James and Claire Young, originally from Kent, England, now basically live on the road, in their very capable 4×4 Dodge Ram. They moved from England to Kelowna, BC, Canada, 13 years ago, and they do technically still have a home there, a condo they rent out to help finance their adventures. The Youngs also keep a small container in a storage facility that “guards what’s left of our worldly possessions,” James says. But for the last year, and the indefinite future, their home is the camper shell and the wide open road. They’ve traveled from Canada to Mexico so far, heading for Patagonia. Then, Africa, Europe, Asia, and back home. A true around-the-world voyage. They certainly have the rig for it.
Year, make, model of your ride?
A sweet 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 with a stick shift and a ton of off-road upgrades. Our camper is by XPCamper, it’s their V1e model and was brand new when we collected it in January 2018.
Does the vehicle have a name?
Yes, Sherpa. We had a cat called Sherpa; he was grey/white and big, like the truck camper. Obviously, the name Sherpa is synonymous with someone that gets you to places and carries all your stuff. The name seems to fit nicely.
One year for the camper, almost two for the truck.
How did you get it?
The camper was an easy purchase but took a while from paying the deposit to getting it on our hands; a full year eventually. The truck was a real pain to find. Our requirements were: single rear wheels (rather than a dually); white or silver; stick shift; low mileage and a ‘long bed.’ It also had to be a 2006 or early 2007 so that we could use non-ULSD diesel without worry. The low mileage part was a struggle, a lot of the Canadian trucks are 250,000kms or more. We eventually found one primarily used by someone to haul their camper around Vancouver Island and it had around 75,000kms on it.
How have you modified it? Do you do all the wrenching yourselves?
The truck has had a complete overhaul. The engine is great, a big Cummins 5.9 diesel. The Dodge Rams are known to have a shady front end so all of the steering and suspension was replaced with heavy duty stuff. The seats were appalling so we hooked up with Scheel Mann USA. They are a German company, but fairly new in the US, that make simply stellar vehicle seats. They’re not cheap but worth every penny and very adjustable. We also added a Buckstop Baja XP bumper and Warn winch. Rock sliders by White Knuckle Off Road have already saved the truck at least once. ARB Lockers have got us out of deep sand a few times and custom rear leaf springs by Deaver Springs in California are matched to the weight of the camper for a much smoother ride. Fuel Beast wheels and the amazing Yokohama Geolandar M/T 003 tires were also added. The tires look really good (always important!) and have all the manners of the less aggressive All Terrain tires more common on overland vehicles. Yokohama really did an outstanding job at bridging the gap and making a tire that excels both on and off road.
All the wrenching was done by Scully Offroad in Sacramento. He’s such a cool guy. We met him at the Overland Expo in Flagstaff as an instructor in the Camel Trophy / 7P training area. We originally planned to use him for some off-road training, so that’s how we ended up with his number. We then happened to need someone in California to help with the truck build we called him and discovered he owns Scully Offroad, a complete off-road build shop. He does a lot of work with Land Rovers (he had 9 in his yard when we stayed with him) and also runs Ram trucks. Super nice guy; off-road through and through. He taught me a few things and now I am a bit less scared of having a go at fixing the truck myself. We joke about me achieving my ‘badges’ in certain areas. I have a few imaginary badges now, doing things I wouldn’t have considered messing with before. It’s the not knowing that stops me from starting. A catch 22.
How many states and countries have you visited with Sherpa?
So far we’ve hit up the west coast of the US and across into Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico. There is some simply epic off-road camping in the US. I am not sure people realize just how world class it is. We took advantage of our full six-month visa for the US, we’d only planned to be there for two.
We then dropped into Baja California, drove all the way to the tip and crossed over onto Mexico mainland at Topolobampo before heading up to Copper Canyon. We have covered every state in Mexico apart from three in the northeast. You’ve probably seen all those newspaper famous ‘don’t go there’ places? Well, they are stacked full of amazing things to do and see and populated by fabulous people. Mexicans are the warmest, most welcoming and friendly people I have ever met. They are simply incredible. We have now been in Mexico for 7 months.
Have had to make any complicated repairs on the side of a trail somewhere?
We screwed up our expensive steering stabilizer when we accidentally went rock crawling in Utah. I took it off and to be honest could not tell the difference. Aside from that, the truck has been amazing. Ask me again in another couple of years!
What kind of special security mods have you made for international travel?
