23 Days to Freedom

Or, the tale of how I managed to cram 8 months of appointments, 5 major van projects, 1,400 miles and 3 full work weeks into 23 exhausting days.

Some of this story you already know… well, you’d know it if you read my last post. You’d know that I managed to blow 8 months of my life up in Washington state and a good chunk of that time was either making very slow progress working on the van myself, or waiting on a mechanic to make very slow progress working on the van for me.

I didn’t actually get into the full details in that post but while I was in Washington, I built a shelf next to my stove/behind my drivers seat, built a desk organizer/drawer for on top of that shelf, redid my back curtain, repaired my luggage rack, replaced the brackets for my luggage rack, replaced my water pump, built a set of drawers for my bathroom cabinet, painted all the raw wood, and researched/acquired all the necessary electronics to ensure I could work remotely off a 12v battery.

I also took the van in for new tires (luckily I only ended up needing to buy front tires), a new windshield, and took it in to three different shops/mechanics. The first shop was to get the rust repaired that I discovered under my luggage rack. That turned into a bit of a nightmare as their quality of work wasn’t the best, but in the end, I only managed to come out of it with a rear view mirror that is too big for the van.

This rust just had to go.

As I left that shop to take the van back to my parents, the auto braking system (ABS) went on the fritz so I pulled it around the block to the shop my parents take their car to. They ended up replacing the axel, reluctor wheel, sensor and some other small parts because the whole thing had rusted to the point where the computer couldn’t tell what the heck was going on with my wheels and just assumed I needed help braking.

The last mechanic I took the van to is a Eurovan guru. He’s one of the best and most trusted shops in the entire country and he just happens to be only a few hours from my parents house. I dropped the van off with him over Labor Day weekend and he worked on it replacing or repairing just about everything you can think of until our story really begins on October 16th when I picked up the van one cold, windy and rainy evening.

I make it back to my parents house with the van late at night on the 16th and am up first thing the next morning packing and doing some last minute projects and installations. You’d think that packing a less than 100 square foot space wouldn’t take all that long right? Well it took the entire day plus the morning of the next day before I had my entire life back on four wheels and was ready to hit the road.

So that brings us to October 18th. It’s always sad to leave my parents house but the dreary cold, wet honestly made it a bit easier since I was happy to escape PNW weather. I met with my aunt and one of my cousins for lunch as I drove through their town and ended my first driving day at a rest area near Pendleton, OR. October 19th I made it through Boise, ID to another rest area, and October 20th I finally made it to the greater Salt Lake area where I stayed in a Walmart parking lot.

Why did it take me 3 days to do a 16 hour trip? Well I was working full time from the road – or should I say, from the rest area? – and could only drive a few hours every afternoon. I also could have gone further some days but I had to be mindful that I’d wake up for work someplace with decent internet for work.

I didn’t actually make it to my “home” in the greater Salt Lake area until October 21st because I had to strategically plan when I was going to get there so that I had ample time to fix whatever was wrong with my Honda which had been left there for 8 months. Turns out, all that it needed was a new battery, so I count myself very lucky on that one. The rest of that week was spent recovering from the previous 6 days of packing, driving and emotional turmoil as well as preparing for the next week of total chaos.

The next week I managed to get all of my personal errands done; I went to the doctor for my annual checkup, went to my dentist for my teeth cleaning, took the Honda in for the last service in a package I had bought for it, picked up my mail, voted, and all sorts of other “I can only do this in Utah” things. I also made sure to eat all my favorite foods while I was there including an embarrassing number of take-out bowls from ASA Ramen.

For the van, an entire day was spent in the Lowe’s parking lot spray painting the panel surrounding my 110v electrical inlet. I had discovered that the old inlet was leaking at my parents house but stuck a bandaid on it (literally a plastic bag held on with painters tape) until I was back “home” and needed to be able to plug into power since I wasn’t driving every day to keep my battery charged.

Yeah, I got some looks.

I fell back into the habit of using the Honda for everything once it was back in running order. I even worked out of the Honda for those two weeks since the internet at my “home” was too bad to hold a video call. I actually ended up spending an alarming amount of time in that Lowe’s parking lot.

Before I get into the rest of the projects, I think it will help to understand why I needed to do those projects before setting out on my next great adventure and why they hadn’t been done already, even though I’d been living in the van for a year up to that point.

