Two Climbers, One Maine Coon Cat, and Life in a Van
Tina and Alex are EVO members, workers, devout climbers, soon to be newlyweds, students, and badasses. They have an 18-pound Maine Coon cat named Lily and love everything about van life. Here’s an exclusive interview with the happy couple:
So you live in a van. Since when?
Alex: I started a cross-country trip in November 2015 so I’ve been living there basically since then.
Tina: I moved in when I met up with him on his trip in January 2016. In the beginning, it was bare essentials in there.
Alex: The van was a hollow metal shell when I bought it.
What’d you do to pimp your ride?
Alex: First we insulated the ceiling and floor, then covered the insulation with plywood and trim. From there we built the raised bed frame and some seating areas that includes storage (cubbies) underneath. One side is Tina’s, one side is mine. Above the bed, there is space for hanging clothes.
What was the biggest expense?
Alex: Other than the van itself, ($44,000), the solar panels.
Tina: But they were installed by our friend’s company who hooked us up with a pretty good deal.
Alex: They’re 560-watt solar panels (placed on top of the van) that power our normal wall outlets. It can plug in a hair dryer, refrigerator—basically anything. It powers our lights and ceiling fan, which is a saving grace with this weather warming.
Tina: Everything we power comes from the sun. No electric bills!
How long did you plan for?
Tina: Alex has been saving his whole life.
Alex: I had a 1965 Classic Mustang that I sold; I put all of the revenue toward the van. There was a $10,000 down payment, and we’re paying off the remaining loan together. Our “rent” is $750 a month for both of us…and it’s a brand new Mercedes.
That’s amazing. I officially want to live in a van. Do you talk about van life with other van life people?
Alex: Since we moved in, a lot of people have come to us, and wanted to know details; just going to Rumney, several people come up, ask how we did it, what resources we used.
Tina: People come up to us at the gym, too; people who are looking to live out of boats or trucks or something similar to van life. Alex’s dad built sailboats as a career, so a lot of our inspiration for our van came from him.
Alex: We’ve used my dad’s sailboat knowledge to find stuff that’s durable and easy to use. The sink, water pump, fridge, stove, and toilet in our van are all built for boats.
What’s different about your van?
Alex: A lot of people use propane and I didn’t want to deal with propane. If you change altitude a lot, with propane systems, you have to change out parts on the valves and how they work. If you go from sea level to 12,000 feet your stove won’t work.
What’s your advice to someone looking into van life?
Alex: DO A TON OF RESEARCH.
Tina: We did at least two years of research before buying anything.
Alex: There’s a guy who wrote an entire book about start-to-finish steps and options for building your Sprinter. It’s 300 pages long, and you can buy it as a PDF. I read the whole thing. It was an invaluable resource.
Tina: There are also online forums, Instagram accounts, and online communities we use for inspiration.
Alex: One of the best online sources is Sprinter-forum.com.
What’s one of the biggest lessons you two have learned?
Tina: Don’t be afraid to rebuild or take something down.
Alex: I build the whole bed twice, and I’m on the third go around with plumbing.
Tina: You have to accept that you can plan as much as you want, but you’re going to have to make adjustments.
Have you guys experienced any stigmas?
Alex: People who aren’t climbers tend not to “get it.” Or anyone who isn’t interested in living smaller. People tend to equate it to live in the tiny house project. They expect it to be a dark hole where you’re climbing around. I can stand up and I still have 6 inches of headroom.
Tina: We both have full-time jobs, we both go to school; van life allows us to travel freely all throughout. I haven’t come across real stigma yet.
Alex: We were hassled by the cops once; we were sleeping on the Western Prom—(laughs)—we were the only vehicles on the road so it was pretty obvious.
Do you two ever get sick of each other?
Tina: We spend so much time together. We climb together, we yoga together, we train together. The only time we aren’t together is when we’re working. Headphones and divider curtains are key in van life…you know, if one person wants to stay up and the other wants to go to bed.
Alex: And you have to be okay with peeing in front of each other. And you have to be okay with pooping in the woods because there is no #2 in the van.
What’s the best thing about van life?
Tina: It forces you to save your money and prioritize and ask yourself “what do I really need?” If I get something, I have to get rid of something.
Alex: We have four dishes.
Has van life made you happier?
Alex and Tina: Oh yeah.
Tina: It’s awesome to just wake up and hang out outside.
What about winter, when you can’t hang out outside?
Alex: We have a heater. It’s a furnace the size of a shoebox that plugs into the diesel fuel line. It brings the van from 30 degrees to 70 degrees in ten minutes and uses almost no fuel. For one hour, it burns less than one-tenth of a gallon.
What’s the game plan after you two lovebirds get married?
Alex: We’re leaving for an indefinite period of time after Christmas, just driving west and just traveling for 5 or 6 months.
What’s your biggest concern, if any?
Tina: We read that 60% of cats that live in vans eventually run away.
Alex: So far Lily is super chill.
So there you have it, folks! Lily, Alex, and Tina, just chilling and living the dream. We’ll keep everyone posted on their adventures to come and their continued multi-purposing mastery.