Monthly Archives: August 2018

Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide

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It was early in the season, before any of the campgrounds on our side of the mountain opened. The Man and I were already at work preparing campgrounds and making sure no one walked off with any yurt components.

Although it was officially my day off, I’d told The Big Boss Man I’d empty the iron ranger in the parking lot and make sure the restrooms there had toilet paper on my way to babysit the yurts at night. Babysitting the yurts simply meant sleeping in my van in the campground where they were located, and dropping off toilet paper and emptying the iron ranger only took a few minutes, so I didn’t mind helping out.

I’d been cleaning up an unfortunate honey spill in the big food tub in my van, so I got a late start heading to the parking lot. It was about 6:30 in the evening when I got there, and while it wasn’t dark, the sun was no longer shining brightly on the mountain.

I stopped at the restroom first and found there was still toilet paper on the holders. The rolls were less than half full, but I figured few people would be arriving so late in the day and the tissue would last through the night. I decided I’d stop at the parking lot again in the morning to make sure everything was ok, and I’d put out new rolls then.

As I drove around the road that looped through the parking area, I saw a full-blown campfire in one of the picnic areas. I pulled my van over and got out to talk to the two young men standing near the fire. They looked hella nervous as I approached.

Hello! I said. Are y’all just hanging out?

They planned to camp here, the one with the long hair admitted. He had a strong French accent, but spoke English well.

I explained they were in a day use area where camping was not allowed.

They said the woman at the Forest Service office had said they could camp at the campground next door. They seemed hopeful about the possibility of camping there.

No, I’m sorry, I told them. All the campgrounds around here are closed.

(I obviously don’t know what the lady at the Forest Service office told them, but it seems a little strange that a Forest Service employee would say they could camp in a facility not scheduled to open for over two weeks.)

I told the young men about nearby dispersed camping areas and then told them the fire had to be completely out when they left. Do y’all have water? I asked.

Oh yes, the one with the long hair said while the one with glasses pointed to a half-full one-gallon container sitting next to the fire. I was thinking a half gallon of water wasn’t going to put out a campfire when the one with long hair said they had three such containers. I figured at least two of them must be full and 2½ gallons of water could put the fire out if they were smart about how they used it.

I didn’t really like the idea of them having the fire in the parking area, but I didn’t think there was a rule against it. They said they had a fire permit, and having a fire in the parking area didn’t seem all that different from having a fire in a dispersed camping area. I stressed again the need to put the fire completely out before they left, and they assured me they would. I walked over to the iron ranger.

As I sat on the ground unlocking the padlock hidden within the iron ranger, a car pulled into the parking lot, ignored the yellow arrow on the road pointing in the opposite direction, and drove the wrong way to a parking space. A very young couple emerged from the car and began to walk toward the trail. I was standing by then, a pile of self-pay envelopes in my hand. I greeted the couple, and I guessed from the fellow’s accent when he responded to me that they were not Americans.

You can put your $5 access fee in a self-pay envelope, I said, gesturing to the empty self-pay envelopes in the holder, and drop the envelope into the iron ranger. At that point in my monologue, I gestured to the iron ranger.

The fellow and the woman both looked uncomfortable. Maybe they didn’t have $5. If they had told me they had no money, I would have told them no problem and invited them to enjoy the trail. Instead the fellow said they would be there one minute to make a picture.

I’m getting ready to leave, I told them. Let your conscience be your guide.

They both looked hella guilty and uncomfortable, but they moved toward the trail without taking an envelope, much less putting $5 in one and dropping it into the iron ranger. I got in van and left. I’d done all I could to get a payment out of them.

 

10 Things to Consider Before Adding a Dog to Your Van Life

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Last week I wrote about living my van life with dogs. Today I’ll share 10 things I think vandwellers should consider before bringing a dog into their van life or deciding to move into a van with a dog they already have.

animal, dalmatian, dog#1 Breed     Some breeds have a bad reputation because they are perceived as aggressive and are not welcome in certain campgrounds. Some breeds tend to develop specific physical ailments. Be prepared to deal with a breed’s special needs before you bring a dog of that breed into your life or decide to take it on the road.

#2 Size     Big dogs eat more, take up more space, and tend to need more exercise. It may also be more difficult to restrain a big dog or carry it if it’s sick or injured. Be sure your physical abilities match what you may be required to do for a big dog. Be sure you have the space for a big dog in your rig.

Small dogs are still dogs, not toys. Little dogs still need exercise, vet visits, and healthy food. Small dogs still need to socialize with other dogs, so be sure you have a plan for how your little dog will be able to play with other canines.

#3 Demeanor     Of course, individual dogs have different personalities. I’ve met sweet and mellow pit bulls and mean-as-hell miniature dashounds. If you’re considering adopting a dog, try to get a feel for its demeanor before you make a commitment. If I were getting a dog, I’d want an easy-going dog that wasn’t overly nervous, scared, aggressive, or headstrong and was smart enough to train without too much struggle. Chihuahua Lying on White Textile

If you’re thinking of adopting a stray, consider the phenomenon a woman I know with decades of dog rescue experience calls “better is badder.” This catchphrase just means that sometimes a dog that’s hungry and thirsty and perhaps has parasites or other health problems may seem calm and low-key, but it’s really just not feeling well. Once the dog is healthier (“better”), it’s not exactly that the dog is bad, but it may be more energetic and mischievous than it first seemed.

