Monthly Archives: June 2018

Preston

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He said his name was Preston as he shook my hand.

We found ourselves sitting next to each other on a bench in a Catholic Charities office in a small mountain town. I was there to ask for a gas voucher so I could leave, and he was there to…I wasn’t quite sure why he was there.

He was repacking his bag, a stylish piece of carry-on luggage, when I arrived. I didn’t want to crowd him, but seating was limited, so I took the spot next to him.

He opened the conversation by asking me if I wanted some lotion. I bought myself some man lotion, he told me proudly while showing me the grey tube. Do you want this one they gave me? He offered me a pink tube. I politely declined, while wondering who “they” were.

He turned around and offered the lady lotion to the woman sitting in the row behind us. She too politely declined. Ok, I’ll just keep it, he said with certainty.

He and the woman behind him were having a conversation about something she said was going to get bigger. They talked as if the creature in question was in the room with us.

I had one, the woman said. I worked at a pet store when I was younger. It was six feet long, not including the tail.

What in the world? I wondered as I furtively looked over to see if he had a snake (is a specific part of a snake considered its tail?) or (Heaven forbid!) a rat. I understood the conversation was about an animal, but where was the animal? I turned almost all the way around in my seat and saw the woman was holding a beautiful, colorful, nearly iridescent lizard. The lizard, it turned out, belonged to Preston.

He’d recently bought the lizard from Pet Smart, he said. The lizard’s name was Horus. Preston said he had a cat too. The cat’s name was Isis. If he were to have a child one day, Preston said, he would name the child Zeus.

I said Zeus would be a pretty serious name to give a child. Those would be mighty big shoes to fill, I said.

Preston told me he did believe in the gods of Mount Olympus. He believed in all the gods. Some people would tell us, he said, that there was only one god, but I shouldn’t believe them because it wasn’t true.

I thought maybe he shouldn’t say such things while we sat in the lobby of the Catholic Charities office. It was true I hadn’t been Catholic in a long time, but I was pretty sure the Catholic faith was still holding on to the “one God” idea. I let the guy talk, however. It wasn’t my place to shush him.

We didn’t know who made us, Preston continued. We were all different. We were all made of different soil.

He didn’t seem to want my conversational input, so mostly I just listened.

The gentleman doing the screenings for travelers’ aid came out of the office and summoned the couple which included the woman who was holding Horus the lizard. She took the two steps necessary to hand the lizard to Preston.

Just put him on my back, Preston said, and she did.

So here I was, in the lobby of the Catholic Charities office, sitting next to a middle age African-American man wearing a baby blue Western shirt with ornate black decorative stitching over a grey t-shirt and carrying a fairly large lizard on his back. What an extraordinary world we live in!

Preston told his story in bits and pieces.

He’d been living on a nearby mountain, but his camp had been discovered by a very polite ranger. The ranger thought Preston’s camp of two tents (one for sleeping—he had a foldable futon mattress—and one for storage) was nicely done, but he said Preston had to move. Preston was going to move into the forest, and he said he was going to go far back into the trees where no one would ever find him.

It seemed like maybe this was where the Catholic Charities came into Preston’s life. Maybe someone from the organization was going to give him a ride to his new camping spot. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust the Catholic Charities, he said, but he didn’t anyone to know where he was staying.

I told him it was supposed to get cold in two days, highs only in the mid-40s with a 70% chance of rain and possibly snow. (I’d seen the weather forecast, and this impending storm was the reason I wanted to leave not just my camping spot but the whole town.)

Preston wasn’t worried. He said camping among the trees would be a lot warmer than where he was currently set up on the mountain. The trees warmed the air, he said. Being under the trees was particularly warm, he said. He thought the fibers in the needles and leaves warmed the air. In the old days, he told me, before there were blankets, people covered themselves with leaves or hay to stay warm. He didn’t know exactly how it worked, but that’s what people did before blankets.

I said I thought the leaves or hay or needles held in a person own body heat to keep the person warm, and Preston allowed that might be the case.

I was most concerned for Horus the lizard. Even if it was warmer under the trees, the mid-40s was pretty cold for a lizard. How was he going to stay warm in a tent if the temperature dropped?

Preston’s biggest concern seemed to be the fact that the ranger had told him he could not have a charcoal fire. Preston’s plan for dinner had involved frying ham over hot coals. Now that plan was out, and I could tell he was disappointed. He had a plan B, however, which involved a can of tuna fish he’d been given.

He’d also been give bus passes, and he was going to ride the bus today, although he hated the bus. People talked too loud on the bus, he said. (Preston himself had a booming voice that rang against the walls of the drab waiting room.) People on the bus cursed for no reason, he said. Of course, he admitted, he cursed too, but not like the people on the bus who cursed for no reason. He was sorry if he had offended me with his cursing, he said. Did you curse? I asked. I didn’t even notice, which was the truth.

People on the bus also laughed for no reason, Preston told me. They’d start laughing and would just keep going and going. Maybe the laughers were on drugs, he allowed. He smoked some weed, he admitted, but it didn’t make him laugh like the people on the bus did.

It’s better to laugh than to cry, I interjected.

No! Preston said with conviction. It’s better to cry! Crying released emotion, he said and that made the person crying feel better.

He didn’t like the bus, he continued, but today he was going to take the bus because he was tired. He had to break camp in the next couple of days. It was going to be easier to carry his belongings down the mountain than it had been to haul them up, but it was still going to be a lot of work. Before he left, he had to scatter the rocks he’d used to demarcate his camp because the ranger had told him to make the area look like he’d never been there. He was going to haul the rocks to the edge of the hill, then push them over the edge so they could roll to the bottom.

The gentleman doing the screening for travelers’ aid came out of the office, and it was my turn to go in. I said good-bye to Preston, and we wished each other well. Horus the lizard was still clinging to Preston’s back.

