There’s something about overland adventure, something that draws me to it, a yearning to look out my window and see a new part of the world waiting for me. To know the smell of a place, to recognize it when I visit more than once, to try local food and meet local faces, to hear new sounds or see an animal for the first time. In writing for TAP I hope to bring information and inspiration to encourage you to jump on board for your very own adventures!
Let’s get to know each other
I’m Kate, I grew up in Sydney, Australia. Growing up our family was pretty adventurous, we raced dirt bikes and would travel the country to attend race meets or weekend rides with friends. When I was young we had a 1975 Ford Escort Mk2 panel van which we would take camping. We’d sleep in the back and then have all day to ride our bikes along trails and tracks in the bush. Although that model Ford came out with a 1600cc engine, ours was 2L with a twin throat Weber carburetor, courtesy of a weekend of work by my Dad and Uncle. Tinkering on machines was a pretty normal activity in our family, we always had a big garage and there was certain to be a project or two happening within. My parents were very DIY people and inspired a ‘you can do anything’ attitude in me, for which I am forever grateful. The weather and environment in Australia is ideal for outdoor activities. I grew up with plenty of time at the beach, hiking, fishing, camping, caravanning, generally just enjoying the outdoors.
Combining work with travel
A passion for travel and a career in photography took me around the world. Eventually I found myself living in NYC. I loved the hustle, but after 5 years the skyscrapers started to close in on me. I was tired of the concrete and longed for new inspiration. My husband Levi and I were living in an apartment in Brooklyn with our dog Jits when we decided to take the leap into a nomadic lifestyle. Fortunately for me, convincing my partner to join me in this journey was not at all difficult. Levi had grown up in Alaska with a rugged family much like my own. They had spent a lot of time outdoors hunting and fishing and he too had grown up with a Dad who built most things by hand. I would now find him googling for hours on end to find the best ideas for our soon to be tiny home on wheels… which I had lovingly tasked him to build.
The decision to become nomads
The decision to become overland adventure nomads led us to sooo many more choices. Firstly we needed to decide what vehicle would assist our adventures best. We masking taped out the shapes of different rigs in our apartment and would pretend to live within the space to get a feel for them all. For us we wanted an interior we could stand up in, 4×4 capability, comfort through 4 seasons and something reliable that would hold its value. In the end we decided a van was the right combination of space and functionality. Then we had to decide which van, at the time Mercedes was the only van with a stock 4×4 option which was a prerequisite in our build plans.
That first van was pretty unique. It was a Mercedes Sprinter 170 3500 dually which was great, as we knew being full timers our build out would be quite heavy. It also had two sliding doors which limited us on our interior layout but was certainly a lot of fun having double the view. Our space felt very roomy when we had both doors open. We were selling everything we owned and closing businesses to take this adventure so potential resale value was also a plus.
We started our first build right on the street in Brooklyn. Once we had the bare essentials in, it made sense to hit the road. For that first year we would travel, work and save, then pull up at a Home Depot to do more building on our van. It was a hard year and we were certainly living up to our business name Sweat Equity Creative. On the other hand, it was also very rewarding! We were making great connections and the hard work was paying off. We took our van to shows and received a great response to the unique vehicle we had passionately built. By the end of the season we had seen so many beautiful National Parks and hidden trails and had enough clients to keep the gas tank full. We felt like our dream had come true.
We need gas money
Then there was the hurdle of how to make money on the road. During my time in NYC I had been working freelance so that was a head start. Levi had been running his own Jiu Jitsu academies so he had experience in sales and marketing. With our combined skills we started a new business, Sweat Equity Creative, where we tailor creative marketing and brand development solutions for our clients. We knew the transition to a nomadic adventure van life would not be simple, physically or emotionally, so we were sure to launch our business while we were still living at a fixed address. This gave us time to roll out a slow launch, to practice with our work and clients to see how we could keep up with deliverables while travelling and having potentially limited access to cell service.
During this first year on the road we had met TouRig, a van builder out of Golden Colorado and found we shared many like minded ideas with the team. We drooled over their beautiful builds and found ourselves brainstorming ideas with them over shared campfires during the year. To our delight they asked us to join the team in a role that covered sales, marketing and R&D. That’s how they became our biggest client. TouRig was ready to invest in us and we wanted to do the same. We sold our first build, and although I cried as we said goodbye to it, I knew big things were coming. We spent the beginning of this year working in collaboration with TouRig on a very unique rig…
Meet our Overland Adventure Rig, Bruce Banner
Our goal was to build a rig that would bridge the gap between the overland adventure van market and the large overland trucks. We headed to Florida to look at a unique van we had heard about, a 2WD 170 ext Mercedes Sprinter with a 4×4 solid axle swap. This is the rig which we transformed into our current TouRig. It had the look and the capabilities we were after, it pushed the limit of what was possible on the Mercedes platform, but it was white. We don’t do white vans. So we drove it up to Portland to visit our friends at LineX the coast. We love these guys, they had done some work for us on the previous van and this time we had a special project for them. They did a full body two tone LineX job on the van. As he turned from a small white van to a big green monster truck, that’s when we named him Bruce Banner.
The exterior components are from Backwoods Adventure Mods. These guys make incredibly rugged front and rear bumpers for quite a variety of vehicles. They hadn’t yet made a Roof Rack, Ladder or Side Steps, but it didn’t take much convincing from us for them to start creating these. We now have the first designs of each on board and are doing R&D for the brand before they launch them into their product line.
Inside the van is where TouRig flexes their skills. We have a full shower, large bed, kitchen, solar and lithium battery power plant. The TouRig Airliner Aluminium cabinets give us plenty of storage and ensure our safety when we off road, the doors latch shut and they don’t make a sound even on the roughest roads which is quite impressive. The team takes a lot of consideration into their builds to make something which is both practical, light weight, durable and also aesthetically beautiful.
Truly overland adventure capable
We have true 4×4 capabilities with a Dana 60 front and 70 rear. We run 37 inch Falken MTs on Black Rhino Armory rims. We have 600AH of Victron lithium batteries on board, these charge from the alternator and from our 375 watts of solar. We have 40 gallons of water on board allowing us to shower and do dishes inside and wash down gear at the rear of the van. Our rig is equipped with on board air allowing us to change our tire pressure on the trails. We have lots of storage inside the van with extra storage in Roam Adventure Co boxes on the roof and in the Backwoods Rear Bumper box. There is plenty of recovery gear on board in case we need it, including a 12k lb winch, MaxTrax, HiLift jack and some gear from Factor55. In the cabin we use the Garmin Overlander to follow trails and we have Scheel-Mann seats to make the journey more comfortable. We have a kitchen with diesel cooktop, our heat and hot water also run on diesel and the rig has a 28gal reserve fuel tank to accommodate long drives or long periods of overland adventure off grid living.
Overland Adventure with us!
Our first year of overlanding and vanlifing was pretty hectic but now we are into an easy groove of things. Our family of 3 has grown to 4 as we have added Uke the chihuahua to our tribe. We are making a conscious effort to take things slow this year and enjoy more stops and stays. This brings me to what I want to share with you, I want to share the journey we take! Follow along as I’ll be doing write ups of the places we stay, trails we take, people we meet, food we try and local activities we recommend. You can even join us for a weekend tour, we will be announcing dates of guided events where you can join us on the trails, that way I can write about you!
If you have any topics or locations you’d like me to cover leave me a reply below, or just introduce yourself and say hi! I hope to connect with all of you in some way.
You can find me below:
Backwoods Adventure Mods