As has happened to many before and since, I officially stopped being able to afford Seattle, my home of 17 years, as a small (massage) business owner around 2009. I stayed another 6 years in large part due to the generosity of my housemates, and my dual-income romantic relationships. In 2014, when my “sex positive” tech money fuckpile imploded, remaining in or even near the emerald city long-term quickly became an impossibility.
I scoured the internet for months looking for viable options, finding only squalor and nice places that were completely financially inaccessible to me. Money wasn’t coming in, and I had a quickly dwindling $5k to my name that I’d struggled to save for over two years.
Time ticked on, the expense of existence continued, and need for reliable shelter loomed faster than the money could be saved, even with the gift of winter in the shed.
CJ and I are moved into the shed, and it’s basically heavenly. It’s warm, it’s comfortable, it’s just the right size of a project. It seems I could in fact actually have a much smaller tiny house than I had anticipated having, presuming I had access to a shower somewhere.. but life has occurred, business is slow, and I’m once again off track to having the finances to build in the spring when it’s time to move again.
I’m trying to settle into the 6 months of solace but am finding it difficult to do that, cause 6 months isn’t a long time. I’m so weary of moving and scrambling around.
It’s looking like I’ll be shooting again for a van or an RV or fucking something and will have to pare down even more than I already have — but for now, I’m enjoying living on my own, and how cozy/comfortable this tiny space ended up being. So much thanks to J and P for putting me up a while. – Dec 2 2014
In 2015 my tiny house dream was already dead, yet my wanderlust was just beginning. But before I’d even chosen van life, I’d already developed a deep resentment toward the communities online that spoke of how “anyone” could do it: while having a house to sell, a space to work in, spending $30,000+ on their first build, and having a remote marketing job/a partner who also worked remotely.
Give me a fucking break.
After facing the cold, hard reality of what kind of RV a few thousand PNW bucks can get you, I chose a somewhat-shady 2002 Chevy Express 3500 with 180k miles on it, bought from an also somewhat-shady hacker friend, the amount of which I paid was… $2600.
The van option meant giving up my cat to a foster situation (which eventually turned into a fucking-asshole-stole-my-cat situation) while collectively mourning the demise of virtually every figment of my life including four of my closest long-term relationships.
I’m grinning with my tongue sticking out cuz power tools and metal fabrication and I’m a fucking geek; but it was not exactly a joyous decision to make at the time. Inside I was sick with grief, overwhelmed in poverty mindset, and horrified by the perceived bleakness of my future.
Regardless, I packed up — including the motorcycle I still owed a zillion dollars on strapped to the back of my van — played a going-away show in Seattle, and leapt, with very few solid plans, and absolutely no concept of a long term future.
Many thanks to Chris (pictured) who facilitated my sleeping platform, TP for selling me the rig, and my Itty Bitty Hizzy Tiny House contributors John H. $70, Phil B. $50, Scott S. $51.50, Sam L. $30, Eric B. $8, Shatter N. $23 (to get me to $1337. \m/ \m/ ), Edgars K. $50, Jason S. $40, Peter V. $35, Andy G. $25, Aaron B. $100, Michael D. $100, Craig Y. $20, Cris T. $250, whose generosity helped enable me to move into the van when I was out of time and options.
MY FIRST ROAD YEAR
In May of 2015, after recording and releasing Keep Going in the shed, I left Seattle alone, hissing and angry and empty, in search of some other place on the continent that felt like it could be another base for me some day.
I was gone nearly a year, within which I:
- Photographed in Yellowstone, Colorado, and New Mexico
- Performed a short internship at The Bosque Village, a permaculture pine forest in Central Mexico
- Photographed in Patzcuaro, Yototiro, and Erongaricuaro, Michoacan, and Mexico City.
- Performed an 8 week session of Camp Half Blood – Austin Branch, an immersive environmental theater camp based on the Percy Jackson universe.
- Met and worked with amazing creatives like Doc Otis (Tour buddies), The Free Range Reveleers (Musical duo), Louis Maistros (Photographer and author of The Sound of Building Coffins), and discovered the Green Door Music Hall.
- Photographed Shreveport and New Orleans Louisiana, Savannah Georgia, and St. Augustine Florida.
- Released Decatur, produced by Mark Bingham after he was sent a video of my busking in New Orleans and invited me to spend 4 days in his studio recording the album.