The Eurovan comes stock with a three-way fridge that uses 12v electricity but is so inefficient that you can only use that setting when you’re actively driving, 100v electricity that you can only use when plugged into that 110v inlet I spray painted and rewired, or propane which is what people typically use when boondocking (i.e. camping not at a campsite where you would likely have access to an electric hookup). Well, I plan on doing mostly boondocking in my future so that just left the propane feature of my fridge which didn’t work. Instead of trying to figure out how to make this giant, inefficient, 20 year old fridge run on propane, I decided to ditch it for a modern 12v fridge.

That decision meant that I needed a way to power the new fridge while boondocking which meant installing some sort of solar solution and increasing my battery capacity.

It turns out that increasing my battery capacity was the easiest on the list to cross off because my old battery was about half dead. I could have bought a fancier battery or tried to upgrade to lithium or something like that, but actually, the final piece of the puzzle prevented me from actually getting the new battery until the very last step when I was most pressed for time and needing to hit the road.

That last piece of the puzzle was my converter. For anyone that doesn’t know, a converter is what take the 110v electricity from the 110v inlet and converts it to 12v electricity for the car battery to store. The converter in the van is the same one that the van came with 20 years ago and is technologically obsolete. In fact, it’s the reason why my battery was half dead in the first place because it’s not smart enough to know when the battery is full and stop charging. (Overcharging your battery ruins your battery.)

So, unless I had a way to keep my new battery charged without using the old converter, I didn’t want to get a new battery just so I could ruin it. I also didn’t want to spend $$$ on a new converter that I’m not going to be able to use out in the middle of the desert. This was never an issue up until this point because I was basically never unplugged to need the battery when it wasn’t getting constant power from being plugged in.

So I decided to start with the fridge. I purchased a TF65 from TruckFridge which came highly recommended in the Eurovan groups I follow as well as the van community at large. And get this – it has a freezer! It’s about two-thirds the size of the old fridge but actually hold more because modern insulation is thinner. So I installed a special Rev-a-Shelf sliding cabinet shelf next to the fridge to utilize that extra space. I can’t take credit for either of these ideas though. It’s actually a pretty standard upgrade in the Eurovan community.

Next, I tackled the solar panels. I bought the 200w flexible solar panel kit from Renogy who is pretty well respected for being good quality at a bit lower of a price point that some of the rockstars of the industry. I mounted them following this guys method on YouTube almost exactly. I had to make some modifications though, and I’m pretty proud of what I came up with. I can go more in detail if you like in a video or another blog post if you like, so just let me know in the comment section below if that would be interesting or not. But time was not on my side and so even though the panels ended up mounted, they didn’t actually get wired in to be charging my battery until days later (which isn’t a part of this story).

You can kinda see the solar panels on top of my pop top from this picture.
(Note: this pic was taken pre-wiring in case you were looking for how the wires go.)

By the time that and the million other smaller projects (like swapping out my old thermostat for one that wouldn’t cycle my furnace on and off constantly) were finished, the winter weather was coming. And by coming, I mean 1 day away. So I hurried up and took my beloved Honda down to CarMax where I walked away one heck of a lot closer to being debt free. I went to bed the night of November 7th feeling a lot lighter especially knowing that I could go travel in the van without being constantly worried about if I was paying for a car that was broken, stolen or ruined back in Utah.

November 8th came and I made one last trip to my storage unit where I dropped off the last of the things I wouldn’t be needing in the van. The snow was coming down as I ran between the storage unit and my van and by the time I left metropolitan Utah, I was chasing a storm and losing.

There were some moments where the sun was shining but those were quickly cast away for show showers and freezing rain. The entire drive I was battling a headwind that meant I was constantly stopping for more gas. At one point near St. George, UT, I was caught in a full-on blizzard that brought the 80 mph highway down to 20 mph and I saw several cars slide off the side of the road.

But finally, I crossed over to into the light; I came out of the Virgin River Gorge and saw a wall of black clouds behind me and nothing but blue skies in front of me. I had made it.

As I pulled up to the BLM land I would call my home for the coming week, I found myself energized despite the twenty-three day mad-dash to the finish line I had just completed. I woke up with the sun the next morning excited to tackle the long list of projects left to accomplish because I knew that I had already done enough to make my dreams a reality and all that was left was to help make the following ride as smooth as possible.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s