Finding my Footing
I know it’s been a while since my last post. Basically, I wrote this weeks ago (like, two days after I bought the van):
On Friday, January 25, I climbed into my van, turned the key in the ignition, and drove out of the dealership lot.
In a lot of ways, it was anticlimactic. I turned right, went up to the light, made another right, and went on to the highway just as I had every time I’d test driven a vehicle from the Reno GMC dealership. I’d wanted to sit in it, look over every button, adjust my seat and my mirrors to perfection, maybe just lay down in the back for a few minutes. I’d wanted to take Gnomiver out of my purse and find him the perfect copilot’s seat. I’d wanted to figure out where to put my chapstick and lotion and if I’d brought the right cord to connect my phone to the audio system. I’d wanted to blast the perfect song as I drove away.
All of that came later, in the parking lot of a mall in south Reno, and I felt that sense of owning this van, of making it mine, of exploring it. But that moment, of turning the key and taking it off the lot, felt entirely unreal.
Later, when I’d gotten it back home, I wanted to show it off, to have people come and see that “here it was,” that “I was really doing this,” that “there was no going back now.” When I went outside to familiarize myself with all the parts of the engine and start thinking about what came next, neighbors came by to check it out and congratulate me, to ask about my next steps, and, in large part, I had no idea what to say. I was speechless, really, grasping for questions to answer, for someone to drive the conversation because it hadn’t fully hit me, yet, that this is my van, my project, my future that’s coming together on the curb outside my parents’ house.
I think I’d hoped that showing others that Step One was complete would make this feel a little more real. All it really did was make my brain feel like it was spinning.
When I was planning all this last semester, I thought buying the van would be the hardest part. It’s so easy to chicken out when you haven’t invested anything yet, and the van itself would be the biggest investment. Once I’d taken that first step, I thought the rest would follow easily, because mistakes could be fixed, each individual step would be smaller, and I’d already have momentum.
Instead, I feel frozen.
This is an enormous project. And so many of the early steps are dependent on what I have planned for the later steps. The size of the battery I need for the electrical system is dependent on how many amps my electrical system is going to use. So how many of the parts of my van are going to need electrical? Am I getting a vent fan that will use electricity or am I getting something basic? What size fridge am I going to need, and where am I going to store it? Will the cabinet there be big enough to store it or do I need to change my blueprint to make the counter deeper? Which side of the van are most of the electronics going to be on, so I can build the majority of the wiring and system onto the same side?
It goes on and on. Everyone has different advice. I’m new to construction, to electrical, to all of this. A large part of me wants to trust myself and the research I’ve done first and foremost, but that practical part thinks that I should listen to those with more experience. Part of me figures that even if I totally screw something up, I’ll figure out a way to work with it; part of me wants to do everything in my power to make everything perfect.
But the more contradictory opinions I receive, the more I realize that while listening to those who have more experience than me is wise, following their instructions simply because they have more experience than I do is not. I will be the one living here. And most of these experienced friends haven’t converted a van into a tiny home before. They won’t be able to predict exactly how their expertise will apply to this set up, and that evens the field a little bit, because I’ve already done a lot of research.
By continuing to doubt myself, I’m halting all progress I could be making. Half the point of this exercise in alternative living is so I can learn to trust myself and my capabilities again. Besides, when I first came up with this idea I intended to do it all by myself, damn the consequences. I assumed there would be problems, and that I would either learn to live with them or fix them myself. I welcomed the challenge of having to learn how to solve problems I know nothing about on the go.
This is my project, my home, my workspace, my life. I’m lucky to have as much help as I do, but I have to stop letting every expression of doubt or contradictory opinion stop me in my tracks. I have to take the reins on this and remember that my opinions and my decisions are the only ones that are going to matter once I’ve climbed inside and driven away. The results of those choices are going to be mine to deal with, so they’d better be ones that I can stand by.
I felt pretty good about that, but I wrote it when I was emotional, so I figured it probably deserved a read-through before I posted it. But then I got bogged down it other projects, and I started to feel really insecure about the entire van project because it was a lot more complicated than I thought it was going to be, and then the terrible weather and those van insecurities set off a depressive episode and I basically decided everything I’d ever written sucked, and then my dog died, and:
TLDR: I never posted it. Or anything.
But my parents have these friends, Dave and Nancy. Dave has been my dad’s friend pretty much since time began, and was the best man at my parent’s wedding. The pair of them are insanely cool. They’re big cyclists, and have ridden their bicycles around the world. They did a trip that pretty much circumnavigated the globe and hit 26 countries, and they just finished riding from Fairbanks, Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. One of my favorite retorts when my parents expressed doubt or displeasure over my plans has been, “But Dave and Nancy!”
Dave and Nancy finished their 600-day, America-to-America odyssey last month, and they came to dinner at our house tonight. Their blog, leavewithoutpay.com, is an amazing read, and they pointed something out to me: the emotional journey is as interesting, if not more so, than all the technical bits. Readers want to know what it’s like being in this position, not a how-to manual.
So here’s what it’s like: right now, it kind of sucks.
I’m in this limbo where I’ve got a big empty container, and more ideas than I could possibly squeeze into said container, and they all seem to be on different sheets of paper in different piles, and every time I get something figured out someone points out a problem with it, and I’m living with my parents in the itty bitty town that I grew up in which makes me feel like I’m back in high school, and people keep asking me what I’m doing for work, and they all give me the exact same look when I tell them I’m a writer (like they’re waiting for me to correct myself), and it really just feels like nothing is ever going to happen.
Part of the problem is that I didn’t realize just how well I needed to have every step planned out before I started anything. I need to know how high the counters will be so I know where to put the outlets so I can lay out the wiring, which can’t be connected until after the insulation, sub-layer, and top-layer are installed for the floor, walls, and ceiling because the battery is going to be in a compartment on top of all of that. I can’t start the wiring until I get rid of the factory lights that are wired to the car battery, which looks like it means I’m going to have to take apart the cab. I can’t buy batteries unless I’m certain what kind of heating system I’m going to have and whether or not I’m going to have an electric water pump, because the system has to be big enough to compensate for those things.
I’m having to learn how electrical engineering works, and chasing down sixteen different ideas about insulation to see which is most accurate, and learning all kinds of vocabulary that sounded like gibberish to me a month ago. I’ve literally spent days just trying to figure out what the hell it meant to convert solar panel wattage into battery charge amps, and then converting that into energy expended in a variety of electronics, and trying to understand laws of electricity that I ultimately didn’t need to understand because there are these handy charts that tell you what gauge of wire you need.
Then I’m watching the market bounce up and down like a yoyo, trying to figure out the best time to sell the stock that I’m using to fund this little project. Oh, yeah, and that stock plummeted $20 per share in the last year and a half, which definitely adds some stress.
TLDR: I’ve spent the last month drawing and re-drawing schematics, finding out I don’t know what I’m talking about, stressing about my financial status, and basically making so little progress it feels like I’m standing still.
So I’ve not written because there hasn’t been much to say, except that I was completely panicking, and that didn’t seem like something I really wanted to share. But I’m going to make this work. One way or another, I’m going to finish this van conversion and I’m going to hit the road. And Dave and Nancy reminded me that the messy, panicky bits are just as important as the pretty stuff. So here I am, being a little messy.
This week, I’m going to finish planning everything out and cut a hole in the roof of my van if it kills me. So if the next post you see is me getting the massively-incorrect hole in my roof fixed…. well, I might need a pick-me-up.
All my best,
P.S. I think I need a new blog title. Thoughts?
P.P.S. Pictures to come. Right now, I just want to get a post up. I promise, the next post will have enough pictures to print a 3D model.