If you’re thinking about moving a dog you already have into van life, consider its personality. Is the dog too nervous or excited to live in a van? Does it have more energy than a van can contain? How does it feel about riding in a moving vehicle? Does it thrive under a strict routine? Truly consider what’s best for the dog before you uproot it into van life.

#4 Activity level     If you’re still working, how is a dog going to deal with being cooped up all day in your van? A highly active dog may be able to handle spending many consecutive hours in the van if you play with it strenuously before and after work, but a less active dog may be better suited to van life.

#5 Cost     Can you afford a dog? Some of the costs you will incur when you are responsible for a dog include food, treats, leash, harness, collar, poop bags, nametag, toys, food and water bowls, registration, vaccinations, heart worm tests and preventative, flea and tick preventative,  and emergency vet services.

Some of these items you may be able to get cheap (bowls and toys) or improvise (poop bags), but you shouldn’t skimp on nutritious food or health care.

#6 Vet visits     Road dogs still need to see the vet for routine health care, vaccinations, and medical emergencies. When and where will your traveling companion see the vet? Can you afford vet visits? Can you afford emergency vet care if your dog gets injured or sick? Can you take care of vet visits at your home base, or will you have to find vets on the road?adorable, animal, animal portrait

In her wonderful guest post on living on the road with a cat, Devan Winters of XsyntrikNomad makes suggestions about pet health care that applies to dogs too.

…on the road…you [can] use a nationwide veterinary chain like Banfield (inside most PetSmart stores)…

Banfield even offers pet insurance to cover some care, if you can afford (and want to pay) the monthly expense. There is also a line of credit called Care Credit you can take out specifically for veterinary costs.

Beware: I once had a heartworm test done on a dog in Kentucky and was assured that when the heartworm preventative ran out, we could get more at any veterinary clinic. Surprise! No vet in whatever state we were in at the time would prescribe the preventative without doing (and charging for) another test for heartworms. My advice to folks who travel vet to vet is to get a year’s supply of whatever preventative your dog needs whenever possible.

Also, be aware that veterinarians follow different laws in different states.

adorable, animal photography, canine#7 Spay and Neuter     If you’re getting a puppy, where will you get it spayed or neutered? Sometimes the adoption fee includes spaying or neutering the animal when the time comes, but will you be in the appropriate place at the appropriate time? Will you be able to afford to have your dog spayed or neutered? Will you be able to give your dog the post-op care it needs?

What if you decide not to get your dog spayed or neutered? Will you be able to deal with the inconvenience of your female dog being in heat in the small space of your rig? What will you do if your female dog gets pregnant? Are you willing to deal with the aggression of an intact male dog? In some states, it cost a lot more to register an intact animal. Are you willing and able to pay the added expense?

#8 Stealth     If your goal is to stealth park in cities, how will a dog affect your ability to live that way? A barking dog is not stealthy.  Even though a barking dog in a dark van doesn’t necessarily mean a person’s in there with the dog, it may draw attention you don’t want.

What are you going to do if nature calls your dog in the middle of the night? You probably won’t be able to train it to go in a bucket, and exiting your van with your dog in tow is not stealthy. Even if your dog doesn’t usually need to go out at the night, it could get sick and need to go at unusual times.

#9 Sickness     Who’s going to care for your dog if you’re sick or injured and unable to follow the dog’s routine? Is there someone in your life who’s willing to foster your dog until you’re back on your feet? How will you get your dog to the person willing to care for it?

#10 Grooming     Where will you wash the dog? What will you do if the dog gets too dirty to jump into the van animal, cute, dogand you’re not prepared to give it a bath? Perhaps you don’t want a breed that needs to be clipped, or if you do have a fur ball, you can save time and money by learning to clip it yourself. If the dog needs its nails trimmed, will it allow you to do it, or does it need to be sedated for the procedure?

Many pet store chains offer grooming services onsite, so start there if you’re on the road and your dog needs grooming you can’t handle.

I’m not trying to discourage vandwellers from having dog companions. I just want people to consider carefully what dog ownership entails BEFORE taking on responsibility for another living creature.

Blaize Sun has lived in two different vans with two different dogs, so she knows a thing or two about being responsible for another living creature. She is not currently living with a canine companion. Sometimes she sees a cute doggie and experiences a bought of puppy love, but then she thinks about never being able to spend a hot summer day in an air conditioned coffee shop, and she moves on.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-dog-fur-view-36436/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-short-coat-dog-36477/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/adorable-animal-canine-chihuahua-191353/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/adorable-animal-animal-portrait-animal-world-451854/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/playing-hidden-backyard-small-animal-69371/.

Treachery

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It was the morning of the first day of training for my seasonal job. About a dozen of us workers sat in the small conference room of a shabby Best Western, learning the ins and outs of our jobs on the mountain.

We were wrapping up from a short break when The Big Boss Man said for all to hear, Blaize, it’s a picture of your van!

He was looking at his phone, so I thought a visitor had posted on some review site a photo that included my van. The real story was much more complicated than that.

The message my boss received came from the Forest Service. A visitor to the trail had taken a photo of my van in the parking lot and sent the photo with a message to someone in the Forest Service, but whether the message went to some national email address or directly to someone local, I have no idea.

