Category Archives: Rubber Tramp Rendezvous

Update on the 2018 RTR

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It’s just not the same, I heard a variety of people say about the 2018 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR).

Well, no, it wasn’t the same.

This year wasn’t the same as the first RTR I attended in 2015. That year, the people who’d been attending since the early days of the gathering were complaining—or at least observing—that the RTR wasn’t like it once was.

The biggest change is always the increase in attendance. In 2015, when maybe 100 people were at the RTR, founders of the event remembered fondly when only 40 people attended and everyone sat around the fire together and shared food at community meals.

The community meals were one of my favorite parts of the RTR in 2015 and 2016, but they were left off the schedule in 2017 because the group had grown too large for anyone not experienced in cooking for crowds to prepare soup or chili for everyone. No one stepped up to the challenge, so that avenue of socializing was no longer available to me and others who used the excuse of food as a good reason to gather and mingle.

I’ve heard varying estimates of how many people attended the 2018 RTR. I’m sure Bob Wells put up a video on his You Tube channel where he names a figure. A New York Times article about this year’s Rendezvous said the BLM estimated the number to be over 3,000. Even without knowing exactly how many people attended over ten days, I can tell you, the 2018 RTR was huge!

The RTR was already huge the day before it officially started.

I was working with my friend Coyote Sue to make the RTArt Camp happen. Unfortunately, Coyote Sue was stuck 20 miles up the road with her broke down Class C, so the task of finding the space set aside for the RTArt Camp fell to me. When Coyote Sue contacted the main RTR organizer to say I’d be arriving first, she was told no space was being held for the art camp because when the organizers arrived, early birds had taken the area that was supposed to be for us. (I have no idea if those early birds were asked to move or even told they were parked in an area intended for a planned RTR activity.)

Because no space had been held for the RTArt Camp, The Man and I were tasked with finding a good spot. It was before noon on the day before the gathering began, and people were already packed in pretty close. There was no space to accommodate several rigs plus several tables anywhere near the main seminar area.

I was growing increasingly stressed. I could handle claiming a spot that had been earmarked for me, but finding and staking out a spot on my own was not an easy task. I was really worried about picking a spot Coyote Sue was going to hate. (I shouldn’t have worried. Coyote Sue is always easygoing and believes things work out the way they’re supposed to. She is a pleasure to work with, and I thoroughly enjoyed assisting her with the art camp.)

Thankfully, The Man talked to a guy who gave us the tip to immediately veer to the left after we pulled onto the music camp road. We took his suggestion and found a roomy spot in an area that wasn’t too crowded. The RTArt Camp was about a five minute walk from the main gathering area, but the necessary crossing of a quite deep wash kept some artsy folks, especially folks with disabilities, away.

Coyote Sue and I went to the seminar on the first official day of the RTR to make an announcement about the activities going on at the art camp. Literally hundreds of people were gathered to learn the basics of the RTR in particular and Quartzsite in general. Instead of letting us make our announcement first, Bob made us wait until sometime in the middle of his presentation. I hadn’t planned to stay for the seminar, but because I was there, I got to hear some of what Bob told the masses.

After asking everyone in the audience to turn off their recording devices, he said he wanted to be the only person recording and posting videos of the seminars online. Then he asked people to request permission from other folks before taking their photo or including them in videos. He pointed out that some people are in situations where it is unsafe for their image to appear online, but then said if keeping one’s image off the internet was a matter of life or death, folks in such a situation should probably leave because their safety could not be guaranteed.

Bob went on to talk a lot about how all of us there were part of a tribe and how we should be kind to each other and kind to the earth. He said he was happy to see all of us, whether we’d been on the road for 20 years or if the night before was the first time we’d slept in our car. He said we all needed each other and the most important part of the RTR was meeting people and making friends. It was an inspiring little speech, and I left feeling good, although I was happy enough to get the heck out of there after Coyote Sue and I finally make our announcement.

As in years past, the free pile was a highlight of the RTR for me. This year I was much farther from it than in years past, so I was able to check it less often. Still, I found lots of great stuff, including several bags of mostly glass beads and colorful plastic “jewels.” I took what I wanted and donated the rest to the RTArt Camp. I also got an orange t-shirt, an orange striped cloth tote bag, a bright pair of sneakers, a pair of Minnetonka moccasins (which I immediately lost, never to see again), and an easily rolled up sleeping pad from Land’s End. The Man got a really nice, large backpack (so he left his too-small Kelty backpack in the pile for someone else to enjoy), a Nalgene water bladder backpack, and a warm Carhartt jacket in pretty good condition. Jerico wasn’t left out; we got him a soft bed and a thin blanket so he can sleep comfortably and be covered but not get too hot. I didn’t find as much food as I did in years past, maybe because I was being picky about what I grabbed. (I could have acquired ten pounds of white rice, but I’d rather eat brown.) I did get a hug bag of caramel kettle corn, a can of garbanzo beans, and a jar of vegetable spice.

