After an unbelievably hectic few weeks to end my summer, my new home was just livable enough for a three-month trial run, and I was ready to move the heck in and get back “home” to Colorado. I’d be back at my parents’ in early December for the Christmas season and to finish the van build, and I had my to do list organized and ready to go for when that time came. But for now, mountains and friends were all I could think about.
The time since I decided to sell my Jeep in June and bought my van in July was incredibly chaotic (have I mentioned that yet?). I was high-strung with the stress of balancing work, life and the van build. Having to drive the van back and forth between North Carolina and Kentucky for a few weeks each time for work made life unsettled and uncomfortable, as I was sleeping a hammock strung in the van over my Rubbermaids and van supplies while stealth parked in a hotel parking lot or crashing at friends’ places, all of my belongings for that trip disorganized and sliding around the back of the otherwise empty van. And working on the van every minute I wasn’t doing my real job work was exhausting and took a toll on my body. Needless to say, apart from being excited out of my mind to get back to adventuring out west, having a mostly comfortable and constant place to “live” in, or at least sleep in, was an incredibly attractive concept to me. It had been a while.
As I shoved the last of my items into the van at 10pm the night before I left my parents’, there was still much to be organized and figured out, but the plan was to not plan and just do it on the fly, much like this entire project. I spent the first week back in Kentucky for work, sleeping in the hot AF temperatures in my office’s parking lot on Main Street (much better in the van vs. the Jeep at least) and showering at the climbing gym I belonged to there. Through a few coworker friends, word got out about what I was up to when I bought the van, so at this point, everybody knew that I was sleeping in the parking lot. Generally, everyone thought what I was doing was really awesome, but coming into work in the morning and having everybody there know that I had just walked in from sleeping in my vehicle in the parking lot was still pretty uncomfortable. Just something else to get used to with this whole van thing, I guess.
Overall, there was a much bigger mental jump into this lifestyle than I expected. I thought I had been preparing for a lot of it, but I was very unprepared for a lot of it as well. My electric wasn’t fully hooked up until the end of that first week, and so my roof vent fan could open but couldn’t turn on, leading to some very hot nights. So my routine for my first few nights in the van was this: Eat out or get take out (more on this in the next paragraph), shower at the gym, go pee in my office and hope I wouldn’t have to again until after I was ready for work the next morning, change into my PJs, brush my teeth and do any dishes I had in a small bucket because I didn’t have a sink yet, probably do some reading and then lay on top of my blankets and sweat my butt off for a while, until I took the rest of my water and soaked my t-shirt in it, and then fell asleep slightly cooler than before. In the morning, I would wipe down with either a wet washcloth or a wet wipe, and then change and get ready for the day. I’d rinse the small bucket of toothpaste and water somewhere discreetly in the parking lot, grab my backpack and walk into the office and try to act like I’m a normal functioning adult for 8-10 hours… except for the 20 minutes I would sneak out to take a nap in the van around 2pm each day (possibly the best van perk of them all). It took some small adjustments, but the week went smoothly.
So the eating out thing: I think I was just too mentally exhausted to think about more new things that I had to. As simple as the task sounds, the idea of learning to use my new camping stove and to plan and cook in the van, in stealth mode, in downtown Lexington was just exhausting and seemingly impossible to me at the time. I really had to ease into things, and that was something that could largely be avoided for a little while, whether I had the money to eat out everyday or not. Apart from my ease into cooking in the van, there were other things that I had to take my time with as well, and I would like to take time at this point in the blog post to give a hearty shout-out and THANK YOU to everybody that helped me out these first few months in my rolling home. To everybody that let me crash on their couch/air mattress/spare bedroom, I needed the break and return to normalcy some nights more than I wanted to admit. To my friends that let me park in their driveway or outside of their homes/apartments for a night or more, this might have been the biggest help of all. Stealth camping in downtown Denver for multiple weeks at a time was stressful, and having a safe space where I didn’t have to worry too much about where to park and getting “the knock” in the middle of the night (or anything worse) was a huge relief. And to everybody that let me shower in their home, thank you thank you thank you. My newest motto for van living is “Never pass up a free shower”, and I greatly appreciate everybody that offered one to me, because I was almost certainly going to take you up on the offer if it came. So if you either fit into one of the above categories or just offered your support in kind words to me – I truly could not have done this without you all. In all honesty, if I didn’t have such a great network of friends in Colorado, I would have been downright miserable on a lot of this first trip. I was second-guessing myself enough on that trip, especially in my first few weeks out there, and every little bit of help and support that I received helped me to get through. But now I am finally settled into life on the road, I’m reenergized and eager to get back out there next spring. And all of you helped to make that happen.
