Home is where the Ikigai is…one’s reason for being. For Magali Côté, home needs to be parked at the very edge of every other human’s comfort zone. A page from her life playbook is to change the game as often as necessary to stay passionate about this finite experience, and what better way to do that than to keep your horizons ever changing both figuratively and literally. To say this arctic mermaid lives an unconventional life is an understatement. She’s an ice diver, free diver, spearfisher woman, photographer, and model by passion.
By trade, she has been a commercial diver, rope-access technician (one who uses ropes for access to work sites while suspended in the air), welder, millwright (one who works with heavy machinery) and a commercial fisherwoman. She is now working toward her masters in architecture so she can “use her brain more.” A settled, suburban lifestyle would never resonate with a soul so intent on direct participation in existence. And so it is. Somewhere in the wilds of Canada, at this very moment, Magali is parking her 2015 Ford F150 someplace with a multimillion dollar view and contemplating her next adventure. Follow her at @misssnorris.
Year, make and model?
2015 Ford F150
How have you modified it?
First—my dad gave me a hand to accelerate the process. It was a fun dad-daughter project and I am thankful for his help. Anyway, first thing is to put in the insulation. You have to lay foam on the bed with plywood over it that will be the base that everything else screws into. Next you have to think about building around the wheels. The biggest challenge was utilizing every square inch. Anything I didn’t quite know what to do with became storage. The ceiling was a complete head-scratcher. It’s a fiberglass shell so you can’t screw anything into it or it goes right through. We had to glue little wood blocks with construction glue to the inside of the shell, wait for the glue to set, then put on the next layer, a sheet of plywood—all the while remembering where the wood anchor blocks were so we could attach it with screws. A few times we miscalculated and put screws through the fiberglass that we then had to patch with epoxy.
Another challenge was that we needed flexible insulation because of the curvature of the shell. Reflectix insulation, which is bubble interior and foil exterior on both sides, is what we ended up using and I’m really happy with how it turned out. I use the same material to put in the windows to keep it cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
For the kitchen, I bought a cute little sink for about $20 from a place that tears apart RV’s and sells off parts. I installed water bottles that I have to pump so I really only use the water in the truck for making coffee and doing dishes. For cooking, I have a five-pound propane bottle, which is the largest size you can have in an enclosed space. It lasts a month used for both heating and cooking and only costs me $7 to fill up. Different pressures are required for stove and heat so we had to install different regulators from the bottle. Since my heat is from propane I don’t run it at night. I heat up the truck before bed and let insulation do the rest. I also have a CO2 detector in case there is ever an over-accumulation. If I had to name my style of interior decoration it would be “modern farmhouse.”
Is it a full-time home for you?
Between this and a boat, yes!
At what point did you decide this was the right lifestyle choice?
I have done it before and really liked the experience, but the shell was smaller and less comfortable than this one. I owned two houses in between and when I sold the last one I wanted to travel for a while. So I did. Also, my favorite thing about this truck is that I can make coffee right from bed, without having to get up.
Is leaving a much smaller environmental footprint part of the consideration for truck life?
It is definitely a plus. Everyone seems to go for the big diesel vans. I liked the idea of being more stealth and able to go everywhere a regular van couldn’t.
What are the highs, lows, and comedy moments of truck life?
Showering is usually done wherever I can have a shower—at a friend’s house, the pool, or at school. I even made a bucket that I use after diving to rinse my gear, using gravity. Cooking the fish I spear isn’t an issue either, I have everything a kitchen needs in there. What most people think of as an issue is “where do you poo?” Haha. I have a little chemical toilet under my bed that I can pull out when I need.
What specific modifications did you have to make for cold weather living?
I insulated the fiberglass shell with reflective bubble foil. Where the windows are, I use the same foil I cut to fit the windows when it’s too cold, and too hot. It keeps the warmth inside or outside, for that reason I have only one side foil (other side is white).
You have some extreme cold water diving hobbies that must require a good amount of space and ingenious methods for drying wet gear. How does that work in a truck?
I use a pole inside my cab to hang all of my wetsuits. When wet, I let them drip outside as much as possible. I installed a little eyebolt just for that matter on the upper rear side of the shell. If I need to leave it inside I will let it drip on a towel hanging inside my canopy. I also have a string with clips that I use to dry my dive socks and mitts upside down.
What are some of your favorite places to drive?
Being able to go far into logging roads is definitely my favorite thing to do. Especially on Vancouver Island. They often lead to amazing remote beaches where you can’t find anyone else.
You talk a lot about solitude and spending time alone, especially in nature. How does this truck fit into your overall life philosophy?
My truck is so perfect for this. I feel like there is so little to do in my truck, it gives me more time to enjoy the rest. When all it takes is five minutes to clean because there is such little square footage, it’s really convenient. I chose a yellow dominant color for the inside because it makes me happy. Yellow makes a sad day sunny and enlightens everything.
Is there a community in the truck life/van life world that supports each other, shares remodel tips, gathers together?
To be honest, when I built my first truck camper I searched and searched to find ideas on how to do it. It was ten years ago and the “tiny living movement” wasn’t even a thing so it was very hard to find inspiration. When I did my second truck conversion, it became easier as I already had a very good idea on how to start, not only because I have already done it, but also because I had ideas from Pinterest and Instagram accounts of van lifers. But still, I found out a camper in a truck shell was mostly done the simple way for hunting or weekend camping. Never quite like what I envisioned. So I had to think outside the box. Or van.
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