This is the iron ranger The Man and I were accused of robbing.

This is the (paraphrased) story the visitor told in the message to the Forest Service: The visitor was in the parking lot and saw a van pull up to the iron ranger and two people who didn’t look like they belonged there retrieved the money from the iron ranger. The people seemed to be “under the influence.” After taking the envelopes from the iron ranger, the two shady people stayed in the area, probably to hit other locations.

I don’t know what day or time the reported incident occurred. The Man and I had gone together to empty the iron ranger a few times in the six days we’d been on the mountain before we received this report. Depending on what day the visitor saw us empty the iron ranger, the circumstances were slightly different. The Man thinks the incident probably happened the day he opened the ranger and 35 or 40 envelopes fell into his lap, causing him to yell exuberantly to me, Honey! Honey! Get a bag! Get a bag! I think the incident happened the day I emptied the iron ranger, then The Man and I stayed in the area (parking lot, campground, trail, highway) picking up trash. In any case, please allow me to separate the fact from the fiction in the visitor’s tale.

FACT: The company I work for does not provide me with a vehicle to drive between campgrounds, so I drive my van to the parking lot when I go there to retrieve money from the iron ranger. My van sports no decals or magnets with the company logo. So, yes, the visitor did see my hippie van with out-of-state plates in the parking lot. There is no disputing that the van in the photo is indeed my van.

FICTION: Two people who didn’t belong there retrieved the money from the iron ranger.

FACT:  The Man and I very much belonged there. We were on the company payroll, with instructions to empty the iron ranger.

It seems to me that seeing us emptying the iron ranger in broad daylight would have been a clue we belonged there. It seems to me the fact that we had a key to unlock the padlock protecting the money would have been a clue we were authorized to retrieve the envelopes.

FACT: To be fair, we weren’t in regulation uniforms. I had not been issued uniform pants, so I was wearing a uniform shirt, my uniform jacket, and my nametag from last season along with a pair of tan Carhartt-type pants. The Man was wearing a uniform shirt and uniform jacket with grey sweatpants because he was on his way to paint and didn’t want to ruin his uniform pants before the season even began.

So maybe our attire did not scream professional, but if the concerned citizen had spoken to us, even casually, we could have explained who we were and what we were doing there.

FICTION: We were “under the influence” (presumably of some illicit chemical substance).

FACT: We were certainly not under the influence of any illicit chemical substance. I don’t know where the visitor got that idea. Maybe because we were laughing and joking? Maybe the visitor thinks only people who are chemically altered can have a good time at work?

FACT: Yes, we stayed in the area after we emptied the iron ranger. We either went next door to the campground to work there, or we spent the next couple of hours picking up trash.

Honestly, I’m not upset my boss was contacted, although I have to admit I’m a bit miffed about that “under the influence” part. I know The Man and I were doing nothing wrong. However, why can’t people just talk to each other? If the concerned citizen had only spoken to me or The Man, we could have cleared everything up.

 

 

I Saw Something New

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It happened again. Just when I thought I’d seen it all, I saw something new.

It was the beginning of my fourth season on the mountain. The Big Boss Man had asked me and The Man to come up the mountain early to make sure nothing bad happened to the precious yurts in the time between when they were put up and when the hosts of the campground arrived. The Man and I needed money, so The Big Boss Man put us to work immediately. We were preparing campgrounds for campers, collecting access fees at the parking lot on weekends, and picking up the self-pay envelopes stuffed with money visitors were dropping in the iron ranger during the week.

The first weekend we were back, I worked the parking lot on Saturday and Sunday while The Man raked and cleaned fire rings. I was surprised by how busy the parking lot was on both days that weekend. I parked nearly 100 cars on each day, and the season hadn’t even officially started.

With cars came people, and I had a lot of folks to talk with. The most popular question of the weekend was about the most recent fire on the trail. Later in the week when I walked the trail, I saw why people didn’t want to believe they were seeing the aftermath of a prescribed burn. The fire had left a large portion of the downed trees along the trail looking really ugly. It was difficult to believe humans would create such an eyesore on purpose.

The new thing I saw happened on Sunday.

Throughout the weekend, I’d noticed several instances of two young women in a car together, probably on an epic lady road trip. Some of the pairs seemed to be American and some seemed to be European.

On Sunday, a pair of young European women arrived. I could tell they weren’t American because only one (the passenger) spoke while the driver looked past me with a glassy stare of complete lack of comprehension. The talker used choppy sentence with an unusual syntax, but she made herself understood.

I had the young women park right in front, near where I was stationed with my dilapidated chair and my purple backpack. The lot was busy, and it was easier to put them up front rather than send them into the depths of the parking lot and hope they’d find a spot.

It took the women a long time to prepare for their stroll through the trees. I was busy, so I wasn’t watching their every move, but I noticed they didn’t hop out of the car and head immediately towards the trail like most people do.

Finally, I noticed the driver heading across the street. She had her blond hair pulled up into a high ponytail, and she was wearing a close-fitting black jacket and black hiking tights. She managed to appear hip, fit, and sexy all at the same time. Then I noticed her butt, or rather what she had strapped across her butt. It was a thick foam rectangle, the sort of thing a gardener might kneel on to protect the knees from the hard ground. The pad covered both of her butt cheeks; a strap circling her middle held it on.

