Updated: Aug 23, 2022
A strange van parked in the back corner of a interstate truck stop is not your typical venue for a Sunday brunch -- particularly with a total stranger you've just met online. But, after knocking on a curtained window announcing my presence, here I was standing along side of this wayfaring wagon train, the early morning cold biting at my skin, as I pondered my next move.
I'm certain my mother taught me to be wary of strangers when I was a child, but for some reason, that particular tutelage has escaped my mindset in my adult life as I'm particularly fond of meeting strangers, especially people who live quite differently than I do. So, when a total stranger in a Facebook group mentioned that he was driving his newly acquired Fuso 4x4 across much of the continent, flat-towing his Ford Transit camper van--his current home--behind him, I was intrigued. When he invited me to meet up with him as he made his way along I-90 through Montana, I jumped at the opportunity. Plans were made to meet Sunday morning at 7:00 am at a truck stop just outside of Missoula. He even graciously offered to make me breakfast in his tiny home-on-wheels.
Larry, my host for the morning, is a nomad; a professional traveler with no fixed residence. He has lived out of his van since 2016, not out of want, or the results of poor life choices, or from socially misanthropic behavior, but with intention--a carefully chosen lifestyle crafted with skill and purpose. The 7:00 am invitation seemed quite early to me, but respecting his travel schedule, I arrived on time. The slider door opened, I dutifully accepted his welcome, ducked my head and closed the door behind me.
The formal greetings stalled for an instant as it appeared Larry was still waking up and I felt momentarily awkward in my new situation--I was a guest in his home, sitting in the rotated passenger seat of his converted Ford Transit. My fingers thawed while our conversation warmed. We talked and shared stories while he slowly prepared breakfast.
I stayed for 5 hours.
His van-home was cozy and well apportioned. Larry designed and built this tiny-home specifically to meet his needs as an itinerant craftsman--taking select carpentry jobs while working, living and playing out of his portable swiss-army-knife-home. Whimsical graphics and stickers, as well as recreational equipment, adorned the outside of the vehicle conveying a life of full of wonder. The inside, carefully crafted from uncommon materials, balanced function with art.
Larry sat to prepare breakfast, his tall torso and outstretched arms reaching every necessary resource in his compact galley. He seemed to revel in the process of meal prep in his cockpit kitchen while conversing with a newfound friend. I enjoyed the deliberateness of his efforts like slowly grinding the coffee beans in a simple hand-cranked grinder. The meal prep itself was an event--a visceral experience that added texture to our conversation.
Our dialogue was rich, full of meaningful anecdotes, inspirational points of view and shared commonalities. I learned that Larry is a talented woodworker and we shared stories of our mutual vocation. Like me, he enjoys outdoor recreation such as hiking, biking and kayaking wherever his expeditions take him.
We both had recently purchased a Mitsubishi Fuso 4x4 with plans of converting them into expedition vehicles to transport our future dreams. We collaborated on design ideas for our beloved Walter and his adorable Katy, as well as possible future play dates for the two adventure rigs.
This is Larry's Fuso named Katy (named after the katydid grasshopper!)
He showed me his onboard tool storage that he makes his living from, and we shared our mutual passion for woodworking. We talked about the freedom and independence of life on the road. There was never a lull in our shared exchange. But nothing impressed me more than the mindset that was behind Larry's decision in 2016 to live this wayfaring lifestyle.
It didn't take long for me to realize that Larry was living his best life. During our time together, he pulled the curtain aside from my assumptions and stereotypes of van life dwelling, to reveal his mission to be financially stable by actively living life well below his means. As he shared with me ideas that may have otherwise sounded like simple platitudes, I began to connect-the-dots in my mind like stars in a constellation. Larry used to be a real estate advisor who struggled advising his clients to take on debt just to have the so called "American Dream." He now lives a decidedly "un-American" style of living. Unshackled by the servicing of debt, Larry turned a negative bottom-line into significant savings in just the first year of his new lifestyle. He travels where he wants and takes select jobs to cover his expenses. He meets new people, enjoys adventure in the outdoors and stays in beautiful location--All the while, his bottom line continues to grow because of living with no debt and minimal expenses.
I asked Larry if he ever felt the need to "stealth camp" as so many van-lifers prefer to do. His response again turned conventional wisdom on its heels. It's general human nature to not trust the unidentified stranger, and that stealth camping mode only further exacerbates those fears, he suggested. His experience of having a van that clearly looks like it's on a journey--complete with stickers of places he's been and recreational gear for future adventures--rather than an unmarked mystery van with darkened and shady windows, somehow allows people to feel more at ease, a way of knowing a person's intention even from a distance. This is how Larry meets people and builds a network of friends from all over the country, of which, I can now count myself as privileged to be one of them.
Thanks for the Sunday morning breakfast Larry, I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. I hope to see you on the road again soon!
"There are no strangers here, only friends you haven't yet met" -- William Butler Yeats
You can follow along Larry's journey at WonderofWander.com