Sam Johnson was down.
She was having a rough day in the Utah canyonlands, driving her van — it doubles as her home — on the tail end of a weekslong stretch in which she hadn’t seen anyone. Her cat, Zamboni, was ill.
“He had a digestive disease, and he got sick often,” she said. “And when he got sick that day he started getting sick on blood. And I was like, ‘I’m feeling so beat up.’
“Like, ‘I can’t do this without him.’”
Alone in the desert, Johnson took a walk, but before she did she went onto Facebook and visited a few groups of fellow van dwellers, communities bound by their love of their homes on wheels and the invisible strings of social media.
“I was like, ‘Yo, if you’ve got any juju to put out there, whether it’s prayers or energy or whatever it is that you do,’” she said, “‘we could use it right now because I just feel real strapped and lonely.’”
She took her walk and went to bed beneath the blanket of stars that covers southern Utah. When she awoke, more than 1,200 people from around the world had responded, from those who knew her to those who had never set foot in the country upon which her van was parked.
Though they had never met, and many likely will never meet her, they sent messages of support, stories of their own struggles and invitations to their houses should her travels ever take her to their corner of the world. Johnson’s isolation and the outpouring of online support are somewhat contradictory hallmarks of the burgeoning culture dubbed “vanlife.”
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