Privacy did turn out to be a huge concern. For one thing, even in our less densely populated area, there were lots of people. Sometimes after dark it would have been easier to squat outside to pee, but there was too much potential of being seen from the rigs all around. I wasn’t so much shy as concerned with offending people who didn’t want to accidentally see me with my pants down.

About a week into the gathering, an old guy with a drone made camp across a small wash from us. He flew his drone for hours each day. The buzz the device made was irritating, and friends camped nearby reported the man flew the drone right into or hovered over their camps several times. We assumed the drone had a camera, but we didn’t know if he was taking photos or video and if he was, if he then posted the media online.

One evening as I was cooking dinner, a young man walked into our camp with a recording device. Can I record that? he asked as he pointed his device towards the potatoes frying in the cast iron skillet.

Sure, I said, as long as you don’t record me.

I found out later that he did record me. He recorded me saying don’t record me, and put my face up on the internet saying those very words.

He apparently was recording other women too, voicing over disparaging comments about the women, then sharing those videos on the internet. My friends said he was also recording the seminars and posting them online along with his comments, despite Bob’s request that folks not record and post the seminars. When my friend contacted the RTR organizers to let them know what this guy was doing, she was told don’t let it bother you. I understand if the organizers felt there was nothing they could do to stop the guy (although I don’t know if any of the organizers sought him out to discuss his behavior), but the response of don’t let it bother you seemed to me and my friends as if the concerns weren’t being taken seriously.

One afternoon a woman approached the RTArt Camp table with her camera pointed at us. When Coyote Sue told her not everyone sitting there wanted to be in the photo, the woman went on a diatribe about how we were at a public event and we couldn’t expect privacy. She said at a public event, anyone could legally take our photos. She went on to say she understood our concern because someone had tried to film an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting she’d been in at the RTR, and she’d had to shut that down.

The facilitator of the women’s meeting asked that no on record the meeting (video or audio) or take photos of the folks there. Hopefully, no one disregarded her request. She also asked that if and when men approached the group, someone get up and gently explain a women-only meeting was taking place. Instead, the men who approached the group were met with shouts and jeers. They know. They know, women muttered when men approached, believing men where purposely trying to eavesdrop and infringe on our privacy. Maybe that was the case with a few of the handful of men who walked up to our group, but I think most were just clueless. It would have been kinder—and far less disruptive to our group—if, as the facilitator had requested, one woman had quietly stood up, explained to the interloper what was happening, and requested he leave.

The first women’s meeting was huge, by the way. There must have been two or three hundred women there. The facilitator reported it was the first RTR women’s meeting where everyone in attendance did not get the opportunity to speak. Instead, new women introduced themselves, then women with lots of experience introduced themselves.  After an hour of introductions, the large group broke up to give everyone a chance to mingle. I mingled by carrying Lady Nell’s chair back to her camp and then helping some women with disabilities coordinate rides. I’m not very good at mingling with strangers.

So no, the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous is not the same. It will never be what it once was. It was a backyard picnic and now [it’s a] state fair, Auntie M said about the RTR. I think the gathering can still be a good place for people to learn how to live nomadically, and—probably more importantly—meet other nomads. For folks who don’t mind crowds and the possibility of having their faces recorded and shared on the internet at every turn, the RTR can be a great place to learn and network. However, I’m pretty sure my RTR days are over.

Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) 2017

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Here it is August, and I haven’t yet published a report on January’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR). Better late than never?

There were a lot of people in the RTR section of Scaddan Wash in January 2017. I never did a count of my own, but I heard reports of upwards of 600 people there. I don’t know how anyone was able to arrive at a figure. Were rigs counted? If yes, how did the counter know how many people were staying in each rig? When was the counting (of rigs or people) done? People and rigs came and went througout the entire time the RTR was underway. Folks were here today, gone tomorrow, back on Wednesday. I don’t know how an accurate count could be made with all of that coming and going.

In any case, there were a lot of people in the RTR area, way more than when I attended in 2015 or 2016.

There were also more people there this time in fancy, shiny, expensive rigs. I wondered if those people had missed the tramp part of the rendezvous or the cheap in the name of the Cheap RV Living website. Mostly, I wondered what the folks with money were getting out of a gathering where people learn how to stretch their precious few dollars in order to live a life of freedom. I guess learning how to find free public land on which to boondock is the same whether one’s living in a 90s era converted cargo van or a brand new Dodge Sprinter.

So many people arrived early, there was demand for a seminar before the Rendezvous had officially begun. I sat through the beginning of that one. It consisted mostly of folks who’d never attended the RTR asking questions, and the organizer of the event saying those questions would be answered at a seminar held later in the gathering. After a while, I got tired of hearing questions I knew the answers to not being answered, so I grabbed my chair and left.

I did attend the official Welcome to Quartzsite seminar. I don’t think I learned anything new. The seminar seating was definitely crowded that morning; I’d guess there were a couple hundred people there, but I’m not so good at estimating attendance. Again, people mostly seemed to be newcomers.

