Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky District

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We wanted to stay in the Willow Flat campground in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, and we knew we’d have to arrive early if we wanted to make that happen. The Lady of the House and I woke up early on the free BLM camping area where we’d spent the night and cooked a quick breakfast. Other than a young woman camping across the road who let her dog run free with no supervision and didn’t allow the sounds of nature to prevail, our time boondocking there was uneventful.

The Lady and I cooked breakfast, ate, cleaned up, and packed the van in record time. We were on the road by 8:30 and proud of ourselves for it.

We saw beautiful red rock formations on the drive to the National Park. Once again, The Lady’s attitude was you ain’t seen nothing yet, and since we wanted to get a spot in the campground, we didn’t stop to take any photos of the cool rocks we saw along the way.

The ranger booth was closed when we entered the Park, but we saw a heavy wooden sign reporting the campground was full. Dang! We thought. We weren’t early enough.

I stayed outside to check the level of the van’s transmission fluid, but The Lady went into the visitor center to show her Southeast Utah Group Annual Pass and to double check on the availability in the campground.

Oh, we never take that sign down, she reported a worker in the visitor center told her. As far as the worker knew, there were still sites available in the campground. We were lucky The Lady had decided to go inside and ask! Her double checking certainly paid off in our getting what we wanted.

We drove directly to Willow Flat campground and found ourselves a campsite. After dropping the payment of our camping fee into the iron ranger, we went out to explore the Park.

Overlooking the Green River

Our first stop was the Green River Overlook, just down the road from the campground. We could have walked there had we not had limited time to see all the sights. From there, we drove through the Park, stopping at scenic overlooks and enjoying the beauty of all we were seeing.

I’m sure most of us who have experienced the grandeur of nature know how difficult it is to capture that beauty in words or photos. Nothing I can say or show truly expresses what I saw that day. Multiple my Wows and what you see in my photos 100 times and maybe you’ll have an idea of what I’m trying to share.

When we stopped at the Grand View Overlook, we agreed to look over. The Lady remembered the view from her previous visit to that part of the National Park and suggested we walk a ways on the trail. We can turn around whenever we want, she reminded me. While the scenery was stunning, and in the end I was glad we had seen all the sights along the trail, the two mile round trip was more than I had bargained for. I was tired!

Upheaval Dome formation

Still, we pressed on, and I drove us to the parking area for Upheaval Dome where we started the short hike to the place where we could stand and look at the Dome. I suppose taken by itself, Upheaval Dome would be an impressive sight, but surrounded by all those red rocks and deep canyons, Upheaval Dome seemed a bit boring to me. If I went back to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands, I wouldn’t bother visiting Upheaval Dome again. If someone put me in charge of renaming Upheaval Dome, I might call it “Yawn Yawn Dome.”

Next I drove us back to the visitor center/gift shop to find out the time of that night’s sunset and the next morning’s sunrise. Sunset at the Green River Overlook was supposed to be spectacular, as was sunrise through Mesa Arch. The Lady and I wanted to witness both.

On the way back to our campsite, we decided to stop at Mesa Arch. We planned to see it the next morning in all

Mesa Arch

its sunrise glory, but I wanted to get a look at it during a regular part of the day too. I was delighted by the view through the arch, and was glad I’d be able to visit it twice.

Once back at the campground, The Lady prepared a delicious dinner for us. She did almost all of the cooking on our trip, and every meal was awesome tasty. Any van trip would benefit from a cook as talented as The Lady.

We left the campground well in advance of the sunset. We drove again, to save time and energy. We needn’t have worried about time; we were plenty early and wrote postcards before leaving the van.

When we approached the overlook, we found a few visitors already there, including a man with a fancy camera on a tripod, and a group of Asian folks happily snapping photos. Alas, the spectacular sunset we were all hoping for was not meant to be. The overcast day turned into an overcast evening, and the clouds obscured the setting sun. There were no beautiful colors and no striking shafts of light. The grey sky darkened to dusk and our chance to see the sun set over the Green River was over.

The Lady heard the fellow with the fancy camera on the tripod tell one of his companion that sometimes there is no shot to get, but you have to be there and be ready to get your photo if the light is right. We were there, and we were ready that evening, but Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating.

10 Must-Have Items to Pack for Every Solo Trip (Guest Post)

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Shallow Focus Photo of World Globe

Today’s guest post is for everyone who’s always traveled with friends or family members and relied on other people to fill in their packing gaps. When these folks go solo, they need some packing help. Here are some reminders of what solo folks should take along on their journeys.

Are you an adventurer who enjoys traveling alone? There is an incredible feeling of freedom and liberty when you travel solo that one perhaps cannot replicate on a family holiday or if you travel with friends. Having a solo trip allows you to explore the world at your own pace and style, and to truly immerse yourself in the culture and mingle with the local population. You can do everything that you want, how you want it, and when you want it.

If you are traveling alone, you need to make sure that you pack everything that you need, as you cannot rely on your partner or friend to bring something that you forget. So make sure to list down everything before going on an adventure, and plan what you take so you don’t find yourself caught short.

1. Documents or Copies of Your Important Documents

It is essential to have certain documents with you anywhere you go, including your travel insurance, travelers Person Putting a Passport on Bagchecks, credit cards, plane tickets, and hotel reservations. Always bring your license or ID, your passport, and of course, your visa. Make sure that these documents are kept in a waterproof bag or envelope. Our advice is to keep all of your documents together in a wallet so that you know you have them. Also, keep photocopies of these documents in a separate location, like your suitcase or backpack. If you lose the originals, being able to access the information via the copies will speed up the process of replacement.

