Last Update: 2/16/2018

Are You Homeless if You Live in a Van?

Smiling man sits on cooler in front of van by the Alaska sea shore. Is he homeless or not? You can’t tell.

Per Uncle Sam, if you don’t live in a code-approved building, you’re "homeless." That shit ain't realistic for van life nomads. It’s about being broke and short on options. Here’s a tale of two vandwellers, Vanholio and Vanholio Sr., to show you why.

A Tale of Two Vandwellers


Vanholio Sr. (Pops) Was Homeless


Pops had problems. He could never hold down a job for one thing. I think he had major depression, along with some notions on life that didn’t help him none. Never could get a straight answer from family, and Pops died in my teens. Whatever his problems were, his life was a goddamn mess.

I remember a year or two that Pops lived in his old VW Bus. It was parked in the fenced lot behind his friend’s car repair shop. You know, where they keep the cars they’re gonna fix.

I’d visit him and stay in the old vanagon. Even in winter with four foot of snow. Even in sweltering, sticky summers.

He’d avoid driving the VW because he couldn’t afford gas and maintenance. Probably wasn’t insured, I bet. We’d walk or take public transport everywhere.

To get a shower, we’d walk to an old YMCA after dark, climb up the fire escape, and a buddy would let us in a window.

At the time, I didn’t think nothing of it. Didn’t realize Pops was homeless until I was an adult. He was out of money and short on options. He lived in a van as his best worst choice.

When Pops was almost dead, I asked him, “What do you dream about?” I guess I’d seen too many dumb movies and thought the dying had some spiritual wisdom. But what he said was, “All the shitty places I’ve lived.”

Vanholio Ain’t Nothing Like Homeless


Unlike Pops, I got options – shitloads of options. In America, that means cash. Hell, I’m better off than the average American, who can’t handle a $500 surprise bill!

Vanholio owns his comfy van outright and ain't got no debts. He’s got plenty of savings for a rainy day. He’s got an adequate income. He’s even got medical insurance!

Most important, thanks to cheap, effective antidepressants, therapy, and some good life lessons, Vanholio ain’t got Pops' problems. (Yes, I inherited the famil depression. Written the morbid poetry to prove it!)

Vanholio is living the good life: plenty of money, plenty of friends, a cheerful outlook, and decent health. Plus I wake up in beautiful places. Today that’s a Utah mountain forest!

I could live in gov’ment sanctioned bricks and sticks. But I don’t wanna. Vanholio has made the happy choice to live in a van, a choice uncoerced by shitty circumstances. And that’s why he ain’t homeless, whatever fucked up definition for “homeless” Uncle Sam uses.

A Better Understanding of 'Homeless'


Read a 2014 interview with Andrew Waits, photographer of “Boondock,” a collection of vehicle dweller photos. He looked at both those who didn’t embrace van life and those who did, those who consider themselves homeless and those who consider themselves lucky.

I observed that many times the deciding factor in whether an individual identifies as homeless has to do with whether or not that person has a safety net in place. This could mean money in the form of savings, a pension, health insurance, or disability. However, the impact is much greater when that safety net also includes family, friends, or a community of support.

So there you have it. In their own eyes, homeless people are those who can’t live in a place they consider safe and decent because they lack a safety net. A defining part of being “homeless” is being so broke and isolated that you’re short on good options for the necessities of life. Living in a van down by the river is almost despite the point.

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Last Update: 2/12/2018

What Are BLM and Forest Service Roads Like to Drive?

VW bus driving forest service road in mountains


If ya wanna get inta vanlife boondockin', ya likely been curious 'bout what it's like to drive unpaved backroads. That and what gear ya need. Let me tell ya!

Now, Vanholio ain't no offroad drivin' expert. But he's gone down plenty a forest service roads and other unpaved roads in near three years a vanlife. So he's got a view to the situation. Plus he's made plenty a mistakes and paid in hassle and repairs. So listen up!


