and began framing the back wall.

 I went a little cubby-crazy, but at least I've utilized all the space available!

I went a little cubby-crazy, but at least I've utilized all the space available!

 Rear boot/ shoe storage.

Rear boot/ shoe storage.

 You can see in the picture the left wall has been built.

You can see in the picture the left wall has been built.

 Bed frame being built.

Bed frame being built.

 Sometimes I get help, it's nice when the help is so pretty.

Sometimes I get help, it's nice when the help is so pretty.

 The bed platform being cut out.

The bed platform being cut out.

 You can begin to see my design coming together here.

You can begin to see my design coming together here.

 The first person to lie down on the new bed!  Boy, was I every tired of cutting and sanding all those holes, that was a whole days worth of boredom.

The first person to lie down on the new bed!  Boy, was I every tired of cutting and sanding all those holes, that was a whole days worth of boredom.

 The bed folded up into the bench configuration.

The bed folded up into the bench configuration.

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 I had initially planned to make the drawers able to slide to the back and to the front; however after some decision making I decided against it, but then realized that simply by lifting up the bed we could access our clothing from inside the van...win win.

I had initially planned to make the drawers able to slide to the back and to the front; however after some decision making I decided against it, but then realized that simply by lifting up the bed we could access our clothing from inside the van...win win.

 Simple bed supports keep the end of the bed up.

Simple bed supports keep the end of the bed up.

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 Rear drawers.

Rear drawers.

 My electrical cabinet being fitted with our inverter.

My electrical cabinet being fitted with our inverter.

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 Did some trim work on the kitchen, turned out pretty rad.  I'm really liking how the whole interior is being pulled together with cedar trim.

Did some trim work on the kitchen, turned out pretty rad.  I'm really liking how the whole interior is being pulled together with cedar trim.

 More cedar trim.

More cedar trim.

 And so begins the wiring phase of the build and then a tool and wire explosion went off in the van.  You'll also notice that face on the kitchen, that whole thing pulls out to reveal our cooking area...which oddly enough I totally forgot to photograph.

And so begins the wiring phase of the build and then a tool and wire explosion went off in the van.  You'll also notice that face on the kitchen, that whole thing pulls out to reveal our cooking area...which oddly enough I totally forgot to photograph.

 Wiring in the fan-tastic roof vent.

Wiring in the fan-tastic roof vent.

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There was a lot of exposed metal still in the van so I decided I'd cover it up.

 How I work when it's raining...

How I work when it's raining...

 Found premium cedar plank at Home Depot.

Found premium cedar plank at Home Depot.

 Ta-Da!  All the exposed metal faces are now covered with cedar plant AND I've installed the divider piece to hang our new curtains off.

Ta-Da!  All the exposed metal faces are now covered with cedar plant AND I've installed the divider piece to hang our new curtains off.

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When I write my next blog the van should be lit, have solar, dual batteries and a working refrigerator!

THE HIACE CHRONICLES: "NORTHERNER" IN SPANISH?

Did you know that "The Northerner" in Spanish is El Norteño?  It so happens that this is also our new vans new name.  Yup, we named him (it's a him), El Norteño.  I'm rather obsessed with the desert, we both love taco's/ Mexican food and we're from Canada so it made sense to us to combine all those things into a name for our little Toyota Hiace.  Alison didn't agree with my various naming ideas, but we finally settled on the Spanish translation of "The Northerner," pretty cool right? (On a side note, the word Norteño is also associated with Mexican-American gangs, music, food and people that live in New Mexico.)

I've swapped out my large and well equipped shop for a driveway and warm weather since I last wrote.  Alison and I traveled from Vermilion, Alberta to Abbotsford, British Columbia in the first week of November.  After a week of getting settled at my parents place I dove into van renovations and haven't really looked back since.  First step was, of course, to strip the vans interior to metal.

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I wanted to start with a clean slate which meant everything had to come out of the van, that included the existing bed and vinyl plank floor.  Thankfully there was very little rust and the flooring came out easily.

 Flooring aside, I did find a significant build up of rust in the wall around where the door slide rail is secured and was forced to pull off the door and address the rust problem immediately.

Flooring aside, I did find a significant build up of rust in the wall around where the door slide rail is secured and was forced to pull off the door and address the rust problem immediately.

 This bolt secures the rail which the sliding door slides on, it's apparent that water has been able to get in and sit for a long time which enabled the rust to eat right through.

