Friday, January 24, 2014

Twiddling my thumbs: Entertainment in the van.

There have been a few people in the past months that have asked how I keep myself occupied in a cold dark van when I’m not working. While it can be a bit tricky finding entertainment after the sun has dropped behind the horizon it hasn’t been a deal breaker, or really even as much of an issue has I would have guessed before moving into the van. I think that the van has not drastically changed my entertainment patterns beyond the fact that I certainly watch more movies this time of year.
Books are one of my staples, they require no energy, they’ll survive if they get wet/damp, they’re accessible, cheap and varied. One moment I can be on the edge of my sleeping bag with Bilbo riddling away with Gollum, the next evening I can try and put myself in the position of ancient civilizations facing the end of their way of life. And that variety is a pretty nice way to mentally remove one’s self from a cold, dark van. The down side to books is that they tend to take up a fair bit of space, your hands will get cold while reading for extended periods of time and it’s a bummer when they get wrinkly from the damp.

Taking a break from my home entertainment
system and checking on the outside world.
Photo by Kevin Hadfield
Movie watching, like I said, definitely goes through the roof during the winter as it’s easy to put on a DVD on the laptop before falling asleep, especially since a warm computer feels great on my legs. However, the problem with electronics as a whole is that when they become cold their battery life is markedly reduced so you might not get to see Bilbo get eaten by Smaug at the end (I’ll admit I have been on a hobbit kick with the book and movies lately and so you’ll have to forgive the references) and will instead have to wait until it’s warmer or you’ve recharged to finish your movie.

Snow sports require increased motivation and psyche but are not completely unrealistic in the dark. I was saying to a co-worker and friend the other day that about 50% of the time that I say I’m going to get up early or stay out late skinning by myself I actually follow through with those plans. It is without a doubt tricky to get pumped up to walk uphill in the dark by yourself for a few turns before or after a 10 hour work day. So, my recommendation is to find a buddy(s) that will hold you to your commitments and is stoked to go adventuring with you in the cold and dark. I’d say company bumps the plan follow through percentage up to at least 80% if you’ve made definite plans.

Sitting and thinking is a wonderfully time consuming activity that is great for winter down time in the van. I read somewhere that sitting quietly and being present or reflecting is a great way to start and end the day as it can be calming and focusing, both nice for waking up and emptying the ol’ noggin before sleeping. The other nice features of sitting and thinking include: the low energy commitment, you get to say in your warm bed for a few extra minutes, it gives you time to thoroughly plan out the to-do list for your next rest day, you can plan out/day dream about the next trip/adventure that’s on the books, invent new van projects and improvements and meal planning for as far into the future as you want. I have found that hot beverage drinking compliments sitting and thinking nicely and would recommend it to house and van dwellers alike.

Podcasts, boom! They’re awesome, if you have not been exposed to the podcast universe you should. For anyone not familiar with podcasts, they’re basically internet radio programs on a nearly infinite number of subjects that can range from 10 minutes long to 5+ hours long (which I think borders on the audio book). They can be a great way to unwind and have a few laughs or to further your knowledge base on…everything. A few of the podcasts that are on my Ipod that I’ve been enjoying include but are not limited to: 99% Invisible (about architecture and design), Hardcore History, The Enormocast (climbing/interview based content), NPR’s Science Friday, Religion and Ethics and Car Talk. I would highly recommend all of the above for some though provoking topics and a few laughs.

Chris has stickers too! The Enormocast is the place for climbing
related interviews.
Lastly, perhaps the least fun but maybe the most productive form of entertainment can be cleaning and organizing, which might shock those of you that know me well. But, a bit of cleaning obviously reduces clutter and keeps things easily found. It also provides the opportunity to find stuff that you can sell/give away for a little freeganism promotion or you might come across that nifty little doodad that you misplaced and have been looking for for weeks (recently it was a warm hat that fit this description). My favorite part of the van to organize is, in my opinion, my food zone. Oh man, stumbling across some candied ginger or Reeses or some potentially delicious dinner ingredients can take the stoke level off the charts.

