Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Living out of my subaru, and my entry into the car commuter class

For the first 40 days of this semester, I lived out of my car while working a day job in Flagstaff.  This post is about how I dealt with the lifestyle, what I enjoyed about it, and what started to drive me nuts 5 weeks in (it might surprise you).

First off, the idea of living in the woods is about money, but it's not just me being cheap.  I'm generally just not that satisfied with paying rent.  I'd much rather buy a plot of land, build a shell of a house, and live in it while I finish it.  If I'm going to pay a monthly payment, I'd rather it be towards equity.  Also, Flagstaff has a lot of totally legal forest service camping, as long as you don't go over 14 days in a month.  Since I had three-day weekends and spent them climbing and hiking, that wasn't a huge problem; the rangers aren't sticklers about it if you don't trash up a spot.  But enough prelude, on to the details.

When I first decided that it wasn't worth paying rent in Flagstaff, my first worry was about comfort.  Not comfort in terms of sleeping; I know and trust my sleeping bag.  But comfort for me also includes being organized.  It means that in my daily life I know where the things I need are, and don't go thrashing through half of my stuff to find things on a routine basis.

So my first step was to go to the used gear store in town and sell off some of my excess gear.  The next was to rent a small (4 foot cube) rental space to store things I wouldn't need in the next few months (which makes you wonder, do I really need them at all?).  Having downsized my belongings, I set about making my car more comfortable to live in, by building some pull-out shelves from my sleeping platform.  My propane stove was parked on one side of the platform, and the shelves provided instant work space for cooking.  A small propane tank on the roof connects to the stove with a hose.  I dedicated one part of the storage space under the platform to my kitchen, and while I still haven't figured out the best way to organize that, it's a lot better than having no organization at all.

So with comfort more or less out of the way, the first challenge came: loneliness.  I'm a social person, and I like to have a sense of community.  This is something that was lacking even when I lived in my last house in Flagstaff, but I had Becky with me then.  For my first four weeks living out of my car this semester, she was out leading Prescott College's wilderness orientation.  So it was me, in my car, living out in the woods.  Getting out there at 9:30 or 10 o'clock after my night classes, after dark even in August.  Not ideal by any means.  I like to cook, but cooking for one person just isn't that satisfying.  And the night classes make it even harder.

Fortunately, the college provided some of the community that I'd otherwise be lacking, and I met up with a couple of new climbing partners.  It's not the same as living in a good house, but I felt better than I did when this started.  And I spent my three day weekends going on climbing and hiking trips (the grand canyon three weekends in a row before the shutdown), so the camping and working in town was really just a half time thing.  I started to enjoy waking up and doing homework in the woods, setting up a little office with my camp chair and my laptop or my kindle.  All things considered, the living part of living in the woods got easier over the weeks.  I could easily see myself living out of it again for a summer, when the weather is nice and the days are long.  Maybe a climbing summer next year?

So now for the worst part of subaru life.  It wasn't comfort, or loneliness, but driving my car every day.  That's really it.  Even though Flagstaff has the best free camping of anywhere I've ever been (I could give you complete directions to a half dozen forest service sites off the top of my head, all within 10 miles), none of them are quite close enough for me to bike into work every day.  I don't really want a 5+ mile commute back from night classes especially.  So I found myself, overnight, having joined the world of car commuting.  Years ago, I swore I'd never commute by car on a daily basis.  I like the exercise that I get from my bike, and I don't think it makes sense to spend so much energy driving around in our daily lives.  Driving this much doesn't feel particularly good, and I feel isolated from the town.

Now I'm living in a house within easy walking of downtown, and no more than 2 miles to either of CCC's campuses.  I'll have some late-night rides home, but nothing terrible.  And most importantly, I can give my subaru a rest for a day.  I think there was a point where it had been driven every day for over a month; I think this is the first time I've ever done that in my life.