Monthly Archives: April 2013

Quick update: Vandwelling construction completed (perhaps).

You might be wondering, “where is that yogi with the nice dharmic musings? He seems to have been replaced by a tradesman or something.” The answer is: He’s been running around like a decapitated chicken getting his life in order before the trip. These posts reflect the flow of my life  – sometimes spiritually oriented, sometimes otherwise, but always conscious of spirit.

After a few fun days of small scale construction, I feel like the woodworking is over.

The result is simple to the point of being spartan, which I feel is completely necessary given the square footage I am working with. Have a look for yourself.

One side of the shelf, cut to slide under the bed frame overhang.

One side of the shelf, cut to slide under the bed frame overhang.

Shelf sits flush with bed frame. Bottom storage space is only accessible when trunk is open

Shelf sits flush with bed frame. Bottom storage space is only accessible when trunk is open

Door opened. Half wall on mattress side means I can reach in to access storage space without having to open the trunk. Up to 30lbs can be supported on the extended platform. This should be great for outdoor cooking.

Half-wall on mattress side means I can reach in to access storage space without having to open the trunk. Up to 30lbs can be supported on the extended platform. This should be great for outdoor cooking.

Latching hook-and-loop fastener will not pop open on bumpy roads.

Latching hook-and-loop fastener will not pop open on bumpy roads.

The finished product - mattress on bed frame with rear shelf. (Note that the window covers slot in nicely in the space between the bed and the passenger's wall)

The finished product – mattress on bed frame with rear shelf. (Note that the reflective window covers slot in nicely in the space between the bed and the passenger’s wall)

On a different note…

It’s been really fun playing with saws, drills, plywood and nails over the last few days. I am disappointed that floor space is disappearing so fast, as I would love to spend more time building random stuff for the van. Seeing as I have less than a week until I need to leave, it’s probably time to start concentrating on fitting my life into the remaining available space.

I’ve been very van-intensive lately. One of my hopes with the creation of this blog was to contribute another set of resources into the vandweller community. My forays through blogs and websites made me realize that — despite the proclamations all over the ‘net stating that the population of vehicle-residents are larger than expected and ever-increasing — my experience has shown me this is a tiny little niche, albeit with an amazing collection of individuals who all want others to succeed. I am in a position in which I can be sharing my adventure — I own a digital camera and laptop, I have internet at my home, I have a bit of extra time to develop a resource — something that, given the small scope of this community, and the lack of funds and resources of many within it, could be very helpful.

I suppose that is my explanation for why I am putting so much emphasis on the conversion of this van into a lil’ home. This, of course, leads me to ask myself why I feel the need to defend this decision to the interwebs…

I am feeling an inner need to have to validate the sadhaka aspect of the silly sadhaka blog persona, as if the Esoteric Police are investigating me for yogic fraud. I’m fooling all of you – I’m masquerading as a meditation and yoga instructor, tuned in the dhamma and locked in self-awareness. This blog is turning on me — beginning to portray to the world who I really am. Uh-oh. What if you find out that I dropped f-bombs constantly when I was drilling the pilot holes for the shelf hinges? Will I be shunned from the zen life if I reveal the fact that I had Arby’s curly fries yesterday? Can I still teach yoga if I go a couple days without meditation?

I am imperfect in all dimensions, most definitely including the spiritual realm. Too my earnest dismay, I am not Shiva. It is only by fully accepting my imperfections that I will ever be able to achieve contentment. Heck, it’s even in the site title – I’m a bit Silly. So let me try to deeply integrate my idiosyncrasies, and let me accept the fact that I enjoy things that might not be completely aligned with an ideal yogic lifestyle. And, dammit, let me write about stuff I find interesting without feeling upset that Shiva won’t follow my blog.

There. I said it. Now, is it OK if I proceed to live a life full of mistakes, awkwardness and glitches?

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Minihome in a Minivan for the Mega-Journey. Creating Windstar window covers and bedframe.

