a life-changing discovery.

I’m not one to tout specific items very often (or at all for that matter), so the fact that I’m writing an entire blog post about one means that I’m truly convinced that this is a magical product.

Given my recent move and subsequent limited shower access, I’ve found only one thing to really bother me when I have to go more than a day or two without…unwashed hair. I have fairly thin hair that’s just short enough not to put in a ponytail, so a day or two without a shower means I’ve got an oily mess of hair sticking up in all directions and absolutely no way to salvage it without the use of a hat or bandana. Unfortunately, I’m not at all a hat or bandana person, so when it’s been without wash for a few days, it’s extremely evident.

To help with this problem, I turned to a generic beauty supply store in search of dry shampoo. (Before someone comments telling me that baby powder works just as well…for me, it doesn’t. I end up looking like I’m wearing a freshly powdered wig of an 18th century royal and smelling like a [freshly diapered] baby’s behind.)

I located the dry shampoo (curiously packaged in an aerosol can), but noticed a bottle right next to it called No-Rinse Shampoo. After examining the bottle thoroughly, I decided to give them both a try and bought one of each, satisfied with the fact that they both cost about the same as a bottle of decent shampoo or conditioner would have anyway.

In a pinch, the dry shampoo will work. I’d say it’s best for those last-minute rushes to get ready when you’ve missed your alarm and haven’t the time to style your hair in any way. I’d argue that it’s more effective than baby powder, but that might just be me. After spraying my hair, it wasn’t oily, but did have a bit of a powdery/product-filled feeling to it. Regardless, I’d feel much better going out in public with this in my hair than not, so I’ll keep it around as a last resort

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Now let’s talk about this No-Rinse Shampoo. This stuff is pure magic in a bottle. It’s really watery, so you just apply it to your hair until it’s soaked through…lather it up a bit…then towel off as if you’ve gone through your normal shampoo/condition/rinse procedure in the shower. I blow-dried my hair afterward, and despite it feeling a bit like I had some product in my hair (similar to that feeling after you’ve gotten a haircut and they insist on putting something in your hair despite your arguments that you don’t use it), I felt absolutely wonderful afterwards. I’ve used it twice, but I’m still managing to shower often enough not to warrant full dependency on it quite yet. However, I’m quite certain it will come in handy when I’m on the road this summer.

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.

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.

i’ve been doodled.

My old college friend Austin Light draws. He draws quite well, in fact. As a challenge to himself, he is doing a “doodle a day” project and asked for suggestions/requests for things to doodle.

I left a comment on his blog post introducing the project: “I think it’d be really awesome to see your take on me and my lovely new van The Beast!” With only photos on my blog and the walk-through video to work with, he came up with this:

To say I’m impressed is putting it mildly. Not only did he capture the essence of The Beast perfectly, but he included me, my cat and even my camera!

With his permission, I’ve been playing around and adding some color to the drawing:

Head over to his blog and doodle-a-day gallery to check out his work and tell him how awesome he is!

the plan.

I get asked what my long-term plan for living in the van is on a regular basis. As with most aspects of my life, I’ve got all sorts of wonderful over-the-top ideas and thoughts as to what those plans will be, but I certainly can’t predict which of those will actually come to fruition.

Until I’d picked The Beast up with a clean bill of health from her last visit to the mechanic a little over a week ago, I wasn’t entirely sure she’d ever even make it out of Southern California. Luckily, that wasn’t the case, so I can [hopefully] assume that some form of the plans I’m about to outline in this post will happen in the not-too-distant future.

I like to move. A lot. Since graduating college in the spring of 2007, I’ve lived in Greece, Shepherdstown WV, Philadelphia PA, Columbia MD and Imperial Beach, CA. Since moving to Imperial Beach in 2010, I’ve lived in a total of six different places (this includes The Beast). If I stay settled too long, I’m known to get extremely anxious and unhappy.

Unfortunately, my insatiable desire to constantly move is a very expensive habit, so it only made sense to graduate to a house with wheels to avoid the hefty relocation costs I was incurring on a regular basis.

My initial plans were as follows:

  1. Decide to finally buy a camper van.
  2. Figure out where to park said camper van if I were to buy one.
  3. Find camper van.
  4. Buy camper van.
  5. Live in camper van.
  6. Eventually drive camper van to some new location (preferably by a river) and live in it there.

Planning too far in advance usually means I’m setting myself and everyone else up for exhausting amounts of revisions, so I tend to avoid long-term thinking. The only safe bet on me following through with my plans is to wait until I’ve actually put them in motion…until that point, I can guarantee nothing. Even then I can derail quite easily from my path and find a new direction without warning. That being said, I do have a few ideas for what I’d like to happen in the next year with The Beast…

  • Save money and spend the winter in San Diego
  • Leave no earlier than the spring to drive up the coast
  • Take as long as I’d like working my way up the coast and WWOOF along the way
  • End up in Portland and stay for a while on some land recently purchased by a couple friends of mine while I find a job to work and save some more money
  • Leave at some point
  • WWOOF some more while I enjoy driving around the country…maybe hit up Canada for while and see where The Beast came from (have I mentioned she’s Canadian?)

