Written in the back of a ‘colour away stress’ book is a wish list. Words across a page of black and white waves written in the winter after our first West Highland Way in 2016. Written in a cold, damp and dark rental property in Cambridge, on that list is a van.
Max was in Antarctica and I was back in my childhood bedroom, carrying out research in the same field as my PhD and embarking on my 100mile training plan. Dreams had proved possible to exist in reality, life was not normal anymore. I remember reading that the 5 people you spend most time with influence you the most. Well, my community had moved online as a mix of Scottish ultraunners and American van dwellers. Max was at sea with nomadic migrating types where ‘van life’ was just life. Max began sketching van layouts and I began binge watching Youtube van conversion videos. The first weekend we were reunited we drove to the East coast and collected Ama. She was the first van we saw and it was the easiest decision we had ever made.
People ask us how we built her. I am sitting on our bed now, the one Max first drew on paper and then built with wood, and wonder then same. We had no place in the world, no permanence or privacy. We were already moving every year, an act that forced us to reduce our belongings to things we needed and the things we cherished. We had been lodging in rooms for over a year and the time living apart had torn at us. Living in close proximity is something most people see as a barrier for this way of life, but it was something we yearned for. The word Home had become empty. After work, I could not want to go home. If away travelling I had a longing to return, but there was no place to return. The feeling is like walking upstairs and missing a step. Home was yearning for safety, quietness, warmth and belonging. Home was where we could be just us. Home was with Max, where we slept in the same place and woke together. We had houses and rooms, but Home was absent in our lives.
Ama was built on hard work. We did not need to worry about what others thought, we both knew what we thought, that Ama was going to save us. We just had to build her.
Ama is not just a name for a van. Ama is the safety margin we built around our marriage and our bodies. Ama is a place we always have where we can be, that moves with us and has no geographical permanence. Ama is home and adventure, shelter and sanctuary. Ama is simplicity and works with my anxiety and Max’s need to be outdoors. We built our first home, she is everything we needed and nothing more.