• Skye Pepper

Clarence The Camper Episode 3 - The Heater Escapades

Now that the birds are chirping, the sun is blaring and the weather is all around WARMER, I can finally speak - well write about my experiences this past winter. And my debacles with MULTIPLE heaters that just didn't seem to want to work for me.

Let’s start at the start - Heater number 1 - it was a generic amazon made-in-china heater that was already installed (by a hack). It broke on one of my first adventures with Clarence in early September - well shit… but at least it was not yet too cold to go without. So, no biggie, just replace it, seems simple.

Apparently not so simple.

I found a mechanic to order and install a new heater. Though I requested more than once, that I not purchase similar garbage that will suffer the same fate at the last heater, I was assured by the mechanic (who I also happened to be dating at the time :|) that expensive heaters are the same as cheap heaters. That indeed, the real problem was the way in which the shitbag former owner installed the first heater, so I would not suffer the same consequences with a new install.

Oh how wrong this mechanic, loverboy-at-the-time was. A new heater from Ebay was installed. Great!

Not so great.

It broke a couple days later.

Now, this time (apparently) it was likely user error…I unfortunately let the batteries drain below their desired level. I guess I just kinda forgot that well in winter at a ski resort, it snows... and when it snows there isn't a magic fairy to take away the snow from the roof to reveal the solar panels which are needed to charge the batteries... At this point in my naive camper life period, I also had not yet copped that Clarence was missing a ladder, which would have been helpful to clear the snowy panels. Though, even if I had a ladder, I’m pretty sure I would not have instinctively clued in... So long story short, Heater number 2’s pump broke and taught me some valuable lessons.

Though it may have been user error, it was impossible to know for sure that it was all my fault so the Mechanic (who also turned out to be a conspiracy theorist) kindly contacted the heater company who said they would replace it.

Weeks went by and no new heater showed up. Eventually the conspiracy theorist mech lent me a propane (open flame) Buddy heater for one mountain weekend, which turned out to be SUPER dangerous - I now advise against it, but it did the trick and I didn’t know how dangerous it was until after…

As more time went on, frost and chill hardened their bite and the promised heater was yet to materialize.

So the anti-masker’s customer (who seemed more like a father figure than a customer) offered to trade me his pump from an unused heater (that he also purchased online) so long as I replaced it with another pump. So we (well the mechanic to his credit) tried that - he installed the new pump. I made sure my batteries were always plumply charged and I figured - now this must do it!

But it didn’t do it... that pump almost immediately shit the bed as well.

I’m pretty sure it was February by this point (the timelines and order of things have gotten a bit hazy)- I had started a new part time job in comox par and still had my place in Nanaimo (about an 1.5 hours away) so I was staying half in the camper and half in my place.

So at least I was warm half of the time. Though, while in comox, I was struggling - I am not exactly GREAT in the cold - I’ve been known to wear sweaters and extra layers when others are wearing t-shirts. Also, I think with the tumultuous heater ride, I became so engrossed in the distress of the cold, that I perceived the coldness as more cold because I was so upset with it…

Overall, when I should have been concentrating on starting a new job, in a new town in a completely new practice area (same profession), instead, I was flipping freezing and barely sleeping…

Then at some point, the replacement heater finally came in, so the mechanic (who was no longer my person at the time) did some things (not exactly sure what) and changed bits out and I tried this new heater.

It lasted a record of three days...

However, I lucked out and met a fellow vanlifer (through bumble though we friend-zoned each other) who gave me some great advice. Basically he gently suggested I drink a cup of cement, harden the F up, and learn to embrace discomfort.

I attribute some of my ability to harden up from two things. Firstly, I upgraded my sleeping set-up. I fixed (well MEC fixed) the zipper on my sleeping bag so that it actually closed and slept in the bag underneath a large duvet and funky wool blanket. And secondly. I had an amazingly warm sleep after purchasing a buddy heater and putting it on full blast all night. However, after a stern discussion with my mom on how dangerous that option is, I returned the buddy heater and went back to my back-up stove heater. And tried to be comfortable in uncomfortableness.

Thank goodness I had the cutest-stove-in-the-world through all of my trifles. Though, the little guy was well intentioned, it was not really adequate for hanging out in the camper in the depths of winter. Also, it couldn’t last all night. So it would burn out in the middle of the night and my little tush (well maybe bigish tush?) would get quite cold, wake up and have to relight a fire mid night to stay warm. Which honestly wouldn’t be as big of a deal if I wasn’t up for work at 8 in the mornings…

In any case, I was getting better at embracing the cold, I had a beautiful though inadequate heat source and it was March so the weather was trending in the right direction.

Enter Anti-mask Mechanic again - he convinces me to try another fix. I honestly can’t remember what it was that he fixed but we both figured, okay this is heater attempt number 5, if this one doesn’t the universe is simply just against me staying warm.

Well, it turned out the universe was against me staying warm. Not only was it against me staying warm, it was against me shredding powder.

Trial 5 worked without issue for at least 2 days. So I thought - I’m sorted! Off to Mt Washington I went for what was going to be the sickest powder day of the year. I even took a vacation day as the forecast was THAT good. I get up to the top, about to make some dinner. I check the heater is working, it seems to be so I start making a meal, extremely content, dreaming about snow the next day.

But then fuck… I hear the all too familiar noise of the heater dying a sudden horrible death of coldness.

This time I’m actually pretty calm about the heater and mostly worried about the next day of shredding. I ponder “what could have I done wrong, oh shit how much diesel does it have in it?” I look outside - under half a tank - theoretically this should be enough for my optimistic brain but maybe this was the culprit, who knows?

