Winter is here, and I’m not dead yet. If you read my first post on Living in a Van, ‘The (Un)Examined Life’ you will have had a brief insight into my adventures with living in my van, The Mothership.
Part 2 explores some more, somewhat brutal revelations I’ve had since shifting my existence into 20 square feet of space, and looks at some of the philosophies as why I chose to do so.
So the last couple of months has been eye-opening with regards to that little force we ALL take for granted….Electricity.
My main vehicle battery has decided to pack in, along with some super-sketchy electrics; old wiring connections behind the dashboard led to the engine shorting out mid-motorway drive recently… Freezing cold. Pitch black. 18 wheeler Artic trucks racing past me so fast, the whole van shook violently like a ship about to get wrecked on rocks of civilization.
I thought the problem was due to an empty fuel tank. I got my anti-panic hat on, rummaged for my head torch already on ‘red-light, battery low’ mode and tried my best to be manly. “Think Rationally” I told myself.
Seconds later, I’ve ejected the cockpit with two 5 litre empty water bottles in hand, waltzing down the motorway, trying not to become the next slab of roadkill as I wander in a vague direction I believe to be the next petro-chemical sanctuary.
3 miles later and I’ve not been arrested. I get to the gas station, and miraculously, they let me fill these two illegal containers full of fuel. And then I get a phone call. I have 3% battery, and most conversations take about 15% on a good day. It’s the Highways Agency. They saw my note I left in the cockpit, and were wondering what the hell I was doing abandoning a vehicle on a busy motorway. Some quick thinking and suave conversational semantics later, they’re picking me up and driving me the 3 miles back to my van, fuel in hand. Things were looking up.
“If it wasn’t for the note you’d left, we would have towed that van and you would have had to pay a hefty fine and fee to get it back,” they said, partly stunned at my audacious abandonment.
After quite the treasure hunt, and filling the gas tank with my rogue gasoline stash, the van still didn’t go. Bollocks. What to do?
With my last bit of cellular juice, I phoned the breakdown recovery. Ironically, just after I hung up, I had summoned enough personal chi to have a lightbulb moment of my own; the Electrics.
I whipped out my counterfeit Leatherman, a stocking filler from years ago, and started to furiously dismantle the dashboard. I looked away as my hands entered the spaghetti massacre of cables, and like a pirate surgeon, wrenched at the wires until I felt life. With one lucky tug and a churn of the ignition, The Mothership spat and swore as she coughed into action. “It’s alive!!” I screamed, “It’s ALIIVVVE!” just like the scene from Ace Ventura.
Balancing the wires in a position that meant momentum, I somehow managed to drive my last ten miles one handed, whilst calling to cancel the recovery, realising that indeed, the 1979 electrical intestine network of my machine, was due to expire any minute.
Parked at a friend’s farm for two weeks, a collective of us banded together to solve the conundrum; one loose connection amongst thousands. Result.
Since that escapade, I have not been able to even charge my own telephone (it has a shit battery of its own) because the power it requires from the van battery to go from zero-to-hero means that I can’t even start my own vehicle. Connectivity to the cyber-world or a perma-docked Mothership in the arse-end of nowhere?
It’s at these moments when you realise just why people pay for 240 volt, on-demand power sources. Convenience. Believe me, a socket has now become a novel object in my life. But do I feel like I too, need to return to the grid and have my electrical security? No. I don’t think I do. Maybe the answer is a not yet, maybe a not ever. I’m not sure.
As a solution to these Power Downs, I’ve heard from friends that a double leisure battery and solar panel set-up would provide enough power for what I require day-to-day. That is, however, a cash investment that will have to wait.
So, winter is here, and I pretty much live in a fridge. I have managed to get my in-built gas heater going, but to call it a heater is a little over-enthusiastic. It fires, but really only emits enough warmth into a cubic foot of space, which might, if you’re lucky, dry a damp sock. Meanwhile, the rest of the cab suits better as butchery storage, even leaving your clothes out reduces their temperature to a little above frozen; quite the shock when getting dressed in the morning. Lately I’ve discovered that if I rub the garments together furiously, I not only get a little warmer, but I manage to take the chill out of the threads just enough to not make my first words of the day blasphemous.
This might all sound like a horrendous hassle to someone who has had access to a warm shelter for most of their life, but still I feel it’s a valuable thermal roller-coaster to ride.
I’ve never been a fan of the cold, ever. My ruling planet is the Sun for crying out loud. I don’t even seem to start performing within my physical potential unless my matrix is heated to 28 degrees or more.
Yet going through these lessons of climatic is teaching me something. I have found that what you experience as cold, is relative.
To test this, let me explain what it’s like to get into bed when you’re naked and sleep in a walk-in fridge; I unzip my sleeping bag so it’s ready to leap into, before having a max. threshold of about 5 seconds to get my kit off and get zipped-in, before my core temperature hits critical. Upon making the move, the sleeping bag material is so cold, it’s very comparable to jumping into an icy plunge pool. Once in, I furiously kick my legs, wriggle and swear a little as I put on my hat – 5 seconds later the bag does its job of reflecting my body heat enough to outweigh the trauma. It’s quite the rush.
