Enjoying Canned Corn for Lunch and Other Freedoms of Van Life

It’s October in Kentucky. The heat is finally starting to subside but the bugs have not. It’s also peak climbing season at the Red. The crowds seem to be growing daily. Every day the parking lot is a little tighter, the lines for the bathroom a little longer, the pavilion a little more crowded.

As a result, I pull my van into the newly mowed, highly potholed back “van-land” lot.

“Ugh, this spot isn’t as nice as the other one. The other one was closer to the pavilion, there was more gravel and less bugs. My van tires didn’t sink in as much.”

“Yeah, but you’re here and it’s nice here.” Says my friend Fiona.

Unphased by her remark and still mentally repeating the “I’m faced with minor inconvenience right now” loop, I say again “yeah but look at all the grass. It’s so tall — and the damn bugs keep biting my ankles.”

“Brooke, you’re here. Just be here.” I realize what she’s getting at and get off my high-horse. I nod and say, almost reluctantly, “yeah you’re right.” I begin unpacking my fold out chair, sit down and let the sun hit my face while I listen to the sounds of the bugs I was just harping on. Yeah, it is really nice here.

A few moments later, some friends pull up on a gator utility vehicle. They had been doing yard work around the campground and stopped to say hi. We offer them some leftover wine I’d been carrying around from my sister’s wedding. They sit down on a crash pad and cooler and before you know it, I’m enjoying the grass and the quiet and the company of the parking lot I was annoyed with 10 minutes ago.

Vanlife and dirt bagging has taught me so much in that respect — the ability to “be here.” To recognize when I’m bitching about minor inconveniences and to either deal with it or enjoy it or both. It has taught me that I really don’t need much to get by. That a can of corn, when shared with friends over good conversation, is on par with any bottomless mimosa brunch I’ve ever paid for. Its taught me that money is important to feed yourself and stash a bit away for emergencies, but it sure as hell isn’t everything. Working to live rather than living to work has never rung truer for me.

I’ve learned to be more forgiving of myself and others. To view things with a more contextual lens rather than jump to conclusions.

I moved into the van largely with the impetus to find independence and freedom but have found so much more. I’ve come to realize that freedom isn’t just about being able to pick up and leave whenever I want or to drive into the sunrise until I damn well please. Its about enjoying the journey and curating relationships along the way. Its about realizing that there are no little things in life and that if you look for it, you can find joy in all of them.

In a very delayed post, I’d like to say thank you to every person I’ve met on this journey and for every lesson that you’ve taught me. I’m a more-happy, more-whole person because of you and I’m so glad to be here.

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