Thursday, March 26, 2015

Monday, March 23, 2015

3 years of Toyota motorhome living - how goes it???

1989 Toyota Odyssey 4x4 (1 of only 6 ever made - I was lucky to come across it!)

  It's been a while and  I've had several folks ask what's up, so here's an update.  First, the Toyota 4x4 motorhome lives on!  Although the V6 3.0 liter engine has a blown head gasket and is limping around, I'm currently in the process of installing a larger, custom V6 3.4 liter engine.  It should boost my horsepower from 145 hp to 190 hp.  55 hp will make a huge difference driving "Nelly" all around Alaska.

  I've done quite a bit of research, and Toyota's 3.4 L is a significant improvement in reliability, power, and fuel economy, so I should literally be a happy camper once the engine swap is complete by mid-April.  It will also
be pretty sweet to have the capability to drive faster than 40 mph down the highway.  Thanks all you patient people out there, I'm sure I've pissed you off at some point, but just remember... I'm not in a hurry cause' I'm already home.

     We haven't had much of a winter in Alaska this year.  It's been one of the warmest and least snowiest winters on record (warm ocean currents have not shifted much from last year, causing oddly warm weather patterns), and you can really see it in the mountains.  Snowmachines are still not allowed in most of the public use areas due to lack of snow.  People are still skiing, but it's pretty sad this year... even my interior RV garden (pictured below) was growing into mid-October this year, unbelievable!

Crow Creek Road, Girdwood, AK
     I just realized this coming April will make 3 years of living in the Toy home.  It's been a crazy adventure and I've met a lot of incredible people along the way.  2 more years to go and I'll have the Toy home paid off!

     I've found Alaska to be an awesome place to live in a camper off-grid, however I have also noticed a lot of potential camping areas and public parking areas have been closing down the last 3 years, and I feel like I need to do my part by speaking up.  There are a few other people out there living in vehicles and some people have been ruining the free camping spots, primarily by staying in one spot too long and then the spot is permanently blocked off or "No Camping/No Overnight Parking" signs are put in place.

     One example of prime spots to stay the evening, but have closed do to excessive, multi-day camping:
Home for the night at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood - skiing and live music, yup!
The Seward Highway pull-offs.  There used to be a dozen different pull-outs to park and stay overnight in (provided you are low-key and move along in the early morning).  Unfortunately, people camped too long, and now there are 3 ft. ditches and large boulders blocking the pull-outs, rendering them completely unusable... even if passerbys simply want to rest for a moment.  It is sad to see these spots permanently erased from the list of places to potentially camp for a night.  To everyone out there staying overnight in their vehicles... please be responsible, leave your spot early the next morning, take your trash with you, and be respectful about using the bathroom (if you don't have a bathroom or porta-potty in your camper, then make sure to dig a hole and bury your waste/burn your toilet paper).  If you ever go to New Zealand, the free camping has literally been ruined by tourists and locals that use the bathroom and leave their waste and toilet paper exposed everywhere.  We don't want Alaska to begin closing our free camping areas down, so do your part!

     That is all.  If we can all educate ourselves on being more responsible campers and stewards of the environment, then we will continue to enjoy free camping and no hassles in Anchorage and all around Alaska.

                      Another free overnight camping spot...  I make sure to camp responsibly and move early the next morning so there are no issues.
Kage & I at an abandoned gold mine in the Talkeetna Mountains.

      Kage and I recently returned from a trip to New Zealand and Fiji.  We had an incredible time overseas and all I recall is a blur of incredible experiences: scuba diving, whitewater pack rafting, speed flying, paragliding, canyoning, hiking, caving, busking and played a few shows with our instruments, fire spinning, stopped by the Lord of the Rings "Shire/Hobbiton," oh... and consumed a healthy amount of lamb pies with an occasional salad.  We bought a van (1992 Toyota HiAce diesel cow), converted the van into a fully self-contained camper (installed a toilet, sink, and fresh/grey water tanks) and toured both islands of New Zealand.

   Below is a quick video of one of the adventures: 

A Hobbit home in The Shire, Lord of the Rings movie set, New Zealand.

     As I mentioned above, free camping in New Zealand has become next to impossible.  Tourist and locals alike have absolutely trashed the land.  Almost every scenic pull-out we came to or trail-head has toilet paper literally everywhere, and plenty of trash found nearby.  It's actually really sad, as this was my 5th time visiting New Zealand, and now there are "No Freedom Camping" signs everywhere.

     Unfortunately, campervans have become the target for irresponsibility, as locals and police assume that campervans staying overnight without an onboard bathroom or porta-potty are leaving the toilet paper behind, when the reality is that day-hikers or sight-see'ers just passing by also leave behind trash and toilet paper.

     The only way to camp for free in New Zealand these days is by obtaining a "Self-Contained" sticker from local auditors who inspect your van after you have installed a plumbed sink, sealed fresh water and waste water tanks, and a sealed porta-potty system (see pictures below).

