Life on the road: update 1

July 19, 2023.

Soon after we hit the road, people asked, “How does it feel?” And my reply was, “ask me in 3 weeks.” At that point, I thought, we would have been gone for longer than our longest vacation, so it would feel like a real shift had happened. Well today, it’s day 83, and I still feel like we’re on an extended vacation.

It’s past time that I sit down and record some thoughts about how things are going. What’s on our minds, what’s working, what’s not working, etc. I know that folks living in homes that stay in one place are very curious about how mobile living works. While I have no intention of starting a YouTube channel to capture every moment of our travels, I do think it’s fun to occasionally check in with a snapshot of road life. This will likely be the first in a (very irregular) series.

New routines

The ebb and flow of life is much different than it was just a few short months ago. On weekdays, we ideally need to wake up in a place from which Aaron can work. Then, he goes through his morning ritual while I hang out and catch up on email and reading. Once he’s settled into his office, I can make breakfast, clean up and then either head out on an adventure or work on a project in camp.

If I’m back in time for lunch, we’ll eat together but if not, we take care of meals on our own. I’m in charge of dinner, which I can cook either on the induction stove inside the van or on the propane camp stove outside. Depending on our battery power, the weather, what I’m making and a few other factors, I’ll choose an option and get to cooking. We eat pretty well out here. There’s always a protein and veggies, usually accompanied by a prepared side like mac and cheese or ramen, plus various accompaniments like sauces, crunchy things, etc. I make creative use of leftovers so that no scrap of food gets wasted. And when we’re feeling really fancy, Aaron will whip up some cream with our immersion blender to have with fruit.

In order to make all this work, I spend many hours each week meticulously scouring maps and Google satellite images to find places to land each night. We often move every day or every other day, and since we need very specific requirements to be met for Aaron to have internet, this takes a lot of planning. On the flip side, we get to see a lot of cool places and we haven’t even left Oregon yet!

At the end of the day, we wrap up by reading a single page in The Vagabond’s Way: 366 Meditations on Wanderlust, Discovery and the Art of Travel by Rolf Potts. Well, most days we remember to. Each page-long chapter offers a quote and some commentary that gets us thinking about some aspect of travel. It normalizes the adventure that we’ve chosen to embark on and lets us feel like we’re surrounded by kindred spirits. I think a lot about “normal,” what is normal and who gets to define normal. Living in a van and moving home each night has quickly become normal.

Things we love

Before driving away from our home in Bend, we had to make a lot of decisions about the few precious items to put in our van. We had to make a lot of guesses based on what we anticipated our lives would become. These are a few of our favorite things.

  • Collapsible silicone tea kettle: I use this thing every damn day. We were sitting at the kitchen table one night with a friend, brainstorming a solution to find an easy way to boil water for coffee every morning. I don’t remember how this idea came up. None of us knew this product existed. But now I can’t live without it. It’s the perfect size for 2 cups of coffee/tea and the water boils in under 2 minutes. It uses hardly any energy and doesn’t take up much space.
  • BluTech “No Dirty Water” pump, filter and hose system: This slick setup allows us to toss a hose into any water source, pump it into the van through a filter and fill up our water tank with potable water. That could be from a lake, stream or campground/gas station spigot. We haven’t had to buy water once on this trip.
  • Hammocks: Having a place to relax outside the van is key. Now that the summer is really heating up, it can feel stuffy in the van. Slinging up a hammock takes just a few minutes and it provides a nice place to read, take a nap, do research, chill out or drink coffee.
  • Built in fridge: The bane of my camping existence was digging through wet packaging in a cooler filled with melted ice to find what I need to make dinner. The solution is having a fridge. I’ll admit, I thought the fridge was poorly designed when we first got the van. But now that I’ve actually used it, I absolutely LOVE the design. It can fit so many things in an efficient manner. I only wish it was a tad larger, since fresh vegetables are so bulky. As a result, I’ve learned to embrace canned, frozen and dried vegetables, frequent grocery runs and dense produce. I’m loving the combination of Grocery Outlet and local farmer’s markets for the best prices and variety of foods.
  • Bug nets: The bug nets roll down quickly and easily so we can keep the slider door open for fresh air. They also pack up easily when we’re ready to move on. These will prove to be invaluable when we go to Alaska.
  • Bikes: Y’all, this is the most I’ve ridden a bike since my bike commute days in Portland. And sometimes I’m actually riding it for fun. Having a bike that’s capable on pavement, gravel roads and beginner/intermediate mountain bike trails has opened up so many possibilities for getting around.

