A Blank Canvas

The Stealth Camper

The Stealth Camper

WICKHAM CP, FL—My salesman, Dan, said he’d never seen one with windows all around—his customers always ordering the solid sides since they use them to haul cargo. He said I was super lucky to find one with windows at all, that there had only been one in the entire southeastern US but by some bizarre coincidence, that one just happened to be sitting on the lot of a dealer across town. I nodded and smiled and said, “Hmm, imagine that” like this stuff happens to me all the time (which of course it does, but he didn’t know that).

We finished up and Dan said it was one of the smoothest deals he’d ever done. Even though I got more for my old truck and paid less than I expected for the new van, both of us were happy and Dan said that he wished all his sales were this easy.

It was easy too… it flowed. And when it did get clunky, when the paperwork guy tried to pitch me on the extended warranty, the dent and scratch repair, theft protection… all that “be afraid, be afraid” stuff, I just smiled and shook my head and said “Yeah… I won’t be needing any of that.”

It’s a Nissan NV. A big empty box. A blank canvas. It has the same footprint as my old truck, but high enough that I can stand up in it.

It should make an excellent stealth camper.

The plan is to slap together a temporary interior: move the solar over, add a floor, some insulation, a dresser, and a sofa/bed—then hit the road by October 1 for the fall season. Come winter, I’ll return to Florida and outfit it a bit more seriously (maybe).

wgwirs_2013_08_26_2

Interior View From The Rear

Mystics, Vans, and Photos

Black (and White) Coffee

Black (and White) Coffee

WICKHAM CP, FL—I’ll be the first to admit that I’m all over the place with this blog—Mysticism, Nomadism, Photographyism…. A huge mistake according to marketers. Focus on ONE topic or you’re doomed the internet gurus insist.

Oh well—screw ’em.

But…

I do understand that not all of you are going to be interested in the van conversion. I also recognize that there are nomad friends of mine who could care less about Mystical Oneness (weird, right?).

So what to do?

Boonie (fellow nomad who could care less about mystical anything) suggested I start a new blog on just the Nissan NV conversion. At first I thought this was an excellent suggestion, but after sleeping on it, I thought it was a sucky one—another blog just makes my life more complicated (yuck).

But I/We/She came up with an alternative:

If you are interested in both Mystical Oneness AND van dwelling, you don’t need to do anything—all is well in your world.

If you can’t stand Mystical Oneness, but like the idea of converting and living in a van, you’ll notice a new menu item above titled Van Dwelling. This will take you to a page where you can:

  1. Follow all the posts on converting and living in a van
  2. Subscribe via RSS to ONLY my VanDwelling posts

If you could care less about van dwelling but LOVE Mystical Oneness, I’ve developed a super secret code just for you which I’ve embedded into the blog posts:

If the lead photo looks very unWayne-like (say a drab, boring photo of a screwdriver), then that post is just about van dwelling (or converting a van) so feel free to skip it.

Disclaimer: You know me though—I see God/Her in practically everything and hear Her whispers all the time, so some VanDwelling posts will also have messages for Mystics embedded in them. You’ll recognize these posts because they’ll have a typical Wayne-like photo even though the title of the article suggests a VanDwelling post (of which this post is a good example).

Nissan NV Stealth Camper: The Floor

WICKHAM CP, FL—It’s hard to believe, but it took me a full eight hours to lay in the floor. I’m starting to understand why Glenn was so often off in his Vanagon conversion estimates. Still, I wasn’t in a hurry. Usually when I don’t know what I’m doing I just sit down and stare and wait for an idea (a whisper) to hit. So subtract a couple hours if you know what you’re doing. More below the break (huh?). … Read more…

Nissan NV Stealth Camper: Seeking Roof Rack Advice

My next task on the van is insulating the sides and ceiling. Since I don’t expect to ever spend more than a single night in snow (and that will only be by mistake) I’m not too concerned about super-insulation. While I’m working on that though, I could use some advice for a roof rack to mount my solar panels to (2 each @ 37.5″ x 62″).