What an extraordinary world we live in!

The Rubber Tramp Artist’s 10 Essential Items for Vandwelling

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I’ve been vandwelling since 2010. During most of those years, I lived in my van at least half the time. Even now that I have a home base for the winter, I still live in my van for at least six months in the spring, summer, and into the fall.

During my time as a vandweller, I’ve found some items I don’t want to live without. Today I’ll share my essentials for vandwelling. Please realize these are my essentials. Other van dwellers may find these items frivolous or useless. That’s ok! To each his/her own. I’m simply sharing what works for me in hopes that my ideas will help my readers find what works for them.

#1 The Rubber Tramp Artist’s first rule of van life is “Always know where your keys are.” I follow this rule by keeping my keys on a lanyard I wear around my neck. I made the lanyard myself with pretty glass beads and Stretch Magic. While you may not want to carry your keys around your neck, you should find a system that works for you so you can put your hands on your keys the moment you need them.

Dr. Bronner s Pure Castile Soap - Fair Trade and Organic - Liquid - 18 in 1 Hemp - Peppermint - 8 oz - 70%+ Organic -
#2 Dr. Bronner’s soap is biodegradable and gentle on the environment and is made by a company that does right by their employees and is fair to their suppliers. What more could I ask? Oh yeah. The peppermint (my favorite of the many varieties available) smells and feels amazing. I buy it in the big bottle (or better yet, receive the big bottle as a gift) and refill smaller bottles I put in bags and pockets throughout my van for quick and easy access. Not only is the soap good for washing hands, face, and body, I’ve used it to wash dishes and to hand-wash clothes. I’ve heard of people using it to brush their teeth, but I’ve never gone that far!

#3 Wipes are not just for the butts of babies. They work pretty well on my adult butt and on my armpits too. When I’m working in the woods, I have my privacy tent where I can take a jug shower, but early and late in the season, it’s too cold for me to bear being naked and wet. Other times when I’m on the road, I’m nowhere near a shower, or I want to freshen up between showers. During all those times, I use wipes. I discovered Pure ‘n Gentle at Wal-Mart. Not only were they the least expensive wipes on the shelf, they are fragrance free, hypoallergenic, and alcohol-free. Score!

#4 While I don’t worry too much about how I look (I’ve had one manicure in my whole life, never had a pedicure, and haven’t worn makeup  consistently since the 90s), I am vain about my hair. What can I say? I like some fluff, and when I’ve gone too long between washes, dry shampoo ups my hair’s fluff factor. I’ve written an entire blog post about how I love dry shampoo, but I’ll say here it too: dry shampoo can really perk up hair that hasn’t had a washing in a while. Some folks whip up their own dry shampoo, which I’ve never tried, but I do like the DIY aspect of homemade beauty products. You can find recipes for dry shampoo suitable for light or dark hair at the Wellness Mama website.

VolksRose Portable 12 Eggs Slots Holder Shockproof Storage Box for Camping Hiking - Green
#5 I got tired of eggs breaking in my ice chest, so I picked up an egg suitcase from the camping department at Wal-Mart. It turned out to be a great investment. I hardly ever have to deal with an egg that breaks in the suitcase. Eggs in the suitcase only break if I drop the suitcase really hard while I’m rummaging around in the cooler. I save money and have fewer messes by keeping eggs in their special container.

#6 I deliberated for quite a while before I bought my stainless steel camping cup, but I’ve never regretted the purchase. My cup cost around $5 from the camping department of Wal-Mart, but there are many different brands and designs available from a variety of manufacturers.

I like being able to put the cup directly on the open flame of my stove. No longer do I have to drag out a cooking pot to heat water for tea or instant soup. I keep the cup hanging in the food area of my van for quick access, but the folding handles allow me to put it in my backpack more easily if I need to carry it with me. I can eat cereal or soup out of it and drink tea, coffee, or Emergen-C from it. It’s versatile, easy to clean, and truly makes my life easier. If I were living simply, without a bowl or a pot, I would make room in my life for this cup.

MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 - Inflatable Solar Light, Clear Finish, Adjustable Strap
#7 I’ve never put solar panels on my van, but I do love my solar powered Luci lights. They require no expensive, quickly drained disposable batteries, and I never have to plug them in. All they need is the power of the sun. I have a couple that are still providing me with light despite the fact they no longer inflate. (The plastic of one was chewed up by a forest rodent, and a hole developed at the plastic’s seam of another one.) A few hours in the sun gives me several hours of light. They provide enough light to read or write by, which is crucial to me. I don’t know what I’d do at night without a Luci light.

#8 I bought my Mr. Buddy heater (more accurately called the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy) on a whim at my first Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) A guy had a brand new one he wanted to sell because he’d found something he liked better. I paid his asking price, not even sure I would ever use the thing. I’ll tell you what, in the last 3+ years that heater has kept me warm on many occasions. It heats my van fast and is ideal when I want to warm up before I crawl into bed at night or before I get out of bed to get dressed in the morning. I never sleep with the heater on, and I always crack a window when I’m using it, so I feel perfectly safe.

#9 Since my welcome-to-2018 tire disaster, I keep a large can of Fix-a-Flat in my van. I’ve not had to use my emergency can, but I did give one away to some folks on the side of the road having tire problems of their own.

For about ten bucks, I at least have the chance of pumping up a flat tire and getting myself to a tire repair shop, thus saving myself the ordeal of a tow.

EPAuto Jumper Cable 4 Gauge 20 Foot Heavy Duty Battery Booster with Travel Bag and Safety Gloves
#10 Another way I stay prepared to handle my own emergencies is by keeping a pair of jumper cables in my van. It seems like every time I go through a daytime headlight area, I forget to turn my headlights off when I come out the other side, and my battery drains while the van is sitting in a parking lot. I’d be a fool to count on finding another jumper cable-owning driver willing to give my battery a jump, so I provide my own tools for the job. Also, as the owner of jumper cables, I get to be the hero when someone with a dead battery and no tools asks me for help. No matter who has the dead battery, with jumper cables in my van, I’m the winner!

