Most people wouldn’t choose to go by the name “Lint,” but Clint Bunting (@lint_hikes) isn’t most people. He is strange and wonderful and a bit of a Lost Boy (of the Pan variety, rather than the mulleted vampire sort). You know what? Check that. It’s not fair to assume he has never grown up, simply because he lives his life without a formal career or address. More accurately, Lint is redefining what it means to be an adult in 2017. His completely unorthodox approach to living has meant squatting, renting in gutter punk houses, dumpster diving for groceries, van living at varied times, and hiking constantly. It’s not the path your parents tried to put you on, but to be honest, that path always seemed pretty “meh”, right?
Lint is a thru-hiker, meaning he is all about long-distance hiking. He has actually walked The Colorado, Arizona, and Ice Age Trails end-to-end. But, that’s nothing, Lint has done the end-to-end dealie three times on the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, and Appalachian Trails, too. That’s just under 30,000 miles. Daily, the man is clocking 30 to 40 miles. And, he does it with a six pound pack on his back (though that’s like a fifth of the normal pack size). He is maximizing distance and minimizing pack weight. It might be fair to call him a bit of an extremist. Lint prefers “hiker trash.”
We were lucky enough to get his feedback on some questions and some great shots of his hikes and his tattoos (hiking a trail from one end to the other takes dedication; getting the trail tattooed on you takes commitment). This interview is a peek into the sort of person the world needs more of: True Originals.
What do you consider yourself? Like what title would you consider fitting? Why?
Free Range Human? That sounds trite, but I’m not that special really. I’m just out here living my life as I see fit, and doing my best to ignore social constraints that limit happiness. My main goal is to squeeze as much adventure and experience out of this one and precious life I have, without impeding the happiness of others.
What percentage of the time are you van living? What do you do the rest of the time?
I spent all of last year traveling in my van. My partner and I visited Baja for some of the colder months, and then drove out east where I hiked the 1,100-mile Florida Trail. She drove the van and met me at road crossings while I hiked all day. This allowed her to work on art projects while I tromped through the swamps. After that, we stayed on BLM land in Arizona for a bit, and then ended up housesitting for our friend who took a month vacation to Europe. His cat needed to be fed, so we gladly parked in his driveway and took advantage of the running trails in his neighborhood.
Once the weather warmed up, we turned the van north and returned to Oregon. During my travels I had quite a few people try to purchase my van from me, and I realized there was a huge market for these types of vehicles. I struck up a conversation regarding this with an old friend who is an expert fabricator and designer, and we decided to see if we could build another van and sell it. He had a shop space already, so I simply parked out front and called it home base for the time being. We just finished our first conversion build, and I’m happy to report it’s even nicer than the one I’m in now. Once it sells, we may reinvest in another, or I may head out and travel some more.
I like to keep my life flexible and pounce on opportunities as they present themselves. Hey, it’s worked for me so far! I’m 40, without any formal education, a job history that looks like a joke, and I live in a van. Conversely, I have zero debt, a healthy savings account from a lifetime of living frugally, and the freedom to literally do whatever I want every day. My responsibilities are so few, I feel like the wealthiest person I know…and I know some millionaires. For real.
Most of my time is spent out hiking the long trails across the country. I come into civilization to earn enough money to buy back my freedom, and then plan another excursion into the wilderness. Long distance hiking is my true passion, and I’ve been actively centering my life around that since 2003. There is something so simple and pure about immersing oneself into a goal of that magnitude, that takes so much physical and mental effort to complete, that modern life pales in comparison. The freedom of waking up to the sun each morning, following a trail as it leads from hot desert valleys to crisp alpine meadows, and turning down the dial of our frantic civilization brings me peace.
How do you finance your lifestyle?
I certainly didn’t grow up with money. I come from a modest background, and my parents taught me the value of living within my means and to not get over my head with debt. I took it to the next level and NEVER took on debt. I don’t have a credit card, and have never taken a loan for anything. If I feel the need to spend my money, I make sure I have it in my hand before spending it. In my opinion, debt is slavery, since you’re always chasing it down…paying off interest and taking on ever increasing amounts. It’s a vicious cycle that has been normalized, but isn’t necessary. I’m not judging those who choose that path, I just know I don’t want to walk it. I’ve found that by limiting my wants and needs, I’ve significantly increased my happiness.
