top of page

campervan chronicles: how I got my van

My friend Elyse asked to hear the story of how I got my van (which is technically a class c rv).

So this one's for you, Elyse.

about her ~ a little campervan context

Originally a '94 Chevrolet Astro Van, my baby underwent a commercial campervan conversion way back in the day, installed by a company called Tiger Adventure Vehicles that specializes in making Chevys into mini RVs. Thus, she metamorphosed into the rare and exotic animal known in the auto jungle as the Tiger Provan.

(She's still an Astro Van at heart though, y'all).

Coming in at just 16' in length, she is so cutely compact as to make you want to squeeze her chubby lil fenders. And she easily fits in one parking space! This fierce, short 'n stout lil lady is also tall --- a (rare) hardtop XL edition of the Tiger Provan with high enough ceilings for this 5'11" captain to stand up in without head grazing or bonking. She's got rear wheel drive, good clearance, and slightly oversized tires that have another six months or so of life in 'em.

She had 123,000 miles when I bought her on March 8, 2021. She's now clocking in at 124,000 after a month's worth of adventures.

Some more specs: She's got an indoor toilet and wet shower combo as well as a custom-installed (by Kyle, the precious owner) outdoor shower. A 22-gallon water tank that runs sink, shower, toilet. Grey and black water tanks underneath. Welded on MicroLite 2.8 GenSet generator. Brand new mini-fridge that runs on the all-new 12V electrical system, also installed by Kyle. Two steel sinks with a handsome new faucet. A microwave, propane stove with two burners, furnace that runs on propane and/or the generator. Custom-installed AC unit, also put in by Kyle. A custom-installed safe (big enough to fit my laptop among its stash of treasures) put in by the first owner. (She's only had two owners before me). Most vitally for me and my cat, Lady May: she has a loft!!! Gas milage isn't stellar (between 13- 15 mpg), and she doesn't have solar at the mo, but the generator is actually quite fuel efficient, all things considered. Two batteries to hold electricity, and of course, I can always plug her in when outlets are available.

Here's a little peek inside:

and she shall be called ...

Her name is Tortigra.


The first time I was driving her, I thought, this feels familiar, like invoking the signature move of some ancient friend and mentor. An image tickled the back of my brain, something about making my way in this world with my house on my back as I go.

Aaaaah! It hit me: A turtle. She’s a turtle!

The word tortuga arrived instantly and made me smile: one of my favorite Spanish words. A word I’d just been thinking, looking out on the snow-covered yard from my best friend Jacey’s porch in Laramie a few days after purchasing my new-to-me Tiger Pro campervan in Denver. I'd been contemplating a little tin turtle clinging decoratively to a shard of fence in Jacey's yard. Why, I wondered, did something about turtles feel so tuggingly relevant? At that moment, no significant symbolic meaning of turtles registered for me. Foxes, owls, dragonflies, tigers, yes, but ... turtles … ???

It was the next day, driving back up to Cody, when it hit me: My van feels like a turtle. Tortuga. Duh!

Up to that point, for the first few days I'd had her, I'd been calling my campervan The Tiger Queen (you know, Tiger Provan and all, y'all) ...

So I began a mezclar (to mix) the energy of Tiger and Tortoise in my mind. Tigre + Tortuga =



(and the myriad nicknames that shall follow ... tor, torty, tortle, tig, tigles, tigra, tortig, tigy, tortor, tigtig, tortiglekins...)

But her name was not always Tortigra, nor any of the presh nicknames derived therefrom.

In fact, for many years, his name was Olaf.

Below is a short synopsis of how I came to look for, find, and unite with Olaf-who-became-Tortigra.

Chapter 1 ~ seeds of van life dreams

My second year Working Holiday Visa for Australia just expired a week ago.

Back when I was dating Ollie (an Australian), and living in Australia for all of 2019 on my first-year working holiday visa, I had worked to obtain my second year working holiday visa and planned to spend most of 2021 into 2022 in Australia.

Then, covid.

And, Ollie and I broke up.

So, no Australia.

However, I had invested hundreds of hours dreaming about living van life in Australia. I had planted a seed.

I just didn’t know where it would grow.

Chapter 2 ~ sprouts

As my friend Meredith and I sat at my cabin table on a cold night in late January 2021 and considered the hard fact of my having decided to leave Cody, she casually mentioned selling her RV to buy a truck since she was going to need a trailer and something to haul it with (the girl is a professional horse trainer, after all).

Suddenly, I realized I didn’t want to go move to a little bungalow on the Northwest coast (as I'd originally planned as my where-to-go-from-here strategy) so much as buy Meredith's RV and go live on the road with my two dogs and my cat.

Australian vanlife dreams resurrected as American RV reality!!!

Chapter 3 ~ hedging

Wiley and I sat silently in Meredith’s RV. It was the Saturday (in mid-late February) I’d set aside for beginning to make it mine.

I didn’t want to say it, but my heart and gut and all the things whispered this wasn't going to be my new home like I'd been so sure it would be.

One of my major hangups was the lack of a loft — I wouldn’t be able to have a place where my dogs couldn’t get, and Lady wouldn’t have a place to jump up into and hide.

I also decided I needed 4 wheel drive. I had a hard time seeing myself driving Mer's RV on dirt backroads, and dirt backroads were where I wanted to be.

Chapter 4 ~ branching out

When I called her to tell her the hard news, Meredith had already psychically discerned I wasn't going to buy her RV, much the same way she’d woken up with a start at 3 AM on the mid-January night of my deciding to leave Cody (from where I was staying at the time in Murfreesboro, Tennessee). Sitting up stock straight in her bed in Cody that night, Meredith said aloud, "Virginia’s leaving."