In early 2015, I decided to ditch my gas guzzling Jeep Wrangler and move on to something more fuel efficient and a tad more comfortable. After all, I was driving more than 60 miles round trip for my daily commute and gas prices in California have never really been conducive for using a vehicle that only gets 12 miles per gallon.
The Birth of a 4WD Soccer Dad
I showed up to the house of my longtime closest friend Justin Wallace in Ocean Beach, San Diego, to show off my brand new fuel-efficient 4WD Jeep Renegade that got almost 26 mpg. Mind you, this was before our group of friends drastically changed their lifestyles and began to live on the road in converted Sprinter vans. At the time we were all very heavy into loud motorcycles and renegading Coor’s Banquets on the regular.
“Nice soccer mom car!” “When are you taking the kids to the game?”
Our tribe, though we love each other dearly, are very good at roasting one another and it is always pretty relentless. I shrugged off the insults and claimed that it was still a very capable vehicle. Little did I know just how capable this little SUV would prove to be and exactly how many nights that I would call it home.
A Turning Point and the Open Road
Shortly after purchasing the new Jeep, my life changed drastically. As a photographer, I had recently discovered my passion for shooting landscapes in the National Parks of America and the darkest desert skies I could find. And in my personal life, I had just started going through a divorce that proved to be one of the darkest times of my life. I vividly remember waking up on my couch one day (probably after about 3 days of lying there) and thinking to myself, “I’ve got to get out of here and do something.” I walked out to my little Jeep, popped the hatch and thought to myself, “How can I sleep in here?” I had almost no money at the time but decided that it was better to be broke and on the road somewhere beautiful than on the couch with a bottle of Burnett’s. So I inevitably hit the road.
Through a lot of trial and error, freezing uncomfortable nights, and some of my most favorite memories and photographs I have ever taken, I gradually started to figure out a system that worked for me and my gear. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot more about what works and what doesn’t, and how to pack gear more efficiently. Together, my little Jeep and I, have traveled across the country (up and down) eight times and have made it to over 20 National Parks.
The Jeep Renegade! AKA My Vacation Home
Now that you have the back-story, I had the thought to actually take some pictures of my usual set up on a trip to Acadia National Park in Maine last month to gather some video footage of the remaining fall colors for a National Park non-profit group. This wasn’t my most organized trip, but hopefully, it will show that you don’t need a Sprinter (though I am very jealous of those who do, Justin and Will) to comfortably sleep in a vehicle. All you need is a little creativity and to expect a little bit of suffering. However, It’s all worth it!
I forwent the supplied spare tire in favor of all the extra space it gave me. I have now blown 5 tires as far as 90 miles from the nearest service station. Recommended? Definitely not. I learned how to plug a tire early on in life and keep a hefty amount of plugs and fix-a-flat down here along with my food, camping stove, dishes, spare boots, and any other emergency equipment that might be necessary for a few days of living on the road. Oh, and a decent bottle of bourbon for those cold nights. Usually, it’s not that serious, but you know the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.”
I lay the back seats down flat, slide the driver seat all the way back and lean the backrest all the way forward. This provides a space for me to rest my pillow and allows me to stretch out all the way. Mind you, I am only 5’7”, which is a benefit, but you can also rearrange to lay sideways if you’re a giant. I put a sleeping pad on top of the folded down back seats and roll out a sleeping bag and find myself quite comfy after a little bit of that bourbon. All of my camera gear goes on one side and provides me with a small workspace to review my photos and footage from the day.
Popping the hatch and using the top of the basement as a kitchen is my standard operating procedure. Shielded from the wind, it turns into a nice cooking space suitable for any parking lot (or desert bed) you find yourself in. Just be careful not to knock your stove over and set your vehicle/home on fire.
The Quirks of a Small Space
The hardest part of any small space is keeping it clean. Especially when 80 percent of what’s in your vehicle is essential camera gear that requires quick and constant access. At the end of a day of shooting my Jeep usually turns out looking something like this.
When my trips come to an end and it’s time to head back, I just pack up everything nice and neat, fold the seats back up and put everything back in the trunk. It makes for a nice ride home and no one would even guess that you just spent 4 days living in a 4WD soccer mom SUV.
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