Our fully-converted Toyota Hiace diesel van: plumbed a sink and freshwater/wastewater tanks, added a toilet behind the drivers seat.

The required "Self-Contained" sticker you need to camp for free in New Zealand
Kage with a celebration float after running the whitewater upstream on the Kawaru River, South Island, NZ.
The "Embrace" sculpture burning at sunrise completely surrounded by over 50,000 people.  Small-scale tornados were created from the intense heat produced by the fire! Unreal! Another beatiful moment at B.M.

  Another highlight of the year was getting to experience and participate in the Burning Man festival this past August/September, held in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.  If you are open-minded and want a mind-blowing experience that you can't experience (to this magnitude) anywhere else in the world, then you absolutely have to go to Burning Man at some point in your life.
     Over 50,000 people of all ages, all walks of life, all personalities and oddities, come together for a week in the Nevada desert to create Black Rock City.  I read and heard how large and overwhelming this city becomes, and man did it live up to all the hype!  I think I'm still residualy dancing over half a year later... and we're definitely going back this year!
     What do you do at Burning Man? Well, I remember: riding on pirate ships across sand,  climbing into a box of mirrors and losing all direction, chasing a flaming mechanical octopus,  riding a bike through a tornado, camping with the owner of a pro baseball team, wandering from live show to live show with fire-blasting canons and stacks of speakers taller than a hotel - so much sound the hairs on your arms would stand up...  and I made many great friends I'll know or remember for a long, long time. Incredible!
Taking a break somewhere in Black Rock City.  It's hard to get lost when you can make anywhere your home.

Kage and I playing pickin' some grindage' for passerbys.

  The Shoot Dangs! have had another awesome year of shows in ridiculously awesome places.  Arctic Man, Tailgate Alaska, Salmonstock, Forest Fair, SnowFest, Trapper Creek Bluegrass Festival, Six Mile Creek Whitewater and Bluegrass Festival, I can't even remember them all!  We had the opportunity to play shows at bars and music venues in Valdez, Homer, Denali, Talkeetna, Seward, Girdwood, Hope, Fairbanks, and Anchorage, and we'll be doing it again this summer!  Thanks so much to the fans, friends, and strangers that encourage us to keep keepin' on!

     We're currently in the process of recording a new album, which should hopefully be ready for release at the Trapper Creek Bluegrass Festival on May 22nd, 2015.  A lot of new, original songs inspired by outlaws, freedom and times long gone.

Thanks to our friend Katxia for drawing (a tiny version) of our banner!! We love it!

     The band is also planning a fall tour from Alaska down to Burning Man 2015.  We are hoping to take the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system and play shows along the southeast Alaska coastal towns (like Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Wrangell, etc) the last week of August.  We'll be taking the Toyota motorhome down.  Can't wait!  Well, until next time... oh, and for a list of show dates, booking information or music samples, go to

A show at Down East Saloon, Homer, AK.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Six Mile Creek Whitewater & Bluegrass Festival! Friday & Saturday, August 8th & 9th, 2014!!!

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, AUGUST 8th - 10th, 2014!

The FACEBOOK event page for Six Mile Fest....

Come experience the CHAOS of WAYYY too many people sprint racing through a narrow, whitewater canyon... guaranteed ear-to-ear grins! While you’re at it, come boogie on the shores of the river on Friday & Saturday nights to boot-stompin’ live music. AJ’s barbeque will feed you (bring cash). EVERYTHING (live music, raffle tickets, competition entry, festival entry, camping, parking) is FREE!!!!! 

** However, a $$$ donation will REALLY help pay the set-up costs, permit fees, and keep this festival going year after year!

For more info visit: or contact

DIRECTIONS: Drive 1 hour south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway towards the town of Hope. Main festival grounds are located at mile 3.4 of Hope Road. Look for festival signs.

PARKING: You can park off the shoulder of the road, but DO NOT park over the white lines or you will be towed. They are very series about towing, so please spread the word!!! Please be respectful and don't park on anyone's private property!

* Free camping!
* 21+ to drink (BYOB)
*** Please bring cash for a generous donation...

There will be food from AJ's Bar-be-que Friday & Saturday, a raffle for some sweet prizes, and some fire-spinning once the sun goes down!

* Please pack in and pack out your own trash. If you have time to help clean up the festival grounds on Sunday, your help will not go unnoticed!

