December 12, 2012

A Fellow Van Dweller

The sun sagged in the west as I rounded a bend near Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park. Up ahead, a handful of rented RV’s and cars filled to the brim with backpacks and climbing gear dotted a large parking lot.  At 9,000 feet,  the Syncro’s engine labored at 5,000 RPM’s in second gear.  Fifteen miles of this climb up from the Valley had warmed the oil up.  Shifting into neutral,  I coasted into the lot and pulled into a parking space.   A lone Vanagon with a hand-painted mural stood a few hundred feet away.

Grabbing a down jacket,  I locked up the Syncro and checked out the Vanagon.  It was an early 80’s aircooled hard top that, based on the bike, curtains and artwork, was most likely someone’s home. Scanning the parking lot, I saw no likely candidates.

I turned on some Pink Floyd on my iPhone and shoved it into my breast pocket,  as I often do when alone. Marching to the tunes of Wish You Were Here, I followed the setting sun’s rays up the hill.  Following no defined path,  I saw a group of Teva wearing, DSLR brandishing hikers heading down the hill.

“Certainly not van dwellers…RV’ers for sure..” I mumbled to myself and continued up the hill.  My sea legs, and lungs, were burning by the time I finally made it to the top.  Scanning around the 360 degree view, the last rays of light bounced off the granite.  Picking a ledge, I sat down and turned up the volume on my phone.

The sun lowered over the sheer granite faces.  Zoning out,  the Pink Floyd songs meshed together.  Slowly, I realized that I wasn’t the only one on top of the mountain listening to my playlist.  Sometimes you can sense it.  Turning around, I saw a man in his late forties sitting a hundred feet behind me watching the sunset.  He sat calmly and without  the anxiousness of a most tourists on a weekend trip.  He had been traveling for a while and was very familiar with spending time by himself.   He didn’t fidget or fire away blindly with a digital camera.  Instead, he sat with watching the sunset over Yosemite Valley as if he does this every evening.

“He must be the van dweller…” I thought to myself.

For a moment, I felt like breaching the silence and starting a conversation.  For a song or two, I debated in my head.  A certain type of person is drawn to traveling by themselves and that type of person, although often lonely, values solitude.

I kept to myself.

Back in the parking lot, I fired up the Syncro and blasted on the heat.  The late October evening was chilly, and according to a Park Ranger,  Tioga Pass would soon be closed for the season. Backing out of the space,  I rolled down the parking lot towards the exit.   The lone man from the  hill was just getting back to his yellow Vanagon.  Rolling past, I waved in approval and respect.

He nodded in return with a smile.

Here are some more links,

Vanlife (Tumblr).


  • December 12 , 2012

    #3 image – it’s a pretty nice profile of your van. I like it :)

  • December 12 , 2012

    I’ve been following you blog and as a result, your travels for the better part of the last year. I’m always thrilled to read (and see) new entries, and to be honest, I am a bit jealous of how you pull off your nomadic life. There are days I wish my life could be a lot more nomadic.

    Todays story was the best – thanks.

    Have a great holiday, I’ll be looking forward to new writing whenever you get to it.

  • December 12 , 2012

    Thanks for the kind words man. This guy was a classic van dweller. I saw the van for sale on craigslist in northern california a few weeks ago.


  • acompletestranger
    December 12 , 2012

    must be really empowering

  • December 14 , 2012


    I have been following your blog for some time now and always look forward to the stories you share. Especially traveling around and living in California for all my life, its always comforting recognizing the places you visit – like Tioga Pass. The memories from my last visit there feel fresh.

    Thank you for that.

  • December 14 , 2012

    Tioga pass is an amazing spot. I love the eastern sierra.


  • Pete
    December 15 , 2012

    The beauty of the last image is seriously rockin’ my world. What camera did you shoot this with?

  • December 18 , 2012

    If I were the man, I wouldn’t have mind that you sat next to me (maybe I would have mind if a tourist came asking me what camera I use).

    I’ve traveled across the US on my own a lot and this is what I’ve come to learn: I don’t really like the loneliness that much. The difficulty in traveling on your own is that you can’t share positive and negative experiences. I’ve found out that I treasure special meetings during periods of loneliness. If I wouldn’t meet those people, I think I’d never travel on my own.

    Special people meet at special places.

  • December 18 , 2012

    Couldn’t put it better myself.