Tag Archives: tent

Changes in My Life (and What You Can Learn from My Land-Buying Mistakes)

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Blue sky and wispy grey clouds over sandy land dotted with scrubby bushes.
This is the land The Man and I bought in Southern New Mexico.

The last time I posted an update on my life, it was about how The Man and I were buying land in Southern New Mexico. Well, that was fun while it lasted.

We found the land on a Saturday afternoon in the beginning in February. In reality, The Man did all the work. He used printouts of maps of the area provided online by the county as well as the Google Earth app to find our approximate spot. We knew our lot was the fifth one from the corner, and we knew each lot was just over 100 feet wide, so we used a long tape measure to figure out just where our driveway should go.

The wind was blowing, as we’d been warned it would. This was no little breeze but a strong New Mexico wind. With the wind came dust, and we were out in it with nothing but our vans for protection.

We had a big cabin-style tent we’d used for two summers when we worked in the mountains of California. The Man started setting it up, but before he could stake it down, the wind caught it and blew it around. The Man said the tent was not going to work. We agreed we needed a place for storage as well as somewhere to get out of the wind and dust in order to cook. We drove the 15 miles to Wal-Mart determined to buy a tent.

There was quite a bit of choice on the tent aisle at Wal-Mart. We immediately eliminated anything too small to use as both a storage shed and a kitchen. We also eliminated anything that did not allow The Man to stand upright inside. Next, we eliminated any cabin-style tents because The Man did not think that design would survive the wind.

A large dome tent set against blue sky and grey clouds.
Biosphere 3 before The Man reinforced it by tying the poles together where they crossed and using the rope as extra guy lines.

The tent we bought had no rain fly. Instead, tent material zips down over mesh panels. Essentially there are windows in the ceiling that can be unzipped and opened for ventilation or zipped closed to keep out the elements. At first The Man was worried about the lack of rainfly, but later realized it was a good design for windy conditions. If there had been a rainfly, wind would have gotten up under it, creating stress on the whole structure.

The tent is big and similar to a geodesic dome. I named it Biosphere 3.

The tent has ten poles to give strength to the structure. The poles cross at points around the tent, increasing stability. The poles are color coded and have to be added in a specific order. It is a base camp tent, something to be set up then left alone for a week or two. In other words, it is a real pain in the ass to pitch this tent!

The tent came with regular metal stakes. The Man said those stakes weren’t going to hold against the New Mexico wind. We’d bought earth auger type stakes when we bought the tent, but we found those stakes didn’t work in the sandy soil where we were. (They weren’t worth a damn, The Man says.) We had a few large tent spikes Auntie M had given us before we left Arizona, so we used all we had to hold down the tent. The Man thought the tent needed even more stability, so we drove back to Wal-Mart to get more tent spikes and rope.

The Man ended up tying rope around each point where poles crossed. He then used that rope as a guy line which he staked using a tent spike. These extra guy lines gave added stability to the tent.

On Monday we went to the county building to transfer the land into our names and pay the taxes on it. The Man asked one of the county workers about any restrictions on the land. She directed us to a website where she said we could find subdivision covenants for the subdivision where our land was located.

Yep, our land was in a subdivision even though in reality we were in the middle of the desert with no neighbors and no amenities. The last three roads we took to our place were unpaved. There were no electric lines anywhere near us. We had no running water, no well. We had no mailbox, and I was confident there was no home delivery of mail. Our nearest neighbor was no closer than a quarter mile away, and we were pretty sure no one was actually living in that house. To say we were living in a subdivision was comical, except it was true.

Our plan was never to build a house. The Man and I thought building a house would be too much work. We really only wanted to be on the land six or seven months out of the year, in the winter. We wanted to buy an inexpensive travel trailer or fifth wheel or even an old school bus and leave it on our property while we were off earning money in the summer. We planned to stay in whatever dwelling we had during the mild New Mexico winters.

On Wednesday I went to the library to work on my blog while The Man went to the lapidary shop to cut stones. When he came to pick me up around noon, he said we should look at our subdivision covenants. We found the PDF file with the covenants for our subdivision, but that’s where the searching began.

The county worker had warned us that the covenants for the different blocks of the subdivision were not in any particular order. It looked like money had been spent to scan the pages and get them online, but no one had been paid to organize the pages beforehand. We had to wade through over 160 pages of documents before we found the covenants for our area.

The covenants were very specific. House could be no smaller than 600 square feet. Houses could be no more than one story. Garages could only hold two cars. No signs could be placed in the front yard except for “for sale” signs of specific dimensions. So many rules! Near the bottom of the page of the covenants pertaining to our land, we found the rule that would change our lives.

No temporary dwellings (“no trailers, no tents, no shacks,” the document specified) and no “privies” were allowed on the land, except during the construction of a house. Any house under construction had to be completed within six months. We were not allowed to do what we wanted to do on our land.

When we explained the situation to friends and family, several said, But if there’s nobody out there, can’t you get away with it? Who’s going to complain?

