Tag Archives: free pile

How to Have a Great Time at (or at Least Survive) the RTR

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So you’ve done it! You’ve decided to attend the 2019 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in Quartzsite, Arizona on January 9-20. Congratulations! If this is your first RTR, you’re probably really excited and at least a little nervous too. When I went to my first RTR in 2015, I didn’t know a single person there! However, despite my shyness, anxiety, and tendency to be overwhelmed by crowds, I made friends I’m still close to today. I’ve attended  three more RTRs since then, and today I’ll share with you my best advice to help you learn a lot and enjoy yourself at this gathering of vandwellers, rubber tramps, RVers, nomads, vagabonds, and travelers of all kinds.

#1 Do your research now so you’ll know what to expect when you get to the RTR. This post is a great place to start, but don’t stop here. Visit the Cheap RV Living website to learn the specifics of the 2019 RTR. If you like watching videos more than you like reading, check out the Cheap RV Living YouTube channel to get updates about the 2019 RTR.  In the last couple of years, Facebook groups related to the RTR and Quartzsite have popped up. If you’re on Facebook, you might want to join  RTR Chatter  and Quartzsite Chatter. Lots of bloggers and vloggers have written about their RTR experiences, so use  your favorite search engine to find those posts. If you want my perspective, you can read about my experiences at the RTR in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

#2 The desert is different from the rest of the U.S. Learn about desert conditions before you arrive. A good place to start is my blog post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert.” Once you know what to expect in the desert, you’ll have better ideas for how to prepare.

#3 Be ready for sun, wind, rain, cold, and dust. Weather in the desert can change rapidly, and nights can be chilly or downright cold. It does rain in the desert, so bring appropriate gear for whatever weather the two weeks of the RTR bring.

#4 If you’re a woman, and especially if you are a female newbie, consider attending The Women’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (WRTR). This gathering will be held January 4-8 (before the main RTR) in Bouse, Arizona. The WRTR will be smaller than the main RTR, so it may be easier to meet people there, and smaller crowd may produce less anxiety. At the WRTR, you’ll learn things (like how to go to the bathroom in your rig!) that you’ll be glad to know once you get to the big gathering.

#5 Stock up on fresh food before you get to Quartzsite. Once you’re in town, you can find good deals on canned goods, snacks, and other processed foods at the multiple popup scratch & dent stores. However, Quartzsite has no big supermarket with low prices. Instead it has two grocery stores with small town prices. When I arrive at the RTR, I make sure my cooler is stocked with eggs, cheese, and produce. If you stay at the RTR for two weeks, you may have to pick up fresh groceries halfway through, but you can save some money by buying cheap before you arrive.

#6 Once you arrive at the RTR, you’re going to have to find a spot for your camp. You can be close to the main meeting area, or you can have lots of space around your camp, but you probably can’t do both. At the 2018 RTR, people camped close to the main meeting area were packed in fairly close to each other. Farther away, there was more room for people to spread out, but folks who had more room around their rigs had to walk a ways to get to seminars, the main campfire, and the free pile.

#7 Forget about privacy. Unless you are more than a mile from the main RTR meeting area, you probably won’t be able to camp entirely alone. Even if you’re able to maintain some space around your rig, you’ll probably still have neighbors close enough to see what you’re doing when you’re outside. No matter where you’re camped, expect drones to fly overhead and take photos and videos. At any official RTR event and even in your own camp, expect people to record and photograph you without permission. While organizers have discouraged filming, photographing, and recording without permission, they’ve also said there’s nothing they can do to stop it.

#8 Find your people at the RTR. Especially if you go alone or this is your first RTR, finding others with similar interests can make the gathering a less overwhelming place. If you’re the creative type, seek out the RTArt Camp. If you like to jam, camp with other musicians. In the past, school bus nomads have camped together, and in 2018 several box trucks parked all in a row. Sure, you might not be able to base an entire friendship on a shared love of finger painting or driving a similar rig, but some common thread will at least give you a conversation starter.

#9 Wearing a nametag can be a good ice breaker, At the last two RTRs, a few ladies had a button-making machine and were making nametags in exchange for a small donation to cover expenses. Some folks brought their nametags to the RTArt Camp to add bling to their button.

