Mr. Spaghetti licks my face and purrs. Nuzzles his wet nose into my cheek, then sniffs around the inside of my ear. He chomps down.
“Damn it Spaghetti!” I yell, sit upright and smack my head on the low fiberglass roof. The cat runs away. It’s still dark out, the creek is loud, only a few feet behind the Shark. I try to fall back asleep. Colleen slides out of bed, walks outside to turn on the propane tank, and starts to boil water for coffee.
Living in the Shark is mostly like living in a normal house. Except it’s free, and we have better views.
When I started looking at vans last winter, I was checking out old VW busses. Most of the ads read something like “1979 Westy, some rust. No motor. Great Project! $10,000.”
Pretty quick, I realized that those things would be better for someone with a VW hobby, or a dirtbag with a trust fund. Since moving into the van was primarily a money saving scheme, that wasn’t going to work.
Then I found Class C RVs- built on real truck frames, good American engines, ready to live in with big water tanks and stoves already installed. And there were bunches of the things left over from the ’70s, all different and built by little cottage industry type shops.
Nobody gives a shit about ugly, old RVs, so they’re dirt cheap (not that I think our Shark is ugly- I find it very sleek and handsome).
Colleen was reading next to the woodstove when I asked if she wanted to move into a van. Snow was piled up almost past the windows of our cabin.
“A van? I don’t know,” she said she didn’t know, but she didn’t say no.
I spent the next few weeks sending her link after link of RV renovations, by people with almost-respectable jobs as graphic designers and photographers. They may have been barely afloat creative types, but at least they weren’t trolls living in a van under a bridge.
Even though I couldn’t even keep a bathroom sink looking decent, somehow I convinced her that I could turn a thing with ratty shag carpet and fake wood into a nice place to live.
The Craigslist ad for the Shark said, “1975 Vandura Camper. New Motor. $3000, runs real good.” I’ve never been able to resist a cruddy old vehicle that runs real good, so we both emptied our savings accounts by withdrawing $1,500, and headed for the front range.
The Shark is a 40 year old van, and I drive it like one. The three-speed slushbox is geared to be pretty happy at 55, and I don’t try to push it any faster. But with that sweet small block V8 it has enough power to get over big passes, and with the one-ton axle conversion, it’s sturdy enough to bounce down a rough dirt road.
Mechanically the thing has been solid- except for a cracked fuel line that started spraying gas all over the engine the day after our wedding.
But that was a quick fix. And it would have been quicker if a nice guy up in Marble hadn’t tried to help me. The poor dude crawled under the Shark, tightened down the wrong hose clamp, then sprayed himself in the eye with a stream of gasoline.
“Yow!” he said, and jumped up. “That burns. Feels like when you get a cigarette in your eye, know what I mean?”
“Nope, no idea.”
The living space has taken some time, and we’re still working out some kinks. I started with the bed- took out the old fold-out thing, rebuilt and overbuilt it with a bunch of 2x4s and quarter inch plywood, made it bigger, and insulated the top and bottom.
We pulled the refrigerator out and bought a nice cooler. When we get groceries, we grab a bag of ice too. I ripped out the shag rug and put down an engineered cork floor. Colleen painted over all the gross fake wood, and made some curtains.
Since we don’t use much electricity, the 12 volt house battery lasts about three weeks between charges. I thought about installing a solar panel, but with such low usage it didn’t really make sense. Instead we have a $20 rechargeable solar lantern and a candle. So the RV battery basically just has to run the water pump. When it finally dies I just take it into work and trickle charge it for a day.
We cook everything on cast iron pans on the stove top, and after five months we finally ran through our first tank of propane.
Colleen takes some showers at the rec center. I mostly don’t take showers. Since nobody trusts a mechanic with clean hands, I must look extra trustworthy.
But really, it’s pretty easy to get clean with a soapy washcloth. People haven’t always had water shooting out of a wall at 60 psi.
The mountains in Colorado are almost entirely public land, so we have plenty of places to park. We move someplace new every few days, so we’re never in violation of Forest Service or BLM camping limits.
As best I can tell, both the cats are fine with the arrangement.
We don’t use the composting toilet I built very much, so their litter box just lives in the bathroom. Kind of like a normal house.
We’re not- that’s the whole point of this thing. Instead, we’re going to use the money we saved by not paying rent, and go on a bike tour where it’s warm. My parents have kindly agreed to scoop cats their kibbles for the winter.
When we come back in the spring, we’ll get the van out of storage and go back to work. We won’t have to sign a new lease, or try to scrape together the money for first month’s rent, last, and security all at once- about $3600 out here, or more than we paid to buy the Shark.
Kale and yams sizzle in the cast iron pan. Mr. Spaghetti steps out of the bathroom, his fuzzy orange feet full of cat litter. The stuff sprinkles onto the cork floor as he walks.
“Spaghetti!” Colleen yells, then steps from in front of the stove to the bathroom to scoop up the cat and drop him on a mat to knock the dirty off his feet. She picks him up by the arm pits, and drops him three more times. The solar lantern glows yellowish white overhead. The cat walks away, climbs up the screen door, and jumps onto the bed. He purrs and drools on my face.