The problem was, we didn’t know who might complain or when. We did not want to pull a camper or a bus out there and then have to move it a month or six months or a year later. We did not want to live our lives wondering if today would be the day the sheriff showed up to kick us off our land. We were looking for stability, not uncertainty.

(Before we left town, The Man met a fellow who’d parked an RV on his own piece of property. After living there for three years, someone from the county showed up and told him he was in violation. He couldn’t get the trailer off the land within the allotted time, so he ended up spending eight nights in jail. When he got out of jail, he had to scrap the RV because he couldn’t afford to park it anywhere else.)

We were devastated. We felt as if our new life had been ripped away from us. Even if we wanted to build a house, there was no way we could afford to complete a 600 square foot dwelling within six months. We’d need permits and materials. We’d have to dig a well. We’d have to put in a septic system. We’d have to pay to have electrical lines run out to land.

What are we going to do? we asked each other.

The Man insisted we had to call the woman we’d bought the land from and let her know the situation in hopes of getting our money back. My Southern upbringing had me cringing at the idea, but The Man insisted. You call her, I told him, so he did.

As soon as The Man explained the situation, she offered to return our money. I have your money right here, she said. I haven’t spent any of it yet.

Getting the money back was a relief, but we still didn’t know where we were going to live.

The Man’s sister suggested we find a piece of property that wasn’t part of a subdivision. Maybe we could do what we wanted to do on a piece of unrestricted land.

The sister (who is a wizard at finding things online), quickly found ads for land for sale in our area. She gave The Man a phone number to call. He ended up having a long conversation with a realtor who shared some very interesting information.The county has a human population of 24,078 and over 90,000 subdivision lots. Most of those lots (90%, I would guess)  are empty. The Chihuahuan Desert is not for everyone, the realtor said when The Man asked why so few people are living on the land they own in these subdivisions.

The realtor then told The Man that an ordinance that applies to all property in the county limits the time an RV can park on undeveloped land to 30 days out of a year. If land is developed with electricity and septic, an RV can park on it less than 300 days a year. (The number of days was around 250, but I don’t remember the particulars.) When The Man asked why the county would not let people live in an RV on their own land year round, the realtor said county officials think such living arrangements would be bad for the economy.

At that point, we gave up on the whole county. We decided to each buy a New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass and stay in state parks in the southern part of the state until it was warm enough to go to Northern New Mexico where local government believes letting people live simply on their own land is good for the economy.

The land as we left it, after The Man had cleared an area for the tent and our vans.

On Wednesday I’ll share with you what I learned from this land-buying fiasco so you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did.

I took the first two photos in this post. The Man took the last one.

Why I’m Glad I Don’t Live in a Tent

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When I think back to the days when I was living in a tent (with the man who was my partner then), it seems as if we lived that way for a long time. However, when I do the calculations, I realize we only lived in that tent (the cheapest two-person tent Wal-Mart had) for a few months. Oh how the imagination stretches the unpleasant! I don’t want to go back to those days (for a lot of reasons), and I hope I never have to live in a tent again.

THE SET UP AND THE BREAKDOWM OF THE TENT WAS A PAIN IN THE ASS

Even after I’d grown accustomed to setting up the tent, it was never easy. It was always difficult to thread the poles through the pockets on the roof and sides. It was always difficult to poke the ends of the poles into the pockets on the ground. Every piece of the tent puzzle had to be in the right place at the right moment to make the whole thing work.

Taking it apart was easier, but it was such a struggle to get the tent folded correctly and small enough to get it into the carrying bag.

Setting up and breaking down the tent took time and energy. Neither was a fast process, even after I knew what I was doing. At the end of a long day, setting up the tent was the last thing I wanted to do. And forget about a quick get-away in the morning.

In my van, whenever I decide to park for the night, I can crawl into bed moments after I pull the key out of the ignition. In the morning, if I’ve taken nothing out of the van, I’m ready to go as soon as I get dressed and put on my shoes.

HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO BE STEALTH IN A TENT IN A CITY?

I’m sure some people figure out how to be stealth in a tent in a populated area, especially if there’s a park with a woodsy area or a woodsy area on the edge of town. I only pulled off staying in a tent in a city once, with the help of some street kids who shared their camping squat on some undeveloped land quite a walk from the city center.

It’s easier to be stealth in my van, especially if I get into bed as soon as I park and don’t turn on any lights. A van will blend in with other parked cars, but outside of the woods, a tent is going to stand out.

THE TENT DIDN’T OFFER MUCH POROTECTION FROM THE COLD
Yes, sleeping in the tent kept me warmer than sleeping outside without a tent but warmer is not the same as comfortable. Most of the tent sleeping I did was in late spring and early summer. If the night were cold (and some of them were), I was cold in the tent.

Sleeping on the cold ground seemed to suck the heat out of me. Someone once told me that if one’s kidneys get cold, one’s blood gets cold, and then one has cold blood circulating throughout one’s body. Cold ground = cold kidneys = cold body. I suppose a good sleeping bag or an air mattress would have helped, but I had neither.

