Roll with Adam in a Custom Truck Camper

Today marks Adam's 611th day on the road. He's traveled more than 75,000 miles, and so far, there's no end in sight.
Adam was born in the belly of the south, and after mastering the art of charm, he set his sights on the American West. He now travels full time, with the goal of capturing the things that capture him.
As long as Adam has gas for his truck and food in his belly, he won’t give up on this life, for this life has given him everything.

Square Feet: 48

The living space in the back of the truck has about 48 square feet of floor space, although a fair share of that space is taken up by cabinetry. The camper pops up so I can comfortably stand up and move around in there. I almost always cook outside on a little table that folds down from the back bumper when the weather permits, but having the option to cook inside comfortably is wonderful as well.

I lived in a passenger-style Eurovan before I got the truck, which was basically just a bed with storage under it, so the truck feels like a mansion by comparison.

The frame was lengthened to make the camper fit and a walk through was cut between the cab and camper so I can get through without going outside.

Make, Model, Year: 1988 Toyota 4x4 pickup with a 1978 Toyota Chinook Camper

The truck used to belong to my good friend Troy Moth, who is an incredible photographer based out of British Columbia. I used to own an art gallery in Lawrence, Kansas, and had asked Troy to show his work there. He decided to road trip down to Kansas from British Columbia and drove the Chinook down. At my gallery, I offered artists small residencies at my space, so Troy spent a few weeks in Lawrence making art. The minute I saw the Chinook, I fell in love.

At that point—five years ago—I had no idea that I would ever actually participate in tiny house culture.

I slowly started convincing Troy that if he ever decided to sell it, he should sell it to me. The Chinook is ideal for me in a couple of ways. I've always loved exploring, so having a vehicle that can handle the rough stuff allows me to get away from it all and see places that not a lot of people can get to. Being an older model Toyota makes it possible for me to diagnose and fix just about anything that goes wrong with it, so I (usually) don't have to worry about it breaking down and leaving me temporarily homeless.

Why do you call your rig Shadowfax?

Oh, it's really just a nerd joke. I grew up reading J.R.R. Tolkien. In fact, my dad tried to name my younger brother Gandalf, which my mother wasn't having any part of (they settled on Gavin). Shadowfax was the Lord of all horses in the Middle earth Mythos, and a friend to Gandalf. I really liked the idea that Shadowfax allowed Gandalf to ride him because they were pals. When I think about the part that my little truck plays in facilitating my dream life, I thought Shadowfax was a fitting name.

I am truly proud to call her friend.

Tell us about building out your rig.

Well, she was mostly built out when I got her. Troy had done a good job designing a table, benches and cabinet for the back, and it came with a non-functioning 12V marine fridge. I spent a couple months just throwing stuff in the back and sleeping on the floor until I really had a chance to sit down and figure out how to make it work. Making it work consisted of purging more stuff and becoming super organized with the things I kept. I should probably own stock in IKEA after all the little organization boxes that I got from there.

I put in a beefy solar system consisting of a 200W panel (purchased used from a solar place in Sebastopol, California) on the roof, a WindyNation p30l charge controller (these guys were really amazing on the phone when I was having some installation issues) and three Optima BLUETOP Sealed Gel deep cycle batteries. The batteries are directly under my head when I have the bed down, so I wanted to go the safe route with the non-off gassing sealed gel batteries. The solar runs the little marine fridge in the back, interior lights and a 1,000W inverter for charging everything else. I can say that having the truck off the grid has really revolutionized the way I live, particularly the fridge.

After living out of a crappy cooler for a year, being able to keep fresh food in the truck has completely changed the way I cook and take care of myself.

What did you learn from the process?

It's hard to even know where to start. I've learned to be happy with myself and my life, not just with the things I own. I've learned that nothing makes me happier than waking up somewhere new, exciting and almost always beautiful. I'm a workaholic, so in my previous life I would reward my efforts with possessions, and I had a big beautiful loft packed full of big beautiful stuff.

My family didn't have a lot when I was a kid, so I guess I learned to gauge my personal value on the things I had.

Leaving that life behind for a life filled with natural beauty, self-growth and simplicity has been incredibly fulfilling.

These days, I travel with my clothes, camping gear, deckwork stuff, (cameras, computer, etc.) and some awesome reading materials (mostly comic books).

