On the road
Macie Pifer didn’t grow up “outdoorsy”. She grew up in Ohio and didn’t spend much time outside — except during summer camp. It wasn’t until after college that she decided to move out to Seattle, following her sister.
Seattle, Washington. If you haven’t ever visited or lived there, it is the epitome of outdoorsy. Everyone skis, or hikes, or camps, or rafts, or climbs. Or all of the above. It’s hard not to live in the area without being exposed to an outdoorsy lifestyle. It’s almost inevitable to be invited on a sunset hike, or to the climbing gym after work.
So of course, Macie got swept up into it all. “I ended up loving it, I always felt my best when I was outdoors,” she said.
Then, during the beginning of the pandemic, she discovered Vanlife. And dove right in. She watched hours of YouTube videos from Vanlifers traveling the country. She knew that was the life that she wanted to live — outdoors, traveling around from place to place, wherever the wind takes you.
Then in November 2020, she quit her job and decided it was as good a time as any to travel full time. So she bought a van on Craigslist and hit the road.
She’s been living on the road for a year now, in a Ram Promaster, traveling around the west. “I just took my second trip down the California coast, and now I’m in the Arizona desert,” she said.
Although the desert isn’t Macie’s favorite place, it allows so much space to spread out. The desert Southwest has so much BLM camping — free dispersed camping on public land where you can stay for up to 14 days.
Sure, dispersed camping typically doesn’t have any facilities like picnic tables, or bathrooms, but when you’re living in your van, traveling with everything they need with them at all times, you just don’t need any of that. A place to park and hang out is all you really need. If you’re in the right place at the right time, you could have a wide open beautiful space, all to yourself, for as long as you want.
For Macie, the community of traveling nomads has pulled her in deeper into this lifestyle. She spent a week at Skooliepalooza, a vanlife and schoolie (school busses turned into homes on wheels) gathering in the Arizona desert.
There, she found her community. She spent the week playing in the desert, connecting with other people who live the same lifestyle, listening to music and having a great time.
As someone who is always cold, Macie was so excited to have her whole diesel heater set up this year, after spending all of last winter without any heat in the van. But, at the end of January, her fuel line melted, cutting off all ability to heat her van. Once again, freezing in the winter.
Despite warm days while the sun is up, the desert Southwest turns frigid as soon as the sun goes down in the winter. Due to the lack of humidity in the air, deserts lose all heat as soon as the sun is gone.
“I’m never warm enough,” said Macie, “around the campfire, I’m always trying to get on top of the flames to stay warm.” But her Selk’bag, she says, lets her feel comfortable for the first time in her life without needing to be the closest to the fire.
Macie found her Selk’bag Nomad to be the perfect solution for those freezing nights without a heater. “The second the sun goes down in the desert, my friends look at me, and say ‘Okay Macie, it’s Selk time, where’s your bag!?’” said Macie.
The festival vibe of Schooliepalooza, with musicians and performers, and DJs, and new and old friends from around the country was a blast for Macie. “I literally got to wear my sleeping bag to a party,” she said. “The side pocket is the perfect size for a can of beer, and the vents are great when I’m dancing too hard.”
Despite the beautiful views, and idyllic stories, Vanlife isn’t all rainbows and picture-perfect campsites. It’s tough living in a small box on wheels. Everything you own is constantly in your space, and doing anything often requires moving ten other things and rearranging the whole space.
It can be cold, wet, snowy, or super windy, and you’re still out there, at least somewhat exposed to it all. Anything that makes life warmer, easier, or more comfortable, is always appreciated.
Macie knows that Vanlife probably won’t last forever for her. But she wants to enjoy and appreciate it fully while it's still something she feels drawn to. It’s such a special lifestyle, to go wherever the wind takes you. Just living in the moment, in the back of a Ram Promaster van.
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