Fresh Faced and Ready for Work

Please bare with me whilst I get my act together, I’m going to tell our story of travel and hopefully adventure as we live out dreams, experience new places, hopefully basking in warm sunshine eating great food!

Our story in terms of van life started to grow over the years whilst our 4 children were young and we holidayed in our VW transporter ‘bus’. The bus was a diesel type 2 and served us well for many years as a people carrier, but also a base to exist from on day trips, having swivel seats, a small cooker, sink and fridge. It was not a camper, more of a day picnic bus. I can remember sitting on beaches in France looking at large vans converted into campers thinking it must be great to have all your kit with you and facilities to make a pot of tea. The one thing we always miss abroad is a good mug of tea!!

Time moved on, kids stopped thinking it was cool to go away with mum and dad, despite being really cool parents (my view) and we started travelling by motorcycle, with many long European trips on various bikes. We’ve done almost all of Europe and love the freedom of a motorcycle. Being on a bike gives you a real feel of actually being part of the landscape. You can smell and taste it, not just see it.

During our trip over the summer of 2015, France, Corsica, Sardinia, Italy, Austria, Germany, Belgium and Holland, I kept looking at the wishy washy tea and camper vans, which Europeans excel in and the thought started again with discussions about doing the same in the future, but not just yet.

Once I get an idea it has to be said I become a little obssessional about it and things develop, but i was still something for the future.

Things changed with a bang on 25th September last year when travelling across the M62 in my Prius (fantastic car!) towards the east coast when out of the corner of my eye I could see a large chunk of limestone had fallen from a tipper lorry and was now bouncing across the carriageway something similar to a war time bomb. All fairly quick with no time to react, but it planted itself squarely in the centre of the grill and demolished the car to such an extent that it caused £15,000 of damage and wrote the car off.

Right time for a new car…..or what about bringing our plans forward and buying a van?

Right before we get to the van…….who are we?

Bob, that’s me, retired from my first career, and enjoying a second career as the Project Manager of a major Professional Cycle Race. This is great as it gives me 3-4 months off during the summer each year. I’ve always loved travelling and read others blogs all the time, living their dreams with them.

I love motorbikes and long distance adventure on them. Why the van then? -more later.

Catherine, my very supportive, if not sometimes worried wife, who I’m sure wonders what the chuff I’m going to do next! is and has always been supportive of all my ideas and thankfully acts as the steadying element in my often silly ideas. Catherine is a Family Nurse and enjoys less time off each year than me, but plans are for her to retire in the next couple of years for us to travel.

We have 4 kids, who have all grown up and left home to forge their own lives. Thomas the Doctor, William the mad Nuclear Scientist (doing a PhD in Nuclear Engineering), Georgie an Environmental Scientist, currently a full time sports woman, rowing on a programme for Team GB and Edward completing a degree in Computer Science and enjoying life in York. Georgie is determined to travel with us, hence the rear seats in the van, but time will tell, given her sporting and career dreams.

Frank is our crazy Boxer dog who we intend to take with us on our travels around Europe. When we go further afield then the kids have offered to look after him

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The Van

I have considered the pro’s and cons of buying an off the shelf motorhome or camper, but the motorhomes don’t really do it for me (a man thing) and I worry about reports of them falling to pieces when taken to rough roads. I rode to Istanbul with one of my sons in 2014   Turkey Report where some of the countries en route would have challenged any coach built motorhome. Buying a ready built camper identified different types – New incredibly expensive (v nice) ones, older very expensive ones, usually home converted or ‘race vans’ wth a garage in the rear and crap accommodation. The final type look like Swampy’s Hippy Bus

“If I’m going to buy someone else,s DIY bodge, why not bodge my own?!? Hmmm?

Which type, what size etc.. I’ve always liked the Mercedes Sprinter and like rear wheel drive for a commercial vehicle. I wanted reliability and personal experience through work tells me the Sprinter will run and run and run….. (key the comments on Sprinter disasters.) All vehicles, bikes have issues in bad design, quality and a whole host of things but I trust the Sprinter having had access to a fleet of badly misused ones that completed over 300,000 miles without major drama.

I want to be able to stand up in it. It needs to be big enough for two full length beds (I’m 6′ so at least 6’4” beds) a shower room and kitchen.

Very importantly it needs to have a good weight carrying capacity as I intend to hang my BMW GS Adventure on the back on a specially fabricated bike rack. This will be interesting as the bike weights 270kgs. I’ve done my sums and all seems well, I just need to design and fabricate a rack and lifting device. But I’ll do a section on that bit later when I get to it.

The idea is we will travel by van until we fancy travelling by bike, then leave the van and spend time on the bike. It will also be invaluable when we get to the end of the road (for a 4×2 Sprinter.)

I did really want a 4×4 Sprinter, but the extra complexity put me off and the price. HAVE YOU SEEN THE PRICE!!! I considered an older low mileage model, but really wanted a newer van and for the times we will really need 4×4 I think we will survive. I consider myself a confident driver with many years of driver training to quite a high level, so driving and handling the Sprinter doesn’t phase me. Catherine will drive it, but I’m not sure it’s on her list of ‘want to do’s’.

So after a bit of searching and more money than I wanted to spend we have a Sprinter. It’s a 2014 513 Long Wheel base with a very low mileage. Why the twin wheeler?……. the bike on the back would have made a 313 over weight before we got in it, never mind a sink!

The 5 tonne vans do bring a couple of disadvantage with them. Firstly my kids can’t drive it without an additional test. Its currently limited to 56mph, although I can have that removed once I’ve reregistered it as a ‘Motorcaravan’ and its a bit hard on the back end. I’ll see how this goes as I add weight to it over time. Failing that I’ll fit full air suspension to the rear £££££££££!

Here he is (its a mans van!) in naked form ready for a bit of work. I’ve never converted a van before, but how hard can it be? 😉

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