[Thanks to Salomon for supporting Dakota Jones’s column on iRunFar.]
So you want to live in your truck/van/car/mobile-camping vehicle, huh? You want to drive across the country on a budget, seeing all the great natural wonders, exploring new places, and meeting new people. Perhaps you dream of passing your days in movement and your nights half inside and half outside, with the stars over your head and an engine below. You want to sticker up your car with logos from quirky bookstores and climbing-gear brands and the numbers of miles in the races you compete in. You’ll get dirty along the way, but your companions will be dirty too, and you’ll laugh together as you dip into icy creeks and clear mountain lakes to clean off. In the clear, crisp air of morning you’ll explore; in the fading light of evening you’ll play soft acoustic guitar to the bats flying around your campfire, and nobody else will disturb the night for miles. You will write your experiences in a journal, and this will later be a prized possession for you, a reminder of a simpler, wilder time in your life before kids and marriage and Donald Trump became president.
Right now, though, that time is still in the future. You have a whole big life of dirtbagging ahead of you, and you want to do it right. You want to fit in with the bohemians at Indian Creek and Yosemite and Leadville, at the mountains and music festivals where your tribe gathers, so you need to make sure you know what you’re doing before you set out. Keep in mind that you also need to set out with a youthful exuberance in place of most of your common sense, so don’t listen too closely to what I say, or you won’t have as many of those endearing golly-we-should-have-listened-to-that-guy-and-now-the-whole-cab-is-covered-in-coffee-grounds moments. Those are important.
By the way, coffee is one of the most important parts of truck camping. Having coffee and one of those Bialetti things will give you the opportunity to argue fiercely with everyone you encounter about how you are more addicted to coffee than they are, which is an important rite of passage for those on the road. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like coffee much; that’s not the point. The point is being passionate about something you bought from a store. But it can’t just be any store (God forbid you find yourself in a Starbucks…)–you need to make sure to buy from local coffee shops and make sure the packaging is covered in statements about the ethics of the company that made it. If you mess up any of these steps, your trip will be ruined.
If you think that’s complicated, well then you’re right. But it’s worth the effort to adhere to the culture. Because this is culture. This is the culture that you’re looking to experience on your travels. It’s profound and meaningful and heartfelt and all that shit you read about in other peoples’ travel accounts. While we’re on the subject of the things you need to surround yourself with, let me mention beer. Beer is an important component of anyone living the vanlife who is worth their coffee grounds. You must always have beer with you, but not just any beer. It must be local and packaged with artsy, vaguely irreverent designs that remind you life is for the living and that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. Have a beer! they’ll tell you, and you will, because you don’t take yourself too seriously. But if someone shows up with a 30-rack of anything, f*** that. Don’t talk to them. We’re into craft beer here, not that soulless, materialistic, life-draining pisswater that most of the country drinks.
So now you have your coffee and your beer, what are you going to put it in? What are you going to put everything in, including yourself? You need a car/truck/van/mobile-camping vehicle. This is the vehicle that will define your trip and your subsequent experience, so you better make sure you get just the right one. Actually, that’s not true at all. It’s best to start with whatever you have already. Why waste time and money building the perfect setup when you could be having experiences? If you’re reading this, you probably already have a Subaru or small truck anyway, and that’s good enough. Throw in a sleeping pad and a bag of clothes and your climbing gear and some cooking supplies and a cooler full of craft beer and an acoustic guitar and some books and your computer and a few snacks and some mix CDs and your bikes and a dog and, depending on the season, maybe some skis too and all the clothes and extra equipment that that entails and then fill ‘er up with gas and head out on the road! Simple!
Now listen–let’s settle down for a second and recognize that things aren’t always going to be just great. Sometimes you’re going to run out of coffee and not be near a town. After a few days you’ll probably snap while digging through your bags, unable to find anything, and start throwing all your stuff around until you finally manage to surface with your bra or that damn spoon you’ve been looking for since last week and it was in the stupid bed why the hell was it in the damn bed? And where did these f***ing crumbs come from? This is all part of the truck-camping experience and should be blown out of proportion as much as possible. High energy and emotion lead to strong memories, sometimes even to good ones, and memories are what you’re looking for. They are what we collect as a society and which give us value in life, in the same way that fast cars and big houses give us value. You can get competitive about memories–whoever has the most memories of crazy stuff and stories of meaningful moments wins. Don’t ever lose this competition, even if you have to make it all up.
All cards on the table, I just got back from a road trip a lot like this, so I have firsthand experience with this sort of thing. I found on my trip that it’s best not to think about certain things. For example, when I entered any city, I suddenly found myself in traffic. Traffic is the antithesis of freedom, and being part of it (AKA contributing to it) brought up a lot of unwelcome questions about whether or not I was really “breaking the mold” or actually just following a prescribed path of unconventionality. I found that these thoughts were quickly dispelled with ferocious arguments about who needs coffee more right in the moment. There’s also the uncomfortable reality of getting gas. As mountain athletes we have to wonder about our impact on the environment, and few things drive this point home like getting gas every single day, sometimes multiple times. However, this kind of thinking isn’t conducive to the kind of memorable experiences we’re interested in having on the road, so we have an obligation to dispel these thoughts with carefully crafted distractions. “Look,” you can say to your companion, pointing across the street, “a motel! Who stays in those? How mundane.” Later, craft beer will help you forget your guilt.
You gotta’ have some adventures along the way, though, and they won’t all come in the car. Once you arrive at your destination, you’re going to have to go see some stuff. Great ideas for places to see can be found in climbing magazines, running magazines, Backpacker magazine, or Outside. They do a great job of showing you all the last great unspoiled places. And there’s nothing more American than spoiling a great place, so get out there! I personally just ruined Canada for everyone and I wrote a lot about it in my journal. This will make me proud as an old man. What places can you see that haven’t been seen by many other people? The Yukon? The highlands of Mexico? Duluth? The world is yours for the spoiling.
Okay, relax. I’m just kidding. You can go places without ruining them. It’s just that self-deprecation is an important part of the wise traveler’s conversational repertoire, and I’ve been on the road so long that I slip into these habits without thinking. Indeed, by this point they’re less habits and more lifestyles for me, which are totally different, and that’s because I’ve been around, man. I’ve seen some shit. If we had a campfire and a guitar, I would tell you about them. To be honest, the only part of the deal I don’t have these days is a beard, and you can be sure I’m working on it. Every single day. Because that’s the kind of person I am–dedicated, determined, optimistic, um… synergy, all that stuff. And that’s the kind of person you can be too, if you live in your car/truck/van/mobile-camping vehicle. It’s a good life on the road, and that’s what we’re here for. Good lives. Experiences. Memories. Friendships. Adventures. Epic. Buzz words.