2. Your First Aid Kit

Be sure to prepare a first aid kit. The kit should include daily medications, water, alcohol, aspirin, paracetamol (acetaminophen), Benadryl, Lactacid, and Imodium, as well as cough and cold medicines. You can also add band aids, antibacterial ointment and cotton balls. A first aid kit is particularly important to have if you are traveling to a remote location where you may not be able to find a chemist.

3. Toiletries and Detergent

Make sure to include a basic supply of detergent and toiletries in your bag. Normally when we travel, we take an antiperspirant, an eau de parfum, and some travel detergent, that can be used to wash your clothes in your hotel’s sink, particularly if you run out of underwear, as you inevitably will!

4. A Contact Card Containing Emergency Numbers

Wherever you go, you should have an emergency card in your wallet. This will help people recognize you should an accident occur. This could be your passport, though you may want to keep this in your hotel in a safe place, or a simple card with an emergency contact, which can help the authorities contact your next of kin in an emergency.

5. Interesting Books

If you are bookish, you should definitely take a few books with you on your travels. We recommended you 2 Book on Brown Wooden Stairtake at least one guide book to help you find interesting places at your destination, and a novel that you can read whilst you are catching rays on the beach or while traveling by bus or train.

6. Spoon, Fork and Glass or Water Bottle

Bringing your own spoon, fork and glass or water bottle will mean that you always have these items no matter where you go. Packing these items may actually be necessary if you go to a remote destination without the most basic amenities or if you are going on a adventure holiday.

7. Safety Whistle or Safety Alarm

In case of an emergency, it is necessary that you memorize your phone number. You must also take a safety whistle or safety alarm wherever you go. If you do find yourself in an emergency situation, you can always alert passers-by and gain their help with a safety whistle or alarm. If you are alone, you can use the whistle or alarm to attract the attention of others if necessary.

8. Portable Charger

Bringing a charger is necessary when you travel. This is particularly true in the modern world, when we use social Grayscale Photography of Person Using Smartphone While Chargingnetworks to document our trip, Spotify to soundtrack our holiday and Google Maps to help us to find our hotel. It will keep your phone alive, thus your family and friends can reach you anytime. With a portable charger, you’ll always be able to keep your phone charged so you can keep your lifeline with you everywhere you go!

9. Portable Power Bank and Inverters

You might also need a portable power bank or a power inverter. These are useful when you need lighting, music, or to listen to the news whilst on the go. As stated previously, your devices have never been more important, and an extra battery will mean that you never get cut off, even if you cannot access a power outlet.

10. Motor homes are cool to bring too.

You may also bring your RV with you, even if you are just alone. Some prefer bringing their campers and motor homes for a safer travel. It is also perfect for overnight camping. Your motor home or RV can give you an even greater sense of freedom, allowing you to ‘set up camp’ in any place at any time. What is more, it will to help you economize, as hotel prices, particularly when you are alone, can be expensive.

For hassle-free travel adventure, make it a habit to list everything that you need. This will certainly save you time and energy.

Mia is the author of this post and owner of InvertPro.co. As a keen traveler Mia started InvertPro after struggling to find the right kit to stay in touch in an increasingly connected world. Mia has travel every continent and plans to visit them all again.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/shallow-focus-photo-of-world-globe-1098515/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-putting-a-passport-on-bag-842961/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/2-book-on-brown-wooden-stair-159675/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/grayscale-photography-of-person-using-smartphone-while-charging-1308749/.

How to Have a Great Time at (or at Least Survive) the RTR

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So you’ve done it! You’ve decided to attend the 2019 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in Quartzsite, Arizona on January 9-20. Congratulations! If this is your first RTR, you’re probably really excited and at least a little nervous too. When I went to my first RTR in 2015, I didn’t know a single person there! However, despite my shyness, anxiety, and tendency to be overwhelmed by crowds, I made friends I’m still close to today. I’ve attended  three more RTRs since then, and today I’ll share with you my best advice to help you learn a lot and enjoy yourself at this gathering of vandwellers, rubber tramps, RVers, nomads, vagabonds, and travelers of all kinds.

#1 Do your research now so you’ll know what to expect when you get to the RTR. This post is a great place to start, but don’t stop here. Visit the Cheap RV Living website to learn the specifics of the 2019 RTR. If you like watching videos more than you like reading, check out the Cheap RV Living YouTube channel to get updates about the 2019 RTR.  In the last couple of years, Facebook groups related to the RTR and Quartzsite have popped up. If you’re on Facebook, you might want to join  RTR Chatter  and Quartzsite Chatter. Lots of bloggers and vloggers have written about their RTR experiences, so use  your favorite search engine to find those posts. If you want my perspective, you can read about my experiences at the RTR in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

#2 The desert is different from the rest of the U.S. Learn about desert conditions before you arrive. A good place to start is my blog post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert.” Once you know what to expect in the desert, you’ll have better ideas for how to prepare.

#3 Be ready for sun, wind, rain, cold, and dust. Weather in the desert can change rapidly, and nights can be chilly or downright cold. It does rain in the desert, so bring appropriate gear for whatever weather the two weeks of the RTR bring.

#4 If you’re a woman, and especially if you are a female newbie, consider attending The Women’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (WRTR). This gathering will be held January 4-8 (before the main RTR) in Bouse, Arizona. The WRTR will be smaller than the main RTR, so it may be easier to meet people there, and smaller crowd may produce less anxiety. At the WRTR, you’ll learn things (like how to go to the bathroom in your rig!) that you’ll be glad to know once you get to the big gathering.