Yee-haw! Only 9 more days until the summer adventures begin — time to get long lists of things accomplished in short periods of time. The van, still an unnamed girl, is fully repaired and ready to groove.

Over the years I have found myself growing more and more in love with the emotions and sensations that come with preparing for a big trip. That eager anticipation, always found in tandem with that bit of anxiety –Am I forgetting an essential item? Do I have all my loose ends in order? (In my case, no, definitely not. It seems as if I am actively unraveling a ball of twine at the rate that all these loose ends that keep popping up.) I love the mystery of the the unknown humans, situations and environments I will find myself in. I love the combination of my brain trying to create expectations, contrasted with the knowledge that nothing ever turns out as expected. Finding zen through packing. Preparing for a big trip is stressful, stimulating, magical. And right now, it’s also a construction project.

I have realized that the mandate of this van conversion is “cheap, and in a hurry”.

(i.e.; you won’t be seeing my work in a magazine anytime soon.) Thankfully, I know that I am currently sharing this mission statement with many vagabonds and gypsies worldwide. When you gotta go, you gotta go. And when a man has a short window of time to gather his things on his back and disappear, priorities morph quickly. So without further ado, here are some photos of the project so far.

A big space to fill in the back of the Windstar. Oh, the possibilities!

A big empty space to fill in the back of the Windstar. Oh, the possibilities!

Despite the fact that I crawled in there and laid down before buying it, I imagined a single mattress would leave way more room for activities! For example, I anticipated a space big enough to meditate on a cushion between the bed and the door.

Mattress laid down in the back of the Windstar, for size reference.

I found a sweet foam single bed at Jysk. It’s all foam and incredibly light.

Hmm… much tighter fit than anticipated.

15" of Space between the single mattress and the sliding door.

15″ of Space between the single mattress and the sliding door.

Silly me.. Not nearly enough to sit down! I think my mind was warped from looking at full sized van conversion pictures. It was too good to be true.

FYI for vandwellers: The rear interior dimensions of a Ford Windstar are approximately 91”(l) x 56”(w) x 60”(h). The width at the rear wheel wells is 49”.

Time to build the bed frame.

I bought a 4’x 8’ of ¾” plywood from Rona along with a 2×10 that I had cut into thirds. This thing is going to be bombproof.

Cutting the 4' x 8' plywood to fit the single mattress.

Cutting the 4′ x 8′ plywood to fit the single mattress.

I trimmed the plywood to the size of the mattress (75”x 38¾“) with a handsaw.

finish

Bed frame support: 2×10 with a 45 degree 2×4.

Then I screwed two 4’ 2x10s onto either end of the bed, width-wise. I did this so that I can easily slide gear under the bed from side door access. But without any length-wise support, the forward and backward movement from acceleration and braking will slowly start wobbling the 2x10s. So I cut four 2x4s at 45o and screwed them in to provide support in that direction. This way I preserve the precious 9” of space under the bed. A good solution, I do say.

The completed bedframe.

The completed bedframe.

A quick sanding of the corners and top surface with a belt sander, and viola! This thing is a beast – I thought I would have to use the 3rd 2×10 in the middle, but the ¾ ply is so strong it barely bends even when I’m bouncing on one foot in the middle. (Yes, that is how I tested it.)

It’s a damn good thing I bought an ultra light mattress, as this frame is incredibly heavy.

And onto the window coverings!

This was a combination of fun and frustrating, as all projects worth anything tend to be. I pressed newspaper into the windows are traced onto it with a sharpie to produce a paper outline.

  • Error #1: Trying this from the inside of the van. In retrospect, the inside of the windows are actually the exact same size as the outside. Derp. So mush energy was used in trying to keep the newpaper from fluttering down and expanding outward from the glass. I’m getting all flustered just thinking about this right now. Live and learn, they say. Live and learn. Om.
  • Error #2: Doing the recycling the day before. Because all we had left was a half-sized advertising section of newspaper. So I had to painstakingly tape delicate newspaper together – sometimes three or four in a row – to get to the width of the glass.
Window traced and cut onto newspaper

Window traced and cut onto newspaper

Window successfully traced onto newspaper. Cut excess paper off with scissors.

fsdfd

Cardboard cut out to fit window (hopefully)

Window successfully traced onto cardboard. Cut excess cardboard off with exactoknife.