Don’t know how to jump start a car? The Dummies website can help you out.

Of course, you don’t need any products in order to live in a van. To start your vanlife, all you need is a van and yourself! I started my vanlife in an old G-20 with no bed of any kind. They guy who was my boyfriend and I slept on blankets on the floor. We started out with nothing. In my next van, I placed my sleeping bag (a gift from a kind fellow I’d just met) on the back seat that folded out into a bed and called it good. You don’t have to wait until you can afford a bunch of things to start living in your van. If you want to be a vandweller, move into your van today! However, perhaps getting some of my essentials for vandwelling can help you live a little more comfortably.

Note: I’m endorsing these products because I like them. No one asked me to endorse them. No one paid me to endorse them or gave them to me for free to review. The pictures you see in this post are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on any of those links, you will zip over to Amazon. Anything you put in your cart and buy after clicking on my affiliate link will earn me a small advertising fee at no cost to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

High Maintenance

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I was walking down the incline leading to the restrooms. I’d been at the front of the parking lot putting self-pay envelopses into their holder, and now I was heading down to the restrooms to check the toilet paper supply.

I saw the woman open the restroom door, look inside and squeal with disgust. Look at that! she said to her male companion.

Oh no, I thought, imagining what the woman was seeing in there to cause such revulsion.

Where do you even wash your hands? the woman asked her companion in utter disbelief.

Theres no water here, I told the couple. No water in the campgrounds on this mountain either. That’s what the drought’s done. There used to be water here, but now the well’s dry.

The woman looked at me increduously. The fellow was grinning slightly.

What did you see in the restroom? I asked the woman. Did someone do something gross?

No, she said a little sheepishly. I was just being high maintenance.

I chuckled when she called herself high maintenance. She didn’t look high maintenance–no high heels, no elaborate makeup or fingernails or hairdo, no inappropriate-for-spending-time-in-nature clothing–but standing in the doorway or a restroom that’s not really dirty and making sounds of disgust does make a person seem high maintenance in my eyes.

If you enjoyed this story, check out my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. It’s all about my two seasons as a camp host and parking lot attendant at a very popular trailhead.

I took the photos in this post.

Thieves!

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The Man and I got up the mountain early and started our season of work. He was hired to be the camp host at the campground where I’d held that position for two seasons as well as to work at the parking lot for the trail. I was hired to work at the store, but it wasn’t scheduled to open until Memorial Day Weekend. Before the campgrounds were even open, The Man was working to get his and the one next to the parking lot ready for campers. I worked at the parking lot on the weekends, collected the day use envelopes each evening, and spent my nights babysitting yurts.

We worked on the mountain for six days, then went back down in the valley for staff training. We spent two days in the conference room of a shabby hotel with our work camper peers, learning about the company we work for and how to properly complete paperwork. Our two days off (Friday and Saturday) occurred immediately after our training. Friday was payday, so we stayed in town Thursday night and did our shopping on Friday morning. We were back on the mountain by early Friday afternoon. All told, we spent two nights away from the campground.

On Sunday I worked at the parking lot while The Man did more prep work at the main campground. On Monday I spent my entire work day reconciling the money I’d collected at the parking lot over the last eight days while The Man wroked at the main campground again, this time removing tarps from yurt platforms. We ate breakfast and dinner at our campground on those days, and The Man spent his nights there while I was away guarding the yurts, but neither of us ventured far from our campsite.

On Tuesday we planned to spend our morning at our campground. The store yurt was up, and the box truck with all the fixtures was supposed to arrive on Tuesday afternoon. The Man and I were going to help unload it. Before that, I wanted to give the restrooms at the trail a good sanitizing cleaning. The Man and I decided before we headed to our work down the road, we’d spend the early part of our morning working at our campground.

I was in a restroom on the back side of the campground wiping down the outside of a pit toilet when I heard The Man yell.

Honey! Honey! he shouted. Someone stole a fire ring!

A fire ring? I wondered. Those things were made of metal and heavy. How could someone steal a fire ring? Doing so would not be a casual endeavor. Why would someone steal a fire ring?

I walked out to where The Man was standing on site #1. Sure enough, it was lacking a fire ring. I remembered seeing it while raking on site #1 before we went to civilization for training, so I knew it hadn’t been stolen over the winter.

The thieves had pulled the fire ring up from where it had been partially sunk in the ground. We could see the marks in the dirt where it had been dragged across the site.

The Man wondered if someone he’d told the campground was closed and sent on their way had stolen the fire ring as a form of revenge.

I doubt it, I told him. No one in a Volvo stole the fire ring to bring it home to suburbs. I bet someone in a truck took it, but there’s no way we’ll ever know.

The Man said this was a wake-up call for us; we should put our things (water jugs, stove, propane tank) away when we left the campground. I just mentally rolled my eyes. I always put my stuff away before The Man came along and told me I was being overly cautious.

I can’t believe someone stole the fire ring, The Man said for the tenth time.

Actually, I counterd, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before.

If you enjoyed this story, check out my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. It’s all about my two seasons as a camp host and parking lot attendant at a very popular trailhead.

 

10 Ways to Stay Safe on the Road

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I try not to sit around convincing myself that the world is a dangerous and scary place, but there can be perils asphalt, aspiration, cloudswhen going from Point A to Point B. Throw in Points C and D (and Points E, F, and G) , and things can go wrong. You don’t have to be a rubber tramp to want (and need) to stay safe on the road. These tips are useful to anyone (long-distance commuters, friends on a road trip, a family driving a rental truck to a new home in a new state) who’ll be traveling more than a few miles around town.

