Last Friday night I slept in a real bed for the first time in three weeks. Not just any real bed, my real bed, in my home.
I was coming fresh out of this thing called a shower. A real shower, not a paltry solar shower — a glorified bag with a Camelbak-like hose.
I lingered under the water a little too long. I swished my feet in the soft bedsheets just to feel the sensation.
The thought that came unbidden in the moment was: This is very comfortable. I wish I were back in the van.
Perhaps in an effort to distance ourselves from #vanlife, my husband and I took to calling our rented rig simply “Van,” like it was a person, during our recent three-week vacation in Nevada.
Van was your standard soccer-mom-sized vehicle but came tricked out with a backseat that converted into a queen-sized bed. All we had to do was rearrange some cushions, throw a fitted bed sheet on it, our pillows and duvet, and voila!
As with any kind of camping situation like that, we were pleasantly surprised how comfortable we were on our first night. After the novelty wore off, it became increasingly less cozy. There were little dips in the cushioning where they were fitted together. At the end of the day, car cushions are car cushions — there’s only so much that can be done.
I didn’t care. What I loved the most was keeping not just the windows of our rig open, but both side doors.
I didn’t sleep terribly well throughout the trip for several reasons. One, like I said, I was just shy of comfortable. Two, I didn’t really like sleeping with the blackout curtains because it was an extra step to set them up, and it’s disorienting and abrupt to pull them open to full daylight.
Three, desert gets pretty hot pretty quickly in the morning, so if we lingered we were roasted out of our makeshift bedroom.
Most of all, I didn’t sleep well because I was so thrilled to be there.
At night before going to sleep I would gaze out at the silvery moonlight on the desert landscape and gawk at the stars. I would inhale the desert smells as deeply as I could.
In the middle of the night, I’d wake up and poke my head out of the wide-open van doors to make sure the starry sky was still there, that the smell was the same, that it wasn’t all just a dream and I was in fact still trapped in my house in winter in COVID-era Alaska.
I’d be fully awake with all of my senses engaged before I was satisfied that I was, in fact, on the adventure of a lifetime in the middle of the desert. The circuits in my brain would fire off merrily and I’d try to get myself to go back to sleep.
Then, I’d wake up at dawn and gawk at the sunrise. There are such beautiful colors, contrasts and lighting at the beginning and end of each day in that part of the world. I felt like I was getting away with something by witnessing it, and again I wondered if I were dreaming.
I wasn’t dreaming, because I was wide awake due to all of the difficulties with sleeping.
But the sometimes-whisperer in my ear who speaks in platitudes will often remind me that there’s time enough for sleeping when I’m dead. I was a little slow to wake up in the desert after those nights, but then again, I’m always pretty slow to wake up. I drank an extra cup or two of coffee and then embarked on whatever the day had in store.
Uncomfortable car-cushion mattress? Coarse bedding? Routine “showers” that are better described as “drips”?
It was the price of admission for the full experience. And I lived in that full experience more than I lived in the vehicle that got me there.
I came back to Alaska a noticeably different person.
I love my home. But I had detached from it some. I was, once again, much more interested in what is outside the physical walls of my home than what is within.
I love having a feeling of home. But it no longer feels tethered to or defaulted to a physical place.
The brutal and beautiful experience of being fully immersed in another part of the world that I love pulls my heart with another expression of home, one in addition to Alaska, in addition to the many people I love flung across the world, in addition to my marriage and family.
The trip, the nature of the trip and the return unlocked something in me. I’m coming up on a part of my life where instead of picking a place, burrowing in and going deep — which I’ve arguably done for the last year, teaching me to be more present and setting the stage for all of this — I need to expand.
I half-joke that I’m in one of my explosive periods, where I sustain a period of “bursts,” throwing myself out and into the world to inhale and experience all that I can.
I don’t have a plan yet. Right now, I’m sustaining a feeling and letting it settle.
I’m also trying not to let myself become too comfortable because truly, too much comfort is lethal to my happiness. I start holding on a little too tight to the things I have, rather than opening the doors wide open to new sensations or experiences.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.