Why am I living in a van?

As I sit in the faux leather sofa at my parent’s house, I begin to reflect on why the thing I’m doing seems so rad to me.

As I drive around the country, I spend time with lots of different faces. If time allows, we get to talking about things which don’t come up in everyday discussion. One of the introductory questions which opens Pandora’s box is “why are you doing what you’re doing?” That’s a good question, because it isn’t one that I like answering unless I know I’m going to be sharing a great deal of time with that person. For a question such as that, time is really the only way to explain why I am living the way that I’m living. I don’t tell them why; I show them. I encourage them to be around me long enough to get a sense of understanding about Derrick.

Derrick is a difficult concept for me to describe in words, but I am in a place where I feel like trying. To the passer by, I’m living in a van because I like climbing, which I definitely do. I could spend the rest of my life climbing rocks and find full satisfaction in the journey. There are life lessons which rock climbing can teach a person with an open mind. Look at the countless blogs on the internet where people touch on some philosophical concept that they understood through climbing. Rock climbing teaches me patience. It teaches me simplicity. It teaches me how to believe in myself, whether that means trying for something new or deciding that now isn’t the time to try. It is a constant reminder that the next hold may not be so bad, and there will be a rest at some point, so just stick with it for a bit longer.

I could tell the passer by that I like living in a van because it allows me to see the country. This country is incredible. I have experienced only a small section of this planet since hitting the road in June. I had an idea of what I wanted to see when I started driving, but I have discovered so much more. I spent two weeks camping with a lovely group of people that live in a trailer in Brookings, Oregon. I drove up highway 101, craning my neck out the front glass of Dumbo the entire way because there was more green surrounding me than I have seen in years. An old friend and his wife invited me into their home in Portland for amazing food and laughter. I was accepted into the evening conversation with a group of farmers in Brogan, Oregon. A deer joined me for dinner one evening in Idaho. Speaking of Idaho, when was the last time that you have cried from seeing something so beautiful? I’d need to take off my shoes (if I’m wearing any) to count how many times I cried while driving through Idaho.

I sat in a wheat grass field in northern Utah for hours and laughed. There was nobody around, but I felt something much more than just a field of wheat. I felt pure joy as I sat on the yeti cooler in Dumbo, slider door open, swaying gently like the wheat grass as the wind blew through it and laughing because all that matters is now.

Why do I live in a van? Because I wanted more than anything to spend time with a good friend from high school. I wanted to remember why over a decade later, I still think of the days when Dan and I would load up his sky blue Mazda Protege and drive to Allenbrook so we could climb until our fingers gave out. We love the same thing, as him and I discussed while at his home in Salt Lake City. Climbing is the excuse to get us there. I live in a van because I wanted to hear him rattle off another outlandish story so I could laugh at the immense imagination that man possesses.

Why would I give up security to live in a van? Part of it is because I wanted to meet a man who has a heart of gold and lives in a tiny home. Or maybe I wanted him to meet me that day when I was sitting alone on the wall in big cottonwood canyon. Maybe I wanted him to show me how brilliant one man can be when he sees the rhythm of life in his mind. I wanted to be his sounding board, because everyone needs one from time to time when their occupation is helping other people find their own life path. I wanted Ben to share his musical talent with me by drumming something remarkable, and he did.

Maybe van life was about finding others on the same river of life, only floating on a different raft. Carson doesn’t even have a van, but he understands the concept of vanlife well. Maybe it isn’t vanlife after all, but just living? Doing the things that you love, and never looking back. I have seen many people with large houses and fast cars, looking like the world has stripped the life out of them. Carson was living in a repurposed trash trailer with a buddy, yet I can’t recall once seeing him displeased with life. He welcomed me into his rafting community with open arms. He lived like a bum in a high dollar resort town, yet his genuine smile said that there was an endless supply of gold in his bank.