Of the thousands of visitors I’ve seen cross the road to the trail, this woman was the first I’d ever seen with a cushion strapped to her bottom. I don’t think it was simply a fashion accessory; it seemed too drab and utilitarian to be mere decoration. If the woman had been walking into a sports stadium, I would have guessed the pad was to provide some comfort while sitting on hard seats, but she was going out on a trail. Was she afraid of falling and bruising her tailbone? Maybe. Did she plan to sit for a long time on the cold, hard ground looking up at the trees? Maybe.

I didn’t try to ask her about her butt pad. I don’t know if she would have understood my question or if I would have understood her answer. Besides, if a perspm wants to strap on a butt cushion, it’s not really my place to question her.

 

Road Dogs: Living Nomadically with a Canine Companion

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A topic I’ve seen come up repeatedly on Facebook pages dedicated to vandwelling is that of living on the road with pets. The folks with questions usually fall into two categories. The first group wants to know how they can help animals they already have adjust to life on the road. The second group wants to know if they should get a dog with whom they can travel and share road life.

I’ve traveled with dogs. About a year into full-time vandwelling with the man who was then my boyfriend (let’s call him WHN, short for “What’s His Name), we got a puppy. The Man had six-year-old Jerico when I met him; the three of us traveled together in my van for most of 2017. I think these experiences with dogs on the road qualify me to tell you what you may be able to expect if you decide to bring a dog into your life and rig.

I don’t feel qualified to give advice on how to acclimate a house pet to road life. WHN and I actually got our puppy from traveling kids, so the puppy had been on the road almost his whole life. At six, Jerico was a seasoned road dog when I met him. He’d hitchhiked with The Man and done urban-stealth tent camping with The Man, and lived and traveled with The Man in a small sports car. When the time came, Jerico jumped right into my van and didn’t have to adjust to anything.

What I can tell you is how my life changed when dogs moved into my van.

Before dogs, I did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. If I wanted to sit in a coffee shop for eight or more hours a day, I could. If WHN and I wanted to go to a music festival, we didn’t have to give it a second thought. WHN and I could go to a movie or the grocery store together in the middle of the day if we wanted. Like a couple with no children, we didn’t have to worry about anyone but ourselves.

Then we got the puppy.

Close-up of Black DogWe got the puppy in winter. We were in the Southwest United States, so the winter wasn’t brutal, and we could leave little Bruno in the van while we did other things. He never had an accident and only chewed a couple of things, so we didn’t worry about leaving him in the van until the seasons changed and spring moved into summer. Of course, life got hotter for us all, and leaving Bruno in the van became dangerous.

According to PeTA,

On a 78-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can soar to 100 degrees in just minutes, and on a 90-degree day, the interior temperature can reach as high as 109 degrees in less than 10 minutes.

Animals can sustain brain damage or even die from heatstroke in just 15 minutes. Beating the heat is extra tough for dogs because they can only cool themselves by panting.

I’ve seen several different wannabe or soon-to-be vandwellers ask in Facebook groups how to make a van safe for a dog to stay in it during the daytime in the summer while the person is off doing other things, usually working. I’ve never seen a fully satisfactory answer. There is always a faction up in arms over the idea of a dog being left in a van during the summer who tells the writer of the post how dangerous it is to leave a dog in a vehicle in hot weather.  (The writer of the post knows it’s dangerous to leave a dog in a van in the summer, that’s why s/he is asking how to do it safely.) Another faction gives advice like leave the windows rolled down or install a ceiling vent, but I’ve never seen anyone lay out a step-by-step plan for making a van summer-safe for a dog staying in there alone for several hours at a time.

Last summer The Man and I worked at a campground store in a remote mountain location. We usually went to civilization once a week, sometimes only every two weeks. We had one vehicle (my high-top conversion van) between us so 95% of the time, we went to town together. The Man was sleeping in a tent, and he knew if left to his own devices for six or seven or eight while we were in town, Jerico—a Houdini of a dog—would have escaped from the tent, possibly through a hole of his own creation or via a zipper he busted with his snout. We had no choice but to take Jerico with us.

It was warm on the mountain, but it was scorching down in the valley. As the summer progressed, the temperature soared. Early in the season, we’d leave Jerico in the van with all the windows open and a bowl of water. Jerico takes his job as a guard dog seriously, so we never worried about anyone getting into the van through the open windows to steal anything while he was inside.

By mid-July, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving him alone in the van, even when he crawled under the bed for the coolest, shadiest spot he could find. The Man and I started taking turns going into stores so someone could always keep an eye on Jerico. When it was my turn to stay in the van, I’d usually sit in the driver’s seat holding the door open with my foot and wishing I could crawl into a cool and shady spot.

The following are things you’ll probably never be able to do in the summer if you’re a van or car dweller with a dog: Relax in a cool movie theater during the hottest part of the day. Splash in a public pool or water park. Enjoy the air conditioning in a museum or mall. Sit in a coffee shop sipping iced lattes until the heat lets up after dark.

The other thing you may not be able to do in the summer with a dog in your rig is work. Most employers aren’t going to let you run out to your van every hour or two to make sure your dog has water and hasn’t disabled any cooling system you’ve rigged up.

Often camp host is give as an example of a good job for nomads with dogs. Being a camp host can be a good choice for people with dogs, depending on where the job is located and what the duties are.

