Tag Archives: camping

The “gist” of The Salt Spring Center of Yoga

There is gem being nurtured within the confines of the Salt Spring Center of Yoga.

A beautiful and multifaceted crystal composed of land, spirit and human beings — humans, being. It is a blessing to return to a thriving and dynamic spiritual community. A week has not yet passed, but I am already beginning to feel at home here.

A nice Iris growing beside a greenhouse

Although I have been feeling inspired and creative in recent days, after finishing a tiring day of weeding the gardens I am feeling tired and logical. Today’s entry is being created as a resource to anyone interested in participating in this community. I will be going through the practical aspects of life at Salt Spring Center of Yoga. Knowing the general layout will be helpful for later blogs, I think.

The Salt Spring Center of Yoga, front entrance.

The Salt Spring Center of Yoga, front entrance.

The days are full at SSCY. I have gotten into a flow of early morning meditation followed by some outdoor exercise and asanas before eating. There are separate spaces dedicated to individual asana and meditation practice from 5-7AM each day.  There usually a yoga or pranayama class to join at 7AM, which takes us until breakfast. The food here seems to be gluten-free & vegan by default; foods outside of this range are labeled accordingly. Food quality is amazing, amazing, amazing. The bulk of the day is more or less Karma Yoga, with more interesting programs offered in the evenings. There is never a shortage of things to do!

The "Farm Yogis" doing their thing on a small section of the 69 acres of land.

The “Farm Yogis” doing their thing on a small section of the 69 acres of land.

Practicing selfless service is a key purpose of my residence here, and we are all given a great opportunity to try it out. I’ve been assigned to the Landscaping & Maintenance team – yay! Being outdoors and doing repetitive tasks is the perfect opportunity to apply mindfulness, mantra and grace to the task at hand. Keeping mindful during the work day also means being conscious of the body’s needs. I am encouraged to take a break whenever I need one, whether it be for a snack or just to rest for a few minutes. Timeliness is important to the extent that it shows respect for my fellow workers and the task at hand, not simply for the bottom line of worker productivity. It’s all a gentle cycle of ebb and flow, a fluid and harmonious balance of graceful seva (work).

The landscaping and maintenance HQ.

The landscaping and maintenance HQ. (My “office”.)

Most Karma Yogis here work about 6 hours per day, five days per week. Although that doesn’t sound like a huge time commitment, fun stuff abounds and the days fill fast! Obviously, there are lots of yoga asana classes, but a visitor to SSCY will also be able to try qi-gong (similar to tai chi), learn yogic philosophy, learn and practice breathing and meditation techniques, and experience satsanga (spiritual community gatherings) with devotional songs, chanting and meditation. We’ve also found some time for informal music jams and acro-yoga fun.

"the mound" -- a great place to play in the sun.

“the mound” — a great place to play in the sun.

The facilities are excellent. There is a main house with a stunning and spacious satsanga room, complete with a stained glass yantra and glistening hardwood floor. (I haven’t felt so bold as to photograph in there yet.) A dining hall attaches to a well equipped kitchen that is capable of providing food for the hundreds of guests that the facilities can hold at max capacity. There is a separate dish cleaning room.

The dining hall at the Center.

The dining hall at the Center. The kitchen extends behind the door at the back.

Further down the path is another big building that houses a space for morning meditation. During the day this building, the Garden House, is a functioning wellness center that provides Ayurvedic treatments to interested visitors. Across a soft raised grassy mound lies a small wooden yurt for classes or individual practice. The energy in there is sattvic and it is a great place to finish the evening with personal sadhana. 

The Garden House

The Garden House

Garden House - interior. The Wellness center is in a separate room to the left.

Garden House – interior. The Wellness center is in a separate room to the left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The yurt, tucked away across the mound from the main house.

The yurt, tucked away across the mound from the main house.

The inside of the yurt.

The inside of the yurt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right next door is yet another cool space – a giant outdoor fountain (affectionately called the “mountain fountain”) that flows through a beautiful meditation garden. There are simple and clean temples to Ganesha, Hanuman and the Virgin Mary around this area, referred to simply as the “meditation garden”.

The Mountain Fountain, looking nice.

The Mountain Fountain, looking nice.

Two small temples and a glimpse of the tiered gardens surrounding the fountain.

Two small temples and a glimpse of the tiered gardens surrounding the fountain.

Oh, yeah, there’s a huge pond over yonder as well, across the field and gravel road. Tons of frogs, dragonflies and interesting plants hang out there. This pond is the picturesque object of focus of the “Pond Dome”, a huge plastic covered quonset-type building where massive groups of people can do yoga or listen to lectures during summer retreats. [No pics.]

