Breck’s First Test Drive

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.

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One of my first cozy nights in Breck.

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.

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I spent more time in the desert than the mountains on this trip, which was unexpected, but wonderful as my love for the desert grew even more.

In conclusion…

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.

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Breck Build

Breck is ~75 percent done!  And this post is written ~3 months late!  Let’s just pretend it is early September when reading the rest of this… 😉

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After an extremely stressful few weeks, I hit my goal and was able to move into Breck over Labor Day weekend so I could adventure back out west for a few months before winter started to seep through the van’s (insulated) metal walls.  Since moving in a few weeks ago, it has been quite the adjustment, but so so so worth it to be back with some of my favorite people and exploring the Colorado mountains and Utah deserts once again.  I’ll post about my first big test run at #vanlife in the coming weeks, once I return back east and have some more down time than I am allowing myself out here, but I wanted to get a summary of my build written up first.  So here it goes!

Continuing from my last post, buying Breck was a pretty spontaneous purchase, and I was equally both ecstatic and terrified when it happened.  Neither of those feelings have worn off yet, but I think just nested further into the back of my brain, getting re-triggered every so often.  Doing a two-month trial run is definitely the best thing that I could have done at this point so I can get used to this new lifestyle and also figure out adjustments to make to my unfinished build.  Going back east for the last two months of the year will be a good move too, since I now have a growing list of improvements to make and new things to build that looks very different from the list I was originally expecting to have come December.

So, over three-ish weeks at the end of this summer, I turned an empty cargo into a comfortable home for myself.  Here is the rundown of how that went:

My daily routine

On weekdays: Wake up at 6am, work until 2 or 3pm, build things until 8pm (pausing for dinner (of course) and multiple trips to Lowe’s (of course)), shower, research van things until about 10pm, pass out in bed.

On weekends: Wake up by 7am, start building things between 7 and 9am (I had to wait until the neighbors were awake before I started sawing), build things until 8pm (pausing for lunch and dinner and even more trips to Lowe’s (of course)), shower, research van things for the next day until about 10pm, go to bed.

I’m not going to lie, this routine was really hard and really exhausting for me.  I was always sore and super dirty, the joints in my fingers were literally locked up every morning since I’m not used to this type of work, I didn’t get much sleep, I was super stressed from my (ridiculous) self-imposed deadline, etcetera, etcetera.  I probably said something along the lines of, “I hate this” and “Manual labor SUCKS!” a few times a day, but once things started to really come together in the van and I could start to see the result of my hard work, it was all so so worth it.

Pro-tip: Don’t try to build your van in three weeks while working full-time.

Organization

To keep myself sane, I created a Trello board at the beginning of the van build and used it to break down, prioritize, size and add deadlines each task that I had to tackle for the build.  My project management background really kicked into gear here. 🙂  But actually, it was incredibly helpful for helping me focus and know if I was on track to finish by September 1st, and I honestly don’t think I would have finished what I needed for an MVP van home if I hadn’t been this organized.

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Order of Operations

Alrighty, here’s the meat of it.  The rough order that I did the conversion in is:

  1. Clean the sh*t out of the van since it was bought used
  2. Install flooring
  3. Install side window
  4. Get solar panels / electrical wiring done
  5. Install vent fan
  6. Insulate the van
  7. Add furring strip to the walls
  8. Put up the walls
  9. Make kitchen counter
  10. Build bed
  11. Assemble kitchen cabinet
  12. Build a storage bench to hold my batteries/electrical
  13. Make table and mount it to the bench
  14. Make bench cushions
  15. Sew and install blackout curtains
  16. Finish hooking up the electric
  17. Move in and head west!

jk, I moved in before the electric was hooked up, but that was just due to my life being in two different states all summer, and I happened to be finishing the build before I got back to the state where my electrician was.