If you don’t want people to know your legal name, it’s a time-honored tradition to give yourself a road name. In any case, wearing a name badge can help folks remember you and what you want to be called.

#10 Get to seminars early to get a good spot where you can see and hear the action. The seminars are one of the most popular aspects of the RTR, especially for new folks. In 2018 I estimate two to three hundred people attended each seminar. Even with sound amplification, it must have been difficult for some attendees to hear. I’d plan to arrive at any seminar at least half an hour before it was scheduled to begin. Some folks leave their chairs to hold their places in the seminar area during the entire event.

#11 Drive more slowly than you think necessary.The BLM camping areas in Quartzsite are dusty places. Going more than 5 miles per hour on unpaved BLM land stirs up a lot of dust. Go super slow so the people whose camps you pass won’t hate you. Also, sometimes pets dash out of rigs and into the road. Going slow will help you avoid hitting any renegade pups or kitties.

#12 Bring earplugs for a peaceful sleep. Overall, the RTRs I’ve attended have been mostly quiet at night, but be prepared for the night you’ve parked next to someone who has to run a generator for medical reasons, your friendly neighbors linger next to the campfire laughing, or you want to go to bed early and the Boomers across the wash blast the oldies until 9:59. It’s not reasonable to expect a gathering of so many will be quiet when you need your rest, so have your ear plugs handy.

#13 If one of your RTR goals is to meet people, put yourself out there and be friendly.Walk around. Smile at people. Say hello. Ask respectful questions.

Feel awkward staring a conversation with a stranger? Here are some RTR specific opening lines:

  • Is this your first RTR?
  • Have you been to the free pile?
  • What kind of rig do you have?
  • Are you full time?
  • What seminar do you most want to attend?
  • Have you been to the RTArt Camp?
  • Are you going/have you been to the Big Tent?
  • Where’s the main campfire?
  • What are you plans for after the RTR?
  • Where did you get your nametag? (Make sure the person is actually wearing a nametage before you use this one.)

#14 Remember that it’s fine to go hide in your rig if you get overwhelmed. I’ve hidden in my rig so many times during past RTRs! There’s no shame in needing alone time to decompress and process what you’ve heard, seen, and learned. Close your curtains, breathe deeply, and relax.

#15 The RTR can be fun, exciting, overwhelming, educational, stressful, aggravating, and wonderful. Take care of your physical needs so you can cope emotionally. Drink plenty of water. Eat enough. Rest. Cry if you need to and laugh as much as you can. Exercise, but not a lot more than you’re accustomed to. Wear comfortable, sturdy shoes so you can make it over the rocks, through the dust, and across the washes. I’ve found a walking stick really helps me navigate the rough terrain.

Whether it’s your first or your eighth Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, following these tips can help you make the most of this gathering of nomads from across North America. If you’re new to the RTR feel free to ask my any questions I may not have answered in this post. If you’ve been to past RTRs, leave your suggestions in the comment section below.

Remember, Blaize Sun can’t prepare you for or protect you from every problem you might encounter at the RTR or anywhere in the desert. Only you are responsible for you! Do your research before you head to the RTR, use common sense, and think before you act.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

 

The Magic of the Free Pile

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As always, the free pile at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous was fantastic. Oh, there were plenty of items useless to me, like the dozen pair of reading glasses and the women’s clothing in sizes so small I wouldn’t have fit in them as a fourth grader, but I got so many great things from the free pile. I know other people did too.

I snagged a brand new red folding camp chair (retail price: right around $10 at Wal-Mart) for Coyote Sue. Once she arrived, she snagged for herself a large metal watering can, a decorative mirror in a wooden frame; and a four-plex birdhouse. One day while we were free pile shopping together, I found a container of dried black beans and handed them over to an excited Coyote Sue. She may have been the one person at the RTR who loved the free pile as much as I did.

Because the free pile required no money, we allowed ourselves to take risks.

The Divine Miss M picked up a folding cart on wheels. She took it to her camp for a few days and experimented with its uses. When she found it difficult to fold and discovered the plastic it was made from was cracking, she returned it to the pile. It wasn’t long before we watched a musician folding it up and packing it into her car. Maybe she had better luck with it than Miss M did.

