Where to begin. As most of you know, we were supposed to leave a few weeks ago. As with all old vehicles, they come with their problems. We're cautious and patient: making sure we find all issues before we make it far. Many times we've wanted to rush this process but we have to keep in mind that we're hopefully driving 40,000km. That's equal to the circumference of the earth.
This past week, we discovered an annoying issue with the rear-differential. For those who don't know cars (including myself), I'm told the "rear-diff" is what connects your engine to your back wheels, but more importantly, it handles certain stresses that allow cars to perform the way they do today. For example, when you make a turn, the outside wheel in the turn needs to move faster than the inside one. This may be difficult to visualize, but essentially if it wasn't for the rear-differential then your back wheel would hop off the ground every time you turn in order to catch up with the inside wheel.
Throughout the week, Barry spent many hours trouble-shooting. As we've learned, when it comes to mechanics, there's never a textbook answer. After days of work, we got to a point where Barry was as happy as he could be with what we had - without using brand new parts. I'd like to point out; if we had more money, new parts would be available to us. However, be it the inside or the mechanics, we've used as much refurbished or recycled material as possible. In part because we're poor, in part because we wanted to minimize our footprint.
Yesterday, we got the green light to go for our longest test drive yet. About 400km. Josh and I excitedly hopped in the van and decided to go for a trip to the amazing Riverside Albert. If you're reading from New Brunswick and have never been, get your ass off the couch and plan a weekend trip. I'll give you a list of free camping spots. No excuses. If you're not from NB, areas like Riverside Albert are why I talk up this province so much. It's stuck in the past, in the most beautiful way. If it wasn't for the paved roads, one would truly have no sense of time. The never-ending coastline and trees almost exploding in their late-fall colours make this a truly unique area to explore.
On the way back, we ran into trouble. Shifting from first, to second was difficult, then eventually we couldn't shift into third gear at all. Next time you're in your car, test how far your second gear goes. Put simply, driving on the highway with only two gears is tough. We drove under 60km/h on the 110km/h for over 4 hours.
However, this post isn't a complaint. As I said in my first post, all we have going for us is patience. We've found problems, but now we have the chance to trouble shoot them with Ben's dad Barry, instead of in the middle of nowhere with mechanics who may not want to service an old van.
One thing is for sure: When we get on the road *fingers crossed* later this week, we're going to know that we've been patient and observant, and hopefully discovered most big problems. In everything you do, all you can do is your best. We're certainly trying.
As usual, click the photo to see it full size.
In my last post, I said we'd be gone by now I believe. We're not.
If you read that in a disappointed tone, read again! We'll be on the road by the end of next week now, two weeks behind our initial schedule. We made some design changes, added an additional window, replacing some mechanical parts... In the end, this delay will make our adventure more comfortable and more reliable. We believe a two week delay is well worth it.
What have the past few weeks been like? Josh, Ben, Barry, and I have been working almost every day, from sunup to sundown. Barry, Ben's dad, continues to be our saviour in every project, allowing us to make creations out of metal we never could have dreamed up. Or perhaps could have dreamed but never created. We've gotten better at wood work, continued to learn that there's ALWAYS an easier way to do something, and that Ben's mom is a saint for feeding us all. the. time.
The exciting news: We have three seats. We have three seatbelts. We have three beds. The inside of the vehicle is almost completely finished! Early this week, we'll be adding an additional storage unit and the inside of the vehicle will be complete. The two first points seem superfluous, but if you plan on buying a van, I HIGHLY recommend you buy it with the right amount of seats and seatbelts. You'd think putting in a seat is as simple as.. well.. putting the seat in and screwing it down. Depending on the vehicle, it will require getting metal machined and some precise welding. Seatbelts are a whole other thing. We ABSOLUTELY could not have done either of these projects if we didn't have a mechanic/welder on our team. I'd also like to thank Alex and Liam Matson for stopping by to lend a hand, as well as Andre Aikens who's helped us engineer our way through some interesting challenges. Finally, my dad for his woodworking knowledge. He helped us build some nice pine storage boxes.