* If you want to volunteer, all you have to do is contribute somehow. I need volunteers to
- make a fire pit/collect firewood
- pick up trash and bring it to town on Sunday morning
- help break down the main stage on Sunday morning
- help pack up Sunday morning
- help direct people towards parking
- river safety/rescue racers by boat/throwbag
-etc etc etc

IF YOU WANT TO VOLUNTEER, please contact me at

MUSIC Schedule:

FRIDAY, AUGUST 8th, 2014 at the main festival grounds:
- 10:00pm - 11:00pm : Backwoods Revolution
- 11:30pm - 1:30am : The Dirty Hands

SATURDAY, AUGUST 9th, 2014 at the main festival grounds:

- 6:00pm - 7:00pm : Wayward North
- 7:30pm - 9:30pm : The Destry J.W. Smith Band
- 10:00pm - 12:00pm : The Shoot Dangs
- 12:30pm - 2:30am : TBA



11:00 am : competitor sign-up down at the main festival grounds tent/main stage area, racing bib hand-out

12:30 pm: racers and spectators leave main festival grounds at Boston Bar area and carpool/drive back north to the 1st canyon extreme race series site (about 1 mile north of the Seward Highway bridge over Canyon Creek, just before the Hope cut-off road... look for lots of parked cars off the side of the highway at 1:00pm.

1:00 pm : Downriver mass-start extreme race through the 3 biggest rapids of the 1st canyon (KAYAK, canoe, inflatable kayak)

1:30 pm: PACK RAFT mass-start extreme race through the 3 biggest rapids of the 1st canyon (pack rafts only)

2:00 pm: INFLATABLE POOL-TOY extreme mass-start race (inflatable pool-toy race...ride an alligator, shark, couch, whatever you want!... (normal whitewater gear is required (aka: drysuit, life jacket, helmet))... pack rafts don't count as an inflatable pool-toy:^

2:30 pm: Backwards race! (ALL river craft!) You go forwards, you're disqualified!

4:00 pm: everyone drives back to main festival area, awards ceremony, bonfire party, micro-brewed beer, AJ's bar-be-que, FREE RAFFLE, & live music begins. AWARDS will be around 7:00pm!

Here's a write-up from a few years back:

and a quick racing video:

DIRECTIONS to the racing area: *Competitors & spectators will leave the main festival grounds & drive up the road to the 1st canyon race area just off the Seward Highway about 1 mile north of the Canyon Creek bridge overpass on Saturday at 1:00p.m. sharp. * There are plenty of free camping spots along the Hope Road if the camping/parking is full at the main festival grounds.

* Cook Inlet Keepers
* Mooses Tooth Brewing Company
* World Kayak
* Susitna Sled & Kayak
* Alaska Raft & Kayak
* Chugach Outdoor Center
* American Whitewater
* Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking
* Bills Distributing
* Knik Canoe & Kayak Club
* Great Harvest Bread Company

******* Any questions please email or if you want to volunteer help please Timmy @ or sign up at the festival grounds/beer garden*******

Monday, March 10, 2014

Living off-grid interview by Nest Magazine

Here's a recent interview Kage and I had by Nest Magazine.  You can find a much prettier version of the arcticle on Nest Magazine's website:

I hope this article helps or inspires someone, somehow.   It'd be a lot easier to go about my own business and not spend any time writing or answering questions from people, but I think it's important to send back the positive energy and inspiration that so many people send out to me, so here's my odd way of doing it.  Kage throws some great tips out there for women that are considering a similar lifestyle on the road.  Thanks Inga for the interview:

NEST MAG - Tim Johnson - Living in a van down by the river -

Living in a van down by the river

The first step to living small, but big: move into something smaller!

Tim is from the warm south of the U.S. and moved to the ice-cold north to realize his dream of living off-grid in a motorhome. Together with his girlfriend Kage he travels on Alaska's roads, showering in the gym, growing salad in the indoor garden, and keeping warm with the help of a wood stove. True to the motto: "The 1st step to living small, but BIG: move into something smaller!" In the following interview Tim and Kage tell us about the life on the road and in the cold.

NEST MAG - Tim Johnson - Living in a van down by the river -

Could you give me some information about your personal background? Who are you, what is your profession, where are you from, what are your hobbies, what do you wish for your life?

     My name is Tim Johnson, friends call me Timmy. My profession? Metaphorically “living out of the box”… while literally “living in a box.” I guess my main income is based off of teaching driving.  I try to save every scary, hard-earned penny I make teaching driving and invest in life's many adventures & a sporadic life on the road.  I’m nearly finished with a Masters degree in Environmental Science/Isotope Hydrology, so I might not have to continue risking my life with new driving students. There’s something sketchy about driving down an icy Alaskan highway in January, with a brand new driver that speaks no English and has horrible reflexes… but I supposed somebody’s gotta do it.

     I grew up in North Georgia’s Smokey Mountains. Maybe you’ve seen the movie Deliverance? Them are my stompin’ grounds. Spending time in an Alaskan bush cabin as a kid, I always found myself dreaming of calling Alaska “home”. I finally moved to Alaska in 2002, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

NEST MAG - Tim Johnson - Living in a van down by the river -
NEST MAG - Tim Johnson - Living in a van down by the river -

     Some folks have a drinking problem. I have a “water problem”, otherwise known as whitewater kayaking. Kayaking is the backbone of my adventures in Alaska and around the globe. The summer in Alaska is incredible for kayaking, where I can lose myself in deep, remote, and unforgiving whitewater canyons. In the winter-time, I either travel out of the USA to paddle (usually to New Zealand, my second home) or I’ll hang around Alaska and ski, speed-fly, or snow machine. I also enjoy picking the banjo in my free time, and try to do a show every now and then with our band. My girlfriend, Kage, is also a banjo player (she helped teach me a few new banjo skills), so we share the passion for playing and creating music.

