The Nicest People Live in Bozeman, MT

Have you ever heard of a city called Bozeman? Neither have I before coming into this town.  Bozeman is a small city located about 90 miles north of Yellowstone National Park.  Speaking of Yellowstone, I won’t bore you with the same details that any google search can tell you about it, so here are just a few photos from our visit.

Bozeman surprised us.  We didn’t know anything about this city or what to expect.  The thing that we noticed initially was that it seemed like it was a more progressive place than the towns we passed prior on this trip. The first thing was the amount of solar panels that were on the buildings and homes.  It wasn’t a common sight anywhere else except for the solar fields in Nevada that we passed through.  The second thing we noticed were how kind the people were that we encountered.

The first encounter happened at the The Community Market CO-OP. The CM CO-OP was better than any Whole Food or Sprouts that I have ever been to.  A two story building with a market downstairs, a cafe upstairs and the entire building was powered by 48 solar panels on the roof of the building.  The amount of organic choices and bulk items they sold were second to none and the prices were very reasonable. The first encounter happened like this: We brought our own bottles from the van to fill with Kombucha because the market had it on tap. I have never used a bottle cleaner on a water dispensing machine before, so instead of having the bottle pointed down for the water to push up into, I had the bottle facing upright on the wrong spigot. When I hit the cleaning button on the machine, the water jet exploded shooting water everywhere and all over me. A guy came over from the meat department came over and asked if I enjoyed the shower.  We laughed I apologized profusely and he helped me clean up the water saying not to worry about it because it happens all the time and we all had a good laugh.  He also suggested that we visit a place called Dean’s Zesty Booch, because it was a cool spot to visit if we are booch fans (they brew their own in house), so that is what we did.

Dean’s Zesty Booch was a great place.  We parked our van in their parking lot and strolled inside.  There was a band setting up outside for a performance that was happening that evening around 6-9pm.  Since we had a few hours before the show began, we purchased a bottle of the blackberry vanilla booch and sat down to do some work.  The guy that served us went by the name of Q. He has been there from the beginning and watched the business grow into what it is today.  They had two 750 gallon tanks of booch fermenting behind the bar and a dozen wooden barrels behind it to finish up the fermenting process. While Szymon and I worked, we asked him a few questions about the best route up north and he helped us map up the drive into Whitefish, MT. He made a few suggestions and said the town was worth a visit and he knew it well because he grew up there and he also told us about the fires that were blazing in the area and told us to be careful and to stay informed.

After our second encounter, we headed back to the van to get ready for the show.  While in the van, we had a couple (Tim & Carli) come up to us and they asked us if they could take a look inside. We told them about our trip and they said they did a road trip all around Mexico not too long ago.  They wrote down for us the places we should visit during our drive through.  They wished us luck and headed in to enjoy the show.  We also met a nice 2 nice women that came by and asked the same.  They said that we were brave and that they would love to follow our journey online.

Once at the show “The Band” that was covering “The Band” (Bob Dylan’s band) was playing and they put on one heck of a show. There were so many people there and everyone was laughing, drinking, eating and having a great time. After enjoying the show for a while, we realized that as we head north we might have less and less internet, so we went back by Dean’s to use their WIFI to download music and podcasts to our phone. During that time, we couldn’t leave the area so I approached a girl that was standing by us.  Bridgette had 3 of her little nieces with her and it was a joy watching them play.  She was also with a guy named Jordan and he used to be band mates with the people that were on stage.  We all had a great conversation about music, passion in what we do and traveling.  Everyone we came across were the best kind of people.  People that were curious, open and kind.  Our favorite encounters happened in this town and we will never forget the kindness that the people there showed us and we will be sure to pay that forward.

Sprinter Van Floor Installation: Part 1

After applying two coats of POR-15 Rust Preventative Coating to the cargo floor and letting it cure, the next step was to install a wooden floor with sound and thermal insulation underneath it. Having done a bit of research before hand, and picking up tips on Sprinter-Forum.com and from a few other van conversion blogs, we felt ready to tackle this install. Heat and sound insulation were of upmost importance to us. We ended up picking the following materials for the floor, listed from top to bottom layer:

  • HPVA Oak Plywood harvested from sustainable sources, no added formaldehyde adhesive
  • L200 MiniCell Foam
  • Noico 50mil Sound Deadener

The sound deadener from Noico has great reviews on Amazon, some comparing it as a close competitor to the much more expensive Dynamat. It does not have a strong odor such as Fatmat, or other tar based sound deadeners. Noico offers both a 50mil and 80mil versions of its product, and we opted to use the thinner deadener for the floor, as a few more layers of other material were going on top it. Beginning at the seats and working our way back, the entire cargo floor and the wheel wells were covered with the deadener. Roughly 65 square feet of the product was required for a 144″ wheelbase van. It was easier to apply the product side to side instead of front to back of the van, due to the direction of the floor ridges. A roller tool helped with removing any air bubbles, and we would definitely recommend using gloves to help avoid hand cuts from the thin sheet metal layer found on Noico.

Noico Installed on floor
Noico sound deadening material installed on floor

After that step was completed, we began cutting the minicell foam into thin strips to fit into the ridges of the floor. Some of these were 1″ wide, others closers to 2″. It took a while to cut all the required pieces, and after we were done cutting and arranging them out in the ridges, we numbered the pieces from 1 to about 60. The reason for this was to know which piece goes exactly where, as we did not want to glue the strips before putting down another layer of foam. The next step was to trace a paper template for the large pieces of foam and plywood, and the small foam pieces were taken out of the van.

