The First 100 Days

The astute reader will notice that my posts lag about a week behind. I’m sort of trying to catch up a little, especially after I’ve, for example, been in Yellowstone, where it’s difficult to get stuff posted because there is no connectivity and, better things to do than to write, edit, upload pictures, and post. This piece I did write on Day 100 and edited a bit last night before posting it this morning from the KOA Campground in Missoula, MT. You’ll here about that in a week or so.

Me, in Yellowstone

Someone pointed out that according to the counter on my site, today is the 100th day of my journey. I thought I’d reflect a bit on how that transition has taken place.

May 1, 2011 I finished moving my belongings out of the house that the insurance company had rented. This was the first move since I moved out of Hoboken, NJ in 1993, that I hadn’t required a truck. A big truck. It’s the first time since I moved out of Nashville in 2001 that I hadn’t paid someone to load my stuff onto a truck and drive it to its destination, even my two moves across town in Knoxville.

This time, I did it mostly in my own vehicles (Walden and the Subaru that got hit by a tree the week I moved out), though a friend and I took a couple or three loads in his pickup. I didn’t pay anyone to move stuff. I did it with copious help from friends and family over the course of a couple of weeks, moving my stuff that wouldn’t fit in Walden into a 10×10 storage unit. I’d first planned to get a 5×10, but my mom and aunt, who’d come down a couple weekends before the move convinced me that if it was possible to get everything into a 5×10, it would not be pleasant.

This is the first time since I left college that I have left a job having no idea where my next paycheck would come from.

1 Phase I – Living in a Van at Home

For the weeks immediately after I moved out of the house, I mostly couch-surfed with friends or family in Knoxville, Birmingham, or Ecuador. During that time I did take a couple little trips in Walden to see whether I had the right stuff in the camper and in storage.

When I returned to Birmingham from Ecuador, I went back to Knoxville to finalize my swaps of stuff between camper and storage.

During this phase of “the trip,” I wasn’t really living in a van. I was on a vacation visiting friends and family. It wasn’t that different from other vacations I’ve taken over the years.

2 Phase II – Staying with Friends

On Friday, June 17, just over seven weeks ago, I left Knoxville. My original plan was to go to Nashville (Kingston Springs, actually, a bit west of Knoxville), Memphis, Port Girardeau, St. Louis, and maybe another stop or two to make it to Fort Collins, Colorado by the following Friday. I turned out that it took nearly a month to get to Fort Collins.

On my first stop, the friend I was visiting said, “How long are you staying?” When he asked that, it was immediately clear that my plan to leave the next morning was preposterous. I hadn’t seen John and Linda in years. I very much enjoy their company, and the food and drinks that come out when they’re around are something special as well. I didn’t need to be in a hurry.

As this phase of the trip went on, I usually stayed with friends. Most of them were friends whom I hadn’t seen in some years—one I hadn’t seen in three decades since she graduated high school in 1981. Each of these visits was fun and comfortable. I was still pretty much just couch surfing. Even if I spent the night in Walden, having access to plumbing and locals who know the way around town is not that hard.

By then I had spent a few nights doing what in National Forest parlance is “dispersed camping.” I had done some stealth camping in New Orleans (close the curtains and hope that no one notices a camper on the street). I had stayed in an RV park or two, and had stayed at some park campgrounds. I’d mostly gained the skills I needed to go out on my own, which is good, since I don’t have any more friends lined up until Seattle.

3 Phase III – On My Own

It wasn’t until I got to Fort Collins, on Thursday, July 21 that I was really “living in a van down by the river.” That was less than three weeks ago. At one point I did have this “Jane, stop this crazy thing” feeling. I don’t really know how to stop this trip, and for a day or two, that was scary. Sure, I could drive to some city and rent an apartment, but then what and where? Fortunately, that feeling didn’t last too long.

This is the first time in a very many years that I remember having less to do than can be accomplished during the day, though even now, managing to find time to post pictures, and write and edit this stuff is a fair amount of work. I spent four hours in a coffee shop this morning, at least three of which I was actively working on writing, editing, or posting pictures. To be fair, I did get pretty caught up. (My posts have been about a week behind.) I don’t figure anyone much cares that my stories are actually a week old. I’ve been posting some more up-to-date stuff on Google+. I’m still not sure how much I like it, but it’s easy to post photos and say that I’m what whatever brewery it is.

