Working for a fully distributed company makes for some fun and unique ways to connect. One of my favorites is a 24-hour virtual relay that we do twice a year. It works as follows: We divide a 24 hour period (starting at 00:00UTC) into 1 hour blocks, and one or more runners sign up for each block. On the day of the relay, we pass the “virtual” baton across countries, time zones, and oceans by sharing our runs in Slack and on Strava.
It’s fascinating to see the variety: some choose a route way out in the country, some run in the bustling city, and some folks even pivot last-minute to a treadmill or stationary bike if their local weather is unfavorable that day. Its truly a way to embrace our similarities, differences, and uniqueness across this vast planet of ours.
Practice activities that facilitate mindfulness (mediation, yoga)
Dream big, but start small. Many plans fail due to being overwhelmed and not knowing where to start. Chip off a piece (any piece), and start there.
Get really clear on your values. Make a list of them (on paper) Rank them in order. Refer to it when making big decisions like moving, careers or relationships. Physically look at this list, do not try to recall it from memory.
Bring your ego down a notch. Even if you think it’s already exceptionally low.
Unless you work in a physical job, maybe re-think retirement. It’s a capitalist construct to extract maximum labour from you in your good years. Consider doing the things earlier in life that you put off for retirement.
When a risk or life choice keeps coming up as a recurring theme, maybe its something to listen to. “Do it now. Sometimes later becomes never.”
Getting back your time
Delete your Facebook account. Trust me, your personal life and business will be okay.
“How you setup your phone’s home screen is how you live your life.” Replace social media with books, podcasts, fitness apps. Or even better:
Delete all social apps from your phone. Use the web versions. Yes, some have less features, but using the web version makes it a more intentional behaviour.
Move your chat groups from social media into iMessage, Signal, Telegram, or WhatsApp.
Avoid the “passive” friendships/relationships on social media where you just observe people in a feed. Connect one-on-one as much as possible.
Turn off all notifications from all of your apps. Be ruthless with this. Your phone is a constant attention-sucking device.
When buying something that seems cheap or a good deal, look at the future (total) costs. For a new car, check out the maintenance schedule, price out new tires for it. For a printer, check out how much toner will cost. Often times this far exceed the purchase price.
Don’t buy the extended warranty, it’s overpriced peace of mind. Instead put aside the equivalent amount into a investment or saving account. Worst case scenario, you use it for repairs, but more than likely you will keep a majority of it. Take yourself on a vacation with the money to reward yourself for making good choices
Always view large purchases/expenditures in terms of the amount of life (hours worked) to obtain it: “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” – Henry David Thoreau
Isn’t it a little crazy that we defer living life in the present for the promise of being able to one day do all those things we dreamed of?
Past is dead, future is uncertain; present is all you have, so eat, drink and live merry.
“Money is not the only way to improve life. Instead of widening your margin of profit, widen your margin of leisure. Instead of optimizing for money, optimize for time. Instead of seeking efficiency, seek recovery.”
So the annual day of awareness has once again come and gone and we did our post thing and shared the hashtag and…… what do we do next? We’ve come a long way in talking about it as an important issue, and raising awareness of how many it impacts. But there’s still work to be done. The important work.
As someone who has been in a dark place in the past, here are three things you can do next to make a huge difference:
1) Normalize talking about your emotion and struggles (especially us dudes). Many view vulnerability as a weakness. But it’s actually a super power. Talking openly about your challenges and struggles shows a level of confidence and self-awareness that many don’t have. Most importantly it shows others that they aren’t alone in feeling the way they do.
2) Rather than relaying on our “open door”, actively reach out to friends, especially if you sense something. When I’ve been in a bad place, it’s been hard as F*** to reach out and admit the demons are winning. I know I should but I can’t or just don’t wanna. It’s been times when people have reached out the proverbial hand to me to lift me up that’s made all the difference. “Hey man, you’ve been pretty quiet on social lately, whats been on your mind lately?” To adapt the work place safety phrase: “If you sense something, say something.”
3) Ask better questions. Its easy for someone to blow off “how are things going?” With “fine”. But by combing the above steps, we can show our vulnerability and start a conversation: “This new business has really been a struggle lately, whats going on in your world?”
