90,000 Miles to Me

28,811 Miles • Two Years in the Van Report

This is the middle of what I consider my third *season* of van living, but since I moved in right in the middle of the first summer, on June 29th, 2017, it has technically been just two full years.

So far, I’ve been enjoying this cycle of living the van life in spring, summer, and fall—what I have been calling a van season—and enjoying indoor house dwelling in winter. Sure, I could head south for the warmth and be alone in my van in a desert that I barely appreciate, but, let’s be realistic. I don’t feel any need to do this 100% of the time just to prove that I can, and being home lets me reconnect in a way that has been really good for my relationships, plus the short break from constant traveling renews my excitement for the road.

As I did at the end of the last full year, here is a breakdown of my experiences from this last year. For comparison, my first year repot on the practical side of van living is here, and here for the personal side of things.

Cooking and Food Preparation

I still haven’t gotten into a rhythm of using the “official,” large, sun oven that is taking up space disproportionate to how much I have used it. But I am solar cooking, or at least solar heating, food frequently. On the dashboard. Which warms food quite well most days, even when cloudy if I put it on the dash long enough. This gives me a welcome option for warm or cooked food when I want that. 

I’ve also been enjoying trying out new recipes with interesting ingredients from time to time, often for raw food dishes, a wide variety of salads, and have been enjoying the wonderful possibilities of thermos cooking as well. 

I’ve cooked a surprising variety of things in a thermos, including oatmeal, couscous, quinoa, lentils, and pasta. Most have turned out surprisingly well, and I think couscous is consistently better in a thermos than any other way I’ve cooked or been served it. It is the softest, fluffiest, texture ever.

On days when I’m on the road, this often works out best, as I can add any food that will cook in boiling water to the thermos, stop at most any gas station and walk in and add free, boiling water from the coffee machine, then set it aside to cook itself for a while.

I estimate it will take a little longer to cook than it would on the stovetop since it isn’t being kept at a boil, but it stays close to that in the thermos. And since heat isn’t being added, it cannot burn, no matter how long it is left. When ready, I just drain it and eat right out of the thermos for no additional cleanup, or pour it into a bowl for a home-style meal. 

Boondocking

Shortly after the one year mark, something clicked in my head and all of the things that seemed overly complicated about finding good boondocking spots all of a sudden seemed not that difficult. I think I finally had reached the point where I was getting comfortable enough with my new lifestyle that I could finally use some of the brain power that had been overloaded before to handle more things.

Since I am now regularly in the middle of nowhere, often with limited or no cell service, I got a SPOT satellite messaging device so that I can call for emergency help if needed and message my mom daily to let her know I’m all right. This has provided both of us with peace of mind well worth the cost of the device and plan.

And now that social stuff is getting a little easier (see below), I’ve been making more use out of my Boondockers Welcome membership. (Use coupon code 90000miles for a 10% membership discount.) BW has been really helpful in a few areas of the country where there haven’t been many other free camping possibilities.

Showering

In between friend and family visits, city pools are a decent option in the summer, and are usually much cheaper than gyms (even the cheapest are several hundred dollars a year) or truck stops (often a whopping $10-$15 for a shower!). In spring and fall, though, many pools are closed, and even in summer, finding them is kind of hit or miss. Some towns don’t have one, some are only open for very limited hours when I’m not around, and some don’t have indoor showers but just a rinse off spigot outside.

I’ve also gotten more comfortable with camp showers, but only when my campsite is secluded enough and not swarming with mosquitoes. I have no intention of offering my entire bare body as a buffet for hundreds of bloodthirsty flying fiends.

There’s also the trusty sponge bath standby, which works reasonably well enough for everything but the hair. If only I could figure out how to wash my hair in the van….I tried this once and it made too much of a mess.

Bottom line, I’m still looking for a better solution for showering besides expensive gym memberships. In the mean time, in the middle of what has so far been a hotter than average summer, I’ve been hot and sticky a lot, wearing days worth of caked on sweat, and am not happy about that.

Visiting Places

I’ve been slowing down more and more, and starting to stay for longer periods in fewer places, and I hope this trend continues even more. In the same vein, I’ve been visiting fewer attractions along the way.

For example, I was recently driving eastward through central Ohio, and the last time I came through here, two years ago, I had wanted to stop at the Wright Brothers bicycle shop and other memorial sights that I had seen signs for, but at the time I was still too tightly wound to be able to change my plans and stop just because I saw a sign for something interesting (this wouldn’t happen until George Washington Carver’s Memorial), and anyway, I figured it would cost money I didn’t have, and was frustrated by the whole situation, internal and external. 