These tips may seem second nature to seasoned long-distance drivers, but they bear repeating as lessons to newbies and good reminders for those of us who have been living on the road for a while.

#1 Don’t drink and drive, no matter how well you think you hold your liquor. (A woman of my acquaintance who declared, but I’m from Wisconsin as a justification that she could drink a lot of beer and still drive safely got no sympathy from the Colorado State Trooper who arrested her for DUI.)

Alcohol slows your reflexes and reaction time. According to an article titled “7 Ways Alcohol Can Affect Your Driving Skills

Studies show that drivers under the influence of alcohol are unable to respond to stimuli as quickly as when they are sober. Due to your impaired comprehension and coordination, your reaction time may slow down by as much as 15 to 25 percent.

Even if you don’t cause an accident, driving after drinking opens you to expenses and hassles if you get busted going through a DUI checkpoint or if you’re involved in a fender bender that wasn’t even your fault. Why risk it?

#2 If you’re falling asleep at the wheel, pull over and take a nap. Your deadlines won’t matter if you’re dead! Find a rest area or parking lot and catch some zzzzz’s.

If you simply can’t spend any time napping, roll down your window, chew gum, have a snack, and/or blast the radio and sing along. If you can spare a few minutes to pull over, stand up and stretch your legs, do some jumping jacks. If you’ve stopped at a gas station or restaurant, have some coffee or other caffeinated beverage and/or splash cold water on your face and wrists.

But for real, if you’re sleepy, get some sleep. Falling asleep at the wheel can be a bad, bad thing for you, your passengers, and other vehicles (and the people in them) near you on the road.

#3 Drive at the time of day that works best for you.

A wise woman in a Facebook group for van women I’m in likes to drive from dark to light. She gets up early, before the sun comes up, and gets on the road. She drives until mid-afternoon, then finds her boondocking spot for the night. Getting set up while the sun is still out gives her plenty of time to cook and eat dinner and relax. She goes to bed early and gets up before the sun the next morning and starts out again.

I hate, hate, hate driving at night, but I can deal with this dark to light method. I’m at my most alert in the morning, so getting an early start is good for me. Also, leaving a place I’m familiar with in the dark is easier for me than coming into a new place in the dark. Leaving a place I know in the dark means I’m not struggling quite so hard to read street signs or to decide where to turn.

Of course, if you absolutely loathe mornings, don’t try to force yourself to get up and on the road early. My friend Gee loves to drive at night because the roads aren’t so crowded. She can cover hundreds of miles before the sun comes up because night driving works with her body’s rhythms.

Aerial Photo of Buildings and Roads#4 Avoid rush hour. If I’m entering, leaving, or passing through a city, I try to get on the road at the right time to avoid the crush of people driving to or from work. If I don’t get started before rush hour, I just wait until the traffic has thinned out. I’d rather wait somewhere pleasant for a couple of hours instead of being stuck in traffic for the same amount of time.

Rush hour traffic is not just irritating. More people on the road mean more road rage, more lousy drivers, and more chance of an accident. I’d rather avoid rush hour instead of subjecting myself to the danger of powering through.

#5 Speaking of road rage…Don’t let road rage get the best of you. Sure, there are lots of bad drivers out there doing a lot of stupid thigs, but you don’t have to exacerbate the situation. Don’t try to retaliate against bad driving or teach people a lesson. Give other drivers the benefit of the doubt. Maybe some of the bad driving you see comes from new drivers or drivers new to the city you’re in. If you can’t control your anger, at least control your actions.

Don’t let other people’s road rage influence your actions. Don’t drive unsafely just because someone else is doing so.

#6 Don’t drive distracted. Distracted driving is much discussed these days. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines distracted driving as

Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system—anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.

Remember, when you’re behind the wheel, driving safely should be your top priority.

Texting and talking on a mobile phone (without hands-free technology) are two distracting tasks that get a lot of media coverage, but I wonder how many accidents each year are caused by messing with music apps or checking driving directions, the two activities that distract me the most while driving. We’ve all been distracted by something while driving—spilled coffee, a crying baby, a song  we hate on the radio, the dog wreaking havoc, a missed turn or exit, children bickering, an animated conversation with a passenger. Life happens while we’re driving, but we must learn to ignore anything that takes our attention from maneuvering our rig safely down the road.

#7 Be aware of the other vehicles on the road around you. Notice if the drivers of other vehicles on the road are driving erratically; give those drivers (who may be drunk, sleepy, or otherwise distracted) a wide berth. Stay far back from them or pass quickly and get away from them.

Slow down or move over for vehicles stopped on the shoulder, especially emergency or law enforcement vehicles.

Hearing what’s happening outside your rig can enhance your awareness. Don’t wear headphones or  blast your tunes so loudly that you drown out horns, sirens, and the early sounds of problems with your vehicle.

#8 Watch out for animals on the road. At best, hitting an animal with your rig is going to leave you shook up and with a bloody mess to clean. At worst, your rig may be totally disabled after you collide with a critter. Your best bet is to not hit an animal in the first place.

Pay attention to deer (or elk or moose) crossing signs. These signs are there because the area gets high activity of the animal pictured.

If you see a sign with a cow on it or a sign proclaiming “open range,” be prepared to find bovines hanging out on the side of or in the road. These cows may get spooked and dart out in front of your vehicle, so drive slowly and be prepared to stop. Also be aware, if you hit a cow or calf in areas of open range, the rancher is not responsible for paying to repair to your vehicle. Instead, you are responsible for paying the rancher for the dead animal.

Sometimes wild animals are not simply crossing a road, but hanging out in it. After hitting an elk in early 2013, I was told when it’s cold out, elk stand in the road because it’s warmer there.

If you do see animals in or near a road DriversEd.com advises,

don’t slam on the brakes. Keep your lane position, and sound your horn while braking in a controlled manner. Sudden panic stops are not a good idea, as they could spook the animal, causing it to suddenly dart into the path of another vehicle.