Vanholio's Advice on Drivin' Forest Service Roads


Tire stuck on rock
Look what Vanholio! did to hisself!
This below conversation (edited somewhat) is from when Vanholio got hisself stuck last fall. A fellow handled "Antigroundhogday," who's workin' toward vanlife, wanted intel on the forest service roads. Been meanin' to post it for all ya'll's education for a while.

Antigroundhogday: What recovery gear do you roll with?

Vanholio: Not enough! Digging supplies [e.g., shovel], good jack, Slime, 12v air pump, spare tire, tow strap, tools. Really need some traction pads.

[I'd add to this list several days of food and water, blankets or sleeping bag, lighter, flashlight, first aid kit, cell phone (or satellite communicator if you're waaaay back), tree strap, and Come-a-Long winch or HiLift Jack.]

Antigroundhogday: As a guy who is sitting at a desk watching you live the life, I wish I knew what the terrain looked like, that requires rescue tools that you mentioned. There are these picture as places I see vandwellers go to, but I have a hard time associating them with tools required.

Vanholio: 95% a the time, forest service roads are pretty smooth, like these two below.

2 Average FSR in Good Repair


2 Average FSR in Good Repair


Sometimes they're a bit more wore down, like these two. Then ya just gotta watch for the occasional rock stickin' up a bit.


2 FSR Slightly Eroded But Passable

2 FSR Slightly Eroded But Passable

Where I get in trouble is when I hit mud, sand, a creek crossing, or serious erosion (like these last photos) and think to myself, "Oh, I can pick my way ..." 'cause I don't want to turn back.


2 FSR Highly Eroded, Mainly Jeep Trails

2 FSR Highly Eroded, Mainly Jeep Trails


Understand, I don't really got a offroad vehicle. I'm using something designed for street and pushing my luck.

[Vanholio's got a Ram Promaster City. Since this conversation, he's gotten a lift and all-terrain tires.]

Antigroundhogday: Many thanks for the photos. So these tougher roads... are they the road to these incredible places with views for miles or just you being a guy and saying "why not, let's see what's down here?"

Vanholio: Yeah, the latter mainly. Ya really don't need 4WD to get most places, including WOW places. In fact, WOW places often get the paved roads. The only thing I would really advise for any of the gravel or dirt roads is good tires. Don't go cheap on those. More clearance and 4WD or AWD gives you more slack and options [especially with snow, sand, and mud]. But it is far, far from a must.

Dig Deeper


Antigroundhogday posted ta the Cheap RV Living forum, seekin' more advice. Read the thread. It rounds out what Vanholio said and fills in the cracks. Ya might learn somethin'! I did!




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Last Update: 2/08/2018

Chicken Gizzards, Hearts, and Rice

Gizzards and rice dish in Max Burton 12v Digital Stove to Go


Today, Vanholio didn't do shit but cook up some chicken gizzards, hearts, and rice. Sound gross to you? Well, you don't know what's good! Try this recipe.

You Eaten Gizzards Plenty!


Besides, if you been eatin' chicken, I guarantee you been eatin' gizzards and hearts. Probably ground up into sausage-type things. Maybe nuggets.

Gizzards and hearts and nothin' but strong, active muscles. No nasty organ flavor.

And like all tough muscles, they's best stewed slow to break up the collagen inta gelatin, makin' it mouth tender. Ain't nothin' to it!

AND they're fuckin' cheap! Got a 3/4 of a pound for $1.02! That means 2 meals, at least, for less than $2 total!

Tyson chicken gizzards and hearts at Walmart on clearance for $0.88 per pound

Vanholio's Recipe, As Such


OK, now let me say right off that Vanholio don't normally use recipes nor provide them. He's been cookin' since he was tall 'nough ta see the top a the stove. He learned by experimentin' and watchin' cookin' shows. So now it's all by feel.

But I'll do my best. Here goes …

I put the gizzards and hearts in my Max Burton Digital Stove to Go, added a chopped onion, two chicken-herb bullion cubes, a handful a Auguson Farms Vegetable Stew Blend, and covered with water. Set the stove ta heat and let 'er rip for about 3 hours.