I found out later that most of the memorial sites are free to the public, and that my National Parks Pass would get me in there even if there were a fee. So ever since then, I have intended to visit the next time I came back through.

Yet when I did, I wasn’t in a head space to be all that interested in aviation history (though if it were early space history, I’d be all in). And for a week or more I struggled with the dilemma that I felt I should go because I can go, and I felt I should go because I’m an aviation person and a history buff and so I should want to go, and I felt I should go because most of the time I would actually want to go, and I should go because it is a must-see attraction. 

But at the moment I’m not all that interested. I’d rather spend a week in a forest staring at trees in the rain, and I don’t feel the need to live up to some American standard of activity-based travel, or to justify to anyone else what is soothing or stressful to my soul right now. 

After a week of struggling with shoulds, I came to accept that this is a cultural-should, not a moral-should. If I come back through here again and am interested at that time (both are likely), I can see it then. And if I never in my life see it, it will not be a deathbed regret, it will not tarnish my eternal soul, and it will not diminish the happiness of the rest of my life in any way. 

So, I spent a rainy week in a forest in central Ohio and untangled some internal psychological knots instead.

Electricity

I need to have continuous electricity to power my fridge and a little bit for charging my phone and SPOT satellite device, but it’s mostly for the fridge.

By putting solar panels on the roof, I’ve set up a paradox whereas I need to park in the sun a lot to keep the house battery charged, and hence my fridge cool, but by parking in the sun I’m heating up the metal box that I’m living in and the one I’m trying to keep cool.

The insulation does help with that quite a bit, and the fan, and when I’m parked I’ll put Reflectix over the windows to keep more sunlight out. That combination usually works out okay, but the paradox is still odd, even to me.

The battery got a bad circuit board replaced last October, and since then it has been much more consistent and reliable, but it is still kind of fiddly and I need to tend to it several times a day. I’m not really happy about that, but it is the way it is.

Driving

I’m taking longer and longer to get to places, favoring scenic byways and little country roads more and more. I’ve been surprised that these routes are usually less mileage then the most direct route that Apple Maps keeps trying to suggest to me, they just take a lot longer because the speed limits are lower and you have to slow down frequently to pass through little towns.

This doesn’t bother me since I’m driving slower anyway and stopping more often when something catches my interest. I’m also not pushing so hard to get as far as I had planned for the night if I’m tired or changed my plans. The result is that I’m taking longer to enjoy the things that I want to see and skipping the things I don’t, and being much happier about the trip. 

I’ve also been thinking about putting the following sign in my back window:

SLOW DRIVER 
ENJOYING THE SCENERY 
PLEASE PASS CAREFULLY 

What do you think? If you saw that in someone’s back window, how would you react? Let me know in the comments below.

The sign I would really like to put in the window, on a remote control so I can press a button and raise it up as needed, is:

“Dear Tailgater,
I am driving slowly to enjoy the scenery, but do not mean to be rude. If you give me some more space, I will be happy to pull over safely and let you pass.”

That seems a bit wordy. Hmmm…

Socialization

This is becoming both easier and harder for me. I actually have less tolerance for unwanted socialization, in that am more accepting of my limits and less willing to force myself into situations that I know will wear me out. At the same time, I am gaining an increased tolerance for, and like of, positive socialization with a few people at a time, and am appreciating those personal ties more than ever.

It is also becoming increasingly easy to talk to strangers and people I don’t know well. Like chit-chatting when visiting a new church. Or asking where to find something at a grocery store. Or not cringing when I walk into a store and a staff member says ‘hi.’ Or avoiding the store altogether because that might happen. Sooo…that’s a win.

Sensory Stuff

My sensory issues still make it difficult for me to be outside much, because of the wind and bugs and grass against my legs and all the sensory stimulation that comes with being in nature (even though I love nature).

Nevertheless, after getting several sessions of sensory therapy the last time I was home, my nervous system has begun to calm down a little, and I have a growing toolkit of techniques and therapies I continue doing to help that along. The result is that I’m getting a little better about going out (last year I did precious little of this), and have hope for future improvement.

One other big improvement in my life has been a weighted blanket. How did I ever sleep without one? Short answer: I didn’t. Not well, at least. For most of my life, it has taken me two to three hours to fall asleep every night, I would wake several times, and sleep fitfully, even under multiple heavy blankets, and it was virtually impossible to sleep under just a sheet.