Sounds like a hippy Hallmark card, but it’s true. The less you want, the happier you can be with less.
Back when I first started long distance hiking, I made about 10k a year at my job as a roofer. Back then I didn’t have a van, but knew rent was my biggest expense, so I found ways to keep it in check. Sometimes I’d rent a makeshift space in a punk house for $100 a month. Packing 6 dirty people into a 2 bedroom house isn’t luxurious, but it works if you’re prioritizing saving money for adventure. I also spent some time squatting. I worked as a warehouse manager for an outdoor gear store for years.
One day while riding my bicycle to work, I realized I could secret myself away there and just LIVE at the warehouse. I stacked some boxes in a corner to hide my bedroll, and moved in. There was a toilet and electricity, so I was able to have my simple needs met. Showering at the gym kept me clean. By restructuring my priorities, I was able to forgo rent payments and put 100% of my paycheck into the bank. Well, maybe 90%…I still had to buy some items. Mainly food…although I also took advantage of the dumpsters behind the grocery store for some gleaning opportunities. Bread, vegetables, dented cans…they throw away EVERYTHING! This isn’t gross cooked food, these were items that were literally on the shelves for sale a few hours ago, but because inventory needs to be rotated, ended up in a clean trash bag (essentially a huge Ziplok bag) and out in the trash. A 10lb bag of apples with one rotting apple? Yeah, the rest of them are perfectly fine. Day old bagels? Uhh…yeah those are delicious. I ate organic produce for free because I was willing to do my grocery shopping around the back of the store. I lost count of how many times I’d pull out blocks of fancy French cheese and wonder “why is this in the trash?!” I’m also happy to report I never had a food borne illness from eating dumpstered food…but I did get food poisoning from a restaurant where I BOUGHT FOOD FROM ONCE!
Pssht…I paid to get sick? Gimme that free food and keep my immune system strong!
I also found an abandoned house in Portland that had been boarded up for years and moved in. I brought my drill one day and removed the screws holding boards up on the windows and snuck in. Once inside, I removed the deadbolt on the front door and replaced it with the one I had purchased earlier that day. I replaced the boards over the window, and I now had the only set of keys to my very own house! I was used to camping, so my needs were simple. I carted in water by filling jugs at the gym, and used the toilet there as well. I didn’t spend much time at “home” since I was always out hiking anyway, so why pay rent? My life isn’t spent in front of a television, and home is just a place to close my eyes for 8 hours. What do I care what it looks like inside when my eyes are closed?!
Living this way, and even now that I have a pimped out van to dwell in, allowed me to work ANY job and have it be rewarding financially. Even a minimum wage paycheck does the trick when your bills are so low. Most people spend like half their paycheck on rent…so my eliminating rent I essentially gave myself a huge raise! Currently I’m building vans for others, which will be more profitable than any other job I’ve had. I’ll still live simply though, and stockpile as much savings as I can.
Would you advise people to follow your example?
Depends. What does that person value? Do they require a stable environment and the security of a full-time job to be happy? Do they want kids? What do they WANT out of life? Personally, I decided at an early age that I wanted to do more than pay bills, reproduce and then (hopefully!) retire…so I created an alternative vision of the American Dream. There are certain aspects of my life I suggest people at least consider, eliminating debt being the main one. I’ve watched the majority of my peers get convinced that college was the only way to be successful, only to come out saddled with debt and no jobs available once they graduated. Some of those friends actually make less money than I do, and I’m a “bum”. I dunno; I’m not in any position to tell people how to live, but I certainly get asked for advice often.
My healthy distrust of our culture has allowed me to bypass much of the trappings set by the powers that be. I pick and choose what I wish to participate in. It’s often a case of the “grass is always greener” with this, since the romantic version of my life seems all sunshine and rainbows, when in reality most folks wouldn’t want to actually do what I do. Look at my long-distance hiking resume. I’ve hiked nearly 30,000 miles on the long trails in America (Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trails three times each, along with a few others) and people have this image of forests and wildflowers all day, skipping down the trail in nature. They don’t realize that there are often cold, rainy days. Blisters and aches in the legs that cause forward momentum to feel agonizing. Miscalculating food and running out of calories when you’re still 20 miles from the next resupply takes a certain amount of grit to endure, and while I relish the opportunities to strengthen my resolve, most people who set out on a thru hike end up quitting and going home. Living in a van also has it’s shortcomings. I pee in a bottle and depending on where I am, forgo showers for days at a time. For me, it’s worth the tradeoff. Folks who have been conditioned to a certain standard of living may find it unfathomable.