We added a decent alarm system. A couple of internal metal door plates called ‘Jimmi Jammers’ to stop forced entry via the locks. I picked up a roll of padded silver insulation from Home Depot and made some window reflectors which also keeps out any prying eyes, prevention is better than cure. Overall we just keep things hidden. If we are wild camping we tend to pack away the stairs, which leaves our camper door a little too high for people to access easily. At first, I was very nervous about camping ‘out there’. I felt very vulnerable, more so for truck security than my safety. After a while, that wore off. I feel safer in Mexico than the US, ironically.
So where are you headed, ultimately?
All the way down initially, taking in all of the Central and South American countries to different degrees. Hopefully, Venezuela has sorted out its issues by the time we get there. Once we hit Patagonia we head to Uruguay, ship the camper to South Africa and then catch up with it six weeks later when it arrives. From there we head all the way up, through Africa into Europe. Then all the way around, via Russia, the ‘Stans, into Asia, Australia and then somehow wiggling our way back over to Alaska. That will be something like the year 2030 (a horrifying date to type, it seems eerily far away) so we’ll, maybe literally, cross that bridge when we come to it.
What kinds of things to you get up to on your travels when you’re not driving?
It varies quite a lot. The US was very ‘camping’ based. Pretty much as you’d expect from a camping road trip. Campfires, beers, some off-road driving, meeting up with friends, surrounded by the amazing US scenery.
Mexico has been a lot more sightseeing driven. Some stunning mountain regions, different cultures, tribes, ruins, volcano climbs, colonial cities, food, food, and some more food. Mexico may not do much haute cuisine, but good food is everywhere. We are currently in Puerto Morelos and a guy makes the rounds every night in his car, which is filled with cakes for sale. How is that not ‘a thing’ the world over? It’s one of the planet’s best ideas.
Our day usually starts with a run. We were keen triathletes in Canada and running is the easiest thing to keep up. It was always our favorite of the three sports and the one we were best at. We run everywhere, and running is a great way to see a village or town from another angle. We then come back for a shower and breakfast. We still work too, just a couple of hours in the morning five or six days a week. We really enjoy that, it’s great to have a routine to take up some of the day, so the remainder is condensed into what we want to do rather than just drifting around.
Do you live full-time in the truck? Anything you’d change about the situation?
The camper itself is very roomy inside. It feels way bigger than it looks from the outside. There is a ton of light, a big rear window, a big roof skylight, and the front portion by the bed is tented, with big three-part windows (blackout, clear vinyl, mosquito net) for a great view when you are camping. We occasionally have to do a little dance in the walkway if we are both trying to do something there at the same time but, overall, there is more than enough room and the open plan layout really gives a feeling of space.
We live in our truck camper full time and plan to do so for years to come. I have no regrets at all. Anyone who tells you it is easy, though, is lying through their teeth. Don’t be sucked in by the blissful #vanlife on Instagram. When you haven’t washed well for a couple of days, your cooktop fails, you’ve been defecating into a hole you dug in the sand like some kind of ungainly oversized cat, it’s 45ºC with no air conditioning and you’re re-using underwear you’ve pulled from the laundry bag. Trust me, no filter is going to make that picture look good.
Of course, there is a huge upside. Many of the locations we have stayed have been truly stunning. Waking up on the edge of a cliff at Alstrom Point on Powell Lake in Arizona for example. Being able to just go wherever you want, whenever you want, is such a freeing experience. We occasionally have the “I can’t believe this is our life …” conversation. As humans, we are prone to forgetting how lucky we are and focussing on the issues of the day. I think that is normal, certainly amongst those that usually strive for things. The irony of the kind of person who makes it happen not being the kind of person to be truly aware of the amazing ‘in the moment’ result, is not lost on me. A paradox in paradise, I guess.
People often ask. “How do you get to do what you do?”. It’s a strange question. Mainly because I feel that they want the answer to include what we do plus how to keep all of the things they don’t want to give up. We don’t have kids, but other travelers do. We have flexible jobs but mainly because we only took on jobs that allowed that flexibility. We had a house like them, we just sold it. We had all of the things but gave them all away or sold them. Once you start the travel cleanse it really is thrilling. Seeing all the things you thought you loved revealed for what they are, just objects. We meet people from all walks of life, from those with massive motorhomes to those who literally made a bed in the back of a van. They all did, and are doing, the same thing as us. They all simply made a decision to run with their dream and I can guarantee that, almost without exception, they don’t regret it. It’s a life-changing leap of faith.
All photos courtesy James Young. Follow their trip on their Instagram page.