Hazel Findlay: Life in a Tin CanWednesday, Septembre 7, 2016
“No… touch the blue cable to the red cable!”
Motioning frantically with my hands and staring at him wildly, I was unsuccessfully trying to tell the Swiss mechanic that my car didn’t have a key and instead it needed to be hot-wired to start. This unusual form of ignition was just one of the many oddities belonging to my car and certainly the least problematic at this particular moment, given that you couldn’t see the engine through a cloud of white smoke.
My friend Maddy and myself were stranded on the side of a mountain pass watching the demise of my first car, a white Citroen Saxo Desire. Although, by some stroke of luck we managed to get it back to Chamonix (where we were base-camped for the summer), the poor thing was on its last legs.
I was pretty sad. Not mostly because I didn’t have enough money to buy a new car, but also because without a room in the world I could call my own, this piece of metal was the closest thing I had to a home. All I had to do was put down the back seats, shove a rucksack in the foot well, and, hey, presto a double bed!
I’ve since upgraded to a Ford Transit van—medium wheelbase, medium roof. With a shower and an oven, it laughs in the face of my original Saxo Desire but the feeling is still the same: a home on wheels… a shell on your back… a safe haven.
Since becoming a professional climber five years ago, I’ve mostly lived on the road, out of vehicles. I always think I need to "settle”, to find a place I can get familiar with, be part of a community, a place for my things, be there for longer than a few weeks… but try as I must, in the end I know I’m a gypsy. For me, home can be anywhere and I try to make it where I am right now. The van facilitates this mode of thought. A van is like having a time capsule: the phone box from Bill and Ted or the wardrobe from Narnia. The outside world could be anywhere—quaint UK, sunny Spain, an Alpine pass, a busy city—but close the van doors and nothing changes… home is still home.
Despite the romance and practicality of life in a tin can, there are obviously some limitations of having a van as your home. Over the years, through trial and error and a little creativity, I’ve learnt some tricks to overcome these minor limitations. Because I’d hate to see someone choose a house over a van just because they didn’t want greasy hair or couldn’t make their favourite meal, I thought I’d share some of my tricks of van living with you.
Problem: Lack of Shower / Means to Wash Oneself
1: If you have a big van, a shower inside the van is not an unreasonable wish. It can double up as a storage facility and you can attach a boiler to the water tank for hot water.
2. Wash inside the van. This is a good option when it’s cold out or you prefer privacy whilst washing. Heat some water in a pan, grab a flannel and soap and get scrubbing. A carpet on the floor serves to collect the drips.
3. Wash outside the van. This is a better option for types of campers with smaller vans, live in warmer climates, or have exhibitionist tendencies.
Bonus tip: After you wash get into a towel dressing gown to be warm and comfy whilst you’re drying off!
4. Talcum powder works great as a dry shampoo for the greasy hair scenes. If you don’t rub it in properly you can just say, "It’s chalk!”
5. Last resort: the baby-wipe wash! Aside from not really cleaning you very well, baby wipes are not great for environmental reasons. Wet Wipes: the Biggest Villian of 2015
6. For when you really need a proper shower, here are some places to find them: public swimming pools, campsites, refugios, hotels, friend’s houses, gyms (climbing or general).
Dirt bag tip: Often in gyms they will have a free trial day so you can go in and use the weights, running machines and then have a nice shower afterwards.
Problem: Everything Being Foreign/Unfamiliar
1. Man up! New places are exciting. Ways to help you man up:
A. maps.me is a great offline mapping app, which often has useful extras such as water symbols for fonts, parking symbols, secret road beta, running paths (better than Google Maps). If you know your way round a place, it’s pretty much home right?
B. Befriend the locals—even if this means speaking a foreign language. Sign language can go really far. Beer goes further.
C. If things really get too much you can always close the van doors and pretend you’re somewhere else!
Problem: Where to Wee (American translation: pee/piss)
1. Outside in a bush. Make sure you observe the 10-meter rule.
2. There are limited options for town and city bushes. I have a dedicated “wee pot”, which I wee in while inside the van, after which I throw the wee into a bush or down a drain (this is best done sooner rather than later—the consequences are high!) and then I wash the pot out. I have no argument for why this isn’t gross other than it just isn’t and that Victorians used to do this all the time (bed pan?). I can’t exaggerate enough how beneficial this technique has been to my life. Think of all those hours wasted looking for a wee spot!
Problem: Getting Your Van Broken Into
All of the obvious (avoid inner city London, lock the doors, don’t leave valuable items on display), plus try to have as incognito a van as possible. For example, show nothing that looks like you live in it from the outside. I also tend to put a high-vis jacket on the front seat so it looks like a work van.
Problem: Proper Cooking
I would recommend getting an oven in your van but I understand that isn’t a viable option for some campers. I also recommend buying two things: a smooth chopper and a pressure cooker. Smooth Chopper (please watch the video, it’s very exciting) There you go—problems solved! Van’s aren’t just for Christmas, they’re for life.