Fright

Had my first slightly unsettling experience in my car on Friday night. I had been out climbing until midnight then went out for some food afterward. I decided to drive back to Tampa that night since I had to open the next morning. I was EXHAUSTED. I wanted to sleep closer to work than Channelside so I wouldn’t have to worry too much about getting up and getting to work. I was driving down Spruce street and saw quite a few cars parked street side on a road that was off to the right. I pulled off Spruce, went around the corner, and pulled into a spot that a car had just left. I was nearly finished putting up all the drapes on my windows when a car pulled up, stopped, and left their headlights shining right into my windshield moments before I finished putting up the sheet between the front and back seats. I froze. I had my arm and shoulder still out the front of the sheet, my arm propped on the center console of the front seats, and my head already behind the sheet. I sat there for about 4 full minutes stock still. I wasn’t totally terrified, I was surrounded by a ton or two of steel, what I was was curious. What exactly are you doing parked right there with your headlights beaming into my car? Then I realized I hadn’t yet locked my doors. At that time I shimmied into my front seat, locked the doors, started the car, and decided to just leave and find a new place to park. As I was pulling past the other car I saw that it was empty and someone had just parked it and forgotten to shut off their headlights. Talk about perceived dangers.

I ended up parking in a hotel parking lot right across the street from the mall that night. It wasn’t the best sleep because I was so concerned about the legality of me parking there. Once I had been restlessly sleeping for about 3 hours and no one knocked on my door and told me I couldn’t park there I was able to sleep much easier the rest of the night.

I thought I started work at 9:30 the next morning. Nope. 8:35am I get a phone call that woke me up. “Are you opening with me?” “Yeah…. 9:30 right” “My schedule says 8:30” “shit.” And this is of course the one co-worker who was most concerned about my safety in my car and whom I reassured that my check in system would be whether or not I show up to work. Talk about me feeling like an ass. The beauty of living in my car in that moment was that 7 minutes from the time she called me I was at the front door of the store, dressed in festive Gasparilla run attire and all.

Back Out There

Other than last night I spent the previous 5 nights in actual beds, which wasn’t actually part of the plan, but things happen. After staying with friends twice I had a small family emergency that landed me at my parents for a few nights. Which was kind of funny to me because I had to hide my car-bed from my parents. They definitely do not know that I’m doing exactly this. They know I don’t have a place to live, but as far as they know I’m temporarily subleasing from a friend. Also I’m not sure how they didn’t catch on because anything I needed I just popped out to my car and came back with it. “Caitlin, here’s a phone charger, here’s some soap, here’s some laundry detergent.” Don’t worry mom, I got it.

I’m not complaining about sleeping in beds! But it does feel like I’ve been missing out on something, so I am glad to be back in my car. I set up my bed so that it’s now just about as comfortable as a regular bed. The issue before was that the top half of my bed was about two inches higher that the bottom half. I took my self inflating camping sleeping pad, folded it in half, and put it under the bottom half of the bed. Not as spacious as a bed of course, but at least it’s flat now. I also keep an eye out for the flattest parking spots. Something I never payed attention to until I was sleeping in my car is how street parking can often be more elevated near the sidewalk, and lower on the street side. That also can be awkward and uncomfortable. So with a flat bed and a flatter parking spot (the 20 mile run had nothing to do with it), I slept like a rock for 9 beautiful hours last night near Channelside.

I’d LIKE to find other places to park, but honestly the spot I’ve got now is great. I’ve got a bar that opens as a fantastic coffee shop in the morning and my run club runs out of the area. I also feel very safe there. If anything awful were to happen (which I really don’t anticipate at all because the area is great) I do have two friends who live in the condo right there.

Further adjustments to be made to my car include finding a way to block the back windows at night. I don’t really want to black them out because if I don’t have an alarm for sooner I like waking with the sunrise. I may have mentioned this in a previous post, but right now I’ve got a sheet that covers the whole back section of my car when I’m sleeping back there. I just don’t love the idea of someone looking in and seeing a sheet covering everything and wondering what’s under it. I also feel weird crawling out from under a sheet into the front seat of my car. Then again I do sleep on the side of the street so I don’t know why I feel weird about anything.