We had some studio photography background paper left over, and used it for the paper template. Next we traced and cut the three separate templates precisely, and paper made this process easier as its inherently more flexible than material such as cardboard. With the paper templates ready and traced, the next step of cutting the minicell foam was easy, and both the ridge strips and the full foam layers were ready to be installed. 3M 77 Spray adhesive was used to glue the 60 strips to the cargo floor ridges, and then the process was repeated for the entire three sheets of minicell foam which were glued on top of the strips layer.

After applying both the Noico and L200 MiniCell foam, the plywood was ready to go in. We taped the same paper template used for the foam to the plywood, and marked the outline. Using a jigsaw, the contour was cut out, and then a drill was used to get to the bolt holes. After a few corrections to get everything right, the three plywood pieces finally fit in like a jigsaw puzzle and were left in the van overnight to let the underlying foam adhesive to cure.

The next steps of bolting down the plywood, applying adhesive, and gluing a vinyl floor on top are covered in Floor Installation Part 2.

Joshua Tree National Park

Shortly after driving Gaia the van across the country from Chicago to Los Angeles, an opportunity to go to Joshua Tree National Park came up. A friend of Kyuri’s extended an invite to go climb the boulders & rock formations at the national park, and to camp overnight with his group of his friends. A short distance drive from Los Angeles, the iconic Joshua Tree made famous by the U2 album cover is located in the Mojave desert of Southeastern California. The park is very popular with rock climbers, with thousands of climbing routes available at various levels of difficulty. It didn’t take long to convince me. Climbing gear, sleeping bags, and food supplies were packed, and both Kyuri and I headed out for a short weekend of climbing and van camping.

I’ve done a small amount of indoor climbing, but this was to be my first time rock climbing the outdoors. Climbing is a sport I’ve picked up as an internal physical and mental challenge to myself, especially since I fall into the not so great with heights camp. I’ve gotten more comfortable climbing the 50-70 feet tall walls at indoor gyms, but was really looking forward to getting that first outdoor climb off my bucketlist. Through gym practice I’ve gotten familiar with tying the figure 8 follow through-knot, and belaying, but was told by friends that outdoors poses different challenges.

As our group settled on a climbing spot and got the gear ready, I had the opportunity to watch some of the more experienced climbers lead climb their way up to set up a top rope for the remainder of us. The sight of the 100+ foot wall in front of me was making me a little anxious, but eventually it was my turn to try my hands at a 5.9 route. I began my way up and the first thing I noticed was how much more grippier the rock was compared to gym holds, and then when further up how much more abrasive the rock is on one’s hands. The approach is also a bit different in that there are no color coordinated holds, and one has to find their own way up. I immediately enjoyed that aspect of outdoor climbing. After getting up halfway through the approach, I made the rookie mistake of looking down (for someone with a fear of heights). My first reaction was to get back down and get more comfortable with a few more attempts, but some encouragement from the group & belayer below spurred me to take a deep breath, tell myself I can do this, and proceed up.

Halfway up the second climb looking down.

The climb was going well, and I got about 7/8’s of the way up before a more challenging section got the better of me and I ended up getting belayed down. Despite not making it all the way up, I was glad I gave it a try. It could have been easy to back out and not make the move up when I was halfway up, but it’s amazing what a small change of mindset and internal pep talk can do. Not only in relation to climbing, but in all walks of life. I ended up trying a 5.11 approach that required a different technique, and also made it a decent way up. That one also felt good, and I can’t wait to do some more outdoor climbing.

Our group left the climbing spot right around sunset, and we headed out to our camp spot right outside the park. There were a couple of children amongst the group, and one of the more memorable moments of the trip for me was when one of them asked me why I pronounce Theo as “Teo”. The TH sound is almost non-existent in Poland, so I naturally pronounce TH as T. Let me tell you, getting taught proper pronunciation by a five year old can be a trip!

Part 2 of Tear Down: Rust Removal & Painting Floor on Sprinter Van

After tearing down the inside of the cargo area and cleaning it up, it was time to remove the small amount of rust that had formed inside the van’s cargo floor. After a quick run to Home Depot to pick up some metal brush bits and 3m dust masks, I began to chip away at the rust with a drill bit. It was a slow process, and at first I used a portable drill, but quickly ran out of battery. Modern rust proofing paint applications make it possible to apply it over the affected areas without removing the rust, but as Gaia will be a home for an extended period of time, I wanted to remove all the corrosion that had developed inside the cargo floor and then apply the rust preventative paint. Using a corded drill, it wasn’t until late into the evening that I got to a point where I was happy with the result.

The cleanup process also exposed the areas where drywall screws held the factory wooden floor in place. It didn’t take long to remove the screws and clean them up. I mixed together some JB weld and applied it over all the little holes, mostly located in the back of the cargo floor, and let it cure overnight. The next morning I cleaned the entire cargo floor and the bottom of the side walls with acetone, and then with a POR 15 degreaser. Painter’s tape was applied to the side walls and to the bolt holes in the floor.

The floor was finally ready for a rust proof paint application. Having done a bit of research beforehand, I opted to use a can of POR-15 Rust Preventative Coating. A quart was more than enough to cover the entire cargo floor and wheel wells of a 144″ Sprinter van, and there was still plenty left for a second application. I used a 1.5″ wide nylon brush to be able to get into the smallest floor ridges, and painted the entire floor with it. The paint is thin and spreads very easily, making it a breeze to apply. It does take a bit of time to get through the whole floor, and I had to apply a second coat as the paint had trouble sticking in some areas of the floor. After the second coat dried, the van was ready for a brand new floor installation. A bit of a warning to those attempting to do any POR-15 rust preventative coatings – make sure you are covered head to toe in clothing and wear proper gloves, as the paint does not come off for weeks if it dries on your skin, and don’t forget your eye protection. If you do end up painting any areas of your vehicle with POR-15, please share any additional input you may have in the comments section!