Monday, February 13, 2017

Introducing BGN OUT Van - From Packy to Bugger

"Packy" the 2008 Honda Element
It all started two years ago on Valentine's Day. My wife, Rajo, and I were on our first camping trip to our favorite hot springs. Since it was February, we decided to sleep in our 2008 Honda Element,nicknamed "Packy", with our 101 pound Yellow Labrador, Frida. The element is just long enough for two adults to stretch out with the front seats in their full forward position, and wide enough for a single width memory foam mattress. It is cozy and we slept ok but in the morning the thermometer read 17F and we did not want to get up until the sun was well above the horizon.

Close quarters
There are several complications with sleeping in a Honda Element. 1) It's a small space, and when you have a large Labrador who likes to stretch out while she sleeps, it gets very, very small. 2) It's difficult to get in and out of the vehicle in "camper" mode. When the front seats are fully forward, the door handles become difficult to reach, making mid-night potty breaks a challenge. 3) All your camping gear must be left outside overnight and loaded back into the car in the morning. This isn't a huge problem if you are staying in one spot for multiple nights, but when you are on a road trip, camping a single night and moving on, THIS becomes tedious. It's fine for summer camping. However, if you're taller than 6ft, than it isn't quite what any middle aged back needs.

We are ready for adventure

For all of its challenges we made "Packy" work. That was until we got our puppy. She's a smallish, Springer spaniel mix so she doesn't take up a lot of room, just enough that with her, the 12 pound mini-dauschund and the big yellow Labrador, the human's didn't have much space to sleep on the last outing to Lassen National Park in Northern California. That's right, you can fit two adults and 3 dogs into the back of a Honda Element camper, it's just not very comfortable :(. All along we had been talking about options for the future. I was pretty set on a pickup truck with a slide in camper, my wife, a traditional RV. We looked at both over the course of last summer and realized by the end that neither was what we really wanted.

Our requirements weren't fancy:
  • a comfortable, preferably queen size bed.
  • a place to store our gear inside.
  • a place for our pups to stay for a couple of hours during mtn bike rides.
  • a ready to go stove top for boiling water in the morning (especially when its 17F).
  • a table top to sit at, eat on when the weather is inclement.
  • capable of towing a small trailer with motorcycles or bicycles or both.
We looked at trailers and conversion vans, but they all seemed to complex with their showers and potties and all manner of utility that we didn't want and ultimately decided that in order to get what we wanted and nothing more we were going to have to build it our selves or find someone who could build it for us.  Being a DIY'r and project guy, I decided after many hours of online researching that I could do 95% of the build, and hire out the 5% I didn't feel comfortable taking on.

From a 2 slice to a 4 slice bagel toaster
So the search began. We initially looked at used Sprinter vans, as they seem very popular of this use
case but quickly figured out they were cost prohibitive, so we looked at Ford, Nissan and Dodge offerings and ultimately settled on the RAM ProMaster. The ProMaster is similar in look to a Sprinter, but 6" wider across the back, making it wide enough to support a queen size mattress cross ways, which was a huge factor. It has front wheel drive, making it much safer to drive in our snowy climate in the winter. The ProMaster is a rebranded Fiat Ducato, which has been in production for quite a while but only introduced to the North American market in 2014. We tried to find a lower milage used vehicle, but being such a newly introduced model, all we found were 100,000+ mile, low top models. We really wanted the high top, it measures 7ft from floor to ceiling, so standing up is no problem. The ProMaster is reasonably affordable, priced between the Ford Transit and the Nissan NV models. It comes in two lengths, high or traditional low top and gas or diesel and is ready to build out if you can find one that hasn't had racks or a bulkhead installed at the factory.

Bugger the 2017 Ram Promaster 1500 High Top
We used our credit union's buyer service to locate the van and we got the call two weeks ago that he had one ready to pick up. We did have to drive up to Portland, OR to take possession, but we already had a trip planned to see a hockey game, so kismet! I love using a buyer service!!! I am not a fan of dealerships and the whole bargaining game. The last time I went to a dealer, I spent 8 hours buying the vehicle, and that was without much in the way of bargaining. I like my free time and spending it with someone who's interest in selling you a bunch of add ons you don't need doesn't sit well with me. The buyer service negotiates a fair price, probably not the lowest price you could get if you want to dicker, but fair, takes delivery and preps all the paperwork. All we had to do was give them our requirements and show up at the service's offices to sign papers. Had I not spent 15 minutes on the phone with our insurance company, the whole transaction would have been complete in 20 minutes!

So here we are, a giant empty metal box and 6 weeks until our next vacation. Let's get busy!

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