By Jeff Kish
I open my eyes for the first time on a new day. I lay motionless for bit, trying to remember where I parked the night before. I hear the world waking up beside me. The heavy breath and foot strikes of a jogger drift by. A car idles as its occupant waits for the windshield to defrost. I pull off my blankets, sit up, and immediately know how I’m going to start my day: finding a bathroom.
There’s a lot of truth in the lyric, “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone;” especially when “it” is running water. I have a map in my head of all the businesses with bathrooms that are open at this hour, and I hastily crawl into the front of the van, start it up, and make a B-line for a nearby grocery store. After I’ve attended to my business, I pick up a few things and head back to my rig.
Living in a van, I’ve found that many of life’s conveniences are just that: convenient, but not necessary. I’ve also come to realize just how wasteful we can be with the things we take for granted. I have the same needs as the next man, but have learned to meet them with no faucet or drain of my own, and less than a gallon of water a day.
I keep a gallon jug under my bed. I only use a few ounces to brush my teeth — swishing it around in my mouth and spitting the minty water back over the brush to rinse away the remaining foam. I boil some more in my Jetboil stove and add some instant oatmeal, and when I’m done, rather than wasting water washing the pot, I boil a few more ounces to loosen the sticky remnants and use that to make coffee or tea. Such is my life when I’m parked in the city, where water only flows from the faucets that someone else owns, and all that I have to use is what I can carry with me.
I prefer the days I spend in the woods, where I wake up to the soothing sound of water cascading down basalt, and the sweet smell of the damp forest air. The glacial melt is invigorating as I scoop it up in my hands and splash it on my face. I carry some away to cook and clean with, and fill my jug to take back to the city. While pipes bring water to us, I think they do us a disservice by taking nature further away. It’s only through direct interaction with the natural world that we form our strongest connections to our place in it.
—Jeff Kish’s weekly column is written on a laptop aboard the customized Ford Econoline in which he lives. You can catch up on Kish’s past stories: The Rubber Tramp Diary, Entry One, and his back story about shuttling through-hikers.