Further down into the grounds is a school. A legitimate, fully functioning elementary school with a playground and everything. This was surprising to me. Apparently it’s the Salt Spring equivalent of a Waldorf, and being located on the grounds of a yoga center has got to be good for the kids. Our staff and theirs do not have a lot of overlap, although some karma yogis in the past have gone over to do reading and such.

The Salt Spring Center School.

The Salt Spring Center School. I think that’s just the coolest idea ever.

And finally, continuing all the way down this path into the forest are the camping sites. With raised, level tent beds and pre-strung rain tarps overhead, it feels like utter luxury. Super clean outhouses and ultra hot outdoor showers complete this perfect forest retreat.

A lovely and clean tent set up.

A lovely and clean tent set up.

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A cute tent with prayer flags

My weekend begins tomorrow, Sunday and Monday, so I’m ready to relax after five big days of learning the land and working hard in the fields mowing lawns. I’ve been getting a lot of great thoughts and realizations bubbling up, so you can expect something more exciting and less business-oriented for next week’s update!

Flanking the stairs to enjoy the weather and community during lunch.

Flanking the stairs to enjoy the weather and community during lunch.

 

 

Healing powers of the forest – cedars, hummingbirds, hotsprings and hippies

I thought I’d do a quick update while I encroach upon this lovely cafe’s hospitality. Question and Answer style.

Q: How is Luna Doing?

A: She is still alive, even after some very hairy abandoned forestry roads leading to certain springs. We were pushing her the maximum limit of her sagging suspension and iffy transmission. I have discovered there is a certain amount of discomfort and nervousness that accompanies driving this van. A perpetual “what if..?”

But she has made it everywhere so far! We just got back from a gnarly hotspring visit involving a 15km long, intensely potholed ex-logging road that took about 45m to drive. I was holding my breath as we traipsed over some very perilous terrain and climbed into some serious altitude (snow!). But Luna is a champ!

Luna

Luna happily resting after an exhausting climb.

Luna

The cooking set-up for breakfast today. Kale salad with millet, sauerkraut and flax 🙂 

The shelving set-up in the back has been working really well. It’s a great space for cooking meals and storing food. I created this van as a single-person RV, so having both of us in here is a bit chaotic. In a few days we’ll be at a Buddhist retreat center on the west coast and they are providing a bed, so no worries.

Luna

The weather has been epic. 30C+ on this day meant we needed to rig up a shanty-style shade structure.

The window covers have been partially successful. Warning to all people using Reflectix covers – they expand slightly in the heat. Because of this, a few of the covers don’t slot nicely into the windows anymore and we’ve had to use duct tape to hold them up. I think I want to totally remove the cardboard and use velcro to hold the reflective stuff in place by itself (this will be a future project). However, the heat blockage is excellent – after all day in the scorching sun, the soft-shell coolers in the van are still holding veggies nice and cool.

On that note: Kale is a surprisingly robust travel food! After the broccoli was almost dead and the bok choy looking wilted, the kale was krisp and krunchy. Take note, fellow travellers. Take note.

Luna_ferry

Luna on her first ferry ride.

She even had the chance to ride a boat – one of multiple ferries she’ll be riding during the summer adventures. No seasickness.

Q: How are the hotsprings?

A: Amazing! We’ve set up a home base at a sacred spring in interior BC. This place is awe-inspiring. I won’t mention spring names here, but you can see for yourself in the following pictures.

springs

Top view of the three pools in a row

sprngs

The big pool and a lovely view of the surrounding cedar forest.

The majestic cedars make this place feel like a cathedral. It’s one of those places you find yourself whispering without knowing why. The water trickles out from a tree root and fills the top pool with hot, hot bliss. There is lots of lithium, magnesium, calcium and barely any sulphur in these springs.

springs

The top pool, with hot water falling down into subsequent pools.

The people here are devoted to the springs. We have a new friend in the form of an old, retired hippie who has been frequenting these springs since 1969. (That’s forty-four years!) When we asked him if they’ve changed at all, he just grinned: “Nope.” I don’t know about you, but that’s MY idea of a quality retreat. Unchanged and preserved in all its sanctity. I met a beautiful woman who spent an hour cleaning up discarded beer cans and candles from careless spring-goers, carefully creating a cedar bough and bark altar before quietly walking away. Clothing is not necessary in these springs, leading to more authentic and pure interaction with fellow spring enthusiasts. It is a tranquil and healing place.

Yesterday, we drove a short distance (and a crazy road) to a different set of springs with a distinctly different flavour.

springs

The carefully made tub, filled directly from the nearby spring.

