VANgo in Arizona

VANLife: Camper Conversion Weeks 10-11

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Well, better late than never!  I’m finally getting around to writing about the final two weeks of VANgo’s conversion the pickup day.  Wanderful Wheels delivered right on time!

Week 10

In Week 10 Wanderful Wheels installed the lights and the outlets throughout the van.  In the galley, the added the closet, and the safe cabinet.  Finally, in the garage they installed the on demand hot water heater and the battery.  Additionally, the pullout trays for the garage are ready to be installed as well as butcher block shelves in the corner over the bed.

Week 11

In the final week, Wanderful Wheels finished up the electrical, plumbing and cabinetry.  They installed an Aims Pure Sine Inverter in the garage as well as the trays and finished off the galley with all the appliances (sink, two burner stove, Isotherm refrigerator, and Laveo dryflush toilet).

After running VANgo through a variety of tests, it was best for me to upgrade my battery to a Relion Lithium Ion 200 Amp Hour Battery.  There were a handful of other changes from the original plans, but I will update my Vanlife: Layout and Selections page with the changed to selections.

Picking Up VANgo

After the weekend Denver blizzard, Tuesday finally came with more snow in the forecast.  This is not how I wanted to break in VANgo, but so be it.

denver blizzard

Wanderful Wheels flew me to Durango and met me at the airport with my new ride!  The whole full-time crew, Colleen and her husband Patrick as well as Ollie.  Patrick had stitches in his hand and just got out of the hospital a week prior after an appendectomy!  He probably should have been resting at home.

He, along with Ollie, were showing me the systems.  I can’t imagine how much his side hurt as he bent under the sink to show me my gray water tank and climbed into the garage, to explain all the circuit breakers, fuses and the like.

There were several pleasant surprises along the way as well.  I hoped for a cutting board cover on the sink with a dish drying rack inside, but never specified my wish, so I didn’t know what I’d have to do after market.  Lucky for me, they covered that detail.

They also made a holding rack for my Lagun table so it stores very nicely behind the driver’s seat.  I should have asked them to make holding racks for the bins in my sliding trays.  They slide all over, but I’ll get to that later.

There were a handful of surprises in my garage which included a nice light, unistruts on the bottom of the bed platform, and holders between the trays for my awning crank and extra support bar.  How nice is that?

The unistruts will be very useful once I can find some spring nuts!  I went to Home Depot, True Value Hardware, and Ace Hardware and struck out!  The nuts slide into the unistruts and different shaped bars may be attached for hanging items.  Once I find them, my bins sliding around will be a moot point.

I drove VANgo home through rain, snow, sun, and fog at times so thick I could only see three dashed stripes ahead of me.  I went around an accident of cars swerved into a ditch, and when I finally made it home, I inched up my narrow driveway.

It was even more narrow with three feet of snow piled up on each side.  As I reached my porch railing, I creeped forward to make sure the side mirror didn’t hit.  On VANgo, it just goes right over the top.  The nerf bars, however, DO NOT! 

I thought the crunching sound was from driving over the snow.  Not so!  Not even 24 hours, and I got my first ding.  Oh well, I won’t be concerned about off-roading now, though I was more worried about hitting the roof on tree branches.

Murphy’s Law

I had a few other challenges along the way as well.  I felt like the two days before I was trying to leave and get my house on the market, Murphy’s Law couldn’t have been more inconvenient!  The bike tray came with mounts, but no bolts.  So, the 30 minutes I set aside for that with a friend’s help turned into an hour.

The same went for transferring a few items from my house safe to the safe in my van.  The battery to my home safe (which I have had for five years), died the night before I was leaving.  I ran up to Walgreen’s to find they only had store brand batteries and when I got back home, I found the safe only took Duracell or Energizer.  That 30 second task of opening the safe turning into thirty minutes!  And to boot, my laptop doesn’t fit in the van safe which is a bummer.  That was part of the redesign snafu last month.

The mounds of snow did not help my packing as I had to move the van back and forth depending on front or side entry, so I wasn’t constantly trouncing through it.  I still fell down the stairs on my final load!

