If you've been following my blog, you know that I'm the proud owner of a converted Sprinter van that I bought last year. I was fully informed about its mechanical needs (plenty), I knew I would be installing a window, and needed to replace the front windshield and sound system. It was a new and first build for the young lad who owned it. His father, a certified electrician, and his mother, an interior designer, had added their expertise. I negotiated the price with all of these costs in mind. Add a broken windshield to this picture and this is what I purchased.
I had appointments over the next few weeks to get stuff done. When the time in the shop was longer than estimated, I was happily buying dishes, outdoor shower kits, a telescoping ladder, and stick-on tiles. I dug into my storage unit for the camping gear I had collected over the years, including a pop-up tent, shower tent, camp cot and porta-potty (bought 5 years previous "for emergencies" and never used). I was tickled by the idea that I could have a "guest room".
I spent several afternoons happily adding decor: the "kitchen” tile and the beautiful wall decals. I arranged and re-arranged things in the cupboards and the space above the cab.
I'm not concerned about being "stealth". I'm not planning on hanging out in urban settings when away from home, road-tripping. I wanted to personalize "Wanda", as I had dubbed her. Heh, I might even gain a new reader from someone who passes me on the road. On the other hand, I don't want to drive a billboard! My daughter, a marketing specialist, gave me a couple of tips and would improve my logo for the magnetic signs.
I started with a decal of the word "Wanderlust" and a pair of magnetic signs.
After getting everything but the new window install complete (that required me to wait several months for the appointment) I was ready to finally start figuring out how this #campervanlife thing would actually work for me.
I had done my research, followed several vanlifers on YouTube, and wanted to be confident in the solar, electrical, water, and heating systems. I had downloaded the apps, read the manuals, and was ready.
On my first venture, I learned that the grill pan I had didn't work on an induction surface. (I was very happy I had brought my trusty vintage Coleman stove). I also learned how much power my panels and driving produced and how much power different functions consumed. (Much less than I thought). I needed the sliding door window because it was a bit claustrophobic when closed in for the night. It was during that weekend that I first noticed that the upper cabinets weren't very stable. Each night I had access to a toilet, I wondered if I would actually ever use my porta-potty. My pull-out table top was awkward to use and the bench in front of the sliding door couldn't store much because it housed the diesel heater. It did provide additional seating if I had a guest.
My next trip was with my daughter to go to Calgary to visit my sister, who we hadn't seen since Covid. It was going to be a test of how two people work inside. We stopped overnight at Illecillewaet Campground. It was raining and damp but we were cozy inside. We shared the bed successfully. Fall was officially around the corner, and I'm not fond of the cold so I wasn't expecting to do a lot over the winter.
After a couple more short trips, including a trip to Squamish to get the sliding door installed, I was alarmed to see that the cabinets were unmistakably sagging, to the point that I could see they had only been attached with pin nails. I bought some "L" brackets to brace the cupboards inside and out, and hoped this would solve the problem, at least until I had decided everything that I wanted re-designed. The stick-on tiles I used were coming off and needed a solution for vibrating walls.
I started collecting quotes as I went on several short excursions. I was disappointed to realize that many van builders really don't want to do partial construction. Van builders are in high demand and have a waiting list of people wanting to get full converts. Some will tell you outright that they don't do that kind of work, some will tell you that their waiting list extends into the next year, and a few quote outrageous prices. The "L" brackets weren't enough. I was very worried that the cabinets would fall and cause even greater damage when they did.
In the middle of this frustration, I posted on a local Facebook page for van owners. I was delighted when John Kennedy of J5CustomVans reached out to me. I had been following John on Instagram and had seen his work in videos by locals VanCity Vanlife, The cat lady VAN , and SharingTheWild. I was thrilled and we made arrangements for me to take the van to him on Vancouver Island to do the work while I was travelling in France.
He sent a couple of tantalizing pictures to me while I was travelling. First, the new cabinets were installed. They are sturdy enough that I could hang on them, if that was my jam ;). I could see they were no longer sagging! He covered up the line of wiring and insulation that hadn't been done on the original build. I liked the cabinet doors, and John was able to reuse those. The depth is perfect for all the IKEA organizers I have.
Next, I got a photo of the new cabinet build on the passenger side. I had decided I wanted it counter height, with drawers of different depths for storage. This required moving the solar and electrical. The same type/colour of drawer face to match is no longer available, but I don't consider that a problem. I wanted it white and the counter to match the other side, if possible. John asked for the dimensions of my porta-potty so he could construct a potty closet.
While chatting, I mentioned that when I had used the heater in January, I had turned it off pretty quickly because I could smell the exhaust and I was worried about it. Thank goodness I did. John discovered it had been installed completely wrong and that the exhaust hose was riddled with holes. It had been mounted on wood, which showed charring. He created a new mount, replaced the hose, and added a muffler.... and likely saved my life. I now have a carbon monoxide monitor.
After picking Wanda up and spending a night camping in her, I am absolutely thrilled. The construction is top-notch. My new cabinet has 5 drawers, the potty cupboard, and the countertop is an exact match. On the outer side, the dead space between the cupboard and step is now a great cubby for my shoes and dustpan. The new cabinet is the perfect height for a night table and makes meal preparation so much easier. It takes up no additional space and I can move freely inside.
It's bug season again, so the bug screens went up.
While camping, I redid the tile using extra Gorilla brand spray-on adhesive and added a decal to the side passenger door.
I am absolutely thrilled with the quality of work and the excellent service (including drop off/pick up at the ferry) from John and his helper Kyle at J5Custom Vans and urge anyone to consider contacting him for any work you need doing. I am confident that my upper cabinets will last as long as Wanda and I will feel safe using my heater. This new cabinet will serve my needs so much better than the extra seating. I'm hoping to hit the road by mid-June. Look for me on Vancouver Island for the first month and don't forget to honk or wave!