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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
1,723 days a wanderin'

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She's Back and She's Badder Than Ever

Mar 3, 2015
by John

There are opportunities in all things, some may be less obvious. Our build schedule is a bit tight, taking the JaMvan to Ujoint to cure her last remaining ills had become the obvious priority. We stopped everything and arranged an after hours drop off with Chris on Friday the 13th, our arms were still sore from the Yellow Fever vaccine we received that very morning.

Nothing beats van blues like great company. It would have been very easy to slip into despair, proverbially flailing on the floor kicking and screaming like a baby toddler over our recent van troubles and lost progress, how could we on an eve such as this? We're about to quit our jobs to travel the Americas, a couple mechanical issues and some downtime is not a problem at all. Instead of feeding my woes I emailed Brenton and Shannon of Ruined Adventures to let them know we'd be in town and coordinated meeting Sarah and Hani of Adventures in Skyhorse who would be very close to Tallahassee that same weekend.

With new baby in tow, Brenton and Shannon met us for breakfast the morning after we dropped off the van. They are the first Pan-American veterans we've met and we know we'll rely on their wisdom during our adventure. As in all of our time together, we had to tear ourselves away to start our 8 hour drive back to Tallahassee, they also needed to get their little bean home.  It's hard making new friends before setting off on a long trip, this was the third time we've hung out with them but our lifelong friendship has only just begun. We can't imagine the family adventures they will have, we've been doing some serious arm twisting to get them to visit us sometime while we are on the road.

Da Coopers, little be ninja style

Da Coopers, little be ninja style

The next morning we jumped back in the car to head over to Apalachicola, one of our favorite places, to meet Sarah and Hani. It was a wonderful day spent chatting over breakfast, touring Skyhorse, taking their dogs (Olivia and Shea) to the beach and then going out for a drink. Their friends Matt and Lisa, owners of Bowery Station, an up-and-coming watering hole, lead the way so it was nice to meet them and tag along. Sarah's brain dumps have helped us tremendously. We're excited to see what's in store for them and can't wait for their book. It should hit the shelves right as we will be entering Mexico, fantastic.

Skyhorse crew kicking it, look out Maverick there's a new top gun

Skyhorse crew kicking it, look out Maverick there's a new top gun

All in, we drove 20+ hours out of 56. When we arrived home after Apalachicola we were spent. It was worth every mile. Getting to spend quality time with other overlanders was a great way to start our unscheduled break. Meeting those who have fueled our desire is unbelievably rewarding. A great community.

The next week was spent tackling some of the administrative chores we've been putting off.  Sarah had recommended we rip all of our DVDs to an external hard drive. I was hesitant due to the time it would take, inside I knew she was right, so I finally started the process (thanks guys). We also didn't have any books yet, not one. We want our trip to be fluid, mostly unplanned, but being totally unprepared is not an option. I found a coupon code for some Lonely Planet eBooks and ordered the Chruch's books for Alaska, Mexico and Baja, the bibles. I was also able to get a great deal on the Lonely Planet Central and South America shoestring hard copies.

Hymnals of the overlanding kind

Hymnals of the overlanding kind

Break's over, back to the build

Chris and crew busted ass to get the JaMvan back to us in a week. We can't thank them enough, she is purring like an overfed lioness. They went above and beyond, a great bunch of guys to whom we will be forever indebted. Anyone on the East coast in need of some van doctoring or wanting to convert their Econoline to 4x4 need look nowhere else. Their 4x4 suspension system is remarkable, a complete juxtaposition to when we first received the van. White knuckles no more, nothing else needs to be said.

Floridians meet winter storm, Mandi's first snowball...damn tourists

Floridians meet winter storm, Mandi's first snowball...damn tourists

We probably should have slept in a bit during our short week off. Then there's that thing about me and OCD, chomping at the bit I scribbled out the final details for our kitchenette. I felt so confident I ordered all of the bins to fit in their respective spots. It's funny how fast I went from 1" clearance for each to 1/4". My drawings may be crude but they work, for me at least, and are accurate down to 1/8". I forgot to account for the counter thickness so we will be able to sneak in two more small bins under the sink.

That IS a detailed drawing so suck it

That IS a detailed drawing so suck it

Bins shouldn't bring that much joy but the organizational structure they represent is wonderful. The haphazard appearance of their contents be damned, slid stacked and packed. We believe anyone would be hard pressed to meet an overlander that doesn't geek out over bins. The equivalent of closets in a sticks and bricks home, our treasure troves of useful and useless crap. A kinship is immediately formed over the utilization of similar shapes, sizes and extra ordinary uses. Let me see your bins, I digress.