     What do I wish for my life? Honestly, I wish to learn everything I can from everything around me, and I hope to make a positive impact in the people’s lives I interact with. I also aim to create an environment that inspires adventure (within myself and others), morphs dreams to reality, and leaves a positive footprint and a bit of inspiration behind. I’m always grateful for the inspiration other people give me, so I’m just attempting to return that energy.

What happened that you've decided to move from the warm south to the cold north of the U.S.? From where came the idea to live off-grid all year in your camper?

     After spending time as a kid in the remote wilderness of Lake Clark National Park, I just always knew I wanted to call Alaska home… so I simply acted on my dreams.  I never did like moving into new homes. It seemed I had to move into a new apartment or home at least every year for 10 years straight, throughout Anchorage and Girdwood. Roommates would move in or move out, and I would basically be forced to find a new home. I had enough belongings to outfit an entire house, so every time I moved it was a serious undertaking. I finally grew tired of moving all my belongings around, so I decided to sell everything that was unnecessary, and move into a small motorhome year-round. I was really concerned at first, because I knew I would not have a designated place to park, and I didn’t know how comfortable I would be throughout the cold winter months.

     As it turns out… if you think “out of the box”, life on the road will more than accommodate you.
In an article about you, I've read that the reason you've moved to Alaska was the dream of living in the wildest place on Earth. What is the most fascinating thing about this rough nature?
The most fascinating aspect of Alaska is the raw experience of untouched wilderness. I haven’t been anywhere else on earth that feels so remote and wild, even within a short distance of the city.

NEST MAG - Tim Johnson - Living in a van down by the river -
NEST MAG - Tim Johnson - Living in a van down by the river -

Could you tell me something about your camper? Where have you found it? What add-ons have you added since you owned it?

     After the decision to live in a motorhome full-time, my old man (Bob) & I were searching the internet for a Toyota 4x4 motorhome, and my old man came across an ad for an extremely rare (only 6 ever made) Toyota Odyssey 4-wheel drive motorhome in Los Angeles, California. We both were looking for a 4x4 motorhome at the time, and since I lived in Alaska (he lives in Georgia) and I was planning on living full-time in the motorhome, I decided to buy the 4x4 motorhome… and he opted for a very rare Toyota Sunrader diesel 2-wheel drive motorhome for his travels.

     The Toyota Odyssey 4x4 has come a really long way from its stock chassis. I have installed a wood stove & chimney, along with solar panels, which allow me to live “off-grid” and not be plugged into a power source for heat or electricity. If it’s cold, I simply throw wood in the fire instead of relying on propane or a generator. If I want to watch a movie or charge my phone, the solar panels power the LED TV and recharge my phone. Pretty cool.

     I also had to custom-build a kayak rack on the roof to hold the kayaks, and added a couple of rocket boxes to store skis & gear on the roof. I also added an 8-inch lift, 33” off-road tires/rims, and a bull-bar/brush guard to protect the motorhome from a wreck (since the brakes are stock Toyota 4-Runner brakes and are severely underpowered). In the spring, summer, and fall, I have an interior garden where I grow lettuce, green onions, and spices for an off-grid food source.

     My girlfriend quickly pointed out that my camper looked like a sporty man-mobile, and even though I thought it looked pretty sexy, she has definitely helped make the inside look a little classier. I grew up in log cabins and always wanted a rustic, but modern-twist cabin-look to my motorhome. Kage has helped envision several interior designs and projects. The latest little project was making ceiling beams using 100+ year old, grey-weathered wood from old Alaskan gold mines. Looks pretty awesome! I sewed some custom, super-thick winter curtains made of oven-mit fabric, which keeps the heat trapped inside the single-pane windows in the winter time. Kage sewed some faux-leather curtains for a little extra attitude in the summer time.

NEST MAG - Tim Johnson - Living in a van down by the river -
NEST MAG - Tim Johnson - Living in a van down by the river -

You've named your camper "Pittsburgh Nelly". Where did this name came from?

     Ah, I just couldn’t think of a better name. Nelly just rolls of the tongue easily. Watch Chris Farley’s movie “Almost Heros” and wait for the punch-line if you really want to find out…

I'm really enthusiastic about the fitting-out of your nest. What impressed me most is the little in-house garden. How did the first motorhome-grown salad taste?

