Sometimes you have to start a business to get the lifestyle you want.
One spring day in 2019, on one of my last days of work at Denver Food Rescue, I was driving into work when I saw something that would change my life. Stopped at a red light, I looked to my left and saw what looked like a Back to the Future fan's version of a VW hippie van; the hair-metal offspring of a Mercedes Sprinter and Vanagon. What is that? I had been looking into 4x4 vans for weeks prior, planning my #vanlife summer after seven demanding years running a startup nonprofit. What I had uncovered in my search was the fact that we had reached peak #vanlife in the West, leading to exorbitant prices on 4-wheel-drive adventure vans. A van from the early 80s with 200k miles for $40 grand? No thanks. As the light turned green I caught a glance of the emblem: "Mitsubishi Delica."
A quick search taught me what I saw was a four-wheel-drive, turbo diesel, compact minivan from Japan. While never exported to the US, they were all the rage in the early 90s across the pacific. Fuel efficient, short wheel base, and dorky as hell: this was the van for me. Relatively affordable Stateside, and a profit could apparently be made bringing them over to the US from Japan and selling them to skiers, climbers, and adventure seekers. That's when a friend had an idea: If you import a few of these things, you get one for yourself for free! Inspired, I called my friend Jay and asked if he wanted to go into business importing vans from Japan. He obliged, on the condition I met in Bangkok, Thailand that next weekend to pick up his investment, but that's another story... Next thing you know, four vans showed up to my house in Denver on the back of a semi.
But in fact, it wasn't "next thing you know." My brother and business partner, Cameron Wyatt, took 5 months and a huge stack of paperwork to pull off this trans-pacific deal. This process would not have been doable if my brother had not found a local business partner in Japan, who helped us overcome language barriers and understand the complex process. By the time the four 1992 Mitsubishi Delicas had reached Colorado, we had even created a little business, Dirtbag Vans, to facilitate the sale of the three vans not my own. Cam did a great job getting these beauties across the ocean, and an even better job selling them. We sold out within the first few months, and he's already working on getting the next shipment over.
After settling my affairs in Denver, I rigged a bed and storage system in my personal Delica, and headed into the mountains, where I spent the summer traveling around Colorado. My goal was to ski, run, climb, or bike everyday, enjoying as many moments above tree line as possible. I had a lot of reflecting to do post Denver Food Rescue, and visioning for my next chapter. The tranquility of camping daily in our National Forests, and ability to drive over stumps, up mountains, and through rivers to get there, gave me the exhale I needed. My Delica also served as a nice home base for family camping trips, as pictured above.
I am a big fan of #vanlife, however trendy it has become. I think spending the majority of one's time outside, being more aware of the weather, moon, wildlife; being colder when it's colder, and going home to a place without cell service, is a practice of gratitude. It's also a reminder of the importance to protect the land van-lifers - and all outdoor folks - call home. That's why we're donating money to Conservation Colorado for every van we sell. Our public lands belong to you! Please protect it as you do your personal property.
If you have questions about vanlife, Dirtbag Vans, or the like, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The best way to keep up on what we're doing is to follow us on Instagram, @dirtbagvans.