You know how they say that dogs and their owners are practically the same? How they have the same personality, share quirks and even sort of look the same? Well, that’s exactly how I feel about me and my van.
Our similarities are many. I’m a redhead, and it’s red. It’s a loud rumbler, and I’ve always been told to turn down my megaphone because my voice is so loud. Everything in the van is quirky as hell, from the gas gauge that is off to the radio that works about 13 percent of the time. The van, Dr. Suess Van Gogh Andersen, has some serious personality, kind of like its owner, and was my home for two years after I bought it back in 2014.
It was in the alley behind my small studio apartment in Baker that I first thought of living in a van. At that time, I desperately needed to move out of my studio; the 45-minute commute to work each day was just killing me, and I felt like I never saw any of my friends or family. I loved the apartment, but desperately needed a change.
I had a full-time job at a restaurant and needed a living accommodation that would support my working lifestyle. In that alley I remember thinking, I wonder if I could put a bed in the backseat of a van and make that my home? For six months the year before, I had worked outdoors in the woods of Oregon and lived in a tent. I figured van life would be similar to that.
When I started seriously thinking about moving into a van, I began my research. I found local recreation centers and gyms where I could shower. I mapped out every Walmart from Highlands Ranch to Parker so that I could park my van somewhere safe at night. And I set up a support system of friends and family that would take me in as I may need.
It was clear as I began my new chapter that I would need to challenge the stereotype of van dwellers. When you tell people you live in a van, they often assume that you are unmotivated or don’t have purpose or drive in life. But I didn’t fit those stereotypes. I had a full-time job. I had goals and aspirations. I was even training for my first marathon when I moved into the van! I am also a very clean and hygienic person. Van life was not forced upon me because of financial challenge. Instead, I chose to live in a van because I just wasn’t thriving living near downtown.
As van life evolved from an idea to reality, it was time to start test-driving vehicles in search of my new home. The first van I tried was a 1992 F-250 Cargo Van. It was white, rusted and had no windows. The second was a 1978 Chevrolet Conversion Van that was grape-purple, super-vintage, and had a bathroom. The third was a 1998 Chevrolet AstroVan. It was red, had lots of windows, and ran as smooth as could be. It was love at first sight. I purchased the AstroVan for 27 crisp one-hundred-dollar bills, and with that, I had my home on wheels.
On March 23, 2014, the van became my official home. That day, I got rid of its back two seats and cut out the back seat belts. I put in a twin-sized mattress, which I wrapped in a fitted sheet and two comforters and topped with no less than sixteen pillows. It was the most comfortable thing to tuck into at the end of the night! That afternoon I also named the van. While relaxing in the front seats, the only two seats left, my nine-year-old nephew and I came up with Dr. Suess Van Gogh Andersen. Well, Dr. Suess, “Oh the Places You’ll Go” Van Gogh (Van Go) Andersen. Van Gogh for short.
That day, I worked the dinner shift at the restaurant. After work, I set out to find a safe spot to spend the night and landed in an IHOP parking lot. Once parked, I crawled into bed and drifted off for the first time in my new home.
The next morning I drove to a nearby McDonald’s for a $1 cup of coffee and journaled. Before work, I went to the Parker Rec Center for a $2 shower, visited a laundromat to freshen up my work attire, and off to work I went.
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For the next year and a half, that was pretty much my routine. I went to McDonald’s most mornings since it has the cheapest coffee, but I would sometimes frequent Einstein’s or Caribou Coffee. I usually showered at the Parker Rec Center, but eventually invested in a 24-Hour Fitness gym membership. As for food, I ate a very healthy diet that included lots of tortillas (no utensils needed, you see). I didn’t have a cooler, so I would visit Sprouts almost every day. And though I didn’t use it often, the top of the Lincoln light-rail station parking garage became my favorite place to sleep. The views from the top are so expansive and include the Denver skyline, Chatfield Reservoir, and the plains east of Parker. I watched some of the most incredible sunrises of my life from up there.
The first chapter of van life ended August 2015, and it is with much excitement that I announce the next chapter will begin on September 14, 2019. After living inside for the past three years, I am ready to return to the adventure, mystery and simplicity of van life. I am once again ready to pull my sail of life high and cast out from the safe harbor of my apartment.
As I set off to live in Dr. Suess Van Gogh Andersen once more, I can’t imagine all of the new adventures I may have, all of the exciting places I may discover, and “Oh, the places I’ll Gogh” in this next chapter of van life.
Follow Andersen's Facebook page for updates on her van life.