     The motorhome’s in-house garden is one of my favorite features also. There is something about having living plants and edible food growing in your car just makes it truly feel homey. The salad is ain’t that bad either. We’ve had a couple of aphid problems eating the lettuce, but whenever that’s under control it’s nice having free, healthy meals and spices for cooking.

NEST MAG - Tim Johnson - Living in a van down by the river -

I suppose the winter temperatures in Alaska are really cold and most of us aren't used to bear those. How do you get through the ice-cold nights in your motorhome? Any special tactics? Or probably longing for a warm shower?

     The Kimberly wood stove is the only reason we are able to comfortably survive the winter in my motorhome. I keep the fire stoked on the majority of the winter. Keeping the fire going cuts down the condensation from cooking and breathing in such a small 110 square foot living space. Even though the motorhome is not well-insulated at all, the wood stove puts out enough heat to keep the home cozy. I do have a built-in, 16,000 BTU propane furnace which we occasionally use to quickly warm things up, but RV propane furnaces are not truly designed to be used 24 hours a day, and have a tendency to fail.

     Kage and I use each other for heat (which helps a lot), but replacing cotton sheets with fleece blankets is my best advice to staying toasty warm. We throw a big down comforter on top of those fleece blankets on really cold nights, and although ice forms around your face and pillow, you stay nice and warm. We typically just take showers at the gym (a gym membership is a great thing!) or at friend’s homes.

NEST MAG - Tim Johnson - Living in a van down by the river -
NEST MAG - Tim Johnson - Living in a van down by the river -
NEST MAG - Tim Johnson - Living in a van down by the river -

I could imagine that many people that you meet while traveling are fascinated by your vehicle. What was the most beautiful or unexpected reaction to your motorhome and your unusual lifestyle?

     We get all kinds of great reactions to the motorhome. Usually it’s an ear-to-ear grin, or someone beeps their horn and gives a thumbs up. Sometimes people and businesses leave gifts of food on the hood. In the winter, I run the wood stove basically all day, so the motorhome drives around with a fire burning. I always get funny reactions from people at red lights, because of the smoking chimney.

NEST MAG - Tim Johnson - Living in a van down by the river -

     The craziest single reaction I had to the home was this past November. It was about -20 degrees F outside and I had the wood stove going. I went in to get some groceries for dinner, and while shopping the grocery store intercom came on. The person speaking on the intercom said “Attention! License plate “Y-RENT”… your RV is on fire!!!!!!” I finished shopping (knowing everything was fine, as the wood stove is air-tight), checked out at the register, and walked out of the grocery store to see about 70 people pointing at my RV and it’s smoking chimney (from the wood stove). Bystanders and fire fighters were surrounding the motorhome, planning out what to do next. I walked up to them and told them I just had a wood stove, and they all laughed and went their own ways.

I don't want to keep the new music video of your band "The Shoot Dangs" from our readers. I for one, am already a big fan. How do you combine the tour life with your life in the camper? Are you all living in your camper together while touring through Alaska?

     “The Shoot Dangs!” aren’t touring full-time in the camper, but one of our band members is from Fairbanks, so when he comes down to Anchorage for our shows, he usually sleeps in the RV’s guest bed.

NEST MAG - Tim Johnson - Living in a van down by the river -
NEST MAG - Tim Johnson - Living in a van down by the river -

     We just completed a Southeastern USA tour from Georgia to Texas, but we didn’t bring my motorhome, just a tiny 1989 Toyota Corolla 4wd station wagon. We’re all close friends now, but next time, we’re bringing the motorhome. This is the first real band I have ever been in, and it’s been a lot of fun. We are planning a future tour to play at Octoberfest in Germany (and all over Europe), then head over to Tokyo, Japan next fall to play some shows. We’ll also be playing around Alaska all winter/spring/summer long. Honestly, it’s a lot of fun creating music and sharing it with people, there’s no other feeling like it. Listening and playing music has always been a core part of my life, and it’s awesome to contribute and give back to the music scene.

NEST MAG - Tim Johnson - Living in a van down by the river -

Kage's camping tricks for girls

     Some girls are hesitant to live a life off the grid that may cause your hygiene and beauty to be on the rocks. I try to keep things really simple for myself. Having a fire going all night sometimes leaves my face dry. To resolve this, I heat a pot of water to steam over the stove, which warms my face. This water can also be used to make coffee. I use a mist of rose water to wash my face. I have apricot oil for my skin and hair, with a dash of concealer, and mascara - if the day calls for it. I like to keep antibacterial oils for remedies. Lemon, peppermint, and water mixed in a spritz is great for car sickness on long trips or headaches. Try Rose, cypress, or eucalyptus mixed with grape seed oil to deodorize armpits instead of a deodorant. If I get smelly I use rose water to rinse, pat dry, and a cotton ball application of rose oil over it. Rosemary mixed with a lighter oil is great for a finish on your hair ends.