A Night in Albuquerque

Finally, I  was headed to Albuquerque to visit my friend Tina.  I filled the tank with diesel only for the slow pump not to switch off.  As a result, I showed up smelling like diesel, and the smell doesn’t come out in the wash!

I left Denver without filling the water tank, because I didn’t want the lines to freeze overnight, and because I would have to trounce through lots of snow.  While I had planned to do a trial run in my van in civilization at Tina’s house that evening, by the time we got back from dinner, it was too late to fill the tank and learn everything.  The next morning, I finally did, and water was pouring out everywhere!

missing plug in water tank

The tank was missing a plug!  Fortunately, Wanderful Wheels replied immediately with what to do, and in the meantime, Tina’s boyfriend Carlos was rather handy.  He stopped the leak by wrapping plastic around a stick and plugging the hole.  Then, he went to the hardware store to buy a plug and plumbers tape, while Tina and I attempted to install some bug netting from RB Components.

The instructions claimed it was easiest for two people to install, and that it would take 20-30 minutes.  Anytime I read something like that, I know it is going to be a pain.  It was!  It took an hour.  By then, Carlos had returned and plugged the tank, whew! 

I’m glad I was at their house for all of that.  I owe them a case of beer, as my nerves were shot, and while I planned on not being able to work the inverter, heater, and outdoor shower, filling the water tank was not on the list of OH $H!T.

On the Way to Arizona

Once I finally found my keys, thank goodness for Tile, I finally headed toward Arizona.  Who knew they’d be so hard to find in a small space.

Since then, I’ve been getting used to everything.  I know how to crank out the awning and work all the appliances and inverter.  The heater requires a little trial and error as the thermostat doesn’t include the temperature.  I just have to turn the knob more hot or more cold, until I find what feels right for the evening.  I will likely be buying an indoor thermometer!

I have yet to run the overhead fan and A/C as the A/C requires shore power.  I am not camping at a campground, and I haven’t found the right adaptor for that cord to be plugged into the outlet after visiting two camper stores!

I also haven’t tried the outdoor shower with the hot water heater.  That’s next, but there’s one too many levers in the plumbing for me to try to figure out right now.  I’ve already bombarded Colleen with 20 questions, so I am giving her a break. I suspect I will send one more round.

Anyway, VANgo is a beautiful work of art, and Annie and I are enjoying it when we aren’t fighting over our spots.  She keeps upgrading herself to my places.  At least I have finally worn her out with two days of hiking and lots of playtime with Tina’s dog Jack.  I’m glad to finally being able to decompress.  Even if it only is for two weeks before I hopefully have an offer and close on my house.   

Thought of the Day

Ten years ago when I went on the road for a year and it wasn’t as commonplace. I always wrote a thought of the day. I wish I kept those posts, but I didn’t. Anyway, occasionally I’ll include one here. Today I wondered: Should I go on this trip? Seemed like a lot of challenges were sending signs. ETB

PS. If you end up using Wanderful Wheels for your van conversion, tell them I sent you. I get $250. Thanks!

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

11 thoughts on “VANLife: Camper Conversion Weeks 10-11

  1. Oh my goodness! You are pushing it. I guess you learn faster with trial by fire. I’m sad to hear you are selling your house in Denver. That was a cool place. Now we’ll have to travel the country to meet with you 😉
    Thanks for the comprehensive series. I look forward to the tales of travels that all your work has made possible.

  2. Wowee! Congratulations!! Of course, I am insanely jealous that you have a canine travel partner! Sorry I missed you in ABQ, which I left on Tuesday. I’m still hopeful we can meet up somewhere. Be sure to check out “Sisters on the Fly” if you want human companionship pretty much any day of any week.

  3. Had no idea you were on a 2 weeker before St Lucia! Where’s the dive gear? Are you heading to Dallas before the trip?
    The van looks fabulous. I can’t wait to see it in person.

  4. I’m always so impressed at how much is able to be fit into such a small space. Congrats! I’m looking forward to following along with all your van adventures.

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