Although I didn’t attend any other seminars, I did attend the two women’s meetings. Both of those meetings were also crowded. At the first one, the facilitator offered a list of questions each woman could answer by way of introduction. During the explanation of how the introductions would work, the facilitator instructed us to limit our intros to two sentences so everyone would get to speak during the meeting’s two-hour time frame. Most women were able to limit themselves, but others went on for paragraph after paragraph. Some ramblers even seemed offended when the facilitator gently reminded them of the two sentence limit.

I wondered why the longwinded women thought they were more important than the rest of us who had complied with the two-sentence limit. Did they really think the rest of us wanted to sit and listen to them drone on and on about themselves? I, for one, did not.

When I arrived the next week for the second women’s meeting, I was shocked to see a documentary film crew setting up to record the discussion. I was astounded to find most of the women in attendance had no objection to being filmed. I said I did not want to be filmed and offered to leave rather than cause a problem, but the woman doing the filming said she’d turn off the camera and sound recording equipment whenever I spoke. Despite her offer (which I believe was made in good faith), I mostly remained silent and kept my head down throughout the meeting.

It was probably my last women’s meeting in an RTR context. The new gals tend to want to discuss things I feel like I’ve already figured out–how to go to the bathroom in the van, how to feel safe, how to keep from feeling lonely. I’m not sure what things I don’t know about that I need to talk about in a women-only group, but I know we’ll never get there if we have to talk about elimination and personal safety every year. Also, if the meetings are being recorded and I don’t want to be recorded, what am I contributing while sitting there silently with my head down?

I was primarily at the RTR to promote my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. I feel like my sucess in this endeavor was limited at best.

Coyote Sue and I shared billing at a late afternoon seminar. She was to talk about selling on Ebay while on the road, and I was to talk about being a camp host and to read from my book. We got rained out. We postponed the seminar for later in the evening. We were finally able to give our presentations to a small group before the sun went down. Everyone in attendance listened politely when I read, but I think most of the folks there wanted to hear what Coyote Sue had to say.

My main reading, the one I’d promoted throughout the RTR, was a huge disappointment. Only a handful of people attended, most of them people I already knew. Again, people were attentive, and they laughed in the right places, but since I’d been hoping for a crowd, seeing less than a dozen people in the audience made me feel a little sad.

I sold some copies of the book at the RTR, but I barely made a dent in the 100 copies I’d had printed. Perhaps I should have dreamed smaller.

Because I was trying to promote my book, I’d set up camp near the main gathering spot. I was close to the free pile and close enough to pop in at morning announcement to mention my book, hats, etc for sale.  This proximity to all the action meant my privacy was often invaded, especially, it seemed, as I was trying to cook dinner in the evening. I spent quite a bit of time feeling I had nowhere to hide. Honestly, I don’t mind answering questions (even the same question for the 10th time) but maybe don’t try to interrogate me when I’m obviously busy.

Because there were so many people at the RTR, the group meals were cancelled. The chef who’d bottomlined the soup and chilli dinners in 2015 and 2016 had to work for money in 2017 and wasn’t able to attend the RTR. The main organizer didn’t feel able to make the dinners happen successfully with so many eaters on hand, and no one with experience with feeding crowds steppd up to the challenge. I didn’t hear an official statement of why the potato bake didn’t happen, but I’m guess the couple who’d hosted it in the past didn’t feel up to the logistical nighmare of feeding the teeming masses. I was disappointed the meals were cancelled because at the previous RTR’s they’d served as my prime opportunity for social interaction. (One fellow did provide a bunch of hot dogs for a hot dog dinner early in the gathering, but I didn’t attend since I don’t eat hot dogs.)

I don’t know if there’s another Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in my future. I don’t know where I’ll be in January 2018. Also, I don’t know if I can learn anything new from the RTR. If I go to another RTR, it will be mostly to visit with friends.

If I do go to another RTR, I expect there will be a lot of people there. Folks can’t expect a free event to be promoted far and wide on the internet and not get crowded. If I attend another RTR, I’m going to park away from the main gathering areas, on the outskirts, where I can cook without an audience.

I took the photo in this post.

You can read about my experiences at past Rubber Tramp Rendezvous: the first week in 2015, the second week in 2015, some thoughts on the 2015 RTR2016, the first women’s meeting in 2015, the second women’s meeting in 2015, the free pile at the RTR, and Burning Van.

The Free Pile at the RTR

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One of my favorite things about both the 2015 and 2016 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) gatherings were the free piles. Both years, organizers set up an area where people cold leave things they didn’t want and other folks could pick up anything they did want, all with no monetary exchange or bartering. I love gift economy!

I don’t remember everything I gave away the first year, but I know I added to the pile. Likewise, I don’t remember everything I took from the free pile either, but I know I got one of the items I use most in van life from there: my pee bucket. It’s plastic, with a cover that latches on tightly. The lid has a handle too, which makes carrying the bucket over to a bush or a pit toilet very convenient. To make the fact that I’m transporting urine in it less obvious, I wrapped it in pink duct tape. Thanks free pile!