I live in a van because I wanted to discover a new sense of community; one where people weren’t judged by the materials they possessed. A town where a brand new car can be left on the side of the street with keys in the ignition without worry. The town is called Lander, but it should be called Honesty. I met Chad in this town, and Chad showed me what is a rare find in an urban environment. Chad showed me that there is still a twinkle of wonder and amazement at the world in another person’s eye. Have you ever been on a journey with words? It can be a very intense experience. Chad is the first person who has accompanied me on a journey of words until there were no words left to discover. When we reached the end, there was only happiness.

The choice to live in a van was to see what happens when two complete strangers are suddenly joined at the hip. Remember the crying? The moments of overwhelming love that I experienced while driving through Idaho? Morgean and I were driving back from Zion. I was driving. We were going through the Grande Staircase Escalante. It felt warm, and not in a “temperature outside” sort of way. I put on “Lie in Our Graves,” by Dave Matthews. And it came. I just couldn’t stop crying. Everything was so perfect and beautiful at that moment. I was in an absolutely stunning canyon with the most natural, gleaming, genuine woman I have met so far in life. I cried so hard it hurt, because I knew moments like those don’t come often. That’s what happens when two complete strangers are suddenly joined at the hip.

I wanted to live in a van to meet new people and make new friends, so I met Alan and Kaylee. They’re not perfect. They can’t be, because what makes a person beautiful is their differences from all of the others. Differences, imperfections, life choices, failures, triumphs… Alan and Kaylee showed me how to climb better. They didn’t tell me to climb better. They showed me the door by letting me know that I could do it if I wanted to, but by no means had to. I have no clue how they did it. Kaylee is a gem, giving me homecooked food whenever she had the chance to unload some on me. I still have protein bars to eat, some three weeks later, because I was given so many. They let me sleep in their house, and Alan let me borrow a crash pad and gave me a pair of climbing shoes when mine blew through. But the thing they gave me most isn’t tangible. They’re a unique couple. Nothing phases them, and they are with the joy of life. We joked about anything and everything without worries of offending the other. Experiencing that is like sharing heaven.

I wanted to sleep in a box on wheels because it seemed neat to spend a couple weeks with Del and Marte at the Lilly Pad. Everywhere I go, I feel like the friendships I create have already been cultivated for me. With Del and Marte, I felt as if I had spent countless climbing seasons camping out in their backyard. They welcomed me into their atmosphere with open arms, sharing their food, their beer, their projects, and their amazing community with me. It wasn’t southern hospitality, because I know what that is. I grew up in the south. It was more genuine than that by far. It was an honest, shared understanding of morals and values. It was looking at what the other person was doing and thinking, “I dig it, man.”

Why do I really live in a van? Because I am a hopeless romantic who has found his one true love. I’m recklessly addicted to it. When I’m away from it, I’m not quite the same. I could, and have, spent hours on end just watching the way it moves. I feel its every emotion like my own. Some may call it Nature, while others may call it God, Brahman, or Dao. I can’t name it because I don’t understand it one bit, and I don’t want to. I like it exactly the way that it is. All I want to do is dance with it for a while. Doesn’t that sound fun?

Throughout my twenties, I didn’t spend much time on a quest to perfect a specific skillset. I am mediocre at many things, but I have never been what I would consider “professional” at any one thing. Most of my twenties were spent attempting to answer the questions lingering in my mind. Why am I here? What is my purpose? Is there a higher power? How does the posi-trac in the rear end of a Plymouth work? Instead of learning things in order to make money, I learned something to study why people did it. I pretended to be a diesel mechanic. I rode bicycles in lycra suits, I joined the Marines, I climbed rocks, and I even spent a few wild years in the rave scene. I spent an evening with a few women, and even a guy once. I fell in love, and face-planted back out of it. I helped raise a child for long enough to impress my personality onto hers. I tried a bunch of different mind-altering substances, and walked away from each one of them as a stepping stone, or a lesson learned.

I learned that change is the only constant, and to experience life is to experience change. I learned that there is no right direction; any direction will do just fine. Going steadfast in one direction forever is only different than walking ten steps in every direction possible. What matters is not the road you walk, but why you’re choosing to walk it.


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