I (Dave) have joined Nick and Dan for three and a half months of climbing! For the last 5 years, a road trip around the United States has been a big goal of mine. Recent grad school acceptance has led me to resigning from my job and joining Nick and Dan under pretty short notice – It’s an awesome opportunity to be able to join the "Choss Boys" after they planned such an amazing trip!
Living in the "Chossmobile" (a 1985 Dodge Ram Get-Away Van) is more comfortable than I initially expected, but not without its quirks – here are a few stray observations from the first couple weeks on the road.
Abstemious: “not self-indulgent, especially when eating and drinking”
This word was thrown around a lot in the first few days living in the van. Nick and Dan had set a goal of spending $15 CAD on food a day - quite different from my recent habit of eating out many times a week. I have decided to try play by this rule because it tends to push us towards healthier meals, and will probably prepare me for better budgeting later on in life. So far we certainly haven’t been going hungry and have made some excellent, cheap meals. Daniel called me a “Hedonist” for buying things as frivolous as milk and cantaloupe on a recent grocery run - I hope can suppress these habits so as to not taint the Choss Boys strict food ethics...
The van has an icebox, not an electric refrigerator. To eliminate ice costs of $3 a day, perishable food is only bought when it will be consumed immediately and not much meat is eaten. Recent meals include Avocado Bean Tacos, Curried Lentil Soup, Pancakes, Omelettes, improvised veggie-bean-grain concoctions and cans of Stagg Chili when supplies and motivation to cook are running low.
The first few days of the trip were spent at Daniel’s Uncle’s ranch in Blackie, Alberta, examining some small issues with the van battery and building a second bed for the van. We settled on using plywood with a 2x4 support structure. The structure initially envisioned using ropes to hold the support in place, but after a few days of use this devolved into using pillows and a guitar case as load-bearing members to decrease setup time. But hey, it stays up!
Finding a place to park the van for the night is easier than I envisioned – it seems that you can park just about anywhere along the highway and sleep without issue. Grocery store parking lots, Wal-mart’s, Gas stations and gravel pulloffs are all fair game. We have not been disturbed yet, however we have only stayed in Washington and Oregon so far. It may prove more challenging elsewhere.
The van beds are unconventional but comfortable (though I can’t speak for Daniel), with everyone sleeping diagonally as the beds are a bit shorter than most people. Putting up the bed takes about 10 minutes, but procrastination of putting up the bed has been known to last up to 2 hours…
I avoided driving the Chossmobile for a few days until the last four hour stretch before Leavenworth, Washington. At this point I realized I needed to confront the fear and drive the thing. I discovered that driving the Chossmobile is a far more engaging experience than most vehicles – no need to worry about falling asleep at the wheel as its many quirks keeps one alert and focused.
Nick likened the van’s steering to “Those movies from the 50’s, when the windshield is clearly a green screen and the driver’s hands are constantly moving back and forth”. One needs to turn the wheel about 20 degrees before any change in steering happens, so the driver’s hands are constantly moving in an exaggerated fashion to keep the van going in a straight line.
One doesn’t need to worry about speeding tickets on American highways – the speed limit is often 70 MPH on winding, narrow roads. The chossmobile tops out at about 70 km/h on long hills, one has to just accept the tail of cars behind and let people pass graciously when possible. Wind affects the van more than most vehicles, and the driver’s ever-present fear keeps the brake pedal down on long stretches down winding hills.
The braking requires about 10 times as much force as other cars I have driven. Daniel has developed an innovative technique for more sudden stops involving standing on the brake pedal with both feet – this was employed when two deer suddenly darted across the road in Idaho, to great effect.
The van must be kept tidy and organized for space considerations, but more importantly so stuff doesn’t go flying when the van starts to move. Bananas are held in place with 10 kN accessory cord, and the kettle hangs from a (locked) carabiner above the stove. Occasionally, after starting to drive on a particularly groggy morning one will hear the loud crash of some unconstrained article flying off the counter. We will eventually get better at this…
Overall, van life seems pretty comfortable and it’s a welcome surprise to be able to live on little money and climb all the time. Looking forward to the next few months!
We are Daniel, David & Nick
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