A New Start

Good evening, dear readers. It’s been several months since my last post and I feel this is significant enough to write about. Before I jump in, I’d like to be frank and state that this is not a well polished post. I’ve tried re-writing for several hours throughout the day and honestly, I need to get it out. So please bear with me as I throw some rusted and sort-of- cognizant words out for the world to see.

Begin.

Today was the very first day back in school– college to be more specific– and more important: my first day of dedicated education. What I mean by that is, instead of trying to fit in classes at night, while working a full-time job, I’ve cleared my schedule and will be attending as a full-time student. This is a pretty monumental life-event for me. After 12 years of military service and at the age of 30, I have returned to focus on a four-year degree in psychology.

I’m sure this evokes a range of personal responses from “yay…” to “YAY!!!” Regardless, this is a big-fricking-deal to me!

In secret, for many years I had wanted to have the ability to do two things: 1) Travel Europe like a hippy back-packer and 2) Dedicate myself to school. Well, this blog’s creation is a testament to goal one (though through New Zealand) and this post is…yeah, to goal two. In my mind, the only way to have achieved these goals was by some magical and mythical turn of fate: Premature ejection from the military– without the bad conduct discharge, of course.

Well, it took a great deal of courage to leave a lifestyle and community I had become an adult in; even more so to leave at point of such success and regard. Having finally made the decision to leave, early last year, I created a position for myself. Similar to a free-agent, I was able to make my own decisions on what belief system governed my life and where that would take me.

Having completed goal one, I returned to Minnesota where I frequently slept until 10 a.m., worked on miscellaneous art projects (Quite Voice guidance),  bought a classic truck (bucket list item), and worked to reconnect with friends and family, back home.

One problem started to come to light: I was running out of money. Fuck, the U.S. dollar really doesn’t go as far in the U.S. as it did in N.Z.! After a few months of working a part-time job, I realized it was time to figure something out.

Enter goal #2.

Going into this, I had been deeply anxious the previous few weeks. Sleep disturbances and moodiness had been pretty normal. I woke up at 4:50 a.m. yesterday for a 6:00 a.m. alarm; drove an hour to campus at 7:00 a.m., for a 9:45 a.m. class, which ended up  being cancelled. I used the newfound free time to walk out the path to other buildings and dry run my routes for today. I actually walked in, got a look at all the halls, the specific class room and bathroom locations.

Additionally, I printed out the required syllabi for each course and read and re-read each course site to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Part of this is coming from a place of confused and sporadic online learning (and their now apparent incorrect learning style as it relates to me). The other comes from years of being under-prepared and the ego’s tantrums for looking like a fool. I would be remiss if I didn’t pay homage to the many years of military training which ingrained the “5 P’s To Success:” Proper, Prior, Planning, Prevents, Piss-poor, Performance.

Fuck man, my thoughts are all over the page right now. How do I format this shit to tell a proper narrative that is both chronologically correct and satisfies the neurotic grammar monkey in my head?

 

Today, the first class, Introduction to Psychology and Data Analysis (Statistics), was a big lead up. Once again, I followed yesterday’s morning routine, though this time my first class didn’t start until around noon. I stood outside of the lecture hall roughly 15 minutes early, because the vestibule inside, was full of other students– there must be roughly 100-150 of us in this class. No attendance was taken; no verification of whether you were supposed to be in class or not. As our instructor put it [our attendance], “In public school, you were required to attend because the tax payers were paying for your education. In college, YOU pay for the education. If you are in this class, we already have your money and it doesn’t matter to us if you show up or not.”

Well put.  For a student to receive the four credits for this course, they must complete the 6 exams, worth 100 points each. Outside of that, there is no graded homework, nor extra-credit. The un-grade ‘homework’ is based off of lectures and reinforced by chapters in the optional textbook. It’s that simple.

 

“Rusty” is one way to put this. My last semester of courses were almost a year ago and mid-way through the semester, I had to withdraw due to a mental health crisis.

My second course, based off Arabic poetry and it’s implications on politics from before the Prophet Muhammad to the twentieth-century, should be interesting. Many of the people in my class seemed to have some educational background in both the geographic area and it’s history. Others, were Muslims who had a personal background. Me? Well I have the background of living and carrying out the orders of the President of the United States while in the military. Granted I have been a tourist throughout Bahrain and Jordan, though I do not feel any more prepared to be in this class than someone who attended high-school geography class. Add to it, it’s a literary course, focusing on poetry… Not my strong suit.

My final course of the evening covered personality as it pertains to psychology. Another large class room, filled with community tables. After a lengthy introduction, our instructors discussed the course outcomes and then primed us with two examples of personality from clips of Office Space.

Fuck this is really shit, at the moment. 

I’d just like to flush these thoughts out here right quick. I felt/feel absolutely stupid (read “anxious”) while traversing these buildings and classes. I know, it’s the first day of a new semester at a brand new school, but it’s really been an exercise of CBT: “What evidence is there to support for or against this thought.”