How do you fund your travels?

Photography. I think anyone who has tried to live this life will understand that it can certainly take some hustle, but so far I've been able to make it work.

I keep a travelogue at where I frequently post about where I've been and what I've been up to. I sell prints and t-shirts from there, which really helps. I also shoot professional landscape, adventure and lifestyle photography. I've been really lucky to team up with a killer design firm out of Portland called Biklops, who I have been representing from the road. I would really like to find more creative, like-minded companies to work with and would love to eventually work for travel magazines.

Where do you park?

Geeze, where to start? It's usually somewhere new each day. I feel like I end up in Big Sur all the time. It's insanely beautiful and there are still a few places to camp for free there.

I've spent weeks just exploring the national forests in the Pacific Northwest and California. I always camp for free in national forests and BLM land, and I do a lot of deep back-road exploration to find that perfect spot. I love Mt. Hood National Forest in particular, but all the dispersed camping in Oregon makes it super easy to find great places. Don Reichert wrote a couple of really amazing books with titles that begin with "Camp Free," which tell you about free camping spots in Oregon.

How do you shower and get Wi-Fi?

Showering depends on where I'm at. If I'm bunked up at a good spot in the woods for a while, I'll set up my little solar shower. It's just a little cheap thing from Amazon, but it works in a pinch. If I'm traveling, I usually just stop at a state park or go to community centers with showers, but I have been known to jump in lakes and rivers as well.

I get Wi-Fi at a lot of coffee shops and libraries, but if I have a big project and need to seriously buckle down, I will rent a coworking space. I use the cool website, which will help you locate anything you need from office space to reliable Wi-Fi. I've considered buying a Wi-Fi anywhere device, but it doesn't seem like they are quite there yet.

What has been your favorite destination so far?

That's a really hard one for me to pin down, but if I'm backed into a corner, I would probably say Banff, Canada. It felt like a different world.

I love the national park system in the states. We have a truly unbelievable variety of landscapes in this country. I try to spend a month or so in Utah every winter, and hit up Big Sur, Yellowstone, Death Valley and Glacier (among many others) as often as I can.

Do you miss anything about your previous life?

Sure, sometimes. I miss being able to see my friends whenever I want, and I occasionally miss the convenience of settled life.

I spent nine years in a really amazing little Midwestern town called Lawrence, Kansas, where I owned a small contemporary art gallery and worked as an archival picture framer and bartender. I loved the social aspects of my work and made countless amazing connections at the bar that I spent so many years of my life working in. I don't know how to explain my urge to leave my comfortable little town. I guess I just thought that if I didn't go try to find adventure, that I never would.

I’ve always dreamed of being a traveling photographer and eventually came to the realization that the only thing keeping me from pursuing my dreams was myself.

Why do you keep living this way?

In short, I haven't seen it all yet. It's almost unbelievable the amount of incredibly beautiful things I've been fortunate enough to see on my travels. I'm driven to pursue my career in photography and become more comfortable in nature. I feel like our culture is drifting further and further from our connection to the natural world. I want to reinvest myself in the natural world, from edible and medicinal plants to wildlife identification. Spending time in the outdoors has shown me more happiness than I knew possible, but it has also taught me that I have so much more to learn.

How long will you live this way?

As long as humanly possible. There really isn't anything I would rather be doing. I love living this life and I've never felt more freedom. It's easy to say that every day is a new adventure, but there's nothing easy about making this adventurous life work consistently.

What's next? Any news you want so share?

I'm going to slowly work my way up to British Columbia from Northern California. I've only really been hanging out in Canada this year, and I just can't get enough of it. I really love it up there.

I’ve always loved a chill in the air and would be happy if it rained every day for the rest of my life.

I'm really interested in taking this life overseas. I've started trying to figure out where to go next. Northern Europe, Iceland, Australia and New Zealand are high on the list, but I really have no idea yet.

I'd also like to say thank you to the entire vanlife community. Knowing that there are thousands of like-minded people out there gives me hope for the future of our world. I've never been happier, and in some little way I have each and every one of you to thank for that.

Always chase the sunset and always jump in the lake.

Follow Adam of Roadlyfe

Produced by Kathleen Morton.
Edited by Kate
All photos credit to Adam Smith