Future Enhancements

I’ll be home at my parents’ for about five weeks during December and January, and have a small but mighty list of van renovation tasks to do so I can officially call Breck finished.  This list includes:

  • Put up a ceiling
  • Build insulated wheel well boxes
  • Install a sink and gray water system
  • Hook up a foot pump and faucet for fresh water
  • Build drawers under the bed for more storage
  • Assemble and mount overhead cabinets, if needed (still deciding)
  • New tires + 60,000 mile check-up for the van

Total Cost

I have a spreadsheet where I am logging all of the supplies that I buy for the van and its cost.  In total, my van conversion costed me almost exactly $4,000.  I have a few things to build and finish up at the end of this year when I am back east, and I estimate those tasks to cost me another $250 at the most.  Electric was by and far my biggest cost, adding up to almost $1,800 once everything was said and done.  I have a basic solar/electrical setup and I paid somebody $550 to install it all.  Could I have skipped the whole solar setup and hooked up my batteries to my van’s alternator to make the entire thing a little cheaper?  Yes.  But in my van build panic/chaos, my brain didn’t even think of that path until it was too late, and anyways, the solar panels are way cool. 🙂

In conclusion…

So for a little under $24,000, and a lot of blood, sweat and tears, I have my very own tiny home on wheels.  He’s not 100 percent finished, but he’s a comfortable home.  He’s not 100 percent perfect, but at this moment, he’s perfect for me and exactly what I needed.  I couldn’t be prouder of how he turned out and I can’t wait to see where else he takes me.

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Like the pillow says, adventure awaits!

Breckenridge + A New Adventure

I bought a van…

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And it was probably (definitely) the most spontaneous purchase of my life.  I had been dreaming of #vanlife for years (who doesn’t?), but the timeline from when I was realistically considering buying one to the time I sold my Jeep and came home with this baby, was about three weeks.

And just like that, I’m a “homeowner” to Breckenridge, AKA Breck, my new-to-me 2014 RAM ProMaster 1500 with 46,200 miles on him.  To reuse a line that I saw on social media, he’s an empty cargo van filled with all of the hopes and dreams and excitement that I can’t contain just inside of myself.  That being said, I’m still not 100% sure about this decision, but everything just fell so perfectly into place, that I keep thinking that this has to be the right direction for me to take.  Dare I say, it seems like it’s meant to be?

So far, I’ve put in flooring and a window.  The solar panels and electrical wiring are set to be installed this week, and then comes a vent fan, walls, lights, a bed, a kitchen cabinet and many other things that I don’t know how to build quite yet…  I’m hoping to keep the conversion to around $4,000 and am planning to hit the road with an MVP of the buildout by Labor Day weekend.  I’ll spend about two months out west in Colorado and Utah working out the kinks and learning how to do #vanlife, and then will be back east for the remainder of the year for work and to finish the build.

Apart from the few light hippie jokes (“So where will the shag rug go?” and “Are you going to park it down by the river?” are by far the most common), I have received overwhelming support and excitement from just about everybody I have told.  So to every single one of you that has given me words of encouragement – from friends and family to #vanlife Instagrammers that I have reached out to for advice – and to everybody that has written painfully detailed blog posts of their van builds, thank you.  I am forever grateful for the support (I need it more than you know right now) and forever indebted for the help I have been supplied thus far with this next crazy adventure.

The “Glamor-less” Side of Travel

I just returned to the US from an incredible three weeks both vacationing and working remotely in Europe.  I spent a week in Tuscany, Italy with my family, then just under a week in Slovenia, a weekend in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina and a week in Croatia.

You can check out some of my photos and documented experiences on my Instagram profile – click on the Europe story highlight to see more.

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Ljubljana, Slovenia – My favorite city from this trip!

In my (totally unbiased…) opinion, I think my travels looked pretty cool for those three weeks. 🙂  Let’s be real though, not every moment is perfect.  Though I wouldn’t trade my experiences on this for anything, I felt like it was important to highlight some of the lesser-loved travel moments that I had along the way to emphasize that what you see on social media is never 100% real life.

I literally had to run to almost every flight, bus and train I took.  Long delays, tight connections, spread out airports and and not always knowing where to go led to some really exhausting travel days.  On my way to Italy in particular, I’m not exaggerating when I say I actually had to run to all of my connections between my three flights and 2/3 trains.

