I’m not sure when I really began the hunt for a campervan, but I would guess it probably started when I was about 12. The Brits really love their caravan holidays, and my family owned a 6 berth that played host to most of my childhood summers. At the time I’d have said I hated it, but I look back with nothing but love for those muddy, carefree days.
I found Regional Burns and fell in love
America is more into the ‘glamping’ way of life. Even at the camping events I go to several times a year, referred to as ‘burns’ based on their connection to the main Burning Man event in Nevada, people would lug in tons of equipment, camping supplies, and even furniture, so they could have a more comfortable and fun experience than most people think of when you say “camping”. Back in the UK I attended several Glastonbury festivals, and these were always rough, muddy, and cold survival trips, with some vague goal to have fun buried between the dozen spare socks. They were nothing like what I saw when I attended my virgin burn, and I was intrigued.
After getting married a couple of years ago, we had some money left over from all the gifts. My husband had invested his in a new car, and we’d discussed that the other portion was mine, to spend on things I wanted, and to be enjoyed (rather than invested in boring necessities). It was around the same time that I discovered the Van Dweller’s subreddit, and started to see glimpses into a whole new community that seemed to have my name written all over it. People lived in their vans, and not in a weird way, in an awesome, completely carefree and rent-free way that allowed them a life of weekends. I began the search for a van.
Enter the Bacon Van
I knew I’d know when I found her. One Sunday in April, three days before I was due to fly back to the UK for a vacation, I saw the ad flash up on Craigslist: A 1986 Chevy G20, ‘apple red’ (although she got her name from the fact it looked more like streaky bacon), 110k miles, within my budget. I yelled to my husband in the other room, “OHHHH MY GODDDD I THINK I FOUND HER” and he ran in to look at the photo. There was just one.
Ok, he said, it’s cool and all. But what about the interior? So I contacted them for more photos….
She was literally a palace on wheels. Both my husband and I started squealing excitedly as more photos came through, each one showing more plushness, more red, more extravagance than the last. The people selling her were the second owners, and she had all original interior, outfitted by a custom conversion company to be completely unique and absolutely ridiculous.
She was literally perfect (I use “literally” figuratively, as she turned out to need a lot of repairs). I had to have her. I immediately started going through a weird panicked grief process that she was not yet officially mine, and a lot had to happen to make that so.
The buying process
Unsurprisingly, I’d never purchased a 30 year old van from a rural Tennessean farmer 200 miles away before, so I was unsure of how to go about it. In a leap of faith, I paid a random mechanic dude from Craigslist $80 to drive to the location and check it out. He called me from the owner’s phone and I had him send me extra photos so I had proof he was there. Random dude actually ended up crashing his car on the way home (he was, thankfully ok) so it turned out to be not the most lucrative gig he’d ever done. After checking he was alright, he sent me a full followup report of the van and basically said “I’d have bought it first had I had the funds!” The next day, I rode with a friend up to the site, gave her a quick once-over, and handed over the cash. I then faced a daunting 198 mile return journey in the dark, in a van of relatively unknown condition. We made it. There is probably a whole other blog post of content on that journey alone – I’ll save this for another day.
The fix-up process
People say finding the van is the hard part. Others say that the fun begins once you get in and start making it your own. I disagree on both these points, and have scars from changing spark plugs that would seem to validate my opinion. Working on a 30 year old van may be easier than new computerized vehicles, but there’s also three decades more stuff to fix up. Her first mechanic trip had them replace the belts and tires, the next trip was to patch up leaks and replace brakes, and we have some future work planned for suspension stuff and probably a new carburetor. Basically, anything that was rubber needed replacing, and anything that was metal needed replacing too…
There is lots I’ve been doing too. Of course, the spark plugs – that was an adventure. I changed the air filter while I was in there. I took off all the door seals and have replaced them with new ones. I’ve replaced some of the vacuum hose, I’ll probably have to do more of that soon. I fixed a couple of the locks and greased the chassis. I gave her an oil change, my first one ever (it was fun!). And the horrible part, I spent probably about 20 hours cleaning dead mice, spiders, wildlife poop, and crud off her. I still need to add in a stereo, fix a window, re-screw some areas and patch a couple of leaks.
Finally getting to enjoy her
She’s fantastic. You might have read all of that and wondered what would possess someone to do a thing like buy a dirty van full of dead mice. Since cleaning her up, we’ve added a ton of interior touches that have turned her into one of the most beautiful vehicles I’ve ever seen. I mean it…
Memory foam, mood lighting, and curtains. I just returned from an outdoor climbing trip in Obed, and I could fit two crash pads, all my camping gear, and my bed in there, while still leaving room for me to hang out. Anytime we need to go anywhere overnight, we just need to locate a Walmart or Camping World, or quiet residential road, and we’ve got an instant reservation at the traveling Ritz. It’s pretty much the best thing ever.
So I just wanted to do a blog post to introduce her. I have a feeling she’s going to be a big part of the next phase of my life. I anticipate lots of new adventures, a load of newly acquired skills, and a lot of financial support for my local mechanics! Feel free to check out our Instagram, @thebaconvan, if you want to see more and keep up on our adventures. And if you’re a van dweller yourself, comment below and introduce yourself!