Well, I’ve been an adequate student most of my life. My method of learning that seems to best instill information is through experience–> failure/challenges met–> self-education–> resolution.

When it comes to articulating information, I’m at a loss lately. The words come and go and my brain seems to solidify into this rock-hard mass where the words are frozen in time and the monkey who controls everything doesn’t know what to do. I feel like a fraud. This is going to require me stepping my game up. It’s going to require fuck-off level effort.

What I need to be careful of is knocking my life-balance out of whack by focusing all of my time and energy on over-compensating for a perceived lack of intelligence, just to try and remember this information long enough to pass each exam. Or maybe that’s past experiences of attending school online, amid working a full-time job and trying to meet the expectations of my employer. Shoot, the last two points in history where I was dedicated to a collegiate education was in Kabul, Afghanistan and Manama, Bahrain, where I worked long hours, secluded myself from social life, and tried to fill the voids in my life with double downed effort on both school and work. What I will say is I completed an AA degree while in Kabul and added roughly 15 credits to the now, 36 credits which have transferred to my current school. That’s how I know to operate.  

When we were released for the evening, I didn’t want to leave. Sure I’d been at school since roughly 8 a.m., but I just felt this energy around me. Everyone is on a different page; a different schedule and educational path. Some people were done for the day and others still had another course to go. Fuck this is foreign to me. 

Put aside my anxieties and fears– which are probably nothing more than being in a new environment and desiring success at the highest level– and observe the positives in this situation.

First, I have the opportunity to start fresh, later(ish) in life. I’m at a point in life where I do not have the obligations or responsibilities which limit my ability to take large risks, such as re-training into an entirely new career field. My family and friends support me through moral and housing endowments. The U.S. Government has my back on tuition (THANK YOU G.I. BILL!!!). I’ve just concluded a regimen of mental health work which has restored me to a place of more frequent positive head space and provided tools to cope through the new challenges. My vehicle is back to being a ‘chariot not to exceed 65 mph’, though adequate for portage to and from school. I have had many months to prepare my environment, based off of years of education, to support academic excellence. Finally, I have 30 years of experience in life to apply to these studies.

Writing that last paragraph a thought popped into my head: “How could you even write this in the first place? Think of your friends who don’t have this opportunity. Don’t be ungrateful.” I really do hope that no one perceives this post as me being a whiny little b. Honestly, I’m so overcome with emotion that I need to share my experience with everyone. I want others to know what it’s like to take an alternative approach, or rather, an out-of-sequence approach to life. This is my experience. My thoughts. My headspace, on day one of the next 2-3 years.

Come back and visit later and together we can see what has changed.

Thank you for spending this time to read my story.

-Drew

Just Show Up

Have you heard of Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead?

If not, maybe you have watched or listened to her Ted Talk from 2011 on vulnerability.

If none of the above sound familiar, I’ll quickly sum up who she is and why she’s important in this context.

Per her website, she describes herself as:

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington Foundation-Brené Brown Endowed Chair at The Graduate College of Social Work.

She has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of three #1 New York Times bestsellers – The Gifts of ImperfectionDaring Greatly, and Rising Strong. Her latest book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and The Courage to Stand Alone, will be released Fall 2017.

I am currently reading her book on vulnerability and wanted to share how I believe it has already helped in my life.

Stepping back about three years, I had been living in Canberra, Australia for almost two years when a very special person entered my life, who we’ll call “Nikita.” We met during a chance occasion when both of us didn’t want to be present and we become incredible friends over the common need to paint with someone else.

During one of the last few weeks before I moved to Bahrain, I enlisted the help of a local art supply store to figure out how to realise an idea– A 4d painting of my face. That is, a painting where my face literally blasts through the canvas. The girl who helped me had a certain quality about her that I hadn’t remembered seeing in anyone else.

If you watch enough movies–specifically romantic movies– there are moments when a man meets a woman and it’s as if time slows down around her. This actually happened. While showing me something off the bottom shelf at the store, she looked up at me and time seemed to literally slowed down and I couldn’t hear what she was saying.

Immediately my thoughts went to “ask her out, ask her out, asker her out!” In fact, they persisted through the remainder of our transaction, all the way to me walking out the door and to my car. But I didn’t.

How could I have met someone that I referred to as “Dragon Eyes” and just walk out the door when everything inside was screaming to court her?!

The truth is, I was scared shitless. This was the same fear that talked me out of making a move to progress a relationship in my teens and the same fear that talked me out of sky diving or bungee jumping.

I was vulnerable and that wasn’t O.K..

This is where Brené’s book comes back into the picture. Vulnerability is being present, as you are, and authentically you. It’s showing up and accepting that you are not perfect, but nothing in this world is.

Having read through her book over the last month or so, and in line with other steps towards shedding a lot of baggage, I made a decision.

Currently I am back in Australia for Nikita’s wedding party. Though the party is only a few hours on one night, I came here for two reasons: Celebrate her and her partner’s love and embrace the fear of rejection.

