You Want to Be a Killer Data Scientist? Try Living Homeless First

This post was written by Ben Taylor, our Data Scientist:

I had a lot of fun retelling my homeless college experience today at HireVue during lunch. While going to school back in 2002 I decided to try and survive the Logan, Utah outdoors while taking a full load of classes.

For those of you that don't know, Logan is crazy-cold and holds the state record for -60F below zero. Luckily, while I was there it only got down to -15F while I slept outside. Frost on my pillow in the morning was a normal occurrence.

Here Is My Story:

Like many people, I feel that paying rent is comparable to shooting money cows -- I never have anything to show for paying rent when the year comes to a close -- and my camping gear assortment is always in dire need of expansion.

To remedy my financial dilemma, I decided to convert my current rent budget into a backpacking budget. Instead of spending money on rent while attending Utah State University (USU) I spent it on equipment I needed to campout for the school year.

Going on a $1,500 gear shopping spree and setting myself up for the year was awesome -- I had no guilt whatsoever buying new camping toys because I wasn't "binging," I was just paying my living expenses. At the end of the year I had used gear to show for my living expenses, instead of the usual zilch. 

The first two weeks in the outdoors were almost unbearable -- wrought with sleep deprivation and camping mishaps. I was almost ready to give up, but at the end of the second week I started to adjust to my homelessness and began to love it.

Everything I owned or needed was on my back and I felt free. The world was my home and my bed was wherever I happened to stop walking that day.

Back-to-School Supplies:

Sleeping Bag & Pillow 

For winter camping in Logan I used a -5 degree Western Mountaineering Dakota MF bag (3 lbs. 2 oz.). My pillow was a 50-degree down sleeping bag liner, which I used in my bag when the temperature took an unexpected dive. I also had a sleeping bag vapor barrier for the I’m-going-to-die-tonight moments.

Sleeping Pad and Ground Sheet 

I used an older 3/4in Thermarest pad, but now I wish I had invested in a closed-cell foam pad. My pad leaked constantly. For a backup ground sheet/rainfly I used a 5' by 8' Integral Designs Sil Tarp that only weighed 4 oz. 

Shelter 

I wanted to decrease my pack weight and size as much as possible, but I also wanted to have the endurance and protection from the heavy winters Logan tends to get. I couldn't decide between an Outdoor Research Advanced 3-layer Gortex bivy sack (1 lbs. 15 oz), or a Bibler Tripod bivy (3 lb). 

In hindsight I wish I had chosen the lighter Outdoor Research bivy because while going to school I never faced conditions that could justify using a bivy with three aluminum poles and ToddTex. I would recommend the Bibler Tripod if you are going to an artic hell, but if you are going to school I would settle for a lighter bivy sack. 

Clothing 

I packed no more than two weeks worth of clothes in two compression sacks, and to save even more weight I only wore my Chaco sandals to eliminate the need for socks. I wore these sandals all during the winter. The callus on my feet offered a surprising amount of insulation. sandals in the snow was doable instead of insane.

Food 

I packed approximately two weeks worth of freeze dried powdered food that I microwaved at various locations on campus during the day. To save space I made sure all of my powdered foods were packed in large 1-gallon freezer plastic bags and double bagged incase of leakage. 

Backpack 

I chose a large pack with high endurance and compressibility. I used a Vortex 5800 cubic inch backpack, which was more than adequate for all of my school belongings. Hindsight, I believe you could manage full-time camping with a pack as small as 3500 cubic inches if you are really trying to lighten up. I just like big packs because I can fill the rest of the cargo area with food and go for longer periods of time without refilling. 

It also made it nice when I would hitchhike 1,000 miles on the weekend to Reno and back which I would do on a regular basis. My English teacher loved it so much he would have me report to the class about any interesting stories from my hitchhiking adventures. 

Routines & personal hygiene 

I showered when I felt like it at the University gym on campus. Showers were free and I could gain daily access to clean dry towels. Having access to a hot shower anytime of the day, never waiting in line for roommates, and not having to pay utilities felt great. 

At first I stored my most basic personal hygiene items in a plastic bag in my pack. The wet tooth brush and soap bar remained wet all day, which was gross, so I replaced the plastic bag with a small nylon baggie to allow the moisture to escape during the day. 

Legality 

Is camping like this legal in the US? Yes, and no. Camping on private land without permission is trespassing, which is illegal. If you happen to be close enough to drive or walk to federal or state land you need to make sure that you don't camp in the same spot for more than 16 days.

If you camp for more than 16 days it is called "squatting" which is a ticketed offense. To loophole this law you need to make sure you either move your camp nomadically at least every 16 days, or take a break from the outdoors at least once every 16 days.

You also need to make sure that your camp is at least two hundred feet away from water, road, and/or hiking trail. Most importantly remember to leave as little impact on the land as possible.

TIPS:

  • When you camp every day you need to dry every day. This is a must. You have to air out your shelter and sleeping bag on a daily basis, even in the winter. I would do this by hanging my shelter and sleeping bag inside-out on a tree in the afternoon while I would study or read. If you don’t do this you will have mildew problems, your sleeping bag will smell like dead ducks and you will smell bad forever. Nobody likes crawling into wet gear at night.

 

  • If you are a sandal warrior in the winter you will enjoy super glue. Anytime your callus starts to crack you can just squeeze some super glue in there and you are golden.

 

  • You will be sick a lot. The Dr. laughed when I told him I lived in the snow outside. “Yeah, you will be sick a lot if you are doing that…”.


Conclusion:

I loved every minute of my experience living outside while attending USU. If I were single without kids I would still be doing it in the brush by the Jordan river trail just behind the HireVue office building.It is dense enough I would be happy to disappear in there every night and nobody would ever know.

The wind on my face and the sound of the forest soothed my soul on a nightly basis amid the stress and turmoil of school and life. I would highly recommend replacing rent with gear to anyone who enjoys camping and doesn’t have kids.