van camping in the shasta/trinity marble mountain beauty

There are some places that are filled with beauty everywhere you look. Despite recent fires in the area, Shasta-Trinity area is one of these places. Alpine lakes, cold streams, single track trails, and secret swimming holes. In July we chose to load up the van and take a 5 day trip to explore the area that for me is filled with familiar and still unfamiliar places. We made our way along dirt and gravel roads in the old Toyota. It held up just fine and it was nice knowing that we can stop anywhere, sleep, make lunch and have everything one would need.

A view from Sawyer’s Bar Road.

We made our way around up I-5 through Redding and past Whiskeytown Lake which was burned recently. I’ve never stopped at this lake before but it’s nice view driving by. I believe I’ve seen some sailboats in this lake too which would be a lot of fun. Sometime after Whiskeytown Lake you take a right and meander over and around Trinity Lake and the KOA campground. Somewhere after the KOA campground, we took a left and drove down a paved road that eventually turned to gravel and has many trailheads for overnight backpacking trips. You’ll pass waterfalls even in the middle of summer. It was late at night and the new LED headlights lit up the road well. I knew where the waterfall is alongside the road and made a special stop. We could hear the sound of the waterfall and with a quick flip of the switch, the side spotlight lit up this beautiful waterfall. The best use of the side spotlight so far. We eventually made it into camp and were grateful that it wasn’t occupied.

An advantage of the van is that no bed needs to be made. We popped open the back of the van, made some tea, danced and watched the stars late into the night. We then decided it was time to go to bed but not before admiring the Milky Way and watching the bats dance above our heads. There’s nothing like falling asleep to the sound of a rushing creek except for the sound of waking up to rushing creek.

Along a dirt road in Shasta-Trinity National Forest area.

I set up my tenkara rod and tossed a few dry flies into the nearby creek, pulling out a couple small rainbows before deciding to take a cold dip. We stripped our clothes and took a dip into the icy cold water. We made breakfast, then made our way to a close trailhead where we packed our bags for a short hike. Not but one mile in we came across the small bear who also thought it was good idea to be on the trail today. What a magical animal to come across. Humans (including me at times) tend to walk around with fear of certain animals like sharks and bears but often they want nothing to do with us. This bear was no exception when it quickly ran off. We bathed again along the creek and green vegetation before heading back to the van.

Creekside.

The next day we head North through the town of Etna for a hike at Taylor Lake. We didn’t drive through Etna without stopping as the heat required an ice cream stop at the local cafe. We got back on the road and got to the trailhead where we met with a fire crew that just got done fighting a lighting fire. There was some smoke in the air but if you live on the West Coast, it was nothing like what we’ve faced in recent weeks. A friendly crew that was quite lively, dirty, and grateful for the ability to work outside. We thanked them for the work they do before we answered a few questions about the van and headed towards Taylor Lake. Smith Lake requires you to reach hike to Taylor Lake (1 mile) then head straight up a slope which is quite intense, especially in the sun. We made it to the top where it meets the PCT and tried to find a route down to Smith Lake but it was pretty gnarly so we decided to head back to Taylor Lake. If we spent more time route finding we could have made our way down but at that point we were low on water and wanted to take a swim which Taylor Lake was the perfect place for that. Taylor Lake is pretty popular so heading down to Smith Lake will get you away from the crowds.

A beautiful garden in the cute town of Etna.

At this point, it was time to find a place to sleep for the night and get prepared for our next hike which was going to be to Statue Lake. Halfway up the road to Statue Lake, we found a spot to pull over next to a creek and it was nice place to lay our heads, do some bird watching and cook dinner.

A rock where we enjoyed a morning meditation together.

The next day we woke up slowly, watched the birds, deer came to visit and they were curious about what we were doing. We made our way to the trailhead and began our hike. A lot of the area up to the top is burned but there were some nice wildflowers blooming along the trail. Statue Lake had visitors when we arrived but we were glad we made the stop. Jumping off the rock on the far side of the Lake, laying in the sun and enjoying being far away from cell service.

A beautiful woman and a beautiful lake (Statue Lake).

The last night was spent along the N. Fork of Salmon Creek where we found a spot all to ourselves. The fishing wasn’t great but the creek was ride and Mallory found a spot to take a cold plunge. We danced until the stars came out and the full moon showed itself. We were feeling the fullness of the moon and the trip as we counted down our last hours.

dry car camping along highway ca-89

A sweet lil’ tune on the banjo.

(This trip occurred in Spring 2019)

One way to get to the East Sierras from the Bay Area is through Highway 89. Most people’s destination lie past this highway and along highway 395 somewhere but I argue to take a stop along this highway to enjoy the beauty this area has to offer. CA-89 goes through a goo size portion of California and for this post I’ll be talking about the part of the highway south of highway 50. Along this section of the highway you’ll make your way along the West Fork of the Carson River which I’ve never fished but have heard of good fly fishing and often see many lining this section of River.

Section of CA-89 we travelled.

