Retiree in Action: Part 8: Bench, Box & Van Work is Done!

How difficult can it be to build a box and call it a bench? Except, with this box I wanted a removable shelf, two lift tops and a way to secure items within the bench … and be strong enough for me to sit on it! Well, I did accomplish that!

Bench… done!

And another box … Ram Promaster vans have many places for water bottles, but lack storage space in the front area, thus I built a box … thank you mini Kreg pocket-hole jig … made that project easier!

Buy Kreg jig, not the mini, if you have a big project … lesson learned too late for me.

Small touches to add, but I am essentially done with this project! Kudos to the people who build out their van with refrigerator, stove, water system and other items to make their van a place to live in for months at a time! And kudos to those who do the conversion and have their final product looking professional! 

My work is done … not the prettiest, but will suffice for what I need … and I am proud to say, I did not make one hole in the van! Sixteen hundred dollars … due to the fact: I bought 2 ft. by 4 ft. pre-finished birch plywood for my bench and only one 4 x 8 ft plywood (which cost 3 times the price of a year ago). Also the 4 Aolisheng ball bearing lock-in drawer slides were costly, but I hope to enjoy their use! I do not have to many left-over pieces of wood, screws and nails. I am so happy I had bought an electric powered screw driver!

Where did the month go? For a 3 week and 5 day period of time, every day except for 2 days in that time, I put in 104 hours of work! This does not count the other hours I had been thinking, sketching, watching YouTube videos and at various stores to buy items, ask a million questions of those employees and buy other items on-line. 

With gratitude: I am so appreciative of my neighbor allowing me to borrow his power saw and he offered a few good ideas too. I am equally appreciative of my partner who delivered more than one lunch and snack to me during these weeks, helped me on my most awful day dealing with the sliding drawers, and provided insight when I needed it! 

Surprisingly, a few people did stop and ask what I was working on. I appreciated their positive comments. It also provided me time to talk about possible upcoming USA and Canada travels during the next 2 years. I am a world traveler who has put my international travel on hold for 2 more years with hopes the Covid virus will have died down around the world. Plus I wish for civility to return to humankind. There has been too much ugliness in attitudes and behaviors towards one another about a variety of issues and I just do not want to participate in any of it. Thus, solo travel right now is best for me to wander and see North America’s beautiful places, be outdoors and to follow the birds! Retirement is to be full of life while we are capable of doing what it is we wish to do. This year I enter another decade of my life and I want to live it. Never do I want regrets for not being active in the outdoors. Therefore, this year I will travel to meet others across our country, enjoy our national parks and monuments, bicycle some trails, visit birding hotspots and historical sites, and work on my sketching, writing and photography skills. I look forward to travel in Australia, Chile and Italy in 2024! Maybe I will see you on the road … stay healthy and happy and let me know when and where we can meet! Namaste.

Retiree in Action: Part 7: Sleeping in the Van … 

Was I feeling like an old person rolling out of my tent morning after morning? Maybe. The rolling part was easy; it was the getting up off the ground that seemed troublesome some mornings as I would mutter and ask myself “am I getting old?”.

With the van I decided a priority would be a mattress a few feet above the ground … even if it was just a foam memory mattress topper with my ensolite and Thermarest sleeping pads underneath; yes the same ones I use when tenting. So, I cut a full mattress topper to 43 inches width and kept the 75 inch length. I am high off the ground due to my bicycle stored underneath, thus less head space, so cannot comfortably sit up bed, but can scrunch enough to read a book in bed. 

I equate this “capsule” to the Japanese pod hotels at their airports where one can catch a quick night’s sleep. I will have a good night’s sleep, roll off the mattress to the floor and be on my way in the morning! (Remember I have the luggable loo to step down on, if I need it.) 

I even built a small shelf for a container to hold night time needs … headlamp, alpaca socks and other night stand items. I must admit, this van conversion is more than a “glorified tent”! 

For air flow in the van, I purchased air vents for the front 2 windows. No doubt there may be times I need more airflow so I also purchased a small fan to plug into my GoalZero. But the best air flow will be when the sliding door of the van or the back doors are open! Creating screens became a necessity as I decided to not use one product where you remove the van’s weather-stripping to install the screen and then put the weather stripping back on. Way to dicey for me to consider that option. Another company discontinued their manufacture of screens so I was left with my own creation for the rear of the van and am awaiting a purchase of the sliding door screen!

