Kaya Lindsay of One Chick Travels takes us through an internal conversation a lot of us might have when we're dealing with the not-so-glamorous parts of this lifestyle. When you're sick, you might think about how much easier it would be to live in a house and have access to a bathroom. And when you're single, you might wonder what it would be like to have someone with you to share responsibilities and experiences. So why continue to live in a van through all the hardships?
I’m lying in my van and listening to the sound of traffic in the distance. Highway 160 is bustling more often at night than during the day. Rented race cars and big rigs are speeding down the road toward Sin City which lies about 20 miles east of me. It’s nighttime and my head is resting on the warm shoulder of my (boyfriend? climbing partner? friend with benefits?). The Christmas lights I have on in my van are twinkling more than usual because we have the electric blanket plugged in and the draw on my battery setup is almost more than it can handle. Almost.
The temperature is close to 40 degrees, and the wind is gusting so strongly that it rocks the van and makes my partner and I pause in our conversations.
I’ve been sick all week. Each day, I try to be optimistic while weakly filling my water bottle from my 7-gallon jug, munching tentatively on crackers and randomly Googling my symptoms. There is service where I’m parked (service is a small victory). My frequent trips to the pit toilet are easier during the day than at night when the seat is so cold it hurts my already aching body.
I remind myself often. It’s true. I drove out here in my grey 2006 Dodge Sprinter Van to attempt to climb Cloud Tower and Levitation 29 in the sandstone hills surrounding Las Vegas. They are pretty difficult, but quintessentially classic, rock climbs that came highly recommended to me.
However, earlier in the week, I came to the realization that if I could barely leave the pit toilet, I would definitely not be ready for the hours of hiking and technical rock climbing that would await me on those two climbs.
The disappointment in myself sets in. I had already resigned myself to trying again in a few months or the next time I would pass through Las Vegas. As we lie in bed, waiting out the wind, and sipping ginger tea from my chipped ceramic mugs, we speak casually about our next destinations.
Me: Castle Valley, Moab, Indian Creek
Him: Joshua Tree, Santa Barbara, Indian Creek
Our schedules to an outsider might seem random, but there is a very specific strategy we use to decide our destinations. Mainly the weather.
Both of us are mobile living in separate sprinter vans and driving from climbing destination to climbing destination. Whenever the weather turns, we pack up, put gas in our tanks and drive onward to sunnier skies and more moderate temperatures. Sometimes the stars align and let us spend a few weeks in each other's company, but sometimes they don’t.
I’ve been living in my van for a year and eight months, and my main focus for doing this has been rock climbing. Rock climbing has given me a purpose in life, and a community of people who love me and who have helped me rethink what is possible in my life. It has changed my body for the better. Ultimately, climbing is the reason I decided to move into a van.
I remember the road trips from my childhood, looking down the endless roads from the backseat while my parents drove passed acres of corn fields and grain silos. There was this feeling of limitless possibility—the knowledge that we could go anywhere and no one could stop us. During my adolescence while I would be driving to work or school, I would look at the exit and think, 'What if I just kept driving? What if I told no one and just drove off into those limitless possibilities?'
It feels like I’ve always been hurtling toward this life at 65 mph on the highway with wind whipping through my hair and bugs splattering on the windshield. I was always going to end up here.
Since hitting the road in June of 2016, I have officiated two weddings, climbed to the top of a mountain naked, bathed in the ice cold rivers of the Canadian Rockies, played a group of tourists a song on my ukulele at the top of Cathedral Peak, torn holes in my favorite pants and patched them up again, driven from California to Vermont and back, danced naked around a fire, received a stick and poke tattoo of the tower skyline I love, eaten cookies out of a cast iron pan and sat around more smokey campfires than I can count.
I think we get caught up in the details of what is inside our vans. People ask me all the time about my electrical setup, the water storage, the bathroom situation, the insulation and the battery.
The van means access to those limitless possibilities. All of those nights camped on the side of the road, tired, cold, hungry, out of money, but in the arms of a friend who loves me makes what I decide to put in my van seem trivial.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the "what" and the "how" of vanlife. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the gadgets and the time-saving gizmos more than most people.
But the essence of living in a van is the simplicity of it. It forces you to live more with less. When we put time and energy into every single detail (like trying to make this van more like a conventional home than a cargo vehicle) we lose sight of why we started vanlife in the first place.
Living in a van has given me the ability to craft a home and learn to live more simply. It has taught me how to create boundaries between myself and the world outside and when to ask for help.
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Produced & edited by Kathleen Morton.
Photos courtesy of Kaya Lindsay.