I had a bad cold for two weeks.  Yeah, you get sick a lot when you travel.  Planes, trains, buses, hostels, community bathrooms… germs are everywhere.  I caught a cold right after I left Italy and was pretty knocked out from it for the first five days or so.  That meant being super tired when trying to explore and a lot of early bedtimes in hostel dorm rooms, which isn’t always the easiest thing when so many backpackers stay up late partying every night.

It was really, really freaking hot.  Croatia, you made me question if I really do love the heat as much as I thought.  Stepping as much as a toe out of the shade and into the sunshine between 8am and 8pm immediately drenches your entire body in sweat there, especially in Dubrovnik, where the sun’s heat reflects off all of the light-colored buildings, pedestrian roads and Old Town walls.  Luckily, you are never more than a 10-minute walk from a beach and those beautifully clear Adriatic waters. 🙂  But this is also a reminder that uncomfortableness happens a lot when traveling in new countries, especially when places don’t use air conditioning as extensively here as in the US.  It’s just something to get used to.

I almost ran out of cash.  Traveling with dependence on a credit card is really difficult when you are in some largely cash-driven countries.  In the states, I charge literally everything.  When budgeting for this trip, I just straight up did not think about the possibility (or fact) that my travel account would probably need to have some more cash money in it.  I was living and working in Europe for two out of my three weeks there, so my vacation fund wasn’t going to cover my actual living expenses during those weeks.  To every restaurant and store that took my credit card instead of cash, thank you.  I am eternally grateful.

Working in cities without good wifi is super stressful.  When I was in Dubrovnik, Croatia, all of my worst fears about my big remote work stint came to be.  My hostel (that I paid extra for so I could work from a private room) had bad wifi, which meant I had to run to a café any time I needed to do something more advanced than search the web.  This made for some really expensive days, because when you are at a café in a touristy city, they charge touristy prices and you have to keep buying things to keep your seat there.  And cafés get loud sometimes, so when you are on a Skype meeting with a client, it can be a little stressful wondering just how much of the conversations around you they can hear (hopefully none).

So there’s a quick look into some of the normalities of travel from my last trip.  Though none of these should ever scare you away from wanting to explore this beautiful earth, it’s important to remember that things like this do happen, and it won’t be all smiles and beautiful Instagram shots the entire time (though there are lots more of those than usual).

Happy travels!

It’s All Mental

I always knew and preached that you are in charge of your own happiness.  Nobody can go to that thing with you?  Then go by yourself, instead of sitting home and pouting about it.  Want to try something a little scary, but worried about all of the things that could go wrong?  Take a deep breath, say Screw it, I’m doing this and go.  Is there a dream that you want to chase, but your family and friends are doubting you, and that is making you doubt yourself?  Nobody can make you happy but yourself.  You have to decide if this thing is worth it, if it will help you reach your aspirations, your goals, your dreams.

This year specifically, I’m really learning that you can shut out those doubts in your head and you can do anything that you set your mind to.  A lot of it boils down to self-confidence for me, especially with more physical activities.  Traveling solo has really given me a boost in this area each time I take a trip, and after five weeks of traveling this past December and January, I am very aware of how much those weeks changed me, yet again, even more.

Self-confidence is a funny thing, though.  I feel like I have lots of it in some areas, and not nearly enough in others.  Leaving the country for weeks on end by myself doesn’t bother me or worry me hardly at all, but it took me way longer to learn how to snowboard than it should have, and I can 100% say that self-confidence (and a little bit of fear) was the issue there.

One thing that I have found to help is to actively work on changing my mindset – that’s where the Screw it, I’m doing this mindset comes in.  When I was boarding in Canada over New Year’s with a friend, I was still too scared to point my board straight down the mountain, which resulted in a lot of snow plowing down the runs very slowly instead.  I didn’t understand what my issue was, it looked so easy when I watched others board.  Then I went out to Colorado for a snowboarding trip in late January, and I said Screw it, I really need to suck it up and just give this a better shot.  I finally got over myself and those flashes of doubt in my mind, and I just did it.

