I have been sick for a week and have barely managed to function at the most basic level. The van is piled high with crap I haven’t had the energy to move. And I haven’t done one lick of work since last week toward keeping my promises to the dozens of generous people who contributed to the Save LaVanne fund.

I’d gotten a good running start, but at the first sign of a sore throat, I promptly covered my head under the sleeping bag and called in sick. Literally. I had agreed to appear on Kat Sturtz’s Fast Action Friday call-in today to answer questions about following your dreams, but I postponed it yesterday because I honestly couldn’t talk.

Well, part of following your dreams is dealing with the shit the comes with them. Because nothing is perfect.

I have come to the conclusion that LaVanne is too small to live in, at least in ‘stealth’ camping mode, when you don’t want people to know you’re actually living in there. When I can afford it I will upgrade but in the meantime, I need to make adjustments. This life is all about making adjustments, and I usually enjoy the creativity involved. Not so much this past week.

This constant game of musical chairs has worn thin.

van interior

Inside LaVanne, after clearing a path to the driver’s seat. Note the side door is now blocked.

Several times a day I need to move half a dozen items, large and small, to get to the one I want, and then put them all back again or risk never being able to find anything.

Every outing requires much planning, rearranging, and rechecking. For instance, I’m getting hungry so I want to go to the co-op and find something to eat. To do so, I need to do my morning get-dressed routine, brush my teeth, pack up any trash that needs taking out, prepare my pee-dumping kit (a large, covered, plastic pitcher hidden inside an attractive shopping bag), move items that block my path to the door, put down a grocery bag so I can put on my shoes without getting the floor of the van dirty, put on my hat and sunglasses (which I never lose any more, thanks to my A Place For Everything And Everything In Its Place policy), open the door, close it before anyone can see what’s inside, and walk away.

Or I could just tear open a granola bar. Cheaper, and saves me a lot of hassle. But eventually, I will have to deal with the pee-dumping issue or buy some more granola bars, which will entail all of the above hassle.

To move to a cool, shady parking spot for the few hours that it’s shaded (the sun keeps moving, remember), is like tearing down and setting up camp again. I have to remove privacy window covers from the back and sides (so I can see and don’t run over innocent pedestrians or their dogs), secure anything that might fall or spill, move the cooler out from between the driver’s and passenger’s seat so I can slip in that way instead of having to put on my shoes (and hat, because my hair is a disaster these days) and go around from the outside, but first make room in my 25 square feet of living space for the cooler because there is always something in the way… and so on.

I think you’re starting to get the picture.

All of these things were only mildly annoying until I got sick. Now, I am fed up. When I’m able to spread out, unpack my kitchen and cook, have a tarp awning against the hot sun, live openly as a vandweller, and explore nature, I love it. But in WalMart (and other) parking lots where people come and go, and lights shine in my eyes at night, and I never know what others are observing, my OCD tendencies and paranoia about being noticed come to the fore.

My ‘tailgate kitchen’ is a great idea for boondocking out in the wild but when I’m traveling and stopping in cities, I can’t use it. The space above the drawers (pantry), counter (camp stove), and water jugs is too valuable to waste. So it’s jammed with all the stuff that I normally unload and use in a camping situation: my shower tent, two tarps, a couple of poles to hold up my awning, my folded-up laundry rack, blankets and towels, laundry bag, and a small tub full of tools (rebar stakes, mallet, bungee cords). I can’t even get at the water jugs or my stove and pantry to cook healthy food, so I wind up taking the easy route and eating fast food.

While I’ve been sick, I’ve mostly been parked next to an organic co-op, thank goodness. And my friend Silvianne has been a lifesaver, bringing me Cream of Wheat and hot water for tea. I couldn’t have made tea or breakfast myself, even in the best of health.

I made this choice to have the kitchen in the back when I set up LaVanne because I was concerned about fumes and fire danger from the stove. There is no way I’m going to cook inside the van. The tailgate kitchen idea was the solution to that, and it works great when I’m boondocking (camping off-grid). I look forward to it again when I start camp-hosting near Mammoth Lakes, CA in less than two weeks.

The shower situation is not nearly as easy as I thought it would be. In areas like Quartzsite that cater to RVers, a few dollars will buy you a nice hot shower at the laundromat whenever you want. Same goes if you’re travelling on or camping near a freeway. Those big truck stops offer paid showers too. The rest of the time, you’re out of luck.