If you want more practical approaches on how to reach out as a person (on either side of the equation), headsupguys.org has lots of great resources.
Did I miss anything? What actions are you going to take this week to make a difference to your own or someone else’s mental health?
Both of these are important. Sometimes it’s easy to cast the academic approach as a waste of time. Wasting time looking at something that is already a fact. But in analyzing the decision process of an existing fact, we get better at future decisions when we don’t yet have all the answers.
This first option, naturally was to consider getting another Sprinter. Having built two of them, it was the obvious choice to get back on the rod quickly. But there were two mental serious blockers I came up against: First was price. Both of my Sprinters had been second hand, high mileage units. But even then, my 2015 was $35K CAD, the most I had spent on a vehicle, ever. Looking into new models (2020), a high-roof, 4×4 version was approaching 100K by the time it drives off the lost which is just an insane amount of money. Keep in mind, this is for the empty steel box, you still have to upfit it on top of that. It’s probably an realistic option for someone who sells their house to become a #vanlife nomad, but as a part-time adventure vehicle for me, spending that kind of money made no sense. I want to spend y time out enjoying it, not working more hours to pay off nearly 100k.
The other challenge for me was reliability. The diesel aspect of the MB Sprinter is both its best and worst quality. On the one hand, the 3.0L engine is quite powerful and efficient considering its pushing a huge cube down the road. But in order to meet North American standards, MB had to implement a complex emissions system that includes a DEF tank (that essentially squirts Urea into the exhaust), plus a complex assortment of sensors. On my 2013, I had the DEF heater fail in the middle of the winter and managed to limp it along until the spring when I could replace it. But the deal-breaker for me was right before I sold it, I got the infamous “10 starts remaining” message on the dash. You can look it up, but essentially the Mercedes engineers decided the best approach if a critical emissions component failed was to give you “X more starts” to get the vehicle to a dealership.
This message reared its ugly head a friend and I were beginning a weekend camping trip. I had always dreaded this moment and here it was at one of the worst possible times. We took it in good stride and joked about it, but did have to plan our weekend as to “not use too many unnecessary starts.” We worked it out and figured out if we left the engine running for short stops, we could return home with one or two starts that I could use to get to the dealership. Parking at a trailhead for a few hours: Okay, that will expend a start. Stopping for gas? Leave it running. Going into a restaurant? Mmmmm, better leave it running. These were ironic decisions considering this system was trying to “prevent” unnecessary emissions.
Once I did get the vehicle to the dealership, I discovered this situation was even worse than I imagined. Both of my NOx sensors had failed, and to replace them it would cost $2500! But it get even worse! When I asked if I could just buy the sensors and have an independent shop change them, they told me that the new sensors had to be “programmed” into the emissions system and only dealers or authorized mechanics had the system to both do that, and reset my “starts warning.” I didn’t believe this at first, but did confirm it with other sources. So, basically if you re driving your diesel Sprinter anywhere further than “10 starts away” from a dealer, you might end up with a disabled vehicle.
In the end, I paid the dealer, as it was really my only option. I did discover that these sensors had actually been replaced once on the vehicle previously, and pleaded with them to warranty them, but they declined, but did graciously offer me $300 off the bill.So if you decide to use a Sprinter as a overland vehicle, or leave the bounds of North America with it be warned that if this comes up your options for avoiding a disabled vehicle are:
Get to a dealership
Reset it yourself with an MB Star system (Ebay?)
Use a “modified” ECU with the emissions systems disabled (probably illegal)
travelling … to remote places in North America and beyond, would not be a good choice for me
In my mind, the Sprinter may be a good choice for delivery companies and van-lifers who stay close to major centres. But as an overland vehicle, travelling with it to remote places in North America and beyond would not be a good choice for me.
There are some of us that are conformists, trying as best as we can to fit in and jumping on every trend. Then there are who are the rebels, who want nothing to do with whats considered “mainstream”
I’m one of the non-conformists. To an extreme.
