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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!


First Impression: Pyranha Machno

Pyranha Machno (photo by Nikki Malatin) 

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a proud member of Team Pyranha and tend to favor their offerings. On the other hand, I am guilty of loving the Pyranha 9R a little too much and this love has made it hard to consider another boat. When it first came out I ignored the Machno (no cheating on the 9R!), but then people started asking about it and others that I respect gave it glowing reviews. My interest piqued, I took the Machno out for a test run and recorded my first impressions.

The Machno comes in three sizes and the having so much choice delighted me. Being 6 feet tall (182 cm) but only weighing 150 pounds (70 kg) usually means that I am too light for the large, too big to fit into the small, and there is usually no medium. The medium Machno fit perfect. I am in the low middle of the weight range, my legs fit comfortably, and the waterline was perfect. I was not bobbing too high or dragging too deep. The thigh braces hit me on the right spot and I felt locked into the boat. The back band was tall and wide and gave me excellent back support. My only complaint was I could not adjust the backband straps to a perfect fit and they bit into my hips. I am still amazed at the advances in outfitting since the old days of cutting and gluing foam blocks. The Pyranha website has all of the technical specifications on all three sizes if you want to check them out.

I ran the Machno down the Green River Narrows at a medium-low level. As a dedicated “Green Liter”,  I did not run the “big three” rapids. The “Green Lite” run is about three miles of relatively steep, technical, but often forgiving Class IV rapids. Right away, I realized that I liked the Machno tremendously. It did not seem too wide on the river (the boat seemed wide looking at it on shore) and I was able to paddle it smoothly. The Machno skimmed over the surface of large holes without flinching. I overshot a few moves due to how fast the boat moves through the water. I was able to maneuver easily through the tight sections without a struggle. The Machno may not be as playful as the 9R but it is much more agile than the Shiva ever was. I felt stable in the boat and never tippy. This is a comfort to me because I sometimes tweak the muscles in my shoulder during dynamic bracing.

In conclusion,  I can see why this boat would give you the confidence to go bigger, bolder, and steeper. I look forward to paddling this boat more and learning all that it can do. 

Paddle in Pink Pigeon Recap

Confidence Series Dirty Bird Recap

On June 24th, 18 women gathered at the Pigeon River to get their play on. This year marked 3 years of Paddle in Pink putting on this event and every year things seem to get better. Groups this year were split into smaller numbers so there was more one-on-one instruction. Nikki Malatin (team Pyranha) and Katie Dean (team Dagger) guided the recklessly vertical groups and myself, Crystal Gustin (team Jackson) lead the short playboat group while Katie Jackson (team Jackson) ran sweep to keep things safe. The pigeon was releasing higher than normal which increased the down river play fun factor.

Paddle in Pink Confidence Series Pigeon
All the ladies before hitting the river (minus 2)

Girls were working on anything from stern squirts, splats, rock spins, double pump, wave wheels, surfing and cartwheels. There is something to be said about a larger group of women all together on the river, learning and laughing when the river is primarily filled with men. While the larger flow increased the downriver fun factor, it made the park-n-play hole very difficult especially attaining back up to the hole. A number of women still attempted to play while the rest of the females were enjoying their SweetWater beer on the NOC platform at river’s edge cheering on any move attempted.

Katie Dean
Katie Dean getting rad

Jackson kayak, SweetWater Brewing
The event is put on in memory of Jennifer Watson, who lost her life to the Little White River, to raise money for a local animal shelter. The raffle consisted of Pyranha schwag (hats and t-shirts), Astral discount cards, a very generous Kokatat gift card and the grand prize, a hot pink and black Orion stocked full of SweetWater Brewing Company beer. This year’s grand prize winner was Kristin House! Small or big, everyone walked away with something and most importantly, these ladies helped raise more money than the year before. I’m pretty sure Jen was looking down on all 18 badass women smiling and cheering them on!

Orion cooler SweetWater Brewing Company
Taking home the Orion cooler!

A huge thank you to Jackson Kayak, Pyranha Kayaks, Kokatat, Astral, NOC, Jackson Action Wagon and SweetWater Brewing Company. I’d also like to personally thank Nikki and Katie for taking charge and showing the ladies how to get vertical. Stay tuned for next year’s confidence series events here on Paddle in Pink.

Photo Credits: Cuong Nguyen, Nikki Malatin, Crystal Gustin, Wesley Bradley, Kristin House

Additional action shots click here taken by Nikki Malatin

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