I found food besides the dried beans I gave to Coyote Sue on the free pile, although not as much as in previous years when the cans left over from the cooking of the chili and soup dinners were donated. One day I scored a can of Del Monte (OH! Name brand!) peas. Another day  I snagged about a dozen Wal-Mart Great Value granola bars. Later, I scored a chicken and noodle MRE; I put it in my pantry for lean times. When I saw a donated container of doggy treats, I snatched it up for my friend’s pooch.

The strangest consumable I found on the free pile was a nearly full case of cans of Miller High Life beer. At first, I thought the carton was empty, but when I peered in, I saw only two or three cans were missing. Then I wondered if the cans in the carton were empty. Maybe someone had left a carton almost full of empty cans as a joke. However, when I nudged the carton with my toe, its heft told me it was almost full.

Did someone really leave beer? a fellow free pile peruser asked after I pointed out the carton.

It’s in the free pile, I assured him.

I do like Miller beer, he said.

You should take it, I encouraged, thinking of all the sober children in China, while also feeling a bit guilty about encouraging unhealthy behavior. Maybe I should have taken the beer when I first saw it and emptied the cans in the scrub.

I would have been really excited to find that beer when I was twenty, I said as the man carried the beer over to his bicycle.

Heck, I”m 41, and I’m pretty excited, he said.

My friends gave me first dibs on some items before they were offered to the general free pile public.

Mr. B. brought over a digital camera he’d fixed. (I take apart anything broken before I throw it away, he told me. I figure I should put my education to use. Apparently taking apart the broken at least sometimes leads to repair.) I decided to hold on to the camera in the event I need to replace the one I’m currently using. (I realize taking on a spare can be a dangerous precedent for a van dweller.)

Lady Nell sent Mr. T to me with the laptop he was about to offer up to the free pile. I passed on it because the operating system on mine is newer than what Mr. T’s had. Mr. T was skeptical anyone would want it, but it was already gone on my next visit to the pile. To someone without a laptop or tablet, it must have been quite a score.

Gee also gave me a preview of her free pile donations. From her I got a beautiful reversible silk wrap-around skirt; a pair of black leggings lined with soft black fleece; and a pair of light-weight, brightly colored, slip-on Sketchers. At first I thought the Sketchers were too small, but after wearing them a couple of days, they stretched a bit, and I love them! Slip on shoes are great for van life! Alas, while the leggings fit around my middle, they were way too long for my short little legs. I passed them on to Coyote Sue, whose long Viking legs are better suited to their length.

One day a woman I’d met briefly stopped her pickup near my camp and asked if she could park there for a few minutes while she carried some things to the free pile. I said sure and offered to help her. She offered to show me what she had before we brought it all to the pile. She explained another lady had given her the items and asked her to donate them. I found a pair of brand new Duluth Trading Company canvas pants which fit me in the waist and were only five inches too long! That’s a major find for a short, fat gal like me. The pants are my new favorite piece of cold weather gear. (I also got a light blue shirt with a hood, also from the Duluth Trading Company, also in my size. Double score! Alas, I have already spilled curry on the blue shirt, and I don’t know if I am going to be able to scrub it out.)

Two of my best free pile finds were a small cast iron skillet (hello, portion control) and a stamp collection. I rummaged through the collection for stamps that had not been cancelled and found many. I gave a bunch of cancelled stamps to Coyote Sue for her collaging needs and kept the rest to sell on the Etsy shop I want to open to sell collaging and scrapbooking items I pick up cheap.

The real free pile magic happened for a friend of mine, but I was involved.

He was living in his car and hadn’t figured out a way to sleep comfortably. We’d talked about how sleeping in a tent might be better, but he was flat broke, so couldn’t rush out and buy one. Maybe I’ll find one in the free pile, he said.

I’d driven out to see a friend in a nearby town that day, and I was excited to explore the free pile when I returned. since it’s always more exciting after several hours away. I didn’t see anything good but half an hour later, I watched a man deposit a red beach chair on the pile. I thought surely someone milling around the pile would grab it, but no one seemed to want it. I went over to the pile and retrieved the chair for myself. (It’s the perfect height to allow me to sit comfortably in the van and see out my side window.)