One important lesson I’ve learned is how to redefine wealth. The old adage says money can’t buy happiness, but it’s been tossed around so often that people don’t actually believe that anymore. Having a certain amount of savings is very important in case disaster strikes, but there’s a point of diminishing returns with income.
If you work so much that you end up spending money on things to distract yourself from all that working…you’re in a bit of a circular pattern, aren’t you?
Our culture sells us this idea that we need more in order to be happy, but that simply isn’t true. Once your basic needs are met, anything else is just fluff. Creature comforts. And those add up in cost quickly. I’ve decided for me personally that wealth is measured in time, since time is one of the few things money cannot buy. By creating a life where I have the time to do as I please, I’ve increased my quality of life. I’m rich with time! I cannot tell you how many times I’ve walked out of the wilderness to a trailhead parking lot and struck up conversations with folks in huge RVs or fancy cars. They say things like “Oh, I wish I could afford to hike all day for months at a time” while they’re sitting in a $200k RV. They have jobs making six figures. By all accounts they should feel far wealthier than me, yet I’m looked upon with awe. By redefining wealth, I’ve created a world where I get to live doing as I please. My priorities have shifted, and that opened the doors to the life I wanted to live. I often think about being very sick or old, and how much money I would spend to gain back my health and youth. Is there a number? What person wouldn’t spend every penny they have to regain their youth and health? And if that’s the case, why squander these things when you have them?
What does an average day in your life look like?
There isn’t much structure to my life compared to most people. My days are constantly fluctuating, and depending on what I’m actively interested in will dictate what I’ll be doing. Since I’m currently building vans, I usually wake up early for some coffee and breakfast and then begin the days construction. Building a tiny house requires one to wear many hats. Plumber, electrician, carpenter, designer…you’re doing it all. Think about what it takes to build a regular house, and realize one has to do ALL that…just on a smaller scale. After a day’s work, I usually head out to the trails to run for 5-8 miles and clear my head. I consider being outdoors to be my church, and the mobile meditation of a run or hike recharges my mental batteries. After that, I swing by the gym for a quick sauna and shower. I love thinking about what the gym employees must think of me. “He’s here every day for only like 20 minutes, but is in great shape. What exercises is he doing? Riding the stationary bike while swinging kettlebells? Jumping rope while running on the treadmill?” Then I park at the grocery store and cook dinner or visit friends before headed back to park at the shop and read before bed.
During my long hikes across the country, I usually rise at dawn and begin walking. I stop when the mood strikes me, to eat or sit and watch the world around me. Sweeping vistas call like a siren, and it’s difficult to walk by without stopping to stare into the abyss. I hike all day, watching the sun change directions and getting lost in my thoughts. It truly is mobile meditation. The stress and anxiety washes off as the dust and dirt pile on. Sweat drips as muscles contract. The relentless forward progress is soothing, since the human body was designed for this. Boiling down life to the basic essentials is cathartic. Food, water and shelter. Taking care of your meat wagon as it transports you across the landscape. There are no billboards screaming for attention, no traffic to dodge. Your responsibilities are simple and pure, and the connection with spirit becomes strong. As dusk begins to turn the sky an inky black, I find a flat spot to bed down and deploy my sleeping pad and simple belongings. The sleep experienced after a long day on trail feels better than any sleep you’ve ever had.
You’re working on a van, right? What’s the plan? Tell me about the build. How does it reflect Lint?
