Tag Archives: campfire

How to Stay Safe and Healthy in the Forest

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  Let’s face it: a lot of us boondockers are city kids who’ve found ourselves spending a lot of time in the woods now that we’re living in our vans (or motorhomes or truck campers or cars or whatever). The forest can be a worrisome place for folks who didn’t camp much during our formative years. While I don’t sit around worrying about treachery at every turn, I do believe in taking precautions to keep myself and my belongings safe. Sometimes it’s easy to let our guard down when we’re surrounded by the beauty of nature, but vigilance is important, especially for folks out on their own.

Whether you’re camping in a tent or a motorhome or something in-between, you want to stay safe and healthy during your time in the forest. These tips can help you if you’re spending just a weekend out in the trees or moving from forest to forest while living nomadically.

#1 Don’t leave your belongings lying around. You may be honest, but your neighbors may not be. Whether you’re in a campground or boondocking in the wilderness, it’s a good idea to put valuables away when you leave your camp. If you’d be sad if an item were stolen or if you can’t afford to replace it, lock it up before you go.

If I’m camping somewhere for more than one night, I’ll often set up a tent to use as my storage shed. If I leave camp, I can easily stow my stove, propane tank, and tables in the tent. It’s quicker than packing everything into the van, and while it won’t stop a determined thief, it will slow down someone who can’t resist easy pickings.

#2 Don’t open your door to strangers. Just because you’re out of the city doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be cautious about who you let into your living space. If a stranger knocks, talk through a window. While I believe most people in the world are good at heart, don’t let a bad apple into your rig by mistake.

#3 Make sure your campfire is dead out when you don’t want to supervise it anymore. Going on a hike? The fire needs to be dead out. Going to bed? The fire needs to be dead out.

If you set the forest on fire, your safety is at stake too. If you’re away from your campsite or asleep when your campfire starts a wildfire, your property and life will be in danger.

The Forest Service gives these tips for making sure your campfire is completely out:

  • First, drown the campfire with water!
  • Next, mix the ashes and embers with soil.
  • Stir the embers after they are covered with water and make sure that everything is wet.
  • Feel the coals, embers, and any partially-burned wood with your hands. Everything (including the rock fire ring) should be cool to the touch. Feel under the rocks to make sure [there are] no embers underneath.
  • When you think you are done, take an extra minute and add more water.
  • Finally, check the entire campsite for possible sparks or embers, because it only takes one to start a forest fire.
  • Remember…if it is too hot to touch, it is too hot to leave.

#4 Keep your pet leashed and under your control or in your rig. If coyotes are in the area, small dogs and cats are at risk of being snatched. If you’re in bear country, even a large dog is no match for an adult Ursus americanus (black bear), much less an Ursus arctos (grizzly bear). Dogs antagonize bears and bears attack dogs. Protect your dog by not letting it run loose.

#5 Speaking of bears, don’t attract them with food and garbage left around your campsite. Keep a clean camp. Food and garbage lying around can attract not just bears, but other critters like flies, rodents, raccoons, and ravens. Of course, you don’t want to tangle with bears, but even smaller animals can create a huge mess by dragging food and garbage all over your campsite. Flies carry disease, and no one wants to get sick while they’re supposed to be enjoying trees and birdsong.

If you’re in a campground, put trash in garbage cans or dumpsters right away. Be sure you close garbage containers securely. If you’re boondocking in a place with no trash containers, tie garbage bags and stow them securely in your rig until you can pack out what you’ve packed in.

If bears are a problem where you’re camping, store all food and trash in bear boxes if provided or use your own bear canister.

#6 Beware of falling branches. It’s nice to park in a shady spot when the summer sun is beating down, but a falling branch can wreak havoc on your rig or tent. Look up before you pick your spot and notice any obviously dangerous tree limbs. Even if no limbs seem to be in danger of falling, remember that a high wind can send branches crashing to the ground with no warning.

A Forest Service website gives tips to keep you and your belongings safe from falling branches. Read all about it before you head off into the woods.

#7 Don’t pick up critters. The forest where I work seasonally posts warnings about plague and hanta virus. Picking up a sick animal greatly increases one’s chance of infection. In most wild places, wild animals won’t let humans get anywhere near them. If a cute little critter lets you pick it up, it’s probably not healthy. Don’t risk your well-being by picking up a creature that might be infectious.

