Living that #Vanlife — Two Weeks in the Mojave Desert

After My 40 Hours
4 min readJan 8, 2021

My partner and I were stuck in the States for Christmas, because of COVID, so we decided to rent a campervan to explore the desert areas around Las Vegas, backpacking, and rock climbing as it felt like the safest way to travel.

What is a campervan? It’s something between a van and an RV. It’s usually retrofitted from a Van. It’s like an RV minus the bathroom, so much smaller. A campervan is not theatrically warmer than a tent, but it does shields the wind much better.

We loved the freedom and intimacy to nature the van brought. I can never get tired of taking a shower under the Milky Way, waking up in the middle of the desert to a breathtaking sunrise, sleeping in magnificent surroundings, stopping wherever we need to make a sandwich, etc. I also enjoyed the attention and questions we got from strangers who were curious about the campervan.

Bathroom

One of my favorite things about living in the wilderness is pooping in the woods. The squatting position just feels right. In general, backcountry bathroom is about behaving like a cat: seeking a hidden spot, digging a hole with my trowel, squatting while appreciating sunrise or the stars, and then burying everything.

My deluxe bathroom

We used these bags provide by Red Rock Canyon to pack up human waste as there are too many climbers and the vulnerable desert ecosystem cannot decompose human waste fast enough. It works really well.

Cooking

The mini-fridge, the two-burner stove, and the sink made a huge difference. We were able to cook some decent meals. The kitchen space is very small The campervan also has a 16-gallon water tank, which can sustain us for about 4 days. But the water is not potable.

Shower

This had been the biggest challenge during the trip. As the campsites were all booked, we stayed mainly at a Whole Foods parking lot and multiple dispersed campsites. I had thin skin and felt self-conscious whenever I only went into Whole Foods for its restroom.

Water has been a precious resource in the desert. We used a solar water bag for showers, and we managed to use only 2 gallons per person for a shower. It is maybe 1/10 of what I usually use and I only take 5 minutes to shower. The water never got hot but rather non-freezing. The second week was a bit of a struggle as the temperature dropped below freezing. I took a shower in the wind and that was colder than polar plunging in Alaska and I felt like my soul was blown away. I have popular plunged in ice-cold glacier water in Patagonia and Alaska, but showering in the wind is definitely something else.

The water bag

Sleep

We turned the sitting benches into our bed every night, by placing wood plates in the middle and bridging the benches. We then put some thin mats on top of the wood and then crawled into our sleeping bags.

At the end of the trip, we were also tired of sleeping in tilted orientation (hard to find a flat ground in the mountains), having to be extremely conscious of saving water (we only washed our hair once), taking a speedy shower using our tiny solar water bag, etc. In the end, we were very excited about going home. When I walked into our apartment, I felt fireworks in my head — it’s that exciting. I had never appreciated the carpet, the smell of my soap, and the flatness of the apartment so much.

Though challenging we both found campervanning fascinating. We wondered if we retrofit our own van, would we be able to make it more comfy and cozy. We think the payoffs were significant, and we would do it again, maybe start with retrofitting our own campervan.

Originally published in Chinese at https://www.douban.com.

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After My 40 Hours
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My labels: rock climbing, backpacking & social impact