This year I added two books, a pair of worn-only-once black leggings, a small plate, multiple glue sticks, and other odds and ends I can’t remember to the free pile. (I should have written an inventory of what I contributed.) In return, I got so many good things, even though I was being really picky about what I took back to the van, since I’m trying to live with less, not collect more stuff I don’t really need.

I picked up quite a bit of food from the free pile this year. Early on, I got two cans of vegetarian refried beans and two large cans of tuna. Later I picked up a sealed box of whole grain spaghetti. After the soup dinner, the head cook contributed to the free pile all the cans of food not used for the soup or chili dinners. I picked up a small box of vegan, organic black bean soup; a jar of organic spaghetti sauce; another can of vegetarian refried beans; a can of black beans; two cans of garbanzo beans; a can of sliced carrots; five cans of diced tomatoes; and three cans of chili beans.

One day I dug through the piles of clothing and found a brightly colored fleecy Cuddl Duds brand shirt. It was only a large, and I usually wear XXL shirts, but it looked rather big, so I took it to my van home anyway. Because the fabric was stretchy, it fit me, albeit snugly. It was very warm and comfy, and I wore it on two of the coldest nights at the RTR.

A few days later, I was poking through the free clothes (not that I need any more clothes) and found a bright purple (with silver sparkles) furry sweater that I immediately loved. I was super excited when I looked at the tag and found the size: XXL! Score! The sweater was in excellent condition, and I wore it throughout the rest of the RTR. (I returned the slightly too small Cuddl Duds shirt to the free pile in hopes it would be found and loved by someone it fit better.)

Although lots of books were dropped off at the free pile, I already had lots of books in the van, so I was very particular about what I took. I did pick up one hardback book that looked entertaining. It’s called Cinnamon and Gunpowder, and it was written by Eli Brown. It’s a novel about a fancy chef who’s kidnapped by a female pirate, and it turned out to be a great read. At the end of the gathering, I couldn’t resist picking up Almost French, a memoir by Sarah Turnbull about being an  Aussie in Paris in the mid 90s.

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This is the chair I scored from the RTR free pile.

Possibly the best item I got from the free pile (it’s a tossup between this and the furry purple sweater), is a very sturdy folding camp chair complete with a folding tray on the side. When I first tried to lift the tray, it was difficult to move, due to some rust. Thanks to a squirt of WD40 (Thanks, Miz Sassy!), I got the tray sliding easily. The top surface of the tray had some (water?) damage, so I decided to collage and decoupage.

This is how the tray looked when I got the chair from the free pile.

This is how the tray looked when I got the chair from the free pile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is how the tray looks after my collage and decoupage action. The map is of New Mexico. (It only shows Taos to Socorro.) Many of the other images are of or remind me of the Southwest.

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Organizer pockets originally on my from-the-free-pile folding chair, now on my passenger seat. I can easily grab my water bottle while I’m driving because it’s not rolling around on the floor. My phone goes in one of the top pockets.

The side of the chair without the tray sported a really nice set of pockets. The pocket bag was attached to the chair with hook and loop fasteners, so it was really easy to remove. I attached the pocket bag to the arm of my passenger seat with large safety pins, so now i have a handy place to keep my water bottle, phone, insurance papers, and van registration while I’m driving.

I always have a great time looking through free piles, and I particularly enjoy finding a few great pieces that make my life a little more comfortable. The RTR free pile hasn’t let me down.

Burning Van

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On the last Sunday of the RTR, I was sitting with folks on Lady Nell and Mr. Jay’s patio. Kay and Tommy came over and told us the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous would soon be transformed into Burning Van.

They’d fashioned a van from cardboard and were walking around the gathering with the cardboard van and a fistful of markers so anyone and everyone could help decorate the effigy. The time and place for the sacrifice of the van was decided: 7pm on that very night at the main fire pit.

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The date and time of Burning Van was written on the top of the van.

It was cool to see folks participate in the decorating. People drew pictures IMG_4477

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I decorated the wheels.

or wrote witty words or just signed their names. Throughout the afternoon, folks added their individual touches to the cardboard van.

 

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By 6:30, the sky was dark, the main fire was blazing, IMG_4482and people were gathering around. For the next half hour, people arrived to witness the sacrificial burning. In the minutes leading up to the sacrifice, more and more folks left their marks on the van.

While we waited for 7pm, we were treated to a chorus singing a song folks had collaborated on to sum up the RTR. Sung to the tune of “Little Boxes,” (the theme song for the Showtime series Weeds, written, according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malvina_Reynolds,by Malvina Reynolds), the song went like this:

little vans out in the desert

little vans all made of ticky tacky

little vans out in the desert

little vans and none the same

 

there’s a white one and a white one

and a white one and a flowered one

and they’re all made out of ticky tacky and there’s none two just the same

 

and the people are rubber trampers

the nicest people anywhere

and they won’t be put in boxes

and they won’t be all the same

 

we are friendly we are family

we love to get together, in the desert,

in the desert, where the terrain is all the same

 

and the dogs are pretty aswesome and never pass up doggie treats

there are big dogs and little dog[s] and fast dogs and happy dogs

and they’re all made out of ticky tacky and none look just the same

and we have no pavilion, no bathhouse,

no central stage

but we do have a fire pit where friendships are made

we’re all made out of ticky tacky and none think all the same

 

there’s a white one and a white one

and a white one and a flowered one

and they’re all made out of ticky tacky and there’s none two just the same

 

After the singing, someone asked for the time. I looked at my watch. It’s seven! It’s seven! I said.