This next section is going to be a bit boring. If you're not interested in doing such a trip yourself, this is probably not worth the read. Skip to the end if you want to see my favourite music right now or what book I'm reading! And as always, photos at the end of the post.
A big reason why I want to blog prior to leaving is to show people that this is doable for more or less anyone. I'd like to talk a bit about the other parts of van-life prep that one might not consider. For example, vaccines, health insurance, vehicle insurance, personal-goods insurance, and border crossing. The three of us have traveled to remote areas in the past few years, so to start we were more vaccinated than the average person. Boosters and new vaccines still cost us between $250-$400 each. On top of that, Medicare, our glorious Canadian medical program, only covers Canadians outside of the country for 6 months. One has to apply if you'd like coverage longer than that. We'll let you know if we end up getting approved for the 8 months we've asked for (though we realize we may be calling them again in 6 months to see if they'll cover us for a full year, we wanted to start small first). On top of Medicare, you also need health insurance. Our quotes are telling us that's another $600-$800 per person.
Vehicle insurance is it's own beast. Getting coverage for the US and Canada was a breeze. However, South of the US is a different story. No Canadian insurance broker (in small town New Brunswick) could provide us with insurance past California. Some countries, insurance can be purchased at the border. Some we'll figure out while on the road. Overall, not as simple as we'd believed, but very doable.
You all know I like to take pictures. Naturally, I'll be bringing some of my gear with me. Those who know me well also know I've been robbed more times than anyone else I've met (if someone has had their apartment robbed more than 3 times, give me a shout and we can bond or cry together or something). So beyond being paranoid when it comes to locking up, hiding my things, etc. I'm also very on-point when it comes to getting insurance. So pro-tip: If you want to insure your goods while you travel, talk to your home-owners or tenant insurance broker. They're the only ones (I found) that can insure your personal goods while traveling. It seems for the most part that you'll have a $1000 deductible (which means that the first $1000 will come out of your pocket, then they'll cover everything beyond that). For me, this was necessary peace of mind.
Border crossing is a small concern we had. For one, the US can deny entry if they don't believe you're truly planning on leaving the country. So you must provide sufficient proof that you'll be traveling through. We spoke to a border agent and they recommended booking a hotel/hostel in Mexico, showing maps and an itinerary of the trip, overall just being prepared. For borders South of the US, all the countries we'll be visiting have simple Visa's for Canadians which we can purchase at the border. Most of them allow us to visit the country for three months at a moderate cost. Typically around $50USD.
These are just a few things that took longer than expected so I thought it may be useful for others, minimally to keep in mind as you dream up your own travels.
Back to the fun stuff
Ok so now that I've glossed over some logistical stuff, I'll briefly explain the start of our trajectory (though we're playing every bit of this trip by ear, so it is all subject to change as we go). We'll leave towards the end of next week, first to do a bit of rock climbing in New Brunswick. If you've never been to NB, you must visit some day. NB is over 85% forest still today. If that sounds like a huge percent, it is. Naturally, we want to start our trip looking over the NB forests from a rock-wall. We'll then make our way North to visit two good friends in Edmonston, before heading into Quebec where we plan on exploring the Gaspé Peninsula. Then to Montreal where we'll spend the last bit of our time in Canada before heading to Smugglers Notch in Vermont for more climbing. From there, we may take a little jaunt through New England before making our way to the West Coast! I wont bother explaining our tentative plans past that point because truthfully, everything I just said is still up in the air. We go where we'll feel like going.
Here are this week's albums, the first courtesy of my buddy Alex Matson, and the second is actually an old favourite that keeps coming back into my music rotation. Reachin' is a great 90's hiphop album reminiscent of Tribe, while Salt, Sun and Time is a Canadian album released in 1974 which didn't receive much acclaim at the time, but has found its place in my heavy rotation for the last 3 years.