The company The Man and I worked for last summer does allow hosts and other workers living on site to have dogs. My boss told me once that because the company is based in California, he is not allowed to ask potential employees if they plan to have a dog with them. However, if a camp host has a dog, the dog still has to be somewhere while the host is working. If it were too hot for a dog to sit in the van, a quiet, nonaggressive one could be tied up outside a restroom while its person was inside cleaning toilets, but if Bruno or Jerico had found himself in such a situation, the barking would have been incessant and woe unto anyone who approached the restrooms while one of these guys considered himself on duty.

If you’re looking for a doggy companion to share your vandwelling life and you think you might want to work as a camp host, consider what traits you want and don’t want the dog to have. If I found myself in such a situation, I’d choose a dog that didn’t bark much and certainly one without the propensity to bite. I’d want an obedient dog that could wait calmly while I completed my tasks. backlit, beach, clouds

The Man was not a camp host last summer. He and I were both clerks in a campground store. We worked the same hours on the same days, so Jerico spent his days in the van. Luckily, we could park the van outside the store where we could see it from the front door, and we had the freedom to check on him throughout the day when we didn’t have customers.

For the first month of the 2018 camping season, The Man worked as a camp host and collected access fees at the parking lot of a very busy trailhead. Jerico mostly stayed in The Man’s minivan while The Man performed his work duties. Most days were not yet hot then, so Jerico was comfortable (although bored) in the minivan with a bowl of water and the windows open.

Boredom is an important factor to consider. Even if you work in a mild climate or you can rig a cooling system in your van so your dog is safe while you’re at work, the dog is still going to be bored. If your dog mostly sleeps all day anyway, it will probably be ok in your van, but if the dog has a lot of energy and likes to run and play all day, what’s going to happen when you stick it in the van during your eight hour shift? Decrease the chances of your dog destroying your precious possessions by picking up any items you don’t want your dog to chew and give it appropriate chew toys to keep it occupied while you are gone. If you have a very energetic dog, make time to take it for a long, vigorous walk or fetch session after work and again in the morning before work in hopes of wearing the dog out so it will sleep while you’re away.

Some folks think if they order a service dog certificate and vest off the internet, they’ll then be able to take their dog wherever they go. I think more and more businesses are catching onto people pulling this trick, and I’ve seen signs (literal paper signs on the doors of businesses) prohibiting people from bringing in dogs that are not trained to perform specific tasks. I think it’s going to get more difficult to pass off a pet as a service animal.

If you want to be a nomad primarily to see the natural beauty of the U.S.A., consider that many National Parks prohibit pets on their trails. When The Man and I visited Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, we had to pay $10 to leave Jerico in an onsite kennel, which was little more than a bunch of wire cages in a storage room. Pets are allowed at the Grand Canyon only the South Rim. If you’re traveling with a dog, you might find yourself relegated to national forests and BLM land.

If you’re more into the music scene, please note that dogs are not allowed at many festivals. (Chochella doesn’t allow non-service animals in the campground. Boneroo also bans pets. Oregon County Fair does not allow pets on site.) After WHN and I got Bruno, we scrutinized the website of any music festival we wanted to attend before we bought tickets. If we didn’t see an announcement specifically stating dogs were welcome, I called and confirmed canine acceptance before we confirmed our tickets. It wasn’t just a matter of I don’t go anywhere my dog isn’t welcome; we didn’t have anywhere to leave him, so if Bruno couldn’t go, neither could we.

Bruno could be a pain in the neck even in places where he was welcome. He was super sweet when he was alone with WHN and me, but in public he barked incessantly at everyone we encountered. He never bit anyone, but we lived in fear of a kid approaching him while we were distracted and getting nipped. I didn’t know how to train him and WHN wasn’t interested in doing any kind of work, so it became easier to just leave Bruno in the van if we were somewhere cool enough. If it wasn’t cool enough to leave hem, one of us stayed with him. Of course, isolating him didn’t solve any of his socialization problems. Dog Looking Away

Every so often, The Man tells me I should get a dog. You’d love it and Jerico needs someone to play with, he says. I keep telling him no. As long as I spend even half a year living in my van, I can’t see trying to fit my life around a dog’s needs. I’d have to give up too much of myself, and the dog would probably suffer too.

Of course, I’m not telling folks not to get a dog or move their dog into a van. I’m just suggesting people think long and hard about how they will meet the dog’s needs, especially the need for a cool place to hang out in the summer. If your life is not complete without your dog and van life isn’t right for your dog, van life may not be right for you.

Blaize Sun has lived in two different vans with two different dogs, so she knows a thing or two about being responsible for another living creature. She is not currently living with a canine companion. Sometimes she sees a cute doggie and experiences a bought of puppy love, but then she thinks about never being able to spend a hot summer day in an air conditioned coffee shop, and she moves on.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photography-of-three-dogs-looking-up-850602/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/adult-short-coated-tri-color-dog-879788/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-of-black-dog-257519/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-short-coated-dog-drinking-water-160740/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-canine-cloudy-container-218825/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/backlit-beach-clouds-dawn-531089/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/tricolor-bernese-mountain-dog-132665/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/dog-looking-away-257570/.