Remember, driving in a city won’t necessarily protect you from animals darting in front of your rig. Unsupervised pets may not know to avoid a street. Watch for animals whenever you’re driving.

https://i2.wp.com/images.pexels.com/photos/164524/pexels-photo-164524.jpeg?resize=373%2C247&ssl=1#9 Drive at a reasonable speed. Don’t drive so fast you can’t control your vehicle or stop quickly and safely in an emergency situation. You want to be able to stop in time if a pedestrian, bicyclist, pet, or wild animal darts out in front of you.

Don’t drive so far below the speed limit that other cars are piled up behind you, especially if passing is difficult or prohibited. If you’re driving in the mountains and you are slower than the other traffic, use a turn out to get off the road so the vehicles behind you can pass.

On the interstate stay in the right lane if you are going slower than other traffic. The left lane is for passing! After you’ve passed another vehicle, move back to the right.

#10 Keep your vehicle is in good working order. Breaking down on the road can be quite dangerous. First, you’ll have to maneuver your malfunctioning vehicle out of traffic and onto the side of the road. Second, your disabled rig will be stuck on the side of the road while other vehicles zoom past you until you can get your rig running or the tow truck arrives. Do your best to avoid these dangers by doing all you can to ensure your rig is running smoothly.

Gas up before you get on the road. Clean your windshield. Check the air pressure in your tires and adjust accordingly. While you’re dealing with your tires, make sure they are in good condition and be prepared for any tire disasters. Check your fluids and top off as needed. If you notice any problems, have them checked by a professional (or a knowledgeable amateur) right away.

Glance at your gauges from time to time as you’re driving. Pull off as soon as you notice a problem so you have time to get off the road before things get really bad.

Hopefully, these tips will help you stay safe while you’re on the road. Of course, this is all just advice. Blaize Sun takes no responsibility for what you chose to do or not do. You are responsible for your own self!

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/road-sky-clouds-cloudy-215/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/aerial-photo-of-buildings-and-roads-681335/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/speed-limit-25-signage-164524/.

Coyote Attack

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Folks who live near coyotes and have pets that go outside must be alert and stay with the pets when they’re outdoors. Protecting a pet becomes even more important when it’s a little tiny thing. Coyotes eat rabbits and rodents and other little critters, so when they see a cat or a Chihuahua or a Shih Tzu, they don’t see a beloved pet; they see a much-needed meal. It’s the call of the wild and the survival of the fittest and pets don’t have a lot in the way of self-defense. It’s up to the pet’s people to keep Muffin or FiFi safe,

There are coyotes where I spend my winters. We hear them howl in the early morning and around sunset and sometimes in the wee hours of the night. We see them too. We often see them in broad daylight darting between parked rigs and running through the creosote bushes. It’s against all the rules to feed them here, but we suspect people are doing it anyway because why else would we see them crossing our road in mid-morning?

The Man is careful when he lets Jerico out. Although Jerico weighs 35 pounds and would fight to the death if necessary, he doesn’t spend time outside unsupervised. They’re not your friends, we tell him when we hear coyotes howl and Jerico’s ears perk up.

I went to the laundry room one Friday in late March. I just had a few loads to wash, and the day was sunny, so I decided I would dry the clothes on the line. I’d only been to the laundry room once before (and I’d walked over that time), so I wasn’t sure where to park. I did some driving around before I figured out where to leave the van.

As I was driving, I saw a tiny white Chihuahua outside a rig across from laundry room. I don’t know if the dog was tethered to something or just loose and trained to not run away, but it stayed where it was as a woman strode from that rig, crossed the street, and went into the laundry room.

I parked the van and hauled in my laundry just in time to see the woman fill the last of the six washers. I knew the laundry room was small, so I wasn’t surprised to find I’d have to wait to get a washer. I sat down with my notebook so I could write while I waited. The woman who’d taken the last washer tried to chitchat with me a couple of times. While I answered politely, I was more interested in writing than talking.

After half an hour, the woman took her clean clothes out of the washers and I put my dirty clothes in. She put some clothes in one of the dryers but siad she was going to hang most of her things in the sun to dry.

My clothes had only a few minutes left in the washer when the woman came back in the laundry room. She looked a little dazed. She said her dog had been attacked by something. She said the Chihuahua had a gash in its neck.

Probably a coyote, I said.

She said she hadn’t seen what had attacked her dog, but said again its neck was wounded.

I don’t think a javelina would attack a dog, I said and the man who’d just started his clothes washing agreed. He said he’d never seen a javelina in the RV park.

What’s a javelina anyway? the woman asked.

It’s an big, ugly, pig-looking thing, I told her, but I don’t think one would attack a dog. It was probably a coyote, I repeated.

I’ve never seen a coyote around here! she exclaimed. I hear them, but I’ve never seen one.

I see them all the time, I told her. They run around during the day out here.

I don’t know if the coyotes stick to my park of the RV park and not hers of if she just never noticed them skulking around. Their coloring does help camoflauge them in their desert environment, so maybe they’d been near her place but blended in so well she hadn’t recognized them for what they were.

She said again she hadn’t seen what attacked her dog. I don’t know if she was in her rig and her dog was in the yard when it happened or if she was hanging clothes with her back to the dog. She acted as if she didn’t want to admit a coyote had attacked her pet, but as I told her, I don’t know what else could have attacked it that way.

I also can’t explain why a coyote grabbed the dog strongly enough to leave wounds but didn’t kill it or run away with the Chihuahua in its jaws. Maybe the dog was particularly fiesty and fought back hard. Maybe the woman approached just soon enough to twart the attack. Whatever happened, it was the woman’s–and the dog’s–lucky day because the dog lived through the ordeal.

The woman said she’d put Neosporin on the woud, but was concerned about rabies. I suggested she cal the local animal shelter and ask for advice. At that point the washers were stopped and my clothes were clean. I loaded up and headed home to hang everything on the clothesline.

