Thomas Woodson got around even before he packed it all into his van: You may have seen him and/or his work in the mountain bike adventure short Huayhuash, or the sub-three-day fly-to-then-climb-and-ski of Pico de Orizaba in 55 Hours in Mexico: A Tribute to the Weekend Warrior. He makes his living shooting photos and making films, with a little design work on the side, and last year, he figured he could save a little on paying rent in Boulder, Colorado, if he just bought and moved into a van with his girlfriend Britt instead.
Year, Make, Model
2015 Ram Promaster
Does the vehicle have a name?
That’s a stressful question. We can’t provide an answer yet.
How did you get it?
I accidentally bought it brand new after a mountain bike ride. Britt and I left our Element at the dealership and headed home with two months to build it.
What do you do for a living?
I’m an adventure photographer and cinematographer. I’ve shot for Outdoor Research, Yeti Cycles, Cannondale, Dynafit, Bike Magazine, Smith Optics, and others.
How did you modify the vehicle, if at all?
We had a clean slate from the dealership. I spent the four months prior refining 3D models and planning all of our systems (cooking, water, ventilation, insulation, solar). First we insulated with reflectix, denim, and foam boards. Then cut a kitchen window and roof fan for ventilation (so much fun…kinda). I built a 300w solar powered system to run our fridge, laptop and cameras. Our bed size and height was determined by the size of trail bikes sliding in underneath without front tires. Luckily that gave us a queen sized bed and we can sleep perpendicular inside the van. For the finishing touches, we used tongue and groove beetle kill pine, cork board, adhesive tile, vinyl plank flooring and upholstered panels to make it feel like a little cabin.
How many states has the vehicle visited?
Fourteen in the past nine months! (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, Illinois)
We’re both into mountain biking, trail running, ski touring, trad climbing, and just about everything a couple that comes out of Boulder is into. There is a large bin for every sport with the corresponding backpacks, footwear and helmets exploding out of it. Our “garage” is usually full to the brim and takes some Tetris work to swap sports.
Pros: What do you love about your vehicle?
One: The seats are so tall and firm I feel like I’m driving a big rig. Two: It’s wonderful on the highway and gets around 20mpg (gas). Three: The passenger seat folds flat with the bench to form a guest bed. (Discovered after our friend was woken up by a bear camping outside. Four: Mostly I love how it’s an experiment in living off the grid. It has me constantly dreaming about building a small home for post-van life.
Cons: What do you not love about your vehicle?
The rear axle sits below the center of the wheels, which could get cruxy with ground clearance. It hasn’t really stopped us yet though. And I’m almost convinced that I should have bought the $1,000 furnace heater instead of the $100 portable propane heater. The moisture takes some effort to manage in the winter.
Overlandia is the art, science, and romance of driving in the dirt. To see more, visit the Overlandia channel page.