This bolt secures the rail which the sliding door slides on, it's apparent that water has been able to get in and sit for a long time which enabled the rust to eat right through.

 The damage.

The damage.

 Grind out rust, rust primer and bed liner.

Grind out rust, rust primer and bed liner.

 My solution for this problem, being away from the welder, was to make up two aluminum bandaids, fill them silicone and sandwich them together preventing further water from accessing the metal.  I'm not sure how long this solution will last, I may be forced to weld in a new steel plate some day.

My solution for this problem, being away from the welder, was to make up two aluminum bandaids, fill them silicone and sandwich them together preventing further water from accessing the metal.  I'm not sure how long this solution will last, I may be forced to weld in a new steel plate some day.

 Next on the list was putting in a new sub floor.  Luckily the van provided a subfloor template which I simply traced, this cut down on a lot of extra measuring and expedited the process of putting in the floor.

Next on the list was putting in a new sub floor.  Luckily the van provided a subfloor template which I simply traced, this cut down on a lot of extra measuring and expedited the process of putting in the floor.

 When it rains it pours...this is how I managed to work during a downpour.

When it rains it pours...this is how I managed to work during a downpour.

 First piece in.

First piece in.

 My solution for insulating the floor was to drill hols in the subfloor and fill the cavities between the ribs with expanding foam.  I'm not particularly concerned with insulation as most of my travel is done in warmer weather.  Alison and I have also had plenty of experience with sleeping in the cold so we're not bothered by it too much.

My solution for insulating the floor was to drill hols in the subfloor and fill the cavities between the ribs with expanding foam.  I'm not particularly concerned with insulation as most of my travel is done in warmer weather.  Alison and I have also had plenty of experience with sleeping in the cold so we're not bothered by it too much.

 All the heavy things I could find were placed in the van to keep the floor from rising.

All the heavy things I could find were placed in the van to keep the floor from rising.

 I found this insulation option called Durafoam which is 1.5" thick styrofoam coated with a reflective layer.  I figured it could double as c-200 and reflectix and it was considerably cheaper, so a definite win.

I found this insulation option called Durafoam which is 1.5" thick styrofoam coated with a reflective layer.  I figured it could double as c-200 and reflectix and it was considerably cheaper, so a definite win.

 Walls insulated.

Walls insulated.

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 Hardboard in place.

Hardboard in place.

 Now that the walls and floor have been done, it's time for accessory placement and planning for cabinetry..

Now that the walls and floor have been done, it's time for accessory placement and planning for cabinetry..

Before I could move on with the ceiling I had to put in place the roof vent that I had purchased earlier which meant cutting a big'ol hole in the roof...this was a full day project for me, but I'm pleased with the result.

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 Fan-tastic fan in place and cedar lath ceiling installation in progress.

Fan-tastic fan in place and cedar lath ceiling installation in progress.

 I'll let you know that the smell in the van is amazing, gotta love cedar.

I'll let you know that the smell in the van is amazing, gotta love cedar.

Due to one of the engine access panels protruding into the living area I needed to find a way to keep it accessible in case of the need for engine/ transmission work.  My solution was to build up the area a little (allowing me to insulate it the area under the fridge more) then I will make a fully removable kitchen.

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 The kitchen is now underway.

The kitchen is now underway.

Next step will be finishing the kitchen and moving on to the rest of the cabinets throughout the van, then a steel frame for the bed will be made and installed then flooring and drawers.

THE HIACE CHRONICLES: CHANGES, SLOWLY GOING THE WAY OF THE BUFFALO

If you're reading this, hopefully you've followed my link looking for an explanation as to why my IG handle has changed from @northamerican_overland to @roaming_northamerica, well you're going to get an explanation.

For a while now I've been thinking about a change.  When I started North American Overland it was in anticipation of the Yukon & Alaska trip that I completed this summer.  Since inception I have done a fair amount of traveling and through doing so have evolved how I travel.  After traveling up North this summer I realized that I don't really like traveling to reach a destination, I prefer to just go and wander for months at a time without a plan and the word overland doesn't seem to fit the bill any longer as it describes, "self-reliant adventure travel to remote destinations where the journey is the primary goal."  In addition to that, it seems like the word 'overland' is being used on everything nowadays, from bags of coffee to wall mounted bottle openers, it's reaching the realm of overuse.   Thus, I figured that I would simply change my IG name to something a little more indicative of what I actually do, hence the change to @roaming_northamerica.  I thought that seeing as I like to wander/ roam around and my mission statement hasn't changed (traveling all 50 states, 10 provinces and 3 territories), the new name does a better job of letting people know what I'm about.  So, there you have it, the reason for the change.  As well, if you take a gander through my website you'll notice that I've created a new page called Roaming North America.  This page will be where I feature all my vehicle born adventure content.  Last but not least, I've created a new logo for the IG page, check it out!