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Snowboarding at Copper Mountain, CO, USA

The same thing happened for me with indoor bouldering this winter, and mountain biking this spring.  The only thing holding me back is myself in these situations, and it’s because of the doubt that flashes in my mind milliseconds before I try something new.  Whether it is a turn down a steep mountain on a board, a new move ten feet up a bouldering wall or a jump down a mountain biking trail, I just have to walk myself through it in my mind and keep my confidence up.  It’s when I don’t actively push the doubts away that I stumble at what I’m doing and end up either bailing or falling.

 

It’s interesting how this self-confidence and Screw it, I’m doing this mentality has sort of inadvertently become a personal theme for me this year, and it’s exciting too.  My self confidence improves dramatically each time I conquer a new feat, whether that be with traveling somewhere new, camping by myself, or one of the more active examples above.  I like where I’m going with this whole mindset thing, and I’m excited to keep improving upon it each chance I get.

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Keep climbing, guys!

2018 Bucket List

Every January, I make a bucket list of 12 items and make it my New Year’s resolution to check them all off by the end of the year.  This is something I have done since high school.  Some items are easier than others, and my past lists have included things like “Read at least six books”, “Pray more in depth once per week”, “Leave the country at least twice” and “Learn to like onions”.  My biggest item last year was to visit the last five US states I hadn’t been to yet, and I did! Not even kidding, that was probably my greatest personal accomplishment of 2017.  By mid-August, I visited my 50th state, which was Michigan.  Yeah, I don’t know how it ended up being my last state either.

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State #50 back in August 2017!!!!!

For being such a big “list person”, this bucket list always means a lot to me and I spend a decent amount of time putting it together each year, and I put in as much effort as I can to check each item off as well.

This year, I have a newfound freedom and a very new life situation that is low-key terrifying, yet it’s the biggest step towards having the lifestyle that I have been chasing for the past few years.  Not knowing where I’ll even be sleeping for half of the year made it a bit harder to make some concrete goals for myself, but I leaned on the things that are important to me right now and the areas that I want to push myself harder to grow in (spoiler alert: there’s a large travel and outdoors theme here).

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One month into the new year, I have tentative plans for quite a few of these list items already.  Some of them are ongoing throughout the year, so I’ll have to keep them in the front of my mind when planning my trips each month.  Tomorrow also starts the process for applying for this year’s hiking permits (Havasupai Falls, Mt Whitney, The Wave and some others are on my radar), so crossing my fingers that I can get a hold of something!  We shall see.

Hope this post and idea inspires somebody!  Cheers to a new year and new adventures, guys.

The Year of Semi-Homelessness

2017 was an interesting year with some pretty great highs and some really tough times as well.  The last half was tangled with a mix of changes for me, including a new career, a fading relationship and a move that made me leave my beloved mountains to go back east to Kentucky… where everything is below tree line.  I ended the final few weeks of December with a heck of a trip that helped me to sort through and reflect on some of the new changes in my life and to look forward to a new year with new adventures.

With the new year comes a newfound freedom for me and a very new life situation that is mildly terrifying, yet my biggest step so far towards having that nomadic lifestyle that I have been chasing for the past few years.

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I just started a new job based in Kentucky that is going to let me go fully remote by the end of the year.  To work up to that point, I get to take a trip each month and work remotely from wherever I want.  The company’s plan has me spending about 50% of the year in the office and 50% of the year wherever I choose.  I’m house-sitting through April in town, and then after that point in the year, signing a lease would be a waste of money.

So here we go.

This is where the “semi-homeless” part comes in.  Come April, I’ll pack my outdoor gear, cooler and laptop into my Jeep and set out on a semi-nomadic, semi-homeless journey for the rest of the year between Kentucky and some “to be determined” locations (Spoiler: Probably heading back to the Rocky Mountains and also leaving the country a few times).  I’ll be Airbnb-ing, hostelling, Couchsurfing, crashing at friends’ and family’s, camping and Jeep-sleeping in who knows where as I go in between Kentucky for work and where I want to be each week.

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Waking up in my Jeep to a below freezing morning this past November.  This might happen a few times this year…

All of these unknowns make 2018 look pretty daunting.  I have been focusing on taking it one day at a time to avoid feeling super overwhelmed.  It will be an interesting year for sure, but I’m excited and ready for the challenge.  I’m sure there will be some posts to come about this adventure, so stay tuned!