I could go on and on, but these are the highlights.

Things we don’t love

Lest you think each day is filled with rainbows and ice cream, let’s talk about the not so great parts.

  • Endless planning: If you know anything about me, you know I love planning. But this is really stretching my skills and abilities. The number of things I need to balance in order to find a sufficient spot, and to connect a string of spots with reasonable drive times between them is pretty intense. Not to mention, I’ve been doing it for 83 days straight and we’ve just barely gotten started. I have 4 mapping apps on my phone, each with various bits of information. Pair that with internet searches and phone calls to rangers and that adds up to a lot of labor. I understand why people end up making campground reservations at the same places every year, 6 months in advance: it takes no mental effort.
  • Gas bills: We knew this was coming, but it’s still a bit of sticker shock at the pump. Not to mention we have a 47 gallon tanks, so some of those fill ups are pricey. But we consider this expense to be our “mortgage,” since we’re rolling around in our house.
  • Constantly being connected: It’s a blessing and a curse. Aaron needs to be connected for work, so the internet is always available. On our previous camping trips, we were happy to spend time in areas of the backcountry where cellular data doesn’t reach. Now, we have to make a conscious effort to balance our offline and online time.
  • Mice: We were not ready for this. Within 2 weeks of traveling, a mouse took up residence in the van. We’ve battled mice on and off for most of the trip. Aaron has taken on this battle with research, equipment and strategy. Mice are formidable enemies. They’ve eaten our food, nibbled on non-food items just to piss us off (I presume) and once we eliminated them from the cabin, they made nests in the engine with our insulation material. Aaron now has a mouse prevention protocol that he engages with on a regular basis. It’s only a matter of time before the rodents outsmart us again, so it’s just one more thing we have to remain vigilant about.

I had to think harder about this list, and this is all I could come up with. Call me when I’m having a bad day and maybe I’ll have something else to gripe about.

Oh one more thing: what we miss the most is…


Unexpected shifts

I had grand ideas about our travel route and destinations before we hit the road. With my precious wildflower project in mind, I saw us spending most of our time in southwest Oregon poking around the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, Siskiyou Mountains and Southern Coast Range. While we have spent some time there, the bulk of our journey has led us into northeastern Oregon, clear across the state! We’ve also had to make multiple trips back to Bend for various reasons. Because of all these changes in itinerary, I’ve learned to do detailed planning for only one week at a time. If I try to do any more than that, things are likely to change and all that planning time is wasted.

I also saw myself doing a lot of art in the van. However, on days that I spend most of my time out in the sun, I’m usually too wiped to pull out all my art supplies when I get back. Another barrier is not having space to spread out and work for a while. Besides, I’m prioritizing summer for wildflower research in the field. I’m collecting a ton of photos that I can convert into art this fall. I recently discovered that when I do have access to a picnic table where I can sit down and hammer out some work, that I can complete several paintings in a day. Thus, I’ve begun work on my $20 Art Show entries. Get the date on your calendar.

We haven’t missed one book club meeting since we left! Our group has graciously allowed us to Zoom in from wherever we are, and we have read all the books too. This has served as an essential community connection for us. I hope that we can keep this streak going, and if our in-town dates ever coincide with book club meetings, it would be really fun to drop in.

Looking forward

We have both adjusted really well to our new flow of life. Right from the start, we had to solve problems, negotiate unexpected obstacles and learn to live with each other in a very small space. Our experience camping, camping with each other, spending lots of time outdoors in every type of weather has all come in handy. The stuff I think most other people find to be the most difficult adjustments have come easily for us. We’ve basically been training for this our entire lives.

Next up: more time in northeast Oregon, more time painting, more farmer’s markets. I need to work on getting a few more people to take a trip out to visit us (we have our next visitors coming in under two weeks!). I’d also like to plan a backpacking trip or two, leaving Aaron at one trailhead and having him pick me up at another one. I need to continue searching for volunteer trail projects and local events that we can take part in to support groups we care about. The next volunteer gig I have is in September, so it would be nice to find something before that.

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