Embracing this wacky van lifestyle has been liberating for me. Housing costs are crazy, and the thought of a mortgage filled me with dread. Signing up to work for 30 years in an effort to pay off that kind of debt seemed like wage slavery to me, so I figured out a way to hack the system. I can’t change the game, but I can change the way I play it! For a fraction of the cost people spend on a house, I built this tiny house on wheels and gave myself a bit of security. I can follow the weather and escape the snow if I wish. When my neighbors are bothersome, I simply drive away. By building these vans and selling them, I’m giving people a chance to live the way I do if they wish. Not everyone has the skills or space to build a van, and by using what I’ve learned (and teaming up with my amazing business partner) we’ll be able to get others into mobile living. Obviously, there are plenty of retirees who live like this, but the ‘digital nomad’ that only needs a WiFi connection to work can also adopt this lifestyle. Why be stuck in one location if you work from a computer?
The build we just finished is pretty plush. We used hardwood instead of MDF board. Stainless steel hardware throughout. All the appliances are top of the line, and we took great pains to make it not only functional, but aesthetically pleasing. Figuring out issues like trim are easy on a house, where all the walls are square and you’re working with 90 degree angles. Figuring out how to shim and sculpt wood to conform around the curves of a van is incredibly challenging. Determining the layout, and how to cram all these essentials into a tiny space takes planning and lots of trial and error. The propane stove we chose is recessed in the butcher block counter top, and learning to bend delicate copper lines around the van drove us nuts! The math and knowledge required to install solar panels took weeks of trial and error.
There are all these little details that the uninformed don’t consider when thinking about a van. They’re under the impression that its easy and should be cheap! One certainly can go the budget route and toss a futon in the back of a minivan if they choose, but we’re focused on building rolling works of functional art. As craftsmen, we take pride in building a one-of-a-kind conversion and offering it to those who appreciate such efforts. I often like to use the analogy of bicycles to help people understand. Yes, you can buy a $200 bicycle from Walmart and it’ll get you down the road. But there are many people who see the value in a $2000 bicycle and are passionate enough about it to spend that money. Again, it’s all about priorities. I want to build quality products that people are proud to own.
How do people react to your unconventional life?
Most people are fascinated by it. Since increasing my social media presence, I’ve gathered quite a following on platforms like Instagram and seem to be a source of inspiration for others. There will always be a certain number of haters out there who are jealous, but I sympathize with them. They live in cages they bought, and it has to be infuriating seeing someone be happy when they are so miserable. The anonymous nature of the internet allows people to be vocal in a way they would never be face to face, and while there is some anger directed my way, the vast majority of people are excited to see someone live the life they dream of.
I also recently embraced sobriety after 20 years of dealing with alcoholism, and I’ve felt inspired to open up to the public. There are so many people battling addiction, whether it’s drugs, alcohol or food — it’s helpful to make steps toward change when others step into the spotlight. Since “coming out of the closet” as an alcoholic, I’m received so much feedback from others dealing with similar issues that it now inspires me to stay on the wagon.
Do you have plans for the future? Is this the Lint Life until the very end?
I’d be foolish to try and predict the future. Life changes so often, and passions ebb and flow. Maybe I’ll get tired of living in an 86-square foot box? Maybe I’ll lose my health, and be forced to reprioritize my goals? There is no way of knowing. What I do know is that I’ll continue on this path I’ve started, moving towards personal growth and building a bank of memories that can never be taken from me. I’m aware that life has been very fortunate to me, and I count my blessings every day. That’s not saying I don’t have my own demons that make happiness difficult to grasp, but I’ll never stop actively moving towards that goal. I’m just a talking monkey on a giant rock hurtling through space. I have no answers, I’m still a student in life doing my best to learn. I don’t know exactly what I want out of life other than constant self-improvement and the freedom to pursue what brings me joy.
As a young man in my teenage years, I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to end up old and gray wishing I had followed my dreams. I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines watching life go by and only reading about adventures in books. I wanted to live a life worthy of reading about, and as I tucked away in my bed each night pouring over John Muir and Edward Abbey books, I schemed on how I could make it happen. Most of it was luck. I’m fortunate to have been born in North America during a time of plenty, and my gender and ethnic background offers me privilege I didn’t earn. Good parents gifted me with enough intelligence to communicate clearly and be resourceful enough to navigate our culture with relative ease. If my future continues on its current trajectory I’ll be more than happy, and I look forward to building more memories as life unfolds. Life serves the risk taker!