Then I added a tad more water, a tablespoon or more of Old Bay Seasoning, canola oil for fat and ta prevent boilin' over, and dry white rice. How much a all that? Not sure. Eyeballed it.

After another hour, she were done. Tender chicken. Flavorful rice. Full bellies for Vanholio and Ms. Barkley.

It ain't hard. It ain't expensive. And it sure is good. Ain't nothin' weird 'bout eatin' gizzards and hearts, no siree!

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Last Update: 2/06/2018

Best Van for Vanlife Conversion? 2 Articles and Some Considerations

Red BedfordCA campervan

That's the question everyone thinkin' about vanlife asks. The answer is there is no perfect vanlife van. Far as Vanholio's concerned, "vanlife" means livin' minimalist on the road. To do that, even a bicycle could work.

That said, ya probably wanna build a *van* van – if ya can't buy a conversion campervan outright, that is. Most folks do.


That's where this article on Curbed is a real help: "The 5 best vans for your DIY camper conversion." I think it's a fair overview of the fullsize vans out there.

But Why Go So Big? Small Vans Rock!


Vanholio's in a Promaster City, a tiny van that serves him just fine. Similar are the Ford Transit Connect,  Nissan NV200, and Mercedes-Benz Metris.

The smaller vans got two major advantages, to my mind. First, they got better mileage. Second, if you're not a fulltimer, they do better double duty as daily drivers. You can find lotsa conversion examples online for the smaller vans.

6 Questions to Ask of Every Van


But whatever kinda a vehicle you're considerin', take a look at my "6 Questions to Ask when Choosing Your Van Life Rig." I bring it back ta First Principles. That's where ya wanna start, not in a showroom.


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Last Update: 2/03/2018

When Your Fuckin' Air Mattress Goes Flat!


Goddamit, Thursday night sucked. Just as I was about to go to sleep, my air mattress went flat. Ended up in a pricey  fuckin' motel room. I want my van back!

Wahhhhhhhhh, haaahh, awahhhh!!!

(In case ya missed the memo, my van's in the shop. And the fuckin' air mattress is part of temporary digs.)

Yeah, so, I got all settled down back in Cibola National Forest, up on a mesa between Gallup and Grants, NM. Was there for hours, no problem! Then about 10:30 pm, just I was settlin' in to sleep, the air mattress sprung a leak. Still don't know where.

A flat air mattress in that rental Dodge Grand Caravan meant almost no insulation on a 20° F (-7 C) night, a hard bed, and a good chance a tie rings diggin' inta my back! Fuck that shit!

So I loaded up and drove inta Grants. It were about 11:30 when I got in.

Now, a tougher (or broker) man woulda gotten a new air mattress at Walmart and slept in the lot. But Vanholio was a whiney wimp that night. He got hisself a Motel 6 room.

Not only did that shit cost me $45 with tax, it sucked. The room was blasted hot. The mattress was old. The room stank a sewer gas. And Ms. Barkley got stirred up by every sound of the neighbors. We didn't get no sleep till near 3 am!

Then I woke up at 8 am anyhow and was draggin' all day. Didn't get shit done.

Got myself a new air mattress. Hope it lasts til the van's done, Wednesday latest they say. ...

Goddammit, I'm tired of the fuckin' air mattress. I want MY van back NOW!  Waaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!

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Last Update: 2/02/2018

Fort Bowie National Historic Site

looking west through the remains of Fort Bowie

I bumped inta Fort Bowie yesterday, where Geronimo was captive. It was a center in the United States campaign to liberate the Chiricahua Apaches (from their own land). Now it's a ruin ya gotta get off your ass and hike to!

Here's the National Park Service's summary a the place:

For more than 30 years Fort Bowie and Apache Pass were the focal point of military operations eventually culminating in the surrender of Geronimo in 1886 and the banishment of the Chiricahuas to Florida and Alabama. It was the site of the Bascom Affair, a wagon train massacre, and the battle of Apache Pass, where a large force of Chiricahua Apaches under Mangus Colorados and Cochise fought the California Volunteers.

