It’s been a while! I’ve been meaning to do this post ever since finishing our five month Western Canada road trip in September. We drove 17,000km around British Columbia, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska with great success! The Astro performed really well overall, only having a few issues on the notorious Dempster Highway leading to the Arctic Circle. The conversion design worked a lot better than our first attempt for our 2011 Europe trip but still had some flaws.
Update March 2018: We sold the Astro last summer to an Australian couple in Canada on a working holiday. Our new van project is a GMC Savana.
We were around 350km into the 1500km return trip to Inuvik on the Dempster Highway when we started to experience problems with Big Blue cutting out at low speeds. Half-way and two days in to our adventure in the Arctic and we weren’t sure what to do. Luckily we had just passed Eagle Plains, the only ‘full service’ station on the road, so we doubled back and got some oil and transmission fluid.
Losing a tire
Back on the road, we lost one of our BFGoodrich All Terrain Tires (around a year old at this point) on the sharp shale that makes up the Dempster’s surface. This happened only 30km after the revving issues. It wasn’t a good day! We made it to Inuvik on our full size spare and replaced the tire for basically the same price we originally paid on Vancouver Island. Still running on the same tires now, I really would recommend them to any Astro owners. It is a fair outlay for these tires, but they are pretty solid.
As mentioned, the design was a bit improvement on our previous one, but still has some minor issues. The main problem we had on this trip was just too much stuff. We had been living on Vancouver Island for two and a half years and had collected a fair amount of possessions in that time. The plan after the road trip was to set ourselves up in another town, so while we had sorted through our things and given plenty away, we still had held on to a lot of items for the next place. In hindsight, we should have just put it all in storage somewhere like Vancouver or Prince George (central BC), but we didn’t want to have to return somewhere specific after the trip.
Too much stuff
So we had too much stuff. One solution was to send most of our winter gear away to JR’s dad in New Brunswick via Greyhound. This ended up being cheaper than we thought ($50 for four large boxes?!) so was worthwhile. Next, JR added some Dollar Store wire baskets on top of the cabinet within the first couple of weeks to allow for better storage. It did help but we still ended up with our most used items always in the middle section of the van for lack of a better place to put them. This meant we had trouble opening the doors to the cabinet without shuffling everything around.
On the more positive side of things, we loved having a bed always made up at the back as it made for easy wild camping. We were able to park up anywhere and go to bed very quickly; this was super helpful for non-traditional camping locations such as cities, towns and rest stops. Having said that, we are going to tweak the design for the next version to prioritise space over a ‘ready’ bed. Although we don’t intend to carry as much stuff on the next trip (no way are we doing that again!), we want to have a much tidier and efficient living space overall.
Also on the ‘next design’ list is an awning (to avoid both rain and shade), solar panels and some kind of cooking area (so we don’t always require an external table). Both the panels and cooking area were intended to be on the current design, but our overall budget for the trip fell short due to lack of employment before we left so we reallocated the money.
The trip solidified our belief that an Astro is an awesome choice for a van conversion. For two people it can be a bit snug at times, but it is still perfectly viable with a good design. I think an awning will really help to extend the space – we used tarps a lot over the summer for shelter and an awning would be a great upgrade. We both travelled in the van separately in 2014 and thought that our design worked really well for a solo person. There is just a bit of tweaking to be done to make it better for dual living. Another update will be coming soon!