Five minutes later, I was talking to my friend, who was still trying figure out how to sleep in his car. I told him I’d seen some foam bed padding on the free pile and offered to go see if it was still there. I went over to the pile and saw the padding was gone. Bummer. But then I saw an interesting nylon bag. Could it be? I peaked inside. Yep, poles and more green nylon. It was a tent.

I picked it up and carried it over to my friend. Heres that tent you manifested, I said as I handed it over.

 

Get a Job

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Children in the parking lot love to sit in my chair.

If it were only kids coming off the trail who wanted to sit in my chair, I’d speculate they were tired and/or their legs hurt. However, kids who are just getting out of cars also want to plop their butts in my chair. Is the novelty of a seat they’ve never sat in more than they can resist? Are kids these days simply so lazy they can’t stand for five minutes?

If there is a crowd at the front of the parking lot and I have to be a few steps from my chair, I’ve learned to keep an eye on it. If I look away from it for too long, I’m bound to find some child relaxing in it when I look back.

One Saturday morning, an extended family arrived in the parking lot in six vehicles. When everyone finally tumbled out of the minivans and SUVs, there must have been twenty little kids milling about. Haven’t these people heard of birth control? I muttered to my co-worker. I had to stand for some reason, them step away from my chair. Sure enough, when I looked back, some tween was relaxing in my seat.

I walked up to the kid and said, Excuse me. That’s not your chair.

The kid looked at me like What? Isn’t every chair my chair? (I hate people with a sense of entitlement, especially when those people are too young to be entitled to much.) But he moved his ass.

I went on with whatever I had been doing. When I glanced back, a different kid from the same family was in my chair!

I walked over and said (loudly), Excuse me! That’s not your chair!

Again, the child moved, but didn’t exhibit one bit of embarrassment or remorse. Apparently, every empty chair is for a kid to sit in.

In no instance when a child has plopped down in my chair has an adult responsible for the kid said, What are you doing? or Don’t sit in the lady’s chair. or That chair doesn’t belong to you. or We don’t sit in chairs that don’t belong to us. Nothing. I’m convinced the majority of parents and adult guardians will allow the children in their care to do anything if it garners them a moment’s peace.

One morning as I walked across the roadway to pick up a piece of trash, a young woman approached my co-worker to pay her parking fee. A little boy (about eight years old) was with her. The kid was running around, and the young woman (his mother? his sister? his babysitter?) was paying absolutely no attention to him.

I saw the kid eyeing my chair, so I hustled over and sat my butt down in it.

As I sat, I heard the boy say, something, something, chair!

This is my chair, I said,

The boy said, I would like to have a chair like that.

You better get a job, I told him. (Oh, how my co-worker burst out laughing when I recounted this part of the story.)

The kid physically recoiled from me. Who could blame him? I don’t want a job either. But to get a nice chair like mine, he’s going to need money, and to get money, he’s going to need a job. (Of course, I got my chair from a free pile, but I wasn’t going to give the kid that information and get his hopes up. To read about the free pile where I got my chair, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/01/25/the-free-pile-at-the-rtr/.)

I took this photo of the chair kids love to sit in.

I took this photo of the chair kids love to sit in.

Vulnerability and Gratitude

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I’m currently reading “A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow,” by Tim Brookes. I picked up this Ocean Beach Library discard from the free pile at the 2016 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR). Three months later, I actually started reading it.

It ‘s the perfect book to read after a long day of mentally exhausting work. The writing is not overly challenging–no words I need to look for in a dictionary, no complicated sentence structure to contend with–but not simplistic either. The story is upbeat (no abused family members, nothing to send me down a spiral of depression) and interesting to me.

Here’s the plot: Author Tim Brookes grew up in Great Britain. In 1973, he bought a cheap ticket to NYC and hitchhiked clear across the United States and back again. After this tour of the U.S. he settled in New England. Twenty-five years later, he recreated his first trip and hitchhiked across the country and back a second time. (He had more resources the second time around and could buy a bus ticket or rent a car when he needed to, but he still relied extensively upon the kindness of strangers.)

