Category Archives: Van Life

Dispatch from a Cabin

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The last few weeks have been difficult.

At the end of September, I drove the van down to the mercantile so The Man and I could use the internet on our day off. As we were heading back to the campground, I noticed the oil pressure gauge was wacky, the needle bouncing around and showing the oil pressure was way, way high. The Man said an oil pressure gauge would never read high, that the gauge is there to tell the driver if the oil pressure is too low. We walked back to mercantile, used the internet again, and the man figured out the problem was more than likely the oil sending unit. Our boss was in town, so he picked up the part for us. The next day, The Man put in the new oil sending unit, and the gauge went back to normal. Disaster averted for the cost of a $28 part.

Last Tuesday was to be our final day off before we left the mountain. We decided to leave the campground to escape campers who wanted to chitchat even after politely being told we were on our day off. We parked in the woods for a while, but then The Man decided he needed to go back to the campground for a reason I can no longer remember. I turned the van around and stopped at the main road to look both ways before pulling onto the asphalt. The van died. It happens sometimes, so I wasn’t too worried, but then I couldn’t get the van to start. Then I was worried because my van always starts.

I tried starting it again and again and again. Nothing.

Both The Man and I wondered if something had come lose after the replacement of the oil sending unit, so we removed the doghouse from front part of the van between the two seats, and The Man fiddled with some parts. I tried to start the van again. Nothing.

We figured we’d have to get the van towed. The problem was getting to a telephone. The nearest phone was twelve miles away.

We walked down the road a ways and waited for cars to come by so we could stick out our thumbs. The passing cars were few and far between, and those we did see didn’t stop.

After a couple of hours, we walked back to the van and tried hitchhiking from there. We had no luck for the longest time.

We had just decided to walk the couple miles back to the campground and try to find someone there who would help, when a pickup truck that had just passed us came back in our direction. The driver had turned around to help us! Our faith in humanity was restored.

The elderly couple in the truck drove us to the campground where our boss and his wife stay. The boss was on an errand, but the wife handed us the phone. I called my insurance company and found out my roadside assistance only coveres a tow of 15 miles. That wasn’t going to be much help, since we were sixty miles away for the repair shop The Big Boss Man recommended. The Man called AAA and arranged to have a tow truck meet us the next morning. In the meantime, the wife offered us the use of the campground’s vacant cabin. We jumped at the chance to have a shower and sleep in a queen size bed in a heated building.

We found we got internet in the cabin, so I got on Facebook while The Man looked at minivans for sale in several states. I saw I had Facebook messages from The Man’s sister and cousin, asking him to call home. He immediately knew something was wrong. I borrowed the satellite phone from the wife, and The Man called his sis and found out his mother had passed away. I don’t think he slept at all that night.

We met the tow truck driver on Wednesday morning, and The Man, Jerico the dog, and I piled into the cab of the tow truck. The driver, a nice man young enough to be our son, attached the van, and away we went. The ride into town was blissfully uneventful.

We had the van dropped off at the mechanic recommended by The Big Boss Man. The owner of the shop said he’d take a look at the van and call me in about an hour. Two hours later, as The Man and I watched the batteries in our phones lose power, I called the mechanic shop again. If we were going to have to get a motel room, I wanted to do that early enough in the day to get some enjoyement out of the money spent. The owner said he still hadn’t had a chance to look at the van, but he’d call me in half an hour.

About that time, I got a call from The Big Boss Man. He was in town. If the van wasn’t ready to go, he was willing to drive us back up the mountain and let us spend another night in the vacant cabin. He was bringing his personal truck to the same mechanic in the morning, and we could ride with him. We jumped at the chance. I called the mechanic and told him we’d see him in the morning.

In the morning, the repair shop owner was still not able to tell me what was wrong with the van. I don’t know if it had even been looked at yet, but it had been moved onto the shop’s tiny concrete lot. About two hours later, the owner of the shop called me to say the problem was the distributor modulator. I told him to go ahead and fix the problem. It wasn’t like I had a lot of choice. I needed my van to run.

I wasn’t so lucky with the expense this time. The total with parts and labor came to $226. Groan. It’s always something.

So how did we celebrate the van running again? By taking an epic five hour road trip through the greater Los Angeles traffic zone so The Man could buy a minivan…but that’s a story for a different day.

