Conchscooter: I was given this web name (pro: "konk-scooter") by a motorcycle forum many years ago, I don't even remember anymore which forum it might have been. I grew up in England and Italy and emigrated to California in 1982. My wife, Layne who grew up in California, fed her own adventurous streak by agreeing to sail to Key West from San Francisco with our dogs in 1998-2000. The Panama Canal:
We found Key West a good place to get proper jobs where my wife taught and I worked for the city of Key West for 20 years and ended up pensioned and footloose. The shortcoming of sailing we found was that we didn't get to see as much of the countries as we might have liked so for retirement we decided to try out van travel for the self contained benefits of a sailboat with better access to the culture and countryside of the places we want to visit, not forgetting our landlubber dog who coincidentally hates the water...
Key West Diary: I started this blog in June 2007. I had been active on the Web but I wanted a corner to call my own where I would call the shots and I could write what I wanted. I like grammar, clauses, convoluted sentences, irony, dry humor and a train of thought that has a beginning and a middle and an end. I don't care for Twitter or Facebook though I do post pictures on Instagram and Flickr as Michael Conchscooter. I don't care for the work involved in making videos and I am allowing YouTube to pass me by. I started out writing Key West Vespa because I had a Vespa 250 and I figured I'd write about riding the Lower Keys. Pretty soon the Vespa proved horribly unreliable so I sold it and wondered what to do with the blog. By this stage I had already realized that a single motorcycle subject was going to be boring to write, especially as there isn't much variety to the riding here. I also realized that through the power of the Internet it is possible to travel vicariously and see places through world wide photography. During slow moments in my life I would type in a place name and check the pictures that came up. There were never enough blogs like the one I have created here, to simply illustrate a place.
Future: The idea is to be retired in summer of 2022 and take to the road in our campervan. This page will be here, the name will change but the URL will stay the same. Typing in The Golden Van or Key West Diary will get you to https://conchscooter.blogspot.com but the content will change after we drive away and return to our previous nomad life, not on a boat but on land. There are so many variables in life that it is impossible to say if or when this will happen. It is a plan and therefore the contents of this page are planned to change. I mention this as fair warning for anyone seeking pictures of the Keys.
Purpose: I have no interest in making money off this page; use my photos as you like but please give me credit. My blog is a way to get me out of the house and doing something, be it ever so banal as simply photographing a mangrove. I have opinions and I express a few as a relief valve. I enjoy living in these islands so if from time to time I get lyrical it's because I am pleased to be here. I am not a tour guide, I have no clue what hotels or restaurants to recommend. I am not a relocation service, and I advise people to be very cautious before they try to turn Paradise of the Mind into Daily Grinding Reality. My wife and I backed into our lives in Key West, mostly by accident and here we are, earning our pensions while others play. If these pages give pleasure I am glad but this is the Seinfeld Blog of Key West, a lot of pictures about not too much plot. I hope it works for you.
August 3 2018 5:20pm
A car pulled across my path on Highway One on my commute. She pulled out of Cutthroat Drive near Square Grouper restaurant so I somersaulted over the hood of her car, smashing my pelvis against my handlebars, landing on my head and shoulder on the car and on my legs back on the road which finished breaking my leg in two places. I lay there fading away waiting for paramedics who saved my life. This incident woke me up to the need to get on with it, lying in the road fading away, three months in the hospital, a wheelchair and rehab and learning how to walk all got me thinking about what I really wanted to get done before I die properly.
After I was revived I decided to take one last selfie before they loaded me into the helicopter for the flight to Miami.
The flight hurt a great deal but I got to Jackson South in half an hour.
A day on the ventilator reminded me why I wore a mask during the pandemic.
Thanks to the people who took care of me I can walk as normal once again.
The Van Details:
The van is a Promaster 3500 extended, a high roof cube with lots of standing headroom inside a box 21 feet long overall and six feet wide. The living space is about 12 feet by 6 feet behind the cab which is a standard 2020 Ram Promaster van cab. These machines are designed as work vehicles and lack many of the electronic amenities of lane control and automatic braking and such beeping bells and whistles which I did not want.
Promasters come with one engine and the designation 1500,2500,3500 refers to suspension capacity as the boxes come in various lengths. We went for the biggest box as 17 feet we found was too short to give us an expansive interior feeling. Promasters are work vans as I said and to give you an idea cruise control is an option. I went for that.
Most are sold in standard white but we went for a hundred dollar option and special ordered a gold colored van which took four extra months to be delivered. I came across Custom Coach Creations by accident while perusing RV Trader online and lamenting the lack of a commercially built van that hit all the needs wants and desires we had for a mobile home...They are a family business based in Deland, North Florida and the business grew out of the owners' own love of travel. What I discovered is they will build what you want the way you want it and they have a reputation they enjoy maintaining.
We had some idea we wanted to developed from our years of traveling by sailboat and as eccentric as they sounded the crew at Custom Coach Creations got to work.