Tim Johnson

     If the weather gets really cold it is good to have a bag that insulates your shampoo and conditioner so that they do not freeze. Some of you hair and skin care products can freeze or blow up! This can be troublesome because when some products freeze, the water and oil separate in the product and sometimes do not mix back together again. A thick fabric or insulated bag keeps this from happening. It’s nice to have it in a fabric that can be washed if you have product spill out of the containers. I spoil myself and use a big towel when I shower because I like having it for my whole body and long hair. The small camping towels just don’t cut it for me.

    If your hair looks too oily, I have a couple of favorite hats I like to wear as often as I can or use a dry shampoo. You can also use a huge makeup brush and use powder on your hair roots. This works great for me because I’m a natural blonde. I have also learned a nifty little hair duo where you part your hair on one side and do a French braid with the front hair to the other side; leaving the rest of your hair free.

     Fashion clothes, outdoor gear, work clothes, and play clothes. Getting your entire wardrobe in a small space is not easy when you start out. You have to down size slowly. Eventually you learn that having too much will bring you down. I like to keep in mind the type of fabric I have and for what activity. Will it dry quickly and is it warm? What I have found out to be most essential is: jacket, black spandex leggings, spandex tank tops, fun dress, comfy long top, vest, fashion scarfs, leg warmers, long johns, corduroys, favorite tee, wool sweater, polypropylene hiking ‘zippy’ top, yoga pants, sweatshirt, Carrhartt overalls, wool soxs, hats, running/hiking shoe, crocs, leather boots, rubber boots, and a chicken costume with a tutu.

     I pretty much have one of everything and make it work for everything we do. I can fit all of this in a 2ft by 1.5ft space and a small closet only 4 feet tall x 2 feet wide, except the chicken costume; that goes in the Rocket Box on top of the camper. Tim built a little wooden separator in the 2 ft x 1.5 ft. bin so it is easier for me to stay organized and see what I have to work with. He also put in a long body mirror on the inside of the bathroom door so that I can see all of myself! In the winter we drain the water out of the camper pipes and stop taking showers in the camper. This gives us extra space to store large winter clothes, mukluks, and things in the shower that we don’t typically use in the summer. We also have a little vertical shoe compartment hanging up and that helps us keep gloves, hats, scarfs, snow beacons, goggles, and cross country ski boots organized.

     I clean with Windex, vinegar water, lemon, and vodka. I try to stay away from chemicals as much as possible. Vodka mixed with water cleans wonderfully in the winter because it doesn’t freeze. I like to use a straw wicker broom when I can to keep dirt and dog hair out. We also have a little vacuum that we will charge once in a while with the solar panels. It’s nice to get everything vacuumed out even when it’s cold. Maintaining a clean house on wheels is necessary if you want to be able to actually drive around. We could use the free car wash vacuums but we tend to be out of town often and I get a kick out of vacuuming in the wilderness with no power lines around.

How many miles have you driven with Pittsburgh Nelly on Alaska's roads?

     I’ve put about 30,000 miles on the Alaskan roads and about 2,000 miles off-road so far, and hopefully those miles will keep accumulating (as long as the little V6 3.0 engine keeps chugging along). I don’t have a real winch yet, but I’ve had to use a come-along hand winch to pull myself out of a couple mud holes and bogs (there are a few crazy roads and trails to navigate up here if you’re playing in the woods or camping).

What are you planning for the future? Still living in a van down by the river and sleep each night at a different place?

      The future? I guess a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow. So today, I’m going to enjoy myself and hopefully do the same tomorrow.

And finally, what does a nest (home) mean to you?

     A nest, home, spread, or whatever you want to call it is, more than anything, is an environment to call your own, where comfort and familiarity are status quo. It provides a space to recharge your being, refuel your body, and rest your mind. Everyone should experience the privilege of their own NEST!

Thanks again Inga, see ya'll out there on the road, er river, er where ever...

- Timmy J.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Winter RV living in Alaska update...

Well, it’s been close to 2 years now, living in my little motorhome, on the road nearly every night in a new place, doing my best to live comfortably, healthy, and happily.  There are moments that are very trying, like coming home from a winter trip to find the couch and bed soaked with water and frozen solid.  And yes, it’s very difficult to dry out a waterlogged bed and couch inside a 95 square foot motorhome in the Alaskan winter… but it’s possible.

Tobias the wolf & "Nelly" - my 1989 Toyota Odyssey 4x4 motorhome... I wouldn't have it any other way
          Living in your vehicle can actually be quite comfortable.  Instead of paying rent for an apartment every month, I decided to take out a small loan and pay the loan off over 3 years. This allowed me to actually buy my home, just like someone purchasing a normal house (except I have no property taxes & it's a much more affordable "mortgage" to pay by myself).  And unless you have a large bank account, a trust fund, or want to work your life away every day for 30+ years (Despite what some folks might think, I have none of those, lol) this seemed the best way for me to live happily.