This isn’t just another heavy blanket, though. It weighs 15 pounds. And is still too light. But even in the heat of this hot summer, I’ve slept under it every night, falling asleep much more quickly and sleeping soundly. And I can testify that, man, the world is a better place when quality sleep is a consistent part of life!

Finances

Thanks to the moon and seasonal calendar I made over the winter, I’m a little bit better off this year than I was the first two years, but things are still pretty tight. I keep trying to remind myself that I have enough. Enough. Not more. But I don’t need more. I need enough.

Deep breath.

By the way, just as a reminder, no pressure, hint, wink, you can support my Journey without spending any extra money if you shop at Amazon through this link. I’ll get a few percent commission on almost anything you buy. Thanks in advance!

Van Improvements

I’ve made a number of small improvements to the van in the last year.

In October, a friend helped me peel out the carpet to add more insulation to the floor before putting the carpet back, and that has helped a great deal, keeping warmth in when it gets cold at night, and keeping reflected pavement heat out on hot days.

I am still extremely happy with the Maxxair fan and vent with rain hood that I purchased. Even in heavy rain storms, I don’t have to worry about any water coming in, whether I’m in the van or not. I can come back hours after a downpour and not have a drop of water inside. And after nearly 2 years of ownership, I finally figured out that the inside bug screen can be removed so that I can clean the fan blades, which makes me very happy. 

I also added a mud room. Okay, its a carpet square at the side door entrance, but serves as a mud room and entryway, and has helped keep a lot of the dirt and twigs and leaf fragments and whatnot from getting into the van, and it can be easily peeled up (I Velcroed it to the carpet) and shaken off outside.

See those stains? They’re not on my primary carpet! This little square is easier to wash, to shake out, and can be easily replaced when the time comes.

And I added a hat rack. I spent a couple weeks trying to figure out how to install a hat rack, and most of that time was me getting further and further away from the mindset of how I would do this in a house. Once I made that shift, it was simple. All I needed was a piece of string and two alligator clips.

This is often how I solved design problems while converting the van. I would start with the mindset of what is normal in a house, you know, a place where walls are straight and flat and don’t move around, where temperature and humidity aren’t swinging dramatically every day and night, and where there is more than 66 sq. ft. for all the necessities and detritus of life. Once I managed to break out of that mindset, I could figure out what function it was that I needed to accomplish, and then a non-standard solution often became clear pretty quickly.

Another counter-intuitive improvement has been adding stickers of places I’ve visited to the back bumper. I actually went online last fall and found a company where I could buy ones for places I’d already been, and have been adding more as I go. Just for places that hold some meaning, though, otherwise I’d be wallpapering the backdoors with stickers.

This actually isn’t about remembering where I’ve been, though it does make me happy to see them.

It was because I got tired of people walking by my van and making suspicious or snide comments along the lines of, ‘who is that?’, ‘what are those people here for?’, and ‘what are people like that doing here?’ And when people talked to me, they would drill me about my out of state plate. People seemed oddly suspicious of the tall white van with a camper window and an RV fan parked in front of their local grocery store, park, or library. So, I decided to make my intentions more clear.

Five of the stickers I “backordered” have fallen off, and I’d like to replace them but don’t want to waste them again. Hence why I started putting stickers directly on the metal instead of the bumper, hoping they would stick more securely. I hesitated to put them on the door at first because of potential resale value, but then realized that I’ve drilled holes in the van that would have a much bigger impact on resale value than a few little stickers.

It worked. I’ve gotten far fewer suspicious looks and the comments I overhear now are more along the lines of, ‘look, the Grand Tetons, remember when we went there?’ And when people talk to me now, it is interested inquiries about where I’m headed and how long I’ve been on the road.

For $2 to $4 per sticker, this is pretty cheap peace of mind.

Daily Life

People keep asking me what I do each day, and I think they often have visions of me tromping around on grand escapades, doing all sorts of cool, adventurous stuff, seeing lots of tourist attractions, exploring cities, and trying out new restaurants to sample the local cuisine. In nature I would stay at campgrounds, take long hikes, rent canoes and paddleboats on the lakes, go swimming and horseback riding, and otherwise fill my days with every sort of craft or hobby I like, read tons of books and get through lots of podcasts.

Hate to disappoint, but I’m not doing almost any of that.

