Livin' la vida vanlife

Alex Jackson is a Ridgemont Ambassador on the move. Literally, he hasn't stopped moving almost daily for the last few months. Hailing from Vermilion, Alberta, Canada, Alex works hard at home most of the year as a heavy machine operating farmer. He'll save his dough during the working season so that he can hit the road during the off season with his wife, his dog, and his rig. From Canada, through the US and Mexico, this year Alex has seen it all. And he's still not home yet.

Where have you been on this trip, and where else are you going? 
Where I have I been on this trip?  Can I say, simply, everywhere?  I've definitely done a lot of moving around this trip.  Having come South from Canada for two winters previous to this year I've grown my list of to-go-to place's by a lot.  This winter being the last winter for about a while that I come down South I wanted to make sure to tick off a lot of places.  Typically what I do is go to a place, a national park for instance, and just skim the surface.  I do this purposely.  I want to get a superficial feel for the area so that I know what I'm getting into the next time I go.  I find so often that I can enter a park and instantly get overloaded wanting to see everything, this definitely happened in Zion last year.  So, I don't try to see everything, I just go in, see the usual parkway then leave and plan to return with a better knowledge and understanding so I don't get overloaded.  This practice allows me to get to a lot of places on the trips that I don't have a lot of time.  Knowing I'll come back helps me deal with the guilt of not staying longer, that sounds a little weird maybe, but it definitely helps.  So, to actually answer the question, I traveled down the West coast to California where I dropped off my wife in San Fran so she could fly to one of her competitions, I then met up with some Swiss friends of mine and traveled to Joshua Tree and then to the Southern tip of Baja.  After driving through Baja for two and a half weeks I had to race back up to San Fran to pick up my wife and from there we went to Phoenix for another of her competitions.  After her competition in Phoenix we had 10 days to travel before she flew out again so we went to Sedona, Grand Canyon, a hot spring in Nevada, Bishop California, Death Valley National Park and then to Vegas.  I dropped the wife off at the Vegas airport then traveled to Utah where I explored a little bit of Kolob Canyon and Bryce National Park with some friends before heading down Highway 50 (the loneliest road in America) back to Bishop California and then eventually back to San Francisco.  I did all this traveling over roughly three months, hit up eight hot springs, visited four National Parks a bunch of National Forests and crossed more high elevation mountains passes than my van appreciated.
How long is your trip?
In total, if I start from when I left my home base it'll be about 5 months, although I spent a month and a half building out the interior of my van at my parents place in British Columbia.
Favorite thing about being on the road for an extended period like this?
I would say the ability to travel slow, but on this particular trip I didn't feel like I traveled slow at all.  But, I have traveled slowly in the past and it's fantastic.  I would have to say that being able to travel for extended amounts of time helps to perfect that subtle art of traveling slow, which is why I plan to travel for a year and then eventually two years and hopefully more from there.  When you have the time to just sit and get to know a place it really opens you up to experience and opportunity and the craziest stuff usually ends up happening without you even trying for it.
Hardest thing?
Being away from family and not being able to be a part of a friends circle.  I'm fairly nomadic, since I married my wife I've been back and forth between Alberta and British Columbia and now that we finally established a home base for ourselves in Alberta I've taken up long-term van travel, so you can probably see how constantly moving around makes me an unreliable friend. Sometimes I feel like my friends have to put up with me because I'm rarely around and sometimes arrive at inconvenient times.  I still connect with my good friends back home when I come back, but I can't do normal weekly activities with them.  I see my best friend two or three times a year sometimes and when I get to my parents place I have to shove my way into my brothers schedule to get time with him.  Living in Alberta, away from my immediate family and then traveling during the winter means that I only get to see my parents for a month or two a year when I'd really prefer I could see them all weekly.  Aside from the heartfelt reasons, being away from a good couch is a real struggle, gosh what I'd do for a good comfy couch to lounge on while in the van...
What’s next?
As I mentioned previously, I plan to live out of the van for a year.  In this time I'll circumnavigate North America, starting on the West Coast and South Western States throughout the fall, as temperatures begin to drop I'll head into Baja for a few months then come back up and travel to the Eastern seaboard and travel up to the Canadian Maritimes where I would like to stay for the summer before returning to Alberta for the winter.  After that I want to travel to Patagonia in the van.  This will take a little more planning and a lot more money, plus I have to wait for the wife to make it to the 2024 Olympics before I can pull her away from cycling for two years, so I'll be working pretty steady for a good long while before I do that trip.
Tell us about Norton!
I drive a 1998 Toyota Hiace Super GL van which I've named Norton.  It's an imported, right hand drive, diesel, 4x4 van from Japan but I actually bought the van from a guy in BC who had imported it.  I discovered Hiace's after a year long search for the very best van option, the story is quite extensive so I'm going to keep it fairly short.  A buddy told me about the Toyota Hiace last year then I saw two on the British Columbia coast last summer during a vacation and soon after had my truck up for sale and was figuring out how to get a Hiace of my own.  After purchasing from the guy in BC I brought it home to the farm in Alberta, did some exterior work before heading to my parents in BC where I renovated the interior of the van over the period of a month and a half.  It's a slow and clunky little vehicle but I love it.  With the Toyota 2.8L mechanical diesel I know that I won't likely be stranded on the side of the road, and throughout the rest of the world the van is used extensively so if my travels extend to across the pond (Atlantic) I will be in a vehicle that is super easy to find parts for, but I'm certainly not going.  I have a 100w solar panel combined with alternator power charging two deep cycle batteries which runs my ARB fridge and 1000w inverter.  I can store food and water for myself up to a week inside the van.  I can prepare food both inside and outside of the van with my pull out kitchen.  My wife and I sleep on a 6.5ft x 4ft bed which folds up into a bench so we can hang out inside the van when it's raining outside.  We store two bikes on the back with our Swagman bike rack so that we can ride from pretty much any campsite.  I can make it pretty far off the paved road with the 4x4 and BFG A/T KO2's which suits me well because I prefer to be off the beaten path if at all possible.  There's a bunch of other stuff I could go into, but if you want that kind of detail you'll just have to go check out the whole van build on my website ajcmedia.ca, it's all there.  

Follow Alex on Instagram at @ajcmedia / @roaming_northamerica to see more!


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