             I’ve got to give props to my girlfriend Kage, who has also been living along with me on the road (and her husky Tobias).  Being a man, the camper life isn’t too difficult, but for a woman, it’s an entirely different challenge.  According to Kage, it is definitely more difficult to live in a camper full-time as a woman (where society expects you to still look good, as well as having to take care of feminine things), but she really does make it work somehow
The lovely Kage (and yours truly) taking a break from playing music at a good friends house party in Girdwood
            The time living on the road has been a lot of fun, and a big learning experience.  I’ve met countless people that have influenced my life and heard stories that have rearranged my perspectives on life’s shenanigans.  Most encounters have been very positive and the RV has helped open windows of connections with people that I would not have had otherwise.  As for the other end of the spectrum, I’ve only had a couple of run-ins with people telling me to move on to another camping spot (literally only 2 times the last couple years).

            I only had one fire truck called on me… I was shopping in the grocery store and the intercom came on with a man saying, “License plate Y-RENT, your vehicle is on fire.”  I finished shopping, checked out, and walked outside to see about 70 people pointing at my RV and a fire truck with firefighters pulling up.  I told the firefighters that I just had a wood stove going inside the camper and everything was fine (I thought the chimney would make it pretty obvious, but I guess some of the bystanders didn’t know any better).
The fire truck & "house of fire" situation at the grocery store
             Life has been busy, but awesome.  Our band, " The Shoot Dangs! ", has been one of the more fun projects I've been involved with the last few years.  We just recently finished a tour throughout the Southeastern United States, and it was an incredible (and ridiculous) time.  I had the pleasure of touring with Kage, Josie, & Johnny Lungs.  We actually just had a phone call this week from the founder of Arctic Man (a big 10,000+ person snowmachine/ski festival up in Alaska), and they are having us headline the festival Friday & Saturday, April 11th & 12th.  We are STOKED!!!!  Here's a few clips of band videos we put together quickly:

The Shoot Dangs! "Turbo"
The Shoot Dangs! "Cluster ####"
So, I figured I’d throw some pointers for those that have decided or are considering a life full-time on the road, because that is essentially the point of this whole blog thing.  My biggest piece of advice… if you are thinking about living full-time and think you can commit to it, GO FOR IT!!!! You (probably, lol) won’t regret it!  When I first began searching the Internet, I couldn’t find hardly anything on advice or tips for living in a camper in the winter full-time.  And when I did find an article, the people living in the camper had a permanent space to park with electricity, enabling them to plug their RV in to an outlet every night to keep their electric space heaters running, which I don’t have the option of doing.

So, here are some pointers to make life more comfortable if you want to survive the winter in really cold climates (also great advice for ski bums with campers):

1)    Have a backup heat plan!  I prefer a wood stove and propane furnace combination.

The Kimberly wood stove (give me a shout if you want one, I can hook you up!)
Having a wood stove allows you to heat and cook without propane, oil, or electricity, which means you truly have an off-grid setup.  A wood stove will keep you warm, the wood heat will dry the air out in the RV, which will help get rid of condensation from breathing and cooking.  There are not many wood stoves out there that will work in an RV.  I personally chose a Kimberly wood stove, because it only weighs 56 lbs. and it’s extremely efficient.  There are a few other companies out there (such as Marine wood stoves, which are a little cheaper, but you get what you pay for).

Propane heaters are awesome and most RVs come standard with them.  But the fan that runs the propane furnace is extremely draining on your battery (most normal deep cycle 12v batteries will only last about 8 hours).  Once you kill your battery, you lose your lights and heat, and you’ll have to find a source of electricity to get a full charge again.  Propane furnaces also fail often, and if your only heater fails, you’re in big trouble.

2)    Get a small, flushable porta-potty AND carry your water in.

Winterize your pipes, water heater, and water pump.  Drain your fresh water and waste water tanks and kiss them goodbye for the winter.  Believe me, it’s not worth trying to keep them flowing.  Pipes will crack, tanks will break, and you will have a very expensive and time-consuming problem when spring rolls around.  Trust me, heat pads and heat tape are not going to cut it, so don’t even try (they take way too much electricity to keep things thawed, so they are useless in off-grid or low-electricity situations).

Instead, buy a 5-gallon water container and carry all your drinking and cooking water in by hand.  Set up your RV sink to drain directly into a 5 gallon bucket, then you can just dump your dishwater at any gas/RV dump station.  Get a gym membership or take showers at a friend’s house.  Get a small 5-gallon porta-potty with a hand-pump flush system.  Fill the flush reservoir with RV antifreeze.  Believe me, you will definitely want a bathroom when it is cold outside, not to mention, you can't just “go” anywhere when you’re in a city or neighborhood… or else you risk making a bad reputation for yourself and start pissing people off.