Adjusting

It’s been 3 nights since I took to my car. I’ve spent two nights parked on the side of the road, and one with a friend (for whom I did dishes). What’s beginning to dawn on me is that it isn’t the nights and sleeping arrangement that seems to be the biggest difference. Sure sleeping isn’t as cozy, and I do have to put some thought into where I’ll park my car, but that doesn’t feel like the biggest challenge to me.

What is coming up the most is the amount of planning I’ve got to do and the small details that make the difference between living in a car and living in what feels like an episode of Hoarders.

Clothes. I packed WAY too many clothes. I currently have one duffel with work/running/climbing clothes and I could probably cut that in half. I have another large bag with clothes like jeans, crop tops, denim shorts, sun dresses (that’s my whimsical side thinking I might go for a walk in a sun dress, HAH), real people clothes. Those can also be cut in half.  Which brings me to my next thought: I’m realizing that a lot of my clothes don’t need to be washed as often. My new rule is that if it isn’t underwear, wasn’t heavily sweat in, doesn’t smell, and doesn’t have something spilled on it it doesn’t get washed. Not that I should have a large pile of laundry after 3 days, but it is surprisingly small.

Shoes. Oh my heavens, shoes. If you know me, you know I have a plethora of colorful spunky shoes. I honestly brought along almost every pair. That needs to change. While I love putting an outfit together that has shoes to tie it all together, it’s just very illogical for me to keep them all on my passenger seat floor.

Showering. It’s a little more annoying than I anticipated. While I used to be able to shower at whatever time of day I wanted, I now have to plan my showers around open gym hours. Where this is most annoying is when I do my evening run clubs. After I finish a run the last thing I want to do is dash and find a shower, I like… no I LOVE to socialize with my running people. Some of them who live in the building above the bar that hosts the run club have offered to let me use their shower, I may have to take them up on their generosity because getting into a bed un-showered is one of my least favorite things. I may end up a member of Anytime Fitness.

The nitty-gritty details. Organizing. I’m realizing that I need about 10-15 minutes EVERY time I get into or leave my “home.” It takes a surprising amount of time to get together what I need to leave and to put everything back where it goes when I get back. For example when I leave first thing in the morning I have to pack up the clothes I’m going to change into for the day, my toothbrush, face wash, and whatever else I may need for what I’ve got going on. The first place I go may be a coffee shop, work, Publix, or just a public bathroom. If it’s the public bathroom I don’t need more than the clothes, toothbrush, and face wash; if it’s work it can get more complicated. (As I write this I actually had to run back to my car because I forgot my computer charger.) When I get back to my car I have to put chargers away, dirty clothes in the proper bag, refold and put away re-wearable clothes. I have to keep my trash in check. Banana peels, apple cores, granola bar boxes, plastic bags: those all have to go.

I have to actually look at my schedule. It’s safe to say that is not previously a common practice for me. What time do I work? Do I need to run before then? If so I’ll have to shower. So where does it makes the most sense to sleep tonight? This weekend I’m going out of town. Do I need to stop by my storage unit for anything? If so when makes sense to go?

This will all just take time I think. I’d guess in maybe two weeks I’ll have a more efficient system squared away, less things in my car, and somewhat of a shower and sleep location schedule figured out. On to the storage unit to lighten the load.

Night 1

Last night was my first night on the road. In the weeks leading up to this I was very much at ease, in the past week I became increasingly excited, and in last two days before taking to my car I have to admit that fear began to creep in. Not a deep down in my core fear, but an anxiety that was not on the positive end of things. However, In the last few hours before night time rolled around I again felt okay. Not exuberantly excited, but also not largely afraid. Maybe it’s because I was finally forced into it and had nothing else to do.

I showered Powerhouse Gym right after attending Running For Brews at Pour House. After devouring 20 wings and a Guinness from Maloneys, I crawled into my car bed at around 10:30. Aside from the mental notes I made about how to make said car bed more comfortable, sleep came pretty easy. I set my alarm for 7:30, plugged my phone into its solar charger, and put Audible on The Lake House by Kate Morton. I fell asleep before the end of the chapter I was listening to.

