Friday, August 16, 2019

Starting Van Life ... With A Little Help From Our Friends

Since we picked up our new 2019 Hymer Aktiv 2.0, summer has been speeding by. We made a fun but quick dash up to Minnesota in order to see family and friends, celebrate graduations, and fulfill my work requirements as a supplemental nurse at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. With this quick "pack up and go", we didn't have much time to figure out the logistics of our new, more nimble lifestyle.

So as we got closer to the Minnesota border on Memorial Day weekend, I realized that I had more questions than answers ...
  • Where would we park Baby Minne Beest?
  • How will we take care of basic needs like a showering, doing the laundry, and cooking??
  • How are we going to live in such a small space???

Yes, I am good at letting questions get the best of me sometimes.

As He has done many times in the past, God once again calmed my fears ... first through the smile and new sense of joy that shines on the face of my husband. Doug has been over-the-top in love with Baby Minne Beest since he drove her off the lot. She is easy to maneuver, fits into (almost) any normal size parking space, and promises us a lifestyle of less planning ahead and more exploring.

Overlook at Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area, Lodi, Wisconsin

The second "gift" of reassurance came via a text message from a dear friend a few days before we arrived in Rochester. She did not just invite us to stop by for a visit, but she and her husband opened ...

... their driveway,

... their kitchen,

... their garden,

... and their home to us!
(Only one catch ... you need to be NDSU Bison Fans :-)

Go Bisons!

We met our welcome crew consisting of ...





... and Zoey.

Doug quickly became Zoey's favorite friend since he took her for afternoon walks while all the other humans were at work. Even the deer passing through their yard in the evening seemed to like to hang out a while with the new visitors.

During our time in Rochester, my days were filled with getting back up to speed at the hospital, taking a few classes, and catching up with friends. After busy days, it was sure nice to come back "home" and take in the beauty of the flowers in Mary Beth's garden ...

... and spend time laughing and reminiscing while cooking up a feast or debating the "art" of downsizing.

Doug and I have learned a lot in the past few weeks about living in the smaller space of our new "home". As we start to figure out this new and different RVenture style, I look forward to sharing our experiences. But, to start out, I want to share our first valuable lesson that we have learned about van life ...

...that we are grateful to be able to get by with a little help from our friends!

Thank you to all of our dear family and friends who, through your kindness, have welcomed us "home".

From our first "campsite" in Tami's Panama City driveway,
to a reunion with cousins in Wisconsin,
to a silly tribute to a special graduate,
to numerous gatherings of friends,
we are blessed with friends
who help us smile brighter,
wander longer,
ponder deeper,
and pause for that perfect picture.
They plan future travels with us,
and make us feel part of the group.
They wine and dine us,
and just let us hang out in their back yard.
Friends are the people ...
who always welcome us back.
Cheers to you, dear friends!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Introducing Baby Minne Beest

It's been a couple of months since we last posted, and WOW ... what a couple of months it has been! On May 20, we became proud owners of a new 2019 Hymer Aktiv 2.0 Class B campervan. A model similar to this was our original choice back in December ... until the North American Division of Hymer went into insolvency. The tale of our turbulent search for a replacement van is better left for a long "around the campfire" story ... accompanied by a BIG bottle of wine. Suffice to say, we are now like new parents: over the top in love with our new home, but at the same time still trying to figure out our new traveling lifestyle.

We have named her Baby Beest as she is our brand new offshoot of the Wildebeest. And because her migratory nature tends to lead us up to Minnesota in the summer, we have added "Minne" as her middle name. So far we have camped in friends' driveways, stayed in county and state parks, utilized Walmart parking lots and just hung out on the side of the road for the night. Baby Minne Beest goes where we want to go and (pretty much) fits into any normal parking space. She certainly blends in with the local surroundings better than the brightly colored Wildebeest did.

The Hymer Aktiv 2.0 is 21 feet in length (almost 23 feet with the spare tire on the back) and 9 feet 5 inches tall. She has a lithium battery system that allows us to be "off the grid" and not plugged into electricity most days. The Ram ProMaster chassis that the Aktiv is built on comes with a three year warranty. Having the engine covered definitely put our minds at ease, because any Hymer-specific system (including the lithium batteries) does not have a warranty because Hymer is out of business. But Doug reassured me (as he has convinced me through the years) that he can fix just about anything. We love the layout and were also happy that the price had come down considerably since when we first looked at them. So with everything pointing in our favor, we took the leap into a smaller, more nimble RVenture lifestyle.

So come on in, and we will show you around!

Oh, one catch ... the interior ceiling height is just about six feet, so if you are like our 6 foot 3 inch friend Curtis, you may have to duck in order to get around ... or just stand with your head sticking out of the sunroof opening!

The Driver's Seat

From the time he drove it off the lot, Doug has been thrilled with the ease of driving and convenience of taking Baby Minne Beest wherever we want to go. End up on a gravel road on our way to see a waterfall?? No problem! Make a quick turn off the highway in order to visit Metropolis, home of Superman?? Easy! Just keep the M&Ms handy, and Doug will drive me anywhere!

Or I will drive myself ... It is wonderful to finally having an RV that I feel comfortable and confident driving!

