I have to try hard not to giggle every time (like right now) Paul disappears into the van, practically into our Kitchen Cubbyhole itself, trying to dig out the small burner, pan, matches, or whatever is currently needed. It is shocking how so few things get so massively jumbled in so small of a space. From the sounds, a tower of cookware just came crashing down out of restaurant size shelving, sandwiched with Paul’s familiar grumblings and exasperated sighs. The burner appears. Now the salt. He continues to rummage. Now everything he pulled out is on top of the cooler that needs to be accessed for breakfast foods. It all gets moved to the van floor. Eggs and sausage are retrieved. Everything is transferred back to cooler-countertop for prep. “Hey, wait,” I cry, “my peanut butter is in there! Please?” Grumblings.
This is how we do it.
There is never a perfect time to start anything new, is there? No one is ever truly ready to get married or have kids or commit to a mortgage. Neither were we in a completely perfect place to try living on the road, at least not as thoughtfully nor comfortably as might be preferable. Paul has been ready in one sense since he bought the van two years ago and gave up permanent, solo residency while staying in Bend. I’ve been ready in my own sense for the last ten years, having refused to even purchase furniture that might tie me down. Every October I have gone into a panic about figuring out how to get the heck out of Bend, at least for the winter. But, of course feeling unprepared I simply found new rooms to rent as needed and quenched some of my wanderlust with shorter road trips to warmer places.
Last night, we chose to camp near the sandy shore of Lake Powell. I can only imagine the chaos of vacationers that fill this beach during spring and summer. This morning, though, it is quiet. Even the previous evening’s hum of RV generators is gone. The shoreline, which we feared was too thick with sand to risk taking the Beaumont through, is scattered with other campers, at least half in giant RVs or camper-trailers pulled by equally impressive 4x4s. Professional road-lifers. Retired snowbirds, likely.
We did not wait for retirement or social security or even for financial security. We did not save up for a new luxury vehicle with a bath or kitchen or drawers. Paul put his handy craftsmanship skills he didn’t know he had to work and created a raised platform in the back of the van out of plywood. Underneath are cubbyholes where we inconveniently stash books, winter clothes (hoping not to need them!) and extra sleeping bags. Facing the “living area” an open cubby holds kitchenware, with an old set of plastic drawers pushed inside for utensils and small steel dishes. Inevitably, pots and pans, a Jetboil, and cutting boards noisily escape onto the floor along each dirt road we explore for trails or free campsites, although we keep trying in vain to use the heavy, extra-insulated cooler to block the opening. It also slides around too much, and so we continue to cringe and laugh and swear something needs to be done about it. My clothes are a confused mishmash thrown (stuffed) haphazardly into a bin under the bench that serves as our living-dining-study-office seating. This is not surprising; it’s pretty much just a smaller version of my recent bedrooms. Paul’s bin is far more respectable with zippered pouches organizing neatly folded shirts, running clothes and underwear into separate, easy to find parcels. Dry goods are stored – away from pesky mice that keep appearing – in a smaller cooler up front, between the seats, which has handy cup holders for long drives that also collect other odds and ends, along with plenty of dirt no matter how many times we wipe them out. Coffee cups, water bottles, pump-soap dispensers and empty cans waiting to be recycled line the step just inside both the side door and my passenger door so that each time we open one of the two a symphony of containers hitting the ground begets a reflex expletive from one of us. Toothbrushes, sunscreen, bug repellent and my peanut butter spoon (yes, I have one) are crammed into the pocket behind my co-pilot seat, while maps, pamphlets from small town visitor centers and stray reading material threaten to bust the pocket behind Paul. We thought we had minimized down to as little as possible, but there constantly seems to be minor explosions from one corner or another.
I suspect these larger traveling houses camped near us that I could actually stand up in (both of us will likely be a couple inches shorter in a few months), with generators and a real fridge and curtains (our windows are nicely tinted for modesty, thank you) are more habitable long term. While waking up with a heater, and maybe the ability to make two cups of coffee at once, sounds delightful some mornings, I do like the simplicity of the van. It can be uncomfortable, but is definitely far less uncomfortable than continuing to simply wish I could figure out how to travel indefinitely. It might seem rash, or naïve, to make a drastic change before really clinching financial stability or maybe silly not to wait until a more comfortable, reasonable “home” is available or reckless to not totally think through itineraries and bumpy dirt roads, but the planning phase has to end somewhere. We recognized what direction we both had been trying to direct ourselves toward. I looked at the lifestyle I’d been living and saw it was already half-hearted, that I was stuck en route to an ideal that I’d never be completely ready for. I am better prepared than I thought I was. It’s not utopian, it’s not romantic, and it’s not fancy, but we made it real and it’s perfect right now.