It’s hard to believe that Rachel and I began our journey nearly two months ago. When I think back on the days of winter sunshine we’ve had, the long bike rides and breathtaking hikes, it feels like we left yesterday. On the other hand, remembering the hours spent in the driver’s seat and cash shelled out at engine repair shops across the country, the days feel a bit longer. We’ve certainly experienced our fair share of highs and lows thus far, but what’s true adventure without a few wrong turns? After all, one of the reasons we chose to adopt this lifestyle is to remember what it’s like to feel uncomfortable. But, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s take it back a few steps to the actual beginning.
In early 2017, Rachel and I were living the “dream” in Asheville, North Carolina. We had meaningful jobs at youth-centered non-profits making modest-yet-sufficient salaries, lived in the hip neighborhood on the west side of town, and spent our weekends camping and mountain biking in the surrounding Appalachian Mountains. It was good; really good. Even so, something was missing. We dreamt of work that didn’t tie us to a desk for eight hours a day and of weekends that weren’t spent recovering from the week before. We found ourselves complaining about traffic and emails over dinner in the evenings and dreading the inevitable 6:30am alarm the next morning. This, we discussed, is not how we were destined to live. It was time for a change.
. . .
We’d been searching for a van for a solid six months when a friend told us about a 2006 Dodge Sprinter for sale. The owner, a fellow outdoor educator, bought the van from an auction in Louisiana with intentions to convert it to a tiny home on wheels. Among other things, he insulated the interior, laid down beautiful oak flooring and pine paneling, and installed a roof vent/fan. After countless letdowns at dealerships and Craigslist scams, Rachel and I were skeptical that this would be “the one”, but we went to check it out anyway. It was dented, dirty, and one of the doors wouldn’t open; in short, it was perfect for us. A few weeks later we exchanged a check for the keys and drove Nancy the Van (aka NanVan) home on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
To say that Rachel and I have very little construction experience is an understatement. I once built a picture frame in woodworking class at summer camp, but the thought of converting a van into a home was mildly terrifying. Thankfully, other people are really good at building things and making how-to videos, and we are great at following directions. With You Tube as our modern day Encyclopedia Britannica, we got to work.
Every free minute between October and January was spent working on the van. Fall in western North Carolina morphed into an unusually cold winter, making construction even more challenging. We accidentally drilled things to our apartment floor, cut ourselves with saws, and messed up almost everything we built. Despite hours and hours of frustration and stress, we ended up putting together a functional home with plenty of storage room for bikes and outdoor gear, a kitchen and sink with running water (thanks to Rachel’s plumbing expertise), and a roof-mounted solar panel (thanks to my dad’s electrical expertise). It’s cozy, comfortable, and rough around the edges. We love it.
. . .
Two months on the road has taught us a lot about ourselves as travelers and people. Among other things, we’ve learned to let go of expectations and remember that we’re not always in control. Sometimes the van needs mechanical work, and we have to wait three days for the right part to come in. And sometimes it rains for days and we have no solar power. Things happen and we adapt. We’re learning to become comfortable with discomfort.
Regardless of the setbacks (which we prefer to look at as learning experiences), this way of living is incredible. We spend our days in awe of the landscapes we experience, the things we see, and the people we meet. I am full of gratitude for the opportunity to travel the roads and trails of this beautiful country with everything we need and nothing we don’t. As we dreamed, life feels light, simple, and joyful.
We hope you’ll follow along as we continue our adventure. We’re excited to share stories and photos from the places and trails we love. Stay tuned for regular updates!
With Gratitude – Liz and Rachel