a mini move.

Last week, I moved The Beast. It was only 25 miles up the interstate, but it was far enough that I was able to get a feel for the road and how she’s going to handle when I take her on the upcoming longer treks.

One of my bosses has very generously opened up his backyard as a new residence for me while I finish the work on the van and make preparations for my trip up the coast. It’s a wonderful setup in a very industrial area behind a house with an office and huge garage/workspace in the backyard. Not only do I not have to worry about any pesky neighbors nosing around and deciding to report someone living in their van, but I now have ample space to work on the van and move it on a regular basis as needed. An even bigger bonus is a huge metal awning off the back cement/porch/workspace that The Beast is able to fit under, so even on the rainy days I can have my vents or windows open.

Some of the details of the new place could be considered negatives, but I’ve gotten used to them quickly and haven’t found them to be much of a bother:

  • I no longer have regular access to internet (something I’ll have to get used to on the road anyway, and it’s just one less distraction to keep me from getting the work done on my van)
  • The bathroom setup is pretty rustic…my shower is a pvc pipe coming from a ceiling in an outdoor entrance kind of bathroom/closet with a toilet in the center and plastic hanging from the walls (I’m honestly overjoyed to have a bathroom at all, so between the pvc pipe setup and using the shower at the marina I work at on the weekends, I manage to stay pretty clean)
  • No sink or running water in the bathroom (I’m finally working on getting the water pump and tank working in the van, but for now I’m utilizing my sink by buying those 2.5 liter water jugs with the spouts and having it pour out over the sink…works well and is a great way to really monitor your water use)
  • I’m no longer less than a mile from the beach, but instead inland by about 20 miles (a fact I thought would bother me a whole lot more than it does, but I’m close to one of the best local hiking spots in San Diego…Cowles Mountain, and am less then five minutes from two Targets, a giant Goodwill, one of my favorite grocery stores, a Lowes and a Home Depot among countless other hole-in-the wall shops that I’m sure will be a treasure trove of items I’ll find need for in my van)
  • The weather is much different than on the coast, which means hotter afternoons and colder nights (I’m pretty well adapted to the weather change and I actually enjoy the cold nights now that I have a nice sleeping bag and the warm days make it easy to want to be outside working on the van…so it’s a win win!)

As you can see from my list of negatives, they’re not all that negative at all. The more rustic conditions will help prepare me for the road, and the benefits of the new location far outweigh the downfalls. I’m excited to really get the momentum going on my remaining renovation projects and I’ll hopefully still manage to update the blog regularly despite my limited internet time.

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meet sasha.

Part of my plan for traveling with The Beast included getting either a scooter or motorcycle to mount on a carrier and use as my “getaround” vehicle when I’m parked somewhere for a while. With my current plan to WWOOF (if you missed it the first time around, click here to read about my plan) up the coast, it made sense that I’d want to have something a little less gas-guzzling to do weekend trips to the cities nearby or just get out and about for an afternoon.

My original thought was to get a motorcycle or scooter, immediately sell my car and start saving money right away by riding it into work. This plan was foiled almost immediately, and as I result I never sold my car, but more on that later…

I did a fair bit of browsing before I decided which direction I wanted to go regarding a two-wheeled vehicle. I don’t like the idea of riding on the interstates (Southern California drivers are INSANE), but I wanted to have enough power that it’d be an option. Scooters, unfortunately, are very limited as far as power and speed, so I quickly eliminated those from my consideration.

I decided to look for a lighter and smaller motorcycle (I was thinking maybe an older Yamaha or Honda) and found exactly what I was looking for just a few weeks into scouring Craigslist.

Meet Sasha:

She’s a 1978 Honda Hawk. (A CB400T for anyone interested.) I fell in love with her as soon as I saw the listing online and immediately called the seller to set up an appointment. At the time, I didn’t have a license or permit to drive a motorcycle, so I took a buddy of mine to check it out and test drive it for me. It was even better in person. The owner had kept it in immaculate shape and I was just in awe of every detail. I told him I’d think about it and left knowing I would call to make an offer.

I lowballed him quite a bit and was immediately turned down, and a bit angrily at that. I accepted that I wasn’t getting the bike and hung up disappointed. However, it must’ve been meant to be because two days later, he called me back and accepted.

As with the van, there’s a tiny bit of engine work that needs to be done, but nothing major that I’m not willing to attempt myself. She rides like a dream and compliments The Beast nicely. Perhaps I would’ve been better suited living in the 70’s? I haven’t even attempted trying to get it up on the motorcycle rack that I got with the van yet, but I’m sure that fun little task be a blog post in itself.

she’s alive!