If you’re boondocking you can, like me, buy a shower tent, a garden sprayer, and a bucket. It might be a little chilly at times, but you can clean up. (The idea here is to move up and down in elevation so your days are comfortable.) But if you’re in a city or with no big truck stop nearby, what do you do? Daily sponge baths with baby wipes are great, but how do you wash your hair? This is what hats are for, but after a week of sweating out a virus, my hair is too revolting to even touch now. I may just wash it in the co-op’s ladies’ room sink.

Which brings up my horror of being mistaken for a homeless person, a discussion I shall leave for another post.

So, my week of being sick as a dog (thus losing a week to explore Santa Fe and Taos*, a real disappointment) has been a good time to reflect on what works and what doesn’t, and to think about adjustments.

As convenient and tempting as it is to find the nearest WalMart and pull in for the night when I’m traveling, it’s not a good long-term choice. I do want to visit friends, and most of them live in cities, but I need to find a better way to travel — perhaps like Bob and Judy are doing now, as they hopscotch to Alaska in the most incredible spots.

It takes more planning and preparation, but it’s worth aiming for.

And now, back to work on those books I promised!

[Edited to add:] Screw it. I know what the problem is: Better organization and less stuff. Time to downsize again. *sigh*

* Don’t worry, I still have a few days to explore Santa Fe and Taos now that health has returned, before I need to hit the road again.

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Showing 9 comments
  • Kat Sturtz

    LaVonne, know what I love best about you and this journey you’re on? The moments of pure, unadulterated honesty you share in posts like this, which are full of soul-bearing struggle and insight and determined … in time “I’ll figure this out better.”

    You are living and taking action. Sometimes the steps are backward … but oh, so many, have been forward with each one shining light on the path ahead.

    Proud of you.

    PS. I also love the posts full of photos,fun, happy and let-me-introduce-this-awesome-person-I-just-met and come-on-along-while-I-show-you-what-it’s-like-here. 🙂

    • LaVonne Ellis

      Thank you, Kat — that means a lot. We’ll get back to the fun posts full of photos and awesome people and places soon. 🙂

  • Lois

    LaVonne, I’m so sorry you’ve been sick. I know first hand what that’s like and I, too, seriously considered changing my living situation as a result. Granted, I live in 65 square feet with a tow vehicle that I call “my garage” because that’s where my tools live, but being sick for an entire month a year ago March, on my own (no one to bring me tea or breakfast – you are indeed blessed!), trying to take care of my senior Golden Retriever, brought me to my knees. My finances didn’t allow me to change my set-up so I’ve stayed with the tiny trailer and tow vehicle. It’s very un-stealthy, and while I often find myself wishing I had a van like yours so I could park on a city street and blend in, you have allowed to me see the magnitude of my space and once again, I realize how incredibly blessed I am to have what I have.

    My daily routine is very similar to yours (I have a pee-bucket and I bathe instead of shower every day, popping in once a week for a real shower at a truck stop), and while I hate doing it on some days, I also know I can change the view outside my door at any time, and for that, I’m grateful!

    Be well, my also-on-the-road friend – I wish good health for you!!

    — Lois

  • LaVonne Ellis

    Hi Lois, there is a lot I love about living in a van this small, and being not-obvious is one of them. Relatively good gas mileage is another. But the frustration of musical chairs in here is good motivation to downsize more. There is definitely stuff in here that I don’t need!

  • Lynn

    I am sure being sick for a week can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Once you are back to your old self, those annoyances won’t seem so bad. It will be easier once you are settled being a camp host and can group.

    • LaVonne Ellis

      Thanks, Lynn. Getting closer to ‘normal’ every day. I was hoping that being active for a couple of weeks at the same altitude as the campground would make digging in to the job a lot easier. But I feel like I’ve lost whatever I gained the first week I was here. I am completely exhausted and breathless just from walking into a store, buying something, and walking SLOWLY back to the van. 🙁

  • Al Christensen

    We become more conscious of daily routine when living in a vehicle instead of a building. Like you wrote, things need to be moved or dug out, or put away, or somehow disposed of in order to do what used to be mindless things. Just brushing teeth or changing a shirt become projects. Maybe every budding van dweller, as he’s putting together his mobile home, should spend a day or two in it pretending to be ill, stuck in the van, with limited inclination or ability to move, and with much greater than usual need to use the toilet. How would that change things?

    I wish you the best.

    • LaVonne Ellis

      That’s an excellent idea, Al. I guess I should count myself lucky that I didn’t have digestive problems, lol.

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