90,000 Miles to Me

34,653 Miles • The Van is Cold

At the beginning of October, I drove up into the mountains to look at the bright yellow fall leaves and stayed late enough to do a little stargazing with my binoculars before heading down the mountain.

As October has progressed, it has been getting colder. It isn’t snowing yet, but it will soon, and the temperatures are continuing to drop.

For the last week, it’s been mostly in the 50s during the day and in the 30s and 20s at night. When I mention this to people who live indoors, they don’t seem to understand that this means more to someone living in a van than “it’s cold outside,” so here is what I mean when I say it’s getting colder:

As soon as the sun starts setting, I put insulated window covers over every window in the van to keep the cold out and trap whatever warmth I have inside. The very first thing I do when I get up in the morning is to uncover all the windows so the sunlight comes in and starts thawing things out.

I have to move the van strategically throughout the day so that the windows are always facing the sun, to get as much heat in the van as possible all day long, and still it never fully warms up inside. Which means that my body is cold all the time, close to 24-7, except when I go into a business that has good heating for a little while.

This means that I am going places, like stores, the library, and church, more often, just to warm up, which is triggering more of my sensory issues and making me more agitated in general.

Since the daytime never really warms up the van all the way, I’m going into night starting with a heat deficit. So whenever I drive, no matter the time of day, I crank the heat and blast it into the back of the van to warm up as much as possible, and lately I have taken to going grocery shopping shortly before the store closes, on the opposite side of town from where I am spending the night, just to drive as late as possible and warm up as much as possible, before hunkering down for the long, cold night.

I hate washing my dishes now because the water in my tanks is constantly barely above freezing, and having to handle the frigid water is both painful for my fingers and drops my body temperature. So dishes pile up until I am forced to wash them in order to have something to eat on. 

Showering is also more difficult. Even though I currently have ready access to a shower at church and a friend’s house, I have to time it strategically to allow time for my hair to dry. A shower first thing in the morning means I will have a wet head before the sun is high enough to warm the outside air temperature slightly, and showering in the afternoon or evening is out, because going to bed with a wet head will freeze me.

Here in New Mexico, I haven’t had too much difficulty getting enough sunlight to charge my battery, so I can run my electric blanket for a while at night, but it takes all day to recharge the battery because the blanket uses a lot of electricity. If there is a cloudy day, it won’t charge enough to have heat that night. Since New Mexico is home, and I know people around here, I have been parking in a safe place where I am allowed to plug in to shore electricity, so that is not as much of an issue, but when I’m not parked there, this is a big issue. And if I do need to plug in, I need to know that well before nightfall so that I don’t have to open the doors to go outside after dark and lose my precious heat.

I avoid opening doors in general now to avoid losing what little heat I have. Especially after I’ve been driving and have had the heater going, I don’t want to loose that. When I do have to open a door, I get in and out as quickly as possible while opening it as little as possible.

When I say I’m trying to not let out the heat, I do want to clarify that I’m not actually letting out what feels like warmth, it’s just not as cold as outside.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time sitting in the cab where the big windows let in a lot of sunlight that warms up the space somewhat for a couple hours in the middle of the day, and even there I’m huddled in multiple layers and wrapped in blankets. Even being reasonably warm for a couple hours does me a lot of good.

I often don’t change clothes at all between showers, which are usually about twice a week, because it is just too cold to take anything off, and new clothes are so cold against my body that they are physically shocking.

In fact, everything that I touch is cold. Every single item is cold. All day long. All the time.

Drinking water from my water bottle lowers my body temperature so I’m not drinking enough.

But this also means I don’t have to pee as much, which means I don’t have to pull my pants down and freeze my butt and legs and knees as often. And my hands when washing them in frigid water.

Did you know that pee freezes at about 5° below water’s freezing point?

This is where I was getting water, until last night.

I wear slippers in the van, over my standard two or three layers of socks, to keep my feet from absorbing as much cold from the floor, and when I go to bed at night I tuck the slippers under the edge of my mattress so that when I get up, I can put them on before getting out of bed.

When I go to bed, I make a warm cocoon out of a very large pile of blankets, and pull the curtains closed on either side of my bed to keep my body heat in the area of the van where I’m sleeping, which helps keep my bed area a couple of degrees warmer than the rest of the van. If I need to get up to go to the bathroom or check something at any point, I lose some of that precious heat going out of the curtains.

When using my computer, I don’t prop it on its stand because I want all the heat it generates to go right in my lap.

Being this cold all the time drains my energy, so even though I might wake up with big plans to get a lot of things done, I find I get very little of it done because I’m cold all the time.

So even though I am physically able to deal with it, and inside the van is definitely a higher temperature than outside in the naked wind, it has been affecting everything, all day long, for weeks on end. At least I’m not staying here all winter!

Living in this kind of cold is not just about putting on a jacket when you go out or freezing for a minute between the house and the car and the car and the store.

Some days have definitely been like this more than others, and for the most part I have enough tricks and drive enough and whatnot that I have been able to, well, I wouldn’t say “stay warm,” but at least be warm enough, most of the time. Keeping warm, however, takes a lot of time to plan and coordinate things, and takes a lot of energy.

For example, I can’t just stay warm inside the library all day because then the van is not driving, and not getting warm enough in the sun, either, which means I will freeze at night. So I have to coordinate where I go and when and how long I can stay there and most places have fluorescent lights so I can’t even consider them as possibilities, and I have to keep moving places every few hours so the van is driven and warms up again, and this is all very tiring and time-consuming. And I’m losing a lot of good working hours in which I could be making progress on the calendar, to planning heat acquisition.

Heat acquisition has been my full-time job for the last several weeks. My business in New Mexico is wrapping up soon and I will be going home for the winter where I can settle indoors with central heating, but I still have to make it through a few more weeks. Probably until after Thanksgiving.

A few days ago, a friend at church lent me a small electric heater that in the course of one day has made a dramatic improvement in my quality of life. A lot of the above still applies, but to a much, much smaller extent. This heater will make it possible for me to deal with the cold for as long as I need to stay here.

As of October 28th, it is now snowing and freezing. I got up this morning to this.

That heater is a lifesaver.

By the way, my shoulder is making only very small improvements, not nearly as much as I have been hoping for. The two physical therapists, Rolfer, and acupuncturist I have been seeing are all baffled by conflicting and confusing symptoms. Apparently, this is not a normal type of injury. My shoulder is also not happy about the cold, and shivering makes it hurt worse.

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