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I woke up a few times in the night. Small issues like being a little too hot, a little uncomfortable, a train rolling by at 2:30AM. Other than that nothing of interest in the night. I was anticipating more fear in the night, more akin to the kind of unease I felt when I went primitive camping alone, but I certainly felt much more at ease sleeping in a locked car alone than I felt sleeping in the woods alone.

I woke up with my alarm to a cool gray morning. If my alarm didn’t wake me up, the construction noises from the Publix being built down the road would have done the job. I pulled back the sheet I draped over the back end of my car and lay in my bed a while. Cue the exact thing I knew would be the most annoying thing to deal with while living in my car: the need to use the bathroom.

I gathered my Valentines day outfit, toothbrush, face wash, and day bag and headed into Ginger Beard Coffee for a warm caffeinated drink and pancakes. And of course to use their bathroom.

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All in all not a bad night in my new home.

Expectations , Questions & Reactions

Jumping into a new chapter of my life. The living out of my car chapter. Everything has been either put into storage, packed strategically in my car, or donated. I’m getting a lot of questions. How questions, why questions, where questions and I will do my best to answer as many of those as possible here and now.

The big WHY. Why am I doing this? I’d like to be very clear that this is a choice. I am blessed enough that this, while for many people may not be what they want, for me IS a choice. I’ve always been intrigued by this “van life” people talk about. I wasn’t about to go spend a couple thousand dollars on a van though. Sure, my sedan isn’t the most spacious car, nor is it what most people picture when they think “van life” but it’s what I’ve got and I’m willing to work with it. I feel like this experience has the potential to be the most fun I’ve had in a while. This experience also has the potential to be frightening, uncomfortable, and unexpected. This experience to me is an adventure. I feel like there is something for me to gain from this. It might be life knowledge, it might be soul knowledge, it might be personal knowledge, and I expect it will definitely be at least some knowledge that I haven’t even thought of yet.

HOW??? Well, keep in mind I have planned for this. I’m not sleeping on the backseat bench or reclining my drivers seat to sleep. I’ve set myself up a cozy little bed space. My back seats fold down to create an opening into my trunk. My bed extends from the trunk through an opening onto the folded back seat. It’s no pillow-top queen sized bed, but it’s functional and probably the best a sedan can do. Showering? Easy, gyms. I’ve got myself a “night bag.” That bag has all my soaps, a towel, shower sandals, a space for clothes; basically anything I would need for showering or staying the night on a couch (which I will touch on later). Toilets are a bit different. I’ve got a good knowledge of local public bathrooms, but those lock at night. I will have to keep a container in my car for night time pees, and clean it out every day. Now if I have to poop in the middle of the night, which I don’t think has actually happened to me ever, I will have to improvise and let you know how it goes. As of yet, that’s not a concern to me. The other things I’ll keep in my car are clothes (obviously), running gear, climbing gear, shoes, jackets, running supplements, non-perishable foods, beach gear, hammock kit, foam roller, spare toiletries to refill my small “night bag” supply, a solar USB charging port, and a few books.

Where. Here and there. Populated places. Safe neighborhoods where street parking is common and not questioned. Metered parking in safe areas where the meter shuts off for the night, free beach street side parking, and probably occasional camping. I do plan on a bit of couch surfing and I have gotten so many generous offers from friends. I will take you up on that, but I’m not doing this to be a mooch and stay anywhere rent free. If  I’m staying on your couch expect your bathroom to be cleaned, your laundry to be folded, or your breakfast to be made. I’ll accept generosity, but not for nothing. The rest of my life will go on as normal. Work, running, climbing, hammock time. I never spent much time in my apartment as it is, so the only added space will probably be wi-fi cafes.

Peoples reactions. WOW have I seen a plethora of different reactions. From denial, to indifference, to excited support. People telling me, “No, no you’re not going to do thaaaaat,” as if it were the most unimaginable and sad thing a person could allow to happen to themselves. Those people make me laugh becuase they refuse to believe me. “You’re not the first person I’ve known to do that,” “It’ll be fun people do it all the time,” which makes me feel safe and confident. Then there are those few who have asked questions with interest and enthusiasm. Some questions I can’t yet answer. These people have made me feel powerful and excited. I feel like these people really understand the why behind this choice I’m making, they understand that it’s the kind of experience that leads to good stories, great memories, discomfort, and growth.