The next morning when I went to the office, the park manager said she hadn’t heard anything new about the little dog, so we assumed no news was good news. I suspect the woman is going to keep a closer watch over her dog from now on.

I took the photo in this post.

Helping Hand

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I’m not telling you this story so you’ll think I’m cool. I don’t think what I did was really so special. I’m telling you this story to inspire you to help someone who might need a hand.

I think we had just turned down Indian Route 15.

The Lady of the House and I were on our epic road trip through Arizona and Utah. We’d just left Winslow, where yes, we stood on the corner. Now we were on a long leg of the trip to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. We’d left the I-40 just east of Winslow, and were currently in the Navajo Nation.

I think we had just turned down Indian Route 15 when we saw the man and the woman standing next to a dusty SUV pulled off on the shoulder of the road. I don’t remember how we determined they were having trouble. They weren’t waving their arms or otherwise trying to signal drivers to stop, but trouble was the only reason I could imagine for pulling off the road there.

We should see if we can help them, I said to The Lady as I passed the people and their vehicle, then slowed down to pull off on the shoulder ahead of them.

You jump out and ask if they need anything, I said to The Lady. She’s the more outgoing of the two of us, so I figured she’d be better at approaching strangers.

She did jump out and was back quite soon. The people had a flat tire, she reported. They had phone service and water, so they didn’t need our help with those things. The woman wanted to know if we could give her a ride just down the road to a supermarket so she could buy a can of Fix-a-Flat.

I didn’t mind giving her a ride. While my van only has two passenger seats with seatbelts, there was room for her to perch on the edge of the bed. I could drive slowly so she wouldn’t feel her life was endangered without a seat belt.

Too bad I didn’t have the 12-volt air compressor I’d bought earlier in the year after a tire disaster on BLM land. I’d purchased the compressor along with a can of Fix-a-Flat in preparation for future tire disasters. Unfortunately for the people with the flat, I’d left the compressor with The Man who was rolling on three used tires and more likely to need it. If I’d had the compressor with me, I would have used it to try to pump up their tire. Maybe the tire would have held air long enough to get them to a tire repair shop. Since I didn’t have the compressor, all I could do was give the woman a ride so she could buy herself a can of Fix-a-Flat.

Oh wait! I had a can of Fix-a-Flat. I could just give her my can of Fix-a-Flat which would save us both time and save her money too.

I jumped out of the drivers seat and went around to the back of the van. After opening the doors, I had to move bags of food and a large plastic tote so I could rummage around in a small tub, but I finally put my hands on the can of Fix-a-Flat.

Is this what you were going to get? I asked the woman who had come closer to the van when The Lady beckoned her. When she said yes, I handed the can to her and told her she could have it.

She thanked us, and The Lady and I jumped back in the van. I don’t know what else we could have done to help.

The supermarket the woman had said was just down the road turned out to be about six miles away. I wouldn’t have minded driving that far, I told The Lady, but it was father than I’d expected.

When she asked for a ride, I asked her how she was going to get back, The Lady told me. She said she would walk. That would have been a long walk!

I would have waited for her, I told The Lady. I would have given her a ride back to her truck.

However, since we still had a long way to go to get to the campground where we planned to stay that night, I was happy I was able to simply hand over what she was planning to buy anyway.

I replaced the can of Fix-a-Flat a couple of days later while we were in civilization. When we got back to Babylon, The Lady gave me her family’s old air compressor that no longer works when plugged it into a regular electrical outlet but does still work when I plug it into my van’s 12-volt outlet. Now The Man and I are both prepared for tire disasters.

I hope the people on Indian Route 15 were back on the road in no time.

This photo is on the side of a laundromat in Kayenta, AZ.

I took the photos in this post.

 

 

How to Avoid Loneliness on the Road

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Last week I shared some ideas for filling free time for folks who don’t quite know what to do with themselves now that they own their lives. Another concern I often see expressed by the newly nomadic (or folks who want to live nomadically someday) is how to avoid loneliness while living on the road. Sometimes this concern is expressed as How do I make friends on the road? or How do I find a romantic partner on the road? Today I’ll give some tips on how to avoid loneliness while traveling the world.

Before I start with the tips, may I suggest you expand your definition of “friend”? If you only count as friends the people you see in person every week (or every month), your life as a nomad may prevent you from having friends. Expanding your definition of “friend” to people with whom you communicate regularly (whether it’s via telephone, text, internet forums, Facebook, or some other electronic means), may help alleviate your loneliness. Friends are people who support us when times are tough and celebrate with us when life if good. Seeing these folks in person is just a bonus.

#1 As I learned in Brownies, make new friends, but keep the old. Assuming you had friends before you became a nomad, stay in touch with them. Maybe they don’t entirely understand your new way of living, but if they are good, kind, loving people, don’t drop them like hot potatoes. Communicating through phone conversations, text, Skype, FaceTime, email, old-fashioned postal mail, Facebook Messenger, and however else kids these days are doing it can help you stay in touch with the people already in your life.

#2 Get out and about.  You’re not likely to meet anyone while you’re sitting in your rig pouting because you’re basket, chalkboard, coffee shoplonely. Go where there are peope to meet. If you’re in the wilderness, go for a hike (or a short walk, if that’s what you’re up for) and meet other hikers (or walkers). Go see the natural attractions that draw a crowd. If you’re in civilization, hang out at the library or a coffee shop or a park.

#3 Do what you already like to do. If you hate bars, you probably won’t have fun at one and you’re not likely to meet people you want to spend time with. (You’ll never meet anyone as nice as you in a bar, my sibling would tell me when I was in my 20s and looking for love in all the wrong places.) If you can’t stand art, don’t spend time at an art museum. If you do activities you enjoy, meeting someone will matter less.