Stapling the cardboard to the reflectix. Not an easy job - requires a musclebound staple-person.

Stapling the cardboard to the reflectix. Not an easy job – requires a musclebound staple-person.

I purchased a big chunk of reflective multi-purpose insulating wrap from Rona. Super cheap – I paid $20 for 10’x4’. It is similar to Reflectix, but a different brand. I laid the cardboard down on the stuff and used the exactoknife to trace the window.

  • Error #1: Do not let this nice stapled cardboard fool you. If you do not have extra long staples, you will need to push VERY VERY HARD to get the staple all way through the material and locked into place. This picture reflects my initial lack of knowledge. Imagine my surprise when the reflectix gently whiffed off the non-locked staples when I picked this up. The actual finish product sports big dimples at every staple.
  • Error #2: I stapled the wrong way. Staple so that the flat end of the staple is on the reflectix, not the cardboard (opposite to this picture). When I stapled as pictured, the sharp turned-in ends of the staple ripped through the soft reflectix and it escaped the metal claws.
Inside the van with the back windows covered.

Inside the van with the back windows covered.

Surprisingly, it worked really well! For the most part, the covers just pop into the windowsills. They are not 100% blackout, but remember: “cheap, and in a hurry.” This technique worked well enough that I’m going to do the same thing for the front side windows. For the windshield I’m just going to buy a folding sunscreen to save space.

Reflective window coverings – stealth when not in direct sunlight.

Very obvious when in direct sunlight.

Very obvious when in direct sunlight.

A quick fix – rebolting the ski box.

I threw the old ski box from my previous SUV onto the van. When opened, the trunk hits the box and pushes it upwards quite hard.

The trunk pushing up on the ski box.

The trunk pushing up on the ski box.

I don’t want to sacrifice my trunk opening ability, nor do I want to kill the rack system on the van.

Trunk, completely open, not quite touching the ski box.

Trunk, completely open, not quite touching the ski box.

So I drilled some new holes on the floor of the ski box and now it sits forward enough to allow the trunk to open fully. If there was a warranty on the box, it is definitely voided now. Breakin’ warranties – Thug life.

There’s still a lot of work left,

but with a bed to sleep on and protection from heat and prying eyes, I feel more prepared for this adventure. Speaking of which, summer plans are coming together quite nicely right now. Destinations have been confirmed and I can now reveal them without fear of shamefully recalling my statements. Stayed tuned for details.

And hopefully this van will be named soon!

Vanabode Selected: The Ford Windstar! Her conversion into a reliable bedroom / lounge / mobile meditation studio begins today.

It appears practically has won out over romance in my latest vehicle purchasing decision. This is probably a very good thing – I really can’t afford to be investing in an antique and whimsical vehicle right now, it’s too risky. In this post, I outline the variety of vans I had been previously considering.

The outcome of this logical decision was the 1998 Ford Windstar.

1998 Ford Windstar

My 1998 Ford Windstar. Sorry to recycle the same picture from earlier – but come on, it’s just a minivan, if you wanna know what it looks like just look at any road for a few minutes and you’ll see one.

I am now a soccer dad.

I decided she’s a girl on the drive home last weekend. And a chubby girl, at that. She used to have air suspension in the rear end until it failed about 5 years ago, at which point the previous owners installed standard shocks and springs. For some reason, they never bothered to disconnect the air compressor. This unhappy compressor is still trying in vain to inflate the suspension system that no longer exists, resulting in a hilarious burping/moaning sound that comes from the back left wheel well every couple minutes or so. It’s the vehicular equivalent of a phantom limb. Poor little thing. More “character” emerging every drive with this baby.

