Dirtbag Dwellings is a mini-series in collaboration with LA-based photographer Jack Strutz, where we seek to capture the stories of climbers living on the fringe … in their vehicles.
- Age: 35
- Occupation: show business technician and climbing conservation director at FQME
- Van type: 1989 GMC Grumman (mail truck)
- Miles: about 500,000km / 300,000mi
- Time spent in van: 5 years
- Birthplace: Montreal, Canada
- Relationship status: girlfriend and a baby
- Time since last shower: 3 days
- Go-to meal: rice, veggies, and a piece of meat
- Average monthly expenses: $500 without gas; $500-$1500 with gas
I’m living in a van because …
I escape the winter and I love traveling.
It also allows [my child, my girlfriend, and I] to live closer to nature. We can go climbing by walking 2 minutes. We can go to all the places throughout California; we can enjoy the beach, living on the coast. It’s super easy with a camper van. And since we are climbers, the most important thing for us is living in this van.
We can climb every day and enjoy life with less material. We can live simply. No TV … Just food and rocks. That’s all we need: food, rocks, and water.
We prefer to have a van that has all the features of a house and with a baby, it’s good to have a shower at least every three days. In the morning it’s nice to have our own toilets because sometimes we’re living in the streets … living in a campground can get expensive. Sometimes it gets super cold in the winter, so it’s good to have a heater and in the morning I can just have my coffee and the baby plays on the ground without freezing.
And you know, I can have sex with my girlfriend without getting frozen—this is something really important.
It’s good to spend money and make your setup efficient. If you look in this truck, there are no finishings. It’s just wood; it’s efficient. It’s not pretty. I could paint and make it super pretty, but I prefer to get more time at the crag than finishing my truck.
If I weren’t living in a van, I’d be …
Oh wow … building a new van? I don’t know what I’d do without a van.
Tell us about your van’s travels.
When we do a trip, we start from Quebec and we stop at all the crags. We climb in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas … we climb at all the crags that are possible. We travel a lot in Quebec as well … actually, this van has gone to almost every crag in Quebec.
I sometimes work for the circus, so when I’m traveling I get work on the road. For example, this past November I had a contract in San Francisco. I went there to make some money and they paid my gas for traveling. I got across the country for free!
What has surprised you most about living in a van?
People usually think there’s nothing in a van. But when they realize that a van has everything—that it’s a real home—they are very surprised.
Sleeping in the street is also surprising. You start living in a van and you’re sleeping next to busses or big trucks with their engines running … eventually you learn to love it, because it makes you sleep more deeply.
Some things are surprising when you travel at night … like when you stop and in the morning open your curtain and you don’t know where you are. You’re like,
Oh man, fuck, we’re here now!
Other times you travel overnight and then end up in the desert. You wake up …
We’re here … the rocks!
That’s always surprising.
Do you have any nuisances?
Oh man, that’s a hard question![Long pause] Actually, no. I don’t have any. But, something that’s important is being efficient on water. Each drop of water you have to be careful with. In a van, you get super efficient with everything. With hot water you can use just a little bit to do all your dishes. For a shower, we just put a little bit of water on, turn it off, soap, rinse.
We’re efficient for nature.
Related: The Dichotomy of Dirtbagging
Do you have any tricks for organization?
A bed that can rise—it takes one minute and you get your bed.
A folding shower. My other van had a big shower, but I cut it off and I took canvas and made a folding shower.
Everything that you only need once per day—it’s not good to have it in your way all the time. All the RVs have the huge showers in the middle of the place and it takes too much space! Everything that you don’t need all the time needs to be out of the way: bed, shower, dishes.
Tell us about your wildest van party.
We had about 10 people plus me in the van, drinking beers and hanging out in the campground. The rain was coming so everyone was invited in. We put music on, got drunk, and had a party.
What’s the best feature in your van?
Bed, shower, magnets, insulation, solar panels, septic tank; there are so many things that are great …
What about for climbing—a favorite item?
For sure, I’d have to say my Black Diamond cams. I think they’re super versatile. I also love my huge harness. I have a Yates harness—the biggest one—with huge gear loops. I don’t like a sling—I’m someone that has everything on their harness.
Do you recommend living in a van?
For sure. Try it, do it, change your life.
If you had a magic wand and could do anything, how would you improve your van?
I’d make the van run forever. If I got a million dollars, I just wouldn’t change anything.
What books have you been reading?
I usually read newspapers, but, I do read climbing books. I’ve also been reading a lot of baby books …
I love guidebooks that have stories in them, like the Red Rock guidebook has stories of first ascents. This is the best reading I can have. Before doing the routes, understanding the story is amazing—for sure it makes the guidebook too big, but I love it.
Any last words for those thinking of living in a van?
Be efficient on everything.
And everything in the van needs to have a precise place, a home. So that way your setup is always efficient and clean so that you don’t get into a mess. When you’re done with something, it needs to be easy to put it back in the same place.
With the baby, there’s so much gear and it can drive you crazy. You can’t have extra stuff on the ground—if you do, you’re always in a mess.
All photos: Jack Strutz
Additional contributions have been made to this article by: Sander DiAngelis
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