Digable Planets - Reachin'
Salt, Sun and Time - Bruce Cockburn
This post I thought I'd add a book I'm just about to finish. This isn't for everyone, so ill give a brief idea of the book so you can decide if you'd like to read it. It is Carlos Castaneda's "The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge". The book is prefaced to be both ethnography and allegory. It is the story of Castaneda's time with Don Juan, who eventually became Castaneda's spiritual teacher. Don Juan presents Castaneda with the path to becoming "A Man of Knowledge", a path reserved for those with the steadfast desire to discover themselves and see the world clearly. The book is both a lesson in discovering yourself (through the path of the Yaqui people in Mexico) as well as a psychological look into the power people can have on us and how that can influence us (think doctors, the fact that you believe they know what is best for you bestows upon them great power). This book is for you if you're a curious reader. If you're not curious, this book will just be about a man who tries peyote in Mexico. If you're curious and paying attention, it is about the power of influence and the power of letting go.
Ps. click on the photos to see them in big!
I've been answering as vaguely as possible questions regarding how people can follow our adventure. First, because I have no sweet clue. Second, the goal of this trip, for me, is utter freedom. I don't want anything to feel like work this coming year. So it has taken me a while to wrap my head around what sort of platform I would enjoy maintaining.
For now, it's a blog. I may switch over fully to Instagram at some point. Time will tell, but you can be sure that I will let you know here if/when things change!
Where to start. I think most people know what we're doing. If not, theres a bit more info on the sidebar -- >
My goal with this platform isn't to show you all the amazing experiences we have (though I'm sure we will share that too). There are enough van life blogs out there for you to drool over. If anything, I'd like to showcase the opposite. The nitty gritty. The mundane. The "problems" we encounter. I don't intend this to be negative. The opposite actually. I'd like to show you our attitude towards the trip. The "take it as it comes" philosophy we live by. The ability to be flexible, patient, and responsive. In all honesty, that's all we have going for us.
We're not particularly good builders. Or designers. Definitely not mechanics. But we have a lot of heart (and so much help from friends and family).
Last week, we bought two vans. Two. How does that happen, one may ask. Buying a van was a new challenge, so let me tell you a bit about it. Kijiji. Everyone out here uses Kijiji. For months, Josh has been checking every single day. What we did not realize what the speed at which the camper van buy/sell market moves! Vehicles pop up for a few days max and if the price is right, disappear almost instantly. We passed up a lot of good deals throughout the summer due to our working situations (I was still in Montreal while Josh and Ben were both working in the countryside). Knowing our departure date was approaching, we decided to buy it with the knowledge that we could get it running in the following weeks.
However, on his way home, Josh spotted another van parked at the Fredericton Inn. There, he meets Ryan, who's been living out of his vehicle for the last 9 months. He recently drove it from BC to be in Freddy for the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival. Having spent her life on the West Coast, she's perfect. Spared from all the salt on our Maritime roads, you couldn't imagine a 1990 van in such good condition. Ryan and Josh hit it off, Josh makes him an offer, to which Ryan tells him that if we didn't have such an amazing trip coming up he wouldn't sell it at that price. But he wants this vehicle doing what its meant to do.
We have two vans.
We've decided to keep the second one, and have put the first back up for sale (amazing price if anyone is interested!). Today, we finished installing the bed that Josh and I will be sleeping on. Tomorrow, the loft goes in, where Ben's bed will be. I'll explain the build more in a future post, for now, I'd love to hear what you're most interested in; what do you want to see? Primarily, this platform is a way for me to organize my thoughts, but ideally it will also be how I stay in touch with friends and family - one centralized platform which is linked to Facebook and Instagram.
A friend suggested I add some extra bits of info that are a bit more personal to me, in order to give myself reason to reflect, and also to allow readers a glimpse into my world. Thank you Sam and Anders. For today, here are two albums that make my soul vibrate:
Uncommon Good - Busty and the Bass
Elpmas - Moondog
The first is from our homies Busty, who released an amazing new album last week. Honestly, it keeps growing on me the more I listen. The second album, is from the magician, the wizard, the viking: Moondog. This blind composer/multi-instrumentalist plays with sound without boundaries, creating ethereal moments which somehow feel grounded in reality despite their unfamiliarity.