The NV has these nice mounting brackets built into the roof. Four per side with the idea of being able to run up to four bars crosswise over the roof to hold ladders.

Roof Rack Mounting Bracket

Roof Rack Mounting Bracket

But, in order to do this, you need these special mounts that raise the bars above the curve of the roof (I’m estimating about 1.5 inches). Even with these special mounts, the placement of the horizontal bars would restrict how and where I can mount my solar panels.

The ideal option would be to create my own rack, custom fit to my panels. I have two (big) 200 watt panels that will overlap the edges of these mounts by about an inch on each side. I’d also like them mounted as far forward as possible, meaning that they will stick past the front-most mounting bracket by about 30 inches, so whatever I use to create the rack with will have to be pretty strong (I want to leave room for a future roof fan and/or a third solar panel) toward the back.

I’m thinking I could find two 2″ square metal… what are they called, tubes (but square), and mount them (one on each side) lengthwise on the four mounting brackets so I’d end up with two, 10′ long metal runners, one on each side of the van roof. This should make the base of the rack high enough that I can run crossbeams (maybe 1″ square tubes) to use to mount the solar panels to. (See my comment below for a clearer picture).

If worse comes to worse, I guess I could use the store bought rack and mount the panels toward the rear, but then the (possible) fan would be toward the front (not as good a cross breeze) and I’d probably not be able to add another (possible) solar panel. Maybe this is the way to go at first, and modify it later if the “possibles” turn out to be needed.

Anyway, if anyone can think of something better, I’m all ears. Please note, I want to avoid drilling holes in my nice new roof.

Thanks!

The Van And The Attitude

The Mural

The Mural

WICKHAM CP, FL—I think I’ll title these ‘mixed’ posts—articles that are both useful to Nomads and Mystics alike—as The Van And….

Just so you’ll know what you’re getting into.

One of the most life altering events I’ve experienced was when I read a short phrase written by Ken Wilber—a phrase that consisted of only three words:

Do the experiment.

He was talking about some spiritual practice, about just trying it so you’ll find out for yourself if the practice benefits you or not, but these three words can also be applied to practically all areas of life: Rather than trying to figure Life out, treat it with a sense of curiosity, “What’s going to happen if I do this?” Don’t worry about the end results. Don’t focus on winning. Focus on the experience.

Since I read those three little words, I’ve pretty much lived my life “doing the experiment”—and as a result have grown beyond my wildest dreams.

The van isn’t going to be perfect on this first build—hell, it isn’t even going to be right—but it is going to get me out on the road again, out to see the leaves changing colors and experience new sights and sounds and smells.

Vinyl Floor

Vinyl Floor

For example, take a look at the vinyl floor I laid today. Look at those edges. Are they perfect? Not even close. While most of those ragged edges will be covered by furniture, that isn’t the point. The point is I’ve never laid a sheet of vinyl in my life but now I know a hell of a lot more about it: about what works and what doesn’t. It may not be perfect, but it does what it was meant to do: cover the plywood and protect my almost always bare feet.

Ragged Cuts

Ragged Cuts

I did the experiment. I wasn’t attached to the results. I bought a piece of scrap vinyl, and laid it in with the full expectation that I may rip it out after I get back.

It’s temporary. Everything in this physical world is temporary.

Remember this, and you’ll not take Life so seriously.

Try it. Treat whatever you’re considering doing next as an experiment and not as a win/lose situation.

Such a simple change in attitude can change your life.

Nissan NV Stealth Camper: Insulation Lite

WICKHAM CP, FL—According to most van conversions, I probably have way too little insulation, so my trip to colder climes will make an excellent experiment in just how effective a minimal install is.

The NV’s walls seem to be designed differently than most vans—it has a second, interior wall that make the sidewalls straighter than other vans. This is a feature designed to make it easier for tradesmen to attach shelves and cabinets. Because of this, I went round and round on how to insulate the walls. Finally, the idea of bubble wrap plus R-Max foam board felt right, so that’s what I went with.