#4 Meet up with a Meetup group. According to Wikipedia,

Meetup operates as a website providing membership software, allowing its users to schedule events using a common platform.

To use Meetup, you have to sign up for a free account, which you can do through Facebook or Google.  Once you’re signed up and signed in, you choose your location and some areas of interest. Then the website suggests some Meetups you might be interested in.

It’s very easy to change your location, so if you know (for example) that you’ll be in Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon, you can find out if any Meetups you’d like to participate in are happening then and there.

I’ve never been on any Meetups, but it seems like a good way to get involved with an activity you like with people who also enjoy the activity.

#5 If you’re in civilization, volunteer. Perhaps you can help sort canned goods at a food bank or serve beans in a food line withouth too much training or a background check. Maybe you can help cook or serve free vegan food with a Food Not Bombs group in whatever town you’re in. Once I responded to an ad on Craigslist posted by a woman who fostered cats. After talking on the phone, I went to her apartment and played with cats needing socialization with humans. True, I didn’t get much human interaction myself, but playing with kitties was certainly a joy.

If you’ll be in one town for weeks or months, you can do volunteer work that involves more training and commitment. If you’re staying in a national forest or on BLM land, call the local field office and ask about group volunteering opportunities you can get involved with.

Whatever kind of volunteer work you are able to do, you’ll feel good about helping, and you’ll get to inteact with other volunteers and the people (or animals) you are serving.

Yellow and Black Church#6 Go to church. If you belong to a religious denomination, time your trips to or through town to coincide with services or Bible study. Sometimes churches offer a social time before or after services where folks can drink coffee and visit. If you’re not into traditional religion, look into visiting a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

#7 Join Facebook groups for van dwellers, boondockers, rubber tramps, vagabonds, RV dwellers and nomads of every sort. Yes, there are trolls and rude people in many of these groups. I recommend joining a bunch of groups, stick with the ones that have a vibe you like, and quit the rest.

While an internet friend is different from an in-person friend you can grab coffee with and laugh with in real time, an internet friend can certainly help allieve loneliness. Folks in Facebook groups are often also willing to answer questions about mechanical issues, van builds, and free camping spots.

Once you’ve made a Facebook friend, maybe you’ll be able to meet IRL (in real life). I’ve turned some Facebook friends into real life friends. One woman met me for a quick coffee when we found ourselves in the same area. I’ve met a second of these friends twice during successive Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, and we stay in touch via Facebook. I felt an immediate connection with the third woman I met in person, and we check in via text every few months. My fourth Facebook-turned-real-life friend is a kindred spirit. We read each other’s blogs (hers is Xsyntrik Nomad), we communicate through Facebook and texts, and we meet for coffee or ice cream whenever wer’re in the same town. I’m proof that Facebook friendships can transition to the real world.

Of course, if you’re going to meet in person anyone you’ve otherwise only know through the internet, take some precautions. Talk on the telephone and pay attention to any gut reactions of discomfort or apprehension you may have. Meet in a public place. If you decide to go to this new friend’s stick-n-bricks or to go off camping together (especially in a secluded place), let someone you trust know where you’re going, with whom you’re going, and when the trusted friend can expect to hear from you again.

#8 Join the Wandering Individual Network (WIN) or Loners on Wheels and travel with other folks.

WIN’s website says,

WIN RV Singles is the premiere RV club for singles. We are an active, adventurous club for single campers and solo travelers. WIN RV Singles has circuits across the US, Canada, and Mexico. We are open to single travelers of all ages. WIN is an active club. With an average of 80 caravans, circuits, and gatherings each year, we provide activities for all solo travelers: hiking, biking, sightseeing, kayaking, zip-lining, boat tours, museums, plays, factory tours, and more.

Also note, the WIN website says,

When you travel with the WINs, it must be in a vehicle in which you can eat, sleep, cook, bathe and go to the toilet, even if all facilities are portable.

The Loners on Wheels website says,

Loners on Wheels is an RV Club of legally single men and women who enjoy traveling, camping, RV caravanning and the lifestyle of singles. We are not a matching [sic] making or dating service. Companionship and support is what we’re all about.

Three Red Hearts Hanging With White Flowers#9 If you’re looking for romantic love, join a Facebook group with “single” or “romance” or “love” or “dating” in its name. Someone in a Facebook group I’m in pointed me to a Facebook group specifically for single van dwellers (#VanLife Love, Dating & Friendship), and I found a handful of groups for single RVers who don’t want to be single anymore.

There’s also a free dating site especially for people who are fans of recreational vehicles. It’s called (unsurprisingly) RV Dating, and

[f]ree basic membership allows you to browse the site, view profiles, send flirts and modify your profile.

Perhaps some of these RV folks would be open to finding love with a van dweller or nomad of some other kind!

#10 Spend time at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) and other gatherings geared toward vanners. Many van groups have regional meet ups where van folks can hang out and socialize.

The ultimate gathering for nomads, rubber tramps, van dwellers, RVers, wannabes, soon-to-bes, and folks who just want to try out the way of life is the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR), held each Januaury in Quartzsite, Arizona. I’ve been to the RTR four times (2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018) and seen it change from a small gathering of a couple hundred people to a large gathering of a few thousand.

The RTR is a great place to meet people and make friends. I met Auntie M (along with a handful of other folks with whom I stay in touch) at the RTR in 2015, Gee in 2016, and The Man in 2017. (Yes, he and I owe our partnership to the RTR.) In 2018 I helped Coyote Sue organize the RTArt Camp and met many people who participated in art camp activities. I now count several of those folks as friends.

I feel confident that anyone who ventures our of his or her rig at the RTR can make at least one friend!

For more tips on finding friends, read Eldrina Michel‘s article “3 Ways for Single Full-Time RVers to Find Companionship On the Road.”