These springs are right on a river. We were about a day late to the party – the melting snow raised the river to the point that it flooded the riverside hot pools, forcing us to move inland a bit and enjoy the tub that had been built. Not a terrible alternative at all! Luxurious yet still firmly rustic — and, of course, there was nothing in that tub but untreated spring water. We met a man who works four months per year and drives across North America for the other eight, visiting springs, camping on beaches and enjoying the world. These sort of people are incredibly inspirational. The extraordinary community of gentle and creative souls is another reason why hot springs are important in my life. It was also an honour to be visited by a hummingbird, whizzing and zipping around the springs in search of something.

Those springs were nice, but our loyalty lies with the first springs nestled in their rich cedar forest. The energy there is more subtle and the patrons tend to bring more mindfulness into their conduct.

Q: How is life going?

A: Fun! Intense! Healing! Serious! Playful!

The springs tend to act like a spiritual accelerator. I find that the detoxification process brings up emotional as well as physical toxins, leading to a lot of emotional ups and downs. We are meditating twice daily — trying to find the most heavenly locations (and succeeding) — which of course further exaggerates the process. It’s a rollercoaster!

mountain

A nearby mountain framed by cedar boughs. Mmm.

But it is impossible to resist the calming and grounding influence of these cedars. And the mountains. And the lakes. And the deer, elk and bears. The eagles, owls, crows and swallows. It’s too much to stand up too — one must return to the root, the source of human existence!

To summarize – we are doing very well. Growth is happening. Life is happening. Sleep has been warm, we are eating well and — OH YEAH, I forgot to mention, the massive amount of herbs and supplements has been amazing! We are drinking crazy teas and loving life.

OK – time to get going. Peace out everyone!

PS: Here is a picture of a stegosaurus with sunglasses eating a massive dill pickle. While reading the paper.

a stegosaurus with sunglasses eating a massive dill pickle.

a stegosaurus with sunglasses eating a massive dill pickle.

Hotsprings Ho! So begins a summer of vandwelling, camping, volunteering and meditation.

Today’s the big day.

I’ll be back home in four months (before leaving for another four months). Somehow, within two weeks, I decided to get a vehicle, acquired a vehicle, converted it to a mobile bedroom, finished up the semester and got my proverbial together for a quest. Yay!

Luna is in pretty good shape, and seems pretty happy to have a name now. She is fully packed and ready to go!

Luna all packed up. Ski box was a saving grace!

Luna all packed up. Ski box was a saving grace!

Naturally, order and cleanliness only degrade from this point.

Naturally, order and cleanliness only degrade from this point.

This trip would be a lot different without the ski box. I have all my camping stuff up there and some extra blankets (in case a spontaneous picnic or craft session erupts). I even had room for my trust walking stick.

You might notice the corner of a djembe in one of these pictures. That will be a bit clunky as it doesn’t really slot into place anywhere, but I figure it’s a small price to pay for having percussive awesomeness available on demand. The didgeridoo slides right behind the seats. I am going to try to learn to play them both at the same time during the summer at some point. I just need to dream up some sort of stand for hands-free didg’ playing.

The kitchen and library combo.

The kitchen and library combo.

I am also totally aware that practicality, use and experience will change the layout of everything over the course of the summer. Perhaps the books will be impractical here and might need to go under the bed. It sure looks cute right now though. I can say I have a library on board! — In addition to the apothecary and esoteric item exhibit, of course. Quite an interesting rig, this one.

Hopefully the last repair Luna needs for the summer:

Before...

Before…

...after!

…After!

Remember the mission statement here, folks: “Cheap, and in a hurry“. Pretty much anything done with duct tape suits my purposes. Just you wait – I’ll bet it’s still in one piece in September.

So, I’m off! Driving the Trans-Canada into BC for a week of healing hot springs adventures.

I will not be blogging for this week. (I would, of course, not recommend anyone touches an electronic device while taking in the healing waters.) No big deal – I’m sure my massive hoards of followers can survive the electronic silence as they eagerly anticipate hearing from me. Never fear, non-existent fan base! I’ll be updating with some pictures before leaving for phase two: Volunteering at a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center for three weeks of Karma Yoga.

Lots of love from the Silly Sadhaka 🙂

Be in Peace!

Luna the healing energy vortex : 20+ herbs, essential oils, vitamins, crystals, sage…

The van is named: May I re-introduce you to Luna.

I have to give credit where it is due: My mom pretty much named it. I did my best at asking my friends for input and advice, thinking it would be nice to solicit clever university-student wisdom and thoughtfulness. Here are some highlights from that unfortunate facebook census:

  • Pork Chopper
  • Rollin Basket
  • Wheelin Rudy
  • Southern Alberta Advantage
  • The Hop on Can’t Stop
  • Goldie Hawn
  • Elm Golden Moon
  • Excaliber
  • Oh Henry

I love my friends. But damn, those are weird names. Will those be the upcoming names of our generation’s “hippie children”? Gone are the days of Soulflower, Autumn and Daisy. No. My kid is Pork Chopper.

