Finding Freedom is a Movement • On the Road

On the Road

Vol. 1-2

On the Road

Vol. 1-2

Finding Freedom is a Movement

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Day:
3
Location:
Oklahoma City, OK
Distance from last stop:
464 miles

"I remember sitting in the back here, reading [Van Life Diaries], and I was like, Man, this is pretty cool. My lease is about to be up... I think I could do this."

—Eric Pappas

Filmmaker’s Notes

After driving from Austin deep into Texas hill country to meet Paul, we made the call to push on through the night in the van for the seven or eight hours it would take us to get to our next stop, Oklahoma City. Spirits were high as we debriefed on the experience we’d just had with Paul, and we knew the adventure was just beginning. Sometime around 2am, on a country road just past Santa Ana, the soothing rumble of rubber on asphalt was interrupted by a siren behind us and flashing lights. We were both jerked out of our silent contemplations and to full attention, and pulled the MOON van over and to a stop.

A cop approached us, not without taking plenty of time to look around the van’s exterior. Were we speeding? It hadn’t seemed like it. By the time the officer walked up to the window and asked if we could step out of the van, we were fully awake, and fully confused. When he then asked if we wouldn’t mind if he and the (now four) other officers searched inside our vehicle, our minds started to race. Surely there was some misunderstanding, and how were there this many cops in such a small town in the middle of Texas? It didn’t matter if we were as clean as a whistle, the way that the question was asked made us immediately start sweating and wondering if maybe there was something inside that could get us arrested.

Surely there was some misunderstanding, and how were there this many cops in such a small town in the middle of Texas?

We let them search, and stood outside looking on while the flashlight beams played like a laser show in the night. It wasn’t until that moment that we realized what might be going on: about six months before, the MOON van had been stolen from where it was parked in San Francisco, and we filed a police report. Ultimately, a few days later a good samaritan noticed a MOON sticker on an unknown Sprinter in his parking lot in Oakland and sent an email to our customer support.

We’d thought the van was gone for good, but luckily all that was missing were the contents of the interior, the license plates, and the VIN number. Fast forwarding to this moment, we now found ourselves trying to explain that story in the middle of the night to a handful of cops, who eventually tell us the reason for their search: the plates on our van seem to be connected to a murder in Lubbock. Thankfully, they must have believed our story, and after nothing but film and photo equipment and boxes of packable vehicle awnings in the back of the van, they let the bearded hippie artists go on their merry way.

After nothing but film and photo equipment and boxes of packable vehicle awnings in the back of the van, they let the bearded hippie artists go on their merry way.

Early the next morning we met Eric in OKC in the lot behind a medical clinic where he parked his van. Originally when planning out the road trip we thought we’d meet Eric on the back end of our journey, but had to reschedule because he was going on a paddle boarding trip in Central America. So we knew at least two things before we met: one, that he was an adventurer, and secondly, he lived out of his van full-time. This would be our first experience on the trip of getting to talk to a “lifer”.

When the world changed in 2020, Eric, who worked as a physical trainer, found himself out of a job. He had already been accustomed to a non-stationary lifestyle, spending much of his time traveling and camping, so he began researching what it would take to build out a vehicle that would give him the autonomy that he was looking for, the freedom to go at will.

This would be our first experience on the trip of getting to talk to a “lifer”.

We learned pretty quickly that when he says “research”, he means it — it seemed like every available inch of space in his Ford Transit 250 had been carefully considered, and rigged out in all kinds of Macgyver-esque ways, with anything that Eric needs to be comfortable and live well.

Read the Interview

Henry:
Have you always been a very hands-on, technical kind of person? Honestly, you don’t even need to answer that, because I just look around this van and see…

Eric:
Well, I didn’t know how to do any of this stuff. I went on YouTube and researched it for a year, like a whole year. I mean, I was gonna do an RV, you know, thinking like that. And then I started looking at YouTube, just accidentally finding these vans. We hike and we camp up quite a bit, and I was like, I don’t want a tent anymore. Then we started doing motels, and I was like, that’s expensive. So when I found this van, I thought- I think I can build one of these out.

