ADVENTURES BY BLOOD
I’m Kate, and I’m from Sydney, Australia. Growing up, our family was pretty adventurous. We raced dirt bikes and would travel the country to attend race meets or weekend rides with friends. When I was young, we had a 1975 Ford Escort Mk2 panel van, which we would take camping. We’d sleep in the back and then have all day to ride our bikes along trails and tracks in the bush. Although that model Ford came out with a 1600cc engine, ours was 2L with a twin-throat Weber carburetor, courtesy of a weekend of work by my dad and uncle.
Tinkering on machines was a pretty regular activity in our family; we always had a big garage and there was certain to be a project or two happening within. My parents were very DIY people and inspired a “you can do anything” attitude in me, for which I am forever grateful. The weather and environment in Australia are ideal for outdoor activities. I grew up with plenty of time at the beach, hiking, fishing, camping, caravanning, generally just enjoying the outdoors.
I’ve always loved dirt bikes. The first one I had as a kid was an old XR75 with a metal tank. I was allowed to paint it any color I wanted, and as such, that bike experienced many looks. My favorite, I recall, was when it had pastel pink hot rod style bubble flames.
Moving to my life now, I still love giving vehicles a unique look; only they are a lot larger than that first little bike. The first van build was on a 2018 4×4 Sprinter. I learned a lot on that build and on the builds to follow. That van had double slider doors, which was a unique feature and it made for a very open plan living van.
THE INCREDIBLE BRUCE BANNER
This van is named Bruce Banner. It started its life as a humble white 2WD cargo van, and as you can see, it is now a big green monster. So Bruce Banner (the Hulk) made a lot of sense. His friends just call him Bruce, though – he’s a big guy but still humble.
I like using the Mercedes Sprinter as a platform because the diesel allows for running heat, hot water and cooktop – all from the van’s single fuel source. It’s a reliable vehicle and the height allows you to stand up comfortably inside. If you’re planning to live in a van full-time, the Mercedes is a great option.
Honestly, I have always been a UTE (pick-up truck) girl and looking back now, I can’t believe I didn’t buy a van sooner. It’s no turning back now though, I’d never be without a van these days… that’s for sure.
I always choose high-quality products that can withstand the extremes I push the vehicle to. I work with many brands doing R&D, so taking parts out and pushing their limits is something I love to do. Then it’s back to the workshop to dial it all in to make sure that once they get to you everything is perfectly ready for adventure.
The design and concept of this vehicle are my own, and I was very lucky on this one to be able to collaborate with TouRig out of Colorado on the interior build. I gave the team there a lot of wild ideas and they managed to pull them all off to create their most extensive and adventurous build to date.
The most notable modification on Bruce is his solid axle swap. He has a Dana 60 front and 70 rear running 37×13.50 Falken MTs and 20” Black Rhino Armory wheels. This swap gave the van a total of 8.5” lift above stock and it also has an additional 4.5” track on each side. The concept was to build a rig to bridge the gap between the overland adventure van market and the large overland trucks.
Pairing this SAS with my signature look of a full-body, two-tone LineX spray created a very military-style vehicle. Keeping with the aggressive theme, I chose Backwoods Adventure Mods for all the external bumpers, and I was very excited to work with them to develop their first roof rack and slider steps for the Sprinter.
Time is always a challenge in any build. Being a show rig, there is always a tight deadline to get a build ready for the upcoming season. This keeps me and any brands I’m working with on our toes, but at the end of the day, sometimes some very loooong days, we somehow make it to the show!
I do a lot of sports, so the van is perfect for hauling all the adventure gear and toys. During the summer, I take inflatable paddle boards from Atoll Boards. Winter finds snowboards and the in-between seasons will have bikes, skateboards, climbing gear, archery and MotoX. The hardest one is Jiu-Jitsu, but I have roll-up mats for that and have found some fellow 4×4 enthusiasts who are always up for an off-road camp roll.
Even when I say a build is finished, it is true that I’m always tinkering on it. I also swap out my builds fairly frequently in order to be able to keep doing R&D on new gear. Currently, I am finishing up a build on a 144 4×4 2020 Sprinter in Australia, which I have named Dingo. You can check out my progress on Instagram.
LIVING THAT VAN LIFE
I spent three years traveling full-time in different vans across America. It was incredible to see such hidden parts of the country and meet locals along the way. It made me realize that I haven’t actually seen all that much of my home country Australia, so I am really looking forward to getting the next build out and into the Aussie bush.
When I am looking for places to stop, I always lean towards anything with water. It’s extra special when you find something by a river or a beach, and you get to sleep to the sounds of water and wake up to a sunrise dip.
I think the worst road done in Bruce was one trip trying to get out of Colorado – for some reason, Colorado always seems to magically turn up the blizzard factor whenever you need to get in or out of it. The highways were shut down, but there was a logging road that connected up. Bruce gathered up a couple of Jeeps and made his way across a winter wonderland like a giant snowplow. It was slow, but eventually, we made it out.
Being full-time in a van it’s more of a life preparation than just a trip. You have to downsize and become quite the minimalist to live like this. It can be a real mental adjustment to live life on the road, so it’s good to find ways of creating a routine to your day for a sense of normalcy. This might be something as simple as your morning coffee routine. There is also a lot of prep that goes into being able to work from the road, not only your job itself, but how to get mail, Wi-Fi, cell signal – you really have to be ready to fully submerge yourself and embrace this way of living if you want it to work.
I tend to make sure that if I’m solo, I do the easier trails and save the more challenging ones when I have a group of buddies along for the adventure. I carry a satellite phone and there is always gear on board. In the worst-case scenario, I could bike or hike out to get assistance.
THE FOREVER TRAVEL JOURNEY
Living in the van full-time makes preparing a little easier. Everything I own is on board, so I can’t forget anything. I do, however, still have a checklist for regular maintenance to keep the rig running well. After a heavy off-road route, I will check the tightness of all bolts. I also check to make sure the vehicle’s fluids are topped off, and I keep it clean inside and out. If I know I am heading off-grid for an extended stay, I will stock up on supplies at the last big town on the route. I have a 65L freezer and 85L fridge on board, which allows me to store a lot of fresh food, and I have plenty of pantry space. I will also be sure to fill up the 40gal water tank and 28gal aux fuel tank too. I do carry a First Aid kit on board, and I restock anything that gets used from it right away.
If I got truly stranded and the van was immobilized, I have a few options to seek help. I could make use of our Rugged Radios to see if there was anyone nearby. I could use my CAB Motorworks eBikes to ride out as they have a 120- mile range. Worst case, I can pack our bags and start hiking or just hang out and start hunting and fishing! It can be a difficult, but rewarding lifestyle. I would recommend to anyone wanting to try this lifestyle to start by exploring your local area and getting used to your rig.
It can be a difficult, but rewarding lifestyle. I would recommend to anyone wanting to try this lifestyle to start by exploring your local area and getting used to your rig.