Marsha Hovey grew up in New York, born of a pragmatic East Coast upbringing crossed with an artist's adventuring spirit. She headed west after graduation, landing at CU Boulder before trekking further to the Mount Hood National Forest to work at Windells as the Camp Director. After purchasing a Nissan NV200S and crafting it out to her personal specifications, Marsha left the Pacific Northwest and has since criss-crossed the country multiple times, stopping at skateparks, state parks, and shops filmed with ephemera along the way.
She chronicled some of her travels in a zine, Right On Ride On and has sketchbooks filled with art, photographs, and musings from the different locales she has visited and the individuals with whom she has interacted. Her adventuremobile, a shiny, black van that deftly fits into most any parking space, is loaded with necessities for all activities and is perfect for weekend road trips or month-long meanderings. It's propelled her through the Deep South, the Northeast, and on multiple treks through Montana, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, allowing her to stop at places that provide a perfect environment to skate, snowboard, bike, and eat burritos. Marsha has found a perfect symbiosis of the exciting newness of travel and the comforts of home through her adventure van—read on about her adventure philosophy, the creation of her mobile house, and why it ain't Nathan to pack up your life, put it on four wheels, and traverse the country for however long you'd like. –Mary Walsh.
Photos by Marsha Hovey
I have a 2015 Nissan NV200S. I bought it with 26 miles on it, and excused myself to the bathroom at the dealership midway through filling out the paperwork to go cry and freak out about dropping in on such a heavy life purchase. I went back and forth for months, debating whether or not to buy an older van and empty my savings, or buy a new van and have a car payment for the first time in my life. Ultimately, I decided that the 100k mile warranty and 0.9% financing that came with the new, shiny van were too valuable to pass up. I pinned the two local Nissan dealerships against each other at the end of the month, got the price as low as possible, and walked out of there pretty proud of my negotiation skills.
What pushed me towards van life back in 2015 was an intense desire to have something to call home that was my own, but a lack of commitment to buy a house and be stuck in one location. Not to mention, there’s no way in hell I could afford to buy a house in the monstrously booming housing market of Portland, OR. It made the most sense to me: buy an empty van, build it out exactly as I want, and be at home wherever I go. Since the purchase, I’ve lived in the van for weeks to a month at a time, but I’ve been floating in and out of the country, staying with friends and family, and even settling into seasonal stays with Airbnb’s. I can’t say that the van has been my main dwelling. No matter where I am though, it’s an incredible feeling to know that the van is there, and that I can get up and go when I want.I can hop in my little mini house for a weekend away, or an indefinite adventure. It’s a very freeing concept and one that suits me well for now.
This was my first adventuremobile project, and I dove in head first with very little knowledge. The NV200 is a basic cargo van. Meaning; metal walls, some thin floor and door liners, two front seats, and that’s it. A completely blank canvas. Long story short, I insulated it, laid down flooring, put up walls, installed an external battery, cut a hole in the roof, added in a fan system, a power inverter, a light system, and built custom furniture. It’s very easy to write all that in a
sentence, but each piece of the puzzle was a long chapter in a year’s worth of learning while building. I electrocuted myself and cursed all the curse words. I sketched and re-sketched and re-re-sketched. It was an extremely big undertaking, and I’m proud of it every day. When I sit in the van, I think of all the extra hands that helped make the dream a reality. The friends and family that helped cut insulation, and confirm my measurements, and screw in the annoying screws that I just couldn’t get. In no way is the van a creation of my own making. It is a reflection of the best support system on earth, and for that I am very thankful.
One of my favorite things about my van build is the pull-out couch. I wanted to make sure that I could hang in the van and bring friends along for the ride. Being able to pile in as many humans as possible was a must for me. Speaking of lots of smelly friends, the Fantastic 1200, my rooftop fan vent powered by my external battery, is a lifesaver. With the option to pull air in, or push air out, any odor and/or heat crisis can be avoided. Traveling through Montana, I made friends with the right people who owned a car stereo shop. They helped me to rig a circuit between my van battery and my external battery. Basically, I can flip the circuit and charge my external battery while driving. As long as I’m mobile from time to time, I can always recharge my battery without having to plug in. That means, the Fantastic 1200 can always be juiced up and ready to go after toting around a van full of hot, sweaty friends from skatepark to skatepark..
Daytime vs. nighttime in the van definitely gives way to different set ups. Daytime could mean burrito party around the drop-down desk in the back with all the doors wide open, and nighttime most likely means futon pulled out with the air vent popped and Stevie Nicks (the cat) curled up in a various nook. When flying solo with time to kill, I’ll usually be in the back, sprawled out reading a book with a screensaver-like image out my window. It’s a big plus having the option to change around the furniture. As tiny as the van may be, finding ways to keep it feeling open and spacious are a luxury.
The van has seen a good chunk of America already. Serious laps and memories have been made in places I never thought I’d end up. I’ve fallen asleep to the electric buzzing of cicadas in Mississippi, and woken up to high powered winds shaking the van on the plains of South Dakota. I’ve been captivated and nauseated by the highways of the California coast, and been driven to near death boredom through the never-ending straightaways of Nebraska. I’ve almost hit a deer in almost every state, and have splattered the windshield with bugs of every color. I’ve skated good parks and bad parks, and talked about snowboarding with people who have no snow in sight. It’s hard to pick specific moments that stand out as memorable, because the entire journey has been important. For me, the simple action of driving, alone, down a road you’ve never been on, taking in landscapes that you’ve never seen before, letting the radio fade to nothing and not bothering to change it, losing track of time zones and state names, that is my favorite part.
The van project is one that never ends. The more time spent in the van, the more those pesky idea lightbulbs keep popping up. Like, I would love to add an outdoor shower and a pull-out awning someday. Getting my paws on a Yeti cooler to replace my just-ok cooler would also be a great addition. While we’re at it, upgrading the stupid tiny golf cart tires to ones that can safely get me up a snowy mountain pass, that would be nice too. However, it turns out that traveling all the time and hopping from job-to-job isn’t the most lucrative thing in the world. When pennies are limited, keeping the whole "need vs. want" thing in perspective is key. It’s hard to say how long the van will be in my life, but for right now, today, it makes me really happy. It’s given me a home when I didn’t know where mine should be, and that’s priceless in my book.