After a few days of tinkering that didn’t seem to be getting me anywhere, paired with advice both solicited and unsolicited from all sorts of sources, I finally got The Beast started today.

I took the old battery back to the mechanic who installed it to have them check it out and try to charge it. After testing it, they declared it faulty and, since it was still under warranty, they happily gave me a brand new one to take home. I stuck the new battery in place and gave the ignition a crank, only to hear a sad little click and then nothing.

At the recommendation of about four different people (including Charles who commented on my previous post…thanks!), I crawled below the van and smacked the starter with a hammer a few times. Hopeful, but still not convinced, I went back up and gave the keys a turn. This time she turned over! (And over and over and over…) I considered this good news though, as this was definitely progress!

After a few good pumps of the gas, switching the gears between drive and park, and quite a few more pumps of gas, she begrudgingly rumbled to life. I let the engine idle for about ten minutes, switched it off and then tried again. This time, there was no hesitation and she started immediately.

I could not be more relieved. It could’ve been something far more complicated and costly, but lucky for me, it was simple. I hereby solemnly swear, that I, Chelsea, won’t let the van sit for more than a week without running it from this point on.

I’ve got a few more things under the hood that need tinkering with, but after that I plan to take The Beast for a few small drives to start getting her ready for my long haul up the coast in the spring.

the cost of neglect.

The Beast won’t start.

Admittedly, it’s my own fault for letting it sit as long as I did. After about a month of neglecting to simply turn the keys in the ignition, I entered into this state of equal parts fear and denial that kept me from even attempting to start it. It’s completely irrational, but it’s true. I was afraid it wouldn’t start, so as a result, I didn’t try.

I’m not going to dive into analyzing my actions, or lack thereof, I’m just going to admit it was a very stupid mistake that I don’t intend to make again. That is, if I ever get her started.

Lucky for me, I have some resources here that I’ll be tapping to help me diagnose and fix the problem. For anyone feeling the urge to comment and tell me what a fool I am or offer up that it’s probably a dead battery (it was, but that’s only part of it), I know…I know, I know, I know. I’m not going to try and defend my stupidity or make up excuses, but I’m also not going to try to hide it. Hopefully I can learn from my mistake and move on.

an update.

I’ve been meaning to update my blog for a while, but upon some urging by a few folks, I’m finally getting around to it. I’ll try to be better about keeping up with it even when nothing too exciting is going on at the moment.

Things have been going well in the van, despite working so much lately that I haven’t had a whole lot of time to make much progress on all the projects looming. I can’t complain though, because this time last year, both my jobs experienced a huge slump and I was strapped for cash in the worst way. It’s been a wonderful blessing to find myself overwhelmed by the amount of work I’m getting instead of the other way around.

We recently went through a really cold spell here in San Diego, with nighttime temperatures dropping well below freezing for about five consecutive nights. This prompted me to purchase a sleeping bag rated for 20 degrees F. It was the best purchase I’ve made in a while. Not only has it kept me warm at night, but Loulou absolutely adores it and I find her curled up inside it during the day when it’s a bit chillier as well.

I took a six day trip up to Canada in November and came home to a solid corner of my mattress soaked through after we got some crazy rainstorms while I was gone. After inspecting the windows around the van, I realized the sealant on all of them was well beyond its expiration and knew I’d need to redo that before the next storms rolled in. Lucky for me, I had one day off before they started again, so I went about resealing them in preparation. Due to the lack of daylight and dawdling just a bit too much, I rushed through the job and will probably want to go back at some point and redo it so it’s cleaner, but they’re definitely sealed now and the past two days of rain haven’t touched the inside of the van.

I think the thing I’ve discovered that I hate the most about living in the van is getting up on a particularly cold morning. Living in a metal casing with a floor made of plywood topped with laminate makes for some painfully cold first steps in the morning. A few folks have asked how cold it gets in the van at night and I usually just compare it to camping in a tent. The Beast keeps out the wind and rain, but the temperatures drop just as low as the outside, so seeing my breath is a common occurrence.

Now that I’m writing this update, I realize there’s quite a few other things I can add in, but I’ll save those for some followup posts over the next few days.

replacing the vents.

Knowing the deluge of rain a week ago is only the beginning of our rainy season here in San Diego, I moved replacing the vents to the top of my to-do list for the van repairs. I found an RV supply store in the area and got what I thought I’d need to make it happen so I wouldn’t have to rely on black trash bags to keep my van dry.

[Old vent.]

[My weatherproofing.]

[The old vent on the outside.]

[After closely examining the old vent, I’m seeing that it should have been the very first repair I did on the van…oops.]

[The fan and motor from the old vent dangling while I decided whether or not to install it with the new one.]