The last thing I wanted to be was one of the “cool” kids
In junior high and high school, I was a bit of an outlier. I wore sweat pants every day while all the other kids wore jeans. It’s not that I didn’t like jeans, but I simply didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing. The other day I was describing my high school experience to a friend and I said “Its not like I was an outcast for lack of trying, it was that the last thing I wanted to be was one of the cool kids”
This has carried into my personality years later where when I’m doing activities, or choosing places to go, I pick the ones that are the least “popular”. And in many cases I take this to an extreme. For example I came up with a plan this summer to do a 350km bike trip that involved paddling in the middle of it by putting my bike on top of a packraft. Of course this was pretty complex and daunting for many reasons and it never really got done. I think maybe if I had aimed a bit lower, I would have done it in separate parts which is better than zero parts
This carries over to who I choose to associate with too. I find myself being much more particular with who spend time with. And while at a basic level, tis ins’t a bad thing, I might take it too far. For example if I have a running friend but they don’t share the same values as me on recycling or the environment, I might feel myself not wanting to hang out with them as much. Or if they aren’t as adventurous and want to turn around just as we reach the summit because they have to head to Home Depot later, I might find myself getting annoyed with them and less likely to want to hang out with them in the future.
So I’ve kind of found myself in this spot where I don’t have a huge group of people that I do adventures with. I think I’ve only recently discovered that it’s because I’m maybe overly critical of inconsequential things. And looking for this perfect adventure buddy with the same “weird and different” matching worldviews and value and traits as me.
People meeting these “exact specifications” are either rare or don’t exists and I think its affects me more than I previously admitted to. While I like my solo adventures, I enjoy sharing time outdoors with others that enjoy it just as much as I do, so I think there is a bit of a gap here. So maybe that isn’t an issue with me finding the “exact” right people, but perhaps being a little more open to people being different and unique in other ways.
Branvan was designed to be a stealthy camper. And one of the main giveaways of a campervan conversion is a giant solar array up top. So, much like what I did for my Sprinter, I used Renogy 160W flexible panels attached directly to the roof. Flexible panels are much lighter than rigid ones, and only a few mm thick. This makes them perfect for stealthy setups. To attach them I used 3M VHB tape. This is a two-sided tape that’s used for industrial applaications sush as attaching windows and panels to the sides of skyscrapers. If it can hold heavy windows to the sides of buildings, it should be fine for attaching a 2kg panel to a van roof. (Update Oct 26, 2020, I’ve had these panels on for eight months and 8000km now, and they are still as attached as ever)
A month after the install I decided that I wanted to run the wires through the back of the van instead of the front. So I peeled the panels off and flipped them the other way. I was pretty happy with how well they were attached and with some care, the removal went well. Note, VHB tape is kind of a pain to remove, you will need Goo-Gone or something like it to dissolve the adhesive. But its MUCH better than glue or screws.
When Installing them I cleaned off the “ribs” really well with isopropyl alcohol and uses extra tape up front and on the sides. It also helps if you weight them down at the critical points overnight, so I just put some weights around the perimeter and up-front
The setup works well and I’ve seen up to 270W (of 320W theoretical max) being generated by the system. I doubt I’ll ever see full capacity for a few reasons. One is that being attached the roof, they run a bit hotter since there’s not much for airflow under them. Solar panels are less efficient in the heat so this was no surprise. Flexible panels also are slightly less efficient than rigid ones, partly due to they plastic flexible coating rather than glass on rigid panels which lets more light through.
I thought about doing some sort of tilting mechanism to maximize solar gain but instead decided to “oversize” my system. I needed about 200-250W for my single 100AH battery so I went with 320W of Solar. Note, Renogy now sells a 175W version of this panel in the same size, so this setup could be 350W now in the same footprint. The passive approach works great for me as it keeps things stealthy, minimalist and requires no action on my part. I wanted a system that would work well if I wasn’t around the van and this passive setup is “good enough” If I was spending more time in the van or living full-time I might want to maximize things a bit more. But for now this system tops up my battery from 40-50% in about 3 hours of sunlight.
Flexible panels are thin and can be attached in many ways such as to curves surfaces
They are light and thing
At 2mm thin they are super low-profile and much aerodynamic
Attachment/install is often much easier and can be done without drilling or mounts
Flexible panels are more expensive than rigid
Flexible panels are less efficient than the equivalent rigid panel
They don’t typically last as long (I think the plastic fades or breaks down quicker than the aluminum/glass of a rigid setup)
Good luck and if you have any questions or comments, drop them below!