Nearest Bar

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It was around eight o’clock on a Saturday morning. I was performing some camp host duties to help out. The folks on site #1 hadn’t gotten checked in the night before, so I was walking over to have them sign their permit.

A slow-moving car approached me from behind. The only other people on the far side of the campground were the young folks who had sites #6 and #7. One of the young women in the group had come over while I was cooking breakfast to ask me now far the campground was from a body of water. Not much later I heard a car leave site #6. I thought they’d taken off for a day on the river, but now I heard a car behind me that could only belong to part of that group. I figured some of the young folks had gotten a late start and were just leaving now.

When the car pulled up next to me, it stopped.

Excuse me, a feminine voice said, and I turned to look.

Two young women were in the car. Both were looking at me expectantly.

Do you know where’s the nearest bar? the driver asked me

I was stunned. I involuntarily glanced at my watch. It was well before 8:30. I try not to judge, but I’m pretty sure anyone inquiring about the location of a bar before noon while on a camping trip has a problem.

The nearest bar? I echoed slowly.

It turned out these gals did have a problem.

Their friends had left with all the food. These young women thought the friends had gone to a bar to watch a soccer game, since that’s what the friends had done the day before. I suppose these young women wanted to track down the friends and get ingredients for breakfast.

I told them about the small community 15 miles away. There’s a restaurant, bar, and general store there, I said, but added it wasn’t much of a soccer kind of place. It’s under new ownership, I remembered aloud. Maybe they’ll have the soccer game on.

I told them about the larger (although by no means large) town 35 miles away. There’s a brewery there, I told them. Maybe the soccer game will be on there. It was only later that I wondered if the brewery would open at eight on a Saturday morning so customers could watch soccer on television. I suspect a brewery doesn’t serve breakfast and would normally open around 11am for lunch.

Where should we go? the driver asked me.

I didn’t know how to help. I certainly didn’t know where their friends had gone. I ended up suggesting they go to the closer place first. At least they could get breakfast there, The Big Boss Man said later when I related to story to him.

I assume the friends found each other. I was at work at the Mercantile all day, then headed down the mountain to get gasoline and propane and a giant ice cream cone. It was dark when I got back to the campground. People were in the tent on site #7, and they didn’t run over to tell me their friends were missing, so I figured everything must have worked out ok.

(The people in the tent didn’t realize their voices carried in the forest. We’re drunk and you’re high! I heard a feminine voice exclaim clearly. Soon another feminine voice was relating the story of the time she got roofied.  Oh Lord! I thought. They’re going to be up all night, but thankfully they piped down shortly after 10pm.)

There are lessons to be learned from this tale.

#1 Don’t pack all the food in one vehicle.

#2 If all the food is in one vehicle, don’t drive that vehicle out of the campground while your friends are sleeping.

#3 Communicate with friends before bedtime about who’s leaving the next morning, where they’re going, when they’re leaving, and what time they’ll be back.

#4 For goodness sake, don’t schedule a camping trip for the weekend of the most important soccer tournament of the year.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/sport-game-football-the-ball-52504/.

Snoopy the Bear

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This season, the Mercantile is offering many Smokey Bear items for our customers’ souvenir pleasure. We have 1,000 piece Smokey Bear jigsaw puzzles. We have decks of Smokey Bear playing cards. We have Smokey Bear magnets, Smokey Bear wooden postcards, and Smokey Bear wooden gift tags. We have Smokey Bear metal signs and some made out of wood. We have Smokey Bear sanctioned survival kits, whistles, binoculars, and compasses. We have Smokey Bear t-shirts, Smokey Bear coasters, and Smokey Bear plush toys. We have representations of Smokey Bear all over the store, but most are concentrated on the top shelf of a unit directly across from the beverage cooler.

One Sunday morning a large group of people came into the Mercantile. They seemed to be a family group, and English did not seem to be their first language. One little boy was immediately drawn to the main display of Smokey Bear items, but he was a bit confused.

Snoopy the Bear! Snoopy the Bear! he shouted with glee.

His mother was right behind him. I thought she’d explain to him that Snoopy is a dog, and Smokey is a bear, but no. That’s not what happened. Instead of correcting him, the mother agreed with him. Snoopy the Bear! she said in a voice of excitement similar to her son’s. Snoopy the Bear!

Marketing fail—for both the estate of Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, of which Snoopy is a character, and for the USDA Forest Service, which owns the rights to the image of Smokey Bear.

Unfortunately for the Mercantile’s bottom line, the woman did not buy her son a souvenir by any name.

I took the photos in this post.

Creative Nomad (An Interview with Sue Soaring Sun)

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I met Sue Soaring Sun in December of 2014. She’d seen me repeatedly at the coffeeshop in the small Southwest town where we were both wintering and intoduced herself. An hour later when we ran into each other again in the thrift store, she told me about Bob Wells’ Cheap RV Living website. I soon learned about the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and decided to attend. I guess you could call Sue my rubber tramp fairy godmother because she introduced me to vandwelling as a way of life and not just something I had to do because I had few options.

Sue is also my Sun sisiter, a fellow artist and blogger, a writer of fabulous letters, and a dear friend. She is the proprieter of Sun Gallery at 407-1/2 N Broadway in Truth or Consequences, NM. Sun Gallery is a folk art and antiques gallery which features Sue’s paintings, collages, and mosaic work.