Nightstand blue box!
No screen below for easy access to items. When buggy the screen will be added.
Fiberglass mesh screen is staying in place by the mattress. Area below will be screened when needed.
Looking to the mattress from the inside … hop up via the loo!

Retiree in Action: Part 6: Sliding Drawers … My Van Project Nightmare!

Will I survive this van conversion! Why did I have this bright idea of installing sliding drawers rather than simple built-in shelves? What was I thinking?

Most of my camping gear is stored in milk crates. One with backpacker stove, fuel, pots and pans on one side and paper towels, dish towels, etc on the other side. Another milk crate with cans or envelopes of food, coffee, tea bags, water bottles, etc. On 2 of the 3 drawers I plan to have a small Yeti cooler and 2.5 gallon water jug. The third drawer is a table top … another bright idea of mine … in case I want to have a table off the end of the van. Not having a tailgate as I did with the Honda Element I thought this would be helpful. Time will tell.

I did purchase a mini Kreg pocket hole jig and took time to figure it out. My thought was I needed stronger drawer joints since weighted items will be in the drawers. Pretty cool tool once you get the hang of it! (It would have been helpful to have this tool earlier in the project; oh well!)

I thought I was almost done with the drawer slider set-up when the top 2 drawers were done. They were not pretty but did work. Unfortunately when I installed the third drawer the top two were no longer in their track! Damn! Honestly I cried … so much hard work had gone into this entire project; I was not ready for any problem right now! I was tired of the work and wanted to be in nature for hours, not here looking at my crappy woodwork!

Do I know my error? Yes. In saving on wood weight I decided not to build a complete box which would have made everything square. Fortunately the next day when I was to solve the issue for the top 2 drawers it was raining here in Arizona … perfect time to work on my taxes and other computer work. Plus not looking at any of the van work needing to be done was a nice break in the action!

The next day I had to face reality and figure out how to get the top two drawers to work within their tracks. Fortunately my partner offered additional hand-holding of shims, etc so we could figure a way to have it all work. Frustration continued when we would think we were done and another drawer would be off track! Four hours later all drawers were in! No one touched them as we decided “time for dinner”! Yup, dinner with glass of wine was well deserved! We do have our priorities! 

They are not pretty, but they do work!

Retiree in Action: Part 5: Some “Working on the Van” Days Are Awful!

I really should not be hard on myself, but there were times I wondered who measured that length of wood and how when I measure the same piece of wood a second time I could be some millimeters off!?! Better that then inches, but even so! On the good side, I caught most measurement errors before cutting the piece of wood. As they rightly say, measure twice, cut once! 

If I was a woodworker by trade I am sure I would have less scrap pieces of wood. Its been disheartening when realizing I need to buy more wood for 3 drawer bottoms. How is it that none of the left-over scraps will work! Damn!

One tool I should have bought for this building project: a Kreg Pocket Hole Jig! Of course I would have learned which jig system to purchase and the importance of making pocket holes to hold joints more firmly, but all of that will escape me since I did not purchase a Kreg tool. Discovered that info too late! (Info alert: I do end up buying a mini Kreg pocket hole jig before this entire project is over; a bit late, but none the less!)

Other times I read material, watched You Tube videos and thought I knew what my next steps of action would be. But did I? Not always, so back to reading the material and re-watching the You Tube which was most beneficial … and easier to find if I wrote the name of the You Tube presenter in my planning notebook. Did I mention I went through 2 black and white notebooks with all my thoughts, notes, sketches, measurements of “must fit” items, shopping list, delivery info, wish list, waiting list, journal page of materials and money paid out, journal page of hours at work, etc? Yes! 

Work per day was anywhere from 4 – 8 hours. The time per day included lunch, clean-up, thinking and working … and around 10:30 am, it included a cup of green tea with honey. Blog writing was outside of those hours. Final tallies of hours and dollars will be presented at my last van conversion blog post.

Then there were days I expected to accomplish a few things and the materials had not arrived! Time to work around no L-brackets being available, or late arriving drawer sliders, or items shipped to my post office box across town (where I used to live) and not directly to my home! If I had known how often I would have used Amazon, I probably should have done the 30 day PRIME free trial! Oh well. 