#5 Stock up on fresh food before you get to Quartzsite. Once you’re in town, you can find good deals on canned goods, snacks, and other processed foods at the multiple popup scratch & dent stores. However, Quartzsite has no big supermarket with low prices. Instead it has two grocery stores with small town prices. When I arrive at the RTR, I make sure my cooler is stocked with eggs, cheese, and produce. If you stay at the RTR for two weeks, you may have to pick up fresh groceries halfway through, but you can save some money by buying cheap before you arrive.

#6 Once you arrive at the RTR, you’re going to have to find a spot for your camp. You can be close to the main meeting area, or you can have lots of space around your camp, but you probably can’t do both. At the 2018 RTR, people camped close to the main meeting area were packed in fairly close to each other. Farther away, there was more room for people to spread out, but folks who had more room around their rigs had to walk a ways to get to seminars, the main campfire, and the free pile.

#7 Forget about privacy. Unless you are more than a mile from the main RTR meeting area, you probably won’t be able to camp entirely alone. Even if you’re able to maintain some space around your rig, you’ll probably still have neighbors close enough to see what you’re doing when you’re outside. No matter where you’re camped, expect drones to fly overhead and take photos and videos. At any official RTR event and even in your own camp, expect people to record and photograph you without permission. While organizers have discouraged filming, photographing, and recording without permission, they’ve also said there’s nothing they can do to stop it.

#8 Find your people at the RTR. Especially if you go alone or this is your first RTR, finding others with similar interests can make the gathering a less overwhelming place. If you’re the creative type, seek out the RTArt Camp. If you like to jam, camp with other musicians. In the past, school bus nomads have camped together, and in 2018 several box trucks parked all in a row. Sure, you might not be able to base an entire friendship on a shared love of finger painting or driving a similar rig, but some common thread will at least give you a conversation starter.

#9 Wearing a nametag can be a good ice breaker, At the last two RTRs, a few ladies had a button-making machine and were making nametags in exchange for a small donation to cover expenses. Some folks brought their nametags to the RTArt Camp to add bling to their button.

If you don’t want people to know your legal name, it’s a time-honored tradition to give yourself a road name. In any case, wearing a name badge can help folks remember you and what you want to be called.

#10 Get to seminars early to get a good spot where you can see and hear the action. The seminars are one of the most popular aspects of the RTR, especially for new folks. In 2018 I estimate two to three hundred people attended each seminar. Even with sound amplification, it must have been difficult for some attendees to hear. I’d plan to arrive at any seminar at least half an hour before it was scheduled to begin. Some folks leave their chairs to hold their places in the seminar area during the entire event.

#11 Drive more slowly than you think necessary.The BLM camping areas in Quartzsite are dusty places. Going more than 5 miles per hour on unpaved BLM land stirs up a lot of dust. Go super slow so the people whose camps you pass won’t hate you. Also, sometimes pets dash out of rigs and into the road. Going slow will help you avoid hitting any renegade pups or kitties.

#12 Bring earplugs for a peaceful sleep. Overall, the RTRs I’ve attended have been mostly quiet at night, but be prepared for the night you’ve parked next to someone who has to run a generator for medical reasons, your friendly neighbors linger next to the campfire laughing, or you want to go to bed early and the Boomers across the wash blast the oldies until 9:59. It’s not reasonable to expect a gathering of so many will be quiet when you need your rest, so have your ear plugs handy.

#13 If one of your RTR goals is to meet people, put yourself out there and be friendly.Walk around. Smile at people. Say hello. Ask respectful questions.

Feel awkward staring a conversation with a stranger? Here are some RTR specific opening lines:

  • Is this your first RTR?
  • Have you been to the free pile?
  • What kind of rig do you have?
  • Are you full time?
  • What seminar do you most want to attend?
  • Have you been to the RTArt Camp?
  • Are you going/have you been to the Big Tent?
  • Where’s the main campfire?
  • What are you plans for after the RTR?
  • Where did you get your nametag? (Make sure the person is actually wearing a nametage before you use this one.)

#14 Remember that it’s fine to go hide in your rig if you get overwhelmed. I’ve hidden in my rig so many times during past RTRs! There’s no shame in needing alone time to decompress and process what you’ve heard, seen, and learned. Close your curtains, breathe deeply, and relax.

#15 The RTR can be fun, exciting, overwhelming, educational, stressful, aggravating, and wonderful. Take care of your physical needs so you can cope emotionally. Drink plenty of water. Eat enough. Rest. Cry if you need to and laugh as much as you can. Exercise, but not a lot more than you’re accustomed to. Wear comfortable, sturdy shoes so you can make it over the rocks, through the dust, and across the washes. I’ve found a walking stick really helps me navigate the rough terrain.

Whether it’s your first or your eighth Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, following these tips can help you make the most of this gathering of nomads from across North America. If you’re new to the RTR feel free to ask my any questions I may not have answered in this post. If you’ve been to past RTRs, leave your suggestions in the comment section below.

Remember, Blaize Sun can’t prepare you for or protect you from every problem you might encounter at the RTR or anywhere in the desert. Only you are responsible for you! Do your research before you head to the RTR, use common sense, and think before you act.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

 

Hitchhikers in Black

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Our jobs on the mountain ended, and The Man and I left California. We weren’t quite sure what our next move should be, so as we’ve done in past times of indecision, we headed to New Mexico. My New Mexico State Parks Pass was still valid, so we decided to spend some time at Bluewater Lake State Park between Grants and Gallup.

We arrived at Bluewater Lake early on Saturday afternoon. We drove through the different camping areas until we found a fairly flat campsite with a tree big enough to provide some shade. We spent the afternoon relaxing. Later in the day we set up our stove and had dinner before the sun set.

