“…the universe was created. This made a lot of people very angry and is widely regarded as a bad move.” — Douglas Adams
Justin had enjoyed dabbling in #vanlife throughout 2020. He’d done a “no-build van build” in his Dodge conversion van. He did several weekend trips, both with and without Trisha, as well as a full week wandering New Hampshire and Maine. He loved it. After much discussion, we decided to sell the unreliable Dodge, replace it with a reliable van or RV, and hit the road together full-time at the end of our apartment lease.
After considering many vehicles, we ended up buying a 2004 Ford E250 extended wheelchair van. This meant it came with a high roof already installed, which was a must for full-time living. We brought it home on December 21. It was a rustbucket, but mechanically it was rock solid, which was more than could be said for the old Dodge. While swearing that our next van would be from somewhere salt- and rust-free, we slowly began building out the interior over the long, cold New Hampshire winter.
On March 24, 2021, everything changed. At 2:30am, we woke up to the smoke alarm going off. It was no false alarm. Our apartment was full of smoke, and flames were licking our back door. We grabbed the cat plus a few essential items got out, and called the fire department. The fire was smoldering inside the walls of the building. Firefighters took a chainsaw to the wall to expose and put out the root cause of the fire. They saved the building and most of our stuff, but everything inside now had an icky smoke residue all over it. From that moment on, we were homeless.
The Red Cross helped us find and fund alternative lodging for the next two weeks, during which time we had to not only clear everything we wanted to save out of the apartment but also panic build the van to a point where we could live in it. It was an impossible task. A number of friends helped, from financial contributions to replacing our smoke-damaged bedding to helping us finish the van build. When our time at the Airbnb was up, we packed the van like a moving truck and fled to Indiana, where another friend had invited us to stay with her for a couple of weeks and finish the van build there.
After another mad dash of work, the van was finally livable. April 24, one month to the day after the fire, was the first night we spent in our new home on wheels.
Why “Smokey Da Van?” In tribute to the fire and circumstances that caused us to leap into van life the way we did. Smoke detectors save lives. They saved ours, for certain.