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Custom Roof Rack: Part One

One thing that I wanted to add to the van was a custom roof rack mainly due to I wanted to be able to load as many kayaks on top as possible and anything that I could find to buy didn’t extend over the van, rather it confined the rack system to the factory roof rack width. Stage one of the rack system is built and installed thanks to a co-worker of mine. All credit goes to him. I basically told him what I wanted and he drew up a design and engineered the entire thing.

Here is what makes this system different: the three bars each rotate by pulling a pin and spinning the bar so that the stacker is either up or down. Since I put most kayaks inside the van, the only time I use the rack is either when I load my long boat (almost 12′) or when I am loading a ton of boats. If I load the long boat, I do not need the stackers. If I am loading a number of boats, I need the stackers.

Pin System

I’ve only tested the system out with a number of boats once, and it will take a few tweaks, but overall, this is a killer design. For regular creekers, only 2 bars are needed.

I will likely make a short video demonstrating the entire system when it is complete. Stage two is in the works and this is the part I am most excited about. Why? Because my long boat is a beast to load by myself. Running off another design idea that I saw, a roller is going to be installed on the back so that loading is going to be as easy as possible for one person.

More exciting updates to come!

Van Life Random Thoughts

Nothing earth shattering in this post. Rather, I camped out of the van again and this time, with the temporary fixed bed platform. Also added was my brand new laptop to be able to watch a movie if I wanted. I did start to watch the movie “The Hero” but I rarely make it through a movie without falling asleep. What this did though was tell me my original thought of having a small flat screen could be a sweet addition. Especially if I hit the road solo (which is a high likelihood).

Bed: I am still torn if I want a fixed platform bed. I will likely debate this topic for a while. I see the advantages of having a fixed platform with some pull out drawers as storage, but I also see the advantage of having as much floor space as possible to carry kayaks and let my dogs roam about. I do like my fold up mats (pads) to sleep on but I could use something a tad bit more cush if I were to sleep many nights at a time in this. To be continued…

Cooking: I think it would be nice to have a pullout platform out the back. Where this could get tricky is if it is raining. I guess I will just have to camp through a storm to figure this one out!

Van Cooking
Cooking

Gear storage: Something to easily rig for a line to hang things outside for when it is not raining. Throwing the gear all over the exterior of the van just is not going to cut it. A while back I came across Adam Nawrot’s page and wrote him asking for his thoughts since I can’t seem to find much out there on kayakers and van conversions. He suggested I have some sort of outside storage for the smelly gear. I am still thinking on this topic as well as that seems like fantastic advice.

Fridge: I really want a small fridge for the essentials. It needs to be small though as I don’t have much space. An idea I saw was in-between the front seats but my husky (Sierra) loves to lay in this spot and be my helper up front. Doubt I put one there. Still researching this.

Garbage: Empty trash rolling around just isn’t cool. Need to come up with a slick fix.

Roof rack: The factory rack works just fine but if I am wanting to throw on many boats, this won’t work well. Anything I’ve seen out there just isn’t wide enough. I spent some time with my co-worker (who helps me on the mechanical side of things) in Lowes, only to be frustrated. He went home and came up with what I think is a genius idea for a rack system. Stay tuned on this!

The more time I have in this van, the more I absolutely love it. I can see why people ditch their jobs and hit the road and wonder. Until next time…

kayaking van life

Van Life #3: Temporary Bed Platform

Alright, moving forward with the van project. I feel I want a murphy bed for my van, but how do I really know until I do it, right? What is easier and cheaper is building a temporary platform and going from there. So this is what I set out to do.

As a hobby, I build furniture and with that, a Kreg pocket hole system is used. To easily make sure this was 90 degrees, I decided to go with pocket holes. The joints to support are just screwed together with regular wood screws.

Using my front porch as a temporary workbench
Using the Kreg system makes it pretty easy to make sure your stuff is screwed together @ 90

I thought this would be an easy process until I realized I had built it higher than I wanted due to the wheel wall and a 2×4.