In the past few weeks, I’ve finally gotten better at approaching people to talk to. People are generally pretty receptive to hearing about how it is that I’ve come to live in a van. Also, it’s increasingly easy to recognize travelers (e.g., you’re in a campground, or other tourist destination) and I’ve slowly come aware that people traveling are happy to talk to other people. At first I assumed that folks packed into campgrounds like sardines want to be left alone, but if someone is sitting outside their camper drinking a glass of wine, they probably are happy to have someone come say hello. A couple nights ago I befriended a couple of newlyweds traveling with her father. They pulled me right in. Catie and I went grocery shopping together, which was great fun. Then we made a fantastic steak dinner, with Catie’s awesome potatoes, and my broccoli, which turned out really well. The three of them had been together 24/7 for over a week, they were quite happy to have someone new to tell stories to and hear new stories from. I think that night may have pushed me into feeling more comfortable connecting with folks.

In traveling across the country, one of the interesting things I’ve noticed is how people’s response to hearing that I live in a van has changed as I’ve come west. A friend in Atlanta, upon seeing me in Walden said, in disbelief “Oh. My. God. You really do live in a van.” People out here are more likely to respond with “Right on!” or “I did that for a few years, it wasn’t so bad,” or, as I heard yesterday “I would love to do that, but I don’t have the balls.” I first thought that he meant that he didn’t have the balls to burn his house down, which initially made more sense, but I guess that in some ways this trip is ballsy.

It looks like today is the first day that I have gone a whole week sleeping only in Walden. If I hadn’t gotten so damn hot that I couldn’t think clearly that day after Mt. Rushmore, tomorrow night would make two weeks. Three of the past seven nights I’ve paid for campgrounds ($33, $20, $12, the latter had only vault toilets, no power, or WIFI).

All in all, life is good. I’m mildly concerned that the just under seven weeks that remain before I have to be in San Francisco is too little time, but I think I can make do.

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13 Responses to The First 100 Days

  1. trena says:

    If you are still in Montana, look up my friend Toni – [email protected] – you may even have met her at some point.

  2. trena says:

    Why do you have to be in San Fran?

  3. Alison says:

    I’m happy you posted this. I have been wondering why your posts weren’t matching up to real time. I love reading about your adventures. I’ve got a friend in our ‘wine club’ following you too now. I’d love a shirt when you make it to Seattle. Hope to see you soon! Enjoy your travels.

  4. Alison says:

    I’m happy you posted this. I have been wondering why your posts weren’t matching up to real time. I love reading about your adventures. I’ve got a friend in our ‘wine club’ following you too now. I’d love a shirt when you make it to Seattle. Hope to see you soon! Enjoy your travels.

  5. helen says:

    Someday you will be back to reality (job, schedule) and you will remember how unfun it actually is.  Love the photos!  I love the last photo of W
    Walden on a hill by himself.  It is #33 in the series…

  6. Alison says:

    PS Are we your ‘friends’ in Seattle? Or do you have legitimate friends here?

  7. Sean says:

    I’ve been following along now for a while, and this is the first I realized (or heard?) you had lived in Hoboken. Stevens?

  8. pfaffman says:


    I’ve got a family wedding in Pennsylvania.

    I’ll send Toni an email. I’m outside of Glacier NP right this minute.

  9. pfaffman says:


    I sent you an email.

    I have a high school friend in Seattle.

    I think I’ll be in Seattle by Aug 26.



  10. pfaffman says:


    I lived in Hoboken from 1990-1993. I taught at Dwight-Englewood school up in Englewood.

    Thanks for following


  11. ped says:

    Very cool to read this site and sorta live vicariously through your adventures. I hope to be doing the same in a year or so.

  12. pfaffman says:

    Thanks for the comment, Ped. I’m glad that my clickety-clacking is entertaining someone! I hope your trip is as fun as mine has been, and that you don’t have to lose your job and burn down your house to do it!

  13. dtrauner says:

    …please keep them coming despite the work it takes.

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