Category: weather issues

Easy winter

Yeah, school’s been keeping me away from the blog, but there’s another reason I haven’t written anything about sleeping in the cold yet… I was waiting for a night that felt like a real accomplishment, a real Canadian winter night spent in a van. But global warming seems to be working in my favour: -16 is about the coldest it got for me. There were two nights that it got down to -19, but one was the night I was locked out (see last entry), and the other I was up all night at school finishing a project.

All in all I was pretty comfortable this winter, and the key to it all was my beautiful, sweet, dear hot water bottle. Instead of trying to heat up the bed with my body, I’d boil water at school before I left, and toss it in bed about foot level. By the time I got home it’d be nice and toasty (in one spot at least). Many, many thanks to Shirley for that idea.

I only had one vandwelling adventure, when my usual spot at Horseshoe Island got buried in snow and I had to find a new one that wasn’t in the way of the snow plows. I backed the car onto a quiet little corner off the road near the yacht club, and got stuck halfway with two feet of compacted snow under the van. After about 45 minutes of digging it all out and tramping down the snow behind, I was able to back all the way in. I used that spot for the next two or three weeks, it was lovely. Sometimes it even had internet!

This photo was last week… I always leave the front windows open a crack for fresh air, and on that night there was a fine dusty snow getting blown all around… by morning it was winter wonderland in the front seat!

It can still be pretty chilly (yesterday morning when I woke up it was -7 inside the van), but most nights are fine, and last night marked the lifting of the ban on overnight street parking, so in my world, winter is officially over. Wahoo!!


On the couch

Yes, I did stop to wonder if it was really such a good idea to go through a car wash in freezing weather… but the van was totally caked in salt, and I figured if it was a bad idea then car washes probably wouldn’t be open. Wrong! After the car wash I went to school, worked through the evening and returned to the van around midnight, to find the locks and handles and presumably the seal around every door frozen shut. I did manage to heat up one of the locks enough to get the key in and even turn it, but that didn’t open the doors. Arghhhh!!

Architecture school saved the day; there are a couple of couches in a cozy little workspace on the top floor where I slept very comfortably, and by noon today, even though it was still -16 out, the sun had warmed up one of the doors enough for me to get in and start up the car. First stop: Canadian Tire for some lock de-icer.

Well now I feel dumb. I woke up at 5am to the sound of the largest snowplow in the world coming to a grinding halt in front of my van. See, where I’m from when there’s a big snowfall the city’s plows are totally overwhelmed, and if the snow doesn’t immediately melt then it takes a week just to get the streets clear… it never even occurred to me that here they would ever get around to plowing my little boat launch!

The driver was actually really nice, he told me I didn’t have to move since his machine was too big to manoeuvre in the little lot anyway. But the law here is really about obstructing snow removal, so if they plow my parking lot then it follows that the parking ban applies there. My waterfront property isn’t so perfect after all…

Update Sep 24: I found another spot that I used on nights when the plows were out, but found I was in their way there too, so in the end I went back to my perfect spot and just stopped worrying about it. (shrug) What can you do?

Winter plan

People tell me it gets cold here. Wikipedia says there are two months of the year where the average low is -10, which doesn’t sound so bad. But that’s the average: the spikes can get as low as… some people say -20, some people say -30. I think I could handle -20, but I don’t know about -30. But I’m expecting that I will have some sort of graduated introduction to the cold. I’m planning to buy a thermometer so that I know at any given time what the temperature is inside the van, how that compares to the temperature outside the van, and how I can expect to feel should it get colder.

Last year my coldest night in Vancouver was -6. I had 4 blankets, and I slept in complete peace and comfort. Obviously -30 would be a lot different. But the extra resources I can pile on are a huge furry blanket, a down sleeping bag, and thermal underwear… plus full-on sweats, if necessary. With enough insulation around my body I might not be able to move, but I think I’ll be pretty warm. Oh yeah, and I’ve got my catalytic heater, and my yogi mind trick. Also I’m thinking about where the van loses the most heat, and how I could mitigate that. And I’m registering with, so that for those weeks that are extra extra cold, if I’m uncomfortable in the van I have indoor options. Finally, certain aspects of my new school program are going to help me out: one is that by all accounts I’ll be completely overwhelmed by the workload so I won’t have any free time to be hanging out in the van, it’ll just be a place to sleep; another is that the studio space is available to me 24 hours a day, so in truly dire last-minute circumstances, I can always uh… go back to school?

At this point it’s almost become a personal challenge, but don’t worry folks; I won’t keep it up if it’s not working. I really don’t want to turn into a popsicle!