A final note for today. When we travel there are usually restrooms available for our use or a nearby bush. With the realization that I could be traveling where a restroom may not be available, I decided to purchase a “luggable loo”. My initial thought was to deep-six it somewhere in the van interior, but in discovering the size of it I had to make other plans. I had seen some people put it within their bench area, but I had other plans for that area. I discovered the loo would work as a step stool to my mattress which is high off the floor, thanks to my need to have my bicycle under the bed platform! Is that a happy win-win! A loo as step stool to my mattress! I’ll take it!

Retiree in Action: Part 4: Safety, Bicycle & Lunch Time …All Important!

As I continued this crazy van project I recalled building the bed platform for my Honda Element last year. The neighborhood ACE Hardware staff cut the wood I needed. I provided cardboard templates and they were gracious in cutting most of the pieces! This van project however had much more wood to be cut, so ACE Hardware staff continued to be helpful with smaller supplies and answering my numerous questions, but no wood cutting. Fortunately for me, my neighbor offered his power saw! Yeah!  Only a few pieces of wood to cut with my hand saw. 

I bought a pair of saw horses, an electric screwdriver, refreshed my memory on how best to use the power saw when cutting wood on saw horses, and always wore my safety glasses when working with all of the power tools. Sawing, drilling and screwing were the activities to get the bicycle fork onto the sliding portion of the set-up. Photos are below. The bicycle area is done!

I also appreciated the many days when a sandwich was made for me by my partner and a surprise popcorn snack! Yum! And thank you!

Retiree in Action: Part 3: Van Work Forces Me to New Decisions!

I never thought any of this project would be easy! Already my mental gymnastics in deciding what to do next, how to do it, and what is best, has my brain flipping! My main support for each side of the bed frame is a 2 inch by 4 inch by 43 inch board bolted into the van frame. Because I want no new holes in the van, I stick my fingers into existing holes and simultaneously put a bolt and washer through wood and another washer on the inside part of  the hole …  and blindly feel where I can put a lock washer and finally screw a nut on to hold it all together! I only have to do this eight times! Here is why people doing these constructions are creating videos of their work … I no doubt would be more clear with my process if I did create a video, but that will not be happening! A peek of what it looks like. These photos show one bolt, the bed frame bolted in and with bed slats and some additional framing, and how I kept D-rings exposed for future use: 

Retiree in Action: Part 2: Work on the Cargo Van Begins!

My new Ram Dodge Promaster cargo van is an empty shell! What should I work on first, that is the question! Since this van has wall liners already installed and it will become my “glorified tent”, I am not going to insulate the van. If I am cold, I have my winter sleeping bag. If I am hot, I can sleep on the ground under the stars or in my tent, which I will always carry on my travels … I was a backpacker!

For starters, I removed a few plastic rivets from the side wall to eventually bolt the bed frame to the van, or so I hope! (I did not want to drill any holes into the van, but instead to use existing holes.) Never knew anything about rivets, but a local person suggested I use a plastic tool to remove the rivets and thus not damage the van’s wall liners. Worked perfectly!

With the lower wall liners off, I installed noise deadening material and also did some of the roof to finish the one box of Klimat I had purchased. The noise deadening material was not a necessity. The wall liners were good enough, but with them off why not add the noise deadening layer.

Halfway through the noise deadening installation and not appreciating the upper body workout, I took a break to shop for wood needed for next steps in this construction. My ACE neighborhood store did not have all the lumber I would need, so to the big box store I went! (Apparently with building materials supply chain issues, larger stores get building materials before our neighborhood stores.) Other items I ordered online.

I am taking this project in sections; steep learning curve ahead for me. I wanted to build a bed frame with appropriate support and high enough to fit my bicycle underneath. Can I get my fingers into the holes to bolt the frame to the van ? Can I figure a way to have the bicycle slide out enough for me to unlock the fork from the tray and then lift the bicycle off? How does one install drawer ball-bearing slides? With my reading of various material, You Tube videos, and brain I hope to determine all that is needed. And then to put it all into action to complete what I need!

This is a low roof van, thus I need the bed frame and bicycle work to be accurate. While I can stand in this low roof van, when it comes to me eventually sleeping on the bed there is little room for me to sit-up. Inches are important in the construction of the framing for the bed and bicycle. This van barely makes it in height into our garage; 3 inches to be exact. The 118 inch wheelbase is okay for the garage too and I can fit into parking spaces just as passenger cars. The width of the van is huge…80 inches…75 inches within inside walls… allowing one to sleep from side to side in the van …. Nice!