The next morning The Man decided he wanted coffee. He didn’t just want a cup of coffee; he wanted to buy ground coffee and sugar and creamer so he could make himself a cup every morning. We used Google Maps and found a grocery store called John Brooks 24 miles away in Milan. I climbed into the drivers seat and The Man rode shotgun for our little road trip.

It was before 8am when we set out. I slowly drove the van past the houses just outside the park, then picked up speed as I got closer to Interstate 40. As I approached the eastbound onramp, I saw three people standing on the side of the road just past the entrance.

The first thing I noticed was that all three of them were dressed in black. Gang members, a judgmental little voice in my head whispered.

The second thing I noticed was that they were all Native Americans. Call it white guilt if you want, but I particularly try to help people of color. Sure, I try to help everyone who needs a hand, but I feel I have a particular responsibility to help folks whose ancestors were oppressed by my ancestors.

Should we stop? I asked The Man as we approached.

He thought about it. No.

You don’t think we should stop? I asked in surprise.

The Man helps people too. He believes in helping people. I’m not sure why he said no. Maybe it was because there were three hitchhikers and my van only has two seats. Realistically, where would we put them? Maybe it was because three dudes in black standing on an onramp seemed a little sketchy.

I drove past the people, and after The Man got a good look at them, he said I should stop.

I pulled onto the shoulder of the onramp, and The Man got out of the van to talk to the people. Turns out there Group of People on Eventwere two men and a woman. They were Native, as I originally thought, and they were certainly dressed in black. While they may or may not have had gang affiliation, they were not on gang business that Sunday morning. They were on ROCK business, as in rock-n-roll. They were trying to get to Albuquerque for that night’s Ozzy Osbourne farewell concert.

The Man ushered the woman into the passenger seat and got in the back of the van with the two men. The Man sat on the bed, and the young men sat on the floor. Of course Jerico the dog barked at them, thinking they were new friends who obviously should be playing ball with him.

The woman was probably in her early 20. I apologized to her that we were only going about twenty miles down the road, but she seemed grateful for even the short ride. She was pretty excited about the concert, even though she had school the next day.

What are you studying? I asked her.

She was studying welding. Once she received her certificate, she was going travel. She wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. She thought she’d go to Alaska too. She’d heard there were lots of welding jobs in Alaska. She’d heard welder’s helpers—the people who handed tools and swept up—earned $16 an hour there.

I asked her where she’d grown up. I was making chit chat, but I was curious too.

She’d grown up in New Mexico and Arizona. Her dad’s family was from Arizona and her Mom’s family was from New Mexico. Her dad’s family was more traditional, more conservative she told me. In Arizona you had to do things a certain way. In New Mexico it didn’t matter so much how you did things, as long as you got things done. I wasn’t sure if she was referring to carrying out a religious ceremony or cooking stew, but my experience of New Mexico being peopled with laid back folks seemed to be in line with what she’d grown up with there.

As we approached exit 79, I was glad to see both a Love’s travel center and a Petro truck stop right off the interstate. There would be a lot more traffic there than the Ozzy fans would have found at the end of the onramp where we’d picked them up. I don’t have a lot of hitchhiking experience, but I suspected the trio would have better luck getting a ride if they were able to approach drivers and politely ask for what they needed. If three young people in black by the side of the road made me and The Man hesitate, the average driver was not going to stop for them. However, if a driver could talk to the Ozzy pilgrims and realize they were harmless, well, that would certainly increase their chances of getting a ride.

I asked the group if they preferred to be dropped at the Love’s or the Petro, and they opted for the Petro. I pulled into the truck stop’s parking lot, and they got out of the van amid thanks and good cheer.

I hope they made it to the Ozzy show and had a rockin’ good time. I only regret that financial considerations kept me from driving them all the way to Albuquerque.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/group-of-people-on-event-1047443/.

 

Phone Home

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Seven Assorted Colored Rotary TelephonesNot three minutes before the young people walked into the Mercantile, I’d been telling the new camp host how The Big Boss Man did not like visitors using the phone in the store to make calls for any reason he did not consider an emergency. He’d allow phone calls for fire and bleeding, and I bet broken bones would have met his criteria for an emergency, but to him car trouble didn’t count. Car won’t start? Flat tire? Keys locked inside the vehicle? The Big Boss Man thought you should go to the payphone eleven miles away to make your call.

This phone policy put me and the other clerks at the Mercantile in an awkward position. I didn’t want to displease my boss, but I certainly wanted to help people. Also, it wasn’t the boss who had to tell the woman traveling alone who’d locked not just her keys but her phone, her ID, her cash, and her credit cards in her car that she couldn’t use our fully functioning phone—it was the store clerks who had to do the dirty work.

I explained all of this to the new camp host in the course of our conversation, and he just shook his head. He was really into helping people and couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t let a driver having problems with a vehicle call for help.

Just as the camp host left the Mercantile through the back door, three young people walked through the front door. I’m not sure how young the people actually were, but they all looked at least 18 to me. The two women could have been a little younger than 18 or maybe a little older, but I’d be astonished to find out the fellow with them was younger than 22. In any case, the three young people before me appeared to be adults.

The tallest woman stood in front of the counter looking sad. She had straight dark hair and wore a loose shirt over a bikini top. She started talking to me in a voice so low I couldn’t understand her words.

Could you speak up? I asked. I can’t hear you.

She looked completely startled. Maybe I’d spoken too harshly. Maybe she’d learned speaking softly helped her get things she wanted from people. In any case, she raised her voice and started again.

We don’t have any phone service out here, she began.

No one does! I interjected.

And I need to call home to let my parents know I made it to the campground safely, she told me.

A big girl like you? I wanted to say.

