“You’re acting like a fucking ninny,” the emergency room doctor scolded me.
I was so confused. There I was laying on the hospital bed in Moab UT, in great pain, I could barely talk, I could barely stand, something was very wrong, and this doctor – whose job it is to take care of me – was cursing at me and telling me to leave.
“It’s been a fucking guessing game trying to get any information out of you, it’s time for you to go.”
This statement further confused me because I had just told the nurse all my symptoms, which the doctor literally read back to me word for word from the clipboard containing her notes. The doctor left the room and I asked my buddy Matt (who had driven me to the urgent care) what was going on. He was just as confused as me, so he followed the doctor into the other room to ask. The doctor told him that I was taking advantage of him, and it was time for him to take me home.
I try to take responsibility for everything in my life, but I still do not know what I did to this doctor to deserve this treatment. Later, I called the hospital, I filed a formal complaint, I told them not to send me a bill because I wouldn’t pay it. Just so you know, if you ever want a doctor to curse at you while you’re in pain, it’s an experience that costs about $1,500 at Moab Regional Hospital, so start saving your money now.
The night before, Matt had made the most delicious gluten-free/dairy-free mac’n’cheese with nutritional yeast as a cheese substitute. It was so good, especially while camping under the stars around a cozy fire. But I guess I ate too much (something I do often) – the massive amount of bacteria in my gut from the nutritional yeast in the pasta made my body freak out, and the convulsions and hallucinations I was experiencing were from extreme indigestion. If you’ve ever had too much probiotics, you know what I mean.
In the middle of the night I woke up feeling really strange. I felt like the van was too small. I had trouble breathing. I was hallucinating, but it felt like a panic attack. I got out of bed immediately and stepped outside the van to get some fresh air. But I found that I couldn’t stand. Then I felt a shuddering pain in my right side and I fell to my knees. I began convulsing uncontrollably. Something was very very wrong. Eventually it passed, but I needed to get to the emergency room immediately. But in my weakened state, all I could do is say, “Matt. Matt. Matt. Matt.” I kept repeating his name until he woke up and took me to the hospital.
The next morning, I gave myself an enema to flush out my intestines and went back to sleep. I woke again with a strong urge to go to the bathroom and had full blown diarrhea. I was still having trouble walking, but I made it back to the van safely. But when I reached for the handle, I realized that I had locked myself out. I was still getting used to living in the van, so there were still some systems and habits I hadn’t yet assimilated. With no phone or wallet, I went to the campground office to look for somebody who could pick my lock. Turns out the handyman had the skills because he was an ex-convict. Very comforting.
I was having a hell of a time adapting to my new lifestyle. On the way to Moab, we ran into a snowstorm in New Mexico. Then that whole thing with the pasta and the hospital. Then I got locked out of the van. But it didn’t stop there! After we were done camping for Jeep Week, my buddy Matt and his girlfriend went to another event for passover, and I was left to fend for myself in Moab for a couple days. I kept having panic attacks, which I slowly realized were due to a lack of oxygen – altitude sickness basically. I found a can of Oxygen and stopped smoking and drinking, which helped. For so long, I had been at sea level in high humidity with a nice cozy apartment. Now I was at high elevation in a very dry climate with no amenities. All those creature comforts were looking pretty appealing. I would have killed to have my own Air B’n’b to just veg out and watch Netflix, but if I was going to be doing this van thing for the next year, I needed to figure out how to adapt.
I was forced to figure it out on my own, which actually ended up being a super helpful experience. Where do I park to sleep? How do I protect myself? How do I start my day? Where do I shower? Those first few nights alone, I had to figure out a new lifestyle the hard way. Each night, I fell asleep with my heart beating so hard it felt like it was going to leave my chest. My body was in full-fledged fight-or-flight mode. I focused on taking slow, deep breaths, and somehow found a way to fall asleep. But once asleep, I actually slept very well because of the altitude and clean air.
At some point, I realized that I had not prepared for the transition from having a very specific routine everyday in the same place everyday, to no routine at all in a new place that my body didn’t like. So the next morning, I drove up to Arches National Park to do my morning routine and exercise at a higher altitude. Then I descended back down to Moab for the day to do my work, explore, and relax. That worked well. Having my routine again helped immensely.
After that first weekend of living in the van, I felt like a champion. I did it! I survived. I survived the vanlife! Everything after that initial hump was painless and beautiful. But I had a hell of a time adapting at first.
Your body is an incredible machine. It’ll find a way to survive. We’ve been through ice ages and saber tooth tigers, we’ve lived in caves, we’ve hunted woolly mammoths, we’ve figured out how to farm – the genetic history that you are programmed with is pretty incredible. Trust in its ability to adapt.
After Moab, I spent a week in Denver and because of my previous experience, I handled the altitude well. Then I took my time getting back to Austin. I was really enjoying life on the road, being in a different small town everyday. It became effortless because I stayed consistent with my routine: I woke up (usually in a Walmart parking lot) before the sun rose, did my morning routine, made a protein shake, worked for a few hours at a coffee shop or Whole Foods, ate an American Breakfast around noon (my favorite), drove for a few hours in the afternoon to the next small town, and landed at a movie theater to relax and wind down before parking at the next Walmart. Then the next day, I did it all over again. I found that when I didn’t have a plan, I began to panic as flashbacks of Moab came back to haunt me. The only way I was able to stay grounded with so much travel was because of my routine. When you’re in a different place everyday with no home base, your routine becomes your home. It doesn’t matter where you are, if you have the same routine, you’ll be fine.
CREATE A ROUTINE!
My Morning Routine is an adaptation of the Miracle Morning, created by Hal Elrod:
1.) First, I put on my exercise clothes, turn on the electricity, make hot water with lemon
2.) Meditate outside while sipping hot water with lemon, watching the light change as the sun rises so my circadian rhythms can sync with the earth’s natural photo periods
3.) Journal – I like to use the 5min journal, journaling gratitude, what I’d like to accomplish that day, and affirmations
4.) Read – I love to read, usually a book on screenwriting or travel or personal growth
5.) Sometimes Affirmations (I say them out loud to myself) and Visualizations (my vision boards)
6.) Exercise – either running, 7min workout, or yoga, depending on the situation
7.) Cold shower if available (or else I just dry off and go smelly for the day)
8.) Fatty coffee or protein shake
9.) Get to work! Usually at Whole Foods or a local coffee shop.
*Coffee also helps at high altitude. It is not recommended to stop drinking coffee when ascending to high altitude, because the withdrawal symptoms are very similar to symptoms of altitude sickness.