Today, I went back to that art supply store. Guess who was there to help me? Dragon Eyes and I worked out a new project, which is meant to be a wedding gift for Nikita. The hours leading up to my visit were filled with striking fear and anxiety. As I have learned new ways to deal with emotions, instead of trying to numb or suppress them, an idea came across. If a friend was in a similar scenario and had the same sort of reservations about asking the girl out, what would I tell them? My honest advice would be to show up, embrace the fear, and ask the question.

My experience in anxious moments (e.g. public speaking, expressing inter-personal problems, etc.) is no matter how hard I try to numb the feelings, there are only two options: show up and move through the anxiety (advance) or cower and retreat (decline).

So, after many questions about different products, techniques, and methods– which were really ways to delay the real question– I asked if she was free the following week.

Her response?

“I’m sorry but I’m taken.”

Hmm, I suppose I should have asked her out three years ago.

“I was still taken.”

Failure? Not at all.

In fact, I am quite proud of myself for showing up and having the courage to do what was necessary. Maybe I was turned down, but I made a move towards something that the Quiet Voice told me to pursue.

This is all part of the process of showing up, being present, embracing the fear, and being vulnerable.

After 30 years of accepting what I get and not pursuing those goals which truly excite me, all in the name of vulnerability, I’m re-working the habit.

What’s your experience with vulnerability and fear? Has it prevented you from pursuing a goal or a mate which you felt was too lofty or out of your league? How do you think it deterred you in life? Have you found a strategy to move through the fear and anxiety?

 

 

 

The Big “3-0”

On the first of June, I turned 30.

The weeks leading up were filled with wandering down the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, on my way to Invercargil. Try as I might, it was hard not to put too much emphasis on making this milestone a day to remember.

In April, someone I consider a mentor, Elliot Hulse, wrote this  blog about his birthday rituals. After reading it and then re-reading it around the end of May, I made a decision.

Instead of freaking out because I was turning 30 and wasn’t surrounded by a host of friends and family (by design?), June 1st was spent focusing on what matters to me.

Here’s a quick snapshot:

  1. Gym. Spent an hour stretching and lifting weights to get my head in the right space.
  2. Clearing. This one threw my day off, as there was some associated guilt. Essentially, I identified some areas of my life that were pulling me in a negative direction and consuming my daily thoughts, ultimately leading to rumination. The associated guilt was from moving past a relationship that had run its course and lingered to a point of hurt and pointing fingers, in both directions. It was hard to move past it, but in the end, appears to have been a wise decision.
  3. Massage. Later in the day, I chose to take care of my body through deep tissue massage and meditation. This seemed to help get back on track (mentally) and move forward from the negative feelings.
  4. No Drinking. Years of experience from massage post-care taught me that even one drink can ruin all the positive effects.
  5. New Journal. This really should be the first on the list. I realised that my focus for many years has been on the negative points in life– what goes wrong, vice what went right. This resonated throughout my thoughts, filter of the world, and ultimately to my journals. Of course the last two years have been fraught with depression, anxiety, and paranoia (see most of my previous posts), so the journals became the dumpster for those associated thoughts. A painting hanging in a friend’s home triggered an idea: “What if I chose to focus on the positive occurrences in my days as an experiment to see if I could change my reality?” To put this to the test, I bought and started a brand new journal, commissioned said friend’s daughter to draw something fun in the first two pages, and made a conscious effort to focus on the positive events of the day.
  6. Sleep. Nope, I didn’t stay up late partying. My normal bedtime is between 8-9 p.m. and I stuck to it. Again, this was inspired by Elliot’s list– I believe, number 3.

The next day, I sat down and wrote my intentions for the coming year:

  1. Positivity: My last journal was a trapping of mostly negative thoughts. As I work through my demons and move forward with life, there will continue to be negative feelings, no doubt. I set the intention and ask the Universe to help me focus on the positive occurrences in life.
  2. Listen to the Quiet Voice: Continue to trust in the wisdom and guidance of the Universe, as spoken through the Quiet Voice.
  3. Honesty: Be courageous to speak my truth and live honestly, regardless of the consequences.

That’s it. Three bullet points to focus on for the year. Sure, I could have gone on for days, but the reality is I wouldn’t have taken the list or the intention seriously. Start with three and move forward.

This year, I set my intentions to the Universe to become more than I was in my 20’s. Those years were formidable, filled with love and travel, as well as a lot of growing pains. I can only listen to the Quiet Voice and my body, for they are my guides toward a positive and fulfilling life.

 

Nature

Nature has become the catalyst for my clearest and most profound thinking. This is something new for me. Maybe it’s the more “free-reign” nature that, though includes hordes of tourists, just seems more pure than I have found elsewhere.

I don’t want to edit this post for everyone’s eyes so I make sure it’s “just right.” What you need to know is losing cell-coverage, not seeing another human being for several hours at a time, only hearing the sounds of rivers, birds, and rain… It’s better than any human interaction I’ve had lately.