I reason that it's still early enough to get diesel and make it back up here tonight to hit first chair in the morning.

Or so I thought…

I cruised to the closest gas station - the sign says diesel sold here -sweet. And now I must admit my attention was all over the place - with many thoughts racing around my head - Is this actually going to work? How come this fifth attempt also isn’t working? I hate the person who sold it to me! Did I make the right decision to launch into this life? What am I doing with my life? … etc… So I may not have been paying enough attention to what I was doing when I was filling up…

There are two pumps - one with three buttons, 1 with 1 button. I assumed the pump with 1 option must be diesel, this is what I’ve seen in gas stations before... What I forgot, and failed to attend to is the fact that I was at Chevron and they have 4 different gas options - 3 in one pump and the 4th - the supremely good one is on the separate pump. (I say forgot because funny enough I actually worked as a full service attendant at Chevron...)

So… I filled up my heater’s diesel canister with gas - not diesel. Ballsack….

At this point it was pretty late - I mulled over my next steps. Should I go up and freeze like I know I likely will given my past experiences - even though I know I’m (slightly) tougher now? I didnt feel very tough at the moment, I just did something pretty stupid and wondered if others could have possibly done what I did and its no big deal or if I should just learn to somehow magically attend to what I’m doing more (if this is even possible with an ADHD brain?).

Anyways… I decided that I wasn’t feeling up for making the trek back up so I called a good friend, Yuri who I was going to meet up there the next day and told him the situation.

He offered me a warm spare bedroom and a lift up the mountain the next day. I knew the likelihood of making the first chair on a powder day was much less but I thought a warm bed is maybe worth it, I’d still get to shred powder, it would be all good.

Well, I was wrong again…

So Yuri and I headed up the mountain the next morning (early enough though probably later than intended). Just after he made the comment about the traffic and the roads being surprisingly good for a powder day, the traffic grinds to a halt and the weather transforms into a snowstorm. We had also just passed the second chain up area as we thought we were in the clear. He made the smart move and pulls his 2WD car off to a semi safe place so we could put on chains.

I was the blind leading the blind in a blizzard. We were both naive to the challenges of chains. We both did not put on gloves so our hands were immediately frozen. We both tried to interpret the chain’s instruction to limited avail. Eventually with a LOT of disgruntled noises and almost giving up, we did it… the chains were on. Yuri brought my attention to the passenger side tire - is the chain actually properly on? Neither of us were sure, but we were equally conflated to agree that “sure it will be fine”

It was not fine... The chain broke only a few turns away from the top. But too many turns to try anyways given the buckets of snow descending from the sky.

So we turned around.

I missed the powder completely. My first vacation day of the year and neither my camper nor Yuri’s car made it up the mountain.

I’m not going to lie - I blamed it all on heater attempt number 5.

HOWEVER - Yuri and I decided to turn the day around and have a productive day. He worked on his photography career and I completed the outline for my novel - something I had been procrastinating on for a long time. And with the outline I was able to forge ahead with new exuberance on my novel. Which was really the entire point of transitioning to the camper in the first place.

Small wins I guess.

After that day, with the advice from helpful-tinder-guy, I really learned to embrace the uncomfortableness and be (fairly) ok with cold. But to be fair temperatures were subsiding into the realm of reasonable discomfort.

Until there was another blasted coldsnap.

One night I went to a friend’s house in Cumberland (which was nice a cozy) and didn't return to my camper until quite late. I had not had the forethought to create a fire in the woodstove and was not sure how his neighbours would receive it if I made one. And knew that even if I did make it, eventually it would go out and maybe the difference between slightly warm and not at all warmth would be worse than no warmth at all. So I did not make a fire and bundled up in all my many layers.

In spite of all my efforts to bundle in blankets, I was still cold. I woke up freezing in the middle of the night. I put the sleeping bag around myself tighter and went back to intermittent sleep. I woke up, having to work the next day, in an icebox. It was extremely leave my blankets and the thought of work after a disrupted sleep was fairly hard to bear.

Not to mention that I had been through 5 fucking heaters and just had enough of the bullshit cold and heat not working.

I went to work and felt like a zombie. Not proud of the work I was doing, I decided, that’s that - I’m getting a temporary place to ride out this fridgedness.

I found a place that was looking for a temporary roommate. 800$ a month for a 3 bedroom townhouse type lodging. More than I wanted to pay or what I could realistically could afford at part time hours, but fuck it, at that point the idea of warmth was priceless.

It was early days in my new position at work so I didn't exactly have a lot of friends to divulge my experiences to. Though, one coworker who seemed cool was sitting in the kitchen and I couldn’t help but spill all the beans as I just really needed an ear.

And wow, how well that turned out. She ended up mentioning that her place had a second driveway that was set up for campers and a family member had previously stayed there. What a revelation. I had been trying to find this set up to provide safe camper living for a little while and here is a friendly coworker with a set up that could potentially work.

We discussed details, she spoke with her partner and boom within two hours, I was able to decline the townhouse, stay in my camper and plug in with a space heater.

They even provided me with a space heater! So nice. Though, it only turned on after finding the exact right position and bilaterally hitting it several times in the exact right place… So I went out and bought myself the flashiest space heater that worked for the camper and vola I was warm, safe and comfortable!

We even worked out showers and laundry - AMAZING…

It was bliss for a couple of months but then it wasn’t exactly the camper life I had imagined. I no longer needed to plug in for heat and I missed the freedom of moving around. So at the end of the two month rental I decided it was time to move on and fully embrace camperdom.

So now I’m back to adventuring as much as possible and finding as safe as possible places to rest my head. And I’m loving it!

Stay tuned for more adventures and tips to come!