Stories From The Road: Andy Johnson & The Story of the Snark

I knew that getting a van could be the answer to my problems so I figured I’d eventually get an old econoline, throw a mattress in the back, and call it a day.

As a surfer, the notion of getting a van had always been there. I used to have to commute to my favorite surf spot, San Onofre. Usually about three or four days per week I’d wake up 4:00am, drive for an hour and fifteen minutes from the South Bay of LA county, and get there right as the park opened at 6:00am to avoid waiting in line and wasting the whole morning. I’d surf for a couple of hours and head back to the LA area where I’d do my music teaching gig and rehearsals or gigs with my old band, For the Kings in the evenings. It was an exhausting lifestyle and I was always burnt out. I knew that getting a van could be the answer to my problems so I figured I’d eventually get an old econoline, throw a mattress in the back, and call it a day.

  At the end of 2017, I had the opportunity to spend a month at sea volunteering on a marine conservation vessel protecting the endangered vaquita porpoise in Mexico. It was a life changing experience that left me hatching plans to return the next year. I realized that living rent free could allow me to do more marine conservation work, which is my ultimate goal. It was around this time that the decision to live full time in a van was made. I ended up going for a Transit.

  My girlfriend at the time (now fiancé), Stacie, was immediately on board. She had been interested in tiny houses for quite some time. We started dreaming up our ideal mini home.

We looked at a lot of vanlife videos and drew inspiration from them. One of our main focuses with the build was the galley. We have a food blog called Ravenous Vegans and we cook almost all of our meals, so it was important for us to have the ability to cook anything we want. Because of this, we opted to install a small kitchen stove into our van and convert it for propane use.

Our other main consideration was space. I tried to maintain a general sense of spaciousness throughout the build. The two shelves and pull down table were built into recesses that already existed on the metal walls of our cargo van.

The build was a long and arduous process, taking a year to complete. We didn’t have a good place to carry it out, so it was done in street parking spaces in Los Angeles. We had to use several locations as we had plenty of trouble with law enforcement and local residents. In spite of a variety of set backs, the build eventually was finished. It was incredibly useful to have access to the VLDNV community during this time. I’d often ask the group questions pertaining to the build or vanlife in general, such as logistics for pets etc...

  At some point in the process, I named this van “The Snark” after the boat in the Jack London novel, Cruise of the Snark. Doing this build reminded me of the long and monotonous process of building described in the book. It was also fitting because we find that our new home has a boat-like feel to it.

  So there you have it, the story of the Snark. Now that it’s finally done, I’ve moved in full time and it’s been absolutely amazing. I got rid of about 70% of my belongings. I can honestly say that minimizing feels really good. Stealth camping has been a breeze so far and I’ve been enjoying some really nice parts of the California coastline. We’ve been particularly enjoying the wildflower super-bloom that California is currently experiencing.

  As far as future plans, in less than two weeks my fiancé, Stacie, and I will be going on a road trip to New Orleans and back. We’ll be seeing the national parks and are also planning to hit North Idaho, Denver, Wisconsin, Nashville and Austin. In 2020 the plan is to make a massive surf trip up the coast with our sights on Tofino, BC.

Andy Johnson

Brie, the official mascot of the Snark.
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