It’s 70 degrees outside. My air conditioner isn’t working and hot dry air comes blasting out of the vents. The check engine light is on, had been for the last 1,000 miles.
I glance at the dashboard clock, 7:49am.
I had been driving all night. Around 1am I pulled over on the side of the road, too tired to keep my eyes open. I had snuck into a campground, set an alarm for 6am and passed out.
After 5 hours of the true blackness of sleep, I had groggily woken up and sat back down in the drivers seat. Engine on, windows down, roll out.
I was on my way to see Mike. It had been a few weeks since we’d last seen each other and I was anxious to reunite.
The endless Nevada highway stretched on out in front of me. Hot dry air blasted through my vents. Sweat began to gather behind my knees and under my armpits.
When I finally made it to where Mike was parked, I was exhausted. A marathon of 18 hours of driving, a bad nights sleep, and near heat stroke had me blinking my eyes and shaking my head as I pulled into the residential neighborhood.
I turned the van off and leaned back in my seat, closing my eyes and mentally running through my ‘todo’ list.
Find a shower, refill water tanks, empty gray water, groceries, laundry, find wifi for work meeting at 11, start on blog post for Outdoor Prolink, edit video, make dinner, get propane…
I looked out my dirty bug splattered windshield. One day get this damn van washed.
Mike and I both have vans, so when we park somewhere we have two massive sprinters to consider. As I walk out the side door and over to Mikes van I see a woman with her arms crossed standing in her doorway, looking out at me. I look away, not wanting to deal with a confrontation right now. People don’t like it when you park in front of their houses. I mentally add ‘move the vans’ to my checklist of chores.
Later that day Mike and I drive south, out of town, to a local campground where there are pay showers. A sign at the entrance says in large letters, ’SHOWERS ARE FOR PAYING CAMPERS ONLY’
“Ok, let’s be quick, I don’t want to push our luck.” Mike says to me as we pull up to the shower house.
Inside the Women’s room there is a coin operated shower, it will be my first shower in 5 days. The machine next to the faucet tells me I will have 7 minutes per $3.00 to bathe.
We find a trailhead to park at overnight, and for 3 days we have a safe place to leave the vans, a pit toilet to use after our morning coffee, and some small semblance of privacy. On the morning of the 4th day we’re leaving for the other side of town when a sheriffs car drives slowly down the windy one lane dirt road toward us. I nod as the sheriff passes.
What do you want to bet that was for us? I think.
Later that week, Mike and I are lying in bed in a remote BLM campground. We have found another place to park, for now.
I roll over on to one side, bracing my hand against the side of my cheek.
“Hey babe, what if we got our own place in Reno?”
He puts his phone down and looks over at me.
There is a long moment while he thinks about this. “Well, I mean, it’s not a terrible idea.”
That night we pull out our phones and scroll through craigslist just to see what our options are.
It had been a long time since I had paid rent, since either of us had paid rent. We had grown used to the freedom of the vans, the cheap living, the unrestricted mobility and the minimalism. To rent a place would throw years of that lifestyle away.
But I was tired. I was tired of being kicked out of peoples driveways. I was tired of getting things shipped to the post office, only to drive away and miss my packages and mail. I was tired of the anxiety that comes with sleeping in a parking lot I’m not sure is safe. I was tired of watching my friends disappear in my rearview mirror every 3-6 weeks. I was tired of searching for air conditioned coffee shops with fast wifi that I could use for 8 hours without getting kicked out.
I was so tired of getting kicked out.
I thought about what the van had done for me in the last three years. When I moved into the van I was like a small seed that needed watering. The van helped me nurture myself, my writing, my climbing, my relationships… Now it felt like I was a plant that had outgrown its nursery. I was too big for this lifestyle. What had once brought me to life and nurtured me, was now holding me back, preventing me from deeper growth.
Renting a place felt like the answer to all this growth. I wanted somewhere I could write every day and not have to stop to find water or wifi or a place to throw away trash. I wanted a gym I could go to and train for climbs, I wanted a community I could develop and rely on that wouldn’t drive away when the seasons changed.
A week later, a man in a dark blue button down shirt handed Mike and I a set of house keys. We waved him goodbye and sat in a large empty room on our crashpad.
The walls are white and empty, the kitchen is white and empty, the bathroom is white and empty. This big echoing space feels alien. I lean back against Mikes chest as we sit sprawled together on the grey carpeted floor.
The container we have chosen to be our home, will we grow into it? I wonder as I stare at the white glass ceiling fixture.
I’m not leaving the van for good, and I’m not selling it either. It’s been a few good years in the van, and I think there are many more adventures waiting to be had with Lrya. But for now, I’m exploring this new life. This is the first time I’ve paid rent in my adult life after all, I am sure there is much to learn.