On the second-to-last day of our work season, The Big Boss Man made us a proposition. We could stay in the cabin and do some work around the campground to make up for the two and a half days we had missed during the week. We’d get a warm place to sleep, electricity, hot water, and fatter pay checks. We agreed, but an hour later, The Man couldn’t take it anymore, and decided he was out of the campground business. He packed his minivan and headed to civilization to line up insurance and jump through the hoops of getting the car registered.

Me? I decided I wanted a few days in the cabin. I finished my paperwork this morning and I’ll pack up all the items in the cabin’s kitchen this evening. Tomorrow I’ll paint picnic tables, maybe do some raking and fire ring cleaning on Wednesday and Thursday. In the meantime, I’ll schedule blog posts and enjoy the electricity and hot water.

 

In Praise of Dry Shampoo

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I was between house sitting jobs, spending my days working on my blog at Panera and my nights sleeping in my van at a truck stop. It had been a few days since my last shower, and while I didn’t think I smelled bad, (thanks to vigorous wet wiping), my hair was flat and looked rather greasy. My next house sitting gig was in a gated community, and I wanted to make a good first impression on the homeowners. What to do with my hair?

When I was a teenager, I remember my mom telling me that when she was a teenager, she’d use baby powder to soak up the excess oil in her hair between shampoos. The problem, she said, was the white baby powder left her dark hair looking grey.

Although I already had plenty of grey in my hair, I didn’t want to trade limp hair for powdery, weirdly gray hair. I rejected my mother’s baby powder solution.

One evening, I decided to spend the night in the local Wal-Mart parking lot. I went into the store to utilize the restroom before bed and ended up aimlessly walking the aisles. Eventually, I found myself in front of the dry shampoo.

Does this stuff really work? I wondered.

Would it lift my flat hair? Would it leave a powdery residue? Would it leave my hair sticky? Would it be a waste of money? I was skeptical and ended up not buying any dry shampoo.

I met my house sitting clients a few days later, and they seemed to like me despite my flat hair. Thank goodness they were more interested in my substance than my style.

I told The Lady of the House all about my limp locks and my dry shampoo temptation. She’d never used dry shampoo and didn’t know much about it either. She had no advice to give.

Fast forward to Christmas. The Lady had a seasonal job at a large department store, and she’d bought me presents from the health and beauty department. In addition to a giant bottle of Dr. Bronner’s liquid peppermint soap, she gave me a can of Suave dry shampoo.

Suave Professionals Refresh & Revive Dry Shampoo, 4.3 Oz

She said one night she’d been restocking in the hair care aisle while two young women were browsing there. The two young women stood in front of the dry shampoo. One sighed, pointed to the dry shampoo, and said to her companion, This stuff changed my life.

Very interesting… The Lady thought, and decided to see if the stuff would change my life too.

As soon as I’d unwrapped my gifts, I was ready to test the dry shampoo.

First, I read the directions, which were pretty simple. Shake the can vigorously before and during use. Lift a section of hair and spray. Massage the dry shampoo into hair. Shake the can; lift another section of hair; spray; massage. Repeat. Repeat. The instructions on the can also said to brush hair after spraying and massaging, but I’d never do that because I don’t brush my hair; brushing destroys curls, and I want all the curls I can get.

The Lady and I went into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror over the sink. I shook the can of dry shampoo, lifted a section of hair, and sprayed the product on the roots. I immediately rubbed that area of hair with my fingertips. When I took my hand away, both The Lady and I could see it really worked. The area of hair I’d sprayed looked fluffier!

Now for the ultimate test.

I sprayed and scrunched sections of hair on the same side of my head. I left the other side of my head alone. Then I went into the living room where The Man of the House and The Boy (now nearly 19 years old) were watching TV. Believe me, these two have no knowledge of or interest in ladies’ hairstyles, so I knew they would not pretend to know what was going on in order to spare my feelings. Both easily identified the side of my head I had sprayed

It really works, the four of us told each other in amazement.

I was pleased to see the dry shampoo left no powder or other residue in my hair. Unlike with my mother’s baby powder solution, I did not have to trade flat hair for weirdly grey hair.  My hair didn’t feel sticky either.  All the dry shampoo left behind was fluff.