However, I wanted to push my cold tolerance a little further so that bed time was more bearable. A few days ago, my best friend and I, influenced by the amazing Wim ‘The Iceman’ Hoff, decided to go swimming in the ocean for as long as we could manage, mid-November. The theory being that the water temperature would be so brutal that it would make getting into bed seem pleasant…
Here’s the video of the seasonal saline dunk;
As you can probably tell, the experience was very intense, physically, mentally and emotionally, but amazing, too. Most prominent was the supreme burning sensation I felt around my lower core region once I’d exited the sea. It was like my body went into overdrive to ensure that blood flow could return my body’s temperature to normal.
Getting into bed that night seemed like nothing in comparison. Mission accomplished.
The target now is to install a woodburner into my van, but again, estimated at around £300 to have built and installed safely, it’s yet another important, yet postpone-able cash investment. For now, I have a job over the winter which will allow me to be inside and have access to hot showers and boiling water so that I can fill a couple of hot water bottles. For the record, I have only spent a total of perhaps 5 hours in the van when it is at peak coldness and with no partner to share body heat with. It’s very emotionally draining for me to try and function normally when in a fridge-like environment, and if you don’t have something really mentally occupying to do (reading is not a strong enough distraction!) then it’s only a matter of time before you go nuts. Central heating is yet another novelty in my life, and I also am beginning to see why humans pay bills to keep warm. But I’m not bailing yet!
Philosophies: Why Van Life?
From what I can gather, Mass Civilization came about from the need to eat, and more recently, the need of Industries to have a workforce near by. If you’re not nomadic, you’re farming. And if you’re not farming, you’re buying from a farmer, or more recently, a shop of sorts. And if you’re buying, you’re earning. And if you’re earning, you’re working. And if you’re working, then you’re probably living nearby, in a nice convenient cube called a house.
So what if you don’t want to be included in said Industries? What if Mass Civilization just doesn’t get you off?
What if you don’t care to have a 9-5 job in some shitty, dim-lit office, just to have access to a paycheck, a flushing toilet and plug sockets?
Well, then you start to look at some alternatives, such as Van Life.
By the way, Mass Civilization, in my opinion, is working JUST as it was designed to. It serves its purposes. It might not be the best solutions for the planet, mental health or interpersonal relationships perhaps, but it suits Capitalistic Industries just fine. Whether you want to be an integral part of that, however, I believe is up to you, which is awesome.
As I mentioned in Part 1, I was living in London, the Great Mythopolis, for about 3 months prior to beginning Van Life. I had moved there to begin an audacious self-experiment of seeing if I could fund my lifestyle, with my lifestyle; slacklining. And I did. I guess for those 3 months, you could say I obtained successful results from my experiment. However, what began to happen was that my lifestyle was being bastardized by the very matrix that was paying for it. I only had enough money to make rent and food payments, perhaps with a little left over to spend on beer in order to temporarily forget my lifestyle was being morphed without my conscious consent. I was keeping my head out of the financial waters, but only just. And it wasn’t a stress-free lifestyle that I once had. I was up against such financial obstacles in order to progress my business further, that I really started to ask questions whether or not London was the most productive place to be.
I moved there because my probability matrix was 11 million people: if 15 of those took lessons from me a month, I could stay alive. That worked out eventually, but I really was just staying alive, and began to wonder what the point of it all was.
Be careful making your passion your work, because it can end up to be just that… work.
Living in London with my values, outlooks and dreams, was really not efficient if nothing else. If I wanted to stroll the mythical ‘Career Path’ then it would be a brilliant location.
But I don’t. I came to realise that although I love to share information, teaching people how to balance on a slackline is not my sole life’s purpose. It’s more of a condiment to the flavour of my life. Making it my only source of income and energy expenditure was not working, especially from a post-industrial, 18 square foot citylife shoebox. Not to mention living with a psychopath.
So what is it about cities that draws so many people to the industrial-sized, money honey pots? If so many people are there, it must be the place to be, right? If Van Life really was the shit, everyone would be doing it, right?
I think some of the reasons people move to cities is because cities are, in many ways, secure. You can essentially have easy access to money (of varying amounts, however) which will allow you, more or less, to survive.
But, what is often not so obvious, is the sacrifice that it takes in order to obtain this money. For me, my own time is more valuable to me than my money.
To sell my time to someone else at a fixed rate, repeatedly, in order to earn them more money than me, yet believing it to bring me fulfillment, literally defines insanity.
I think that’s a really inefficient way of using time, and thus I don’t buy into the Mass Civilized model.
Although mythical, I think the Career Path within citylife is somewhat pencilled out. There is a pattern you can follow to get from no-one to someone, which is attractive, but requires that you’re happy to follow, which as population figures would suggest, most people on the planet are up for following the money.
But what about those who want to lead? To explore? To discover? To do so in a city environment, I found, took a lot of financial capital, which I did not have the desire to obtain if it meant sacrificing my time in vast amounts. Where as, if I leave the matrix of a city, I can still do all those things even with very little financial capital, and still be the owner of my time.
What’s interesting now, is that I am in a position where I can make the system of Mass Civilisation work for me. I can drive along its roads. I can teach its peoples. I can access and leave its gates, dipping in as I see fit. I’m no longer chained to its foot and required to be a member. I’m also in direct contact with my environment, wherever I am. That’s a subtle but powerful point, and I feel that many houses are designed to be just the opposite, a detachment from the surrounding environment. Van Life forces you to take note what is happening out there in Nature, what the season is, what the clouds are saying and where you fit into all of that.
And I love it. It’s daunting, and quite vast outside the city gates, but I still love it.
I’m a wanderer, and my blood flows like roads, albeit if they lead to nowhere.
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