Saturday, October 11, 2008

a day in the life of

When I set off on my Vantasy, about eight million people suggested that I read two books: Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck, and On the Road by Jack Kerouak. I've been supplied with these books and have read them both. Good reading. I agree that they should be required reading for someone like me taking a trip like the Vantasy. But I didn't find exactly what I was looking for between the covers. What I was looking for in these books was insider secrets. I wanted Steinbeck to tell me what to expect when traveling with a big old dog. I wanted secrets on where to park and how to find free stuff. I wanted to know how they ate, where they shat, and how they dealt with leaving behind loved ones.

Of course, these practical aspects of traveling make for dry writing, and probably the average person doesn't care about such details. But maybe you do, dear readers, so I'm going to dedicate this entry to the overlooked, everyday details of survival in a van.

Overnight Parking: I learned early on this trip that if I even have any tiny doubt in my mind as to the safety of a parking spot, I have to move because I will never be able to sleep there. I've learned to find free campgrounds, park in residential neighborhoods (but in front of churches or buildings, not directly in front of someone's house), camp in the occasional Wal-mart parking lot, sometimes use truck stops, and very, very rarely pay for a kampsite with water and electricity. I sleep in the small loft above the driver's seat, and Ralgh sleeps on the bench below me. I keep my keys handy in the night in case I have to move quickly, but I doubt that will ever happen.

Domestic Life: Vanta C has a twenty gallon water tank, which supplies my sink, toilet, and shower. If I fill it up I can get about two showers, plus two to three days of flushing toilets and washing dishes. When I decide I want a shower, I light my water heater, wait an hour, get nekkid and sit in the tiny tub near the back of Vanta C. Then I quickly get wet, turn the water off while I soap up, then quickly rinse. It's not a relaxing or warm experience, but my pink bits and head get clean! Between the shower days, I use wet wipes. It's all very glam. So far I've managed to find places to fill my water tank for free and dump my gray (shower and sink) and black (toilet) water for free, but if I'm ever in a pinch I can pay a campground to let me do these things.

I have a broken refrigerator, which I use as an icebox. It works pretty well, but I have to buy bagged ice about every two to three days, which is kinda a pain. I also have a two-burner propane stove, so I cook simple meals which are usually rice or noodle-based. In the mornings I almost always drink instant coffee and eat instant oatmeal. And I try to buy and eat at least one fresh vegetable or fruit every day. My favorite van foods so far are sardines, avocadoes, dried nori seaweed rolled up and eaten plain, fried egg sandwiches, pop tarts (really!), beans and rice, and pre-made boil-in-bag Indian food meals. Van-tasty!

Exercise: Ralgh and I go on runs together almost every morning. We were both new to running when the Vantasy began, so we started slow, running for one minute, then walking for thirty seconds. Now we are up to running in ten minute blocks, but I'm usually dragging him along by the end. He needs to work on his pace; he always starts out too enthusiastically, then he's pooped by the end! After the run I try to do some yoga, but this really depends on where I've parked. And I also ride my bike almost every day.

Budget: Having not saved as much as I initially wanted for my Vantasy, I live by a really tight budget. I paid all of my bills before I left for the trip, health insurance, car insurance, iPhone, and student loans, which left me a laughingly small sum for the rest of my trip. With that money, I set aside $3000 for gas, and the rest for everything else, including the costs of resettling when this is all done. So the budget I created leaves $500 per month for gas and $300 per month for everything else. I came pretty close in September, but didn't quite make it. It's hard to live on $10 a day and still have amazing fun with people and feed yourself. I'm going to try and find a little paid work in my homeland, Michigan, this month. Still trying to decide if I should just get a normal job and quit in an abnormally short amount of time, or be honest with folks upfront at the risk of not being hired for anything. Meanwhile, I'm all over Craigslist looking for general labor stuff like raking leaves for old people.

Love: The Vantasy is a celibate trip. I don't want to hump my way across the US, and honestly this trip was about being alone with Eva. I've learned since my divorce that I've been really bad at being single. I want a mate so badly, but I need to be okay with flying solo. I need to love being alone. When this trip is over, I will be able to enter into a relationship confidently, and not because I need the company. My head will be clear, and hopefully clutter-free. Until then, I get all my cuddles from Ralgh, and I kiss him all over his face every day. Lucky dog!

Journey: I wake up every day and decide where to go, or if I want to stay. I have difficulty sticking to any plans beyond today. I listen to my gut. If it says "time to go," I lock down Vanta C, pick a place on the map, and drive there. I take side roads and avoid interstates if I can. Usually I don't drive for more than three hours in any given day. I meander across the country freely. It's an amazing thing to be able to this in my own time. Lucky me!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You should add "Blue Highways: A Journey into America" by William Least Heat Moon to your road trip reading. His trip sounds a lot like yours.

BTW, you write well. You might be onsomeone elses list some day.