Anyways, she’s Luna now. Luna is a Roman goddess, the divine embodiment of the moon, carrying all the qualities traditionally associated with moon energy. She also provides safety in travel (excellent) and, more specifically, is a protector of charioteers. (source.) Here’s hoping that this van grows into her name.

Luna is chock-full of healing powers!

The big journey begins soon – only one more day! My partner and I will be traveling to our favourite hot springs in the interior BC for a week of rest and healing. Anyone who’s soaked in natural springs can attest to their deep restorative power. Combine this with a tranquil cedar forest, outdoor tenting and simple, fresh food, and you have a recipe for a good time. We’re also bringing a natural pharmacy of sorts along for the ride.

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About 20 different herbs and spices should be enough for a wide variety of tonics and infusions. A lot of common seasoning herbs (read: under-estimated) are actually quite potent for healing work. We’re bringing the ubiquitous rosemary, thyme and marjoram along for their powerful antibacterial/antiseptic/antiviral properties. They should help kick out any foreign bacteria and keep the system nice and clean. Elder flower, red clove, nettle and burdock are all bitters renowned for their detoxifying properties and should really activate the liver to help cleanse to blood and expel toxins. We also have a ton of mint, licorice and chicory to aid digestion and soothe the intestinal tract. Echinacea is a intense detoxifier and immune-booster that I find extremely effective. Plus, there’s this random tin of some herb that is really tasty, but I have no idea what it is. Hopefully not poisonous.

And that’s just the herbs! Luna will also have an arsenal of essential oils, including juniper berry, tea tree and cedar amongst others — excellent to mix into carrier oils and to apply topically for desired effects. Or just to smell happily. Our little mobile apothecary is also going to have a goodly amount of dietary supplements (3-6-9 oil, spuralina, multi-V, etc). I have no idea why this is so exciting. I think it’s because normally when I’ve gone camping/travelling in the past I’ve had to make sacrifices as to how I am going to eat. But having the extra cargo space of a van (versus a backpack) opens up a whole new realm of luxury.

“But surely,” you say, inquiringly, “Surely you don’t have that much excess space in your vehicle. After all, I saw the photos of the interior space. How can you afford to cart around non-essentials?”

I suppose the answer lies in defining what is essential. For me, health is essential. Physical nutrition is very important, but I think that it is equally important to pay attention to the “subtle nutrients” we are “feeding” our emotional and spiritual bodies as well. For example, there is not a lot of legitimate research that validates the effects of essential oils that so many claim have helped them overcome illness X. Yet, the oils help people. And they have an effect. Perhaps not at a measurable level, but just because science has not yet advanced to the point that we can quantify data from more subtle planes of existence does not mean such treatments should be discounted. Yes, users should know that what they are doing has no scientific merit per se. And that’s OK. It should not leave this person open to ridicule from skeptics, nor should it give them the right to proclaim alternative therapy X as the be-all-end-all. Moderation in all things. If it works, it works. Mind your own business. (I’ve been reading a lot of skeptic blogs lately and they peeve me to no end.)

This is a segway to what many would call another space waster: Luna’s new shelving unit has a drawer of my favourite stuff.

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Bedside drawer contains fun healing stuff that I use for meditation, reiki, shamanic stuff and intuitive whatevers. Sage, Paulo Santo, a bunch of crystals, a bunch more crystals, a singing bowl… you know, that kind of stuff. For me, these are items that carry a certain energy. Opening up these boxes is like walking into a church. I feel a sacred energy descend upon me when I smell the dried sage and when I roll a quartz into the palm of my hand. These are allies that help me focus. They are tools of a different sort of trade — not to imply that I am a master tradesman by any means, though! I simply tend to keep things around me that make me feel centered and calm, and over the years certain objects have consistently done so. Thus the select few have been rewarded with a VIP placement in Luna’s special drawer.

And, last but not least… Roll your clothing!

A solid piece of advice given to me a year ago, and passed now onto you: When you’re on a big trip, don’t fold your clothes — roll them instead.

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This applies for any sort of bag that opens wide. Notice how the rolled clothing allows me to select from 8 different pants/shirts without having to touch anything. The folded clothes on the right have to by physically flipped through in order to get to a desired shirt. Over time, this adds up to unorganized, messy piles of semi-folded clothes, while the rolled clothing simply stays rolled until needed. This method also saves space — not by a huge margin, but it’s noticeable.

Hoping to get one more in before taking off for a (non-internet) break at the hot springs!

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. 

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)