SAN JOSE, Calif. — It's here! The big white van I spent my life savings to convert into a comfy studio apartment on wheels, with not just one but two showers, has finally arrived.

I absolutely love it, even more than I thought I would when I conceived the project as my personal 80-square-foot solution to the Bay Area's affordable-housing crisis.

When van converters Kyle and Josh Volkman gave me the grand tour, I surprised myself by bursting into tears — of profound joy.

Women of my generation — I'm 61 — were supposed to grow up to be wives, mothers, nurses, teachers or stewardesses, not brave independent, adventurous women with a van that gives them the freedom to live anywhere they want.

In the North Jersey town where I grew up, girls weren't allowed to wear pants to school until I was 12. Not even culottes. Barred from shop class by the ex-Marine who ran it, we were forced to make aprons and practice doing laundry in home economics. A friend and I tried clogging up the washing machine in protest, but it didn't do any good. I'm proud to say that although I've always loved to cook and putter around the house, I got a D in that class.

Yet in a peek at a whole different world, that was also the era of all those hippies living mostly on the West Coast in VW vans or converted school buses like Ken Kesey's. The notion must have taken hold because I didn't hesitate once I discovered the van life movement as I hunted for a way to stay in the Bay Area after I retire.

The view from the front of the van, looking toward the back. On the left is the kitchen, including a refrigerator, stove/oven and a 29-inch sink covered by a custom cutting board. Behind that is the bedroom. The bathroom (at right) has a dry composting toilet and a shower.
Tracey Kaplan / Bay Area News Group/TNS
The view from the front of the van, looking toward the back. On the left is the kitchen, including a refrigerator, stove/oven and a 29-inch sink covered by a custom cutting board. Behind that is the bedroom. The bathroom (at right) has a dry composting toilet and a shower.

While looking into buying a tiny house, I discovered the growing community of people linked by social media who live in vehicles, from vans to school buses to converted ambulances. Some are achingly poor single women living on $700 a month in Social Security. So, one of the things I plan to do is volunteer at the annual Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in Arizona, where founder Bob Wells teaches all newcomers how to cope with van life and form supportive networks.

But for the time being, I'm going to keep living in the pool house behind my wonderful landlords' home in San Jose while I practice living in the van on weekends.

As excited as I am, the reality that I am now responsible for a big steel hulk is already hitting home. There's a lot for me to learn about my Ford Transit (high roof/extended length), including how to fill my 36-gallon water tank, how to open the canopy, and how to dispose of the contents of my 39-gallon gray water tank and dry composting toilet. I'm calling the van "Loaf" because it looks like a loaf of white bread, and it's where I plan to loaf.

But presiding over my tiny kingdom from the comfort of my dinette is already a blast. How the Volkmans and I managed to fit everything in here, I don't know. There's a tiny bedroom, indoor shower, outdoor shower, and bathroom. The front seats swivel around to the dinette, creating a "living room." With its 29-inch sink and 8-foot-long butcher-block counter, the kitchen will be equipped to turn out everything from real miso soup (with dashi, of course) to lemon meringue pie.

There's practically zero open wall space to put up pictures, which is weird and freeing at the same time. I'll have to get rid of a lot of stuff or find a storage unit in a cheaper community.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared — of drifting, of being alone, of dark nights and strange towns, of sitting at the wheel of a very big vehicle, or of winding up broke. But it's the good kind of scared, the kind that makes me glad to be alive.

When she retires, Tracey Kaplan, 61, plans to live in a Ford Transit cargo van, which she converted into a studio apartment on wheels.
Tracey Kaplan / Bay Area News Group/TNS
When she retires, Tracey Kaplan, 61, plans to live in a Ford Transit cargo van, which she converted into a studio apartment on wheels.