We were in different states when I started this interview series, so I sent her questions via email. Today you’re in for a treat because you get to read her answers.

You’re not a vandweller, but you do live nomadically. How long have you been on the road?
I’ve been living and traveling in an RV more often than not since February 14, 2011.

What sort of rig do you live and travel in?
I have had Brownie, a 1984 20-foot Lazy Daze mini-motorhome, for about 14 months.

I know you’ve had other rigs.  What were they and why did you decide against them?
I’ve had a couple of Toyota Dolphin 22-foot mini-motorhomes, and they were great for when I travel solo, which is most of the time. Sometimes, though, I travel with my boyfriend, and I wanted something that would work for two. We tried a Class A for a while, but found it was way too much for either of us to want to drive, so we parked it and used it as a part-time urban home base. Last year I found the Lazy Daze which has a lot more power and is about a foot taller and wider than the Dolphin coach. Even though it’s shorter, it’s a bit more spacious. Now I’m selling the Class A. I no longer want to use it as a home base. I have an art gallery that serves that function. So I’m staying in the Lazy Daze all the time, except for if I happen to housesit or stay in a vacation rental.

What are your three favorite things about your current rig?  What would you change about it if you could?

This is how Sue has been decorating the inside of her rig to make Brownie less brown. She gave me permission to use this photo of hers.


*I love the big back windows, and my floorplan has the dinette right there. I can back up to a beautiful lake or river or other view and watch birds and other wildlife from the comfort of my table, drinking coffee and wearing my cozy slippers.

*It has more power and feels more solid than my past mini-mohos. I can pass other vehicles if necessary.

*It is very cool looking. Shagalicious, baby.

What I’d change…it is very brown inside, hence the name Brownie. I am slowly replacing brownness with color and creativity. Also, Brownie takes a lot of gas. I have to budget more carefully than I used to.

I took this photo of the RTArt Camp banner that Sue and I painted together.

How does living nomadically enhance your life as an artist?
Whoo-boy! Living nomadically goes hand-in-hand with my creativity. I’m sure when I’m old and can no longer travel, I will still make art. But so much of what I do now is inspired by what I see and the experiences I have along the road. Traveling has brought me in touch with so many other artists, and now, since the first RTArt Camp at this year’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR), we have even started an intentional community for nomadic artists. Imagine that! I could not have predicted all that would come out of a simple idea of wanting to do art with other people while at the RTR. When I spend time camping with other artists, I am inspired. After our recent Rubber Tramp Art Community gathering, I stopped at a beautiful free boondocking site and spent five days doing nothing but paint, eat and sleep.

Does living nomadically make your life more challenging in any ways?
Yes. I have struggled in my new rig to deal with temperature extremes. This summer, I found myself unexpectedly staying in Truth or Consequences, NM, and I could not find any good way to keep my cat and myself cool in the RV. Fortunately, a friend who goes away for the summer let me stay at her house. Next summer, I will probably seek a higher elevation, as I had wanted to this year. I gradually solved my problems with cold last winter, but it took a while.

Also, it can be very inconvenient and expensive when I have to go stay somewhere else if my rig is in the shop.

Do you mostly boondock on free public land?
Yes.  I also stay behind my art gallery, in a parking lot. I can hook up to electricity there.

I took this photo of this free riverfront boondocking area where Sue and I camped together.

Under what circumstances do you pay for a campsite?
I sometimes pay for a campsite or an RV park site when I have a lot of things I’d like to get done…shower, laundry, dumping the tanks, etc.  I’ve also stayed at campgrounds when my boyfriend and I are traveling together in parts of the country where you usually need reservations, such as our recent trip to Florida. And occasionally I have friends who want to go stay at a campground, and I tag along for the fun.

Do you do much stealth parking in cities?
My Lazy Daze is built on a Chevy G30 van chassis, but it doesn’t look like a van! It’s built out into a motorhome. So no, I can’t get away with it.

Do you travel with everything you own?
No.  I rent commercial space that I use as an art gallery and studio. I keep most of my art supplies there, as well as off-season clothing and things that I only use occasionally.

Sonja Begonia in Brownie’s big back window. Photo used with Sue’s permission.

You share your rig with a cat companion. Has she been on the road with you her whole life?  If not, how did you help her transition to life on the road?
Sonja Begonia was about a year old when I got her in 2008, and I went on the road in 2011. She also has some attitude, so I could not get her leash-trained before starting to travel, as I’d hoped, nor since. At first, for her own safety, I had to keep her in a kennel while traveling because otherwise she would try to get out of the RV when we stopped, and many stops are not a safe place for a pet to get out. Now I just start the engine and she gets in her co-pilot seat.

What’s the best part of living nomadically?
I love driving six miles from my art gallery and boondocking on the bank of the Rio Grande. Or, when I’m on the road, finding an unexpected fantastic view. It’s being free to change my scenery, and to be immersed in it. I keep my gallery open very part-timey and give myself lots of time to travel and create.

Do you miss anything about living in a sticks-n-bricks?
Gardening. I like centering myself by digging in dirt. So, at my gallery, for one or two months out of the year, I create fairy gardens for sale. I am also going to get myself a dashboard/cab plant once the 100+ degree weather has passed this summer.

I don’t miss any other thing, not one. I get to experience sticks-n-bricks living occasionally, and it always confirms for me that I prefer to live nomadically.