#8 Watch out for snakes. While most snakes aren’t poisonous, you still don’t want to be bitten by one. Even a nonpoisonous snake bite may require medical attention. When a friend of mine  was bitten by a rattler in his own driveway, he ended up spending a couple of nights in the hospital. I certainly don’t have the time or money for anything like that.

For a comprehensive guide to keeping your space free of snakes, see the great article “How to Keep Snakes Away from Your Campsite” on the TakeOutdoors website.

#9 Wash your hands. E. coli doesn’t take a vacation just because you’ve left civilization. If, like me, you don’t have running water in your rig, you can set up a handwashing station in your camp. I use a seven gallon water jug with a spigot so I can control the flow of water and conserve the precious resource. At a bare minimum, wash up after performing elimination functions and before handling food.

#10 Know what creepy crawlies and flying critters you need to protect against. In certain areas, bug bites can be more than a temporary annoyance. Do the local mosquitoes carry the West Nile Virus? Are you at risk from getting Lyme disease from the ticks where you’re camping? Do you need to worry about brown recluse or black widow spiders? If the pests where you’re camping are poisonous or carry disease, you’re going to have to be extra vigilant about protecting yourself.

Ticks are creepy whether or not they carry Lyme disease.  If you find an attached tick during a full-body inspection, you’ll want to remove it immediately. Go to the Centers for Disease Control website to learn the steps for removing a tick. You may want to print out the steps to include in your first aid kit.

The Mobile RVing website has a good article on “How to Control Mosquitoes at Your Campsite.”

The Pronto Pest Management offers “10 Tips to Protect Yourself from Ticks While Camping.”

The USA Today website has an article with tips on “How to Keep Spiders from Campsites.”

There’s no way to imagine or prepare for every single danger one might encounter in the woods. In life we run into situations that could lead to harm, whether we’re in the city or the wilderness. I hope these tips help you plan for your health and safety when you leave the concrete and venture out into nature.

Remember, Blaize Sun can’t prepare you or protect you from every danger you might encounter in the forest. You are responsible for our own self. Research the problems you might encounter in the area you plan to camp in before you get there. Call the local BLM field office or Forest Service ranger station responsible for the place you want to camp and ask about hazards in the area. Think before you act. If something you’re about to do seems potentially dangerous, don’t do it!

I took the photos in this post.

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.

Clusterf*%k

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When I arrived for work at the parking lot at 11am on the Saturday before Independence Day Weekend, it was already a clusterfuck.

All of the front parking spots were taken. There was a crowd of people milling around my co-worker. Some of the people in the crowd were standing in the roadway and wouldn’t move so I could drive the van through. I had to honk my horn to get them out of the road.

As I slowly drove around the parking lot loop, I didn’t see a single empty parking space. I did, however, see a tent set up in one of the picnic areas. As I tried to decide if I should stop the van in the roadway to talk to the person I could see standing in the tent, an unattended dog trailing its leash trotted across the street in front of me. I decided I did need to find the dog’s person, so I put the van in park and left it right where it was as I went after the dog.

The dog trotted toward the tent, and I called out Is this your dog?

A voice behind me said it was his dog and apologized for letting it get away from him.

As he reached for the dog’s leash, I took the opportunity to call out to the woman in the tent, Camping is not allowed here.

She screeched, We’re leaving! We’re leaving! We didn’t know!

The man behind me echoed her, telling me they didn’t know they couldn’t camp there. That’s when I realized the man and the dog belonged to the woman and the tent.

If the couple had bothered to read the signs near the self-pay station (which I suspect they had conveniently overlooked), they’d have seen the one which reads, “No overnight camping.”

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This is the board near the entrance with the informational signs, including “No overnight camping.”

IMG_3210I got back in my van and continued to look for a parking place. There was nothing. Some people had parked on the edge of the road, just barely leaving space for me to drive the van through. When I tried to tell them it wasn’t such a great idea to park there, they haughtily told me there was plenty of space for other vehicles to pass. I shrugged and hoped they wouldn’t come crying to me if their car was scraped or crunched by a giant truck or massive RV. No one did come crying to me, so everything must have turned out OK.

