Van Ventures – Exploring North America in a Rolling Home
Janna Irons and John Stifter are the picture of a Millennial power couple with a thirst for adventure and pursuit of the natural world. With experience working in both the creative and action sports fields – surfing and skiing, respectively – Janna and John have broken the mold of routine, submit to their love of the outdoors and chosen take their lives mobile. Weaned on rugged mountaintops and picturesque shores, it came as little surprise when Janna and John decided to ditch the confines of their Encinitas home to join the ranks of adventurers at large, full-time. John Stifter, hailing from Washington state, is the former Editor-in-Chief of POWDER magazine. Janna Irons, of the famed Irons surfing family, is from Kauai and launched the female-focused SALTED publication via SURFER Magazine. Janna and John are recently engaged and decided there is no time like the present to embark on the trip of a lifetime, renew their inspiration and seize the budding wilderness that surrounds them. Introducing: VanVentures. Janna + John's VanVenture from MALo creative on Vimeo. Let’s begin with the van of Vanventures namesake. Can you recall when the seeds of the idea were sown? John Stifter: We kept trying to be creative with the name and come up with something really different, but we also wanted to be explicit about what we were doing. Whenever we talked to friends about our plan, we referred to it as our “van adventure.” So Van Ventures just felt right. Janna Irons: And it turned out @vanventures wasn’t taken on Instagram, so it felt meant to be! What led you to decide to take this trip? JI: We both just started seeing life passing us by. We had great jobs and really fun lives full of travel and great friends, so it’s really not that we’re escaping anything at all. We just felt like we somehow had to find a way to step out of our routine, scheduled existence to feel like we were really living. We also felt that by being in the same place doing similar things for so long our creative wells were going dry—and that we needed to get out of our rut to really get inspired again. John had always dreamed of getting a van and building it out, and I’ve never been one to say no to an adventure—ever. So after a few years of talking about it and watching friends “settle down,” we realized it was time to just do it. You’ve mentioned that the itinerary for your trip is loose, traveling throughout Canada and the United States. What was the motivation behind this decision and are you both equally comfortable with the arrangement? JS: We both have always loved adventure, and have long dreamed of taking off on adventure like this—just hitting the road. We were growing tired of routine and wanted to fill up the well of creativity again. JI: Mostly we want to remember what it feels like to not be busy. To just slow down and appreciate life and nature. We want to go to the great national parks, and to creative, inspiring cities. We also have plans to spend good chunks of time in places off the beaten path, with no cell service. Just really unplug, slow down, read, hike, and just relax. We plan to go up the west coast, into Canada, then across into Montana, Wyoming, the Great Lakes, and over to the Northeast. Our rough plan is to spend the winter up in the Northeast—maybe rent a cabin a few different places when it’s too cold to sleep in the van—then head down the East Coast in early spring. But it’s all totally open to change. We just want to take it as it comes, and stay as long as we want in the places we love. What are the most ideal locations – whether cities, landscapes, or features – you would like to catch along the way? JS: Trees, rugged coastlines, fun single-tracks for mountain biking, pristine alpine lakes. Also Banff, New England, the Carolinas, the South, and all the spots in between we haven’t thought to travel to. JI: I also want to get up to Tofino in Canada and see/surf the coastline above San Francisco and into Oregon. I’m excited to experience surfing on the East Coast too! I’m just so excited to go wherever we want and stay as long as we like in the places we enjoy. The interior transformation of your new home / vehicle is remarkable. What compelled you to build out the cabin yourself and how much was to your own design? JS: We had a general idea we wanted to build something custom, but honestly most of our inspiration came from other vans. Sprinter Van Diaries has step-by-step instructions to their build-out so we took a lot of what they did and customized it a little. JI: We had very little (basically no) carpentry experience, so it was very much a trial and error learning experience. When you look up close nothing is perfect, but it works! What were some of the most unexpected moments during construction? JS: Until we opened up the van in the alley behind our house and fired up the power tools, we hadn’t met most of our neighbors. We were surprised how everyone came out and checked our progress every day, lending us tools and wisdom. We ended up making a bunch of new friends—too bad it was right when we were taking off! Downscaling your possessions must have played a huge role in becoming mobile. Was liberating yourself of valuables more difficult or easier as things moved along and your commitment took shape? JI: It feels so good to get rid of stuff! We donated so many boxes to Salvation Army and by the end we were just giving stuff away to everyone! Now that we’ve had a bit of time in the van, we realized we still have too much stuff! So we’ll be doing another round downscaling. You realize when you do something like this that you really don’t need much to be comfortable and happy. I have heard that surfboards will not be joining you for the full duration of your travels. What other items did you think would be essential in the early stages, but ended up being compromised by the end of your prep? JI: Yeah, we figure that while we are on the coast, we’ll want to surf, but once we’re inland—which will be a while as we cross through Canada and Montana and Wyoming and the Great Lakes, they will just be a hassle. We figure we can always borrow from friends on the East Coast when we get there. We also have had a cooler in the van for the first leg of the trip, but will be getting rid of that when we hook up solar next week! That will power our LED lights, fridge, and laptops. What surf destinations do you have in mind? JI: I surfed in Tofino (B.C.) in October a few years back and everyone said that summer is so great there, so we’re really excited to head up there! I have also seen so many awesome pictures of surfing in Maine and North Carolina, so I can’t wait to check those out too. I even hear there is surfing in the Great Lakes, which would be wild! Van living is bound to change your eco-footprint. I imagine that you’ll be logging more miles, but living “off-the-grid” will eliminate normal electricity and water usage. Is this a topic that has been on your minds and in what way do you feel it will affect your time spent on the road? JS: We’ve really realized how much water you normally use doing things like washing dishes to washing your hands. In the van, we have a water tank that we fill up every few days, so every drop really counts—because the more water we use the more often we have to go fill it up. As for electricity, everything is on battery, so conserving is always on our minds. Do you think that establishing these habits will have a lasting effect, post-Van Venture? JI: Definitely. We’ve always been really conscious of our environmental footprint, but it really makes you see resources differently when they’re not in limitless supply with the turn of a switch or knob in your house. You have likely received an abundance of advice from fellow travelers and armchair adventurers alike. What were some notable suggestions or cautionary tales you’ve heard and did any illuminate valuable points? JI: We’ve gotten a lot of great advice about how to stealthily camp in hotel or hospital parking lots when we’re in a pinch, or that we can use showers at public pools. We’ve gotten such great advice from people who have been on similar adventures.