Where 89 meets CA-88, if you turn right and head East on 88, you’ll see pull outs for a couple miles that offer access to fishing the West Fork of Carson River. This adventure had us turning left and continuing on 89 through the cute town of Markleeville. Right after the turn about a 1/4 mile up and on your right is a bakery/cafe worth stopping at (Hope Valley Cafe).

West Fork Carson River past the Hope Valley Cafe.

As you travel further down the road, you’ll drive right through the town of Markleeville. Markleeville is a quaint town and is the start of the Death Ride, a bicycle ride that transverses the passes. Those who finish this ride will have travelled 125 miles and climbed 25,000 feet in elevation. I’ll save my legs this time around but I do plan to do this ride some day! You can stop in town at the deli cafe for a breakfast burrito or sandwich or take a peak inside the information center to learn more about the town. There’s also a small post office and general store. The river follows the highway until 89 turns off and heads East. Along this stretch of the highway, it’s worth stopping for a break and a nice walk around Heenan Lake. Heenan Lake is full of heritage trout, if you wait long enough around the shores of this lake, you’ll see schools of very large trout, quite the scene. If you happen to visit in spring, you’ll also be given a nice wildflower show that coats the hillside.

A view from the hillside at Heenan Lake (June).

Between Heenan Lake and 395 is where we pulled off and tested the off road capabilities of my 85 Toyota Van. We were lucky to find a spot that was private, although not close to water, it was located around some beautiful woods with great bird watching and day hikes. It’s amazing what you see when you pull off the highway, park your car and take hikes over tops of mountains. Valleys filled with quiet except for the birds that scatter amongst the brush and blooming scrub.

A view we were treated with on a day hike from camp.
The colors of wildflowers were beautiful. The camera never captures the full beauty.

We spent a beautiful 3 days here, waking up, watching birds, playing the banjo, and taking day hikes to see what others can’t see while driving on the highway. We ate simply and enjoyed the slowness of it all. Cool mornings, morning coffee and allowing ourselves to sit in one spot til the birds became comfortable with our presence is something that was so refreshing and energizing. It was lovely time of relaxation and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

A view of our campsite along CA-89.
Buster doing his morning yoga.

upgrades to the toyota camper van conversion (vol. 1)

1985 Toyota Camper Vanwagon
Off Highway 89 somewhere.

If you’re doing a van conversion or some kind of camper conversion, I recommend creating a very basic set up to start with not a lot of screws or time spent doing it. This is what I’ve learned through various builds. You don’t know exactly what you want until you go camping, you spend time in it and become aware of your own needs. It’s hard to understand our needs in life and that’s the same for building out a van.

I realized I haven’t shared any updates on the my 1985 Toyota Vanwagon Mashin’ Machine. The van has undergone some changes since the original build. I’ve been lucky to take her on a quite a few trips this year and after each trip, I came back with a list of changes or supplies that needed to be added. This is another tip I recommend, when going on weekend trips, create a running list of what’s not comfortable, what would be nice to have, what you don’t need and so forth. You’d think you’d remember everything but after a few years of partying too hard, it’s best written on paper so I can revist when I’m back in a place I can make modifications.

I was able to keep most of the design from before (the folding bench seat and frame). I made a decision to keep the bench seat in bed formation all the time. This saved the hassle of not having to unfold or fold the bed every morning and night. I also gained a ton of storage room below. I made the drawer out of plywood and 2x2s then drilled a couple holes to put some rope through for a handle.

Bed Toyota Vanwagon 1985
This bed doesn’t interfere with accessing the engine compartment.

In the back of the van, I created a divider wall. This was now going to be the area for the electronics, fridge, stove, water, and other various supplies.

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Here is the back of the van, “the kitchen” with the divider wall.

Added 12v fairy lights, you can buy these anywhere from Amazon to eBay for 5 bucks or less. I really like them and I hope to put them on a dimmer switch. They are bright enough to read under, it also helps to run two strands across the van where you’ll want extra light. I did that in the back where the kitchen is and by the seats in the front where our heads rest and we can read.

Back of Van at Night w/ 12v Fairy Lights
Back of Van at Night w/ 12v Fairy Lights

58183079700__30657fda-ca19-4506-b305-392a7ca1a122Upgraded the stove from a Coleman two burner to a cast iron Camp Chef Ranger II Blind Stove. Stays in its place well, has a really night flame, and has a flexible hose for the propane instead of the rigid Coleman attachment.

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A mistake I often make is that before I participate in something, I get all excited about it and I start to research what I think is the best things to buy are and I start trying to figure out everything before actually partaking in that activity. For example, if you take up running, you may not want to research best running shoes, best water bottle, best visor (is that a thing?). Only after running will you realize what you truly need; shoes with more padding, a water bottle with a strap so it’s easy to hold onto, a visor instead of a hat because a hat makes you sweat too much. This relates to building out a van.

I have built out a truck camper shell (see other posts) and a cabover but each vehicle is different. Until I took enough trips in the van, I wouldn’t know what exactly I would need. Taking it slow and easy is the best approach, it’s about the process and not trying to get everything done immediately.