How old are you? I wanted to ask. For once I kept my big mouth shut.

If my parents don’t hear from me, they’re going to file a missing person report, she told me. Whether she was exaggerating or if she had really grown up under such helicoptering, I do not know.

I gave her a big speech about my boss and the phone, how he thought it should only be used for emergencies and he definitely would not consider her situation an emergency. I’m going to let you use the phone, I wrapped up my speech, but you CANNOT. TELL. ANYONE.

She solemnly agreed not to tell anyone, and I handed her the phone. She dialed the number, and there was a long wait while the phone rang before the young woman reached her mother’s voicemail. She explained she’d reached the campground, had no phone service, and would not be able to touch base until the next day when she returned to civilization. She hung up the phone, and I was glad the entire interaction was coming to an end. It was time for me to close the store and count the money in the drawer and go home for the day.

But wait! There’s more!

I’d assumed the young woman’s two companions were there for moral support, but no, each of them also wanted to call home and reassure their parents that except for the lack of cell phone service, they were fine. I couldn’t believe this! Grown ass people (or at least it seemed to me) insisting on calling mommy and daddy to check in from the first day of a camping trip! What would they have done if there had been no telephone in the campground?

I let the two other young people use the phone. I couldn’t tell them no after I’d told their friend yes. This was the problem with letting a visitor use the phone—it was never a quick 30 second call; it was always some sort of ordeal.

Where are y’all from? I asked the first young woman as her friends used the phone.

Orange County, she replied.

They were only a few hours from home! They hadn’t even left their home state!

Finally all calls home were complete. The young people thanked me, and I ushered them out so I could close up shop.

As I was closing the front windows, the phone rang inside the store. I ran to get it and answered it using the script taped to the counter, identifying specifically the store where I work and myself, then asking How may I help you?

The woman on the other end of the line seemed flustered. She must have the wrong number, she told me. She thought her son had just called from this number.

I sweetly assured her that he had. There was no cell service up here, so he’d used the store phone to let her know he was ok and that she wouldn’t hear from him again as long as he was up here.

She laughed and agreed that’s what he message had said. (Then why did you call here!?! I wanted to shout, but I held myself in check.) She thought maybe she could catch her son if she called right back.

No, ma’am, I said, he’s already gone, which was the truth.

I’ll be damned! It was some kind of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie scenario.

If you let a gal from the O.C. use the phone, then her two friends will want to use it too, which will make you close the store late. Then the young man’s mother will call back and interrupt your closing procedures with her chatting. She’ll want to talk to her son directly…

I was beginning to understand why The Big Boss Man didn’t want us to let visitors use our phone.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/seven-assorted-colored-rotary-telephones-774448/.

How to Find The Friends You’re Going to Camp With

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Many camping areas in remote locations have no cell phone service or internet access. Lots of folks are accustomed to having instant access to communication and are totally surprised when they arrive in their remote camping location and realize they can’t make or receive phone calls, send or receive texts, or update their social media. This lack of phone service can enhance one’s ability to hear the birds sing and to engage in uninterrupted conversation with friends and loved ones.

Lack of cell phone service can also mean it’s more difficult to find the people you plan to camp with if you come up in different vehicles at different times. Plan ahead so you can find your group. Here are six tips to help you meet up with your people once you leave civilization.

#1 If you’re meeting in a campground and have reservations you didn’t make, know the first and last name of the person who reserved the site. For example, if your brother’s girlfriend booked the site under her legal name, Elizabeth Brown, and you only know her as Liz, the camp host may not be able to direct you to the right site.

#2 Make sure you know what region, state, and county you are going to. The United States is a big place, and campground names are sometimes repeated throughout a state, region, or even throughout the country. For example, the same region of California has two Wishon campgrounds. If you’re supposed to be at the Wishon Campground at Bass Lake and instead you end up at the Wishon Campground off of Highway 190 in Tulare County, well, your weekend has started off on the wrong foot. You might have a similar problem is you’re supposed to be at the Giant Sequoia National Monument but end up in Sequoia National Park or you confuse the Sequoia National Forest with the Sierra National Forest.

#3 Know the exact name of the campground or camping area you’re going to. When I worked on the mountain, there were three campgrounds within a five mile stretch of highway that all had the word “meadow” in their names. There were also two additional meadows in the area where folks could boondock, as well as a road with the word “meadow” as part of its name.  That’s a lot of meadows! If a person didn’t know exactly what meadow to look for, it might be difficult to get to the right place.

#4 Your GPS system nay not work in a remote location either, so use a good paper map of the area to find your way around. Get your paper map and study it before you leave home. Have a good idea of where you’re going and how you’re going to get there before you start driving. If you’re traveling with other people, designate someone with good map-reading skills to be the navigator.

#5 Plan for folks to meet at the camping spot before the sun sets. Sure, folks with jobs might want to leave work at five o’clock and get on the road so they can start the camping fun on Friday night. Maybe you’re a boondocker who likes to sleep until noon and not start driving until 3pm. If you get a late start, then get stuck in traffic or lost, you might find yourself looking for your campsite in the dark. Get on the road as early in the day as possible so you’ve got plenty of daylight to help you find your camping spot.

#6 Designate a time and place for your group to meet if everyone doesn’t show up at the camping spot. Make the meeting place a prominent location and the meeting time before dark.

Bonus Tip Meet at a location within cell phone service and caravan to the remote location together. At least if you get lost, your whole group will be lost together.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

Pickup Line

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I think a man tried to pick me up in the 99 cent store.