As I slowly made my way back to the beginning of the loop, I heard a loud cracking noise. I thought someone was shooting off fireworks or maybe firing a gun. I didn’t even try to find out what was going on, but my co-worker did. He told me later he’d heard the noise too and also thought it was fireworks or a gun. He went looking and found a man standing on one of the big boulders in the parking lot, repeatedly cracking a bullwhip. I didn’t think there were any rules against such an activity, but our supervisor told us later it’s considered a projectile and there is a rule against it.

When I got tot he front of the parking lot, I jumped out of my van and told my co-worker there was no place for me to park. I told him I’d put the van in the overflow parking at the nearby campground, then walk back to the main parking lot. He was preternaturally calm in the face of the chaos.

Turns out there was no room in the overflow parking at the campground, and I had to leave my van in the second overflow parking area.

When I got back to the main parking area, my co-worker and I started warning people who drove in that the parking lot probably couldn’t accommodate them, but they could pay us the $5 parking fee on their way to the trail  if they did find a spot. I also warned people not to park anywhere “stupid.”

I found out my co-worker saw the people in the tent when he got to work and had already told them they couldn’t camp there. One thing I still don’t understand is why the tent was up when I arrived at 11am if my co-worker told them no camping when he arrived at 8am. Even if he didn’t talk to them until 9am, it shouldn’t take two hours to take down a tent and pack up a campsite that had been occupied for less than 24 hours.

It seemed like I’d been at work for a long time–talking to people in cars, writing day passes, and collecting fees from people who had found spots to park–when an older lady told me there was a smoking, smouldering campfire near one of the picnic tables. Can you guess which picnic area the campfire was in? Yep, the one where there had earlier been a tent.

I told my co-worker what the woman had told me and said if he’d go check on the fire, I’d take care of the front.

He briskly walked away and quickly returned. The illegitimate campers had gathered rocks and used them to construct a fire ring to contain their illegal fire. However, in their haste to leave, they’d left what remained of their fire smouldering. I don’t think there were any flames, but there was smoke, and presumably embers, which could have been blown away and started a wildfire.

My co-worker grabbed his large Gatorade bottle filled with his beverage of choice and took it to put out the fire. He said when he poured the liquid onto the remains of the fire, there was hissing and more smoke, and the water boiled and bubbled.

He decided to hop on his dirt bike and ride down to the campground to get water out of their tank. He wanted to be sure the fire was “dead out” (as the Forest Service signs say).

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While he went to get more water, cars continued to enter the parking lot.

While I was trying to collect fees and write day passes, a woman approached me and asked where she could go hiking.

I am not a hiker. I enjoy walking on flat ground for about a mile, but the thought of a long, strenuous hike does not excite me. (Once in Utah, friends convinced me to go on a “little hike” with them. We ended up temporarily lost and very hot, and I had a head cold. When one of the friends commented, oh well, none of us are miserable, I raised my hand and declared that indeed, I was miserable.) Because I don’t like to hike, I haven’t really made it a priority to find out where to hike. I figure people who like to hike should do their research before they come out here or get information at a ranger station or buy a mp or find someone who likes to hike to talk to.

I made two hike suggestions to the woman; she’d already done both of them. Since that was the entirety of my hiking information, I hoped the woman would go away, but she did not.  Since I hadn’t  been able to answer her questions, I pulled out a topographical map of the area for her to look at. Of course, she couldn’t just look at the map and make some decisions for herself. She had to ask me if the little tree on the map was a symbol for a sequoia  grove. (After consulting the map key, I said it was.) Then she wanted to know how far it was from this place to that place. (I told her she should find the map’s distance key and consult it.) In between her questions (to which she could have found her own answers), I was hustling back and forth from cars to her. I’m all for helping tourists, but I don’t feel I’m responsible for reading a map for them and telling them which hikes are best when I’ve never been on any of the hikes. (You can bet I wanted to tell the woman to take a hike, but that would have been really rude.)

While I was still trying to satisfy the woman so she’d leave me alone, my co-worker zoomed back into the parking area and went to finish quenching the fire. It occurred to me that while we were working quite literally to put out a fire and keep things in the parking area running smoothly,this woman was insisting I give her information I didn’t even know. I was relieved when she was finally satisfied enough to walk away.