3)    Use your shower as a closet
In the winter, the shower becomes a closet for space-consuming winter clothes.
Since you won’t be taking showers in your camper throughout the winter, you might as well utilize that space.  I put a strong shower bar across the shower to hang up heavy winter jackets and pants.  I also put a small set of drawers to store winter items such as boots, gloves, hats, etc.

4)    Turn your refrigerator/freezer off

Because of living in cold temperatures and often waking up in cold temperatures, items in your refrigerator will freeze solid.  Things will stay plenty cold enough without having to use your propane refrigerator.  Sometimes I’ll keep ice cream or other frozen items in a storage box outside of the camper.

5)    Leave your cabinets cracked open at night

I’ve found that everything in your cabinets will freeze unless the cabinets are left open, and able to absorb heat from the RV’s living space.  I always leave the bathroom door open so it keeps shower/bathroom items from freezing solid.

6)    Put Reflectix bubble foil and a rug down on your floor & have a good, warm pair of house slippers or shoes.
The rug and Reflectix bubble foil under the rug make a HUGE difference in the winter.
The floors of the RV are the coldest part, brutally cold sometimes (because the floors or motorhomes are typically not insulated).  Placing Reflectix foil down on the floor and putting a warm, shaggy rug over the foil will give your camper a cozy feel and it will make the floor bearable to keep your feet on.

7)    Sew custom curtains made of oven-mit material

The most inefficient part of RVs are the windows, which are usually thin, single-pane windows.  Go to a fabric shop and get several yards of really thick, oven-mit fabric.  Measure out your windows and cut and sew up some custom curtains.  If I did not have really good, thick curtains on my windows, even with the wood stove, I would be really cold.  The drafts you feel from the windows alone are pretty impressive, and curtains will help mollify that.

I used oven-mitt (thick waffle-like) fabric to sew custom winter curtains... these curtains help retain heat & the only cold drafts I get now are from beer.
8)    Use matches instead of lighters

Matches are the way to go for lighting the wood stove and cooking.  If it is really cold, lights don’t work that great at all.  And if you don’t have any matches around, you’re going to be in trouble if you can’t get that flint warm enough to get a stable flame going.  Besides, matches are much cheaper.

9)    Open vents while cooking and after you cook, immediately wash dishes!

Truth be told, cooking is the most difficult part (to me) of living in a camper in the winter.  If you don’t crack open a vent so the condensation can escape, your camper will quickly begin to accumulate ice and mold, although the wood stove helps bake most of that condensation out.  Also, make sure to wash dishes the second you finish your meal, because it gets much more difficult once they freeze… and you don’t want to carry any more water into the camper than you have to.

10) Invest in solar panels
The solar panels ( two 30 watt panels for a total of 60 watts) You gain more electricity by mounting the panels at an angle similar to what I've done above (instead of flat on the roof).
You are going to need a set of solar panels.  Forget a generator.  I don’t know why almost every RV I ever come across is running a generator.  I’m here to tell you that a gas-powered generator is almost completely unnecessary.  A good set of solar panels placed properly on your roof (you want at least 60 watts, I’d like to have more one day) will give you enough power every day (even cloudy days) to charge your cellphones, power your lights all night, power the propane furnace for increments when the wood stove isn’t running, and watch movies.

11) Treat yourself and install a LED flat screen TV with built-in DVD player

Winters are long and dark in Alaska.  I’m not a TV lovin’ person, but it is pretty nice to get a nice fire going, make a cup of hot tea, and watch a movie.  The new mini-flat screens are pretty nice and they’re actually reasonably priced (I bought my for a little under $100 w/ the shipping from the lower 48).  Make sure to get an L.E.D. and not an L.C.D.  The LCD (Liquid Crystal) will freeze in cold temperatures and you might ruin the TV.  The LED TVs are made of LED lights, so there is nothing to really freeze.  The 19” screen seems to be about perfect for my small home.

12) Talk another person into keeping you warm!
Tobias is a little overkill for keeping us warm
While living by yourself in a camper allows more space and freedom, it sure is nice having another warm body around, ha.  But seriously, it does keep you a lot warmer at night if you’ve got your lady or your man by your side, so if they are up for having an experience they’ll remember the rest of their lives, have them move on board with you for a bit.  And believe me, you really get to know someone when you share a 10 ft. long living space with them!

Matt Peters about to finish the big ride down Huka Falls (I'm following shortly behind).  He had his skirt ripped off and I had my paddle ripped outta my hand & shoes sucked off, that's one powerful hole!

 A little speed wing flight in Thompson Pass, AK
      When it comes down to it, this is the reason I chose to live the way I do… because living on the road naturally leads to an active life style.  You are always doing something, going somewhere, or meeting somebody.  When you’re not working in the winter, it’s especially nice to get out and recreate in the day or meet up with friends in the evening.  This keeps you out of the camper and keeps your environment fresh.  I feel I appreciate my home much more when I’ve been active all day or all night.

Well, that’s about it.  Everyone stay warm out there and I’ll get another report in sooner than later,