If you have the room in your van for it board games and guests
are obviously a great way to spend an evening.
Photo by  Justin Mages

Friday, January 10, 2014

Living in a Van During the Winter Part 2: The Necessities

Whenever people find out that I live in a van I am pretty consistently asked three questions that might vary in construction but have the same gist. 1. Where do you shower? 2. Where do you go to the bathroom? 3. Where do you park? In the winter often a 'Doesn't it get cold?' gets thrown in there pretty regularly also.

#8 Showering is one of the easier questions to field particularly during the winter. Basically, the way I see it is during the winter either you're super hardcore (read: not me) and you have to options: snow baths or no showers, pretty burly either way. Or you shower at friends houses and community centers with a few sink spritz ups to see you through longer shower less periods which is fairly normal van dwelling protocol.

#9 or is it #2...Unless you're living in a real RV chances are you don't have a full blown bathroom in your vehicle unless you've retro fitted your Outback's passenger seat with an after market hole or something of that ilk. And so you are faced with a dilemma, a where and when to do. This van life issue is magnified and really only becomes an issue during the winter, as during the summer in a pinch one can always dig a little cat hole somewhere, step outside at night to relieve that pressure etc. Getting out of one's sleeping bag in the middle of the night is unappealing, forget getting out of your home into knee deep snow to go pee. And so the simple solution that truckers have been using for decades is a simple pee bottle. There has been an ongoing discussion between myself and one of my cousins about the potentially harmful effects of human urine on grass (basing this on the observations of dogs) and I think that if you are emptying your pee bottles on lawns or areas that might be an eye sore it might be worthwhile using grass saver to minimize your impact. Stay tuned in the spring for more on how bottle dumping in a regular location can alter the local ecology.

When the situation in the winter is more dire, particularly after a morning coffee, the best solution I can offer is a real bathroom, whether at a workplace, library, your coffee shop (they started it...) or if you're really hardcore you could invest in wag bags or a poop tube, which is perfect for practicing for climbing your next big wall, El Cap? Baffin? Zion? The poop tube could be a perfect way to transport you to your dream climbing destination while taking care of business.

#10 Heating is a tricky subject. Before the last post I was steadfast in my belief that heaters were for sissys and all you really need is a bit of insulation in the walls, a warm sleeping situation and a "if you're gonna be dumb you gotta be tough" attitude. Now...I'm not so sure as I got kind of sick just before the new year and the more I think about it, the more I've come to realize that it is probably a result of sleeping in -25F and forcing my body to keep itself warm rather than keeping my immune system in tip top shape. So, this past week I have begun using a rather rudimentary heating system while I am sleeping. To be clear this system doesn't keep the van a sweltering 75F. It mostly serves to simply take the sharp edge off the air and I find myself remaining in my down jacket. I've definitely found myself sleeping without waking to a frozen nose in the night and found that I have been slowly getting over this sickness, that's now just a lingering cough rather than pneumonia that my mom thinks it would be otherwise. Don't worry I'll remain a slightly compromised van purist with this heating system, at least until a cold snap like the one on the east coast at the moment, then I'll follow the Weldin Way and get one of these things.

My Improvised heater, terracotta pots are hard to come by but empty paint cans are not and seem to work well.

#11 Hot beverages are one thing that I fully endorse. I'm not bothered if it's tea, coffee, hot chocolate or hot water (believe me, all have been consumed in large quantities in the van) all are equally awesome when it's cold out and your hands are frozen from scraping the inside of your windshield, handling cold clothes etc. And they're good for you even if you don't live in a van, so I encourage you all do take a beverage break, if you're of age I encourage a drop of whiskey or schnapps to spice things up (kids you get to wait until your parents leave their drink unattended for a responsibly sized sip).

On that note I think I'm going to prolong this series (yes, it's a series now) as a result of the number of cups of coffee I've consumed this morning and the fact that my shaking hands are severely compromising my ability to type.

So in the next post I'll cover van life entertainment, how nifty brooms are, reiterate why planning ahead might be helpful (I'm still working on this one myself) and then as per some external inspiration I'll saving food for a grand finale post.

If you're impressed by my use of hyperlinks (a recent discovery) or all the labels, that are like the # things (also a recent discovery) feel free to share my blog with anyone that might like it. If you're unimpressed with any of these things or have feedback/suggestions for me give me a shout!

'Nuff said.