My Ad-van-ture with “Johnny”, Confessions of a Van-Life Newbie With a Titus Adventure Van

By: A.V. Schmit

“Johnny” parked at 18 Road in Fruita, CO. | The Legendary “Man In Black,” Johnny Cash.

Johnny Cash is arguably the most influential musician to bridge the gap between country music and rock-n-roll. With that said, you may be wondering what “the man in black” is doing in the lead of an article about van-life and endurance sports.

On a weekend in April, I had the unique opportunity to take “Johnny” to the red-sand desert of the Colorado Plateau in Fruita, CO for some mountain / gravel biking and camping. It would be my second foray into Van-Life.

You see, the guys at Titus Adventure Company name all of their vehicles after legends of country music. When I met “Johnny” he was parked next to a candy-apple red van named “Reba” inside the Titus staging garage located off of I-70 and Pecos.

“It all started with ‘Hank’ our first Toyota 4-Runner, named after country music icon Hank Williams, and it’s just grown from there.”

Travis Titus, Head of Adventure, Titus Adventure Company

“Johnny” is a fully decked out gasoline-powered, adventure van based on a RAM (Dodge) Promaster chassis and customized by Vanworks. He features a fold-out king-size bed, front-wheel drive, and a well-apportioned galley / kitchen.

The van is exceedingly well thought out and executed. From the space-saving and flexible rail and soft bag storage system by Campo Vans along the interior roofline, to the Goal Zero power station that powers the interior lights and a small refrigerator. There are also plenty of USB charging outlets for powering such things as: a USB speaker, a Garmin head unit, an iPhone or an Android device.

Drivability

The van drives like a larger SUV. It is well mannered on the highway, though it has a recommended top speed of 75 MPH. Which I found out coming down Vail Pass when the LED lights on the in-dash display started flashing, “Exceeding Speed Limit.” You do need to increase your braking safe-distance, and you feel wind gusts a bit more than in a car. But generally, the van was a pleasure to drive and got a respectable 15 MPG over the 515-mile round trip.

The most difficult part of the driving experience was getting the van parked on the leveling blocks that look like giant orange LEGO bricks. But after a couple tries I was able to get “Johnny”  on the straight and narrow. And it’s not that I’m a bad driver, it’s just hard to do when you can’t see the “legos” and the backup camera is blocked by a bike.

My mountain bike on the Küat rack, (left) and the leveling “legos” (right).

Cookability

This is where “Johnny” really rocked! The kitchen / galley features a pump faucet feeding 5-gallons of fresh water and a 5-gallon “gray water” collection tank under the sink. Worth noting, the kitchen / galley is located in the main part of the van, rather than in the aft section of the vehicle with access only through the rear doors. I have first-hand experience trying to cook and clean up in another van standing outside in the snow in downtown Kremling, CO in 10 degree weather. I can assure you, that was a sub-optimal configuration.

The kitchen / galley comes complete with a Coleman LP gas stove, Yeti insulated cups, pots and pans, a collection of cooking utensils and for you coffee lovers, a stainless-steel French press. My first morning in Fruita, I made Challah French Toast with hot Bananas Foster on top. And for dinner that night, Buddha Bowls, made with roasted sweet potato, caramelized onions, spiced chick peas, saffron rice, roasted Brussels sprouts and Tahini sauce over fresh spinach.

Cooking in the van does not have to be “minimalist” if you plan ahead and do your complex prep work at home before you leave. Just because you’re camping, doesn’t mean you can’t eat well. My only complaint with the kitchen / galley is there is no place to hang dry the wet tea towels after doing the dishes. But that really is a minor complaint.

Livability

“Johnny” has a fold-out king-size bed, so even taller people can sleep comfortably. Not really an issue for me, at 5’9” tall. But for some, that may be a concern. When not in sleep mode, the bed forms a pair of long bench seats and a stowable table.

When I sleep, I like my room to be like a tomb… Cold and dark, but without the spiders and other creepy crawlies. “Johnny” is equipped with these really clever insulated black-out window coverings that attach to the metal window frames of the van. They block out a great deal more light and noise than traditional curtains would. With a little trial and error, they go into place pretty easily. It would have been nice if they were labelled or color coded, though.