Someone behind me (Miz Sassy, if I had to guess) started in with Bong!

Bong! Bong! many of us chimed in seven times. Seconds after the seventh bong, Tommy carried the cardboard van to the fire pit and deposited it in the flames.

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It caught fire quickly, and there were hoots, hollers, and cheers from the the crowd. It didn’t take long for the van to be reduced to ashes and embers.

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The van went from this IMG_4472 to this IMG_4509 in a few brief minutes.

I hope the fun and comradery of Burning Van happens again at the 2017 RTR.

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I took all the photos in this post.

Report on the 2016 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous

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I recently attended the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) in Quartzsite, Arizona. If you don’t know the first thing about the RTR, you can find more information at http://www.cheaprvliving.com/gatherings/. You can also read my posts about my experience at the 2015 RTR here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/21/the-rubber-tramp-rendezvous-week-1-2/ and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/24/rubber-tramp-rendezvous-week-2-2/.

The 2016 RTR ran January 5-19, and was once again held at Scaddan Wash. Everyone agreed there were more people at the 2016 RTR than ever before, but I haven’t heard an official count of attendees.

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This is what the Scaddan Wash area looks like.

In 2015, I parked very close to the main fire pit/meeting area, but this year I made my home near far end of the road. Being so far back forced me to walk more to attend workshops and visit friends.

The weather was cold and rainy the first few days of the RTR. I drove in the rain to get to Quartzsite, and I enjoyed hearing raindrops on the roof of my van the first couple nights in the desert. Although the low temperatures were cold for Quartzsite, they still beat the lows in most of the U.S. Many folks I know used their Mr. Buddy heaters, but I never even pulled mine out of its tub.

On most days of the gathering, at least one educational seminar was offered. Seminar topics included the following: gold prospecting; work camping; setting up and using solar power; gadgets; lithium batteries; cooking methods; making a dream catcher; traveling to Algadones and Baja, Mexico; safety in the desert; boondocking; nature photography; car dwelling; and receiving mail, health insurance, and residency.

I only went to two seminars this year, the welcome seminar on the first morning and the seminar about living in a car. Most of the seminars were repeats from last year, and I either wasn’t interested in the topic or felt I already got the information I needed from the seminar when I sat through it before. Most mornings I didn’t want to carry my chair all the way to the meeting area and sit in the sun for a couple of hours.

I did attend the two women’s meetings at the RTR. Each meeting had about 30 women in attendance, although it wasn’t all the same women both times; many women only attended one of the meetings. I did not facilitate the women’s meetings this year, which was something of a relief. I won’t be giving a full report of the meetings, as both consisted mostly of introductions. In the second meeting, women shared information in answer to specific questions such as How do I get a job work camping? How do I eliminate bodily wastes while living in my car/van/RV? How do I get electricity in my van? What do folks drive and what kind of gas mileage does that vehicle get?

My favorite RTR activities were again the group meals. As we did last year, everyone who wanted to participate contributed canned or fresh ingredients to be added to chili one week and soup the next.

Once again, the Chef and his crew turned the contributions into two delicious meals. At the chili feed, there were three offerings: vegan chili (which I ate and can say was Yum!), chili that was a little hot, and chili that was a little hotter. Folks also contributed homemade cornbread; crackers; and toppings like cheese, onions, and cilantro.

At the soup dinner, the soups offered included a vegetarian minestrone-type soup, chicken noodle, beef barley, and one with spicy sausage. Crackers were also provided, as well as dessert! I was in line with Lady Nell and Mr. Jay, and they didn’t care for dessert, so they gave me their share of the sweets. I ended up with a no-bake cookie, a chocolate chip cookie, and some sort of chocolate chip/coconut bar, all homemade. Super yum!

The third group meal was a potato bake hosted by the same couple who made it happen last year. The potatoes (180 of them!) were baked in the coals of the main fire pit, and folks contributed just about any topping one could imagine putting on top of a baked potato.

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Cacti and mountains surrounding the RTR 2016.

I was a lot more social in 2016 than I was in 2015. Being social was easier for me this year because I already knew folks. I often have difficulty approaching a stranger and striking up a conversation, but I can usually think if something to say to someone I’ve already met. In addition to reconnecting with people I met last year, I actually made several new friends, at least two of whom I think I will stay in frequent contact.

My personal highpoints of the gathering happened when I met people who told me they read my blog. I have readers!

Mr. Jay was the first person I spoke to at the RTR. When I knocked on the rig to find out if Lady Nell were home, Mr. Jay answered the door. After a few moments of chit chat, he asked kindly, And you are? I said, I’m Blaize. His face broke into a smile and he said, Oh! I read you! It was a moment of great happiness for me.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

 

Adventures in Cleanliness

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When I tell people I live in my van, I’m often asked Where do you shower?

