Wandering adventurer has lived out of a van past 22 years

Bruce James and his Mercedes-Benz van. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

Bruce James is on a road trip that may never end.

The semi-retired boilermaker opts to hang his hat wherever the road takes him, living entirely out of a late model Mercedes-Benz van.

“(People) keep on telling me how lucky I am. It’s not luck, it’s a choice,” said James, 62.

“Once you get a house, you get all that furniture and it’s hard to go this route.”

As a full-time nomad, James follows what he calls the “72-Fahrenheit route,” picking destinations so as to avoid the hottest and coldest seasons.

He worked at another shutdown in Sarnia this spring and departed a few weeks ago for Northern Ontario. The plan was to hit Thunder Bay en route to the prairies and finally the West Coast. This fall, he’ll loop through Oregon, California and New Mexico. It’s a circuit he’s made about four years now.

James said you need to be adaptable to live on the road, as might be expected from a tradesman with 42 years experience under his belt.

His latest van is customized with a queen-sized bed, kitchen, seven-day supply of running water and a solar array to power a laptop and smartphone – his links to civilization.

The van is outfitted with provisions to keep his mountain bike, kayak and dirtbike in top shape. Troy Shantz

He also packs a mountain bike, kayak and 250cc dirt bike for recreation along the way.

James estimates he’s spent $30,000 getting the van just right and all of it done on the road because, after all, he doesn’t have a garage.

The van’s laminate flooring was installed by Home Depot staff right in the parking lot. And a boilermaker’s union hall in Minnesota lent him a welding torch and workshop.

“It’s taken a lot of money out of my account,” he said with a grimace, but reasons his expense is similar to that of a boat owner.

Some nights James sets up in Walmart parking lots, but prefers campsites off the beaten path. He’s dialed into a network of travellers through an iPhone app that lists spots in North American where you can camp for free.

“You can go backcountry camping your whole life and not hit a quarter of them,” he said.

James packs a seven-day supply of running water and solar panels to power a phone and laptop.
Troy Shantz

In 1995, James faced job uncertainty and a mountain of bills during a slow work year. So he sold everything and hasn’t looked in the rear-view mirror since.

He thought an itinerant lifestyle might last five years. “But 22 years later I’m still doing it,” he said.

Along the way, he’s made many friends from coast to coast and crossed the paths of bears, dolphins, sea lions and even a blue whale while kayaking in Baja, Mexico.

“People come up and look at that van – it’s an attraction,” he said. “I meet a lot of people that way.”

At 62, James doesn’t know how much longer he’ll keep on rolling.

“I’ve tried to settle down but I’d rather be on the road,” he said. “I like being on the road.”