Thoughts on the 2019 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous

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Black letters on yellow sign read "Rubber Tramp Rendezvous"

I actually didn’t spend much time at the 2019 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR).

I’d planned to volunteer at the RTArt Camp and stay in that area with The Man in his minivan, but there was a misunderstanding with the main Art Camp organizer, and she didn’t save a spot for us. She tried to squeeze us in next to the portable toilets, but neither The Man nor I wanted to sleep and cook next to the shitters. Besides, we would have been camped practically within arm’s reach of our neighbors, and even if the humans had been ok with that, every little movement from either side would have probably set Jerico the dog to barking.

White banner reads "R T Art Camp" in multicolored letters.
This is the 2018 RTArt Camp banner that Coyote Sue and I painted.

The RTArt Camp was in a much better location than in 2018. It was adjacent to the road into (and out of) the RTR and very close to the main stage. I was glad it was easier to find and get to, but having the camp roped off limited the number of people who could park their rigs within the designate Art Camp area. The Art Camp organizer told me only Art Camp volunteers were allowed to stay within the camp. I wondered if this arrangement made the camp feel exclusive to people. In 2018, I had been glad that anyone who wanted to could camp near the art community; I know at least one woman camped near us because it felt like a safe space to her.

The Man and I (along with Jerico the dog) arrived at the RTR on the afternoon of January 10. We found our friend Gee staffing the check-in station, and she gave us hugs and wrote down the mini van’s license plate number. We drove to the Art Camp and parked there while trying to decide if we were going to make our camp by the shitters. We walked around the RTR a bit while trying to make our decision. We went to the main seminar area where between 300 and 500 people (I’m terrible at estimating attendance, by the way) were listening to the afternoon speaker.

We walked over to the free pile which was being curated by a fellow who could have used some customer service training. I found several cans of tuna; a couple of fresh oranges; and a nice, big zipper pouch, but I suspect all the really great scores were snatched up quick with so many people milling about.

One change with the free pile in 2019 was that is was only “open” during certain hours each day. In the past, folks could peruse the free pile any time of the day or night. The always-available nature of the free pile meant that if it rained during the night, all of the offerings got wet unless some good Samaritan ran out of their rig and threw a tarp over everything. I suspect at closing time, the free pile volunteer covered everything with a tarp to protect the goodies from the elements.

The volunteer on duty also helped keep dogs off the free pile offerings, which probably helped cut down on the amount of dog piss on the items. Covering the free pile for the night surely also kept wayward dogs from spoiling the items.

The volunteer on duty received any donations and rejected anything deemed unworthy. On the one hand, I understand not wanting to clutter the free pile with trash, but of course, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. What if something the volunteer rejected was just the thing someone needed? The guy who needed customer service training met donations with suspicion, as if he believed most people were trying to encumber him with junk.

Another change at the RTR was having a camping area set aside for event volunteers. The main entrance to this area was staffed by a volunteer acting as a bouncer of sorts. I didn’t try to get into that area alone, so I don’t know what sort of challenge was issued if someone without the proper credentials tried to get in. Having an exclusive area for volunteers seemed a little strange to me, but I’m not really sure why things were set up that way, other than hearing a volunteer say, We feel really protective of Bob. That would be Bob Wells she was talking about. If you don’t already know, he’s the host of the RTR and the force behind the Cheap RV Living website and YouTube channel. I suppose he probably does have a large enough fan base to cause worry that people might be standing outside his van day and night, clamoring to meet him.

As has been reported in numerous other places, the 2019 RTR was HUGE! It was so big, when The Man and I stood at the Love’s truck stop on the west side of Quartzsite, we could look to the east and see the many, many rigs all the way across town at the RTR. It was amazing. It was also overwhelming to imagine living among so many people, so we decided to make our camp in the less dusty, less populated BLM area near Dome Rock.