You can see samples of their work on Facebook as well as their website. One issue we had seen raised frequently by vanlifers is how to cope with bad weather. It's easy to be a picture postcard perfect van dweller in the right conditions but dark gloomy weather with rain and cold dampened proceedings quite severely. We decided we needed an interior to try and counteract that problem. So we built comfortable benches in the back which at the press of a button become a queen sized bed across the back of the very broad Promaster.
From a commercial design by Pleasure Way we copied the idea of having front office space with swiveling front seats and tables that unfold when the cabin seats face backward. Thus one of us could be asleep in back while the other might be reading or computing up front a whole 8 feet away...The van is littered with 12v and USB ports everywhere we asked for them so one need never have a device with a flat battery.
I had wanted an all electric van, dispensing with gas stoves and fridges both of which we had used while afloat. My thinking is that traveling with gas creates issues on ferries and cargo ships when we send the van overseas, plus every country seems to have its own gas fittings and filling systems. To ensure we have plenty of power we went with a monster electrical installation: 600 amps of Lithium battery storage fed by a 3000 watt inverter to provide 110 volts as well as 12 volts (there will be a test later) in turn fed by 400 watts of solar panels on the roof and two alternators under the hood. Three hours driving or four hours idling should charge the entire system completely from empty. There is a separate battery for the engine so if all else fails we can start the engine and refill the entire bank from dead. This $15,000 package (more or less) should keep us cool warm, cooking, refrigerated and fed.
The toilet, also known as the spare room hence the absence of photos as we chucked everything in there for the trip home...sorry about that; as I'm sure you'd like to see our 2.5 gallon Thetford porta potti before we soil it with use. Or not. CCC's fabric queen, a miracle worker called Michelle who leads a team with whose work my exacting wife could find no fault. I never saw a cleaner more smoothly finished van interior.
We wanted a faucet with a boat style foot pump but Bob the boss talked us out of that water saving program by pointing out the faucet over the sink reaches outside the van and can double as a shower for us or even for Rusty...done! However he was puzzled by my request for a shower compartment with no shower. My wife was fine with this mad plan as she had found she preferred solar showers on the boat rather than using the pressure water system we had. So my idea was to put a hook in the ceiling and hang a shower filled with either solar heated water or with water heated on the induction stove. The bonus is we use less water, far less, and secondly the solar showers are cheap, easy to carry and can be used outside the van in clement weather. Our reasoning made sense to us. The porta potti has a small unobtrusive tank to make it easy to dump anywhere there is a toilet without having to use an RV dump site. I am of the opinion there are more public toilets in the world than specialized RV dump stations. On a nicer cedar smelling note here we have Dave the Carpenter who wore a mask and made last minute decisions for us on the placement of a few items we needed to make a personal decision on, the shape of the table, the location of the shower hook,which is exactly what makes this a custom van:
I even asked for a spare water pump for under the sink and Custom Coach Conversions did not let me down. I hope you understand that even before coronavirus I wanted our van to be as self sufficient as possible, not in the hopes of becoming hermits but of being able to travel further without worrying all the time about stuff breaking and not being able to repair it, or wasting face time with strangers asking them where the RV parts store is (or isn't). Everything is a compromise of course and we tried to thread the path between reducing complexity and maintaining a pleasant living environment. For instance even though we will travel with hikers' water filters we did specify the biggest water tank possible please and Bob gave us fully 35 gallons (140 liters in Canadian currency). Enough for a month of comfortable living:
This whole idea may strike you as lunacy but in my defense I can only say that we have done stuff similar to this previously and enjoyed it. We have tried to balance the needs of first world sybarites with the requirements of long distance travelers. We shall break no exploration records nor shall we claim world class endurance feats or acts of driving derring-do but I hope we shall see things worth seeing and do things worth doing such that one day we may wash up in the old folks home in Key West with plenty of stories with which to bore the other inmates. It's hard to justify even to myself the notion that it is worth leaving Key West to do this thing so I hold on to the idea that we can come back as idle retirees which would be lovely. I could stay in my job for twenty more years working hours that pay well, in a position that has better health benefits than any other in town, and in a department that offers security and comfort but... In a world gone mad on Internet aphorisms I'm sure you can find one to suit your taste that advises you to live your life before it's too late. For instance this one isn't too saccharine:
We all have two lives. The second one starts when we realize we only have one.
My family got even more mad when I left and emigrated and never went back because they had been mad at me to start with. After a quarter of a century away they did grudgingly admit that my emigration may not have been at all a bad idea. I am used to disapproval but after 62 years I have figured out that if I don't do this I will regret it. Luckily my wife feels the same way and my dog has no choice. Oh and the cost of the van thus tricked out with mood lighting, a television, cell phone signal booster, air conditioning, etc etc etc...$89,000 including van, conversion, tax, tag and all. And some people spend that on tricking out a pick up truck. Lunatics!