A Nomad No More: How One Road Lifer Adapts to COVID-19
After nearly five years of living in a Toyota Tacoma, professional adventurer Andy Cochrane returns home to find a silver lining
Andy Cochrane, Johnie Gall
You know the story about the 32-year-old living with their parents? Yep, that’s me.
After four years, seven months, three weeks, and a couple odd days of #trucklife, I’m back to where I started, marooned with Ma and Pa.
To be honest, I’ve never had a backup plan. I’m not sure it would have helped anyway. I assumed this chapter of life would end on my terms, with a real kitchen, private bathroom, and a bedroom I could stand in. But as the saying goes, you play the hand you’re dealt.
During my tenure in the truck, I zigzagged 180,000 miles across the western US, chasing adventure and new stories to document. With parks, national forests, trailheads, and campgrounds closed, my nomadic lifestyle quickly became infeasible. So, I’m sitting on my parent’s couch doing the same thing as many of you: reading discouraging news and searching for answers that don’t exist.
The story of my nomadic life before COVID-19 goes as one might expect it would for a professional adventure writer, photographer, and participant. Through a mix of hustle and luck, I built a career that allows me to do stuff I love–skiing, running, biking, and paddling nearly everyday. I often spend a week or less in one place, then move on.
My truck—a 2015 Toyota Tacoma that friends call the TacoMama—was built over a weekend with my dad some years back. Compared to most car-homes, it’s bare bones. I cook on the tailgate, sleep in a bag, and “shower” in rivers every few days. I added locking diffs, a lift, off-road lighting, and bigger tires to help me go further. It’s no flashy vintage Vanagon or massive Mercedes Sprinter. But like I said, it goes further.
Like most nomads, my bottom line is freedom. Life on the road is stressful, weird, and unpredictable, but that’s a fair price to pay for total independence. COVID quickly changed that, but not in the way you might expect. When everyone on the planet is trying to escape reality it’s easy to assume nomadic life is a perfect answer, but I promise it’s not. Small towns don’t want visitors, public lands are off-limits, and running away to adventure into the woods is, frankly, selfish. It’s the wrong time to push limits, get hurt, and add stress to an already over-taxed healthcare system.
What options does that leave nomads like me? Shelter-in-place looks different when your “house” has less than 100 cubic feet of livable space. The TacoMama, built for freedom, quickly became a lonely hell hole. Daily routines—visiting friends, working in a coffee shop, going to a local gym—were off the table. Think twelve hours of Netflix on a couch is brutal? Trying sitting in a car seat instead.
When experts began suggesting social distancing could last months, I was in Mammoth Lakes, California. A winter storm was firing and powder laps provided a much needed break from reality, but we knew a bigger, less fun storm was brewing. Similar mountain towns began issuing closures and rumors that both Alterra and Vail would close resorts were spreading. I needed a place to hole up, and despite a crowdsourced spreadsheet shared by a close friend, offering nomads like myself places to park, bedrooms, and bathrooms during this crisis, I didn’t want to rely on hospitality outside my family, generous as said strangers may be.
Almost overnight it became challenging to find a public bathroom to poop in. (Harsh for me, now imagine how that moment impacted the millions of Americans living on the street.) That was the sign to make moves. Concerned that travel could change in unpredictable ways, I left that afternoon and made the non-stop drive to Missoula, where my sister has a spare bedroom. There I had the basics—reliable Wifi, lots of coffee, and a fenced yard for my dog Bea. And, if necessary, I could stay for weeks.
This gave a few days to consider options, but waiting only created more confusion. I was betting the crisis would only get worse, but didn’t know how long to plan for. The best option was to listen to my gut, assume this new abnormal would last into summer, and retreat home to Minnesota. So, I did.
I’m fortunate my parents have an open door policy. They own property near Lake Superior in the northeast corner of the state, isolated from the rest of the world. With chickens, a sauna, raised-bed gardens, a big garage, and a small cabin for me to crash in, it’s oddly perfect. Here I could run empty local trails, help my parents with maple syrup season, and safely and sanely hide from the world.
After a few weeks at home, I’m focused on finding small victories. For instance, spending a lot of uninterrupted time with my parents, a luxury I may never have again. Or training on a regular routine, something that’s been challenging while nomadic. And checking in with friends frequently, slowing down, learning a few new skills, and watching Bea live her best life, chasing squirrels all over the yard.
My new bottom line is that the health and safety of others needs to come first. Life isn’t perfect here—I have shitty days and small breakdowns like everyone else. I’m uncertain what life will look like when this winds down. But, for now, I’m doing my best to make the most of it. And well, in the grand scheme of things, I’m lucky to be living in my parents house as a 32-year-old.