No Place Like Home

No Place Like Home

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Randi Hirsch

Existing is a game of eternal compromise, reevaluation, and modifications. Once in a while, a person comes across something that fits his or her life perfectly. For me, living in my truck was finding a square hole for a square peg.

While spending the summer under a topper in the bed of my Ford Ranger, there was no home to habitually return to, no television programs—but most of all, no daily ritual. Many people have spent a night or two sleeping in their vehicles, but an extended period of time away from electricity and conveniency erodes a person’s connection to society. The freedom from a world of rent, vacuuming, and predictability is a fair price to pay for living without heat, a fridge, or a toilet. Both everyday habits as well as common ideologies become challenged from the different perspective that this type of life offers. For me, residing in a vehicle broke down the barrier between civilization and nature, and I could randomly spend the day at a lake or play in the mountains whenever nature called. One arbitrary weekend illustrates this type of life perfectly.

On Friday, I pulled away from work and had absolutely no idea where I would end up, which is an exceptionally weightless feeling. Planning ahead, even a couple of hours, has always been more of a hassle than it was worth. That day was a typical summer day in Bozeman, blue skies and hot as hell. At Durston Avenue, I turned east, simply because I had no reason to turn west. The Gallatin Valley and the surrounding area were immediately available for exploration, and when I reached the interstate, I kept heading east. Around Livingston, I realized I had never slept in the Crazy Mountains, so that became the destination for the night.

There are lots of stories about how the Crazy Mountains got their name, but after sleeping there, I will always have my own theory. That night, howls and shrieks that sounded like wind through the trees kept me awake for a long time, especially because the air itself was still. Still, as eerie as the night was, the crystal clear morning more than made up for it.

Waking up in the back of a truck is a beautiful way to be introduced to each day. A simple bed made of saddle blankets, a camping pad, and sleeping bag is more comfortable than it sounds and breakfast in bed was a regular benefit. Compared to a jarring buzz of an alarm clock, the sun backlighting trees is a gentle initiation to the morning, and soon I hit the road again.

In Montana, interstates cross the state north and south, east and west. Most of the population lies along these interstates, but on a secondary road, the emptiness of Montana can be truly understood. With some stretches, a person really is able to see nothing: nothing man-made, nothing to block the landscape, nothing to indicate where in the world the stretch of land is located. I had left the Crazy Mountains by one of these side roads, but sooner or later, all roads catch up to a town, and I arrived in Helena just in time for lunch.

Compared to the Crazy Mountains, Helena was a rat race. Every person who has ever spent the night away from civilization understands the magnification of life that occurs after being stripped of the relentless sounds, lights, and vibrations of the city. In nature, the slightest sound or light is never random and every natural occurrence feels significant. Although public restrooms are a distinct advantage, a city is not a good place to live in a vehicle; it literally feels like living in a glass house. Curtains can be put up, but there is always a feeling of otherness right outside the vehicle. Strangers having conversations walk by only two feet away and there is no way to shut the door and carve space from the frantic world outside. Living in a vehicle in town is also illegal, as the Bozeman police have had to warn me.

Although there are many problems and disadvantages to living in a vehicle, these mattered less and less with the passing of the summer. A list of frustrations could stretch from Four Corners to Bozeman: flat tires, stinky clothes that won’t dry, wet shoes, nights that are either too hot or too cold, and shaving possessions to the bare necessities. Nothing stays cool inside a truck in the middle of summer and just cooking a real dinner on my cantankerous old camp stove was a process that took hours. These details became slight annoyances when compared to the sheer beauty of life, and I was constantly reminded of the “Grand Scale of Things”. A downpour late at night at the New World Gulch trailhead kept me awake trying to use duct tape and plastic bags to patch leaks in the truck topper. I eventually accepted that puddles were inevitable and fell asleep despite the constant drips. The next morning I was in a wet sleeping bag that smelled like a drowned chicken, but also woke to a dazzlingly beautiful landscape framed by fog.

By following a narrow single-lane from Helena through Ennis, I strayed into Virginia City by late afternoon. Years ago, my cousin and I used to play a game on horseback in the trees and brush: the only rule was that we could not go back the same direction we had been. Retracing my path from Virginia City back to Ennis felt wrong, and I turned east as soon as I could. Soon, I was following the Madison River towards Bozeman, and as the sky darkened, I found a perfect spot on the river to camp.

The quietness and solitariness of living in a vehicle is impossible to ignore and as twilight dripped down over the Madison, the calmness was intimidating. Life becomes vivid and immediate without a pattern or predictability. Instead of multitasking or trying to catch up to the millions of things to do, the pace of life quiets down and leaves room for more striking experiences. The summer stretched on, but I never regretted one day of living in my truck; instead, I only wonder what would have happened if I had turned west on Durston rather than east that Friday.

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