Delica Dreaming Part Three
Following on from our previous post, here's part three in our series of blog posts about the creation and development of our Mitsubishi Delica Camper. In this post we share how we quickly discovered that #vanlife is not all sunshine, golden light and good vibes and that planning and preparation are everything, especially when you add a toddler into the mix...
4:30 am on a wet and windy morning. Benji was bundled into the van, surrounded by all our aforementioned gear, and we embarked upon our first major outing. We patted the dashboard affectionately and wished the van good luck. The journey was a breeze. The Delica’s interior is designed for comfort. The seats are soft and equipped with arm rests, and being an automatic, all you have to do on long motorway hauls is sit back, keep your foot on the gas and try to not fall asleep. Arriving in the Lake District 7 hours later, we were undoubtably relieved; we had made it all the way, without the assistance of the RAC. We were not the only ones to of made the journey north however, we were joined by Storm Brian. The rain began falling steadily as soon as we turned up to the already waterlogged campsite, our Delica sinking into the squelchy soft earth as we searched for a pitch. As we attempted to set up for the night, we discovered a major design flaw; everything we needed could only be accessed outside from the tailgate, which would mean braving the elements and getting soaked. How could we not of predicted this scenario? I think when we imagined camping in the van, we only pictured warm sunny evenings, sitting outside, beers in hand. I think maybe we imagined we lived in California.
We donned our waterproofs, slid open the side door, jumped down from the van into ankle deep mud and trudged to the rear of the van to gather our gear and pass it in through the tailgate. We immediately began talking of ways we could improve our camper unit; first off, we needed somewhere to store our sleeping and cooking equipment that was easily accessible from INSIDE the van. It dawned on us that there would be no such thing as a “finished” camper; it would be a constant and ever evolving project. Once we had our gear inside and got organised, it was actually pretty cool. For the next few nights we camped in the van and got better and better at it. We kept a notebook and wrote down all the things we needed to change, and listed new things we wanted to build for phase two of our conversion.
It was wild and windy in the Lakes. Storm Brian was really making his presence felt, flooding fields and buffeting tents. We were grateful to be camping in our (relatively) solid, stable van during our weekend long workshop with Millican; everyone else was sleeping under rip stop nylon in the field behind the Millican office. Although the wind rocked the van and the rain lashed against the crystal lite roof preventing deep sleep, we couldn’t help but feel a little smug. I’m not sure if the universe works like this or not, but it seemed like the Delica gods decided to punish us for our smugness one morning when upon moving the van to a new parking spot, a squealing, squeaking, metal on metal grinding sound emanated from somewhere beneath the chassis. We immediately feared the worse. Our hearts sank; another mechanical issue to contend with, but this time we were hundreds of miles from home. The RAC paid us a visit, but our friendly Northern mobile mechanic was unable to properly diagnose the problem although he thought it would be safe enough to drive, from which we took little comfort. As the Millican weekend came to a close, we packed up the van and squealed away from their Braithwaite HQ towards a cozy cottage nestled in the Caldbeck fells for a few days of rest, recuperation and hiking in the mountains.
We continued to squeak and squeal our way around the Lake District for several days, cringing every time we arrived at a car park or beauty spot as heads turned to see where the horrible noise was coming from. By now, we had come to the conclusion that our prop shaft was probably to blame; not an ideal situation but we figured the Delica would get us around the Lakes and probably all the way back home without any major troubles, albeit noisily. We camped one more night in the van, a cold, frosty, beautiful night, parked alongside a drystone wall with clear views of mountains in the fading light. I’m happy to admit that this would of been a good night if it wasn’t for our son, Benji, who would simply not sleep and cried all night. He was probably cold - despite his down Patagonia all in one - confused at the prospect of sleeping in the front of a van. As the sun turned the peaks of the mountains orange and gold, the temperature minus one degree celsius, we quickly made coffee and breakfast under the tailgate and decided to bail on the last few days of our trip; the Delica wasn’t ready. We weren’t ready. We wondered how many of the van adventures we see on our social feeds end this way in reality. We had plenty of time to think of new ideas, plans and schemes on the 10 hour journey home, and although a little downhearted, resolved to make the necessary changes and try again.
Back at home, we replaced the prop shaft ourselves with a used part from eBay, which cured the squealing; another minor mechanical victory. We also changed the glow plugs, and then the glow plug relay to help the Delica get going on frosty mornings. We made sketches and plans for the second phase of our conversion, keen to get started whilst our errors were still fresh in our minds, but any actual work would have to wait until we could afford the raw materials.
In hindsight, we shouldn’t of rushed to get things ready for the trip. I’m reminded of the oft quoted outdoor maxim, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. We had failed to plan for bad weather, for cold nights, for restless babies, for the vast amount of stuff we would need to transport. I wouldn’t class our trip as a total failure, we had good times as well as bad, but I sure wish we had spent a little more time preparing, planning and practicing. That being said, I guess there’s nothing like being thrown in at the deep end to induce a steep learning curve; we came home wiser, less naive and ready to embrace the challenge…
Next time, read about our updated camper unit, van modifications, future plans and more!