Even our special friend, two-year-old Daniel wanted to get in on the fun ... he just needs a few more years of growth in order to reach the pedals,

... but he is already instructing Doug on how to turn on the radio when the engine isn't running.

Our Dining Room, Computer Room, and Living Room ... All In One

Come have a seat! The leather "couch" comes equipped with two more seat belts, so there is room for four passengers,

... and when the table is folded out and chairs swiveled around, our guests can join us for a meal or card game,

... and watch some TV afterwards.

My Kitchen

Did you notice that I called it "my" kitchen? That's because it is pretty small so only one person can be preparing food at a time. And since Doug's strong suit is not cooking, I am very happy in my "minne" kitchen. There is definitely not a lot of storage, so our five cup coffee maker is the only appliance that made the cut.

The sink is small but handy, with the faucet delivering water from the 30 gallon fresh water tank, and the sink draining the resulting gray water into a 23 gallon storage tank. The glass top provides more counter space when the sink is not in use.

The two burner propane stove also has a glass cover that when closed, gives a little more counter space. I am getting good at the one-pot, minimal ingredients, easy to prepare dishes served over rice or pasta made in the microwave. With no convection oven, I will be resorting to invading the kitchen of any family, friend ... heck, I may even take over a stranger's kitchen in order to make cookies, cakes or bars. Any takers??

Hard to believe that I used so much Pampered Chef cookware and utensils back in the day ... all my kitchen items (silverware, towels, pans, plates, containers, etc) can now be found stored in the three drawers under the sink.

My handy man Doug came through with shining colors with his first Baby Minne Beest improvement project. He put two shelves in this former hanging closet to make a pantry to better organize and store our few food staples and, of course, the all important M&M and Frito supply.

The electric refrigerator/freezer is located under the propane cooktop. It is compact, but still able to hold enough food for about four days of meals as well as ice cream treats to satisfy Doug's sweet tooth.

Everyday we are finding more unique storage solutions, like our now "not-so-secret" water, pop, beer and wine cellar that is located in the floor.

As I said, the kitchen space is small ... only room for one cook at a time,

... but Doug always seems happy to stay out of the way and let me spend time in my happy place!


The bathroom is located in the middle of the van. It has a sink that folds down over the cassette toilet. What is a cassette toilet, you ask?? A black water tank that sort of looks like a carry-on suitcase that you take out, open the spout, and dump the contents down the toilet or sewer. Doug says it is as easy as ...

1 ...

2 ...

3 ... but I will let him remain
the cassette toilet "expert"! 

The water faucet in the bathroom extends to serve as a shower head should you want/need to turn the space into a wet bath and take a quick shower. I hope that we won't have to try that out as the space is very small, and I can't imagine how we could keep the rest of the van dry.

Instead, we have been able to utilize campground shower houses and friends' homes. Because I always have to be ready to haul my shower supplies, I have become quite efficient with all my toiletries fitting into this "grab and go" shower bag.

The Bedroom

It seems hard to believe that our smallest house actually has the largest bed that we have ever owned. Measuring 71 x 74 inches, it is comparable to a king size bed. And the four inch mattress is amazingly comfortable. The only downside is that the bed is three feet off the floor which is a bit higher than a normal bed. "Climbing" into bed at night requires more of a giant leap for a shorty like me.

The large bed also gives me space for "creative" storage ideas. The red pillow covers serve double duty as pillows and as storage for our down winter jackets and big fluffy robes that are stuffed in them. The space under the bed works well for the laundry basket. The front window nightshades get stored on the bed during the day as well as anything that I haven't found a permanent "home" for.

The bed is a murphy-style that can fold up against the wall on the right side in order to provide easier access to the storage cabinets under the bed. But, because folding it up would mean taking the bedding off in the morning and putting it back on at night, we just leave the bed extended out all the time. It is an acrobatic challenge to put on sheets and/or make the bed ... and definitely not a chore I like to do any more often than I need to.

Here is the view from the back of the van looking forward. Looks pretty spacious, right??

Above both sides of the bed is a row of three cabinets for each of us to store our clothes. It was not a small feat to downsize my clothing to fit into this space, but embracing the "only wear clothing that is comfy and brings me joy" philosophy really helped me out.

Windows on either side of the bed deliver a nice breeze at night, and often give a beautiful view of the sunrise in the morning.

The Under-Bed Storage

For us, the driving force in choosing the Hymer Aktiv was the layout ... specifically, the big bed and the ability to store our folding bicycles underneath the bed. The bikes are docked in the back of the van with the storage cabinets on either side. While these lower storage cabinets are not the most convenient to get to, they are handy for Doug's tools, camping gear, and other not-so-often used items.

From the back door, the bikes are easily accessible, and as you can see ...

...once again, my handy man came through as Doug engineered, custom designed and built the wooden frame that with the help of bungee cords, hold the bikes secure ...

... and ready for whenever we happen to come upon some scenic bike trails!

So that is the ten-second tour of our new home on wheels. We are still getting used to Baby Minne Beest, and as every new parent knows ... the days fly by as you are always learning something new! Our traveling style will be changing, but we hope to continue to capture the fun and keep you informed about where RVentures in RVan takes us!

We welcome your questions and comments.
Thank you for following along!

"Our new life together has just begun ... You are a part of us ... Our little one, Baby Minne Beest!"