The answer of course is It depends.

No, my van doesn’t have a shower (or a toilet or a sink or any kind of water hookups or drain).

When I was homeless and living in a picnic pavilion at a rest area, I had two friends who’d let me clean up at their places.

The Jewelry Lady had a tiny little efficiency apartment, but every couple of weeks she’d invite me over. This woman (the picture of Southern hospitality despite being born and raised in New England) would offer me the use of her bathroom so I could take a nice, long, hot shower while she cooked us a fantastic dinner. When I was clean and fed, we’d hang out and talk or make jewelry while listening to Coast to Coast. This woman continues to be my dear friend.

Madame Chile would take me out to her place some weekends. She actually had a guest cottage–a storage shed with electricity. She had a cozy rug on the floor and a reading lamp on the nightstand next to the fluffy comfy bed. It was such a joy to have my own room, even just for one night. Although we’d wake up at a ridiculous hour of the morning to get good spots to sell our wares, I slept so well there, knowing I was absolutely safe.

But for all that goodness, the best part of going home with Madame Chile was her outdoor bathtub! She had a big, plastic livestock water trough nestled in a secluded spot on her property. She even had the hose running to it connected to an outdoor hot water faucet, so I’d get a nice hot bath. I called it her cowgirl bathtub and enjoyed the wonderful decadence of scrubbing up under the sunset sky.

Whenever I’m in the area, of course I visit The Jewelry Lady, and of course she offers me a shower. Madame Chile has moved to another state, so sadly I don’t get to see her or utilize the cowgirl bathtub.

My last boyfriend lives on land ten miles from the nearest convenience store  and probably fifteen miles from the nearest town (which is actually a village). When we were together, he didn’t have indoor plumbing or running water, so when I stayed there, I’d take outdoor showers.

To take a “shower,” I’d heat water on the propane stove. When the water was hot, I’d stand somewhere outside (usually out of the dirt on a wooden porch or large stepping stones) and use some of the water to wet my skin. Then I’d lather up. (I was–and still am– particularly fond of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap.) Once I was clean, I’d use the rest of the water to rinse off the soap. The most difficult part of the process was staying warm. If I waited too late in the day for my shower and the temperature dropped, I didn’t want to get out of my clothes. If I was already naked–or heaven forbid–naked and wet and the wind kicked up, I was a miserable lady.

Whenever I house sit, one of the perks is the indoor plumbing, particularly being able to take a hot shower or bath whenever I want. And when I’m staying with family or friends, of course I have access to showers.

When I’m traveling, I don’t worry about showering every day. During the two months I was on the road with Mr. Carolina, I think I took five showers (one in the hotel bathroom of a regional Rainbow Gathering focalizer we met in Nevada, two in the hotel room we shared with the boys before they caught their flight to Guatamala City, one at Lil C’s mom’s house, and one at the Okie’s great-grandmother’s house), supplemented by a couple of soaks in hot springs. I’ve adjusted to not showering every day (or every week!) especially if I’m staying in places that aren’t too hot or too humid.

For rubber tramps with money who want to clean up, truck stops are an option. Many truckers have sleeping quarters in their rigs, but no running water, so truck stops cater to those folks by offering shower facilities. Showers are usually free for folks purchasing a certain (usually large) amount of fuel. For the rest of us, the cost is usually around ten bucks.

When I was in Quartzsite for the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, I knew about a few options for cleaning up (other than getting naked behind my van and soaping up). Quarzsite boasts both Flying J and Love’s truck stops, so I could have paid to shower at either place, but I was too cheap for that. Instead, I decided to go to a religious outreach place called the Isaiah 58 Project that I’d heard offered free showers.

The Isaiah 58 Project is located in what I can only describe as a compound. It’s fenced. There are several buildings and some camper trailers (and I think a bus) within the fence. I went in the wrong gate and saw what seemed to be people’s homes and decided it was all too weird, and I wasn’t going to take a shower there. I left and went across the street to the Salvation Army thrift store. Later when I left the thrift store and walked back to my van, I realized there was another entrance to the Isaiah 58 Project compound. Through the second gate was a building with a cross on it. A-ha! A church!

I pulled my van across the street, then tried to find an office with a person who could tell me the procedure. No luck. I think I either saw a sign directing me to the showers, or I saw people waiting…I don’t really remember how, but I figured it out.

After I got my stuff together, I found people in line ahead of me. I sat in one of the plastic chairs in the already beating down sun (no shade available) and waited my turn. Some people were waiting, but not in line, so a couple of times I thought I was next, only to have some guy (I was the only woman waiting for a shower) pop out of somewhere and say he was next.

Finally, it was my turn. The first thing I realized was that there was only one working shower and no one was cleaning it between uses. I was grateful I was wearing my purple plastic shower shoes.

