Tag Archives: safety

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.

Safety

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As a woman who travels alone, safety is very important to me.

Of course, most women travel alone sometimes, even if it’s a walk to the corner store or a commute to work. Safety is important to all women, so I share my ideas in hopes they will help women who live in conventional housing, as well as those who live in vans, cars, RVs, etc.

(Yes, I know safety is important to men too. However, since I am a woman, that’s the perspective I’m going to write from.)

When I’m out and about in the world alone, I’m careful about what I wear. Yes, I believe women should be able to wear whatever we want without being harassed. Unfortunately, the reality of women’s lives is that some clothing we may be comfortable in allows some men to feel justified in making rude and lewd comments to us. While I tend to dress very colorfully, I usually wear clothes that cover my body. I wear long hippie-lady skirts and loose shirts that show no cleavage. If I’m wearing a tank top in the privacy of my van, I’ll usually throw on another shirt over it before I go outside. In public, among strangers, I don’t wear booty shorts, miniskirts, or sports bras as outerwear—nothing to give anyone a notion I might be out looking for sex with strangers.

I’m also aware of the how the clothes I’m wearing might help or hinder me if running or fighting in self-defense might be necessary. (My long skirts might not be the best choice in such situations.) I don’t typically wear flip flops unless I’m on my way to the shower. Flip flops or other shoes that could easily slip off my foot could be a hindrance when running from an assailant or kicking an attacker in the knee. I usually wear closed-toe shoes fastened securely to my foot. Since heels could also slow a gal down if she needed to run, I prefer flats.

As women, we are socialized to be “nice.” In a million ways, we’re taught we must smile at men and giggle at even their stupid jokes. We’re taught we need to respond to the overtures of chitchat from strangers. Sure, many men are just trying to be friendly, but too many men think a woman alone must be out looking for a man, and our every smile and giggle is encouragement that he might be the one. I do my best not to give strangers any sort of encouragement. I don’t instigate eye contact or  smile if I don’t feel pretty confident I’m in a safe place, and I’ve almost trained myself not to giggle at stupid jokes. (I love to laugh, but only when a joke is truly funny.) I try to present myself as bland, rather than hostile. I often pretend to think a joker is serious, and I respond seriously to a supposed-to-be-funny-but-not question or comment. In any case, unless I do actually want to spend time with someone, I try not to show any interest. Out in public, I mind my own business and try to appear boring so on one thinks I’m worth paying attention to.

I typically don’t party using alcohol or other drugs, either with strangers or on my own. I’ve very sensitive to alcohol and other drugs—after one drink, I find it difficult to make wise decisions. I might party a little if I were with trusted friends, but I usually feel as if I need to be at the top of my game—alert, aware—and I don’t necessarily feel that way if I’m chemically altered. Better to be boring than out of control.

Whenever I’m spending the night in my van in a place among strangers (Wal-Mart, truck stops, public land), I don’t go traipsing around outside in the middle of the night. Once I’m in the van with the curtains closed, I’m in for the night. I have my pee bucket and supplies for a defecation emergency, so I don’t have to go anywhere in the dark. I don’t know if nighttime is actually any more dangerous than daytime, but darkness feels scarier, so I plan to stay in during the wee hours.

Another precaution I take, whether I’m traveling or staying in one place for a time is checking in often with a trusted friend. I text this friend every day when I have cell service, even if just to say good morning. When I’m traveling, I let her know where I’m spending the night. If she doesn’t hear from me and can’t reach me the next day, she’ll have an idea of where to start looking for me.  If I know I’m going to be away from cell phone service for a while, I alert her so she won’t worry when she doesn’t hear from me.

Body language is important. Although my posture is terrible, I try to remember to not to walk like an easy mark. I do my best to stand and walk with confidence: head high, back straight, no slouching.

Sometimes making eye contact with a person invites further—unwanted—interaction. Years ago in a women’s group, I learned a way to avoid eye contact without looking weak. The woman leading the group told us that looking at the ground to avoid eye contact makes a person seem—and feel—passive. She suggested we keep our head and eyes up with avoiding meeting a stranger’s gaze. When I use this technique, I feel as if I’m sliding my eyes past the eyes I’m trying to avoid. I continue to feel confident while conveying that I’m not interested in a conversation.

“Situational awareness” is a phrase tossed around a lot these days. The concept is not new and has other names, such as “paying attention” and “getting your head out of your ass.” (The latter was a favorite of my father.) Situational awareness basically means knowing what’s going on around you and doing your best to avoid sketchy/scary/dangerous situations. In order to maintain situational awareness, I avoid walking around absorbed in my phone or wearing ear buds that block out the sounds of the world around me.