Replacing the vent was another repair I assumed would be simple, easy and maybe a two-hour project that ended up taking all day. I think if the previous owners had bothered to actually replace things instead of just trying to patch them up, it would’ve made things a lot easier on me. Removing the previous vent was the longest and most painstaking part of the process since they’d slathered on so many coats of sealant over the vent edges and screws. I had to scrape each screw free and remove them one by one, which was a difficult task in itself even once they were uncovered since quite a few of them were terribly rusted and stripped. This step of the process meant I only made it through replacing one vent and will have to set aside another full day for the second one when I can.

Once I managed to get the old vent free, I scraped up as much of the remaining sealant as possible before giving the area a good wash-down with soap and water. Upon inserting the new vent, I realized it had 28 screwholes as opposed to the previous vent with 24. This meant that not one of the holes lined up and I’d have to drill all new ones. I didn’t bother filling the old ones since I knew the putty tape would be covering each of them and I’d be sealing over the edge anyway. I hope that was the right call.

Once I got all the new holes drilled, I laid the putty tape down and lined up the new vent to secure with the screws. I then used the sealant that the RV supply store had recommended to cover each of the screws and seal the edges.

The previous vent had a fan, which I could’ve easily installed with the new vent using the old motor, but I hadn’t used it and didn’t see the point. I’m keeping it in case I change my mind down the line though.

I ran into a problem with the bottom of the vent that is supposed to cover the edges on the inside of the van. My roof is more shallow than the vent, so there’s about a half inch gab between the ceiling of my van and the vent. The easy solution would be to trim it, but there’s a lip that lines up with the vent and without going into much detail, it basically means trimming it would do nothing, so I’m still brainstorming a solution to that problem. Luckily, the inner part is purely superficial and has nothing to do with keeping the weather out, so I can leave that alone until I’m ready to deal with it.

a rainy day project.

Yesterday I decided to work on redoing the front of the fridge. When I bought the van, it had some of the quilted faux-leather upholstery covering the front of it that the rest of the van has throughout the interior. I liked it well enough, but it was a little ripped and bubbling out, so I ended up just ripping it off one day and decided I’d paint a map on the wood I found behind it. There was still some adhesive and backing left on the bottom of the wood so I spent a good half-hour scraping that off.

As I was cutting the roll of cork to fit I noticed the wood was bendable and was able to pull it off of the fridge since it wasn’t glued on. Turns out, they had flipped it around and the backside was some sort of fake wood finish. I was excited at first and thought about using the original as the backing, but I decided it clashed with all the other wood finish styles in the van and proceeded with the cork.

After cutting the cork to fit, I attached it with spray adhesive (which, as we all know, is NOT something that’s fun to work with in a tiny enclosed space). I ended up pretty coated in the stuff by the end of my project and had to wear a scarf while I sprayed it to fend off the fumes.

I should also note here that a huge storm rolled into San Diego yesterday and brought with it some serious wind and rain. Seeing as my focus has been on fixing up the inside of The Beast I haven’t yet gotten to repairing the cracked and badly sealed vents on the roof. In a hurried attempt to avoid leakage, I climbed onto the roof and used garbage bags and rocks from the yard to cover the two vents. During the process of ghetto-weatherproofing the vents I also managed to stick my knee through the better of the two vents, so I pretty much ensured having to replace both of them asap. Luckily, the weatherproofing worked and I didn’t see a drop of water inside The Beast even during the worst of the rain.

Since I wanted to paint a map on the fridge to put push-pins into the places I had been and map out where I wanted to go, I decided to cut out another piece of cork in the shape of the map and attach that and paint it to give it a little bit of a 3D look.

To do this, I used my now favorite tool, my staple gun, to staple a map I’d printed out along with the corkboard to a piece of wood I use as a portable desktop and cut it out with a utility knife.

I painted the map white while it was still semi-attached to the cutting board and then attached the map to the fridge using more spray adhesive.

I then got started on painting in all of the states…a painstaking task that took me a solid five hours to complete.

The western states were easy enough with their larger size and mostly straight edges, but I was dreading the east coast as I worked my way across.

When I finally finished up around midnight, my knees and back were absolutely killing me. Perhaps I should’ve waited to attach the map to the fridge until after I’d painted in the details. Unfortunately I didn’t take a better photo to show the raised edges of the map, which is my favorite part. I do plan to add Alaska and Hawaii (I doubt I’ll manage to find a financially feasible way to ship The Beast to Hawaii at any point…but I’d feel bad leaving it off the map.) I’ll also probably add a portion of lower Canada to it as well in the anticipation that I’ll cross the border at some point.