 I'm sticking with the bison...it's my spirit animal.  Deal with it.

I'm sticking with the bison...it's my spirit animal.  Deal with it.

SO!  Having said all that, lets move on to the good stuff...the van.  There's been a few developments on the van this week.

Lets start with paint.  After repairing the worst of the rust on the van there was a fair amount of exposed metal which meant I had to paint it.  I painted the lower half with grey primer in preparation for bedliner.  Turns out the grey looks pretty good and considering the van is going to be completely repainted next summer I figured that I could keep the primer grey for the winter and save $100 on bed liner (every dollar saved means more travel).

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With the help of my father in law who is a maestro with metal, we were able to correct the back right corner of the van that had been pushed in due to some accident before the van arrived in Canada.  

 Mr. Metal Maestro

Mr. Metal Maestro

 Ken fashioned up a special tool that matched the curve of the other light socket and we used the swinger to slowly pull out the pushed in panel.

Ken fashioned up a special tool that matched the curve of the other light socket and we used the swinger to slowly pull out the pushed in panel.

 Almost like it just came out of the factory.

Almost like it just came out of the factory.

I also spent a day or two repainting the SR5 wheels I salvaged off the decrepit 4Runner we had in the yard.  Almost immediately after getting the van back home I had ordered new tires for the van.  I 1" bigger in diameter and wrapped the SR5 rims in 215/75/r15 BFG KO2's.  I've wanted KO2's since they were released but always seemed to wind up with different tires on my vehicles.

 For some reason BFG discontinued white lettering on their tires so I've ordered a special marker that is specifically made for tires, I'll color the lettering in.

For some reason BFG discontinued white lettering on their tires so I've ordered a special marker that is specifically made for tires, I'll color the lettering in.

 The van is building up badass points like a boss...

The van is building up badass points like a boss...

 Mmmm...fresh meats.

Mmmm...fresh meats.

I've also started to plan out storage on the roof rack and mounted our ARB awning.  I'm thinking I may also rework the solar shower I had built earlier so that we can give that a go while we're down South this winter.  

 I have loads of storage space up on the roof rack.

I have loads of storage space up on the roof rack.

Today I spent about two hours pulling out the rats nest of wiring I found buried under the carpet.  Whoever owned the van in Japan installed a bunch of aftermarket tech and obviously didn't care at all about clean wiring.

 I wasn't anticipating learning how to effectively pull apart the whole dash in the van so early, but once I found the rats nest of wires it pretty much became mandatory.  

I wasn't anticipating learning how to effectively pull apart the whole dash in the van so early, but once I found the rats nest of wires it pretty much became mandatory.  

 Anyone need a minidisc/ GPS system for their vehicle?

Anyone need a minidisc/ GPS system for their vehicle?

 Wire exorcism in progress.

Wire exorcism in progress.

 Found me some Japanese Yen in the battery box...oh ya, I found the battery box too...

Found me some Japanese Yen in the battery box...oh ya, I found the battery box too...

 That's all of it...

That's all of it...

 I was pretty stoked when the deck from 4Runner not only bolted right in, it also plugged right in...score.

I was pretty stoked when the deck from 4Runner not only bolted right in, it also plugged right in...score.

So far I'm really stoked on the progress I've made on the van and I'm getting stoked to rip out the interior to start building our living quarters.

 #adventuremobile status.

#adventuremobile status.

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THE HIACE CHRONICLES: YES, I BOUGHT A VAN.

I'm going to start with a disclaimer:  Although it may appear that I'm copying Desk to Glory in purchasing a JDM van...I am not.  Granted it's an excellent idea (great minds think alike?), the van plan has been a long time coming.

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Let's start from the beginning, shall we?  As I believe I have recounted before, the decision for a mobile, hard-walled living space was made winter of 2015 when Alison and I had our roof top tent and the mattress soaked through our first two nights on the road during the El Nino.  Apparently that memory has been burned into my mind.  In response to that experience, we bought the Boler.  In short, Casper the Boler was great...when parked.  If you talk to Alison, she'll tell you that Casper was the greatest thing since sliced bread, I have a slightly less flattering opinion of the trailer.  I found that my mobility was limited with the trailer, not to mention my fuel economy was drastically reduced, plus the trailer wasn't holding up well to off-road use and was looking like it would be a continuous repair project, thus the trailer was sold and I went, temporarily, back to a roof top tent setup.  

