Tag Archives: ice

Why I’m Not Going Back Up That Mountain

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A hand holds the book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods
My book

It was a good run. I worked four seasons on that mountain, a total of 18 months. My first two seasons I was a camp host and a parking lot attendant. (See my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods for a collection of humorous essays I wrote about my experiences during that time.) The second two seasons I worked at a campground store.

The short answer to why I’m not going back up the mountain comes down to ice. I got tired of making 25 mile round trips to buy overpriced ice. There were two general stores on the mountain that sold ice. One sold eight pound sacks for $3.69, and the other one sold seven pound sacks for $4. Halfway down the mountain a general store sold 10 pounds sacks of ice for $3. In civilization I could get a seven pound sack for 99 cents.

I understand why I had to pay more for ice I bought on top of the mountain. That ice had to be trucked up there. The stores had to pay for the ice, pay to have it transported, and still make a profit. The stores also had to pay for electricity to keep the ice frozen. Believe me, I get it. I think I could have stomached the high prices on ice if I hadn’t had to drive so dang far to get it. Twenty-five miles for a bag of ice is just too far! After I paid for gas and wear and tear on my van and wasted so much of my time (driving 25 mountain miles took about 45 minutes), I shudder to think how much those sacks of ice were really costing me.

You might suggest I do without ice. Sometimes I did, but I love drinking very cold water. If my water’s not cold, I don’t drink enough. Also, ice in a cooler was my only form of refrigeration. When all the ice in the cooler melted, my food (eggs, cheese, produce) was at risk of spoiling; that would have been another waste of money.

A road between trees curves twice.
Driving those mountain miles

Being so far from civilization was a bigger part of the picture of why I’m not going back. I was 60 miles (again, mountain miles) from the nearest Target, Wal-Mart, or supermarket. My third and fourth seasons up there I could access the internet at the store where I worked, so technically I could shop online, but the post office where I picked up my mail was a 25-mile (you guess it, mountain miles) round trip from the campground where I stayed.

Having internet access at the Mercantile did help me stay in touch with friends and family. However, it didn’t help me much when it came to keeping up with my blog. I could only work inside the Mercantile when it was closed. If I wanted to work on my blog on my day off during the eight hours the store was open, I either had to sit on the deck in front of the store in full sun or in my van. Almost every time I tried to work in my van or on the deck, one or more of my coworkers came over to talk to me, usually to complain. What’s a writer to do? The only thing I could think to do was go down to the valley where nobody knew me.

There was a coin laundry on the mountain. It was 25 (mountain) miles away and consisted of one washer and one dryer. I could have gone there to do my laundry. Considering that each week I typically had a load of work clothes and a load of other clothes, it would have taken me a minimum of 1 and 1/2 hours to wash and dry my clothes, plus about 1 and 1/2 hours making the round-trip drive. If I had been doing The Man’s laundry too or if the two of us had been doing our laundry at the same place on the same day, it would have taken five hours, including driving time.

A carved wooden bear holds a welcome sign. It and a wooden chair sit on a wooden deck in front of a yurt.
The front porch of the Mercantile with no shade

Shall I go on? (Feel free to stop reading here if you’ve had enough of my whining.)

My first season working in the Mercantile I decided I liked working there more than I liked working as a camp host and parking lot attendant. The next season I wished I wasn’t working in the store. More of the questions I got in the store seemed substantially dumber than the ones I fielded in the parking lot and campground. People let their children run amuck in the Mercantile and expected me and the other clerks to babysit them. The temperature in the Mercantile rose to over 90 degrees if we weren’t able to use the swamp cooler. Last summer we had a lot of problems with the solar panels and batteries and the generator that powered the store; on many days we had no power to run the swamp cooler. I was overheated a lot last summer and would often stand outside and pour water over my head and neck to try to cool off. If I were working a retail job in civilization, at least I’d be in an air conditioned environment.

The prices of everything in California are freakin’ high. The prices of everything–gas, food, propane, water, (legal) recreational marijuana, auto repairs, tires, other consumer goods, and the taxes on everything–are higher than in Arizona or New Mexico. Yes, minimum wage is high in California, but companies raised their prices to cover the increased expenses when they had to start paying their employees more. (You didn’t think the shareholders were going to take a hit when companies were required to raise wages?)

Looking up the trunk of a giant sequoia to see the top.
A giant sequoia because we could all stand to think about a big tree right now

In the end, I barely broke even while working in California. I managed to save a little money, but not nearly as much as I hoped.

I figure if I’m going to work retail, I can get a job as a cashier in a supermarket or even a Dollar General and at least spend my work shifts in air conditioned comfort. I figure I can go to a tourist town in some state where prices are less than they are in California and not have to spend so much of my wages on survival. I figure I can find a way to live in my van or find a long-term house sitting gig in a town where I can walk or take public transit to the library or a coffee shop when I need to work on my blog.

Four years was a good run, but I think it’s time to try something new.

I took all of the photos in this post.