This is the view from our camp in the Dome Rock BLM camping area on the morning of January 14, 2019

From what Gee told me on the first Sunday of the gathering, everything had been running smoothly. Aside from a few rude people who stopped at the vehicle check-in station, folks had been polite to each other and the volunteers, and everyone seemed to be getting along. I was glad to know most folks had been behaving appropriately.

With such a large group camping in a wide area, having the “streets” named and signed seemed to be helpful. I’m sure people were able to meet up more easily when they could at least tell each other with some accuracy what street they were camped on.

Another way for people to find each other was by posting announcements on one of the bulletin boards near the main stage. It must have been helpful to be able to leave a note asking to meet up with like-minded people. After all, one of the reasons Bob started the RTR was to give nomads the opportunity to meet each other and make friends.

I went to the RTR primarily to help out at the Art Camp and to conduct some interviews for the blog. I spent a few hours at the Art Camp on the afternoon of Thursday, January 10, and I spent the whole day (approximately 10 am to 4 pm) at the Art Camp with a few forays into the wider RTR on Friday the 11th. On Friday, I spent most of my time organizing the supply tent. I managed to conduct five interviews while at the RTR.

I know I’ve been saying this for a couple of years, but I probably won’t attend the next RTR. I can do without the stress and expense involved in getting to Quartzsite in order to camp near strangers. I haven’t been to a seminar since 2015, I’m not interested in meeting people to caravan with, most of my friends don’t go to the RTR, and I don’t need any new long-distances friendships.

That said, I think the RTR is an invaluable resource for a lot of people. Folks considering living nomadically or beginning a nomadic life can get a wonderful education at the RTR seminars. Nomads who feel isolated and want to make connections with other people living similarly can meet scores of people at the RTR. Meeting new people can lead to friendships, caravans, collaborations, and sometimes even romance. I encourage all nomads who find the idea of the RTR even remotely appealing to brave the crowds and attend at least once.

8 Responses »

  1. …And the peanut gallery over here wonders if Bob’s fame has gone to his head? He is a big fish in the vagabond pond. Your post was informative, but saddens me a bit. Ah well. Still nested in our forest over here and now the RTR seems past the sell by date. Thanks, Blaize. Perhaps our woods remain the perfect place to be after all.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Ruth. I’m glad you found this post informative.

      I can’t really say if Bob’s fame has gone to his head. I have met him at the past RTRs and spoken to him at those events in passing, but did not cross paths with him at the 2019 RTR. I don’t know him well enough to express an opinion one way or another.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. I left after 3 days, I think. In my case I was tired of having an obnoxious know-it-all blowhard in almost every group I talked with. The boorish behavior seemed to me to be trickle-down from the current incivil political environment.

    The RTR road had a sign on it that said “THE RTR WELCOMES YOU!” directly across from a sign that said STAFF ONLY. Not a good start.

    > but having the camp roped off limited the number of people who could park their rigs within the designate Art Camp area. The Art Camp organizer told me only Art Camp volunteers were allowed to stay within the camp. I wondered if this arrangement made the camp feel exclusive to people

    It was one of several roped off areas that rubbed me the wrong way. IMO, if a group wants to dominate a territory they should do it on the margins of the camp, not in the middle of it. I am speaking in general, not about Art Camp or any other Camp in particular. And I have the same thoughts about people putting up rope or rock “fences” around their spot. If one wants a monopoly on use of public lands they should move further out

    > We walked over to the free pile which was being curated by a fellow

    The day before it opened I went to drop off some stuff at the (former) Free Pile. I was advised the Pile wasn’t open (?) and I’d have to return the next day at 9am (!) when my donation would be processed (!!). I asked what “processing” entailed. The fellow reported my donation would be “received” (!!!) and placed on the “proper place on the pile” (!!!!). He clarified that people could no longer put things down on the Pile, and that this was “easier” (!!!!!). I answered that what was easier was people putting stuff on the pile and taking stuff from the pile as has been

    Fuming, I walked to the bulletin board, assuming it was there to facilitate communication. It had a sign on it saying “no messages can be posted here until 9am”.

