Five below and all's well in the vanhold

The alarm in my phone goes off at six fifteen because I have to be at school at seven thirty. I am buried under layers of down piled snug against the ceiling. It was a major effort last night to wedge myself between the blankets and the bed. I reach out for my phone, still beeping, and my hand gets tangled in the icy tendrils of my hair. I can’t reach the phone. Bro is laying on my shoulder, which he’s determined to be the most logical place now that most of the bed is jam packed to the ceiling with warm blankets.

“Bro,” I tell him, “its morning. You have to move so I can get the alarm. Don’t step on my hair, it’ll break.”

He scoots over, reluctantly, and I grab the phone. The numbers on it have gone all fuzzy from the cold, and when I hit snooze it takes a few seconds to stop beeping. This is my main problem in the cold: electronics. The laptop doesn’t work, the phone is fuzzy, and the batteries have all died.

Under the blankets I am sweaty and hot. I know when I roll out of bed the cold will seem refreshing, and I know that if I don’t cover up quickly my sweat will freeze and I’ll be chilled the whole day.

I roll out of bed and land on a chunk of ice with my bare foot. The cold air is refreshing, but I pull my long underwear out from under the blankets and pull them on quickly, and then the clothes I was wearing yesterday and a coat. Outside I’m still warm, but I make Bro jog down to the end of the road with my anyways before I feed him breakfast.

Once he’s got food I grab some clothes and my frozen water jugs and head into my mom’s house. The thermometer on the porch reads five below. I’ve got most of my food stashed in here where it stays warm, and there’s instant warm water at the flick of a faucet, or I would have a lot bigger problems.

I’ve given up on heating the van. It was a futile effort. Plus, with all these down comforters, who needs heat? I drink lots of ginger tea that keeps me extra warm before bed, and I try to wear lots of layers and keep active so I don’t get chilled. Also it’s very convenient to park in people’s driveways so you can use their house for your cold computer and stuff.

So, fellow van dwellers, here’s what I’ve learned so far about living in a van in cold weather:

– Stay healthy. If you get sick, you’ll get cold and it will suck.
– Cold prevention is easier than cold remediation.
– Drink fresh ginger tea to keep the blood going to your fingers and toes.
– Go to bed warm. If you are cold run the van a little to warm it up and go for a jog to warm your body up before you get in bed. Never go to bed cold.
– Down is the answer. Really. You can find lots of old down feather beds at thrift stores, and if you layer them all inside a duvet cover they make a big warm blanket. The less you’re wearing under the down, the warmer you’ll be.
– Keep some clothes under the covers with you.
– First thing in the morning get moving and get your blood pumping, even if you aren’t cold yet. Wear lots of layers. Wool socks are essential.
– If you’re just sitting around get up and get moving every hour or so and drink ginger tea, it’ll make a big difference.

I’m going to start experimenting with an oil pan heater to keep water and stuff melted. I’ll report back soon.


  1. wow, sounds invigorating. I love sleeping here all piled under down comforters with the window wide open, even though it’s nowhere near as cold here as it is there. but having a bed partner definately helps to keep warm. No wonder Bro shares the blankets!
    Hope you enjoy going to school!!

  2. Brrrrr. I am not sure I’d ever dare get out from under those covers! “Don’t step on my hair, it’ll break” is classic!

  3. God bless ya. It was in the upper 40s here (coastal Florida! This is a coooold snap!) this morning, and I ran outside to feel the change of season–and ran right back in. (By the way, Ms. Tara–I am anticipating my first shipment from Mountain Rose Herbs; as well as a shipment of books from, linked from your blog. After I’m through with reading ‘Cunt’ again, I’m going to order two of Derrick Jensen’s works–I love teacher memoirs. He really is an inspiration.) I hope you have a fun spell at school.

  4. Yeek! I don’t know how you can live in such a cold environment. I would be absolutely miserable. It’s barely less than 60 degrees here in Virginia and I already want to run screaming to the south! Please stay safe and warm!

  5. I’m starting basic–with several herbal teas. I browsed the monthly specials and ordered the red mandarin essential oil, as well–I have a diffuser in my boudoir, and I love mandarin…it’s just so cheery. Once I receive my Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine and get a sense of what’s farmed/produced locally, I’ll branch out a bit. I’m seriously considering enrolling in Susun Weed’s ABCs of Herbalism correspondence course…perhaps as a holiday gift to myself. I’m sure the teas are going to be scrumptious–they looked beautiful.

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