Throughout this project we've been struggling to find a good source of lumber. This weekend started with a side trip to a neighboring town to pick up what we were told was a higher grade of 1/2" Birch plywood. Eh, it's marginally better. Good hardwood is just becoming harder to get... stop your snickering. We also purchased a new saw blade to help prevent the wood from splintering when we cut it. The combination of the two is barely acceptable.

We basically needed several 18" X 30" boards to build our kitchenette. It's more of a shelf system than a cabinet, most of our cooking will be outside so we want an easy way to move our supplies in and out. We cut the first board, held it in the van in several spots then went ahead and cut the rest of the necessary pieces. Being windy and rainy, we hunkered under the carport for assembly.

Essentially, the kitchenette is two separate shelves that bolt together. The larger of the two butting up against the fridge platform and the smaller sitting on top of it. We went ahead and cut some shelf stops to use at the back of each to prevent the bins from sliding too far back and hitting the walls. Feeling confident in our work, we finished off the day by assembling everything, never placing it in the van to make sure it fit. Our bins were available to ensure each slot was the correct size.

Time for practice, first a nice breakfast, a trip to storage started off the day. We've been house sharing with Mandi's sister's family of 6 so space is at a premium. The majority of our larger build items have been offsite in climate controlled storage. An expense we do not like but a necessary evil when you're mooching off of family. We finally made it to a point of placing most of the major components into the van to see if it all fits and, more appropriately, is functional.

Eureka!

Eureka!

An extremely happy moment. This is the first time we've placed almost everything into the van and it works! We loaded all of our bins into their respective spots (sorry we didn't get a good picture) to test it all out. It would be nice to have another inch in between the couch and the kitchenette, it's tight getting the two large bins in and out, that's the space we lost to the curve of the van walls and deciding to not alter the base of the jack-knife sofa. Once we start using the van we'll probably shift some stuff around to maximize usability, we're super ecstatic.

Moving on to some detail work we pulled the kitchenette out to cut the hole for our sink. After all of our recent experience it was really easy, we eye-balled perfect placement before using a ruler to center it on the space above where the Jerry cans will be located. We're becoming quite the carpenters, not at all, it feels nice to be getting a slight hang of things though.

When we were designing the electrical system we decided to install switches for all of the lights and outdoor outlets. Originally we thought it would be better to have them in the overhead panel above the barn doors, changing that to the side of the kitchenette was a wise move. Mandi did her thing drawing perfect squares in their respective spots and I hacked out the holes. We'll have seven switches in all, one being a dimmer controlling the overhead lights for romance...hubba hubba. When we were wiring in the overhead lights we found out that both were on the same circuit. All of the wiring is inside the pop top so we'll use the switches on the fixtures themselves to control which one is on. It would have been nice to control them from the master panel individually, not a big deal in the long run. A few key holes were drilled for wire runs and 12v outlets then we were done.

Mandi had previously purple washed and sealed the platforms which are beautiful. We decided to do the same on the base of the kitchenette, still undecided on what to do for the counter top. The rest of the day was spent cleaning up, ripping DVDs, and Mandi purple washing. Back on track, just a little behind.

A splash of gray, the one kid doing his own thing

A splash of gray, the one kid doing his own thing

This stage of the build is phenomenal. It's easy to forget all of the "issues" we've encountered getting to this point. We still have quite a bit to accomplish but it's hard to get downtrodden when the JaMvan is almost useable. Our unintentional break afforded us the chance to take a breather and learn from those who have undertaken something similar. It was also a lesson in why we believe in those that are made of the right stuff and that honor and integrity are still a core principle of many small businesses. People like Brenton, Shannon, Sarah, Hani, Chris, and the guys at Ujoint are what this life is all about. We may be starting on a new journey, it's just a small part of the larger one we have always been on.


Say what? (3)
Mar 3, 2015 at 03:05 PM
Impressive progress guys, congrat! Still closer to complete that awesome project... :-)
Eric
Mar 4, 2015 at 07:25 AM
Looking great guys!
Mar 4, 2015 at 07:41 AM
Thanks guys. We're chipping away at it. We have some minor placement adjustments before we bolt it all in, need to get the flooring down too. We hoping to make big progress over the next two weekends.
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