There’s a bark in the background and Yassine Diboun smiles. “Oh my God, the dogs are in heaven. They don’t know what happened in 2020, but they love it. We’re always around, and some places we let them free range.” Diboun, a 42-year-old longtime ultrarunner, is nearing the end of a three-month van trip and six-year-old Goose, a Golden Retriever mix, and one-year-old Koda, a mini Husky, have been there for all of it.
He scratches his brain for the trip’s origin story. “We bought the Delica in September of 2020. I had my eye on one for years and finally saw this Delica come up for sale. It’s a JB470, all built out. It has a bathroom, kitchen, fridge. I was just like, ‘Oh my God, that’s the van!’ As a family, we’re kind of impulsive on things like this.”
I’m a #vanlife fan, but I only learned what a Mitsubishi Delica was last year, when talking to Jodee Adams-Moore. Diboun is really into it though, and geeks out. Excitement naturally fills his voice, he’s that eager to talk about his van and the fun it’s given his family. “It’s imported from Japan, right-hand drive. There’s a law from the Environmental Protection Agency that diesels have to be 25 years old to import. Some guy brought two over and sold one. We call it ‘Dibs,’ it’s part of my last name and then the term, ‘I got dibs on that van.'”
He keeps chatting about the van. “A Delica has a lot of pros, and some cons. It’s all-wheel drive, a five-speed. It has a truck chassis, so it’s narrow, I can pull into a normal parking spot. This one is a 1995, 50,000 miles. It’s a turbo diesel,” and he grins when he calls out the turbo. “There’s a cult following, like with Jeeps. You can be driving down these dirt roads and everyone waves. We have a model called the Chamonix. It’s pretty tight, but we can stand up.”
In early December of 2020, Diboun, his wife Erica, 10-year-old daughter Farah, and the dogs exited home in Portland, Oregon for the U.S. Southwest. As we talk, Portland’s enduring a cold streak, and Diboun is favorably just outside of Joshua Tree National Park in southern California. “We’d had months of quarantine, everything online,” he said of the obvious motivation to step away. “In 2017, we did a seven-week RV trip in New Zealand, so dipped our toes in this lifestyle then, and that was right-hand drive too.”
Diboun has been able to keep up his work with the Wy’east Wolfpack from the road, thanks to regular Airbnb stays, and part of why he calls the trip a “hybrid” for its combination van-and-house overnights. His business specializes in corporate wellness programs, and he now leads the fitness classes via Zoom three days per week. “I can do it as long as I have a strong internet connection. We’re doing the van Friday through Monday,” he said of the routine, and that the three-day-a-week classes have remained popular despite the change in format. His wife’s work has moved online too, and his daughter’s school is similarly completely virtual.
I press on renting his family home to strangers while they are away, and Diboun answers quickly, “There was some definitely some hesitancy about it, but you know, ‘Who cares?’ It’s a three-bedroom house, so we packed up all of our personal stuff, moved it into our daughter’s room, and locked it up. We went through Zillow, had a real vetting process, and they’re watching our cat.” Diboun then shifts his thought to what he’s really gained the past two-plus months. “There are a lot of real benefits, it’s real time with my family. We’re not running around chaotically. I’m a little more involved.” I nod in understanding, both when we talk and again when writing.
It does sound great, but Diboun laughs at the potential to extend the trip. “Part of me wants to go home, but part’s not looking forward to it,” he shared. “It’s fun to check out different places, there’s a sense of freedom. You don’t have to drive five hours if you don’t want, you can drive two and stop. We tried to target warm and sunny places, and places we’d never been. Chase some sun and warmer temperatures, and places that are not high population with a prevalence of COVID-19. We went down Highway 395, the Hot Springs Highway. We were just driving and my wife would find something and then that was our shower, those hot springs. We went through Arizona, the Mogollon Rim, Sedona, the Grand Canyon. It was my daughter’s first time at the Grand Canyon, we had a memorable hike down in at sunset.”
He keeps going on with highlights from the past two months. “Tucson. You know, I’d never really explored Arizona. I’d been there, but just real quick in and out. We were exploring it thoroughly for a month. We did a six solid weeks of the van thing, but we’re in an Airbnb now. Everybody was a little tired, so we got a long-term Airbnb, a month, and still go out in the van on the weekends. We’re checking out in three days actually, then back to the van.” He’s promised his daughter a ski day at Big Bear, California, some miles up the California coastline, and eyes Yosemite National Park, all before the trip’s end in early March.
To be fair, Diboun doesn’t hide the occasional downsides. “There are some challenges to this trip too, tight quarters can be stressful. It’s a time of political tension. We’ve been in rural America and can get a cockeyed look. In Joshua Tree I actually saw ‘Go back to LA’ bumper stickers and I’m sure people just assumed I’m from Los Angeles. ‘Here comes those trendy people with their funky van,'” he laughs. “But for the most part it’s been great.”
He gets peppy, and then reflective as we set to part, “This trip has brought us closer together as a family. It’s been a tough year, but in hindsight, maybe this was a great year to explore.”
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