- Busked New Orleans
- Traveled 19 states, performing 7 cities and 13 shows in 3 of them.
- Re-arranged the bungee-corded milk crates in my van about a million times
- Made, with the exception of camp which payed very fairly, pathetically little money.
In lieu of a tour manager, during this first year I had largely rolled into towns with a loose schedule, hitting up open mics and finding out how much more sleep one needs while living on the road.
My Patreon ensured I was never completely stranded or starved, however, after doing my postmortem tour numbers while visiting my periodic collaborator Aaron Marshall (amusingly in Mark’s hometown Bloomington, ID), I was stone cold suicidal for two weeks.
I returned to the only place I could think to go; Seattle. Defeated, exhausted, depleted, having been gone only a year when it was surely to be forever, and with my tail firmly tucked between my legs.
One thing that nearly a year on the road has shown me: There is nowhere.
There is nowhere to go. There is nowhere to outrun patriarchy. There is nowhere to outrun capitalism. Nowhere to feel safe. Nowhere to feel comfortable. It’s gone, along with my blissful ignorance. Anywhere I go will be touched by it, if not in any other way than by my being present there. It is damn near fucking impossible for a person to understand something when their survival depends on them not understanding it. -April 27, 2016
YEAR 2: WASH, RINSE, REPEAT
Year 2 began in with a summer in Seattle, where I contracted in environmental restoration with DirtCorps and worked urban agriculture on City Soil Farm. I made A Weirdass Music Video for the song that would eventually become Strata, poured a bunch of cash into tuning up the van, spent December in Sweden with my friends Per and Ingrid, ultimately to start vanlife year two with a small photography tour of the west (ORANGE pins).
Much of this trip was back country single lane mountain dirt, until my alternator crapped out on me suddenly not 10 minutes after I’d hit pavement again out in rural, John Day territory in Oregon, 80 miles away from the nearest shop.
After two days camping in a Burns parking lot on labor day weekend and a $600 bill once they finally opened, I spent a good amount of time less inclined to do those types of project tours with this van. Which was, frankly, the whole damn reason to be living bent over and babywiping in the first damn place. I was not amused.
Cold Front Tour
I owe Cold Front Tour being as epic and awesome as it was to my tour manager Shane Ferguson, pretty much single handedly. I had a couple of venues to contribute, but the man was a beast, and I would not have played most of these gigs without him inviting me to tour with his Doc Otis project, and setting up half of my shows.
My time with Doc Otis during this trip was fucking magnificent, filling me with hope and ideas. I wrote a lot of the funny songs on Cold Front during this time, made a little more money, and the van made it through the tour, thankfully.
Most importantly, though, was the relationship I had with those guys, my tour buddies who I was so happy to see again. I still scroll through my Cold Front Instagram Archive to remind myself of how wonderful it was, even though I now have to scroll to the bottom to see my posts.
I considered traveling with the them up the east coast when we were done with our joint leg of the tour, but thought better of it, and decided to head back the way I came. and Damn if the separation anxiety wasn’t rough as fuck, though.
That’s also when the van had its two major breakdowns of the year ($500 brake line rusted through in Austin, $900 fuel pump which is inside the fuel tank requiring both to be replaced in LA) and had lost two of its 8 cylinders for unknown reasons on the drive back (RED pins).
Floating on emergency credit, I was traumatized, flaring, despondent and thoroughly fucking freaked out. My confidence in Bella Stinkbutt was all but used up, my identity as a traveler and doer of vanlife things was shattering only 18 month after I’d lost damn near everything. And I’d been warned that fuel pump was probably due, too.
My tribe showed the fuck up for me, donating hundreds in small increments to help me on my way, covering the fuel pump nearly entirely, and reassuring/keeping in good touch via facebook.
I thought, sailing back to my reluctant port a second year of taking on water, that I was living what would be the end of the van and my transient life about the country. I’d ripped all my stickers off of it, officially broken up with it emotionally, and contemplated scraping it on the road back multiple times — which is not a fun ($129) prospect when you’re driving your house, and frankly, your closest friend, too, because you’re kinda fucking weird and fell in love doing acid in it in New Orleans while touring that one time.
