We came across photos of a cool looking van on Facebook and contacted the owner to find out more. The story we uncovered was way better than we ever expected.
Turns out, the van and its owner Jeff Kish spent the summer shuttling Pacific Crest Trail through-hikers to and from towns along the route. Jeff’s voluntary service led to lots of adventures, beers with strangers and happy hikers.
“I gave rides to dozens of strangers this summer,” he wrote.
The photos show both Jeff’s customization of the van and its use.
We decided to let Jeff’s story speak for itself. Below is the e-mail response (edited slightly for clarity) he sent us when we messaged him on Facebook to learn about the van. —Sean McCoy
I guess the seed for the van was planted somewhere in the high Sierra last year, on my hike from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail.
You need to do a lot of hitch-hiking along the way to get from trailheads and road crossings into town to get more food (and drink some beers). Then you have to hitch back to pick up where you left off. I had an awesome time sharing stories of my travels with the strangers who were willing to take a chance on picking up a smelly, disheveled transient like me.
I saw the thrill those drivers got from our chance encounter and started to picture what my life might look like the following summer. I felt pretty strongly about taking the time to give back to the trail community somehow.
That’s when I started imagining the build-out of a van to help out thru-hikers.
Rewind a little further, and you’d find me a married man, the owner of a successful retail clothing store, living in a big house with all the things that go with it. You’d also find me miserable and about to do something about it. I got a divorce, sold my half of the business to my ex, walked away from the home, sold or gave away all of my things, and went on a walk-about.
The trail was the greatest thing to ever happen to me, and rather than satiating a need I had at the time, I returned from it hungrier than ever for new travels and adventures.
I also came back with a clear idea of how much stuff I really needed to be happy. That’s when I remembered the dream I had for that van. The idea began to morph from a hiker shuttle into a home, a base camp for adventure, and a place to live while saving money for bigger and better trips.
So, in June of this year, I bought a 1986 E250, gutted the interior, and built out a little stealth RV from broken pallets I salvaged from a pallet yard. On the 4th of July, I declared independence from my past life and moved into my tiny home on wheels. I’ve been a rubber tramp ever since.
Over the course of the summer, I fulfilled both of my goals. I spent two months helping out Pacific Crest Trail hikers all over Oregon and Washington; and I lived simply with no address, no mortgage or rent, and no real bills to speak of. In early September, thru-hiking season was pretty much over in northern Oregon, so my focus changed from helping others on their adventures to having some of my own.
I work a lot, but manage to keep a three day weekend each week – enough time for a little outdoor trip every week, and to that end, the van has become the ultimate living situation. When I built it out, I divided the back into two sections. One is a living area with a proper bed, wardrobe, a little storage, and a book shelf full of guide books and motivating stories of outdoor adventure and life on the road. The back is storage for all the gear I need to fully enjoy the outdoors. I’m equipped for camping, cycle touring, backpacking, snowshoeing, mountaineering; you name it.
I plan to stay in the van for the foreseeable future, doing a lot of climbing, working, and saving for my next major trip. I’ve currently got my sights set on a thru-hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, but I have a few other irons on the fire too. That’s one of the nice things about life in a van. The freedom to do what you want, when you want.
I gave rides to dozens of strangers this summer. Most of them were PCT hikers, but I picked up a few other travelers with their thumbs out too. I have a little leather bound “drifter’s log” I keep on my dash; in the tradition of a trail or summit register. I didn’t get everyone to sign it, but there are plenty of good memories in there.
In addition to those from all over North America, I drove around a Belgian from a small town in West Flanders, a guy from France, another from Poland, a German, and several Japanese. I spent a day or two with some riders; others were in and out as fast as I could get them where they needed to be. For two months over the summer, I worked at the bar in Portland for three and a half days a week.
The other three and a half I spent in Cascade Locks, in the Columbia river gorge, between Oregon and Washington. There is a trail house there, owned by a retired navy vet I know. It’s open to PCT hikers to camp in, send packages to, etc., on their way up the trail. I made the place my home base for the hiker season. I built a 200 sq ft treehouse on the property, graded and leveled tent pads, cooked for everyone most nights, and gave people rides in and out when they needed them. I also got phone calls and texts from hikers who heard about my services, and met them wherever they needed me to. Those rides took me from Portland to the California border, Mount Hood, all over the Gorge, and well into Washington.