Before cutting the 2×4 with the jigsaw

So I busted out the jigsaw and cut to accommodate. It isn’t perfect, and I would like a bit more headroom when I sit, but this will do for now since this is not a permanent system. At least I don’t think it is!

Once “completed”

I am using two mats that are used in my PE classes. They fold up and together they equal about 4″ of foam. Again, all this is temporary. But I do really like the idea that I can fold my bed and make cushions to sit in the van when not using them as a bed.

I can see the advantage of this….creating storage underneath. This has my wheels turning in how to make this space as practical as possible. I have to remember, I have two dogs, both who love to crawl under things to sleep, so this could be something that I only partially close in if I decide I want something fixed as opposed to a murphy bed. The options are really limitless.

A place for those smelly kayak shoes!

Ahh, the experiments that go into that #vanlife!

Next up, curtains.

For The Love Of Sport – Van Life #2

The van project is in full swing, unintentionally.

I am laid up with some sort of back issue and parts came in for the van. There is some sort of noise going on undrneath the driverside that needs to be corrected, mainly for my sanity. A guy I work with, Nate (pretty much my 2nd father), is pretty incredible when it comes to mechanics and has helped me out a ton and is my go-to for anything with this van (or anything else machanics for that fact since I know about nothing when it comes to vehicles). In fact, he is who steered me toward an Astro. So the first plan of attack was to replace the sway bar bushings and links.

I am not one that likes to sit still so I decided to figure out how to take out the annoying seat belt that kept swaying and hitting everything that was hanging from the ceiling. There was a plastic cover that was forced off to reveal 2 bolts. Pretty easy. Thus lead into taking out ALL the seat belts (except the two up front of course). You would think this would be an easy process but some were in spaces that made even my little hands wish they were smaller.

The seatbelts were out and Nate was still working on the sway bar stuff. I had also purchased a new head unit and rear speakers but not all parts came in to install the head unit, so I figured I would hook up the rear speakers. I had never done this before. No time as now right? With the guidance of Nate, I learned something new today.

All these things needed to happen but here is the part I had no idea I was going to get into; ripping out the plastic on the inside of the van. This was actually a fairly fun part where it felt like the demolition stage of remodeling a house. I hesitated on doing this because let’s be real, my time is limited and now this means I have a bare bones van with no intention to complete this project for a long time. I went ahead with it.

Now that this is complete, my back is drastically yelling at me. I guess I still managed to do too much. But whatever. A lot got done today. The sway bar bushings were the wrong size, so this part of the project is not complete. The noise still exists even those the sway bar link has been replaced. Nate has a pretty good idea what will stop the noise but that will be discovered as time goes on. This is the fun (maybe some sarcasm) part of buying a used vehicle.

The sway bar bushings were the wrong size, so this part of the project is not complete. The noise still exists even though the sway bar link has been replaced. I am okay with this because they needed to be replaced. Less to go wrong when I actually hit the road. Nate has a pretty good idea what will stop the noise but that will be discovered as time goes on. This is the fun (maybe some sarcasm) part of buying a used vehicle.

The next thing I plan to do is build a crappy bed platform that I do not intend to keep. Here is my reasoning: I want to see if I want a bed platform that is out all the time or make a murphy bed. I feel I know what I want, but this will confirm my desire for the bed.

Also, Nate is going to build a custom roof rack for me. Honestly, the facory rack is good. Far better than I thought it would be. The point of something custom is to make a rack that would extend the bars to hold more boats. I also intend to lift the van, add larger tires and take off the factory running boards. I have found truck running board that I think are bada$$ but they would need to be fabricated.

Exciting things on the horizon for this van project. Any input is greatly appreciated as the next real step is figure out the power needs for this van and then really, I can install the subfloor and start to make this van look more like an apartment than a vehicle.