Retiree in Action: Part 1: Buy A Cargo Van? You May Ask Why?

October 2021, still a Covid world! Damn! My frustration in not traveling internationally was taking a toll on me. Nothing tremendously serious, but annoyingly confining. When will I be in Australia or Chile or Italy? Watching and reading the news left me asking how I could be outdoors exploring a world beyond Arizona. With friends and family on the east coast and a beautiful USA countryside, travel once again across the USA similar to my June 2021 trip was an option.

No, this adventure would be slightly different. No more cramped space within a Honda Element which had my home-made bed platform, space for a bicycle and camping gear, or rolling out of a tent each night! I was tired of climbing out of a tent or being hunched over in the Honda Element when moving around within it. This time a cargo van with space for all! I began to envision and affectionately call my new van idea a “glorified tent”! My two priorities: space and ease to get to my bicycle and a bed a few feet off the ground.

November 2021, I put money down on a van in San Juan Capistrano, California. I chose a Ram Dodge Promaster 1500, low roof, 118 inch wheelbase cargo van, sight unseen, since none were in the state of Arizona. Also, my Homeowner’s Association dictated no vehicle longer or with higher roof could park in the driveway. And since I do not have a recreational vehicle garage attached to my home, this van was my choice. You may recall supply chain issues, such as for electronic chips, and back log of shipping containers at our ports. As a result, my van was “in transit” according to the website, except it was still in Mexico according to the dealer’s phone call to find its location. 

January 2022, my 2021 cargo van arrives! Or so I think it will be mine. I still had to check it out with a test drive and to finalize a deal. After doing so, I traded-in my Honda Element, drove the van from California to Arizona, and now my sketches of what I wish to build in the van will become a reality in the upcoming weeks! I hope …

Yes, my goal is to convert the empty inside of my cargo van into something that will work comfortably for me. I have no woodworking skills, except to say thanks to my dad who taught me how to use a hand saw, screwdriver, and hammer. I am not spending tons of money on the conversion as I had seen other do on various blogs and You Tubes channels. I will not be living full-time in the van; I have a home to return to at all times. This van is with backpacker gear, no frills, no guarantee of right angles in the construction of it, low budget, reusing wood from the Honda Element bed platform, and thus I am creating my “glorified tent”. Now I can envision taking off in the early morning to see birds or staying later in the day somewhere to catch a sunset. In either case, no tent to take down or put up! No late night “office hours” in a passenger seat as I had done in my Honda Element. Now I could make my sketchy construction ideas a reality! Or so I hope; time will tell. I will let you know how I am doing, what I am learning, and for you to see the final work! Wish me luck!

A Retiree is Hopping To It!

Ever feel there are a million things to do in a day? And a million more to complete within a year? How can there be so many things to do in a retiree’s life? Where to begin? What to do? Can I still fit my daily nap in … only joking as I have not figured out the “art of napping”. I hear it is a good thing. Silly of me to ever think my retired life would be slow, or slow down.

As I enter a new decade in a few months, I liked a quote reminding me the first decades of my life were for research and now I can get on with the crux of what I have been wanting to do. For many years I worked hard in the educational world to ultimately enjoy international travel with no need to only schedule trips during school breaks. I have been to 23 countries so far with so many more to visit, but unfortunately Covid-19 has slowed my international travel progress. The past couple of years I was to be in at least 6 more countries new to me! With my life goal of wanting to see the world, six is a huge number and months of travel put on hold! When will I get to these missed countries? When will I see more of the world? This retiree is not getting younger … hmmm … maybe I should check into the “art of napping”.

I anticipate 2 more years of virus anxiety around the world because people vary in their protection from the virus. As a result, I am hopping to another travel goal for the upcoming 2 years! The USA and Canada are beautiful countries. I hope to combine bird-watching, bicycling bike paths and rural roads, photography, and discovering unique places and people within each of these countries. They are similar hopes to any of my international travel goals, since I always wish to wander and travel with flexible travel plans. My goal is to move on living my life while I can! To many individuals who are older than me remind me to do so! And while I know they are probably right, it has taken me a bit of time to get going again.

Time to travel … with a new van … converted within to my needs …. and in time we’ll see how it turns out … and then time to hit the road! I am hopping onto a new idea; wish me luck!