The 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier Stephan Shay has moved into Lolita in December 2014. At 29, he bought this rare camper van and restored most of it in just a few weeks. He even started a vintage vehicles restoration business! We reached out to him to talk about how he’s able to balance his full-time job, training and life on the road.
Tell us more about you and what led you to live the van life?
It was a relatively simple idea, but the culmination was a little more complex. I came to a cross-roads in my life. I had this huge emotional experience at the NYC Marathon in 2014. It was a great and wonderful experience, but the come-down from the trip and experience kind of left me in a haze for a while. A little over a month from the race I got laid-off from my job. I was also sharing an apartment with my brother and his girlfriend at the time. I knew he was looking at other jobs in the area that were a little more inland. Also, my girlfriend had just started medical school back East.
I had been looking at vans, camper vans, and small RVs for a year… just kind of fantasizing about the idea of having one to roadtrip with. I had found one that I really liked. I love the class A style motorhomes, and I had been eying the Cortez for a while. It just has such a unique look, and it was the perfect size. I think the culmination of life events just really allowed me to let go of any inhibitions I might have had to really give it a go. I didn’t have a job at the time, but I wasn’t strapped for cash. It wasn’t really a mid-life crisis type of thing, but rather an opening I saw to take a chance on vanlife.
Your camper is pretty unique, can you tell us more about it ?
I could spend all day telling you about Lolita! It is truly a magical bus. It’s a 1966 Clark Cortez, manufactured by Clark, which is predominantly known for making industrial forklifts and other industrial equipment. It has a slant six, Chrysler 225 engine, and it is air-cooled, of course. haha.
In terms of rehabbing it, I did 90% of the interior restoration, and all of the exterior body work, except for the actual paint job. It was a lot of work, especially not having all of the proper tools initially. A lot of sanding, fiberglass and bondo. It was nice to have my brother Elliott help out for a few days, but other than that I was pretty much flying solo. For my first project, I would say it turned out very well, all things considered. I loved it, too. It’s pretty rewarding to dive into something without a lot of background in it, and having it come out. My personality caters to this type of work. I don’t think I really have an addictive personality, but I can get obsessive over projects. I guess I just like to get shit done. haha.
Does living in a van help you to train better for the next Olympics ?
That’s a tough question. I think a lot of people are under the impression that I live in a van to be able to train full-time, but that isn’t really the case. If anything, I think that living in a van does more for my mental preparation for racing and training. It helps to keep things in perspective. It also helps with keeping the spirits up. Vanlife is a constant adventure. This isn’t to say that I am always going on trips, etc… It is just a break from the everyday monotony. There is something pretty rad about being able to roll up to a trailhead or workout in the van, and just being able to grab a cold beverage from the fridge after, or take a quick shower. The outdoors becomes your living room a lot of times, too. I just grab my yoga mat, a nice plot of grass, and just take it all in.
Where are you now and are you planning any road trip ? What would be the road trip of your dreams?
I mainly stay in Orange County, CA. I have to stay in relative proximity to my work, and the shop I am working out of right now for my business, Epoch Restorations and Adventures. I am planning on doing a road trip up the California coast soon. A long weekend up to Big Sur, maybe.
Oh, man… Road trip of my dreams? I went to Iceland about 6 months ago, and drove around the entire island on a 10 day adventure. That was pretty amazing. There is still so much I haven’t seen, though. In terms of taking Lolita on a road trip? I really want to do a trip from Southern California, make my way over to Montana to Glacier National Park, then over to Banff, and then make my way back to the coast to Vancouver and down the coast back to Southern California. Everyone says I need to take it down to Baja, too!
Being a runner, I can imagine you have a specific diet, is it hard to maintain it living in a camper ?
I have a pretty good diet for the most part. My camper van is actually pretty accommodating when it comes to being able to eat healthy. I have a 3 burner stove, a refrigerator, plenty of cabinetry, and even an oven. My refrigerator and stove both run off of propane, and one $20 tank will last me 2 weeks pretty consistently, so I can keep fruits, veggies and other perishables without worry of having to eat them right away.
What are your favorite items you carry in the van ?
I have some pictures in there that mean a lot to me. Also, all my fishing gear, running gear, and hats. I love hats. Food wise, I am a peanut butter and chocolate fiend, and I swear by cherry juice concentrate from King Orchards as a supplement; an awesome family owned orchard in the town I grew up in. I’ve got to give a shout out to my sponsors, Skechers and Stance. They provide me with some great gear. Until I get a companion, most things I have are replaceable. haha. The adventures and memories are really what I treasure.
Do you sleep at campgrounds or do you boondock ? Can you share a cool spot ?
I do both. It just depends. I have a few places and friends’ properties where I’ll post up regularly, but when I am traveling, sometimes I will splurge on a campground. Some solid camping spots are Pfeifer Big Sur State Beach, El Capitan just up the coast, El Moro Canyon in Orange County, as well as Doheny State Beach. There are a ton more, but those are just a few that pop into my head along the coast.
There is a spot in Corona Del Mar that I like to go to spend the day. I really like it during the winter time when it is less busy. CDM is a very wealthy area, but there is a road that sits on top of this ridge. The houses along the road are ridiculous. Multi-million dollar homes. Architecturally, some of them are actually impressive. I think it is kind of silly how big some of them are, especially being that most of them are hardly ever lived in. Anyway, I pull the van up and pull the curtains on one side of the van, so the only windows open are facing the ocean. Lolita has amazing windows. This was another big selling point for me. When it isn’t busy, and I just have that expansive ocean view, I can literally just post up all day with the windows open, smelling the ocean breeze and listening to music.
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