Take today, for example. As I’m finishing up this post, I’m taking an occasional sip of my morning fruit and kale smoothie. It took me over an hour to make, because most of that time I was watching the rain out the window and only occasionally cutting up a piece of fruit. After another hour of rain-watching and smoothie-sipping, I pulled out the computer to write for a little while, since this post kept coming up in my mind.

If today is like most non-driving days, I’ll sip on the smoothie throughout the morning, finishing it about when I’m getting hungry for lunch, at which point I’ll eventually break myself away from the spectacle of the rain and slowly put together some raw food lunch, since I will have been too preoccupied today with rain-gazing to have planned ahead to cook something, and today really isn’t sunny enough to cook, anyway. 

As soon as I finish lunch, I’ll start thinking about what is for dinner, so that if anything needs prep work, like soaking or to take out of the fridge to warm up, or baking on the dashboard, I can get that started. 

Since it is raining today, I probably won’t leave the van, but am out in a forest and there is plenty to see from the windows, including a small brown bird that has been favoring a nearby branch as a launching point from which to fly away, snag an insect in midair, and return to look for her next tasty bite. Speaking of insects, a big one just landed on my side window. I can’t stand bugs landing on me, but find them fascinating to watch up close like this when I know there is no chance of contact. 

This afternoon I might take a nap for a while, write a bit more, do a little math or a logic puzzle for fun, or read a page or two. I’m currently reading Saint Porphyrios’ Wounded by Love. I’ve been working my way through it for about a year and a half, and am a little more than half way through. It is taking “so long” because I’m in no rush to “get through it” or to “finish the book.” I put those in quotes because it seems to me that until recently I have viewed books, with their natural start and end points, as experiences that should be taken in in a relatively condensed timeframe. As if how quickly I devour a book is a sign of how good it is, and how intellectually stimulating I find it is an indication of how much I am getting out of it. But some books need to be digested slowly, returned to over and over, not moving on until the last part has been fully captured in my body, my in heart, and in my life, far beyond being processed intellectually.

But I digress. Which is what I do a lot of days, thinking deeply about whatever small, seemingly insignificant things come into my awareness. Especially revealing are my “automatic” reactions to things, which tell me a lot about myself when I am able to listen carefully.

Around late afternoon I’ll take care of a few household chores: wash any remaining dishes, check on my house battery and water supply, clean or straighten up or fix whatever needs doing, and start on dinner. Which will probably be eaten while watching sunset, one of my favorite times of day. I love this gorgeous, free light show every evening. 

When it gets dark outside, I’ll start settling down for the night. I might re-read the bit of the book I just read, or one of my other books that I’m getting through just as quickly, but more likely I’ll lie in bed and let my mind relax as my body is soothed by the fifteen pound blanket and additional weights I throw on myself, and I will gradually drift off to sleep, to wake again when the sun peeks in around the corners of my curtains in the morning. This is a pretty typical day for me. 

I hope this gives you some insight into my last year of van life. I’m still adjusting somewhat to this style of living, but despite some downsides (lack of consistent showers is high on that list) I am thoroughly enjoying it.

* * *

28,669 Miles • Farewell, Grammy
28,858 Miles • Noah Webster

6 thoughts on “28,811 Miles • Two Years in the Van Report

  1. it sounds as if you are relishing your time and using it wisely to understand that what ever comes along, you will deal with it. and well, it is good to hear that you are more relaxed and not in a rush to do anything. so much of our lives are done in a rush, thinking we have this preconcieved notion that there is only a finite time period to do it. we dont give oursselve time to savor the moment. thanks again for the update and “keep on travelin” Aunt georgetta

  2. Really enjoyed this insight into your mobile lifestyle. I was particularly struck by the description of your day, the slow thoughtfulness of it, the absence of a constant drive to “get things done.” I’ll want to think about how I can incorporate some of that into my own day.

    Of course, being a classicist, your shower troubles immediately made me think of the ancient Romans, who bathed by rubbing oil onto their skin and scraping off the oil/sweat/dirt with a special implement called a strigil; no water needed. Whether this idea will be of any help to you, I don’t know, but what’s a random fact between fellow nerds? 🙂

  3. I love what you did with the bumper stickers. Instead of being angry and acting out because people/strangers did not behave in a way that was more friendly/welcoming to you, you found a way to control their behavior. You took control and made the situation better for yourself. Make people feel comfortable and they’ll return the feeling. Bravo.

  4. You mention that you don’t react well to certain senses, you should look into something called Emotional Freedom Technique (also known as tapping). It helps calm the nervous system and amygdala.

    It might help, I’ve used it a lot to reduce stress in my life.

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