The second thing I noticed was that the lock on the door didn’t seem very secure. Or maybe I noticed that there wasn’t a lock on the door. Again, I’m a little fuzzy on the details. In any case I had a moment of doubt about my safety. Was I going to get raped in the religious outreach shower? Then I figured I’d made it too far to back out.

The third thing I noticed was that the shower room (a large room with a toilet, a sink, and two shower stalls–one of which was blocked off because it didn’t work–at the far end) looked really grungy and drab and not exactly sparkling clean. Again I thought about leaving, but again I decided I’d gone to far to turn back.

So I got naked and took my shower. No one came into the room to attack me (and for that I am grateful). The hot water and soap (I’d brought my own  Dr. Bronner’s peppermint) felt good, but I spent my allotted ten minutes not only hurrying and worrying for my safety, but also trying to avoid touching the walls. Not relaxing.

I didn’t go back the Isaiah 58 Project for a shower during my second week in Quartzsite. I didn’t feel desperately dirty enough to go there again. (I was going back to my host family in the city, so I knew I could shower again as soon as I got there.)

When I got my current job as a camp host, my boss didn’t ask about how I was going to shower. I knew the campground didn’t have water, so I figured I’d just go the wet wipe route. (Wet wipes  are quite useful for clean-up without running water, especially when one has the luxury of the privacy of a van.)

Then I met my co-worker. She was pleasant, but the moment we were alone, she asked the question.

Does your van have a shower?

When I told her no, she followed up with, So how do you clean up?

I told her I used wet wipes, and she seemed skeptical. She said she couldn’t go more than a couple of days without a shower.

Uh-Oh! I knew this woman was going to be sniffing me out. I knew that if she detected a whiff–one measly whiff–of body odor, she would  mention it to someone who would mention it to someone, and I would find myself having an uncomfortable interaction with my boss. It looked like I would soon find myself paying for a shower.

To read more about how I stay clean while living in my van, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/06/18/more-adventures-in-cleanliness/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/07/09/adventures-in-cleanliness-revisited/, and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/07/12/another-adventure-in-cleanliness/.

Staying Warm

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My #1 way of staying warm while living in my van is to go somewhere warmer when the weather gets colder. For example, in 2014, I left Northern New Mexico at the end of October and went to Southern New Mexico, where I stayed for November and December. In January 2015, I went to Arizona and stayed in various places in that state until I went to the California mountains at the end of April.

People often ask me if I stay warm enough in the van at night. Staying warm at night is not a problem. My bed is raised about two feet, so my body heat isn’t lost to the floor, and I have storage space. I sleep on two layers of memory foam, which is notorious for making people hot. I wear long underwear and socks to sleep when I need to, as well as a hat if it’s particularly cold. I have plenty of blankets, including two sleeping bags and a knitted (crocheted?) blanket stored flat under the memory foam and on hand for any really cold situation.

My bed lies across the back of the van, up against the back doors. On the side opposite the back doors, I have a curtain (a sheet I paid $1 for at a thrift store strung on a bungee cord) that I can pull for privacy. I found out early on that the curtain holds in quite a bit of my body heat. In hot weather, I often have to leave the curtain open at night so I don’t get warmly uncomfortable. When it’s cold out, I’m glad the curtain holds in the warmth.

Once I’m in bed, I’m warm. Sometimes I even get too warm and have to push the covers down for a while so I can cool off in the chilly air.

The problem in cold weather is getting out of the bed, either to get dressed and get out of the van or to move around inside the van (to tidy up or to cook, for example). Sometimes it’s too cold inside even to sit up in bed to read or write.

While I was in Southern New Mexico, temperatures were getting down in the low 30s at night. I researched how other rubber tramps stay warm in their vehicles.

One idea I found on a couple of websites was burning a candle. Candles (supposedly) raise interior temperature in a vehicle by 10 degrees. Of course, one must be careful with the open flame. (I have a lot of fabric in my van—curtains, rugs, blankets, clothing strewn about—so I have to be particularly careful not to catch everything I own on fire.) One must also be careful not to let the candle use up all the oxygen in one’s enclosed space, which can lead to death. This means one must leave a window open at least a crack when using a candle inside a vehicle.

I wondered if leaving the window open—even just a crack—negated any heat produced by a lit candle. However, I was willing to give it a try, so I walked down to one of the locally owned gift shops and bought a small (overpriced, artificially scented) candle. I tried burning the candle a couple of mornings. I (thankfully) did not catch anything on fire, but I didn’t notice feeling any warmer when the candle was burning. I decided the candle experiment was a failure.

At the time, I was staying in an RV park with electrical hookups. I considered going to Stuff-Mart and buying a small electric heater. (I think they run $15-$20.) I decided not to do that because I very seldom stay in my van in places with electrical hookups. Even a small heater would take up precious storage space when not in use, and I wouldn’t use it enough to justify having it.

The last week I was in Southern New Mexico (the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve), the temperature dropped to 28 degrees. I was lucky because I had gotten a house and pet sitting job. I stayed in a lovely warm house with a nice cat and a nice dog, and I didn’t have to think about heating the van.