Summer plans are coming up REALLY FAST. It is looking as if I will be leaving Alberta right around May 1st. This gives me exactly two weeks to convert the stock Windstar interior into a swanky bachelor pad on wheels, while also ensuring this beast is mechanically adequate for the next 8 months. There’s nothing like a time crunch to galvanize work effort.

Here’s what needs to get done mechanically on this van (i.e.; the expensive stuff I’d rather not do):

  • Wheel alignment
  • Remove air compressor (Maybe. The gurgling is kind of cute.)
  • New rear shocks
  • Windshield wipers
  • The windshield is cracked. Can I make it last the summer? I hope so, glass is expensive.
  • Inspection (for insurance purposes)

As we speak, she’s getting an inspection and a wheel alignment. My mechanic, Mark, is going to be looking at her while keeping in mind that she’s about to be going on a big adventure. Here’s hoping everything looks beautiful and that he doesn’t miss anything!

Here’s what needs to be done interior-wise (i.e.; the fun and cheap stuff!):

  • Bed! Priority #1.
  • Removable window coverings.
  • Some sort of separator between front and back section.
  • Shelving.
  • Storage solutions.
  • Window mesh (anti-mosquito)
  • Figuring out what the heck to bring on this journey!

This list might seem short, but I’m not going to underestimate the challenge. I have a feeling that I’m going to be spending a decent amount of time and energy on the window coverings. Making the bed frame and finding the comfiest possible mattress set-up will be pretty fun. Lots of stuff to do!

Stay tuned for details. The next couple weeks will be rich with updates as to how things are going. And, of course, she needs a name! What should I keep in mind over the next couple weeks as I prepare this unnamed girl for our big adventure?

*Well, mechanic Mark just phoned – looks as if the suspension has more issues than first anticipated. The rear shocks are actually fine, however, there is a front tie rod and ball joint that are failing and will need replacement. Due to the crazy alignment I’ll have to replace the front tires as well. I expected as much. Colour me optimistic, but for $1100 I still think I’m getting a good value on this van even after factoring in repairs. 

Spiritual Urgency: Have you felt the burn?

I’ve been reading “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English”, a great book by Bhante Gunaratana. (He has also written “Mindfulness in Plain English”, a classic and essential book for those looking to initiate or energize an existing meditation regime, and the foundational book for the Four Foundations.)

This short book takes the concepts of mindfulness meditation (also known as insight or Vipassana meditation within Buddhist circles) and expands them – via the Buddha’s four foundations – into tools and techniques to develop mindfulness “off the cushion”. It’s worth a read. Anyhow, the author defines a unique feeling he calls “spiritual urgency”:

As we meditate, certain special feelings may arise. One of these is called “spiritual urgency”. We see clearly that pain arises and pain disappears; pleasure arises and pleasure disappears. As we watch this repeating pattern, an insight arises that as long as we take birth in any form, we will continue to suffer. This insight inspires us to accelerate our spiritual practice and find a way to end this vicious cycle of birth and death right now, once and for all.

Ever since I began my journey into spiritual practice, I have been followed by a sensation of immediacy – anything from a gentle inner challenge to an earth shattering, un-ignorable, apocalyptic urgency .When I was previously involved within spiritual community, dedicating much time to meditation and mindfulness, I felt a comfortable level of spiritual urgency. This might manifest as a desire to maintain a sharper mind through my sadhana, or an urge to wake up earlier to meditate longer. I felt a gentle inner challenge to move towards mindfulness.

BUT – all this changed when I came back from my initial stay at the ashram and re-enrolled in university. I was in a different world, with old friends to catch up with, new people to meet, love interests to pursue, clubs and sports, and a plethora of other attractive options. Within half a year, my practice was faltering and inconsistent. [Note: This is not an excuse. Meditation needs no special consideration – it can be done in anyone’s life, no matter how busy/exciting. I dropped the ball.]

This is when I began to learn a profound insight: Once our spiritual urgency has been deeply felt and sincerely followed, we must not turn back.

