How to (and How Not to) Approach a Camper

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This is one of my favorite places to camp in Northern New Mexico.

I pulled into one of my favorite boondocking areas in the Carson National Forest in Northern New Mexico. As I drove down the dirt road and approached the spots with picnic tables and fire pits, I saw a couple of tents already pitched in my favorite place to camp. Since I couldn’t go there, I chose the place where in the past I’d had the most luck getting internet access on my phone.

I parked in a flat place, hauled out my table, unfolded my chair, and called myself all set up.

I hadn’t been there long when two vans and several passenger vehicles came into the area, parked near the tents, and disgorged about two dozen people, most of them substantially younger than I am. I tried to look at them without looking like I was looking at them. Where they high school kids? College students? A church group? I was unsure.

Everyone in the group scrambled to unload the vans and vehicles and pitch their tents.

I heard a young man shout, I’m going to take off my underwear now! I sincerely hoped this was a church group.

Dylan, I heard a woman say, that person’s not with us. Let’s give them a little more space, ok?

Was she referring to me? Had Dylan been encroaching upon my territory?

After the group had adequate time to set up camp, they assembled near the two tents I’d seen when I first rolled in. The owners of those tents must have been the vanguard who had come early to stake their claim.

Was the group going to eat a meal together? Would there be a prayer before the meal? If there was a prayer, I’d feel confident they were a church group.

There was no prayer, at least nothing loud enough for me to hear.

The whole group started walking on the dirt road behind where they were camped, heading east.

I wondered who they were and where they were going, but didn’t give them too much more thought. I was hungry and needed to prepare my supper.

I’d cooked some food and eaten it and cleaned the dishes and was in the process of putting my leftovers in the cooler in the back of the minivan. Some months ago, the hatch door stopped staying open when I lifted it, so I had to use my walking stick to prop it up while doing anything in the back. With the stick holding up the door, I had just enough room to get between the door and the body of the van. That’s where I was when the car pulled up on me.

Maybe it was a Prius because I don’t recall hearing the car. I came out from between the van and the hatchback door, and there it was, about half a car length behind my minivan. I though maybe it was a forest ranger. Was I parked in a place I wasn’t supposed to be? Had the people in the tents reserved the whole area and a ranger dispatched to give me the news?

I scanned the door of the car for Forest Service insignia. There was nothing.

I looked at the driver of the car.He was a dude probably older than I am . He had longish white hair and wore a fancy straw hat and a black tank top. He certainly wasn’t dressed like any Forest Service employee I’ve ever met.

When I still thought he might be with the Forest Service (because who else would have the nerve to come into my camp and park so close behind me?) I’d called out a hearty Hello! By the time I realized he was just some civilian dude definitely encroaching on my territory, his mouth was off and running.

Have you met the campers? he asked, gesturing to the temporarily unoccupied tents.

They’re a bunch of kids, I said, not even wanting to talk to him. I was becoming more outraged at his nerve. He’d come into my campsite just to shoot the shit? What if I didn’t want to shoot the shit with him? He hadn’t even asked. He’d just barged in. In fact, I did not want to shoot the shit with him. I didn’t want to talk to him at all.

Damn my Southern woman upbringing! Why couldn’t I just tell him I wanted to be alone? Why couldn’t I just say the words, I want to be alone now?

I know they’re kids, he said impatiently. They’re college kids. The vans are from a college. But are they geologists or rock climbers?

They took off walking that way, I told him, pointing, then shrugging. Then I walked off to continue my after-meal cleanup.

Moonlight over Carson National Forest

Did the fellow in the car get the hint? Did he realize I didn’t want to talk with him or listen to him anymore? Hell no! He just kept talking. He talked about the name of the place where we were. He talked about why it had this name. He talked about having a cabin nearby where he stayed in the summer. He said he left in the winter though, because winters there were too cold. He asked me if I was going south for the winter. He asked me if I was going to Faywood and if I ever went to some other place whose name I’ve forgotten.

I told him I wasn’t going to Faywood and I’d never heard of the other place. hHsaid it was near Deming. He said he had been there in the past and picked up some turquoise. I asked him whose land it was, and he said, It’s public land! It’s our land. They he said some weird stuff about how Joe Biden owned everything now and how we didn’t own anything.