During my internet research, I’d read a bit about portable propane heaters. Several van dwellers I read about swore by them. I didn’t rush out to buy one because #1 they’re a little pricey and #2 burning propane in the van causes the same concerns as burning candles.

At the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR), I talked to people who used propane heaters in their vehicles.

The Divine Miss M had a Mr. Heater brand Portable Buddy heater, which was a popular choice among folks at the RTR. (I don’t know why exactly, maybe I heard someone else refer to the heaters this way, but I call this type of heater Mr. Buddy.) Miss M loved hers, said it got her station wagon plenty warm, but did stress the absolute necessity of leaving a window open a crack when using the heater inside. She assured me that the heater produced enough heat to overcome the cold let in through the partially open window.

I stored the info in my brain file for future reference. I wasn’t in the market for a heater, although on some chilly mornings in the Arizona desert, I would have welcomed a few minutes of concentrated warmth.

At one of the very last group gatherings at the RTR, during announcements, a man said he had a brand new Mr. Buddy heater for sale. He said he’d just bought it from Amazon.com for $69 ($20 less than normal price, I was told) but had found a heater he liked better at the Big Tent. He wanted to sell the heater for $69, plus another $20 or $30 for the supplies to hook it up to a large propane tank. When I went to talk to the guy selling the heater and told  him I was interested in the heater but not the accessories because I didn’t have a large propane tank, there was a grumpy old man already looking at the items. The old man snapped at me that I needed a larger propane tank because it was cheaper to buy propane that way. Rather than snap back at the old coot elder, I just told the guy with the items for sale that the old guy could buy it since he was there first.

Before I could get back to my van, the seller had come after me to say the old guy didn’t want the heater and I could have it for the $69 he’d spend on it. I bought it.

I tried it out a couple of times before I left the RTR (thanks to the bottle of propane Miss M gave me to use with it). It worked great, warmed the van quickly. It was just enough heat to get me motivated to get out of bed and get dressed. I told Miss M that Mr. Buddy was my new boyfriend!

Then I went back to the City and didn’t stay in my van for upwards of three months. Mr. Buddy was packed in a plastic storage tub, and I didn’t think much about him. Until…

It’s cold in the California mountains, even in May. Seems like the temperature starts dropping around 4:30 in the afternoon (16:30, military time) and doesn’t warm up again until the next day around noon. Sleeping is fine. Actually, I sleep better when it’s chilly and I can snuggle under piles of blankets, so sleeping is excellent. It’s the between times that are trying.

I get up early to do a check of the campground, sweep the restrooms, make sure there’s enough toilet paper. I decided I needed the warm motivation only Mr. Buddy can provide, so I’d already planned to unpack him when I heard the high the next day was expected to be only 41 degrees, and there was a possibility of snow. I pulled Mr. Buddy and his propane bottle out of the plastic crate and fired him up before I crawled into bed. In about ten minutes, the van was toasty.

When I got up in the morning to pee, I fired him up again until I warmed up. Oh yes, Mr. Buddy and I are sure to have a long and happy relationship.

I took this photo of my boyfriend Mr. Buddy in my van.

I took this photo of my boyfriend, Mr. Buddy, in my van. The propane bottle fits right in on the side.

Safety Precautions I Follow with Mr. Buddy

#1 I open at least one window at least a crack before igniting Mr. Buddy’s flame.

#2 Because there is an actual flame, I make sure no fabric is near Mr. Buddy’s front.

#3 I never leave him unattended. I DO NOT exit the van or go to sleep while Mr. Buddy is on.

#4 When I turn off Mr. Buddy, I unscrew and remove the propane bottle. Some people don’t do this, but I take this precaution so I know no propane is leaking.

While writing this post, I remembered another idea for getting/staying warm. I learned this one years ago from a New Englander in New Orleans. Drinking or eating something hot is a good way to warm up from the inside. However, when I’m cold first thing in the morning, I don’t necessarily want to crawl out of my warm bed to heat water for tea.

img_2813For my birthday, my host family gave me a Stanley thermos. It keeps water hot for a long time. I used it while working the essay scoring job so I’d have hot water for my lunch. I’d heat the water in the morning, put it in the thermos, and the water would still be hot enough at lunchtime to prepare noodle soup (ramen noodles and the like). One day I didn’t use the water for lunch, and the next morning (24 hours later) when I opened the bottle, the water was still very warm.

So this is my idea: Before I go to bed, I’ll boil water and put it in my Stanley bottle. I’ll put it next to my bed, along with my mug and a teabag. When I wake up in the morning, I’ll pour myself a cup of hot tea before I even get out of bed. Sounds lovely.

 

I did not receive any compensation for the endorsements of the products in this post. I wrote this post after I already owned the products. I just like ’em, and I think my readers might like them too.

If you click on either of the photos below, you can shop on Amazon through my affiliate link. If you do your normal Amazon shopping through my affiliate link, I receive a commission from your purchases at no cost to you!

Stanley Classic Bottle 1.1qt

Mr. Heater F232000 MH9BX Buddy 4,000-9,000-BTU Indoor-Safe Portable Radiant Heater