Unless the temperature dips into the 20s, I stay warm in my van. I have plenty of blankets and a propane heater I can turn on if I need to. A van is better insulated than a cheap Wal-Mart tent, so it stays warmer. My bed is raised, so I’m not losing my heat to the van’s cold metal floor.

THE TENT DIDN’T OFFER MUCH PROTECTION FROM THE RAIN EITHER

The Southeast in the springtime can see a lot of rain. The spring I was living in the tent saw a lot of rain. The tent was wet a lot. The seams started to leak. Water seeped in at the bottom edges. All of the stuff in the tent had to be piled in the middle to try to keep it dry. (Did I mention my partner and I had no motor vehicle, so there was nowhere to store our stuff other than the tent?) Sleeping bags and blankets got wet. There was nowhere to put our wet clothes to dry. It was a miserable time.

Fortunately, my van doesn’t leak. (I paused my writing to knock on wood.) The rain can come down (and down and down and down), and I stay dry. My stuff stays dry too. I can drape wet clothes around the van, and they’ll dry out eventually. My van is good protection from the elements.

THE GROUND TENDS TO BE BUMPY AND NOT REALLY FLAT

Outside of a campground (and sometimes in one too), it can be really difficult to find a clear, flat piece of earth on which to pitch a tent. If you’ve ever slept in a tent on an incline, you know it’s not really sleeping, as you’re fighting all night to hold your position and not end up pressed against the wall of the tent at the bottom of the slope. It’s also not easy to find a piece of ground that’s not littered with (sometimes seemingly invisible) rocks and sticks. You may not see rocks and sticks, but you’ll certainly feel them as soon as you lie down. If you’re in an area with a lot of trees, it may be impossible to get away from roots. Again, an air mattress or a good sleeping pad might help make sleeping on the ground more comfortable, but that’s a lot of stuff to haul around, especially if you’re carrying everything you own on your back.

In my van, I carry my comfy bed with me. I sleep on top of two layers of memory foam. This bed is more comfortable than several of the “real” beds I’ve slept on in houses. I never sleep on top of lumps and bumps. Sometimes, however, if I’m not careful about where I park, I do end up on an incline and wake up in the night in a scrunched-up woman heap with my head off the pillow and my feet pressed against the wall. Even when I wake up and realize I’ve made this sort of poor parking decision, it’s still better than sleeping on the cold, hard ground.

THERE WAS NEVER ENOUGH ROOM IN THE TENT

Two person tent + two people + two people’s stuff = never enough room

Neither of us could stand up in the tent. I often felt claustrophobic. It was not comfortable to have a friend hang out in the tent with us.

While I wouldn’t say my van is spacious, it is roomer than the tent. My van has a high top, so I can stand up. If I needed to, I could get two or three other people in the van with me for a short period of time. One person could probably spend a night on the van’s floor. There’s room for me to set up my stove so I can cook in the van if I need to, and there’s room to operate my Mr. Buddy heater safely.

THE TENT OFFERED ONLY MINIMAL PRIVACY

Sure, the tent kept people from seeing us naked, but that’s about it. Unless we whispered, anyone nearby could hear what we were saying. I suspect everyone probably knew when my partner and I were having sex too. If my partner and I were both in the tent, we had no privacy from each other.

Once I pull the curtains in my van, I feel I have a high degree of privacy. Oh sure, if this van’s a rockin’ is a real phenomenon, but at least no one’s going to hear every moan and sigh. If I were traveling with someone in my van, one of us could sit in the bed or in one of the front seats with the front or back curtain pulled while the other was in the main part of the van, and we wouldn’t have to look at each other.

THE TENT OFFERED LITTLE SECURITY

Are there tents that lock? I’ve never seen one. Anyone could unzip the tent flap, reach in, and grab whatever they wanted. I guess in campgrounds folks stash their valuables in their locked cars, but when one is carrying everything one owns, there is no place to lock anything away.

Tents offer even less security for my physical self. Is a tent going to stop a bear? No. Is a tent going to stop a murder or a rapist? No. (Not that I dwell on murderers or rapists, but the thought occurs to me.)

I feel very secure in my van. I can lock the doors when I leave and when I’m inside. As my dad says, a lock is to keep an honest man (or woman, Dad) honest. If someone with tools and know-how wanted to break into my van, it would probably be fairly easy. But I do feel like my stuff and I are safe when the doors are locked. (I paused to knock wood again.) While a bear might be able to peel off a door, at least a person with bad intentions is not going to be able to rip open the van’s metal roof.

Of course, I realize a different tent would have solved some of the problems I’ve outlined. A bigger tent could have helped with my space and privacy issues. A three-season tent would have kept me warmer. A better-made tent might not have leaked. A tent with a better design may have gone up and down more easily. But I don’t know how to solve stealth and security issues with a tent.

In any case, I’m so, so grateful for my van. It keeps me safe, dry, warm, and comfortable. (I’m knocking wood again.) I wouldn’t trade it for a six-person, three-season, easy-up, well-made tent with a lock and a top-of-the-line air mattress.

To read another story about tent living, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/06/23/hierarchy-homelessness/.