In the beginning...


In the beginning there was a fantasy.

I've been collecting (hoarding, really) images of Tiny Houses and Skoolies and #VanLife adventures since my now-ex-wife quite literally kicked me to the curb along with trash bags filled with my possessions. As rude a surprise as that was, it freed me to envision a future that wasn't tied to a single residence. In reality, I'd been living a bi-coastal lifestyle for 10 years by then. My wife and professional life were on the West Coast, while my family and education were on the East Coast. I achieved JetBlue Mosaic status every year with ease and knew the flight attendants on the Thursday 10:10am PST LAX->JFK nonstop and the Monday 12:25pm EST JFK->LAX nonstop by name. I rented a studio apartment down the street from our marital condo and began dreaming of a way to make that dichotomy easier, more of an adventure and just possible.

Part of that dream was to learn new skills and meet new friends while building whatever vehicle (THOW, bus or van) would become my new home. When I shared this dream with my ex-wife's cousin (not sure what term to use for our relationship - I've been saying cousin as shorthand), a talented building contractor, he was excited and even began to sketch out ideas at the dinner table - back when people used to get together for large family meals. *sigh*

But months turned into years and I got comfortable in my studio. I built custom furniture to fit the odd nooks and crannies in my cramped space in order to optimize storage and usability. In the back of my mind I'd file away each new skill in the "This could be useful/good practice to live even tinier in a moving abode" folder in my brain. And I adopted an awesome senior dog, which sort of dampened visions of long road trips, as she's had a lot of emotional trauma and medical issues to overcome. So have I.

One nagging hesitation tripping up this fantasy was my own health limitations. Long before COVID-19, travel had been a dicey proposition for me. I have a serious potentially-fatal condition that requires me to take medicine that has to stay between 38-43 degrees f at all times in order to stay potent and effective. Spoiling a batch could threaten my life - this is not hyperbole. So, I got very good (excellent, really) at transporting the life-saving elixir in a specialized medical cooler and timed out my trips to stay under the 12-hour limit of the medical ice packs within. On occasion, driving in the heat of a Texas summer or delayed flights to the UK, the cooling capacity got maxxed out past the point of safety. I called it "accidentally cooking a batch." It required emergency calls to the pharma study that supplied the drug, express in-person couriers to odd locales to deliver fresh cold replacement medicine and a lot of stress and enduring awful disease symptoms until I could inject the cold meds.

Despite such danger, I became a skilled cross-country traveller. The key was preparation; planning the distance between origin and destination keeping in mind the time of year, the geographical location, the mode of transportation and historical weather patterns en route. If the destination wasn't our home, I called ahead to the motel/hotel/B&B/friend/family member and told them of my need for refrigeration immediately upon arrival. On occasion that message would get lost or ignored and stress upon arrival could escalate quickly, which contributed to worsening disease symptoms. Not a fun experience. But, all in all, the trip prep would pay off in a safe and uneventful journey.

All this fantasy Pinteresting and practical trip precautioning came together when the pandemic hit the US hard in March. I knew immediately that this corona virus meant that my well-rehearsed and executed JetBlue jaunts would be years away from happening again. As I hunkered down in my studio with my dog, I began to plot out exactly how to transport ourselves as safely as possible from Los Angeles to Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City. A Tiny House would be too big and would require purchasing a big truck to haul it down the highway. Similar restrictions with a Skoolie; Although a Shortie would be more workable en route, trying to park it in Manhattan or any big city would be a big challenge (as well as new driver's license). An RV is generally huge and requires getting a new class of drivers license and I'm not willing to sit in a borrowed Class A or B next to a stranger to take a stressful test right now. All the beautiful Sprinter conversions I saw online were pretty big and not easily parkable unless at a campsite, national park or Walmart parking lot.

I saw the elegant and ingenious minivan-to-camper conversion by Bruce Parks and my brain immediately burst into creative possibilities. I can drive a Toyota Sienna minivan! I could park it anywhere! I could trade in my SUV and get the new 2021 hybrid model! This is awesome! Let's do it!