Van Life: Kim Kishimoto
Everyone knows Kim in her adopted hometown of Sun Valley, Idaho. The native Hawaiian turned in a life of surf for the mountains when she moved to Bellingham, Washington for college and then migrated around the west before settling in Sun Valley. Whether she’s giving free drinks to her friends while bartending, getting first chair on pow days, or shredding up the single-track on her mountain bike, Kim lives her life with fierce passion and a contagious energy. And her hound-dog Maggie is a big fan too. Kim has actually lived in two vehicles; a truck and a camper she renovated.
Hometown: Honokaa, Hawaii
Vehicle type: 2006 Toyota Tacoma
Time spent in truck: A little under two years
Vehicle type: 1984 Caveman
Time spent in trailer: Three months
Average monthly expenses: About $1,200 (food, car insurance, cell phone, student loan payment, car payment, insurance)
What’s kind of the breakdown of your time in each vehicle?
Kim: I lived in my truck for a little under two years in 2015 and 2016. I started in Bellingham after graduating from Western Washington University and then I moved to Ketchum and lived in it for 1 ½ winters and one summer. I moved out of the truck and lived with a friend for half that winter and bought the Caveman and renovated it and lived in it in Hood River, Oregon for a summer.
What made you want to live in a vehicle?
Kim: Buying that truck was a big financial decision for me because Tacomas are really expensive. I wasn’t ready to get a 9-to-5 job. When I was living in Bellingham, I was biking every day and traveling and going to Squamish every weekend. What I was valuing at the time was less having a home and more being able to travel. It made sense that if I had to make a car payment every month for the next two years, might as well live in it.
What was the interior of the truck like when you lived in it?
Kim: Oh my god, very basic. It’s kind of embarrassing because I feel like when I look at other people’s trucks, I see all these good ideas. The biggest amenity I had was a bookshelf. Obviously, if I’m trying to be incognito I can’t have lights or my laptop up. Other than that was very basic. I had a drawer for my clothing and two side drawers for shower stuff and those things and a little area for a kitchen. I only had one of those pocket rockets and I would make oatmeal and heat up ramen. For my bed, I used a futon which I still have. It’s smaller than a twin-size bed. It fits half of it because I really like sitting up so I needed legroom. Trucks are so small, I can’t believe I did that.
And you had a dog too, right?
Kim: I didn’t have my dog until the second summer and the second winter. It wasn’t working because obviously it’s fine for me to be cold but it’s not nice for a dog. I had it pretty bomber insulated but then my insulation caught on fire.
Tell me about that!
Kim: Maggie and I had just come back to Sun Valley from traveling and were sleeping out back behind the inn at Sun Valley and I was trying to be all incognito. I had decided to put cheap insulation on all the windows and jerry-rigged it. The first night, the thing fell and landed on my propane heater and started a fire. But I’m a deep sleeper and didn’t know so Maggie had to wake me up. She was barking in my face. I opened the window and the oxygen just made the flames grow and Maggie just left me and I was like, cool. She did wake me up though. I had to go to the hospital to get oxygen. I went up to Baldy and tried to ski the next day and puked at the top of mid River.
Where did you shower?
Kim: The YMCA. Super easy and it made me work out more.
Kim: Breakfast was really the only meal I cooked because I always worked in restaurants and you just get fed at work.
Tell me about renovating the Caveman.
Kim: It was such a piece of shit, that thing was so rotted out. Literally, nothing survived the remodel. The floor didn’t even survive. I have a lot of gear so I made sure to build in a lot of storage: under the bed, a bookshelf over the bed, a whole closet, and a bunch of nooks and crannies for things. I made it so my bed could be a full-size which was a big upgrade. While I was living in it, I was working on it so a lot of the stuff that happened didn’t happen until after. And at the time, I was learning to kiteboard so I bought all these kites and was trying to figure out space for them; I was sleeping on kites. I really wanted a kitchen with running water; when I was living in my truck I never had room for a really big water jug and that’s what you need all the time. I got a two-burner stove from a friend who lived in her van and switched to all electrical. Cuz propane is scary.
What are some ups and downs of living in a vehicle?
Kim: I liked the truck more than the Caveman, it was hard to deal with; you have to have a camp spot. I don’t think it’s possible during the winter. Obviously it’d be more comfortable during the winter but I’d need a place to park it. In the truck, it’s very easy. Ups are living cheaply and always being where you need to be. If you don’t mind living out of your truck, it’s very nice. I hate rent. The idea of rent to me is so stupid.
What are some of your favorite/coolest spots you've camped?
Kim: I’ve camped in a lot of very illegal places because my truck lets me park there, like inside National Parks. Or in parking lots. It’s things like that—anywhere cool for other people like climbing spots and biking areas. Even little suburban neighborhoods.
How would you say being a female living in your car differs from what you think or know the male experience to be? Did you feel like you had to take further precautions or were perceived differently than men who live in their cars?
Kim: I’ve definitely been scared a couple of times. I feel very safe in Ketchum, but anywhere outside of Ketchum I’m very, very cautious. And I’ve had some moments where I was like, “Oh god, I hope they don’t know I’m in my vehicle.” But that was in Bellingham or when I’m traveling like staying outside my sister’s apartment in Portland.
What did your family think when you said you were going to live in a truck?
Kim: My mom doesn’t know. I don’t think either of my parents know. I tell them things that don’t stress them out; there’s no benefit to them knowing. I’m fine, I’ll be fine! But my sister knows and she thinks I’m gross.