He told me he could sell showers at his place to the young people camping. I said, Yeah. Maybe. and allowed for how most people shower every day and get uncomfortable if they can’t. He said he had hot water showers at this place, then qualified that they were solar showers. I’m not exactly sure what he meant and didn’t request clarification. If he had one of those five gallon shower bags, he’d probably only be able to sell one shower to one college student (maybe two if they were conservative shower takers) before he ran out of hot shower water. I didn’t tell him all that though. I didn’t want my attempt to burst his entrepreneurial bubble to encourage him to talk more.

He started backing up his car, and I thought the intrusion was finally over. No. It wasn’t over. There was more.

He stopped the car and leaned out of his window. I’m going to get my camper so I can camp out here. Not right next to you…he trailed off.

No. Of course not, I said dryly. At least he had enough sense not to try to park his camper right next to me.

He back up then, pulled out onto the dirt road leading to the highway, and was gone. If he returned with his camper, he didn’t park it next to me, and I never saw him again.

Once he was out of my sight, my first thought was Fucking extrovert ! Thinking people want to talk to him, but now I wonder if there might have been some drug use involved in his boldness and bravado.

It wasn’t long after the talkative fellow left that the tent campers came back. I was sitting outside my van, trying to solve a puzzle from a Dollar Tree crossword book when I saw a woman with short grey hair walking in my direction.

Here we go again, I thought, but in fact we weren’t going there again.

Can I enter your camp? the woman asked.

What? Now that’s the way you do it!

I said yes, and she continued over.

I thought you might be wondering what’s going on here, she said and gestured to the tents.

The group was composed mostly of grad students from a conservation class. She was their professor. They would be camping here for a couple of nights. She thought everything would be mellow since grad students are older, but if anything they did disturbed me she said I should let her know. She pointed to her tent, and we chatted a few more minutes about where I’d been and where I was going, about the university they were from and where it was located, their itinerary, and how Aldo Leopold was connected to this place where we were staying. It was a conversation, not a monologue, and it was quite pleasant.

The two situations left me thinking of Goofus and Gallant. Do you Remember them? I encountered the boys in the issues of Highlights magazine I’d read as a child at the dentist’s office and occasionally at school. Poor old Goofus didn’t know how to take turns or speak softly or pet the cat gently while Gallant knew how to help old ladies cross the the street, share his toys, and let other people take a cookie before grabbing one for himself. I always thought Goofus would grow up and learn to do better, but I wonder if he just grew up and grew old without changing much at all.

I took all of the photos in this post. These photos were taken where this story took place.

About Blaize Sun

My name is Blaize Sun. Maybe that's the name my family gave me; maybe it's not. In any case, that's the name I'm using here and now. I've been a rubber tramp for nearly a decade.I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. For most of my years on the road, my primary residence was my van. For almost half of the time I was a van dweller, I was going it alone. Now my (male) partner and I (a woman) have a travel trailer we can pull with our truck. We have a little piece of property, and when we're not traveling, we park our little camper there. I was a work camper in a remote National Forest recreation area on a mountain for four seasons. I was a camp host and parking lot attendant for two seasons and wrote a book about my experiences called Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. During the last two seasons as a work camper on that mountain, I was a clerk in a campground store. I'm also a house and pet sitter, and I pick up odd jobs when I can. I'm primarily a writer, but I also create beautiful little collages; hand make hemp jewelry and warm, colorful winter hats; and use my creative and artistic skills to decorate my life and brighten the lives of others. My goal (for my writing and my life) is to be real. I don't like fake, and I don't want to share fake. I want to share my authentic thoughts and feelings. I want to give others space and permission to share their authentic selves. Sometimes I think the best way to support others is to leave them alone and allow them to be. I am more than just a rubber tramp artist. I'm fat. I'm funny. I'm flawed. I try to be kind. I'm often grouchy. I am awed by the stars in the dark desert night. I hope my writing moves people. If my writing makes someone laugh or cry or feel angry or happy or troubled or comforted, I have done my job. If my writing makes someone think and question and try a little harder, I've done my job. If my writing opens a door for someone, changes a life, I have done my job well. I hope you enjoy my blog posts, my word and pictures, the work I've done to express myself in a way others will understand. I hope you appreciate the time and energy I put into each post. I hope you will click the like button each time you like what you have read. I hope you will share posts with the people in your life. I hope you'll leave a comment and share your authentic self with me and this blog's other readers. Thank you for reading.  A writer without readers is very sad indeed.