Maybe I need to slow down on these posts. Not to say I crank them out on a high-frequency pitch, but the real essence and punch of what I am trying to convey seems to be lost.

Going off the grid (out of cell service) for an entire day has been great. Haven’t seen too many people on the road and the quiet voice lead me to a road, and I quote, “Is not a tourist route yet…” Yet should be in italics as both the person(s) who were responsible for writing and creating the sign knew that time would deliver.

I’m moving closer to something I can’t put into words.

I’ve reached a middle-ground between tourist and national. Other tourists annoy me and even those who seem to put forth an American North American accent, require extra energy to avoid. Maybe it’s because I want to feel special about this experience and see the beauty and live the vagabond life in my own bubble of false reality. Really, it doesn’t matter because I know when one of those aforementioned tourists points their face in my direction and starts to talk, a different, less calm version of me comes out. The conversation topic of You’re a Tourist/ I’m a Tourist: 50 Questions to Ruin an Experience, have grown old.

Is it odd to want people to approach a beautiful scenic area and take it in in silence? Does the 50 foot high elevated walkway with grand panoramic views of the Southern Alps need to be place to sing your praises about dabbing and why it’s still around?

This has become a snarky post about tourists when really I should point out how awesome it’s been to follow the quiet voice down random roads. No kidding.

I wake up each morning and have little-to-no plan for the day. Somehow, I go on wanders up glacial rivers, down hunting roads littered with livestock, find lakes with mirror like surfaces, and end the day somewhere different.

A work in progress is understanding what is happening within me and trying to make sense of it. Maybe that’s where I am going wrong. Maybe I’m too nubile in this transformation to see what is happening, no-less describe it on a forum.

Maybe it’s not time for you to know where I am and what I’m up to.

Maybe it’s just time to be.

 

Arts and Crafts

 

Through the edits and re-writes, it’s come to venturing back to Greymouth to write. Well, actually, I didn’t come here for the writing. Let’s call it a trip back to Monteith’s Brewery for the source of my flavorite New Zealand beer and a peaceful environment to jot my notes.

That being said, I did sort of put things together this morning on the drive south from Picton.

Instead of boring you all with the details of what I did to the van over the last month, I’ll just say a few lines and jump to the photos. The title actually comes from what I told whomever I was staying with at the time, what I was up to for the day: “Arts and Crafts.”

After coming back to Hawkes Bay in early April, I had a few ideas for changes to the Bango. Chiefly important was getting the wheels aligned. During the Northland trip, I backed out of a car park wrong and knocked the alignment out of whack. I decided it wasn’t too critical and pushed another month around Northland. What I thought was going to be a major issue– and after visiting 3 dealerships and two repair shops– turned out to be a few hours worth of work. Whew.

Next up was getting power in. All the research I did made things more confusing (e.g. Solar charge vs. Alternator) and ultimately I chose a very awkward business interaction that cost me $1200 USD.

Finally, I added some lighting, 2x 6″x9″ speakers (thank you Ryan), painted the kitchen area, added a few Art Deco motifs, and re-arranged the way I cook.

The end result is something more comfortable, capable, and in-line with what I wanted all along.

Enjoy….

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At Muriwai Beach, first trip with Bango V1
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In Rotorua, Added “Cutty Sark” green and went for an Art Deco pin stripe; Done with the chilly bin. 
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Before leaving Hawkes Bay. Reomved the gas cooker shelf an rerouted the gas bottle to the right side. Added hand-painted “Coffee” and “Cocktails” in Art Deco font; pressed tin (plastic) backsplash; pine moulding; kitchen cabinet; and hidden LED strip lighting. 
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2x 100AH 12v batteries, 300W AC to DC inverter, and 12v LED Dimmable Controller. 

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Had to run the 12v wires and 240v extension cord through the under-bed storage, which was a pain in the ass, in its own right. 
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Pre-fitted the Waeco Cool Pro 21L fridge into place to get an idea of how big the cabinet could be. 
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Step Two: Build base and top for runners and to suss out how to build the sides.
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Step Three: Build and fit the side legs, drawer, and runners.
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One challenge was making a square cabinet that fit into a concave wall, took up the least space, and allowed for (almost) complete opening of the fridge.

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Step Four: The wine cellar. Laugh at me now, but it works! This set-up allows for three magnums of wine to be stored securely. I borrowed the idea to use broom holders from a Pinterest post which used similar clamps in a caravan. 
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Interior picture with everything but the bedding reinstalled. 
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Best picture to show the effect of the lighting. Used 1650mm rails with over 120 LEDs (each rail) mounted up, working with the concave roof to make for a beautifully soft interior. (Note: wrenches are holding the rails to brackets for gluing) 
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Kitchen view with lights on. Since I only had one LED controller, the brightness in the kitchen is the same as the main cabin. 