10 More Items to Make Your Van Life More Comfortable

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Like I said in my post “The Rubber Tramp Artist’s Ten Essential Items for Vandwelling,” you don’t need to get a bunch of fancy stuff before you start your van life. Just get a van, start sleeping in it and voilà!—you’re vandwelling.

However, if you do have the money and the inclination to get things to make yourself more comfortable, here are ten more items that enhance the quality of my van life.

#1 I love to drink cold water. When I’m in civilization, I fill my water bottle with ice whenever I fill my gas tank at a convenience store or eat at a fast food restaurant. In the past, I drank the ice melt from the ice containers in my cooler, but a lot of cold air escaped from the cooler when I reached in and rummaged around for the ice containers Last fall I bought an Igloo 5 gallon cooler with a dispenser. I put in a bag of ice (no problem with such a wide opening on top) and three or four gallons of water (the cooler fits in a Glacier water dispenser), and I can drink cold (or at least cool!) water for days. When the water gets too warm for my taste, I just add more ice. Easy!

#2 When I’m boondocking, I have to bring enough water with me for all my washing and drinking needs.  There are two kinds of jugs I like for storing water.

The first is the Reliance Aqua-tainer BPA free 7-gallon jug with a spout. While seven gallons of water (over 55 pounds!) is more than I can carry for more than a few steps, the spout (which can be opened and fully closed) is super convenient for handwashing. It also helps me conserve water because I can dispense the amount I need without spilling excess water on the ground. If I’m traveling alone, I usually put five gallons of water in each jug to make carrying the container manageable.

I also like the American Maid BPA free 3-gallon water jugs with handles. I can totally carry three gallons of water with no problem, so these are my go-to water jugs. They are stackable when they’re empty, saving space on the way to fill them.

#3 I’ve tried a lot of water bottles, but I’ve never found anything else that keeps drinks cold like my Eco Vessel. I’ve kept ice in mine for over 24 hours on more than one occasion (depending of course on the temperature of the liquid I’m adding to the bottle and the temperature of the air outside the bottle). It’s not unusual for me to drink all of the cold water from the bottle, then have to wait hours for the ice to melt into drinkable form. (I solve this problem by filling my Eco Vessel from my 5-gallon Igloo jug as needed.)

My first Eco Vessel was the 750ml Boulder, which I bought at a natural food store on a whim one exceptionally hot summer day. I used it (and loved it!) every day for about two years before upgrading to the 1300ml Big Foot. I still use the smaller bottle for backup. If I fill both bottles with cool water in the morning, I have plenty of cool water to drink during an 8-hour work day on the mountain.

#4 During my first six years vandwelling, I used 1-gallon propane canisters to power my stove and my Mr. Heater. (For a short time, I had a butane stove, and that was before I owned my Mr. Heater, so during that period, I didn’t use any propane at all.) In any case, until I met The Man, I used 1-gallon canisters for my propane needs. Almost from the moment we met, The Man encouraged me to use a large, refillable propane tank. His reasoning was sound: refilling a large tank is more cost effective than buying multiple 1-gallon canisters and keeps a lot of waste out of landfills. Win win!

#5 I’ve used the single-burner style stove that sits on top of a 1-gallon propane canister and found it cumbersome and unstable. Food seemed to take longer to cook on that style of stove too. (I never did a scientific experiment to test the cooking time required on different stoves, so the difference in cooking times could be my imagination.) Also, the single-burner stove didn’t work so well when connected to our large propane tank. I’ve mostly blocked the experience from my memory, but I think there was a puff of fire and unusually  quick thinking on my part when I reached over and turned the knob on the propane tank to CLOSED. In any case, we figured out the single burners are not designed to be used with the large tanks.

For several months before I met The Man, I used a one-burner butane stove. I liked its flat, stable design, but I was awfully unhappy on the occasions when I couldn’t find the necessary butane bottles at the store (including Wal-Mart once). The butane seemed to go faster than the propane in the small green containers, but again, I didn’t do a scientific experiment to test my theory.

These days I use a Coleman two-burner stove connected to a large propane tank. A half-dozen years ago, I tried two different models of Ozark Trail two-burner stoves because they were less expensive than the Coleman stoves available. Both of the Ozark Trail stoves were junk. I was never able to light the cheaper one, and the more expensive one (that I thought would be of better quality) only lit once when I tested it immediately after purchase. Luckily I’d saved the receipts and boxes for both stoves and was able to bring them both back for full refunds. I hope to never again be in a situation where I need a stove and can only afford one made by Ozark Trail.

Several Coleman two-burner stoves I’ve used over the years have been made well and all have worked great. I enjoy the convenience of being able to cook in two pans at once when I’m doing something fancier than my usual one-pan meal. I like the stability of the flat burners and the convenience of being able to fold the whole apparatus for easy transport and storage. Also, I just found out that if the regulator on the stove quits working properly, I can buy a new regulator for around $13, instead of having to spend $40+ on a whole new stove. I love a company that lets me replace parts!

(Read more about my stove experimentation in my post “Cooking While Vandwelling.”)