Dove Detox and Purify Dry Shampoo, 5 oz
After going through the can of Suave dry shampoo gifted to me and purchasing a can of Dove brand, I’ve learned a thing or two about dry shampoo.

First, while the Dove dry shampoo was cheaper at Wal-Mart (and cheaper is why I bought it) and it certainly works, I like what Suave has to offer better. I like the smell of Suave more, and I think it gives more fluff.

Secondly, the dry shampoo does not work like hairspray. It lifts and fluffs, but doesn’t hold my hair high. I’m a gal of the 80s, and I like big hair, but dry shampoo is not going to keep my hair poufy for hours. The dry shampoo does eliminate the greasies and makes my hair look better between shampoos.

Finally, neither the Suave nor the Dove dry shampoo has left my hair feeling sticky or gummy. Neither has left any residue that I can see or feel. When I use dry shampoo, my hair does not scream “product.”

I’m a pretty low maintenance gal, but I’d rather vain about my hair. Sometimes (often times) van dwelling means not being about to wash my hair when I want to. Dry shampoo allows me to fluff up and make a first impression that doesn’t include limp, greasy hair.

Intruder

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Someone tried to get into my van.

It was a night like any other in the Forest Service campground where The Man and I live while working at the mercantile. We’d had the day off, but we’d come back from Babylon early in the afternoon. I’d been cleaning the van all evening and was exhausted. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep and more free time the next day, which we also had off from our jobs.

It was nearly dark when I left The Man in his tent and went to the van for the night. I read for a while, but soon I could barely keep my eyes open, so I turned off my Luci light and promptly fell asleep.

I woke up…or was I already awake?

I heard someone try to open either the passenger door or the side door closest to my bed. I distinctly heard the soft rattle the door handles make when they’re locked and someone tries to use them to open the door.

I’m a door locker. That’s how I grew up. My family locked the doors to the outside world when we were in the house. The Man is not a door locker. He doesn’t believe in living in fear. Sometimes we have conflict because he wants something from inside the van but can’t get in because I’ve locked the doors and he’s left his key in the tent.

When he and the dog were sleeping in the van with me, I became more casual about locking the doors. Although there’s probably less of a chance of someone trying to steal something way up in our campground on the mountain, now that I’m sleeping alone, I’ve gotten back in the habit of locking my doors at night.

My first thought upon hearing the rattle of the door handle was that The Man had forgotten something in the van (his phone, his water bottle, his coat) and had come to get it. So I was surprised he didn’t say anything when he found the door locked. (He has no qualms about waking me if he wants to get into the van.) When there was no complaint in response to the locked door, I called out, Yes? or What? or something along those lines.

I took this photo of the campground restrooms. Of course, the campground looks quite different at night.

I received no answer, but I heard footsteps next to the van. When the person came around the back of the van (I thought maybe The Man, was going to ask me to hand him my keys through a back window), I called out again, but received no response. I heard the footsteps moved to the nearby pit toilet, then I heard the distinct rattle of the toilet paper roll being moved on its holder.

I never felt afraid. I thought The Man had gotten up to use the restroom, tried to get into the van and found the doors locked, then left, maybe in a snit or maybe because he was having a restroom emergency. I figured in the morning I’d find out it had been him I’d heard. I fell back to sleep right away.

I woke up again around ten minutes to five and started working on a hat I’d begun the day before. Not long after I awoke, The Man walked up to the van, and I let him in.

Di you try to get in the van last night? I asked him. He said he hadn’t.

I told him someone had tried to get in. He acted like he didn’t believe me at first, then said I’d probably just been dreaming. I’d said, I don’t think I was dreaming, and he used that as evidence that I had been dreaming. He said he’d know if someone had tried to get into his van. He said he would have flown out of bed and kicked the door open…

I chalked it up to him not taking me seriously, but while we were getting ready to head out to the post office and he asked if I really thought someone had tried to get into the van. I said yes, I really thought someone had tried to get in the van.

Then I remembered something else: there had been no flashlight. The Man never leaves his tent at night without his headlamp. The moon can be full and I’ve got plenty of light to find my way from his tent to my van, but he uses his headlamp. If The Man had tried to get into the van during the night, he would have shined his light through the uncovered side windows.