Decent. But what that doesn't tell ya is that Apache Pass' history goes back as far as man in North America.

Apache Pass Used for Millennia


See at over 5,000 foot (1500 m), Apache Pass has reliable water at Apache Spring, plus wood for fires, grazin' for horses and other livestock, and bearable temps in Arizona's brutal summers. That made it a beacon for everyone crossin' the desert since … forever. Plus it's the pass between the Chiricahua and Dos Cabezos Mountains.

Photo of Apache Spring
Apache Spring: just a trickle, but reliable for 10,000 years

Archaeologists have found Mogollon pottery dated back 10,000 years. That don't surprise me none. Everywhere I been in the Southwest USA, where there's water, Native Americans have camped there since at least 10,000 years.

Apaches stopped over and lived at the pass and in the surrounding mountains. You might even say it was their sovereign country.

Apache camp
Reenactment of 19th century Apache camp with wikiup (grass hut),
ramada (shade awning), and horse hitch camp

Meantime, they let Spaniards and Mexicans usd the pass (sometimes without hassle and for a fee). Forty-Niners headin' for the California Gold Rush cut through the pass. Other American prospectors tried to find gold and silver there. (One had a cabin, and you can see its foundation.)

In 1858, the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach company ran through Apache Pass and had a permanent station. The Apache let them run the stage in peace in exchange for a trade deal.

Photos of Butterfield Trail and the station's foundations
Butterfield Overland Mail: Butterfield Trail (left) and station foundations (right)


U.S. Conquest of Apache Land


Then for the next 30 or so years, things got ugly between the United States and the Apache. Mainly it was because the United States decided it was now in charge of Apache Pass, Arizona and New Mexico, the Apaches, the gold, and pretty much the whole kit and kaboodle. After all, the USA and Mexico agreed to it 1848 to end the Mexican-American War.

In 1862, a couple a nasty battles between the US Army and the Chiricahua Apaches took place at the pass. So the Army set up the first Fort Bowie as a staging point ta beat the Apaches down. And to hold the spring. That first fort was more a camp.

Fort Bowie Post Cemetary
Post cemetery: originally, 95 people buried here

In 1868, the Army built the second, permanent Fort Bowie, which you can see in the old photo.

Old B&W photo of Fort Bowie at its prime
19th century photo of Fort Bowie

The Chiricahua Apache and the United States went back and forth between fightin' and not until 1886, when the last free Chiricahuas, then led by Geronimo, were captured and sent to Florida and Alabama (and I think later resettled in Oklahoma).

Old B&W photo of Geronimo
Apache Chief Naiche (left) and Chief Geronimo (right)
at Fort Bowie awaiting exile, 1886

The U.S. Army abandoned Fort Bowie in 1894. Today, it's mostly foundation ruins and some bits of adobe-stucco walls. Plus the Park Service's got a visitor center up there.

About the Fort Bowie Hiking Trail


Like I said, the other day me and Ms. Barkley took the hike up to the Fort Bowie ruins. The trailhead is close to Bowie, Arizona, USA. From Apache Pass Road (map link), it's about a 3 mile (5 km) round trip hike of moderate difficulty. The route goes south from the road, up the valley, past Apache Spring, and ends at the ruins of the second Fort Bowie (built 1868)

Fort Bowie Post Trader ruins
Looking back down the valley from the Post Trader's ruins.
Apache Spring is center among the trees.

Along the trail you see remains of the first Fort Bowie (built 1862), the old post cemetery, foundation of the U.S. Indian Agent's office, foundations of the Butterfield station, the Butterfield stagecoach road, and foundations of a miner's cabin. The Park Service also has lots of signs identifyin' native plant species and a reenactment of an Apache camp.

Oh, and if ya go, be sure to visit nearby Chiricahua National Monument.

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