Vanessa, the Jersey Girl



Meet Vanessa, I found her in New Jersey. Her full name is Vanessa Vanopolis. She's a 2007 AWD Express. She came with ladder racks and an Adrian steel divider and shelves (I have them for sale on craigslist if anyone wants them). I spent today removing them.

She's a bit mad at me at the moment, I dumped her friend [2004 GMC] Sierra yesterday morning, but that didn't stop her from coming home with me last night.... white girls, go figure? :ugh:

About us
Anyways, my girlfriend Rebecca (the real one) and I are going to be spending the next 6-8months living in a van and doing a road trip across Canada to mountain bike and rock climb. We're taking a year or so off from work to do some traveling before settling down and buying a house, we've just spent the last 3months in Niseko, Japan snowboarding.

Normally the two of us live in New Zealand, but I'm from the USA. I'll be building this van at my parents house in Baltimore (though because of the tiny attached garage and all of the tools being stored in the basement it is miserable to work out of.) I've got about 5 weeks to build this van, so this thread should hopefully go along quite quickly. I'll need you guys to keep me motivated though, I'm a bit stressed out about this build since I'm usually a bit of a perfectionist and work kinda slow normally but will be forced to go a bit fast.

We'll plan to drive from Baltimore, up the east coast to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, then across the country, making a stop in Wisconsin to see my sister and maybe a stop in Bozeman Montana to see a friend before ending up in BC.

-Sleeping for two
-Fridge (Dometic CFX65 Dual Zone)
-Solar, house battery etc (using a Renogy 200w kit, and lots and lots of Blue-Sea wiring products)
-ARB awning
-insulation and sound deadening, tiles of 80mil Noico and Ezcool Low-E, 1/4in plywood walls covered with HullLiner carpet.
-Bike mounts inside the van (Rebecca's bike is worth almost as much as the van... :Wow1: so we don't want to keep them outside for too long)
-Camp Chef propane oven
-storage of some sort
-water tanks (about 20-30gal)

Things I want if there is time:
hot water
Backing camera
2in lift+bigger tires
Swivel passenger seat (if it makes sense with our layout)

1. I'm still trying to figure out the layout. The bikes are a bit of a challenge. I'll be using fork mounts to hold the bikes, Rocky Mounts Hot Rods (quite a well made aluminum part for $34).

Everyone seems to like having a bed by the back windows, but that makes the bikes a bit of a pain/would limit me to a bed fit in sideways about 70in long by 55in wide.

I had them sideways against the front seats but I forgot to take a picture of that. I would have to take the handle bars off each time, and it would kind of make a swivel seat pointless, but otherwise would work decently.

Here they are along the back, they fit quite nicely like this with the bars turned a bit. This would mean I would probably buy a RV Queen Short mattress and slide it up against the front seats. It doesn't seem to be a very popular layout in the USA, but every home made van camper in New Zealand seems to do this. Any idea why? Will this make the van less desirable/harder to sell when we finish our trip?

2. Bed sizes... We're both short, so sleeping sideways across the van on a custom mattress is possible. If I put the bed long ways I'm thinking a standard queen or RV queen. I'm not planning to do a fold up bed or anything because I want a quality mattress if I'm going to spend 6months on it. What works for you taller folks/again resale question?

3. The van came with Toyo Open Country ATs 245/75R16 with about 70% tread. I was planning to upgrade to a larger tire, but they look decent, and would save me about $500. Thoughts?

4. The rear park lights don't come on... bulbs are good, the park relay (#29 i think) under the seat seems ok, just isn't getting 12v between terminals 85 and 30 when the headlights are on. Is this the body control module not turning on the signal power to this relay? Any idea how to test that/anyone have a wiring diagram? Anything else I should check first? Also I'm thankful I didn't get pulled over driving it 3.5hrs from Jersey to Maryland at night. :bike_rider:
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Would the bikes fit vertical? Thinking forks up behind the driver's seat. Though on a trip we did in a Sportsmobile, with lots of long distance, we really liked having the fridge behind the driver's seat. Made it real easy to grab a snack or drink on the road. Consider where you want the bikes when they are dirty too. Back door might make sense.
Could also consider bikes on a roll out shelf below a bed. Works better in a high top but might be enough room.

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Recommended books for Overlanding


13 Cheeseburgers
My .02: Get a big locking box for the bikes on the roof, or anywhere but inside. I can't imagine putting up with them in that small of a space for that long. Like parking your car in your bedroom.


Is a high top in the cards? Maybe below a rear bed is possible similar to the sprinter guys. Otherwise maybe something like this setup?:
Did some measuring, without a high roof you would have about 10in to sleep in, seems miserable for extracurricular activities :shakin:. Don't have the time unfortunately to do a high roof... I searched and searched for one for sale but nothing came up.

I looked at those Go Aero boxes, they would work quite nicely but were expensive for the ones with the swing out so the rear doors worked.

I'm leaning more towards having the bikes in the back. They won't always be there; I'll have roof racks as well for short haul trips, when they are muddy and when we are in the middle of nowhere and its safe to leave them. Mostly its just for the long drives and when we are around cities.

My Dometic CFX65DZ fridge showed up today. Its a bit taller then I expected (either I read the dimensions wrong on Amazon or they listed the interior or something).

I'm thinking the bed will be forward, and the fridge will sit here under it on a slide out. Should still be fine with an 8in mattress.

Behind the fridge I'm thinking I'll put a 20-30 gallon water tank and maybe my batteries, inverter, solar charger etc depending on space.

I'm going to go pick up metal for the bed frame tomorrow, I'm thinking 1in box tube.