So after I got out to Colorado, I had no choice but to start cooking in the van, or else I’d have no money for gas into the mountains or anything else. I spent the first two weeks driving around Denver, staying inside/outside of friends’ houses and working at Union Station and some other coffee shops. It was a busy few weeks and I was hardly in the van to be honest. I spent a lot more time in Denver than I expected to on this trip (the extrovert in my really took over), and stealth parking/camping there as much as I did was not exciting, and also kind of taxing. My very first day in Colorado, I parked the van outside of my best friend’s house and we took her Jeep to tent camp off of a 4×4 road up near Winter Park. Upon returning to her house then next afternoon, her neighbor came out to yell at me for camping outside of his house while we were unloading my stuff from her car into my van, and wouldn’t listen when I tried to explain that that wasn’t the case at all. Needless to say, I felt super uncomfortable city camping for the following weeks, and was extra cautious. I had originally assumed that Denver would be a pretty safe space for being in my van, but now was worried about being judged or upsetting people. The fear of being judged was a huge mental obstacle that took me weeks to get over.
After my birthday at the end of the month, I took off for a two-week mountain trip. I last-minute changed my itinerary (another perk of living in your home) after seeing a billion photos on Instagram of the aspens changing down in the Aspen area, and headed out on a Friday afternoon to mountain bike with my good friend, Teresa, in Eagle and then make my way there. I then spent my time over those two weeks hiking in Aspen, coworking in Crested Butte, visiting friends in Fruita and Salida and mountain biking in all of the above places, as well as Moab. Apart from taking quite a few literally jaw-dropping scenic drives, I watched the sunrise at my favorite camping spot in Aspen, got the van stuck in some sand while boondocking in Moab, showered under the stars in the pitch black night in the Fruita desert and slept in a Walmart parking lot for the first time. Those two weeks were the closest glimpse I felt that I had to what my #vanlife adventures will look like next year as I work my way up the west coast alone. There were some hardships of course, but overall, it was incredible.
I snuck back out to the desert a few more times during the month of October to go mountain biking quite a bit, and hid at my uncle’s in south Denver for half a week as well when I started to crash from all of the traveling. My time out west ended with a women’s #vanlife meeting in Taos, NM at the end of October, which deserves its own blog post, before I headed back to Kentucky for the month of November and then home for the holidays. I learned a lot about #vanlifing, got a lot more comfortable with the uncertainty of the lifestyle and how people perceived it and changed my to do list quite a bit for finishing the build. Living in an MVP version of my van was a REALLY great thing to do to make sure that my van build plans fit my needs. Things I thought I definitely needed aren’t even on my to do list anymore, and some things that were lower on my to do list are now top priorities.
One of my biggest findings this trip was how surprisingly difficult it is to just live simply in this world. It’s MUCH easier to just go along with society today and pay lots of money for luxuries and things. The most basic things are hard and take up lots of time, like finding a place to shower that week or use the bathroom, planning only one-pot meals, washing dishes without running water, being alone a lot… Some people are starting to spread the awareness of this on social media, but #vanlife sucks most of the time. Truly. It’s definitely not for everyone, and probably not for most. But for those few that can and want to embark on this lifestyle, all of the small, incredible moments you have with the van: the perfect campsite, having everything you need all of the time, the mobility, the connection with nature, the freedom… those things make it all worth it. One hundred percent.