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What’s your Adventure Vehicle?

Ask this question to any boater and you’ll get a plethora of answers and opinions. Our current adventure vehicle is a 2006 Chevy Express Van 2500 that we found at a local used car lot.

The van works great for our needs. It’s our home away from home on the weekends and longer trips. Marty, my main squeeze, likes to refer to our van as either luxury camping or spartan rv’ing. It took about a year and a half to get the van built out where we like it. Marty is a carpenter so his skills and innovations for our diy van build-out were essential. I assisted with idea development, basic sewing skills, and canine best practices. Throughout the building process we determined the vans name should be Jean Claude Damn Van. The name has stuck, Jean Claude for short.

What's your Adventure Vehicle?

Our key van features include:
• Bunk beds, as well as a removable fold down guest bed
• Custom built reinforced bulkhead between the front two seats and the rest of van body. (this is for personal safety from flying objects in the event of an emergency stop)
• Triple auxiliary batteries powered by a larger than factory alternator system. The system powers an inverter, several DC plugs, and my remote work station (laptop and 27” screen) for as least a 10hr work day.
• Custom built folding work table. The table stores behind the board storage area in the van and can then be set up in the main area of van for work.
• Drawers and sliding bypass food and storage pantry
• Fold out cooking station on the back doors
• Ceiling fan, custom built/sewed window coverings (for insulation/ventilation/privacy)
• Enough space/storage for the dog and her supplies (my dog has megaesophagus and must eat in a bailey chair)
• Dedicated gear locker
• Custom built rooftop wet gear storage rack and windjammer
• 84” wide yakima bars and rocket box
• Inside tie downs for boards
• Custom built cat walk on the yakima rooftop crossbars for easier and safer boat loading.
• We can comfortably carry 2 river runners, 2 playboats, 3-4 sup/riversurf boards and all the paddles and whitewater gear we both need.
• Adding a mototote to the hitch for a small motorcycle allows us the freedom to self support shuttle.
• 8 gallon solar shower and outdoor shower

What's your Adventure Vehicle?

Our friend Chad also delved down the van adventure journey. A recurring question that was asked again and again was “what problem am I trying to fix?” Asking this question during all phases of the vehicle purchase, build out, accessories, etc helped narrow in on items that were essential…or not.

For our needs, we felt we could get by without 4 wheel drive. Having the 2500 chassis allowed for the extra weight of the build out and for motorcycle hauling. Marty and I are both fun sized people, so having extra head room was not a necessity. A taller van would be more challenging for us to load as well. We opted for bunk beds along one side of the van. A friend of Marty noted that our bunk space was just about as big as the ones they had on the nuclear sub. Yea, they are cozy, but this allows us plenty of storage space down the main portion of van.

Since we are not living full time in the van, we could do without a lot of luxuries needed for full time rubber wheeled residence. We don’t have additional heat/ac, other than the factory van system. We don’t need extra electricity or a generator for appliances. We opted for more roof space for gear over solar panels. We use coolers for temperature sensitive food and make runs to the store as needed.

Jean Claude hasn’t been without its trials and tribulations for us. Marty reported the build out was more like shipwrights carpentry. Everything had to be custom made to fit, nothing was square or straight. The van has 200,000+ miles on it. We had to put in a new transmission last year (it’s never a good sign when your local transmission mechanic recognizes your voice over the phone and knows you by first name). New leaf springs, new headlights and body work for nuisance surface rust. The list is ongoing, but that’s part of vehicle ownership.

Thus far, Jean Claude has been a great adventure vehicle for us. The DIY (plus the help of many friends as well) was the right fit our skills and budget. We have taken Jean Claude on numerous adventures to our local whitewater park and on longer trips across the US and into Canada. We have been cozy down to -10 degrees during a polar vortex and cool-ish up to 90 degrees during humid summer nights. The van has its strengths and weaknesses, but Jean Claude is a part of family!

What’s your favorite adventure vehicle? And what did you name it?

-Hannah Ray J