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/basket-chalkboard-coffee-shop-coffeehouse-143642/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/yellow-and-black-church-161171/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/three-red-hearts-hanging-with-white-flowers-160836/.

 

The Night Garden

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The first thing Nolagirl and I saw at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity was The Night Garden by Jenneva Kayser.

The festival’s website calls The Night Garden a

colorful, illuminated landscape inspired by bioluminescent plants and fungi…created on site and consist[ing] of sculptures made of woven recycled fabric and translucent porcelain clay. The artist invite[ed] visitors to “take a walk through the wild landscape—an underwater desert in outer space!”

What in the world is “an underwater desert in outer space”? Wow! I don’t even know what that means. In any case, Nolagirl and I were fascinated by the cacti made from fabric.

On a March 7, 2018 post on the Mesa Arts Center website called “Woven Together,” Kayser writes of the assistance she got to create this installation. She orginally proposed to create a small piece in a “tucked away” location. She thought she’d be doing all the work herself. When the review committee asked for something bigger to display in a more prominant location, Kayser needed help.

About forty people snipped and wove as we processed all the recycled fabric into string, and crocheted the vines and cactus that make up the garden. Four hundred fifty pounds of t-shirts later, I am full of gratitude for a task I simply could not have done alone.

On her Instagram page, Kayser describes herself as “Studio Manager at Mesa Art Center. Artist, poet, cook.” That’s all the biographical information I can find for this artist. Also, is she the same Jenneva Kayser, poet, interviewed in a 2014 issue of Geosi Reads? Ms. Kayser is as mysterious as The Night Garden itself.

The aforementioned Instagram page is a great place to see what The Night Garden looked like at night, something I’m sorry I missed. It’s also a great place to get up close and personal with the textile sculptures.

There’s so much for me to like about this piece. I love that this art is created from recycled fabric. What a fantastic use for 450 pounds of t-shirts! I so appreciate people who can create beauty from items one step away from the trash. I’m also attracted to bright colors, so the reds and purples and fluorescent yellows really drew me in. Since the Sonoran Desert has wormed its way into my heart, any scene with cacti catches my attention.

The Night Garden was a fabulous welcome to the spark! Festival. It drew me and Nolagirl right in and awakened our sense of wonder, preparing us for the other enchanting art we would see that day.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

Boondocking Near Walnut Canyon National Monument in Arizona

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The Lady of the House jumped out of the van and took this photo for me.

The Lady of the House and I started our epic road trip by camping outside of Flagstaff in a location we found courtesy of the Free Campsites website. We planned to visit the Meteor Crater National Landmark and Winslow the next day, so the location off I-40 was perfect for us. The free camping is in the Coconino National Forest right outside Walnut Canyon National Monument.

According to Wikipedia,

Walnut Canyon National Monument (Hopi: Wupatupqa) is a United States National Monument…The canyon rim elevation is 6,690 ft (2,040 m); the canyon’s floor is 350 ft lower. A 0.9 mi (1.4 km) long loop trail descends 185 ft (56 m) into the canyon passing 25 cliff dwelling rooms constructed by the Sinagua, a pre-Columbian cultural group that lived in Walnut Canyon from about 1100 to 1250 CE.

This photo shows the well-maintained dirt road into the boondocking area. I believe this is the road Google calls Oakmont Drive and says becomes Cosnino Road.

From Interstate 40, we took exit 204 as directed by Google, then turned onto Walnut Canyon Road, which we followed to Cosnino Road. When we saw the Walnut Canyon National Monument sign, we knew we were close. We arrived before dark, so it was easy to see where we were going.

We turned off of the main road (Walnut Canyon Road) onto a well-maintained dirt road, which I believe is the road Google calls Oakmont Drive and says becomes Cosnino Road. This well-maintained dirt road had no signs, but we suspected we were in the right place because we could see RVs parked among the trees.

We hadn’t gone far down the dirt road before we saw a flat spot with evidence of previous camping (a fire ring made from stones, a log fashioned into a bench). We decided that site was good enough for our overnight, and I pulled the van in between the trees.

While we were preparing and eating dinner and later while we were getting ready for bed, something mildly strange occurred. At differnt times, a couple of different pickup trucks drove like bats-out-of-hell on the well-maintained dirt road past our camp. The trucks weren’t gone long; shortly they were driving fast in the opposite direction, ostensibly back to their camps. It was as if the drivers had gone to the end of the road, then turned right around and come back. Where did they go? Why did they come back so soon? What was the huge rush? Other than these strange drive-bys, the camping area was very peaceful. We heard no evidence of partying–no loud voices, no loud music.

Campers before us made a fire ring from stones and fashioned a bench from a log. I sat on that bench to eat my dinner.

The Lady discovered this mountain view.

The next morning The Lady went for a short run and came back to tell me she’d found a mountain view and other campsites. She said she’d show them to me, so I went on a brisk walk with her.

The other campsites were at the top of a slightly steep incline. The

Rutted and rocky dirt road

problem getting to the sites wasn’t the road’s climb so much as the road’s poor condition. I was glad I hadn’t tried to take my van up the rutted and rocky dirt road.

The campsites up top (evident because of stone fire rings) were nicely tucked into the trees and deserted, which surprised me. Sure, it was early April, not prime camping season, but I thought someone would have camped up there on a Friday night. However, it seemed we’d had that entire part of the boondocking area to ourselves.

Unfortunately, the fire rings weren’t the only evidence of previous campers; folks had left trash on more than one of the sites. Also, not far from where we camped, we saw the remains of two sofas. I can’t imagine how anyone could have forgotten two couches out in the woods. Maybe it’s supposed to be a hunting blind? The Lady asked

Whoever left these couches on public land left a pretty big trace!

skeptically. I don’t think so. I think the sofas were hauled onto public land specifically for dumping! What a travesty!

Overall, The Lady and I were pleased with our free camping. I would absolutely stay in this boondocking area again.