I recommend reading this article about situational awareness to learn more about staying alert in order to stay safe.

Our society tells women the world is a dangerous place and we should be scared all the time. While the world can be dangerous, it’s no fun (and probably not healthy) to focus constantly on being scared. Knowing I’m taking precautions to keep myself safe helps me overcome my fears and enjoy my opportunities to travel and visit new places.

What do you do to stay safe, either while traveling or while staying in a conventional dwelling?

The Second Women’s Meeting at the 2015 RTR

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Sixties Groovy Female Symbol by GDJAt the end of the first women’s meeting, I asked everyone to think about what they wanted to discuss at the next meeting and to come prepared with suggestions so we could start by making an agenda.

The first topic we discussed was what motivated us to live our lives as vandwellers/rubber tramps/travelers. While everyone there had a different story, several women spoke of wanting to live more simply. Some women started living on the road after nearly devastating personal hardship. Others decided not to wait until their final years to travel and see new places.

Next, we talked about our creative outlets and how we manage our supplies in our limited living spaces. A couple of women who work with fabric shared their techniques for storing all their cloth. A woman who works with glass told us how she stays neat and organized.

While we were writing our agenda, one woman said she wanted to discuss how to deal with men she wants to be friends with when they start giving off  vibes suggesting they’re looking for romance. Recommendations ranged from wearing a fake wedding ring to being straight-up honest about feelings and intentions.

Another woman was interested in how traveling women manage to date and sustain relationships, especially if one’s partner doesn’t want to travel. One suggestion was to break up with the partner because if the partner wants such a different lifestyle, he (or she) must not be the right one. Another suggestion was to go out traveling while the partner stays at home but to stop in for visits as often as possible.

(Side note: The woman sitting next to me arrived after we had set the agenda and didn’t realize that a woman in the circle had asked to discuss this topic. When the discussion was lagging, the woman next to me said sharply, “I don’t think this is an issue!” I think she thought I’d put the topic on the agenda and was telling me no one wanted to talk about dating and relationships. Obviously someone wanted to talk about this subject, but the woman who’d ask to talk about it wasn’t talking. So I had to bring the discussion back to the original woman and get her to talk about her specific issues so others could present ideas that might help her. I wish people would get to meetings on time and not assume they know what’s going on when they don’t.)

The most polarizing topic of discussion was about shooting and posting photographs, as well as sharing identifying information about others, on the internet. (Coincidentally, before we had a chance to discuss photography, the woman sitting next to me got up, went to her rig and got her camera, and was about to shoot photos of the whole group. Another woman at the meeting told her that she should get permission before taking any photos. It turns out that the woman with the camera was quite irritated at being told she should ask first.)

We started the conversation talking about physical safety, elaborating on some of the safety methods we had discussed the week before. One woman talked about her habit of being aware at all times of who is around her, what those people are wearing, and what they are doing. She spoke of the importance of looking people in the eye so they know she is aware of them. This woman then started talking about security measures she takes when writing her blog. This (unintentional, as far as I could tell) segue took us right into a discussion of internet security.

Several folks pointed out that photographers should not be taking photos without permission and certainly should not be posting photos anywhere on the internet without permission. The woman next to me expressed that she was upset that she had been told she shouldn’t take photos (when actually, she was told she shouldn’t take photos without permission). She said she’d been doing this (and I assume by “this” she meant going to gatherings and taking photos without permission) for years and no one had ever said she shouldn’t do it. As the conversation progressed, she then asked if facial recognition software was what people were worried about. When people said yes, she seemed to understand at least a little why people were concerned.

While there was a group of women who were vocal about not wanting their photos taken or posted, another group said they were totally fine with having their photos posted any and everywhere. Someone suggested that in the future folks at the RTR who did not want to be photographed could wear a sticker of a predetermined color so folks with cameras would know who it was cool to take pictures of and who to leave alone.

The last topic discussed was how women could find other people (particularly other women) with whom to travel. Some already established group mentioned were Sisters on the Fly, RVillage, and the Wandering Individual Network. (I have done no research on these groups–other than finding a web address for them–so I can neither discourage or encourage folks to check them out.) Someone also mentioned a Facebook group for traveling women, but I didn’t write down the name, and I have no Facebook navigation skills, so I couldn’t find it. The last thing we did was pass around a sign-up sheet so women who wanted to could share their contact information with each other.