It’s too late. You are down the rabbit hole. You have realized that the only Truth, and the only permanence, lies within union to the universe. To try and make any attempts towards satisfaction in any other realm – no matter how initially appealing and productive – will never quell the fire of spiritual urgency. They may, perhaps, cover the flames and even reduce the fire to smoldering embers, but eventually whatever distraction placed over top of the True Desire will be converted into fuel for a raging inferno churning upwards into the Infinite.

The thing is, this spiritual urgency is not something suddenly awakened through deep meditation. It is present – and has been present – in every human on this planet. We are all trying to fill this void, whether we know it or not. We’re all on the same path, whether we know it or not. As the old Japanese saying goes, “There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view of the moon from the top is the same.” The main point separating our universal desire for liberation from “spiritual urgency” is that of awareness. If we happen to be at a point in our journeys where we can recognize spiritual urgency for what it is, then take action now, because rest assured we are destined to keep feeling the inner inferno burn until we take action and deeply integrate spiritual practice into our lives. You now know this path you are on is going to be summiting that mountain over there. May as well get prepared for the hike.

Vanhunting: Exploring the spectrum of used vans.

Today was my first day of “official” vehicle shopping (i.e.; getting off of Kijiji and onto the street). So far, I’ve checked out three vans of interest.

Van #1: The 1981 Chevy Vandura.

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This was sort of the quintessential van of yore. I am quite sure that I would not have test-driven this thing if there was no romantic pop culture surrounding the Great American Van, but I just had to see for myself what the fuss was about! Well, I’ll tell you. The flower-power acid-eating Woodstock generation is nicely encapsulated by the big vans of the era. Transient vagabond-style living is easily facilitated by the huge space within these beasts. Two couches face each other in the back (for tarot readings, hemp jewelry creation and foot massages, I would assume); in a flash, they transform into a bed. For, you know, sleeping, and stuff. There’s no need to wait until the concert is over to “come over for coffee”.

And yes, there was shag carpet. And a quilted ceiling. There was also a non-functional sink and fridge. Groovy, dude! I was totally captivated by this van, this completely impractical 32-year old behemoth with gas mileage that doubtlessly matched up to its weight and antiquity. $1500 + ONLY 77,000km!

Conclusion: Awesome and whimsical. Unless I want to become a hobbyist mechanic during my days off, though, it is most likely a terrible idea. But that low mileage is so tempting. Hmmm.

Van #2: The 1998 Ford Windstar

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Oh, If I could go back two years and tell myself that I’d be seriously considering buying a Windstar, I would be confronted with some seriously interesting facial expressions. Sadly, this van was legitimately awesome. The first thing I did was take out the back bench and middle seats – which was surprisingly easy – so I could lie down and check the rear interior dimensions. Surprise! There is probably about 6’7” of space behind the front seats. I’m six feet tall, so this is great news. Plus, there is about 7” of space between the top of my head and the roof when I am sitting up, so if I was to build a bed frame I could incorporate a slim storage area beneath the bed.

This particular Windstar was a gem. Dude is selling it for $1250, and it has 211,000km. 3.8L V6 that he reports gets 25mpg. However, fueleconomy.gov reports a 16/22 (city/hwy). It ran very smooth and it was apparent that it has been very well taken care of. Interior was cleeeeeean, clean engine bay and shiny paint. That superficial stuff is not really of importance besides simply hinting that it has been well looked after. I’m not afraid of rust. I can’t afford to be. I test drove her on the highway and in the city, and it seemed solid. It will need a new windshield and rear shocks.

Conclusion: Oh my god, I am seriously considering buying the type of vehicle I used to make fun of my grampa for driving.

Van #3: The 1998 Chevrolet Astro

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[pictured: Not the actual van] I done gone and picked the wrong van to check out. I should have known it would be interesting the moment the door opened. Out popped a young woman with bright pink sweats and a tank top, with her Chihuahua under one arm.  She led me to the Astro van, parked out back. Then her partner arrived, clad in a stained wife-beater and low riding his sweatpants to his testicles, keys in hand. He then proceeded to let me know, via an intense diatribe of quasi-sentences, f-bombs and blatantly racist language, that this van had a brand new transmission, power steering pump, starter and all-season tires. Not bad – those are valuable upgrades, especially on a van with 300,000km.

