In the Can


In your usual non-road-trip existence, you don’t often find yourself saying (or thinking), “You know, I think I’m gonna go take a dump at the Flagstaff library.” Most of us may go our entire lives without uttering such a sentence. But on the road, this is a thing. So is going #2 at the Moab library, or the Springdale library outside Zion National Park.


I lived out of a van for almost three years, driving around the West. It was only sometimes the stuff of your Tumblr and Instagram daydreams, sunsets and sunrises out the back window, steaming coffee out of an aluminum mug, staring out into wide open spaces be it the ocean or the desert. I’d say I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but that would be lying, because I did trade it for an apartment in Denver a little over a year ago. Perhaps “I wouldn’t take those years, so now the van is my escape hatch.


I took several extended trips through Utah and Arizona this spring, some for stories I was writing or hoped to write, some for fun. Each was a fun escape from the city I live in, some needed time out on the highway, and a reminder of what I loved and what I didn’t love about living on the road.


As you may have noticed on road trips of your own, there is a price for freedom. As much as we try to escape some of the costs by finding free camping or free firewood or diving in dumpsters, there are other, non-monetary costs—comfort, and personal hygiene being a couple of the more notable ones. Toilets that have seen a dozen asses replace your home commode, and hand sanitizer sometimes replaces a good running-water hand wash. And showering, well, the Moab Safeway would rather you not try to do it in their restroom sinks, as you’ll note by the signs saying as much, as well as listing all the local proprietors who offer public showers. As my dad has often said, they put signs up because people do it.


Some wise person once said that the people who are worst at traveling are those who frantically try to recreate their home environment everywhere they go. Which, if you live in a nice house, means you want to stay in nice hotels when you travel, so you don’t have to deal with the discomforts of, say, sleeping on the ground on a non-memory foam mattress, or using a pit toilet in the morning.


On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who love the discomfort, or don’t mind it when it enables things like waking up and peering out of a sleeping bag at a river of stars above their head. Or eating out of a semi-clean bowl for three days if it means they can sit around a campfire for two nights.


Not that there’s any right or wrong way to travel, even including all the minor inconveniences of living out of a van, I know where I fall on that spectrum, because I’m happiest when I brush my teeth and look down to see dirty toes that haven’t had the luxury of a shower in four or five days. Because that means I woke up somewhere I wanted to be.


And, nothing against the restroom at the Flagstaff library. It’s actually quite nice. But the Springdale Library’s restroom is way nicer.


Follow Brendan’s travels on his blog at, and get more of his stories in his popular book- Funny Shit in the Woods. This is his first piece for UAJ.

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