Facilitating the women’s meetings was a positive experience for me. It allowed me to get involved with the RTR, and made me stand out a little bit to people who might not have noticed me or talked to me otherwise. I also felt like I was doing a job that no one else wanted, but for which I was qualified. The main way attending the women’s meetings helped me was by giving me a chance to learn a little bit more about other women so I could use what I had learned there to strike up a conversation later. It was also extremely encouraging to see how many women at the RTR were single and traveling alone.

All in all, I’m glad I facilitated the women’s meetings.

Read about the first women’s meeting at the 2015 RTR.

Read about my first week at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

Read about my second week at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

Read about how I decided to go to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

Image courtesy of https://openclipart.org/detail/282925/sixties-groovy-female-symbol.

The First Women’s Meeting at the 2015 RTR

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Sixties Groovy Female Symbol by GDJ

I offered to facilitate the first women’s meeting at the 2015 RTR because I knew I could do it. In a past life (and by “past life,” I don’t mean a life I was living in a different physical incarnation before I was born into my current body), I facilitated many meetings on a variety of topics.

Before the meeting, a couple of women approached me at different times and asked me about my plans for the meeting. I was told about a past women’s meeting where a women new to van living took over the meeting to talk about how hard this new life was to her and how scared she was. I was determined not to let anyone hijack the meeting, even if the hijacker really needed assistance and support. I was certain we could help anyone who needed it and still have a meeting where everyone who wanted to could participate.

I opened the meeting by saying that anyone who wanted to facilitate the next week’s meeting was welcome to do so, but there were no takers.

I then suggested that each women introduce herself by telling the group three things she wanted everyone there to know about her. I thought asking each woman to share three things would give some structure for folks who wouldn’t know how to respond to “tell us about yourself” and would  limit folks who would otherwise never shut up.

At every meeting, there seem to be people who just don’t want to talk. It seems like a gun to their heads wouldn’t get them to join in, but something about being in a group must appeal to them because they show up and continue to sit there…quietly. Maybe these people are exceedingly shy. Thankfully, everyone at this meeting managed to say at least a few words about herself.

Of course, on the other side of the coin are the people who can’t seem to stop speaking. There were a few women in that circle who probably would have talked for two hours straight, never noticing all the glazed eyes and drool dripping lips. Did these women perhaps receive no attention as children? (I’m making jokes, but the sad truth is that a lot of people didn’t get enough attention as children and have barely recovered as adults.)

As the facilitator, it was difficult to know when someone’s introduction had gone on long enough. It was even more difficult to know how to hurry along a rambling biography. On the one hand, I didn’t want to be rude or hurt any feelings, but on the other hand, I wanted everyone to get a turn.

I think the coolest part of the first women’s meeting was when someone asked how many of the women sitting there were single women traveling alone. Out of the 30 or so women at the meeting (unfortunately, I forgot to get a count of women in attendance at both meetings), I believe about two dozen of us raised our hands to answer yes to the question. I seldom meet single women traveling alone, so to have so many in one place was really exciting.

After introductions, talk turned to toileting techniques. I think folks new to rubber tramping will always want to know how to take care of their bathroom needs. I feel grateful for people willing to speak/write candidly about such matters. I think some of the women who have been living on the road for a while were bored with this discussion.

We also talked about safety, a topic all women should be discussing. The following are some ideas that were shared:

One should carry herself so she looks alert and in control. If a woman doesn’t look like an easy target, someone looking for an easy target is less likely to bother her.

Be ready to leave an area at the first sign of trouble. Have a clear path to the driver’s seat. Know where the keys are. Park so the vehicle can easily exit.

Think about what items on hand can be used for self-defense.

Next we talked about…I don’t remember. Honestly, I don’t remember if we wrapped up the meeting here or talked about other things. Perhaps this means that whatever was discussed wasn’t all that important to me. Or maybe I was busy facilitating, and couldn’t pay good attention to the discussion. In any case, at the end of the meeting I suggested we think about what topics we wanted to talk about the next week so we could set an agenda at the beginning of the meeting.

This post wasn’t very much fun for me to write. I think it seems more like a school report than an interesting story from my life. Sorry, kids. I guess they can’t all be winners.

Read about the second women’s meeting of the 2015 RTR

Read about my first week at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

Read about my second week at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

Read about how I decided to go to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

Image courtesy of https://openclipart.org/detail/282925/sixties-groovy-female-symbol.