The city I went to on my days off from work on the mountain was looking rougher all the time. Every time I went down, it seemed like I was seeing more people pushing shopping carts around town, more people popping out from between buildings where they’d obviously spent the night. When I slept in my van in the parking lot of the 24 hour supermarket, other people there were obviously trying to get some shut-eye in their vehicles. All to say either times were increasingly harder in the central California town, or I had started noticing all the people struggling.

In late July, I was in my new favorite place for bargain shopping, the 99 Cents Only store. Of course, some of the items in the store cost more than 99 cents, making the name of the place more than a little confusing, but that’s corporate America for you, always trying to mislead and take advantage of the consumer.

I especially liked the closeout baskets that I’d sometimes find at the front of the store. One morning I’d found the basket full of organic chocolate bars priced at 4 for 99 cents. Another time I’d found bags of fancy sweet potato chips marked at 4 for 99 cents. On a third visit, small cans of sliced jalapeños were going for (you guessed it) 4 for 99 cents. Other great bargains I’d found there included cans of organic refried beans and packages of shelf-stable tofu for 99 cents each.

Shallow Focus Photography of BananasOn the day in question, I was in the back of the store in the produce section. My friend Meg and I were going to make s’morenanners (bananas stuffed with mini marshmallow and chocolate chips, then cooked in the coals of a campfire), and I’d put myself in charge of getting the best price on bananas. The regular bananas at the 99 Cents Only store were 49 cents a pound, which was already cheaper than the going rate on bananas at any other supermarket in town. However, the “extra ripe” bananas were only 33 cents a pound! Score!

It was a hot day outside—probably pushing 100 degrees if not already there. I was wearing a too tight tank top and unflattering cotton pants in an attempt to stay cool. I’m sure my hair was a flat mess, but I (obviously) wasn’t giving much thought to how I looked. I wanted to get my errands done as quickly as possible and get back up the mountain.

After I found a bunch of decent looking extra ripe bananas held together with red tape alerting the world of their bargain status, I texted Meg to let her know my banana mission was accomplished. During my texting, I realized my cart was blocking the entire banana display. Ooops! Then I realized there was a man standing nearby trying to look at the bananas.

Excuse me, I said and wrestled my shopping cart out of the way.

The fellow was in my age group or maybe a little younger and had dark hair. He said, No problem and gave me a big smile before saying, It’s a hot day in paradise.

Oh no! A big smile? We were in Central California, not the Deep South. In my experience, people in Central California do not give each other big smiles in the produce aisle. Besides, I looked like sweaty hell. If this stranger in the 99 Cent Only store was being super nice to me, it had to be because he wanted something. In my experience, men do not hit on fat women in ill-filling clothes with unwashed hair because they (the men) think they (the women) are cute. I had the distinct feeling this guy was up to something, and I wanted nothing to do with whatever scheme or scam he was trying to hatch.

I maneuvered my cart away from the banana display and toward the front of the store. I hope I didn’t damage the smiling man’s self-esteem.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/fruits-grocery-bananas-market-4621/.

 

Cups

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The campground where the Mercantile was located didn’t have running water. It didn’t have running water during the three previous seasons I worked on the mountain. At the beginning of last season The Big Boss man was confident the campground would have running water before Memorial Day. As of late July, the campground was still bone dry. As far as I knew no one was working on the water system. After Independence Day, The Big Boss Man had stopped talking about getting the water to run in the campground.

Almost every day, people came into the Mercantile looking for a faucet or a water fountain. I’m sure the camp hosts saw as many (probably more) people looking for water than I did. Visitors wanted to fill a water bottle or wash their hands. Every time someone asked for water in the campground, I had to explain there was none.

We sold cold water in the Mercantile, and a significant portion of people did buy it to drink. However, fewer people (significantly fewer people) spent $2.50 for 16.9 ounces or $3.95 for a gallon of water to use to wash their hands.

One Wednesday afternoon, I was working alone in the Mercantile. Two older men came through the door and ignored my greeting. Both men were probably in their early 60s, and each was wearing long pants and a long sleeve shirt despite the heat. Their clothes were not trendy, and while not shabby, didn’t look new. These men had not dressed up to come up the mountain. They looked like hunters or fishermen (or maybe both), working class outdoorsmen. The skin on the second man’s face was a strange mottled red, as if his sunburn had been sunburned, and he wore an expression of anger or maybe just impatience.

I could tell they were looking for something, but before I could offer to help, their eyes lit up. They’d seen what they were seeking.

They made a beeline to the beverage cooler and considered their options. I heard some mumble grumbles about the cost of the water. I understood their consternation, but there was nothing I could do to change the price.

The first man who’d come through the door carried the gallon of water up to the register where I scanned the barcode and asked for $3.95.

Clear Plastic Cup on Gray SurfaceDo you have cups? The fellow making the purchase said.

We have coffee mugs right over there, I said while pointing helpfully,

No, said the red-faced man. Paper cups. To drink this, he said gesturing to the gallon of water.

Oh no, I said. We don’t have anything like that.

I guess they figured if they paid more for water than they paid for gasoline, cups to drink it should come with the purchase.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/sunset-cup-water-drink-87383/.

Very Happy That We Did It (an Interview with Ryan and Samantha of Gone Vananas)

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Split, the Gone Vananas van

I met Ryan and Samantha (and their cute little doggie friend Mickey) of the Gone Vananas vlog when we worked together in a remote National Forest campground. I could tell almost immediately after meeting them that they were both hard workers serious about doing a good job. As the weeks of our employment passed, I also found them to be funny, kind, smart, and generous. They had been vandwellers for just shy of one year when I sat down with them to talk about choosing a rig, getting along in close quarters, what they miss about their old life, and what they love about their new one.

