enzed Part Six: Livin’ in a Van, Down by the River…
Mike Ferrentino checks in from New Zealand
Photos by Mike Ferrentino
A Dozen years ago, Bike’s photo editor David Reddick, his blushing new bride Michelle, and myself spent a few weeks traveling around New Zealand in a middlin’ Winnebago scale RV. It was a great trip, aided on one hand by the convenience of driving around in a house, and also marred somewhat by that very same thing. On that trip, I realized that my irrational lifelong hatred of RVs wasn’t that irrational at all, and that they do, in fact, totally suck.
First off, big RVs exist to get in the way of everyone else who is using the same road. Being somewhat codependent, I get nervous when cars start piling up behind me. In the western part of the United States, this is not such a big deal since the roads are wide, have plenty of turnouts, and are often blessed with multiple lanes so (theoretically, at least) the slow rolling roadblocks can get the hell over out of the way. New Zealand, not so much. Hilly, narrow, twisty. Big RVs are a blight on the landscape down here, and the short time spent driving one aged me about ten years.
Secondly, along the lines of the size of the damn things, big RVs, while convenient for moving from steering wheel to bedroom, are not so hot at maneuvering around cities, or rallying down dirt roads. In those situations they flat out suck.
Third, while I get that some people think it is convenient to drive around with a toilet in their van, I am not one of those people. That just seems wrong. Convenience be damned, this is just one short step away from driving a honey bucket cleanout truck for a living. And people get paid to do that, as they should.
I guess I’m just not an RV kinda guy. But, by that same token, I think vans rule. So do station wagons. Hell, even the culturally much maligned minivan occupies a warm and loving place in my heart. See, if I’m going somewhere for a number of weeks, in addition to at least one or two bikes, I’m going to have to haul along a bunch of food, and cooking stuff, and camping gear, and enough clothing to deal with whatever the weather does, and things get cluttered. When packing for chaos, vans get it done right. Aaaand, you can still rail down a dirt road, or get confused in a maze of narrow one way streets, and you won’t feel like you are trying to pilot a sinking ship through the devil’s small intestine.
What would be ideal, I mused at some point a while back, while deeming my Sprinter van to be not as rally worthy as I had hoped, would be something the size of a minivan, but with a foldout bed arrangement, and maybe a little cooler unit. Anyway, I came down to New Zealand, and hey presto! They are everywhere down here. Jucy is one of the more visible (and not so dodgy looking as some of its competitors) outfits that takes Toyota minivans about the size of Dodge Caravans, sprays them a purple and green combo that will appeal to fans of the Muppet Show everywhere, and slaps convertible beds in them. Each van then gets a water tank, sink, mini-fridge and cookstove installed behind the back seat, accessible by the rear hatch. It is called the Jucy Cabana. In the states, you can get something similar (with a bit more sleeping space).
Rad. Small enough to rally dirt roads, zippy enough to keep up with traffic, big enough to sleep in, and beverages stay cold. Driving one around the country has been an eye-opening experience as far as the possibilities of minivans in general, and for my needs is a whole hell of a lot better than the previously attempted and scorned full-on RV. With a bike rack on the back, two people can travel in huge comfort (but they better be REAL good friends if they are both planning on sleeping in the thing). If solo, the wheels can come off the bike and it can ride safely inside, away from prying eyes and thieving fingers. Pulling into a campsite in the rain and wind late at night, it kicks the living tar out of pitching a tent.
It’s not all roses, though. After a few days sleeping/riding/driving, things can get a bit ripe, and as chaos begins asserting itself the compact amount of space gets overwhelmed if people aren’t totally shipshape in their habits at all times. And, just like a big RV, there comes a time when the general sense of chaos combines with a dose of claustrophobia, right as the van is bumping down some washboard road and all the dishes and cutlery are dancing around in the back making enough noise to slowly drive the road weary traveler completely insane.
But, unlike my experience in a big RV, I was able to turn up the stereo, drowning out the rattling silverware with Fu Manchu’s “Hell On Wheels”, remembering how to ease off the brakes on corner entry and accelerate through apexes, and slither on down a forgotten dirt road to a campsite with a view to die for, a trailhead waiting the next morning, and a cold beer within arm’s reach at the end of the day.
Can’t beat that with a stick. Jucy, thanks for the lesson. You’ve been a green and purple exercise in mental emancipation.