I haven’t yet decided if I want to label the states or not. I like the clean look of it as it is, but it might be nice to have the abbreviations on there.

I also plan to paint a quote beneath the map, but I haven’t decided for sure which one yet. I’m debating between a play on the Dr. Seuss quote from Oh, The Places You’ll Go! and having it say “oh the places we’ll go…” instead. That, or the J.R.R. Tolkien quote, “Not all those who wander are lost…”

Any input or ideas for another fitting quote?

learning by doing.

Up until yesterday, three Ikea collapsible cubes have been serving as my “dresser” of sorts for all of my clothing. After storing them stacked up haphazardly in the bathroom for a while, I decided it just wasn’t working and started brainstorming how to build shelves in the bathroom instead.

My brilliant sister (who just happens to be an interior designer) suggested that I instead hang a rod in the bathroom for my hanging clothes and turn the closet into shelves. Yesterday, one trip to Lowes, three trips to Home Depot and seven hours later, I made that happen.

The bathroom was a weird setup with two of the “walls” being made of the actual fiberglass of the camper top, so I couldn’t screw anything directly into it. That, paired with the fact that they also curved and angled in stumped me for a bit. I finally settled on attaching the rod to a piece of plywood with a 2×4 on the bottom of it for stability.

The photos below are the before/after with the rod setup in the bathroom. It turned out great and seems to be stable enough. The good news is, since I don’t have many hanging clothes, when I finally do decide to use the toilet, I should be able to just kind of shove them back and tie them up with a belt or something to keep them out of the way.

The closet space before…(the shape of it with the curve of the van and then how the closet narrows inward proved a bit of a challenge).

I started off sawing pieces of square rods to use as supports for the shelves.

The best decision I made all day was to get a staple gun, which helped me secure the square support rods to the already existing support system within the closet (the actual walls of the closet is thin and unable to be screwed into for support).

Once the initial support beams were installed, I cut more square rods to screw into those beams to be the supports that the actual shelves would rest on.

Loulou wasn’t digging all the noise I was making with the staple gun.

I used press board for the shelves so that it would be flexible and easy to cut since the spaces would have to be so custom-fitted due to the odd angles and size.

I added another support beam under the front of the shelves and then attached some cheap moulding I got and cut to size to give it a more “finished” look.

Clothing loaded up into my now functional closet shelving space!

To say that I felt accomplished after finishing the shelves is a huge understatement. I’ve never done anything like this before and didn’t really bother to do a lot of research to figure out the best technique beforehand. I just knew what I wanted and hoped I could somehow make it happen if I took it step by step. There have been countless days that I’ve woken up and wondered what on earth I was thinking when I acquired The Beast. My successful completion of the shelves is enough of a confidence boost to keep me positive about the ever-growing list of things I need to do to get the van into the kind of shape I want before I start traveling.

On a related note, I finished the flooring (finally!) and have yet to take photos. Perhaps an updated van tour will happen in the coming week.

home improvements.

A few weeks ago, I made a video tour of the interior of my van, which you can watch here:

I mentioned in the video that I would be redoing the flooring at some point. A few weeks ago I began the process and wanted to do a quick photo update to show the progress.

[The old flooring:]

The old tiles seemed to easily pull up, so I assumed it would be a quick removal of the old before installing the new, but I was oh so very wrong…

[The new flooring I chose is a dark wood grain by TrafficMaster Allure called Rosewood Ebony that was recommended as a durable and easy to install flooring on an Airstream restoration website I stumbled upon:]

The old tiles in the van were sticky and brittle, making removal an exhausting chore. I often had to take my scraping tool and hammer it underneath the tile to even be able use pliers to pull a piece up. Because they were so brittle, the tiles broke apart and as a result, not one of the tiles came up as a whole piece. Because of the time it took for removal, I wasn’t able to lay the new floor as quickly as I’d hoped and took several painstaking hours of work before I made any noticeable progress.

Unfortunately, the boxes of new wood laminate are only available in allotments of 24/sq feet. I’d hoped one box would be enough to cover the area I was working with, because I knew that two boxes would be far too much, but alas, it was not. I got all the way to the back of the van by the refrigerator and reached in the box for another plank only to find that I had used the last one.

Since the flooring I’d chosen was special order only, I’ve had to wait another two weeks for the next box to arrive. In the mean time, I’ve had the exposed plywood covered with wax paper and a rug so it wouldn’t be a complete eyesore. The new box of flooring arrived yesterday and I’m hoping to spend Sunday afternoon completing the task. Since the old flooring is all gone now, it’ll hopefully move quickly. Once I’ve finished, I’ll post some photos of the finished result.