I don’t know anything about vehicles, cars, how to fix them or anything like that. Knowing that anywhere you can go there’s probably a Ford dealership somewhere or somebody who knows how to fix Fords, that was a major factor for me. When I bought this it had 140,000 miles on it and I flew to Florida to pick it up. So I got it for pretty, pretty cheap. 

Henry:
And now this is home — when did you get that first feeling that this was going to go from idea to reality?

Eric:
I was living in an apartment. One of my clients was into van life, just reading about it, and she gave me “Van Life Diaries”. And I remember sitting in the back here, reading the book, and I was like, Man, this is pretty cool. My lease is about to be up on my apartment, you know, I think I could do this, I’m gonna give it a shot, to live in it. So when I built this out, it was just for camping purposes. You know, that’s all it was, we were just going to camp out of it. And then when my lease was up, that’s when the pandemic hit and the gym shut down. And I was kind of worried about how I was going to pay my rent and all that. And I told my girlfriend Sheridan, I think I’m just going to try it out, give it a shot. The first month or so, it was really, really hard. For me it was living in the city with all the noise, the sounds of the train going by, ambulances, you know, people walking around at night. It was hard to get comfortable with it. And then after a while, you just realize it’s not really that much of a big deal. Now I love living out of it.

Henry:
Living in the van full-time in a city, does it feel like this is your community? How did that come about?

Eric:
Correct — at the start it was just supporting a lot of local businesses. Like when the pandemic was hitting, we would come out here and park and eat takeout in the parking lot, and they would bring it out to us and look at the van like “Oh, that’s a cool-looking van.” In the summertime, I would go into some of the breweries and just hang out in there with air conditioning and work on a laptop, and tell the owner what I was about. And he’d say, well you can stay across the street if you need to. The Brooks clinic (who I work for now), said you can park here on the side of the building and use the outside outlet plug. I don’t know if it was just out of, you know, worry about where I was going to be parking, but a lot of people just said, “you can park here”.

After a while, you just realize it’s not really that much of a big deal. Now I love living out of [my van].

Henry:
I feel like our age that grew up, like when we think of van life, one of the first things you think about is Chris Farley, in the van down by the river.

Eric:
Ha, I’ve heard that joke before, I hear it all the time. I’m like: river, beach, mountains, woods, city, you name and I live down by all of it.

Henry:
You’re a trainer, you know how to motivate people. If you were going to give encouragement or advice to someone that might be looking at “Van Life Diaries”, or thinking about van life, what would you say?

I hear [the “living in a van down the by the river” joke] all the time. I’m like: river, beach, mountains, woods, city, you name and I live down by all of it.

Eric:
In the beginning, I just say just do all your research. First, make sure you have things lined up. Make sure that you let everybody know what you’re doing. As far as family, I went to my son, I was like, “Hey, I’m gonna live in my van. Are you going to be cool with that? Are you gonna be embarrassed that your dad lives out of a van?” And he was like, “Nah, man, I think that’s pretty cool.” Yeah, he thinks it’s really cool. He just lives down the street in an apartment where I used to live, and his friends will come out and check out the van and they’re all about it too, saying things like “I can’t wait till I can get my own.” So I think it’s going to be a movement with the younger generation. I think that’s what it’s going to turn into.

After our conversation with Eric, we couldn’t help but be impressed by his thoughtfulness and how intentional he was in opting into his own new way of life in the van. We were only on our second day into the trip, and after talking with the first two people we’d met on the road there was a shared feeling of anticipation for what was next. We’d already forgotten about almost getting arrested the night before, and the fact that we’d driven seven hours and were only running on a couple of hours of sleep — all we could think about was hopping back in the van and heading towards our next stop.