Pothole Point Trail

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Pothole Point in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park was the first trail The Lady of the House and I hiked on our epic road trip in Arizona and Utah. At just .6 mile, it was a good way to start.

Pothole Point Trail is named for the indentions in the rock which are known as “potholes.” After a rain, each pothole is an ecosystem of various snails, beetles, worms, and shrimp which have hatched from eggs or emerged from dormancy.  Each ecosystem is fragile, and visitors are encouraged to keep hands and feet out of the potholes. Even when the indentions are dry, eggs may be lingering in them, waiting for a rain so they can hatch. Other creatures may also be in the potholes, also waiting for rain to move into the next phase of their lifecycle. A hand or especially a foot in a pothole could crush delicate life.

We were lucky to see these potholes filled with water.

The Lady and I were really lucky; all the rain the night before had filled the potholes. We were both excited to see the potholes filled with water; they really stood out when wet.

The hike was mostly across bare rock. The trail was marked by cairns (pronunced \ ˈkern \) because there was no visible path of well-worn dirt or trampled vegetation as one might see in a forest or desert. All we could do to navigate was follow small piles of rocks. It was my first hike with only cairns to guide me.

A cairn marking the trail.

Visitors are asked not to build cairns of their own because too many cairns or cairns built in the wrong places can be confusing to hikers. Unfortunately there were many unofficial cairns along the trail. Fortunately, The Lady was really good at navigating and kept us on the trail. Had I been alone, I might still be wandering around from one pile of stones to another, never finding the way back to my van.

Not only does the trail take hikers across bare sandstone, there’s very little shade along the way. I was glad for my big hat and glad we were hiking on a spring morning. I would not have enjoyed this hike nearly as much had I been doing it at midday in the summer.

The Lady and I took frequent water breaks, thanks to her reminders.

The trail wasn’t crowded, probably because our visit occurred before the high tourist season of Memorial Day to Labor Day. I absolutely encourage anyone who can manage it to do their exploring of any tourist attraction during the off-season.

Pothole Point Trail is a loop, and I was glad to see my van when we circled back around. I enjoyed the scenery and the company, but I was glad to get out of the sun and take a little break while driving us to the second hike on our itinerary. Next stop: Cave Spring Trail.

Some of the scenery we saw while hiking Pothole Point Trail.

I took the photos in thie post.

Really?

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The Lady of the House and I arrived at the visitor center at the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park early in the day. We may have been the first visitors in after the doors were unlocked.

Two people were working at the information desk/checkout counter that morning, a young man with a beard and an older woman with straight grey hair. They talked to each other as The Lady and I looked at the souvenirs in the corner of the building that served as a gift shop.

We hadn’t been in the building long when another visitor came inside. I didn’t pay her much mind, but from what I saw out of the corner of my eye, she was old enough to be my mother and well-dressed. She made a beeline to the counter where the Park Service employees stood.

I have a question, she told them, but I’m going to wait until my husband gets in here.

I don’t know why she even started talking before her husband made his entrance. I guess she was excited.

The husband walked in within minutes and the question turned out to concern the Elephant Hill Road.

The couple had a rented four-wheel-drive vehicle, and they wanted to take it exploring on Elephant Hill Road.

According to information about Needles District trails and roads issued by Canyonlands National Park,

One of the most technical four-wheel-drive roads in Utah, Elephant Hill presents drivers with steep grades, loose rock, stair-step drops, tight turns and backing. Over the hill, equally challenging roads lead to various campsites and trailheads…

It would be ok to drive their rented vehicle there, wouldn’t it, the visitor woman asked confidentally.

I don’t recommend it, the Park Service employee with the straight grey hair said gravely.

Really? The tourist woman asked in a tone of voice that made it plain she couldn’t believe her plan to drive on Elephant Hill Road was being thwarted. It was obvious she thought the Park Service worker was wrong.

Does your vehicle have a wench? the Park Service employee asked the couple. Do you have the capability to self-rescue?

Oh no, the husband said. Nothing like that.

I don’t recommend it, the worker repeated. If you get stuck, the Park Service won’t tow you out, and you’ll have to pay $2,500 for a towing company to get you out.

The Park Service employee asked them what they hoped to see, then helped them decide to go partway down Elephant Hill Road, but turn around before the road became too rugged for their vehicle.

(Let me say here, every employee I’ve encountered doing his or her job at any of the National Parks I’ve visited has been absolutely friendly and helpful, even when a visitor has been asking for something ridiculous or impossible. Without exception, the employees of National Parks I’ve seen interacting with the public have been professional to a degree I find awe inspiring. I consider folks who work for the National Parks in a class above all service industry employees, save perhaps for those employed in some capacity by Mickey Mouse. )

When we got back in the van, I asked The Lady if she’d heard that tourist woman get thwarted.

Oh yeah, The Lady said. She seemed so sure of herself.

The Lady and I made up the following story about the tourist couple: The woman had her heart set on driving Elephant Hill Road and was trying to convince her husband that the vehicle they had rented could handle it. The husband was skeptical.

Fine! We could image the woman saying, We’ll ask at the visitor center.

The way she said, Really? made it clear she hadn’t expected to be told no.

The way she said, Really? made me think she hears the word “no” on a highly infrequent basis.

I took these photos in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.