With as busy as the new gravel parking area was at 18 Road in Fruita, the additional noise-cancellation was a welcome side benefit.

Close-up of the magnetic tabs on black-out window coverings. (Left) My favorite 20 degree sleeping bag, Marmot Helium. (Right)

Have you ever been on a camping trip with a friend that brings all the stuff you forgot? Well, that’s what the multi-pocket storage system on the back of the passenger seat is like. It organizes: a Bluetooth speaker, solar charger, Leatherman tool, party lights, a deck of playing cards, headlamps for late night trips to the loo and such. Super handy.

“We’ve tried to anticipate all of our customers’ needs when they rent one of our vehicles,“ said Titus. “We want to help people get outdoors by eliminating as many barriers to doing so as possible.”

Travis Titus, Head of Adventure, Titus Adventure Company

And the van wouldn’t be “Johnny” without a burning ring of fire, which comes in the form of an optional LP gas fire pit. Which is a great compliment to the folding camp chairs and the makings for S’mores that are included in the package. That’s right the folks at Titus include the makings for S’mores with each deluxe rental. A nice touch.

Van-Life and Endurance Sports

Like many triathletes and endurance sports enthusiasts, I’m pretty picky about recovery, nutrition and my equipment. So having the ability to cook for myself, control my sleep environment and carry my bike safely is a pretty compelling reason to incorporate Van-life into a local or regional race plan. You don’t have to worry about the expense and stress of flying with a bike, and Titus offers a receiver-mount Küat NV rack with pivot that holds two bikes securely behind the van. The pivot allows you to rotate the bikes out of the way if you need to access the rear doors.

The Küat NV 2.0 Hitch Rack will carry two bikes, up to 60 lbs each.

“I think the Titus Accommodation-Transportation concept allows athletes to concentrate on their race and leave the rest to us.”

Travis Titus, Head of Adventure, Titus Adventure Company

This was my second experiment with Van-Life. The first was in the middle of winter with a rear-wheel drive van that I got stuck three times while trying to get into the Bluebird Backcountry parking area near Steamboat Springs, CO. But that’s another story.

COVID-19

Although the temperatures in Fruita were unseasonably cool for April, it was still a great trip. In the time of COVID-19, it’s nice to have safer options that allow you to be self-contained and minimize possible exposures. Titus Adventure Company is taking COVID-19 very seriously and are following additional cleaning precautions, and providing a large tube of hand sanitizing gel with each rental.

“COVID-19 has only increased people’s desire to seek refuge in the outdoors. We are excited to offer a safe, clean, mobile alternative to traditional accommodations.”

Travis Titus, Head of Adventure, Titus Adventure Company

Conclusions

Renting a van offers the endurance athlete an opportunity to experience the outdoors in a new way, with the potential to do a self-contained local or regional race. And if you’re thinking about purchasing a van, renting a few different configurations may help you BETA test available options.

Even with night-time temperatures dipping into the low 30’s, high 20’s it was still comfortable in the van. Granted I did “warm the place up” with the included LP gas powered Mr. Heater, before going to bed. Even with the provided battery-operated carbon monoxide detector, I wasn’t comfortable going to sleep with it running. Friends who were tent camping nearby at the James M. Robb campground reported being cold and the high winds interrupting their sleep. Neither were an issue for “Johnny.”

Cooking was as easy as being at home, though it did require a bit more planning / prep work. I’m pretty sure I could have made hot apple pie, had I taken my Alpine Oven along on the trip.

Titus Adventure Company is a family-owned business located in Denver, offering outdoor adventure focused trucks, SUV’s and camper van rentals. Visit them at: www.tacrentals.com.

For 303 Endurance readers, Titus Adventure Company is offering 10% off any rental. Just use promo code: 303ENDURANCE when you make your reservation.


The Author | A.V.Schmit
A.V. Schmit, after riding “The Kessel Run.”

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