 

 

 

Learn to Ask Better Questions

Ah yes, once again here I am gracing the pleather couches of my local McDonalds.  Trust me, if there was a better option that offered free wifi, power, shelter, coffee, and most importantly– seclusion and anonymity, I’d opt for it. With that being said, it has become my ritual to sleep like shit, wake up hours before the sun, and head here for coffee and connection. Today, I have a limited schedule, so I might as well put finger to keyboard and get this draft together.

Now back to your regularly scheduled pensiveness…

In response to my last post regarding demons, I want to say “thank you” to those who reached out. Though the message may have been a bit abstract, my writing this post now should reassure you I was not on death’s door days ago.

What I want to get at with this post stems from a question my mom asked me the day I posted last. She asked (in her usual concerned fashion) “how are you doing?” With which I responded “I don’t like that question and am not going to answer.” My mom is a champ. She has endured (and so has the rest of my family and friends) years of deployments, overseas living, traveling, and only seeing me in person two-weeks a year. Through all of that, I still don’t like or respect the question.

Asking someone “how are you?” or “how are things” is such a shit way of showing concern.

Now, I can’t present this argument without first saying–even this week–I’ve asked these questions to friends.

To everyone’s credit, I don’t think we really know how to express concern in a constructive manner. It’s icky to talk about anything that isn’t positive. To dig into the shit people are stewing on. The cancer their brother has. The drinking problem that stays hidden from the surface. The family member who overdosed. Finances overcoming…It’s all icky, shitty, nasty, genuine, life.

Now I don’t believe that anything makes you or I feel a certain way. Rather, we associate a response with a feeling. If I tell you “you are a piece of shit” it may or may not have an effect– dependent on whether we know each other and how I rate in your life. However, if you are a complete stranger, I ask how you are and you launch into the excruciating details of how you were raped at 19 by your husband who also tried to kill you (yes, true story) within 30 minutes of us meeting, I’m gonna feel a certain type of way.

Moving on. When someone asks me how I am doing or how are things going, so many thoughts come to mind. Am I supposed to tell you about my health? How about my financial well-being? How about the positive experiences between our contact? Or, maybe, you want to know my opinion on the other tourists who travel New Zealand.

How many times have you asked someone how they are and they immediately take a deep breath before answering in a restricted manner?

I don’t really give a shit if you or anyone else thinks that I am overthinking this. The truth is, I don’t give a fuck about sports. How does this relate? Sports is more openly discussed than feelings or thoughts on life. Why?!

I take pride in noticing the layer of reality that others don’t. You’re busy watching “the big game” and I’m lost in why this season the jerseys are designed differently than last season.

My belief is you should speak and act with purpose. Of course we don’t have a quota on our words, but maybe we should. How different would life be if we were limited to only so many words per day? How would you use them? Would you prioritize what you said or didn’t say?

No maybe I’m lost in my own head, but I truly feel like the communication we have is incredibly superficial. Instead of asking how I am, maybe just say “hello”. Acknowledge my existence. If you care about how I am doing–truly– then ask. Don’t waste my time with your pre-programmed feigned interest.

Rant over.

 

Northland

So, for the past month, I’ve been traveling the northernmost parts of the North Island of New Zealand.

Writing this from Coromandel, an earlier look at the map reminds me just how far I have to go to get back to Hawkes Bay. According to Google, I’ve travelled roughly 2000KM over the last month.  In my opinion, spending a few nights in each spot (and skipping iconic spots due to weather and interest) I have expedited this trip as much as one could.

So what have I learned? Well, too much time on your own is not healthy. Conversely, too much time in one place is not either. Based on the two criterion: rumination and irritability, I may have found the formula for travel: 1 day drive + (=/-) 5 days stay = positive mental state.

And what have I done? Well, I’ve listened to the quiet voice. In other words, no plans, no itinerary, only follow the road north, then south.

Instead of writing a full blown post about what I saw and my experience (which isn’t my style) here’s some of the top pictures from along the way….

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“Andrew, I want you to draw me like one of your French girls.”
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Entrance to the Capitaine Bougainville Monument coastal walk.
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A double rainbow on Bart’s birthday, over the Otamure campsite.
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Just outside Puriri Bay. Just looks nice, you know?
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What?
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The more picturesque side of the Muriwai Gannet Colony.
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Admiring all the shit from the Muriwai Gannet Colony
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Just the tiniest little tag-a-long
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Gotta start small when exploring the waterfalls
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The “Big Tree” a.k.a. “Tāne Mahuta” which is the largest Kauri tree standing, today.
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Cape Regina (Ree-Eng-Uhhh) Light house. And some random European male who fucked my picture

 

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I’m guessing I was inspired by the Haka display in Waitangi.
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The time I got high during a wander and had a private dolphin show.
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As seen on Facebook. 
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The Southern Arch is the largest arch in the Southern Hemisphere. 
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Muriwai Beach. I’d say it’s the most beautiful beach I’ve visited, to date.
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The cliffs and caves of Whatipu.
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Ignore the shades of blue and green behind me and check out that sexy hair!