Bubble Wrap and Interior Wall

Bubble Wrap and Interior Wall

The R-Max has a foil side designed to act as a heat shield. In order for it to work, you need to provide an air space between the heat and the foil. Feeling that the space between the inner and outer walls was too much, I filled it in with the bubble wrap (a little concerned it would melt if it got too hot, but a contractor/camper/neighbor assured me it wouldn’t). I then covered the bubble wrap with 3/4″ R-Max.

For the roof, I taped up a single layer of bubble wrap between the studs (to ensure the air gap) and pushed in a single layer of R-Max 3/4″. I had intended to put up two sheets of R-Max, but the one lined up nicely with the roof studs, so I took that as a sign to leave it as is. Time will tell.

I made a mistake and forgot to put bubble wrap under one of the roof panels, so it will be interesting to see if the lack of bubble wrap has any affect on the that section.

R-Max Insulation

R-Max Insulation. Foil facing the walls, vapor barrier facing inward.

For the roof, the R-Max is held in place by simple friction/pressure. I plan on covering it next with paneling which will more securely hold up the foam board.

For the sides, I used the Teks screws (screwed into the interior wall’s studs), but I really should have used flat-head sheet metal screws with washers as the Teks would often over-penetrate the soft foam. The intention was to also cover the sides with paneling—so I wasn’t concerned about the panels coming loose—but now I’m thinking of covering the sides with fabric (possibly sheets or curtain fabric), so I may go back and re-attach the sides with the metal screw/washer combination.

The total insulation probably took about 4 hours so that wasn’t too bad. The hardest part was waiting for a plan to clarify, sorry, was deciding.

The Van and the Burning Travel Trailer

The End Results of a Very Bad Day

The End Results of a Very Bad Day

WICKHAM CP, FL—Though the morning went well writing code, as soon as I left the coffee shop I had been working in, my day went to hell.

Not listening to my first instincts of covering the walls with fabric, I decided to try to cover them instead with this thin FPR stuff. I never got past the first panel.

After breaking one of my drill bits by hitting the tops of three different screws which I had used to attach the insulation to the wall (and leaving these ugly holes in the panel), the wonderful Craftsman Bolt-On suddenly seized up on me.

Hot and sticky and sweaty and frustrated, I took a look at my work and was thoroughly disappointed. The holes-over-insulation-screws glared starkly and the screws that I did manage to attach the panel to the wall with were all out of line and akimbo.

“Well,” I said, “I’ll just do it over and use that panel as a template” and I took a shower and, confident that I’d be able to swap out the Craftsman at the local Sears, headed off to the store.

The salesman I got was just covering the tool department while the regular guy was at lunch. He didn’t know how to do the exchange, so he asked his manager who informed me that though it’s a 90-day in-store return policy, after that (for up to a year) it’s a send-it-back-to-Craftsman policy. I pointed to the box of a new one where it displayed prominently “One Year Warranty” and I was almost certain that it was a one-year-in-store-exchange but couldn’t prove it and I once again found myself frustrated and tired and not at all pleased with myself or the situation.

Not wanting to wait a couple weeks for the exchange—and on the manager’s advice and assurance—I bought a new one with the intention of sending the other one back for a refund.

I called it a day, went home, cracked open a beer and got online and found out I was right about the one-year-exchange policy.

I gave up, decided this day would only get worse if I continued, and spent the rest of the evening reading.

I went to bed early because I was tired, but I couldn’t get to sleep, which is very odd for me. My mind was filled with all the tasks ahead of me, reliving the frustrating events of the day, and raising doubts about just how smart a move this was to build out a van.

It was at that point, at 1 am and still wide awake, that someone pounded hard on my door shouting something about a fire.

Miserable.