Then he unlocked the doors. Oh my. The entire front fascia had been ripped out of the dashboard, leaving exposed wiring, peeled back carpeting and metal frame visible through the floor. All of the coverings were sitting in a giant plastic bucket in the back of the van. I was assured that “it’s all in there”, and that it would be no hassle to put back together. Great. The rest of the interior was mud-stained and smelly. I attempted to close the trunk, but it caught on the bumper and almost ripped it off. $1800.

‘Twas an anthropological journey into a very unique subculture. Truly memorable. Bad vibes, though, and there was no convincing my subconscious otherwise, despite the recent upgrades to the van.

Conclusion: No need for a test drive, thanks. No, no – I’ll call you.

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I realized how lucky I was as I returned home this afternoon. Only 3 vehicles in, and I had already experienced fairly extreme ends of the “used car spectrum”: The Windstar on one side, transitioning into the Astro at the other. I believe the Vandura is on its own spectrum of cool, although benefiting from being cared for.

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(Apologies for the image quality. Dad’s laptop –> only MS Paint)

Genesis: The search for an automotive abode begins.

I have decided to buy a van. And live in it.

(Part-time. (For now.))

If all goes as planned, I will be spending a big chunk of this summer living at a yoga and meditation center on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. The provided accommodations are not exactly luxurious from a “western” standard – essentially, BYOtent. However, after spending the last six weeks of summer 2012 in a tent, and being a pretty dedicated “festival hippie”, I don’t feel like this is much of a hardship. From my perspective, this yoga/camping scenario seems pretty high-class: Leveled tent platforms, waterproof tarps already set up, and hot showers with composting toilets nearby. On the “roughing it” spectrum, this is the equivalent of an urban penthouse condo.

Not too shabby. Yet trying to make this work without a vehicle will be a bit trying. Without a vehicle, I am limited to what I can fit into a random ridesharer’s hospitality and car space, or the train. The following is a list of extraneous items I would like to bring with me that would need to stay behind without my own vehicle:

  • Bicycle
  • Didgeridoo
  • Djembe
  • Guitar
  • Bouldering crash pad

Basically, an entire method of transport, all my music-creation tools, and my main physical outlet all get put on hold if I do not acquire a mobile fortress. There is also the concern of not being able to “lock” a tent, which would put all of my possessions in a vulnerable position. This is a minor concern while living within a spiritual community, but on weekend excursions (and really anywhere outside the safety of an ashramic environment) there is a different sort of reality that must be acknowledged. Anyways, tons of reasons to consider getting a vehicle, no need to expand on everything right now.

Being the cheap-ass that I am (I might prefer “resourceful”, or even “deeply conscious of ecological imprint and the destructive tendencies of capitalistic societal values” depending on the situation), if I need a vehicle, then I better be getting my money’s worth by living in the thing! Thus, a van.

So the quest begins. At this point, I am asking a lot of questions as to what I need out of a vehicle. Full size? Cargo? Minivan? Station wagon? Older and cheaper? Newer but pricier? (Just kidding. It will be old and cheap.) Really old – like, carbureted? Or is this just asking for trouble? Plus, do I want a big V8 that will whisk me up mountain passes whilst chugging gas like a frat boy with a beer bong, or a smaller V6/4-cyl that takes it a bit easier at the pump?

You are never alone or helpless. The force that guides the stars guides you too.

-Shrii Shrii Anandamurti. 

Coming to terms with our essential helplessness and lack of control in this life is to begin a long-term spiritual journey of self discovery. In the end, understanding our helplessness at a core level is to realize that we have never been helpless, after all. 

This is post #1 in what (I hope) will be an insightful blog into my upcoming adventures. I can’t think of a more suitable way to start everything off than this quote – the “christening of my e-journey”, so to speak.