Rubber Tramp Artist: Whose idea was it to hit the road?

Ryan: I think it started with me. I had a conversation with my best friend about a co-worker of his that decided to quit his job and sell all of his stuff and move into a van and then go do chairlift work out in Colorado since he was a big snowboarder. That got the gears turning for me. I started doing all kinds of research on how that would look for us, what kind of van I could possibly build. Once I had enough information, I approached Samantha about it to see what her take was on it.

RTA: [to Samantha] How long did it take him to convince you?

Samantha: Oh, not long. [Laughs] I’ve lived like a nomad most of my life. I’m 32, and the van is my 35th home.

RTA: Wow!

Samantha: No question. Ready to go! Let’s do it!

RTA: What’s the make and model of your rig?

Ryan: It’s a 2016 Ram Promaster 3500 extended. It’s the biggest one that they make.

RTA: Why did y’all choose this rig rather than a typical cargo or conversion van or a minivan or a big motorhome?

This is the independent bathroom Ryan wanted.

Ryan: My grandfather is retired Chrysler, so we got his employee discount on this brand, which helped a lot. I wanted something that had enough room to comfortably live two people, and I’m 6’2” so the ability to stand up in it was really important to me. I also wanted an independent bathroom. When I added all these things up, and looked at the dimensions of all the vans that were out there, this one made the most sense.

RTA: Why a van rather than a motorhome? Was it primarily because of the discount that you were able to get?

Ryan: The primary reason was I wanted to build a rig that was stealthy and easy to maneuver in normal parking spaces and normal roads and situations. I considered a school bus conversion for only a short while. The cons of that—not being able to stealthy camp in a neighborhood and limited parking spaces—kind of shot that down for us. We wanted to camp for free essentially everywhere just by camouflaging ourselves in normal areas.

RTA: What was the most difficult thing for each of you to give up when you left your conventional life behind?

Samantha: The kitchen and its gadgetry. I’m a baker. I like to bake, and I like to spread out and will make a couple

The full kitchen in Samantha and Ryan’s van. Sink. Check. Stove. Check. Oven! Check. Refrigerator. Check.

hundred dozen cookies come the holiday season. That was tricky, but Ryan was able to give me a full kitchen. I can basically do everything in there that I can in a real kitchen, with much less space.

Ryan: In smaller amounts

Samantha: [Laughs] Yes.

RTA: And so what about for you, Ryan?

Ryan: I have to say, I was really fond of my muscle car. It was my project car. It was kind of my baby. I loved having that, but at the end of the day, it was just a thing. I didn’t mind selling it because I really value traveling and experiences over stuff. It was kind of just going through the motions of being upset about it when I sold it.

RTA: What kind of car was it?

Ryan: It was a 2014 Dodge Challenger that I put a lot of time and effort and money into making it my own and looking really nice. [Chuckles] It only had 8,000 miles when I sold it.

RTA: Do either of you ever feel like you can’t spend one more minute in the van with the other person?

Ryan and Samantha at the same time: No

Samantha: Never

RTA: Wow! That’s awesome.

[Laughter from everyone]

RTA: My next question was going to be, “How do you remedy that situation?” but…

Ryan: We’ve spent every day together since…

Samantha: Yeah. Just shy of a year?

Ryan: Yeah.

Samantha: We’re coming up on a year in the van.

RTA: Wow!

View of the kitchen from outside the back of the van. You can see a sliver of the restroom on the far right of the photo.

RTA: I’d like for each of you to tell me three traits that the other person has that makes for a great vandwelling partner.

Ryan [to Samantha]: You wanna start?

Samantha [to Ryan]: No. You start.

Ryan: Well, I would say one, Samantha is, I guess, what they would call a low-maintenance girl. [Laughs]  She definitely isn’t very needy. She doesn’t have to have all the big, expensive stuff and house and car and all that things that…you’d hear other people need. She’s very go-with-the-flow. I guess that would be another one. Not a lot rattles her. She’s adaptable. She basically will get along with any situation. She won’t freak out if…things are going a little bit south or we don’t have a plan or something isn’t going the right way. It’s kind of tough to rattle her. Those are important things, I think.

Samantha: Ryan is very well organized and always has…some kind of plan. He knows where we’re going or what we’re doing or how we’re going to get there. [Laughs] And he is good about keeping us in minimalism. If it doesn’t have a home, it doesn’t get to come on the road with us, it’s got to have a place to go in the van. [He is] keeping us from acquiring too much more other than necessities…Also he is very handy. If something goes wrong he figures it out very quickly and fixes it. So far we haven’t had too much trouble, but the few things that we’ve come across, he’s figured it out and knew what to do and what he needed to do it and got it done right away.

Ryan: A lot of repairs in the Home Depot parking lot.

[Laughter]

RTA: So y’all are quite a bit younger than many other rubber tramps. What do you plan to do with the next 40+ years if you’re essentially retired in your 30s?

Ryan: We have talked a lot about that. It’s been a fluid plan as far as maybe tweaks and changes here and there. The main part has been we would like to purchase land. Where that is necessarily has changed. Right now we are considering Southern Oregon. We would like to have around 10 acres, maybe build a tiny house on a trailer, have a workshop and also a garden and a homestead and off-grid power. We kind of want a self-contained little area that we can call home when we don’t feel like traveling anymore and have a little bit of space of our own to sort of spread out.

Does that include working too?

I stood in the kitchen to take this photo of the front of the van. A door between the cab and the living area can be closed for privacy. Bedding is stashed in the area above the wall during the day when the bed converts into a sofa.

RTA: Sure! I would love to hear what your plans for work are.