Bella was a trooper, though, in all honesty, at over 200,000 miles by then, down two cylinders over the last 3000, and thankfully, didn’t break down again after Los Angeles; where I marveled, stranded, parked oddly at a gas station within eyeshot of the shop I planned to go the next day, as literally no one offered to help me push her 100 yards down the street. #MissingTheSouth
Upon Seattle return, thankfully to the soft landing of a few months in Fedora and Reed‘s guest shed (check out his amazing painting of me!), I found that the engine missing was caused by a spark plug wire insulator that had melted when a part of my rusty heat shield had broken off.
It was an easy fix that would have been discovered during a tune-up, for what had been estimated multiple times (while charging me about $90 a pop in some cases) as nothing short of disaster. That summer, through the encouragement of gear friendly friends, I finally learned to do quite a bit of maintenance on the van myself.
Then a literal dream of mine came through. In August of 2017 I was handed a check for $10,000, helped along by a significant gift from an on-again, off-again patron, which paid my debts and enabled me to be sitting on just enough money to think clearly about what to do next.
Combined with the odd jobs and artistic collaborations which bolstered my confidence as well as my financial situation, by winter I had significantly reduced my ambient stress levels and had a bit of savings again.
It was not enough to significantly upgrade my situation, but enough so that when shed time was up again, I went out for another road year in Stinkbutt when I’d all but vowed not to months before.
“Things I’ve Learned on the Road” – 2 years
ROADLIFE: YEAR 3
My third year, Roadkill Tour, started off with the van dumping massive amounts of coolant while driving east over Snoqualmie pass my first day out.
The most notable thing about that situation was the absence of the years of intense fear I’d become accustomed to feeling whenever the van sounded weird or started acting sickly.
I didn’t feel the cloud of hopelessness holding the tears behind my face. I didn’t immediately freak out about the money it was going to cost, or even about the $18 I spent on coolant to get over that pass. I just did what had to be done and kept stopping to replace fluids until I could get somewhere safe and take a closer look.
It turned out to be a hose replacement that I was able to do in a friends driveway for about $40, including the coolant. Between facebook, vidchats and IRL help, at least 4 friendfans were involved in diagnosing and fixing the problem. It felt like a win in a lot of ways.
In terms of my immediate needs — food, shelter, decent people to talk with occasionally, the van not dying on me — year 3 was a breeze this time. Also, I:
- Used my AAA three times the first year, 5 times the second, and ZERO times this third.
- Sold a couple paintings!
- Visited and Photographed Slab City
- Recorded and released Cold Front while staying with Patron Bob in Los Alamos
- Had my tour implode when a venue owner of one of two shows bailed at the last minute.
- Worked for a controlling mad cosmetics lab financial abuser in New Mexico who still owes me $653
- Ran an open mic for the first time at Standing Room Only in Niceville, Florida and loved it.
- Played many experimental music shows with Karisha Shaw and QWERTY
- Road tripped from Florida to Missouri to see Shane of Doc Otis
- Replaced an old part (my starter) before it broke down on me on the road.
- Took Photographs periodically along the way
- Finally got hooked up with a solar geek to help me get the right stuff to install a secondary electrical system, being newly able to use lights to see at night without giving myself an ulcer about the van starting the next fuckin morning.
I returned to Seattle in May of 2018, nearly precisely 3 years after embarking upon van life. I was recovering from a monster virus I’d picked up a few weeks prior in Florida, after a 6-week bender in Fort Walton Beach, after my solo touring failed dramatically, and I was still bitter about being ripped off.
I stayed for a few weeks with my photographer friend Chris Clark, restless and irritable, before realizing it was time to see my Swedish friends Per and Ingrid again. With help from Helsingborg, I photographed Europe a little, including Berlin.
I’d left the country to elevate my mood, and it did somewhat elevate my mood to be with chosen family. I came back to Seattle heavy hearted though, and tried to head off the inevitable, attempting to fundraise to expand into a rig I could stand up, and even maybe actually work, in.
The fundraiser didn’t take off, and that dream rig was sold. Yet, I still needed to accomplish the things I wanted the rig to accomplish. So I re-upped my WA state massage license, took a lease on an office in Tacoma, and I am currently hibernating, writing, producing, painting, planning, studying, and doing my work, before the next iteration of Road Life beings again.
Thanks so very much to my sustainers, donors, fans, friends, and frenemies, who have all contributed to my strange, everwandering life.
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