The Mazda “Bango”

As I mentioned in my two previous posts, I bought a 2001 Mazda Bongo a few weeks back. I wanted to dedicate a single blog post to this, as there is plenty to cover.

READER BE WARNED: THIS IS A LONG POST

First off, it’s not much of anything to speak of.  The van came to Hawke’s Bay Toyota as a completely empty, ex-trade, Japanese import van. Bongos are a dime a dozen here and since the Japanese regulations on emissions and the high-depreciation between 6-10 years of age, they are exported world-wide and sold off. Many of the others I looked at in Auckland had multiple rows of seats, which would have required removal and junking– a step I didn’t feel like taking, and didn’t rate in condition or pricing.

So why buy something so sparse when I could have bought a pre-kitted alternative, all-be-it, for less?

For the most part, the story I tell people is I didn’t want someone else’ mess to sleep in. Additionally, taking this route cost me nearly $9,000 NZD, just for the van, plus another $2,500 NZD for the fit-out.  Average price for someone who is on a similar visa, is $2-3,000 NZD. Sure, you’ll get a vehicle which may pass the Warrant of Fitness inspection, but it also boasts nearly 300,000km on the dash and who knows what sort of DNA in the cushions. Gross, I know.

The true story? After 12 years of travel and living in either a rented, government provided, or friend’s home, I longed for a place of my own. This van has become both a project to focus on AND a place to sleep.  Really, this option strikes the balance for me of having a home, yet being able to get up and go at a moment’s notice.

Below is a brief snapshot of what I’ve experienced so far:

18-FEB-17: Crashed out in the street last night next to a mate’s house. The rain has been falling non-stop since Wednesday night and it’s making van-dwelling, um, interesting. You’d imagine that sleeping under a tin roof would be enough to lull someone to sleep, in the same fashion one of those white noise machines does, however it does the opposite for me. Condensation and high humidity also cause the underside of my mattress to get a bit wet, as well as the windows, clothing, food, well…really anything that is porous becomes damp. Today, I’m meant to install a subfloor, using a hook-up from the same mate who is hosting my street party. I’m a bit hesitant to install anything with the amount of rain coming down and the relative humidity in the air. Also, the bananas that have been in the back of the van for the last week, have reached a state of more black than yellow and invited those little gnats.

Smell is also and issue with humidity. Between the wet shoes (which radiate existing internal stank) and wet clothes (which radiate B.O.), a sealed van becomes a pressure cooker of human funk. Intent is to have a specific laundry hamper, off the floor, and a routine washing cycle.

19-23 FEB-17: Spent the weekend and part of the week at my friend Chris’s place. Sort of a weird place for me to move from, but it taught me a bit about Kiwi friendliness. Chris owns a building company called CMV Builders and was willing to help me out with tool use and sourcing affordable materials. It was definitely an exercise in quieting the ego.  Chris was able to breeze through helping me cut down ply, organize the inside of the van, go around hang-ups, and just simplify the entire experience. So where does the ego come in? Chris is a far superior builder in skills and experience to me, but what do you expect after so many years in the game? Since my job in the Navy was actually called “Builder” it was always a point of contention that I didn’t have but, 8 months, out of almost 12 years served, actually working in as a builder. So, through all the negative self-talk that went through my head; all the incredibly violent mental self-flagellation; all the head bashing and criticism on how experienced I was meant to be, I had to come to terms that I had a friend helping me and I should be grateful.

Alright, moving forward.

What started as an empty, ex-trade van, turned into a multi-storage-offering, kitchen containing, American-sized-sleeping, Mazda ‘Bango.’ All I can say is, if it wasn’t for Pinterest and Chris, I’m pretty sure the van would only be able to sleep an average sized midget. Seriously.

Since my stay in New Zealand is only limited by a 12 month visa, I could work everyday to make it more homely.  However, I did have an Atmosphere and Brother Ali concert at the Power Plant in Auckland, on the 25th so that narrowed my window to work. By Friday, the 24th I was out of Hawkes Bay and sleeping on the side of the road, somewhere near Mount Eden in Auckland.

The new configuration was working, though it did take a bit of getting used to. As I am 6′-4,” There really is only so much room. If I slept with my head against the kitchen partition, then my feet could stick out between the front two seats, maximizing what space remained.

2-MAR-17: Finally got around to buying proper cushions for the inside. A small shop in Auckland, Carter and Co.  did a fantastic job and with less than a 24 hour turn-around, I was able to sleep more soundly tonight. At first, I was shocked by the bottomline of $520 NZD ($367 USD), but decided to push forward anyway. Mind you, it’s not the best way to do business; accepting the first quote with little hesitation. But, really, I was tired of sleeping on a droopy air mattress and what I thought was going to be an upgrade– a spongy “Kiddie” mattress, that equated to sleeping on plywood.