Ryan: Right now I am trying to educate myself in coding and web development. It’s pretty much the ultimate way to make money on the road. I have no experience with it, but I’m learning right now the best way that I can go about accquiring the right skills in order to make a decent living while traveling whenever we would like.

Samantha: I currently make jewelry and sell it on Etsy, and [I’m] working to maybe expand that from jewelry into something else, maybe even like van-esque accessories…different storage option type upholstery items, potentially.

Ryan: It’s definitely a work in progress right now.

Samantha: Yeah.

Ryan: We don’t have a clear, defined future as to what we’re doing. We’re kind of living moment to moment. But in reality, that’s what we signed up for. That’s what we wanted. We spent the last decade of our lives in such a rigid, structured type of life that it kind of turned us off to it. We knew what we were doing every day, and it was the same thing every day, so this [living moment to moment] is kind of the intended experience that we wanted. We’ll figure it out.

RTA: So y’all travel with a little guy named Mickey.

Samantha: Yes.

RTA: Tell me about Mickey. How did he take to the road?

Mickey the cute doggie companion

Samantha: Surprisingly well. Mickey even before we decided to go for van life, is a pretty well-traveled dog. He’s flown a few times, drove across the country with me. But he is a very relaxed dog, especially for his breed. He’s a Boston Terrier. But he’s just happy when he’s with us. As long as he’s with us, he’s pretty much content.

Ryan: [Sound of agreement]

Samantha: And he’s got his little space between the captain’s chairs [in the front] and he pretty much sleeps there 98% of the time when we’re on the road.

Ryan: He has a modified Temperpedic mattress for his bed.

Samantha: Yes.

RTA: [Laughs]

Ryan: Someone was throwing one away, and we just cut a piece off of it.

Samantha: Yep.

Ryan:  and made him one.

Samantha: He’s going on eight years old. He’s a bit of an older boy, so he’s pretty relaxed. He doesn’t hike, he doesn’t [laughs] do much of anything except sleep and look cute.

Ryan: He walks a half mile and plops.

RTA: [Laughs] Do y’all plan to expand your van family by having kids?

Ryan: Nope!

Samantha: No.

RTA: [Giggles] OK!

[Everyone laughs]

Samantha: There will be four-legged children in our life, I’m sure, for many years to come, but that will probably be it.

Ryan: It was something we talked about not doing before we even started this lifestyle.

RTA: What would each of you say is the best part of your life on the road?

Samantha: To wake up wherever we want.

Ryan: There is no putting a price on true freedom, in my opinion. The ability to just be wherever you want, whenever you want…I’ve never felt anything like it. I don’t want to give it up.

Samantha: Nope. Not for anything.

RTA: Is there anything else either of you want to add?

Ryan: One thing I just want to add is that I had and Sam[antha] had no experience building anything or having any idea what we were doing when we started this, and we created something that we are so extremely proud of. You can see when other people see it how astonished they are about what we built. It’s just, I think, the ultimate example of if you want something so bad, and you actually care about doing it, then you will create something beyond your wildest dreams, something you didn’t even think you could possibly do. I’m just very happy that we did it and didn’t actually listen to other people that thought we were crazy for wanting to do it. If you really want something, you can absolutely do it as long as you care the most out of everyone else.

Samantha: Yep.

I took the photos in this post.

 

 

Let the Sounds of Nature Prevail

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La Sal mountains near Moab, Utah

We hadn’t been awake long when The Lady of the House pulled back the curtain between the van’s front seats and the living area and looked out the windshield. She reported a dog running around between my van and the camp next door. As far as she could tell, the dog was not accompanied by a human.

The Lady and I were on an epic road trip in Arizona and Utah. We’d spent the night in a free BLM camping area on Willow Springs Road northwest of Moab. We were going to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park that morning, and we were up early in hopes of arriving in time to get a site in the Park’s Willow Flat Campground. When we spilled out of the van, we found chilly air and frost on the table we’d set up the night before, but we were not deterred. We were determined to get on the road as soon as possible.

As we prepared our simple breakfast (oatmeal for The Lady and eggs and cheese on a flour tortilla for me), the dog The Lady had seen earlier continued to run around unattended. It tried to come into our camp, but I shooed it away, telling it to Go home! It finally settled down next to the small SUV parked across the road from us.

While we ate, a young woman emerged from the tent pitched a short distance beyond the small SUV. From the way she reacted to the dog, we could tell they were traveling companions.

The young woman bustled around her vehicle, opening and closing doors, but I didn’t really pay much attention to her until she reached into the vehicle and turned on its radio. A dreadful slow jam destroyed the morning quiet.

Granted, it was past the customary 6am cutoff for quiet time on public land, and the young woman was not blasting the tunes. However, The Lady and I could clearly hear the music across the road in our camp, which means to me the music was too loud. I would have probably been more forgiving if it had been afternoon, but the music was destroying the morning peace. I might not have minded as much had the songs I was subjected to been some that I liked, but the music the stranger enjoyed was grating noise to my ears. However, even if she had been playing the Grateful Dead, I still would have thought the music was being played too loudly and too early for public land.

I once read a publication from the Forest Service that said people on public land should “let the sounds of nature prevail.” That mandate has stuck with me. People are ostensibly out in nature because they want to enjoy nature. When I’m out in nature, I want to enjoy silence or, at most, some energetic bird song. I do not venture into nature to listen to over-produced radio music.

I didn’t say anything to the young woman. I didn’t walk over to her camp to let her know her music was bothering me or suggest she find a portable device and earbuds. The Lady and I were leaving once we cleaned up from breakfast after all. I just gritted my teeth while we packed up and hoped we’d find more considerate neighbors in the National Park.

I took the photo in this post.