    I turned away from the board and saw another roped off area signed STAFF ONLY.

    WTH WAS GOING ON HERE? What have they done to the RTR? In disbelief I left the area and made my donation (jeans, some cooking gear IIRC) to the dumpster.

    > we decided to make our camp in the less dusty, less populated BLM area near Dome Rock.

    I was camped in the 2018 RTR area, so I wouldn’t have to run the “papers please” checkpoint or the volunteers directing traffic head-on into each other in that gully.

    > With such a large group camping in a wide area, having the “streets” named and signed seemed to be helpful

    Agreed. Works well at the Slabs, too.

    > but I probably won’t attend the next RTR

    I definitely won’t. I also cut ties with the forum, which had been the keeper of the original flame. But the new moderation tone coddles newbies, tolerates obnoxious folk who spew bad info, and punish the people who try to correct the record.

    feelz > realz

    Nowadays I focus on a wiki, reddit’s /r/vandwdellers, and some on the “alternate” forum. Life is too short to be punished for helping new folks understand how things work.

    > I encourage all nomads who find the idea of the RTR even remotely appealing to brave the crowds and attend at least once.

    I do, too. Not everyone is as grouchy as me.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences frater jason.I think it’s a bit difficult for some of us who experienced the “old” RTR to deal with the changes at the “new” RTR. I am becoming more and more of an introvert every day, making it difficult for me to be around any strangers, much less big crowds of them.

      I’m sorry the RTR didn’t meet your needs. You and I seem to have some of the same qualms/concerns.

      Again, thanks for sharing your experiences. I am interested in the perspectives of other people who were there.

  3. Nice write-up Blaize! Tony told me that he ran into you and you said to say hi. Sorry I missed you!

    The barriers at the Art Camp did make it seem exclusive. I may have missed some posts on the bulletin board about workshops but I didn’t notice a lot of activity at the Art Camp. Hopefully it will be better next year.

    You could have come into the volunteer area any time you wanted once the “bouncers” got to know you. Tony and I, Gee, and J & N would have vouched for you. 🙂 I don’t think the bouncers were there the first few days but people kept wandering through. Bob usually stays pretty far away from the RTR location just to get some downtime but because of the location this year he had to stay really close. Both he and Jude who was managing all of the RTR logistics would have been overwhelmed with questions and visitors without the bouncers.

    Bob seems like the same old Bob to me – maybe a little more comfortable in his role. I’m sure that all of attention has gone to his head a little bit though. How could it not?! 😀

    • Thanks for your comments, Karen. Sorry I missed you too!

      I think there were activities going on at the Art Camp, but I don’t know if the schedule was being posted to a bulletin board near the main stage/seminar area. I know Art Camp workshops were being posted at the Art Camp itself, but I don’t know if that information was being shared with the larger group. Also, I don’t know if people even knew they could enter the Art Camp.

      Thanks for saying all you folks would have vouched for me! It’s good to have friends!

      You make a good point that Bob and Jude would have quickly been overwhelmed by people asking questions if everyone had been allowed to have access to them.

      I’m glad Bob is feeling more comfortable in his role. I really appreciate everything he does for the Rubber Tramp/vagabond/nomad/vandweller community.

  4. Always good to hear your take on the event, you don’t sugar coat it and give an honest take on it. Some of the new rules may have been handed down from BLM. I would not attend anymore but just go to meet friends in the area, way too many people for me and “rules” to follow. Will be interesting to see where it will be next year and what will change.

    • Thanks for your kind words of support, Tina. I try to be honest in all of my reporting of places and events while also trying to remember that just because I see things one way, well, other people may interpret things differently.

      I think you are right that some of the new rules were handed down from the BLM. Several people have complained about the “one road in/one road out” arrangement, but I think it’s the BLM who set up the entrance/exit that way.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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