4-MAR-17: I’ve decided to stop working on the van for a bit. After over a week straight of pouring money into this project, I cannot stomach spending another day running to Mitre Ten Mega, Briscoes, Warehouse, or some odd second-hand shop, on the prowl for whatever random improvement I found on Pinterest. I’ve also decided to stick around Muriwai Beach for the weekend. Seriously, I didn’t know what day it was or really, how to greet someone, “Good Morning…er…Afternoon…er, Evening…’Awh fuck it.’ ‘Good Day!'”To those of you who vacation, you know the feeling. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to be out of sorts and only concentrate on what’s in front of you. After all, that’s what meditation is about, right? Be it that I have a limited income, the whole northland to explore, and actually take in the places I stay, it’s worth postponing anymore renovations.

So what’s next?

  1. As of the date of this post, I’m testing out a theory. If I pre-make nine meals, ration 15L of water, take cold showers,  and wash all laundry prior-to, I should be able live off the grid for up-to three days.
  2. If 1. fails, I’ll look into purchasing a three-way fridge, which would require a whole host of additional support gear, including a 9kg gas bottle and a house battery.
  3. Fully self-contained.

Below is the progression, to date.

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Rear of the van at the dealership.
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Rear liner, insulation, and glue removed for sub-floor installation. So much room for activities!!!
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Sub-floor installed. Used 7mm Poplar non-structural plywood on top of 20mm polystyrene (styrofoam) insulation board.
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Chris had a few bits of batt insulation in the garage, so we stuffed the walls, hoping to add a bit more climate control. 
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Kitchen partition and under-bed storage installed.
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First parts of the kitchen installed. Gas burner is fed by a 2kg gas bottle, which fits perfectly under ‘countertop.’
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The ‘couch.’ Folds towards the rolling door to allow for King Single bed to be laid out. Credit to Pinterest for their space saving idea.
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Full sleeping area complete. Just enough storage are on the right side for a future set of shelving or 3-way refrigerator.
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Rough framed kitchen, with swing out gas burner and under counter cabinets. 
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New king single bedding, provided by Carter and Co. 
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After a couple coats of primer, the kitchen is functional. Gas bottle is hidden under the counter, on the left.

 

 

The (First) 28 Keys to Van Dwelling

I’ve been doing this van dwelling thing for almost a month now and here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Your home is never going to be as tidy as you want it to be.
  2. It will smell.
  3. You will smell.
  4. You have to make an executive decision between mosquitoes and sweating in your sleep–in other words: window open or  window closed.
  5. You get to sleep somewhere new each night, without moving your bed.
  6. A 2.2 liter diesel doesn’t hill well.
  7. Your most basic needs can occupy a full day.
  8. Prepare not to shower often, unless you are willing to pay for it.
  9. It’s O.K. to sleep in the same clothes you wore that day, then wear them again the next.
  10. No matter how wild your hair and beard look in the morning, no one in public really seems to care.
  11. In the bedding game, the thicker the better.
  12. Charge EVERYTHING before going off the grid.
  13. Be open to random strangers approaching you (really, your home) and trying to peddle drugs, buy cigarettes, see what your van looks like inside, or borrow a light.
  14. Be open to baby wipe showers.
  15. The city (Auckland) brings out the worst in you.
  16. Hand rolling cigarettes is a legitimate hobby.
  17. Life goes on without the internet.
  18. Far fewer people actually seem interested from back home.
  19. Don’t inflate your air mattress during the day, then expect to sleep soundly at night. Especially on the beach.
  20. McDonalds is still shit for food, but who can argue with four hours of free internet and people watching?
  21. If there is one thing the Navy taught you that applies now: Secure all gear. Trust me, the combination of learning to drive a manual van, stiff suspension, back roads, and that untethered bag chair, do not make for a fun drive.
  22. It’s a lonely experience, at times. No matter how bad you want to, leave past relationships in the past and realize this is all part of the process.
  23. Talking to yourself and laughing at your own jokes is not a sign of losing it.
  24. When in NZ, barefoot is more fashionable at times than shoes.
  25. Kingfisher “Strong” beer, water, and instant coffee will keep you going.
  26. Science (Google) has taught us that just because you eat Swiss cheese three times a day for a week straight doesn’t mean it gets to be the scapegoat for YOU smelling like Swiss cheese. (Gross I know. It’s the new deodorant.)
  27. Contrary to automatic thoughts as a result of 12 years of military conditioning; you do not need to have a plan for every second of your time.

The First 13 in New Zealand

Has it really been 13 days since I arrived to New Zealand?! You could say I’ve fallen a bit behind on blogging, but the truth is, I’ve had to tend to basic needs, but I’ll get to that later.

The journey started on Sunday in Wellington, which go figure, was windy. Having been there before, it wasn’t anything too exciting; rather a place to crash for the night, as my flight arrived at midnight.

Monday, was spent driving to Havelock North, where my friend Tom and his partner offered up a spot to crash. After having left the right-hand drive region of the world (Pacific) three years prior, getting back into a rental brought a slight feeling of anxiousness. Fortunately, New Zealand is fantastic for accommodating their foreign tourists and the glaringly large red and white arrow which read “Keep Left” was enough to sort me out.

