Finding the Van Life by Janay Camp

My husband Shawne and I love to ride bikes. We love to be in and around nature. So, naturally we like to camp. Plus our last name is Camp, so perhaps it is what we were meant to do right?

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Figuring out our ideal setup has taken some trial and error — and it’s not one size fits all. We used to car camp back when we lived in California. Simply load a cooler, tent and all our bike gear into the car. One of our favorite places to go was to camp at Laguna Seca just outside Monterey. Race cars and mountain biking right outside our tent made it a very entertaining place! Car camping was a good fit for that phase and we had never considered an RV yet … where to put it? (OK I lie, we did consider moving into an RV or sailboat as it seemed like a better option than buying a house in the Bay Area)

Bike touring is a topic all on its own. Shawne rode across the US and from Saratoga Springs NY to Savannah Georgia. We rode together from California to Colorado to get married in 2011. The Big Agnes UL2 tent was worth every penny as it is ultra light and has never let us down, even in the craziest of weather. We like it so much we even used that tent on four years of RAGBRAI. Cozy, but oh so dependable.

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Fast forward to our life in Upstate NY. A goldendoodle named Rango entered our life so we were no longer just concerned with our own well being. Goodness, the dog needs a real bed! We first got an R-pod camping trailer. This setup can have a lot of advantages once you are setup in a camp site. You have the trailer and the truck to load up with gear — it’s a lot of space. If you are attending a biking event, just unhook your truck and take your bikes to the ride. You have a full on base camp to come back to! Hot water! Shower! Too bad I don’t really like pulling a trailer. In the end we just weren’t using it enough.

 

So, after some deep thinking we decided to enter the #vanlife chapter. No more pulling a trailer. Our van is 21ft with all the fixins’ — 2 beds, bathroom, kitchen and plenty of storage. Everything is small scale, but hey, I’m not sleeping on the ground and it’s easy to drive! We can put the bikes on the back or keep them inside (we have slept in there when we had to crawl across bikes and our dog to get around). Our van is a Winnebago Travato and is based on the Ram Promaster. We opted to let Winnebago outfit the van rather than buying a cargo van and doing it from scratch — although that is a pretty cool thing to do. The way we see it is we let them do the major part of the setup and we have been continuously modifying it since buying to meet our needs. In case you were wondering, our van’s name is T-Rex.

Similar to anybody’s first excursion with bike touring — during our first trips in the van we realized we had WAY too much stuff. Our camping trailer was 20ft and easily held way more stuff than we needed (plus the truck) so simply moving all that stuff into the van was not going to work. In many cases, we just didn’t need that gear and in a few other cases we had to get new smaller versions that fit better into the storage. Small lawn chairs were a great idea. But really, those tiny scissors we got? Those were useless. Some things need to be regular size if they are important enough to be in there. Haven’t used that item you have been lugging around? Maybe you don’t actually need it. You definitely don’t need 10 different outfits. Don’t leave home without the Dustbuster though. Seriously! It’s tight quarters in the van and the mini vacuum cleans up all that dirt from biking. Plus, it can suck up those bugs that are in there waiting for you to fall asleep so they can buzz your ears. I carry a mini Instant Pot because you just never know when you need some awesome hard boiled eggs. The ribs in the IP are killer — much to Shawne’s dismay, he agreed the IP ribs beat out the ribs prepared on the smoker. It’s been a couple years of fine tuning and now we have our storage pretty dialed.

We are comfortable on or off the grid due to ample options with the systems. For power, we can plug into 30A, run on solar or run a generator. We also have onboard propane to run the stove and a 3-way fridge. We like to visit breweries during our travels and having a fridge is a nice luxury. You can’t beat the outdoor shower when you are muddy after a summer bike ride. Pouring rain outside? We have been known to snuggle up inside with a movie, while enjoying a beer and some snacks. Thank goodness for the furnace. We need to winterize during the cold months but can certainly still go camping without using the plumbing. Every RV has different systems to learn but the basics ideas are still the same.

We have taken the van to countless biking events and a few major road trips. You just can’t beat pulling up along a river, opening the side door and making a sandwich for lunch when you are road tripping. You also can’t beat staying right at the bike event. Sometimes we stay in campgrounds, other times we boondock. The simplicity of the van lets us throw a few things in on Friday afternoon and head out for the weekend. I have a pretty hectic job so this is really a huge benefit! Do you want an ocean front, lakeside or mountain cabin? T-Rex makes it happen.

Of course if you are touring around in a van, you can find many other kindred spirits out there in their vans. It doesn’t really matter which van you have, you will always give a wave to the other in passing or strike up a conversation. Shawne even designed van life decals that he loves to give other happy van owners.  We are part time van lifers right now, but who knows maybe some day we will just hit the road and never look back. The wanderlust is addictive.

What is the ultimate camping setup? It doesn’t really matter what your choice of setup is — as long as you are out there enjoying. But for us, our van is really the best. Unless we are bike touring. It just doesn’t fit in the pannier bag.