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Since my time down South last winter I have been trying to figure out the best option for living on the road.  Obviously a van was an option right from the get go, but there are a lot of area's that I'd have to compromise if I went with a van.  I boiled down the necessities for a van to two things, 4WD and Diesel.  I wanted the ability to get way out and not really have to worry about getting stuck due to 2WD.  A Swiss couple I met on the road traveling in a 4WD Sprinter put it perfectly when they said this, "you don't need 4WD for 98% of the time, but for that 2% that you DO need it, you REALLY need it." As you all know, I've been driving a Tacoma around for 2.5 years.  Great truck, kind of crappy fuel mileage.  I loved the reliability of my Tacoma and where I could go in it, but I felt like I was at the pump a lot.  My friend and co-worker, Kaas, builds Cummins diesel motors and quickly had me on the Diesel Train when he told me the fuel mileage he was getting in his big truck. 

 My two swiss friends from the road in their bad ass 4x4 sprinter.

My two swiss friends from the road in their bad ass 4x4 sprinter.

SO, next challenge...name me a factory diesel van that has 4WD made in North America.  I bet you only name two, a Sportmobile and 2014(15?) and up Sprinter van, both grossly over budget for me.  I knew the reality pretty early on and searched through different options from converting a diesel short bus to 4WD, excepting crap fuel mileage and getting a Chevy Quigley van, building a Four Wheel Camper style camper on the back of a 2nd Gen Dodge 2500 blah blah blah.  None of those idea worked out, obviously.  I had pretty much accepted the fact that I was going to get crappy fuel mileage and had decided to build a camper on the back of my Tacoma, until I came face to face with a Toyota Hiace camper on the sunshine coast.  Admittedly, I had heard of a Hiace before and had done a little research on them, found one in BC.  I think I was initially frightened away by the right hand drive and the price and how rare they are; however, when I spoke with the owner of the Hiace on the coast it put a serious bug in my brain.

Not a month later I had my truck listed experimentally which turned quickly to me trying to sell it 100% when the exact van I wanted showed up on kijiji.ca.  A month and huge hassle later I had a deposit on the truck and I was calling the owner of the van to set up a pick up time.

Now, on to my next disclaimer:  I've done some stupid things in my life, among them would likely be what I did to get the van.

I was finishing up a day of combining and had been speaking with someone on kijiji about my truck.  The conversation came initially as a blatant offer WAY below my asking price.  I'd had a number of offers like this, and just for fun I fed into it a little.  Long story short, by that evening I had a deposit in my bank account.  I guess sometimes you have to accept what life throws at you.  The day I received the deposit was Monday, the agreement was that I'd drive the truck to Red Deer on Thursday.  The next day we started work knowing that we'd likely get shut down early due to weather.   Sure enough, as night came the wind kicked up and a crazy storm ripped through our area.  Realizing that I may not have a day of work the next day I began to formulate a plan.  In under two hours I had made the calls and put my plan in motion.  I loaded the Tacoma onto a trailer that night, stripped as much after market stuff off it as I could, prepared a quick go-bag and went to bed.  The next morning at 4am I left the yard and drove to Calgary where I dropped off the truck with the buyer and received payment for the truck, from Calgary I drove all the way to Kelowna.  The "stupid" part of this story comes when I realized as snow began to fall that I was pulling a heavy-ass trailer with no trailer brakes with a truck that had balding tires through the mountains.  Oh ya, and this realization also came as I hit a snow covered bridge while passing a car and truck kicked out to the side and abruptly snapped my sleep-deprived mind out of its fog.  Lets say, my trip from Banff to Revelstoke was VERY slow.  But I made it.

I met the seller the next morning, looked over the van, agreed on a price, loaded the van and was back on my way by noon.  Twelve hours later I arrived back at the farm.

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I chose the Super GL version of the Hiace due to its large weight capacity and longer wheel base.  You can find camperized options but I wanted the roof top storage space and prefer the aesthetic and center of gravity of a lower van.  Apparently after the early 90's the drive-train changed from selectable 4WD to full-time 4WD which I didn't realize till it was too late, but I'm fine with that, the van still gets over 27mpg!!!!  So without further adieu, the van.

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