Twenty feet away, my neighbor’s rig (on my blind side) was engulfed in flames. No one was in it (anymore) but the people banging on my door were concerned my rig would catch next.

It didn’t.

My rational mind says it was just “one of those days where everything goes wrong” (oddly, that phrase is filled with superstition).

The Mystic in me wonders if it was a horrible day because:
A) I was taking events too seriously and—not living authentically—the day snowballed downhill as a result… and my neighbor’s rig was just a coincidence, or
B) something in me foresaw my neighbor’s rig burning and made the day miserable as a (terribly vague) warning, or
C) and this is quite scary—my neighbor’s rig burned because I was so frustrated. 🙁

The truth is, I simply don’t know. What I do know is this isn’t my first burning-home-in-the-night-coincidence. See Sometimes She Bites.

 

Winter Is Coming

The Light on the Wall of a Coffee Shop

The Light on the Wall of a Coffee Shop

WICKHAM CP, FL—After the trailer burned up—after that miserable day—I stopped trying so hard and things once more began to flow.

I returned the dead Craftsman to Sears—and though tempted to deceive them by claiming the new tool was dead but returning the old tool—I instead was honest and explained the situation and they swapped it out without any argument or hassle or problem at all.

I gave the flimsy FPR stuff another shot, this time on the ceiling, but because it was so floppy I couldn’t get it to lay flat so I took it down.

With the van in the sun, the ceiling was allowing in too much heat so I put up another layer of the 3/4″ R-Max. With an inch and a half of the stuff now, the ceiling is noticeably cooler and as a bonus is much more even and smooth.

With the heat and humidity and the miserableness of working on the van in the hot Florida weather, I decided the insulation job complete, bare foam boards and everything. “Winter is coming,” as they say in Winterfell, and working on the rig will be much easier then.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the details and lose track of the big picture. So easy to be pulled every which way by all the noise and the problems.

It’s so easy to get distracted—to lose track of the why.

And I’m not just talking about the van anymore.

Wise words those: Winter is coming.

Nissan NV Stealth Camper: Floor Plan

Floor Plan

Floor Plan

WICKHAM CP, FL—Above is the tentative floor plan for the van. This is just one of about five different variations but they’re all pretty similar.

About a year ago I mentioned to Glenn that when I do my own van conversion, I’m going to try to use all store bought furniture. Besides being terribly lazy, I wanted the van to be an example that you can outfit a comfortable, portable, home without a lot of carpentry skills.

I had originally thought to use a futon for a bed, but the folded size still seemed too big, so building the bed from scratch seemed my only option, but building a bed from scratch was really bothering me… and being bothered by something is the exact opposite of flowing. Building a bed from scratch was too much like trying.

Then yesterday, as I was researching bed building, I suddenly found my body getting up, closing the laptop and leaving the coffee shop, with me not really sure where it was going. This odd behavior had that same strange confident-but-not-in-control-of-my-actions quality as that night of gambling in the Albuquerque casino.

A few minutes later, I found myself at a Target, and a few minutes after that I was buying these two small dressers which would be perfect for the “legs” of one side of my bed (the other side will simply be attached to the wall of the van).

Testing out the Floor Plan

Testing out the Floor Plan

After that, everything else just fell into place and I’ve been amazed (and grateful) at how effortlessly things have been fitting (at least on paper).

Note: I still have to figure out the rear corner on the driver’s side. The refrigerator docs say that it requires six inches around the sides for ventilation and while there’s a decent gap between the wall and the windows, I’m not sure it’ll be enough. Last resort I can place it under the bed (but lose some valuable storage space).

Nissan NV Stealth Camper: Roof Rack and Solar Panels

Solar Panels From Above

Solar Panels From Above

WICKHAM CP, FL—My brother Jeff, nephew Michael and I assembled and mounted the roof rack and solar panels last Sunday.

I/We/She decided to go with an entirely new solar system rather than cannibalize the one off my trailer. Not sure exactly why, but who am I to question Her? More below the break (huh?). … Read more…