The month before I left was a whirlwind of preparations for this trip. I focused on getting my house ready to be rented, thinking I would get to organizing and packing the van well in advance of my departure on August 1. I was also still teaching summer school to earn enough money to pay for some more expensive things for the trip and to pay off bills so I could leave debt-free, so the time to start packing just kept getting pushed out to the future. Wanda was a small van- how could it take that long?!
About a week before leaving, Max arrived to help out, as he was going to join me for the first leg of the trip- meeting my friend Kathy to watch the solar eclipse in Wyoming. One of his jobs was to hook up the solar panel to an auxiliary battery and install an inverter so I could bring along my Vitamix blender for my green smoothie breakfast. I really thought he should have talked me out of it, but instead he took it as a challenge for his scientific/mechanical mind to figure out. After doing extensive research he discovered the Vitamix has a certain sine pattern that most inverters won’t work with, so he wanted to have some trial and error time to make sure the system he designed would be successful. While he worked on the electrical preparations, I continued getting my house packed up and cleaned.
Finally, August 1 arrived and it was time to hit the road. I was still packing and moving out of my house and had set aside an area in my shop for things that were to go into Wanda. It was piled high with items I wanted to take with me (first aid kit, art supplies, guitar and song books, a few reading books and travel guides, bedding for sleeping outside, bedding for sleeping in the van, tools and extra parts, clothes for the warmer part of the year, camping gear- chairs and a folding table, and all the dried food from my cupboards that would fit, plus a fridge full of perishable food- and, of course, my Vitamix), and I began to wonder how the heck it was all going to fit. I left a lot of things in that pile behind- some intentional, and some not (like my prescription sunglasses and night guard for my teeth), but we pulled out of the driveway around 8:30 pm with the floor, seats, and back of the van piled high with things we thought we had to bring. I was already bleary-eyed from lack of sleep over the previous two weeks, but seeing the mound of stuff we’d have to wade through to find anything we might need made my stomach sink as we backed Wanda out of my driveway.
The first couple of weeks of camping were all about re-organizing the van. It was a job only I could do and I found it easiest to think of every space in the van to have a label so I would be able to find things when I wanted them. I called the larger cabinet under the rotating table the pantry and it held most of the dry foods and bags for food storage. The smaller cabinet next to it is where I put first aid supplies, guide books, candles, an umbrella, and supplies for Riley. The long closet holds coats and pillows when we’re not using them, and dog food, but also is a nice place to stash beer. The Westy fridge became storage for cooking items that get repeated use (oils and some seasonings, garlic, tea and coffee) and some things that wouldn’t like getting too warm.
The shelf above the stove is my new tea drawer (Kira helped me choose seven out of the more than thirty I had at home- but I only have room for three boxes on my shelf!). The little cupboard in the back by the bed is a good place for towels, bedding, and TP, but also has become the wine cellar.
The garage is under the seat where I put all my tools, oil, jumper cables, spare parts, rope, folding shovel and collapsable water container.
Food is a challenge in a small space, especially when you want to shop less than once a week! Because the Westy fridge is so tiny it didn’t seem worth keeping cold, Max found an Engel portable fridge to hook up to the auxiliary battery (charged by the solar panel when camping or the
engine when driving). It’s still on the small side, and there are no shelves- just one deep basket so food has to be stacked, but it also makes a nice seat and food prep surface- having multiple uses for things is a true bonus (one of the principles I learned in my permaculture classes). I love the irony of keeping food cold by utilizing the energy of the sun! It works so well that I keep meats on the bottom and they often come out slightly frozen. It’s not quite big enough for keeping a weeks’ worth of food cold, so we keep a smaller cooler with some of the hardier veggies and put a damp towel on top so the evaporation keeps it
somewhat cool. I also discovered that many fruits and veggies do quite well without refrigeration (zucchini, cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and onions), so I put those in a woven net that suspends from the bars that lift Wanda’s pop-top. I have a separate little tub for my favorite spices and herbs and keep a grocery bag of snack foods in between the front seats. Since we were going canoe camping at the beginning of the trip, I also brought a tub for storing more dried foods and I store that under the van when camping to make more floor space.
It still amazes me that the floor is mostly free of stuff when we’re camping, and I can actually find most things I’m looking for! I’m learning what things I really need, and what things I wish I’d brought less of. Like clothes. I tend to wear my favorites over and over, so the big duffle bag full of so many choices for a variety of activities has mostly gone untouched. I brought quite a few books which I may get to reading at some point, but so far I haven’t read much at all. I prefer to be exploring when it’s light out and at night I’m too tired or too cold to read for long. I have, however, really enjoyed getting back into playing my guitar, and Max and I have been learning some songs together!
Going from a 1300 square foot home to a 90 square foot van could be a daunting task, but really I’m finding it quite liberating. I certainly don’t find myself sitting around thinking of things I miss from my home- well, the hot tub to soak in each night would be nice, but I’m planning to find some camp sites with natural hot springs in the future! I seem to be getting along fine without my prescription sunglasses, and I discovered that wadding a little piece of paper towel to hold between my back molars is doing a fine job of keeping me from grinding my teeth when I sleep. I believe intentionally living a simpler life will lead to more inspirations to make do without some of the things our media tries to convince us we must have. Thinking back on my trips back and forth from my house to the sidewalk in front: leaving items for my neighbors to take home, letting go, and feeling lighter each time I turned my back and walked away from my stuff.