I think whoever tried to get in assumed there was no one in the van. Most people with a tent set up on a campsite would be sleeping in the tent, not in the vehicle. The intruder must have been quite surprised to hear me start talking from inside the van.

There were campers on only two other sites that night, and the camp host was sleeping elsewhere on his night off.

The Man went up to the fellow on a site on the other side of the campground. The guy tried to ignore him when The Man said good morning. The guy seemed nervous when The Man told him someone had tried to get into our vehicle the night before. The Man advised him to be careful about leaving his belongings out.

Later, when the campers on our side of the campground emerged from their tent, The Man talked to them too. The fellow on that site said, Good morning! How ya doin’? and shook The Man’s hand. The Man told him the same thing about someone trying to get into our vehicle and being careful about his belongings. That fellow said he’d heard footsteps near his tent during the night.

Who tried to get inside my van? I can’t say with certainty, but whoever it was got the message that we knew what s/he had been up to.

I stayed behind to guard camp while The Man went to the post office, but no one came around our site. I’ve been making sure to lock my doors when I go to bed at night, and The Man has stopped giving me a hard time when the locked doors keep him out of the van.

Game Changer

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When I bought my van, the carpet was already grungy, and it definitely got worse in the three years I’ve

This photo shows my van’s dirty, stained carpet. It also shows the metal plate in the floor (lower left corner).

lived in my van home. I’ve used a series of rugs on the floor to try to hide the dirt and stains, but that typically meant I had a dirty rug sitting on top of a dirty carpet. Also I regularly spill water on the floor, and the water soaks into the carpet and leaves a wet spot which I invariably step in. Yuck!

Another problem I had with my floor was the large metal plates left behind when the seats were removed. The plates are a little higher than the floor itself, and let me tell you, it hurts to bring a knee or foot down hard on them, especially on a corner or an edge. There’s no easy way to remove the plates, so I’d been living gingerly with them since 2014.

In the back of my mind, I’d been searching for a solution.

First, Coyote Sue told me about some flooring she bought at Walmart for her RV. The pieces snap together, she said, and look like wood grain. She put the flooring down right on top of her shag carpet.

Then I saw a “winter camping life hacks” clickbait article on Facebook. Most of the tips I already knew (put a plastic water bottle filled with hot water at the food of your sleeping bag before going to bed) or didn’t apply to van life, but the last tip caught my attention. It suggested bringing the brightly colored foam squares most commonly seen in children’s play areas to cover the floor of the tent. Brilliant! Not only would the foam on the floor feel cushy, it would help insulate the tent, and any melted snow puddles could be easily wiped away. I wondered if something similar would work in my van.

The next time I went to Babylon, I checked at Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, the Walmart in that town is the second worst I’ve ever been in. I couldn’t find anything like Coyote Sue had described, and the foam squares offered in the toy department, while nicely colorful, were very thin and had pop-out letters I suspected would lead to nothing but grief. I decided to try Walmart.com.

This photo shows the exercise puzzle mats I bought.

I did a search with key words I no longer remember. Several results popped up, including flooring intended for exercise spaces. That stuff seemed perfect. I chose the extra-thick, 3/4″ squares because I wanted as much padding as possible over the metal plates. I had three choices of color–black, grey, and bright blue. Part of me really wanted the cheerfulness factor of a bright blue floor, but a more practical part of me decided grey flooring would show less dirt and would probably be easier to keep looking clean.

I placed my first order ever with Walmart.com, which worked out great for me. (I know lots of people have problems with Walmart, Dollar Tree, Amazon, and other large corporations. I understand. I truly do. I try to do my shopping at thrift stores and garage sales, but sometimes I need an item now and don’t want to wait to maybe find what I’m looking for used. Giant corporations do make shopping easy, especially online.)

Walmart.com was super easy. I placed my order and paid using my debit card, but was not charged for shipping because my items were delivered to the Walmart store of my choice. I simply picked up my items during my regular weekly trip to civilization. (If I had home mail delivery, I might prefer to have items delivered to my door. However, while I’m work camping, my mail is delivered via general deliver to a post office fifteen miles away. The post office is only open weekday mornings, so picking up my mail is seldom convenient.)

