Smokey the Adventure Van is a 2006 Dodge Sprinter 2500 full-height 140″ van. He has some rust but is in relatively good shape. I’ve seen Sprinters of that vintage that are MUCH rustier.
Let me tell you the story of how he got the name “Smokey.” When I was taking him on his first trip, we went from the start of I-70 to I-68 to stay in Maryland as long as possible and to avoid the Pennsylvania Turnpike. A few hours into the trip we were up in the Appalachian mountains climbing towards Frostburg, and all of a sudden, I notice that the entire valley behind me is blanketed in smoke! I thought “Wow that’s going to be a bad day for someone!,” and then I noticed that I was losing power, going slower and slower, and I realized the smoke was coming from my van! There was an exit right up ahead, so I pulled onto the shoulder and turned the engine off. I later learned that is NOT what to do. Leave the vehicle running while it cools down. (citation to follow)
Since I spent over 20 years in IT fixing computers, servers, and all manner of expensive electronic equipment, I figured the van needed a reboot. After waiting maybe 15 minutes or so, I turned it back on, and everything seemed fine! At first. The manual shifting ability wasn’t working. Or at least it might have been, but the indicator wasn’t working. When you push the shifter to the right, it should enter manual mode, and the indicator should tell you what gear you are in, so you can downshift when descending steep hills. When I do it, it just keeps saying “D.”
I think I must have done that on the drive, and then it got stuck in some gear, which then might have led to the overheating.
I googled the problems I was having, and I called my buddy who is an engineer and knows a lot about how diesel engines work. I decided to drive it back home in “limp mode” to take it back to get it fixed in Baltimore. I took the back roads, but it would get really slow and overheat if I went up the hills too fast. Even on the back roads, I would have to pull off every once in a while to cool it down and let people pass.
It was very slow going. After a while of that, I decided to just get back on the highway and go slow on the hills with my flashers. The big trucks were doing it, and I wasn’t going any slower than them on the climbs, and my flat and downhill speed was normal.
I eventually made it back home, but it was a very stressful experience. I had put lots of money into that van, with the purchase price, the initial repairs to make it pass inspection in my state, and I had also spent several weeks getting it prepared for my trip without even taking small local test trips first! How stupid! I was faced with waiting who knows how long to get it fixed (again) and I had a hard deadline on when I had to return to work from my Leave of Absence.
Enter Elle, my 2007 Honda Element. I have taken that car to Colorado several times, so I know it is reliable, even at 140,000 miles. When I got back home, I emptied out the van and drastically reduced the amount of gear, and fit what I could into Elle. I left for Colorado the next day. The stress melted away, and I had a great trip! It wasn’t the trip I had imagined, the trip I spent many thousands of dollars and weeks upon weeks of work preparing for, but I still had a great time.
If you want to build an adventure van, I have a lot of advice on how to NOT do it, because my experience has been a dark comedy of errors. Hopefully, I can help others to avoid the mistakes I made.