Casey and I took on this project one evening about a month before we left and a few weeks before quitting our jobs. We were finding that the preparation for this adventure was getting the best of us. While we are looking forward to this with all our hearts, there have been countless times over the past months that we have found ourselves completely overwhelmed by the prospect of what we are doing and the myriad of to-dos that have filled the space between where we are now and where we want to be.
Part of the point of moving into the van, of choosing a life that is not tied down and that intentionally limits our commitments, is to free us from the incessant lists of to-dos that seem to swamp our modern connected lives. We were hoping to find space away from the commitments that we have been all but brainwashed into believing are necessary; a space where we could enjoy the moments that make up the day and spend our time living together instead of rushing around past each other and accomplishing tasks. We earnestly believe there is a better and more fulfilling way to live that values the time we are in rather than just the tasks we accomplish to prepare for our someday future.
But even as we search for that elusive time and value, we have found ourselves swamped with task lists and things to accomplish. Ironically the time preparing to leave and step into vanlife has been some of the most stress-filled time of our lives together. Partly this is the nature of change. Any major transition in life requires extra effort, an extra dose of to-do to get that next phase prepared while still keeping all the other balls in the air in your current life. I think this time of preparation has been most reminiscent of the last few months Ransom was in Grad School finishing his Thesis while also applying for jobs. He lost over 10 pounds and absentmindedly stress-pulled out a section of his beard!
But in addition to the normal stresses of transition, there is also a deep pull from the “normal” life that wraps tentacle-like around your ankles as you try to break free and relentlessly pulls you back. The responsibilities of normal living in New England and America in general seem to be designed to keep you tied in. Every contract that you have to break to get out comes with copious amounts of red tape and hidden fees and paperwork making leaving almost too much work to be worth it. Preparing to leave your job becomes an impossible game of finalizing last details and transitioning information and projects on to other people; and in Ransom’s case: weeding through and boxing up all of the documents, records, and knick-knacks in the office is a feat of it’s own. And that brings us to the biggest tentacle of them all: stuff. We have striven to live an uncluttered life, but in America, even the uncluttered apartment takes weeks of planning, packing, moving, selling, recycling, and throwing out to move out of. This has been one of the most overwhelming items for us. In a regular move, things can be put in boxes knowing that, eventually, it will all be unpacked and put back in place and much of the clutter does not need to be addressed, just moved. But for us, nearly all of it needs to be addressed: bills, letters, cards, souvenirs, furniture, textbooks, and used car parts all need to be sorted and disposed of appropriately with all the loose ends being tied up before departure date.
Amongst all of that, we found ourselves frenzied balls of stress! We felt like any spare time we had needed to be used wisely and efficiently to be able to get everything done in time. This often meant dividing and conquering: Ransom working on the van to get it ready while Casey worked inside to pack up and finalize details. We were finding that our time together had dropped extremely low and what we did have was full of rattling off details and lists and things to not forget.
So one Tuesday night as the stress mounted, we decided to take some time to tackle a small somewhat mundane task on the van together inside around the kitchen table to reclaim some of the time as time together. Life together.
The Task: new headlight mounting hardware.
The Vanagon has markedly miserable headlight mounting and adjusting hardware. It is made of metal bolts with complex plastic backers to anchor them to the headlight pans and then small brittle plastic clips to attach the headlights to the mounting bolts. All pieces are custom VW pieces so if something breaks it can’t be replaced easily. Our van came to us with most of the plastic clips broken or cracked and several bolts JB-Welded to the headlight pans in the absence of backers. The owner before us had resorted to the “wobbly restaurant table” fix and had jammed bits of folded up cardboard around the lights to aim them and keep them in place. The result was un-aimable headlights that invariable pointed up into the trees on the side of the road and would start wobbling every time you hit a good bump.
We wanted a solution that would be relatively sturdy and wouldn’t crack like the brittle plastic clips and one that also didn’t rely on specialized parts so that even if they did break they could be replaced easily. The solution we decided on used steel drywall anchors with long bolts, some finish washers, and rubber fuel hose.
From Home Depot we had picked up a pack of 1/8” x 2” drywall anchors (zinc plated as they will be exposed to the elements) and some #6 stainless steel finishing washers; and from Auto Zone we grabbed a length of ¼” fuel line.
Each headlight (2 low beams and 2 high beams) has three anchor bolts holding it in place. Each of these was replaced with a drywall anchor and bolt, a finish washer, and length of fuel hose which acted as a spacer and compressible spring.
The first step was to remove the headlights from the van so we could work on them together inside at the table. The grille comes off by loosening the 5 ¼-turn mounting bolts and then pulling the grille out from the van. Then each headlight pair and the accompanying headlight pan can be removed by removing the 4 phillips-head screws the hold the pan to the body of the van and disconnecting both headlight harness connectors. We then brought the two headlight assemblies inside and proceeded to extract the existing mounting hardware. Several of the bolts came out easily, but some were rusted in or stripped out and needed to be removed with vice-grips. One bolt had been anchored in with JB-Weld by a previous owner and had to be cut off along with a big glob of JB-weld.
After all the hardware was off we then moved on to assembling the new hardware. Each bolt got a finish washer and a small rubber washer cut from fuel hose. The finish washers are cupped so they hold the rubber hose nicely. We then cut a short length of rubber hose to act as a spacer between the headlight frame and the backing pan. The goal is to cut this piece long enough so that it is compressed slightly when the headlight is in place, this holds the headlight fairly firm on the backing pan. After the length of hose, we used a drywall anchor with the wings out as a backing behind the headlight pan.
After assembling all the hardware we put everything back together and snugged the bolts down gently. Now the headlights are held in place with no brittle plastic and with easily replaceable parts and they can be aimed easily by turning the screws to adjust the corners in and out.
Our headlights have been working much better and are pointed at the road ahead rather than tilted crazily to the sky, but moreover were able to find some time and space away from the craziness of our lives to enjoy our life together. To sit around the table and work side-by side, to carve out time together and not let the to-dos get the best of us.