#6 I like to sleep in the dark, and I like to be surrounded by beauty, so I have colorful curtains to cover my windows.

My side windows in the back of the van are completely blocked with thick foam board my sibling gave me when it was no longer useful in the windows of the family home. Over the foam boards, I put up colorful curtains. At night I hang a cloth shower curtain I got at a Goodwill Clearance Center over the windows in my side doors. The driver’s area of the van is separated from my living space with heat and light-blocking curtains I got at a thrift store. The mismatched curtains give my van an eclectic, free-spirited feel.

#7 I have difficulty sleeping if I’m too hot, but my small, battery operated fan gives me just enough breeze to facilitate my slumber when the nights get warm.  I would like a fan I could run from my 12-volt outlet; such a fan would need a long cord to reach from the front of the van to my bed. Until I find the right fan for the right price, my 8-inch O2Cool brand fan works well enough.

PROTIP: It’s really worth the money to buy Duracell or Energizer batteries to run fans. I learned that while the Sunbeam batteries from Dollar Tree only last one night, the more expensive batteries last at least a week.

#8 Speaking of running things off my van’s 12-volt power outlet, I love my 140 watts Schumacher power converter. It has both a USB port and a good ol’ electrical outlet so I can charge my phone and laptop. If I don‘t need to charge my laptop, I use a smaller USB power adapter. It has two USB ports so I can charge two phones at once. It’s nice to be able to charge my devices even when I’m away from electricity.

NOTE: The small devices have never drained my van’s battery, but the large power converter did once when I charged my laptop several times in day without running the van. If I’m not driving the van, now I only use the power convertor to charge my laptop once in a day.

#9  My foldable 24 Watt solar charger manufactured by 1 by One is a gift I cherish. If I’ve got sun, I can charge my phone.  I haven’t tried to use the solar charger to charge a tablet, but I think it would handle the job. I like that it’s lightweight and folds up small and thin for storage. It’s easy to hang and easy to transport. Love it!

#10 When The Man built my bed, he made sure there was plenty of storage space under the platform. The platform is tall enough to fit large tubs under it. Now that The Man has his own van, I’ve thought about going back to a single bed, but I’d hate to lose my storage area. I’ve decided it’s better to have a roomy double bed (especially since Auntie M gave me a comfortable double mattress she wasn’t using) with room for lots of stuff under it.

Note: I’m endorsing these products because I like them. No one asked me to endorse them. No one paid me to endorse them or gave them to me for free to review. The pictures you see in this post are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on any of those links, you will zip over to Amazon. Anything you put in your cart and buy after clicking on my affiliate link will earn me a small advertising fee at no cost to you.

 

 

 

Leaving the Mountain Again

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I left the mountain this morning. I won’t see it again for at least seven months.

I didn’t sleep well last night. I hardly ever do before a big trip, but last night I was filled with worry. I was wide awake at 4:30 this morning. I went ahead and got out of bed and prepared to roll.

Yesterday was foggy and drizzly at the campground. When I tried to open the doors on my van this morning, I had to give them an extra tug because they were a little bit icy and the ice was holding them extra shut. My windshield was iced over too. As soon as I got the door to the driver’s side open, I started my engine and kicked on the defroster. The ice was melted by the time the van was packed.

The Big Boss Man sent me an email last night and asked me to stop by his trailer before I left this morning, so I did. He wanted to tell me that my name had come up twice at the company meeting he’d just returned from. I was the only non-managerial employee mentioned. Two highers-up in the company said what a great job I did in the mercantile this summer. They really want me to come back next summer, which means The Big  Boss Man really wants me to come back next summer. He said when his employees do a good job, it reflects well on him.

It was still dark as I made my way down the mountain. I got to see the sky gradually lighten until morning broke and the earth was blanketed in a beautiful golden brightness. I stopped in the first little town on my route, gassed up and bought a rather disappointing breakfast burrito. This is what I left behind me:

The highlight of my drive was a forest of Joshua trees. I’d driven through this forest in 2015 and have always regretted that I didn’t stop to take photos. Today I remedied the situation.

Despite my worries of last night, my van and I made it fine to tonight’s destination. I did have to get a jump start in the truck stop parking lot. I drove through one of those safety corridors where drivers are supposed to turn on their headlights. I dutifully turned mine on, but forgot to turn them off. My laundry was almost dry when a man in the Subway portion of the truck stop asked who the van belonged to. When I said it was mine, he said, Your lights are on. Oh no! I rushed outside and turned them off, but it was too late. After folding my clothes and putting them away, making my bed, and tidying the van, I tried to start the engine, but it just wasn’t happening. The nice man parked next to me helped, much to my relief.

I’m very tired, and I can’t wait for the sun to set so I can hunker down at the truck stop and get some much needed sleep. Tomorrow, my adventure continues.

I’m happy to move on to something new, but as always, I’m going to miss those giant sequoias.

I took the first two photos in this post. Photo of me hugging the giant sequoia by The Man.