Complete list of revisions so far:

  1. Added a second solar shower (scored one for cheap on Craiglist). Also, it helps to have back up water as well as water to rinse dishes when dry camping.
  2. Added a shower nozzle to one of solar showers. (post coming)
  3. Created a divide for the kitchen and bed.
  4. Inserted plywood sheet to extend bed to the back of the seats.
  5. Made two large pull out drawers, one pulls out from the side and one from the back.
  6. Added a fuse panel. (post coming)
  7. Mounted the inverter.
  8. Added a storage shelf.
  9. Mounted an ARB awning. (post coming)

1985 Toyota Van Forest Road
Down some forest road.

foldout bench seat that transforms into a bed

When designing this van I wanted to the ability to have a bench seat (i.e. couch) and not have the bed take up the whole van like so many designs. Although, it would require work to fold up and down, I like the ability to clear the space and sit up right. I thought this was necessary to work while on the road.

My brother found a design that didn’t involve any sliding or folding out legs. The only thing necessary was to flip what you’re sitting on. Once folded out, it provides a large enough space to sleep two.

Flaws of this design included:
1. The back rest can only be a certain height or else it will clip the ceiling.
2. The bench width needs to be under a certain length so it avoids clipping the sides of the van because the van is curved.
3. It makes storage a little harder to access.

The benefits:
1. Simple!

We built a frame around the wheel well and the back of the van.

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The frame around the wheel well.

We added a sheet of plywood to the top as one piece.

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Buster enjoying a place to sit.

Then it was time to attach the folding section. Note, there are spaces for storage in the back and the front of the design. You can see a cut out in the back where we installed a lid to access gear.

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Here’s a shot from the back. You can see that the side facing out the back can be folded up and turned into a table. This is nice because it has protection from rain with the back hatch.

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Fold out table in the back of the van.

Here’s the bed folded out.

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The bed folded out. 

In the picture below you can see how the back rest was framed. 3×2″s were used to support the back. img_1873

Below is flip out storage underneath the legs but it also doubles as a coffee table. 56211149368__d47e37b8-e687-41cd-bc33-72d160622064

Next step is to make cushions for the seats out foam and fabric I have bought. The cushions should not cost more than 100 total to make. Although, it will take some time to stitch them together. I will post progress as I follow through with making the cushions.

why i chose a toyota van for my camper van

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Toyota Van Wagon Camper Conversion Part 1

Since the last time I posted, I bought a van. A 1985 Toyota Van, yes, that’s the model name, Van. Oh, the simpler times. The purpose of this van is a camper, a weekend getaway machine. Will I live in it? Probably not long term, maybe short term but this is more of a weekend machine. Sorry #vanlife Nazis, if this isn’t hardcore enough, move on.

Vehicle: 1985 Toyota Van 2WD
Odometer Reading: 195,xxx

This post will be broken into three sections.

  1. Why I chose an 80’s Toyota Van.
  2. What mechanical work I’ve done on it.
  3. An update on where the conversion is at the moment.

Why the heck did I choose a 1985 Toyota Van? 
1. Looks like a spaceship, number one reason, yup.
2. Toyota’s are known to be reliable. You see many Toyota’s with 200-300k miles.
3. Widely available in stick, the only way to go in my opinion on these older cars with 4 cylinder engines.
4. Good space inside the van.
5. Pretty cheap to buy, got mine for 1500. Beats blowing  a ton of cash on a sprinter.
6. Parts are widely available, great when hopefully traveling to Baja!
7. Pretty good clearance for 2WD, I can give it an oil change without putting it on a jack stand.
8. Rain gutters for easy rack installation.

Some of the cons I’ve noticed.
1. To access the engine, you have to lift the drivers seat up and access in general to certain parts is restricted. It limits what you can do behind the seat and the seats can’t be made to swivel towards the back.
2. Depending on the previous owner, you may need to replace some parts initially.
3. Stock temp gauge can be inaccurate.
4. Obviously not as much headspace or space in general as a Sprinter or pop top.
6. limited power

What mechanical work have I got done on the van since purchasing it?
1. Clutch was toast, if the person won’t let you test drive it, there may very well be a reason. Replaced the clutch, always go OEM with these Toyota Vans. This was done by a mechanic in a shop.
2. I thought the van was running hot and I didn’t know if the fan clutch and water pump were fully functioning (turns out they were fine, the temp gauge wasn’t reading accurately). So, I replaced the water pump and fan clutch, got that out of the way and at least I know that’s new. Thought about doing this myself but just had a mechanic install the parts for me.
3. New aftermarket digital temp gauge that told me my van was running at a perfectly normal temperature. I installed this myself.
4. Replaced the spark plugs with iridium plugs.
5. Gave it an oil change right away, full synthetic.
6. Coming soon – Needs a new brake master cylinder, just need to pull the plug on this one before I do any extended driving.

check my post on upgrades I’ve made to the van. (click here and here!)