What would you think if I told you that today’s post was about someone who lives in his car? Would the word “homeless” rise up in your mind? Would you conjure an image of someone who had failed badly, or been down on his luck? Someone to pity, perhaps, because they couldn’t possibly be living in such a way by choice?
Well, get ready, because I am—or, rather, Chris is—about to shatter all of those preconceived ideas about what makes a house (or, in this case, a car) a home and what makes a man homeless.
Chris “Tarzan” Clemens (aka “dirtbag runner"—I’ll explain more later) wasn’t always “houseless,” the term he likes to use to describe his current living situation. In fact, he’s lived in lots of different abodes since moving to California in 2006: a 5-bedroom house, a 2-bedroom condominium, a 372-square foot apartment, a couch, and a sleeping bag for more than four months on the Appalachian Trail. The journey to his car has been a gradual, but also intentional, one.
Chris’s affinity for change has always been strong, and he’s always been comfortable with taking risks. Even so, back when he was living in the 5-bedroom house, he described his typical day as pretty normal: he’d get up in the mornings, make breakfast, take the dog for a walk, go to his full-time job, return home, do some cleaning around the house, and spend the evenings either watching T.V., working on his computer, or visiting with his roommates. His life was comfortable. And that was when he knew he needed to make a change.
“I always felt that being comfortable was one of the most dangerous things in the world.”
Between 2011 and 2013, Chris started downsizing, hence the ever-shrinking square footage of his living space. But the one change that would propel Chris forward along his current path was his decision to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2012. Chris had been looking for a change, so when his friends suggested they plan the trip, he was all for it. He thought it was the perfect opportunity to help him figure out what was next. He was married at the time, and he wasn’t sure how is wife would feel about him heading off to the mountains for several months, especially when he told her that he planned to quit his job beforehand.
Believe it or not, she was all for it. With everything falling into place so easily, Chris knew he had to go for it. He quit his job, packed up his things, and spent the next 136 days hiking and camping along the Appalachian Trail, an experience that Chris describes as one that “changes you.”
It certainly changed him, although not exactly in the way he thought it would. He thought that spending that time hiking in nature and living simply would help him figure out what he wanted to do next, and in a way it did. But more than anything, the time helped him figure out what he didn’t want in his life, and that clarity was far more valuable.
After returning from the Appalachians, Chris started setting into motion the changes that would eventually lead to him living a whole new, and much more simple, life. By that time, he and his wife realized they had very different visions for their futures, and they ultimately parted ways.
Chris kept moving forward. He was sleeping on a couch in his brother’s home and working for a start-up when he began thinking about constructing a home of his own. At first, he envisioned building a “tiny home,” or buying an RV. But he didn’t want to pay the high cost of renting space in an RV park. His decision to convert his 2006 Honda Element into a fully functional camper came from an offhand suggestion made one night to a group of friends while sitting in a bar. Once the idea was planted in his head, he couldn’t let it go. He did his research, enlisted his step-dad’s help and expertise, and converted the “Silver Bullet” into the mobile home you see today.
One of the things that Chris credits for bolstering him along his current path is being part of the ultra-running community. After the intensity of the Appalachian Trail, he was looking for something that would replace the experience he’d had during those four months. For him, that was ultra-running. He signed up for his first 50k at the end of 2012, began meeting others in the ultra-running community, and has since made it a significant part of his life. Many of his fellow ultra-runners understand his desire to live a simple life and the drastic changes needed to get there. Today, Chris is a “dirtbag ultra-runner” with the rest of them, and this year, he ran his first 100-mile race.
If you ask Chris to describe a typical day in his current life, he would tell you that it’s pretty simple. He wakes up in the mornings, drives a couple of blocks from where he parked his car on the beach to where he works, has breakfast at his desk, and uses his lunch hour to either go to the gym or go for a run. How he spends his time after work has proved to be the biggest change from his previous life. “Every evening is a different adventure,” Chris tells me. Sometimes, he stays in his office to work or to write a blog post. Other times, he strings up his hammock and spends the evening reading a book and watching the sunset over the beach. Chris says that he’s still learning about himself and what he’s doing, but there is one thing he knows for sure:
“I don’t want to regret what I didn’t do; I want to regret what I did do.”
So far, Chris has no regrets. He’s choosing to live the life he wants to live, in the way he wants to live it. He would say that he is living deliberately. In the process, he’s giving the rest of us an opportunity to rethink what we believe to be normal and redefine what we see as limitations, even the idea of living in a car.
Read more about Chris's converted Element and see more pics by checking out his blog post, "Home-sweet-Honda."