On the day I picked up my flooring, I was excited to get back to camp to install it. “Install” makes it seem more diffictult than it was. I opened the package. I placed the squares on the floor and interlocked the parts meant to interlock. Done! Ok, The Man did cut out a piece of one of the squares so it would fit around the leg of my shelf, but he knew how to do it and completed the task in minutes. If one put down the flooring at the beginning of a build, furniture could go on top if it and no cutting

This photo shows my nice, new, clean flooring that only took a few minutes to install.

would be required.

The flooring I bought was manufactured by ProSource and is called “excercise puzzle mat.” It has a non-slip surface and is extra-thick (3/4″) and phthalate free. It’s made from water-resistant EVA foam. I paid around $30 for six squares, which covers 24 square feet. I used five squares to cover the portion of open space in my van, as well as the area between my two front seats. I’ll probably buy another six pack to cover the rest of the floor when I reconfigure and downsize my bed.

As soon as I got the flooring down, I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to figure out this solution. The metal plates are completey covered and padded. I can bang my knee on the floor where they are all day long with no pain. When I spill water, I can wipe it right up, and dirt tracked in is easily swept out. In about fifteen minutes, the interior of my van became infinitely more comfortable and better looking with ProSource exercise puzzle mats.

ProSource 3/4″ puzzle mats are available on the ProSource website, at Walmart.com, and on Amazon.com.

ProSource Puzzle Exercise Mat, EVA Foam Interlocking Tiles, Protective Flooring for Gym Equipment and Cushion for Workouts

I took the photos in this post, except for this last one, which is an Amazon link.

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.

Free Camping Along the Rio Hondo

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The best free camping in the Taos, New Mexico area is tucked between the Rio Hondo and the Ski Valley Road.

Turn east at the stop light locals call “the Old Blinking Light.” Follow Highway 150 to the village of Arroyo Seco. Pass the Taos Cow (http://www.taoscow.com/) on the right or stop for coffee, sandwiches, or locally made ice cream. Right past Francesca’s Clothing Boutique, follow the road as it curves to the left. Pass the Holy Trinity Catholic Church (http://www.visitseco.com/arroyo_seco_catholic_church.php), then the road will curve to the right. After the post office, the road straightens out. When the choice becomes left, right, or off the mountain, go right. When you start seeing water flowing on the right, you’ll know you’re close.

There are three official campgrounds along the Rio Hondo: Lower Hondo, Cuchilla de Medio, and Italianos. Lower Hondo and Italianos have pit toilets, but I’m not sure about Cuchilla de Medio. When we stayed at Italianos Campground in June 2017, the inside of the toilet was filthy, and no toilet paper was provided. All of thes campgrounds are free, but offer no amenities other than pit toilets and the occassional picnic table. There are no trashcans and no water other than what’s in the river/stream/creek. The stay limit is 14 days within a 45 day period. The camping spots aren’t designated, so don’t look for numbered poles or timbers separating campsites. Just find a place to snug in a vehicle and/or a tent or a camper and leave the roadway open.

Campers who don’t need the pit toilets don’t need to limit themselves to the signed campgrounds. There are camping spots all along the water. Look for driveways going off into the trees and firerings constructed from stones by previous campers.

It’s amazing to me that I can be up in the desert, surrounded by sage and precious little shade, then drive 15 miles and find myself surrounded by tall pines and cottonwoods. Even on the hottest summer day, the Rio Hondo is icy cold. When I’m hot, I tell myself I”m going to strip down to my underwear and stretch out in the water, but in reality, I’ve only ever managed to go in ankle deep. In less than thirty seconds, my bones ache from the cold water, and the rest of me feels cool and refreshed. If I get hot again while I’m there, my feet go back in.

On Saturday afternoon in June, The Man and I were looking for a camping spot along the Rio Hondo. As we drove up toward the Ski Valley, we saw spot after spot taken both in the official campgrounds and in the boondocking areas. I was beginning to lose hope when we saw a poorly maintained dirt driveway leading down to the river. I pulled the van off the road, and we peered through the trees. No one was down there!

I slowly nosed the van down the rutted, potholed driveway. At the bottom of the driveway, we found two stone firerings and a nice, flat area to park the van. We had our own lovely, secluded waterfront campsite.

I took all these photos of the Rio Hondo and my feet in the Rio Hondo.