7 Responses »

  1. Hello, I was off WordPress for awhile but am back now. Not quite 2 years ago my wife and I were going to do the van life thing but our vehicles, one a minivan, the other a gas guzzling Ford 1 ton E-350 van are both untrustworthy for extended traveling. So, we are still not opposed to the idea but lack the funds for a newer vehicle. I am retired but still would be able to work on the road. I use to do window paintings on business windows. Still could but Biden wants to now go after artists sometime in the future to make sure they get their tax money so I have read. Are you familiar with a lady vanlifer who goes by Two Knives Katie? I believe she did crocheting or something like that to make money on the road. Her website has been silent for years now. She had some very cool tent set ups using canvas tents and tarps. I am thinking she might of passed away since no one has said anything more about her which is sad. Very interesting story you have here and I am definitely going to take your advice on how to approach a camper and how not to. Maybe if things improve my wife and I might find our way back into van life. We follow quite a few on You Tube, Van City/Vanlife, Debra Dickenson and others. What kind of hats do you make if I may ask? Hope you are well and doing fine. Stay safe and God bless. -Rick

    • Hi Rick. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I have Heard of Two Knives Katie (maybe Kate Two Knives), but I don’t know her personally. I can’t remember if she left comments here before or if I encountered her on Facebook. Maybe both. Sorry I can’t offer you any information about her. Maybe another reader knows something. If so, please leave a message here.

      I make winter hats from yarn. They’re beanies. I do need to get some photos up. They tend to be colorful, but I do have some in more conservative colors.

      Sorry you and your wife haven’t been able to get into van life. I understand you not wanting to risk taking unreliable vehicles on the road. Until you can travel again, I hope you can enjoy vicarious van life thought blogs and videos.

      • Thanks for getting back to me. You know, if I had my way I’d boondock living out of a vehicle but live in a tent. I see some are doing that but not a great majority. Seems these days though tents don’t offer much protection from human predators so probably not a good idea. People need a hard shell between us and the world especially ladies. My wife would never want tent life so my dream is very unrealistic. I suppose though if you are traveling in numbers a person might have a fighting chance livinh in a tent. I just like the freedom of it. I hope you are doing well making your beanies. Now that Winter type weather has made an appearance I hope you sell a bunch. Thanks again for your help. God bless!

  2. Very interesting post. So glad the motormouth didn’t return. So many times people are in an altered state- I always forget that and then wonder why they behave like nut jobs. So glad that experience was balanced out with a good experience!

    • Rena, it was fun and interesting and a little far out to get such a balanced experience. It was as if the Universe had laid out an object lesson just for me (and my readers).

      I too am glad he didn’t return. He have less and less patience for people who talk and don’t listen.

      Thanks for reading and leaving your thoughts.

  3. I discovered you quite by accident, but a happy accident it was! You’ve made me giggle and cringe and think about a lot of things and about some things a lot. Your story about infringing onto someone’s space in a campground really lit me up. It reminded me of a lovely place by a river that was serene and beautiful til “the crazy family” parked right next door. Lovely family consisting of big loud mouthed mama, bigger and “whipped” daddy, and a truly delightful 4 year old little boy. Then their friends showed up. A lot of food and drink and I don’t know what kind of drugs, but at 2 a.m. fat daddy was howling, yes howling, about 5 feet from where I was trying to sleep. I paid to stay there, several hundred dollars for a month of nothing but the enjoyment of nature. They showed up and also paid for a month. I will omit the rest of the goings on, but it got worse rather than better. I watched out for the child who would get in the river to swim while they had no idea where he was. That was my last time paying for a campground. Now I stay where I can pack up and leave if bad neighbors move in next door. Happy travels! I love your life. Live free. Live well. Be happy.

    • So glad you discovered my blog, Cathy Jay. I haven’t been writing regularly for a while, but I’m doing my best to get back to a three times a week posting schedule.

      I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience by the river. Yikes! It sounds like a lot. Too bad you had already paid so much to be there.

      I hear you about boondocking being better because you can pack up and leave if you don’t like the neighbors. I hope you only have better experiences in the future.

      Thanks for sharing your story.

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