I was in the grocery just picking the last of my things when the power went out and they started shooing people out of the store. Lucky me, somehow the till and the visa machine still worked. Blown through nearly empty streets to this spot where there were no big trees that could fall on the car, I pointed the nose into the wind, and just curled up with a book, cozy and warm, with plenty of food. Hurricane my ass, it was just a storm. Didn’t even properly clean the dead bugs off the front of the van. I went for a walk once the rain stopped, the wind still high. Branches down everywhere, a few trees as well, and the city was out of power for the day. Somewhat anticlimactic, but not as disappointing as Y2K.

soft cheese

I finally broke down and bought a cooler. Seems like the obvious thing for a vandweller but I resisted fiercely, for a number of reasons. The biggest was that space is precious. Now that I spend several daylight hours in the van every day I need to keep my space uncluttered, so the last thing I wanted was one more boxy thing to deal with. I also didn’t really want to be buying ice every day… spending money, consuming plastic… the only other way to cool the cooler would be to stash ice packs in my friends’ freezers, but then I’d be dependent upon housedwellers, i.e. cheating! So it would have to be ice… then there’s the annoyance of food floating around in the melted ice water… all around I just didn’t want it.

It was the cheese that finally made me cave. All this time I’ve been stuck with the hard cheeses that keep well… Emental, Asiago… fine cheeses, but you know, I missed my soft old friends… Cambezola, Havarti, chevre, Macedonian feta. So now I buy the ice, I fill the box, I shuffle it around, I dump the water, and I resent the hell out of it… but I love my cheese!

Side bonuses: now I can buy yogurt too, and I don’t have to scarf down my hummus in a day.

I know, I know, it’s sunny and hot, everyone’s happy, blah blah blah. I like it too, but vandwelling in summer is actually turning out to be a pain in the ass. I’m much more restricted than usual in the food that I can keep, I always have to find shade parking, even at night I have to think about where the sun is going to come up in the morning, or else the the second it hits the van the heat will wake me up. Tuesday night was horrible… my light-tight super-private window panels don’t allow enough air in for nights like that, and I was suffocating. Around midnight I gave up trying to sleep, took a bottle of wine and a headlamp to mosaic park, and struggled with calculus problems until it cooled off.

The next night, Wednesday, I was dreading going to bed, and for the first time I really missed my old apartment… in summer I would leave the patio door open all the time, and on really hot nights I just slept out on the balcony… then it hit me, of course! Sleep outside.

At first I thought the beach would be perfect, but I didn’t want to drive all the way across town, or deal with sand, or wake up with the tide licking my feet. So I went over to Trout Lake, took a blanket and a pillow, and found a perfect little alcove made by three conifers. Slept on the grass under the stars, cool and comfortable, and I loved it so much I went back to the same spot last night too. Sure, it re-opens that whole is-it-camping-or-is-it-homelessness question… all I can say is, both nights I went to bed happy, and both mornings I woke up extremely pleased with myself. My new home in the park!

One thing I held onto when I moved into the van was a little sheepskin. In the cold weather I was putting it on top of covers at the foot of the bed, where it looked good, but it was totally ineffective and just made my feet feel squished. Last night I had the bright idea of folding it once, with the fur facing inward, and sending it down under the covers so it could wrap right around my feet. So luxurious! My feet warmed up in about 10 seconds.

I had an americano around 6pm. Should’ve known better.

Generally I get into the van and right under the covers and temperature isn’t a problem. But tonight, not being able to sleep, I watched a movie, read for a while, and not moving around much must’ve dropped my body temperature. Well, most of me was fine, but my feet were like little icicles.

In Ashtanga yoga there’s a kind of breathing called Ujjayi where you constrict your throat muscles, so that your breath slows down, and it makes a loud rushing sound as you breathe it in and out. It’s supposed to heat your body up, which I guess helps you get bendier. Anyway I thought I’d give it a try. And it worked! I noticed a difference after ten minutes, and after twenty I was downright toasty through and through. Give it a try next time you’ve got chilly toes.

I should warn you though, it doesn’t actually help you sleep.

8th & Scotia. This is the reason I’ve been spending so much time in Mount Pleasant… the Mount Pleasant Library got out of the creepy little hole in the mall that it was in, and moved into the new community centre at 8th & Kingsway. It has better hours than Britannia, lots of spots to plug in and use the wifi, and a little reading area with a fireplace. And considering it’s a smallish community library, they have a nice selection of books, and a great section on first nations issues.

Side note: last couple nights have been so warm I didn’t need to sleep in my toque, and last night was so warm there was no condensation on the windshield when I woke up. Wahoo!