Imagine waking up outdoors and cooking breakfast on a real stove, then sipping on a cup of fresh-brewed coffee as you listen to the birds welcome the start of a new day. You slept on a real mattress so you’re ready for your next adventure, and that will be easy to get to — once you’ve eaten breakfast, all you have to do is fire up the van and you’re off. That’s how Amanda and Jim Grant, owners of Wilderness Van in Wilmington, describe van life, and they would know because they’ve lived it. The couple has enjoyed countless mornings like the one described in places like Utah and Colorado, and they’ve also van camped in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
Van camping is popular out West, where Bureau of Land Management lands make it easy to find a scenic place to pull up and set up camp. The Grants had their own van, but they noticed it was hard for Adirondack visitors to find a place to rent one.
“We thought there was a void here,” Jim said. “Out West and even further east there were people who were renting vans. The Adirondacks is an amazing destination, and we thought having vintage vans for people to tour in would be awesome.”
The Grants aren’t from the Adirondacks — Amanda is from West Virginia and Jim is from Ottawa — but they felt an intense draw to the region after a three-day skiing trip here in 2004.
“It was the weirdest feeling; I felt like I was leaving home,” Amanda said. “I told Jim we have to come back.”
Jim agreed, and their subsequent trips kept getting longer: One week, three weeks, six weeks. The Grants were living in a camper in a Wilmington campground when they started meeting members of the mountain biking community.
“It was the people,” Jim said. “We started helping BETA (Barkeater Trail Alliance) build more mountain biking trails, we made friends, and we knew this was where we wanted to be.”
The Grants really are living the life. In mid-October they head to the Caribbean to run week-long charters. They take up to six people on a cruise to see the different islands, and along the way they go snorkeling, diving, and hiking. They head back to the Adirondacks on March 1 and start getting ready for the van season.
Wilderness Vans has two vintage Volkswagen Westfalia vans available, an ’89 and a ’90. Each has a kitchen, fridge, two-burner propane stove, sink, 10 gallons of water, and a refrigerator that runs on solar power. They vans sleep four people — there’s a pop top area and the couch fold out into a bed. Linens are provided, renters just need to bring clothes and food.
Jim said the Westfalias provide a unique driving experience because the seats are in front of the front wheels. That doesn’t mean style is sacrificed, though.
“When you drive down the street, it’s like you’re in a Ferrari,” Jim said. “People are waving to you, and when you stop to get gas people come over to you wanting to talk about it.”
Cool factor aside, the Grants said the biggest draw for renting a van is the flexibility it provides. You can pull into town for dinner and shopping, then you can head to a remote campsite for the night. And with a van, plans don’t have to be set in stone. Van campers can use the vehicle as a roving basecamp and tour the region, enjoying whatever adventures come their way as they go.