Check the grounds of the back pillars , one of mine got ripped off when pulling out the old interior.

Any thoughts about building a wall in the back 30 inches from the doors, to keep the bikes in the very back. Then shelves above the highest part of the bikes for more storage


Expedition Leader
Also something you might want to consider is keeping as much weight over your rear drive axels to give better traction. A box at the back either outside or in the rear as mentioned before could also be a solution. The third solution could be a swing away rear bumper set up that would allow you to mount and lock the bikes to a carrier were you would need a cutting torch to remove the bikes. Lots of ideas. Good luck on your build. Cheers, Chilli...:)


Figured out the parking lamps, fortunately for me I have a friend who owns a shop so I dropped in and got on his AllData account and printed wiring diagrams off. The in dash switch has a wire that runs to the Body Control Module, then another out of the body control module to trigger the lamp relay. The wire between the BCM and the relay went bad (but didn't short to ground). Wouldn't have been able to figure that out without the harness diagrams and pinouts. Took a bunch of tracing wires and back probing but at least I found it.

Other than that I picked up a bunch of 1in box tubing and some other metal for the bed frame and battery trays. Also got my house batteries, going to run 2x group 24 AGM deep cycles for the house battery and also got a fresh group 34 starting battery.

Pretty much settled on the bikes in the back/bed up front layout. Other than wanting to keep the bikes nice, our travelers insurance only covers the bikes if they are stolen while locked inside a vehicle, hence our concern. For short trips/when they are muddy I do have some roof racks.


New member
I'd keep those tires if the tread is good. We live (and climb and bike) in Western Montana and still have the stock tire size on ours and haven't felt particularly limited. We may size up when these wear out but mostly for more cush.

For a mattress consider going with a layer of dense latex (or foam) and a latex topper. We sleep on latex at home and it's really nice. Plus you can cut the foam to shape with an electric turkey knife. Or into sections or just fold the whole thing (if it's thick you may need a cam strap to hold it). A latex topper over bouldering crash pads is another option we've crash pads use a high quality dense foam and are pretty nice to sleep on especially with a topper plus they are really bulky to pack if you aren't using them to sleep on though keeping them clean is hard if you're using them a lot.

I'm 5'10" and can just sleep sideways in the window wells of our window van though it's tight and much insulation would make it hard...we're still experimenting with bed placement (I had a simple platform in there on five gallon buckets to try some things) but leaning towards sideways since we have a kid and need to keep the rear seat in and have enough room for all three of us to sleep.

The problem i see with your current layout is that you're going to have to climb over the bed a lot when the bikes are back there which is going to be annoying in bad weather when you need to grab a dry change of clothes or whatever. I'd consider giving sideways sleeping in front of the bikes a bit more thought or getting creative. Could you put the bikes hanging above each the wheel wells and do a bed that tapers at the feet to fit between them? Or even build some storage trays so they could lay flat on top of each other under the bed? If you're worried about resale value you could cut extra wood/foam to fit the space they are in and allow a bigger/longer bed when needed.

Feel free to hit me up for some beta on local climbs and mountain bike rides if you find yourself passing through the Bitterroots.


Feel free to hit me up for some beta on local climbs and mountain bike rides if you find yourself passing through the Bitterroots.
Awesome. I've got a friend in Miles City so we'll probably spend a bit of time in Montana.

Got half of a battery tray built yesterday. I'm mounting the house batteries on the drivers side frame rail.

Took the van for a state inspection today, needs front brake rotors and tie rod ends. Picked up all those parts today... the list of stuff to do keeps building and I feel like I haven't made much progress.


Took the van for an inspection on Thursday, was told it needed front rotors and tie rod ends. So I went and got that plus a set of pads and started working on it yesterday.

The previous owner/mechanic had stripped out the T55 torx bolts on the caliper slide (some of these are 18mm hex's depending on what Chevy felt that week). Broke the tip off of my T55 socket on one of them :( . Played with the calipers a bit and decided they weren't moving nicely, slides and pistons were sticky, and that the old pads were cracked/glazed, probably from the caliper not moving and overheating. Decided to do full calipers as well, so I had my buddy Ben who works at Napa drop by with calipers and gave me a hand bleeding them; its good to have friends. Took about 4hrs but the front is done.

Put anti-seize on the lug studs and hub body to keep it from rusting together like these like to do. Hopefully the next owner appreciates that.

Pad with a crack in it...


Decided to look at the rears. The drivers side had a stuck slide, so the rear is getting a full brake job as well. Will do that tomorrow when parts come in.


Did the rear brakes and worked on a battery tray to mount the two group 24 house batteries to the driver side frame rail. Made of .125in plate and 2in angle. *Still need to add one more tab to the middle and cut some strap to hold them down and then drill and rivnut the frame.*


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Been busy the last few days.

Finished up the battery box. Painted it in hammerrite black but didn't take a picture, I'm sure you get the idea.

Wired up the charging relay and the disconnect switch for the house batteries.

I really like these blue sea products but I was a bit upset these switches don't come with a cover for the terminals so i made one out of lexan. They sit maybe 3-4mm shallow of the mounting surface... Not confidence inspiring when mounting to the body.

Ran the battery cables behind the grill over to the left frame rail. *Lots of cushion clips and rivnuts.

Also swapped the fixed windows for pop out ones and painted the frames (the previous owner had blacked out the windows or something and got black crap everywhere). (Would have been an hour job if I didn't have to paint). Used color matched spray paint. Also realized how crappy factory GM paint is, very thin and poorly adhered.

More rivnuts


I also fixed some rust on the driver's side rocker panel and a paint chip on the fender
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