Tuesday through the following Monday was spent meeting Khalif’s crew and checking out the restaurants, pubs, and breweries in the area. As he made abundantly clear, Hawkes Bay is flush with craft restaurants, breweries, and wineries, and that’s where they spend most of their time. Tom being a wine-maker and chef, was surrounded and connected to anyone and everyone in the hospitality trade. As much as I felt welcomed into his circle, I didn’t get the feeling this was my tribe.

Monday was ‘drive to Auckland’ day. The mission was and had been to find a van to turn into a home. After searching out Hawkes Bay, I had only found two suitable vans, but didn’t want to settle there. Since most of the online postings for caravans originated out of Auckland, I figured it would be worth my while to drive north. After a six-hour drive, I decided to bed down at the Orere Top Ten holiday park, just south of Auckland. Taking a step back here for a moment… Before leaving the U.S., I had this beautiful vision of sleeping in a hammock to both conserve space in the van AND as an alternate sleeping option. After doing a bit of Google Recon, it seemed feasible to tie one end to a tree and the other through the B-Pillar of my rental car. After everything was rigged up and the obligatory Instagram picture was taken, I tested out the nest.

Unfortunately the 2016 Ford Ecosport wasn’t worth of holding my roughly 120KG (265LB) American ass. It wasn’t the 550 cord that snapped– actually, nothing snapped. It was the slow creaking of the plastic and metal of the Ecosport, which after I was quietly reminded, was a rental. It would have been just my luck to snap off the spare tire cowl or permanently tear the window seal… Alas, I had to fold and sleep inside. This would be the first of three nights to-date in which I slept in a compact vehicle. As ‘holy-fuck-was-that-terrible’ uncomfortable as it was trying to fit all 6′-4″ of me into a car meant for 4-5 average sized Asians, I considered it “all part of the experience.” My only first world complaints: Mosquitos and back knots.

Tuesday to Friday I spent at the Brown Kiwi backpackers in Auckland. This 19th century house-turned-hostel was actually pretty chill. Not sure how they got this place passed through city ordinance, but I’m glad they did. Most of the guests were either German or French, sprinkled in with Swiss, American, Irish, and even two babies. This place felt like a big family home. The kitchen was often busy with someone cooking their native meal and the back garden, especially in the corner, was occupied by Europeans chain smoking rolled cigarettes and drinking cheap beer. I, as usual, spent my time on the fringes, avoiding the expected and superficial conversation topics of ‘where are you from’ and ‘you speak funny,’ in exchange for a show-and-tell with a 60-something German named “Peter” highlighting how many times he had to cross the border between Argentina and Bolivia while driving north. Seems like no matter how often I try to stay away from people, I do tend to run into someone worth conversing with– usually their much older than me.

After only a half day of sussing out a few different car dealers in Auckland, I decided to proceed with the 2001 Mazda Bongo (see next post) from a dealer in Napier, which happened to be the second van I test drove. On Friday, I turned in the rental and took a flight back down to Napier. Unfortunately, the Bongo wasn’t ready, but the dealer hooked me up with a (even more compact) spare car to use for the night. Once again, I opted to stay in the car, vice go a step further and pay for a hotel. I’d like to say that this stay was better than the first, but it was worse. However, the mosquitos left me alone, lose-win.

Saturday brought my new(ish) van. After finalizing the handover and getting a bit of diesel, I headed off to the Napier Non-Self Contained Freedom Camp. Directly on the ocean, the freedom camp is an organized location for travelers to spend the night, with little amenities. The non-self contained means vehicles that don’t meet the NZ standards for off the grid camping for up-to three days. For the first night of crashing in a van, I could not complain about the view. A couple of points I found note-worthy: The Mr. Whippy ice cream truck visited out park and I saw kids come out of the god-damn wood work. No shit, music and all. The second, while waiting outside of the two single bathrooms, I ran into a Frenchman who needed to shit. While we were both waiting, I said “might as well go use the trees,” to which he replied, ” you’re a man! Go over on the beach, look up at the moon and pee!” To which I most certainly obliged. I gotta tell ya (or whomever reads this) that it was fucking majestic. Just me, the ocean, a full moon, and the waves crashing on a beach made of perfect skipping stones.

The next morning, I woke up at 5:32 a.m. shivering and wrote a note on my phone:

It’s 5:32 a.m. and I am cold. The air mattress was filled with warm air and it is almost flat now. The single blanket isn’t doing much more than keeping hypothermia at bay. I almost pissed the bed, but fortunately woke from that dream. My upper body is pretty knotted from poor sleeping (tonight) and sleeping in two different cars over the last week. I can see why people spring for foam bedding. I’ll need to get a fuck off good blanket and see if foam is available today. Is winter almost here or is because I’m at the beach? Data doesnt last long when using my phone for GPS and throughout the day. Even if I’m using free wifi at stores, it’s just not long enough. FUCK I’m COLD. 

I ended up getting up around 6, after debating whether to leave or not.