Van Ambitions

I love my Mariner, but it's just a little small.

Since the end of last season, I've been on the prowl for an additional mushing/all-around adventure vehicle. The goal is to find (or build) a van with some basic camp necessities: stove, sink, storage, and a bed. Plus it will need room for containing the dogs and all our mushing gear. While I love camping, the ease of rolling in and out of a spot without all the setup and breakdown is a big draw for me, especially when I'm looking for different trails to run. One end goal is to drive out to mushing spots late at night, wake up to run, then work from a mobile hotspot all without leaving the woods.

My first thought was a Volkswagen Westfalia. They fit all the requirements and the pop-top would allow me to sleep above the dogs. I spent several months stalking Craigslist, checking forums, ogling Instagram feeds, and collecting photos of about a dozen Westies I saw in California. I started learning to drive stick so that I could broaden my range of possible vehicles. I also read a lot of horror stories about these vans spontaneously catching fire and rolling into buildings.

A Volkswagen Westfalia

A Volkswagen Westfalia

Despite loving how these dumpy little vans look, I hit a turning point. There's a reason very few exist in the Northeast. The model I like is 30-years-old. Snow, salt, and humidity would certainly eat any Westy I brought back to Jersey. Westfalias aren't cheap, either. I couldn't justify spending almost $20K on a van that I could possibly ruin. Oh, and the pop-top is not much better than an ordinary tent and creates condensation throughout the vehicle in cooler temperatures. Gross.

So, the Westies are out.

I decided to shift my focus to a conversion van, which are plentiful and cheap. I'll need to build out the interior to fit my needs, but it's a task I think I'm up to. My first run through of The Vanual made me shy away from a project like this, but it seems to be the best option.

Step one, find a van. I'm hoping to land something like this:

1989 Ford E-150

1989 Ford E-150

In fact, there's a possibility I'll get the van in this picture, if things work out. If not, there are plenty others. The Ford Econoline series seems to be my best bet, and I'm not against buying a beat up old work van. The high top conversion "camper" type would require less work, though. Chevy and GMC make almost identical models, so like I said - there are plenty of these things out there.

Step two, gut it and build. I plan to take everything out of the back and put down more dog-friendly flooring. Next, dog crates built under a bed frame. 

After that, I'll have to construct some kind of cabinet to (hopefully) hold a small sink, camp stove, and some sort of cold storage (either a cooler or small fridge). The sink will likely be the trickiest part, as I have no idea what I'm doing, but there are plenty of DIY instructions out there.

Beyond that, there's a lot of other neat campervan upgrades to make, like solar panels and roll out awnings. There should be plenty of little nooks and crannies that I'll optimize for additional storage, too. I've already purchased a roof cargo box for mushing gear, since it tends to be muddy and hairy and not something I want inside any vehicle.

Whoops, I bought a coffin.

Whoops, I bought a coffin.

I have a long way to go before this will come together, but I'm mapping out a lot of steps and I think I'm on a good path to have this actualized before the end of this season.

Let the advanture begin.

Jessica Kizmann

Dog musher, New Jersey.