I’m about halfway through the book now, but something I read last night rang so true that I wanted to share it here.

Brooks is telling a wealthy twenty-one year-old man about his adventures hitchhiking.

The young man says he doesn’t understand the appeal of hitchhiking. He tells Brooks that he prefers to ride in limos and stay in five-star hotels.

Brooks answers, The problem with that kind of travel…is that you’re never vulnerable.

The young man asks, Why should I want to be vulnerable?

Brooks says, Because otherwise you’ll never feel grateful for anything. You’ve got to make yourself vulnerable before you need something from someone else, and you’ve got to need something before you can feel gratitude. And unless you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you never have any chance encounters.  All the most remarkable people I’ve met on this trip, I’ve met by chance.

I could say the same thing.

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I took the above photo.

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.

Some Thoughts on the RTR 2015

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The following is based on an email I sent to the main organizer of the 2015 RTR.

First of all, I really enjoyed the RTR. I think it was a good blend of structured activities and free time. (I tend to need a lot of alone time and was happy that I had plenty of room for that, while people who wanted/needed to be social could get their needs met as well.) I learned a lot from the seminars I attended, and I’m truly grateful to everyone who shared knowledge.

The group meals were nice. The food was good, and group aspect gave me some structure for socializing.

The best part of the RTR for me was meeting cool people, closely followed by the haircut service. Well, maybe the give-away pile was my second favorite part of the gathering, but it’s in a close race with the haircuts. In any case, I was glad to be able to give to and take from the free pile. Gift economy rocks!

The biggest, happiest surprise for me at the gathering was finding other single women who travel alone. I had been afraid the RTR was going to be a bit of a dude fest, but I was pleased to meet so many other single women living on the road.

Now for my concerns. (There are only two.)

There sure were a lot of dogs running around off leash. I personally was peed on twice while sitting at a morning seminar. Two dogs on two different days casually peed on my chair while I was sitting in it and ended up peeing on me too. Not cool! Also, I found dog poop in my camp, and saw it throughout the area where the RTR was held. I don’t think dog owners were walking with their dogs and failing to clean up after them. I think dogs were running free and pooped and peed wherever they liked. Actually, I KNOW plenty of dogs were running free because I saw them, and I saw the poop they left behind.

I’m neither allergic to nor particularly scared of dogs. However, for anyone who is allergic to or scared of dogs, the RTR would not have seemed like a welcoming place.

I think there should be an expectation at the RTR that dog owners need to keep their dogs close and know where their dogs are peeing and pooping. Perhaps dog owners need reminders that not everyone wants some dog’s head in their lap or eating out of their bowl when they look away to talk to a neighbor.

My second concern is that of people taking photos of other people and people’s rigs without permission and posting those photos anywhere on the Internet. (I am concerned with the taking of photos without permission, whether or not they are posted on the internet.)

I believe taking and/or posting photos without permission is inappropriate. I think the issue needs to be addressed at the welcome seminar and every morning at announcements (for the benefit of folks who did not attend the welcome meeting).

I made the mistake of thinking that everyone at the RTR was on the same page concerning security and privacy. Obviously, I was wrong, or I would not be writing about it now. If I had realized that some folks believe that because I am at the RTR, I have no expectation of privacy, I would have addressed the issue early on, or I would have not attended the gathering.

Of course, some people don’t mind if photos of them are taken and posted on the internet from here to Christmas. I think photographers should take lots of photos of those people! A suggestion was made at the women’s meeting that people who do NOT want their photo taken be provided with a colored sticker they could wear. It would be the responsibility of photographers to check for stickers before shooting photos.

I do not believe that being at the RTR means I am agreeing to give up my right to privacy. I believe no one should take a photo of me or anything I own without my verbal permission. I believe anyone wanting to post photos  (on the internet or anywhere) of me  or my belongings or any information that identifies me  should have my verbal permission before doing so. I think everyone at the RTR should have this same expectation of privacy.

All in all, I had a good time at the RTR, and I’ve been encouraging friends to attend next year.