No Pain, No Gain

I believe most everyone has heard this and many believe this saying. I am torn on this statement. As I sit here on my computer on a gorgeous Sunday, I am not out and about because I have a slipped disc, of some sort, in my lower back. I believe I have a high pain threshold and the pain at one point got so bad, I considered leaving work, in near tears. My doctor told me to stay off my feet for 48 hours. Anyone that knows me, knows this is almost impossible. I thought I could accomplish things around my house and not kayak, and consider this as “staying off my feet.” So as I woke on Saturday morning, I went out to take care of my deck, which required cutting the existing deck and installing new boards. This about killed me. So I went inside, did my exercises, got on the computer, worked on a video project I am working on for one of my athlete’s and then figured I could make my way out to Lowes and buy groceries. This was one of the most painful trips I have taken in a long time. I struggled to pick up about anything I needed for groceries. I doubt anyone really cares but here is my point: I have pain, a lot of it, and there is no gain for me mentally or physically by being hurt.

Or could there be a gain? I know when an athlete gets injured and can’t-do what they love, they come out swinging. It is a decision that is made to persevere (continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success). As crazy as it sounds, I look to my dog for inspiration. About 2 years ago, I had to make the difficult decision to amputate his front leg. When I am out hiking with him, I often get comments from strangers about how a missing leg doesn’t slow him down. Point taken. Crap happens. Carry on. It is out of my control why I am sitting here injured. It is not due to doing something stupid. I believe it is just part of getting older and still going hard as an athlete.

Why write a post about this? I believe being an athlete that is injured is one of the most difficult things an athlete can do in their “career.” It would be easy to turn to depression and all the negative things that can go along with that. Or one can focus on other things in their life, keep their head held high and come out the other end stronger and more grateful. So if you not out enjoying your sport due to an injury, keep your head up and keep your mental game sharp because this is just a temporary thing. Shine on!

Kayaker Van Life

This is the first of hopefully many posts about taking a passenger van and converting it into the ultimate whitewater kayaking camper.

Here is the background to making the decision to go from a 4×4 truck to a van: I wanted to head to Canada and California this previous July but circumstances stacked up and that trip didn’t happen. I thought “if only I had a van, I could throw my boats in it, load up the dogs and go wherever I wanted.” Later, I pulled into the river parking lot to kayak and my friend Nikki had a brand new Ford Transit cargo van. After talking with her I made the decision to check out the various options.

I went and test drove a new Dodge City Master and even had a friend of mine in Charlotte test drive one that I was considering purchasing. I ultimately decided against the newer cargo vans because I did not want to give up all my ground clearance that I’ve grown to love in my truck and I really didn’t want to give up four-wheel drive. It was recommended that I look into the Chevy Astro/GMC Safari. After a couple of months, numerous hours looking online and contacting potential sellers, finally I came across a 2004 AWD with 107,000 miles. I pulled the trigger and made her mine.

With the backseats
Seats removed

If you have ever considered the van life, or you are living that life, you know there are countless resources out there with advice on what to do and what not to do when converting your van into a camper. It’s a bit overwhelming actually. Here is my situation: whitewater kayaker with two dogs. My primary use will be to camp for 1-3 days out of it until the summer hits, then I could easily go for a couple weeks out of it.

I read to not do anything when buying a van and just see how you move about it, develop your wants/needs and then make a plan to convert it after a couple of months and this is the advice I am going to follow. I just camped out of it for one night going from the Green to the Pigeon and discovered a number of things:

  • It gets dirty quickly
  • Having a place for trash is crucial
  • Need a way to open up the back hatch to exit (easier to slide out the back than the side door)
  • Need essential parts (bed, storage, etc.) to be movable, not fixed
  • Some sort of entertainment (laptop playing movies) could be a good idea
  • Cabinet for making breakfast that isn’t fixed would be a good idea
  • New head unit as streaming my tunes is vital to the energy of the day
  • New tires and possibly lifting the van (also would make it look more badass!)

I’m sure the more I camp out of it, the more I will figure it out. The most daunting task for me at the moment is figuring out the power that I will need as I will need to run the electrical before putting in a new floor and insulation. So many options out there. Suggestions are appreciated. Stay tuned for more on the kayaking van life!

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