[For those of you unfamiliar with WWOOFing…it’s World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It’s an organization that you can join for a small yearly fee and then have access to a network of organic farms around the world that accept seasonal volunteers and apprentices. Most of the farms provide some sort of work exchange situation where you can either camp on the property or they provide rooms for you to stay in while you work on the farm. Though it’s usually volunteer, some farms will even provide a monetary stipend. Free food is almost always included in the trade, but each situation varies from farm to farm.]

I’ve wanted to do this for years, but having a cat limits my ability to camp or stay in spare rooms and dorm-style settings with other people. Now that I have The Beast, I can just park it on the property that I’m WWOOFing on and not have to worry about the details of where my cat will stay.

So there’s “the plan” in all of it’s open-ended and revision-ready glory. We’ll see how the next few months and year pans out, but hopefully I’ll be able to revisit this list later and check at least a few things off as completed.

livin’ in a van, not yet down by the river.

When I tell people I’m living in a van, those that have ever seen the classic Saturday Night Live skit with Chris Farley (you can watch it in its entirety below) quickly respond with, “…down by the river?” They then proceed to laugh quite heartily at themselves, very obviously proud of the fact that they’re the umpteenth person that’s thought to make that joke.

Despite planning to at some point fulfill the now obvious cliche of living in my van down by a river, I’d currently compare myself more closely to the character Cody from the classic 90’s television show Step By Step. For those that have never seen it, you can watch the clip below to see Cody’s first appearance on the show.

So until I find a river to park The Beast next to, I’ll only be accepting comparisons to Cody from Step By Step and I can’t promise I’ll even feign a laugh the next time I hear someone reference the Chris Farley sketch.

the current setup.

Yesterday marked my full-time transition into living in The Beast. After a few hectic days of moving/loading/organizing, I emptied the room at my current house, handed the keys  over to my landlord and (with a sigh of relief that she started on the first try) drove off in my van. I drove exactly one mile and parked it happily in the backyard of a friend of mine that recently purchased a house with an ideal spot to park my van.

It all started when I decided making my dream of living in a van was something that needed to be done sooner than later. I knew I wouldn’t want or be able to immediately hit the road due to financial reasons and wanting to make sure whatever vehicle I got was in road-ready condition, so I’d need a place to keep it until then.

Enter J [names will be shortened to first letters in the interest of privacy, blah blah blah, etc.]:

Surprisingly enough, J was more than open to the idea, so The Beast and I are now residing happily in her backyard while I customize/restore her and continue to purge belongings.

It’s a pretty cushy setup if I do say myself. I’ve got a full backyard to myself along with a nice covered porch to utilize as storage/sorting space for my remaining belongings as I purge. While I live here I’ll have access to laundry facilities and a bathroom so I don’t have to go full-time roughing-it quite yet. Regardless, I can’t help but look forward to the day that I do get to start living on the road.

overcoming social stigmas.

My inaugural drive home in The Beast won me more than a few strange looks and second glances from passing drivers on the interstate. I do realize that it’s not every day you see a young single gal driving around in a monstrous camper van straight out of the seventies, but the negative reaction I’ve gotten from the neighbors has been unexpected and a bit on the unsettling side.

Since I picked up The Beast on July 2nd, she’s been parked in front of my current residence approximately twelve days out of the almost month I’ve had her. A short two days in, one of the neighbors that had formerly waved hello and called me by name on a regular basis merely glared angrily at me as I stood next to the van with her hood popped open, waiting for a friend to come help me jump-start the battery to get her to the garage for her first of many tune-ups. I wasn’t too shocked, but definitely disappointed.

I know that with this particular lifestyle choice comes a lot of negative social stigmas. While living in a van is seen as homeless (or at least dangerously close to it), living in a big swanky RV or motor-home is seen as adventurous and is often a lifestyle openly coveted by others.

So here my van sits, taking up no more room than some of the neighbors’ large trucks on the street, and I’ve instantaneously been shunned from the community. It makes me wonder how different their attitudes towards me would be if it were a shiny new motor-home instead of a 1979 conversion van.

Luckily, the majority of my friends are in great support of this new step in my life…even the ones that call me crazy on a regular basis. As for the neighbors who narrow their eyes at me and talk in hushed voices whenever I walk past, I’ve learned to ignore them. I proudly hold my head high as I make my trips back and forth carrying armloads of my belongings to load into The Beast knowing they’ll all be relieved to see me go for good this weekend.