 

 

Dispatch from the Woods

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The Man and I weren’t doing so well in Northern New Mexico. The invisible biting bugs were horrible, really tearing us up. The intense heat, unusual in the mountains, was making our days, but particularly our nights, difficult to bear. Living in the van together day after day was making us edgy and irritable. Something had to give.

Our lives changed with a call from my boss from the last two summers. The store that was supposed to open last season was finally(!) about to open, and he needed two more people to staff it. He wanted to hire me and The Man. We’d have a free place to set up camp for the summer, and he’d work us each 40 hours a week. Could we be there in six days? We said Yes! and hit the road to California.

I wanted to write a dispatch from the road, but we stayed in the Worst Motel 6 Ever in Barstow, CA, and the internet was down. I was too tired to find either another hotel or a coffee shop with free WiFi.

Crossing the Mojave Desert in a vehicle with no air conditioner was no joke. Part of our problem was not leaving Flagstaff until 1pm. I’d wanted to leave earlier, but it was afternoon by the time we packed up camp; drove to town; bought water, ice, and a few groceries; bought a solar shower, privacy tent, and tarp at  Wal-Mart; went through a bunch of rigmarole to find out Wal-Mart was out of Blue Rhino propane tanks and couldn’t exchange our empty one for a full one; went to a herb shop downtown so The Man could buy loose tea, and (finally!) filled up the gas tank.

It was hot when we stopped in Kingman, AZ to do the propane tank exchange. The Man and Jerico stood in the shade under one of the few parking lot trees while I went inside to pay for the new tank. The Wal-Mart employee who came out to make the switch expressed concern for Jerico’s paws on the hot asphalt.

Back on the road, we soon passed into California. At the agriculture checkpoint, there was a big digital sign like banks have announcing the time and temperature. 119 degrees! It had been a long time since I’d been in triple digit temperatures.

The Man grabbed our squirt bottle full of water (hippie air conditioning, he calls it) and sprayed me down while I drove. He also discovered that opening the windows let in air hotter than the air in the van. Over the next few hours, we did a lot of opening and closing windows trying to catch a breeze or let hot air out, trying to get comfortable. Surprise! There was no way to get comfortable in a van without air conditioning in the Mojave Desert that June day.

I stopped at the first Dairy Queen I saw and got us both Reese’s peanut butter cup Blizzards. I couldn’t drive and eat, so The Man took the wheel. The ice cream didn’t last nearly long enough, and we were back to using the squirt bottle.

Late in the afternoon, the sun moved down the horizon, and the temperature dropped to hot but bearable. Still, as much as I hated to do it, we got a motel room in Barstow. Maybe I could have gotten a little sleep in the sunbaked van had I been alone, but there was no way two adults and a dog could have been comfortable sleeping in there. Even if the van had cooled after baking in the sun all day (which it hadn’t), the body heat of three mammals in the enclosed space would have been unbearable. Even with the windows open, there wouldn’t have been enough air flow to keep us cool.

The air conditioner at the Motel 6 was not up to the challenge of the summer night. Although the air conditioner was on when we opened the door, we were not met with the chilly wonderfulness I’d been hoping for. The room was stuffy, and I had a difficult time deciding if it was cooler inside or out.

The a/c wasn’t a wall unit like in almost every other motel I’ve been in. All we had was a vent above the bathroom door and an ersatz thermostat on the wall. All we could really control were the settings “heat,” “cool,” and “fan.” If I stood in just the right spot a few feet from the bathroom door and stretched my arms over my head, I could feel a bit of cool air blowing out, but it was no match for the desert heat.

I slept poorly all night, although the warm room probably wasn’t as uncomfortable as the hot van would have been.

The Man and I were both awake by five the next morning. We each has another shower and got our things together. The morning air was cool, but we were hot again before we finally made it up the mountain.

When we finally made it to our destination, the tall green trees and the cool mountain air were a wonderful contrast to the drab heat of the desert. My memory hadn’t exaggerated how lovely my home of the last two summers is. I’m glad this place will be my home for the rest of this summer and hopefully into the fall.

If you’re reading this, it’s because the mercantile (the Forest Service doesn’t like the word “store”) has WiFi, and the employees are allowed to utilize it. That’s a definite step up from years past.

This photo I took shows the mercantile/visitor center where The Man and I work.

Special thanks to The Man for getting my computer to connect to the WiFi at the mercantile.