Camper Van Chronicles (Part 1)

I’ll start by getting my hypocrisy out in the open. Our Okanagan Class “B” camper van, for all its wonders, takes us 14 to 15 Miles Per US Gallon on a flat stretch of road with the wind at our backs. It costs $120 to fill the tank in Canada, and, despite my leanings to the contrary, I support the pro pipeline lobby every time I pull the van out of my driveway.

Now that I’ve mentioned this “inconvenient truth” (hmm, that rings a bell), I want to extoll the many virtues of living in a home on wheels with less than 100 square feet of living space.

Camper Van Canucks

We bought our van, Morrison as I like to call him (the kids have yet to embrace either the gender or name I have chosen), in the spring of 2010 to take our family on a road trip around North America. Before we committed to Morrison, we almost bought a 1990-something Volkswagen Eurovan, and even looked at older Westfalias (or “Westies,” as they are affectionately called by their owners). We were willing to forego some living space, adjust to life with a portable non-flush toilet, and accept that cyclists would likely pass us on steep inclines. But when a good friend of mine said, “My Westy was the best vehicle I ever owned… except that I had to rebuild the engine three times,” I knew that we needed something newer and more reliable. I can fix a bike on the side of the road — I’m pretty handy with a wrench and a can of WD-40. As for fixing a broken-down vehicle (especially a twenty-year old foreign model)? Not so much.

So after further debate we settled on a 19-foot 2006 Okanagan “Pancake Top,” as my dad likes to call it, complete with fully-functional bathroom (which also doubles as a shower), a full kitchen including oven and fridge, a large bunk over the front seats and a dinette that seats four for meals and converts to a double bed. In August, 2010, we sold much of what we owned (using eBay, Craigslist and a garage sale), loaded Morrison with everything we thought we might need for a winter in the southern US, stuffed our remaining belongings into a single room in our basement, waited for the universe to deliver some wonderful tenants at the last possible moment, and left Gibsons landing bound for an “unschooling conference” in Fort Worth, Texas. Oh, and somewhere in there I left the software company that I had co-founded fifteen years earlier, letting go of both the day-to-day responsibility of managing a dozen employees and the regular paycheque that accompanied that responsibility. We sold a 1/12th share in the waterfront property that had been my grandparents’ summer cottage, the proceeds from which allowed us to buy the van and pay for 6 to 8 months of travel.

And so began the camper van adventures of the Clan Cameron. What started as a vague idea six months earlier over a belated anniversary dinner with my wife, Sheila, had become a reality. For all four of us — Sheila, myself, Iris and Simon — that decision to let go of everything we had grown accustomed to (our house, neighbourhood, income, homeschool group and many weekly routines) would be the start of an irreversible trend toward a simpler life.

I’ll tell you more about the adventure in future posts. But for now, I will circle back on the virtues of a mobile lifestyle. With the exception of its dependency on fossil fuels, our camper van has helped us to live a more conscious and sustainable lifestyle. Living in an RV, especially a really small one, makes you aware of every resource you are consuming: water, gasoline, propane and energy, to name the main ones; and of what comes out the other end too: garbage, compost, recycling, and of course both “gray” water and “black” water (the latter being far too nice a term for the sludge it refers to). While an RV can be a luxury, it can also be a means for living with a relatively small footprint. And doing so in some really neat places!

Stay tuned for more Camper Van Chronicles…

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