I attended the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and (very briefly) in 2019. Every year I was there, I met new people and leaned new things and was glad to have gone. Every year I posted a report of my experiences at the gathering. Unfortunately, in 2020 health and financial concerns kept me from attending the RTR.
I wanted my readers to know what had happened at this year’s RTR so I asked in a few van groups I’m in on Facebook if anyone would like to write a report about their experiences at the 2020 RTR. I got a couple of volunteers, and I’ll be sharing their guest posts in the upcoming weeks.
Today’s report is by Mary Ellen Telesha. I’m very grateful for her willingness to share the following perspective on this year’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.
Is the RTR dead?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this come up on social media before, during, and after this remarkable nomadic event.
I’m here to reassure you, it’s not.
What is the RTR you ask?
Click here, for detailed information, but here’s the short version–RTR stands for Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, an annual 10 day gathering of nomads out in the Arizona desert, founded by Bob Wells of Cheap RV Living.
The RTR, preceded by the Women’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (WRTR), just wrapped up its 10th annual gathering in January 2020 under balmy and beautiful Arizona skies.
In previous years the RTR/WRTRs were held out in the vast Sonoran desert, where we gathered to create an enormous temporary community. The estimate of attendees for 2019 was upwards of 10,000 participants, with free onsite camping spreading out for miles around the central presentation area. This huge number speaks to the growing phenomenon of nomadic living, and the success of the community Bob Wells has worked so hard to create.
Unfortunately, this year’s RTR was a drastic deviation from the RTRs of the past. The Bureau of Land Management, the governmental agency that manages public land out West, refused to allow another massive RTR event without a significant monetary commitment, no doubt following the precedent of Burning Man, an enormous gathering in the Nevada Desert (not related to the RTR).
In his wrap-up video of the 2020 RTR, Bob shared with his viewers that the BLM was asking anywhere from $100,000 to $600,000 to hold the event on public land this year. As he is devoted to keeping the event free, Bob was forced to come up with an alternative plan.
So, the RTR was moved to the La Paz County Fairgrounds just outside of Parker Arizona, where all of the seminars took place. As there was no camping allowed on the Fairgrounds, (except for staff and full-time volunteers), the droves of nomads pouring into the area for the RTR spread out to camp in the surrounding Quartzsite, Parker, and California BLM areas.
Of course, this change became a perfect opportunity for the usual naysayers to announce that the RTR is dead.
Now, I’m not a nomad newbie.
This year was my 3rd WRTR, and my second RTR.
I’ll be on the road full-time for 3 years this spring, and I’ve pretty much got my routine down.That’s not to say I’m done learning, but I don’t attend the RTR just for the education.
The nomadic lifestyle is intriguing, attracting a unique variety of humans from all walks of life. We come in cars, tents, vans, trucks, and RVs. We nomads are as varied as our rigs, yet when we get together we’re bound by the common experience of life on the road, and the stories that got us there.
I’m especially inspired every year by women who face their fears, throw their belongings into a vehicle, and drive thousands of miles for the first time, often solo, to learn and meet their fellow nomads.
Every interaction at the WRTR and RTR either inspired or educated me in some way, like the woman giving out little emergency whistles to everyone who crossed her path. What a perfect way to start conversations about safety and awareness on the road!
I was a volunteer this year, working behind the scenes as an assistant to the scheduling committee, and I’ll tell you what, the way the WRTR/RTR event came together out of hundreds of hours of volunteer work, and formidable chaos, was nothing short of amazing.
I was also a volunteer at the “Information and Sticker Booth” on the first day of the WRTR. The energy was high, with old-timers and newbies alike thrilled to have finally made it!
Even with the added driving this year to get to the seminars at the Fairgrounds, I made it to quite a few presentations.
One of my favorites was Mary Shafer’s severe weather presentation, (find her at WildHeartWanders.com). She taught us how to predict where a tornado is headed (hint: if it looks like it’s not moving but just getting bigger it’s headed right for you) and how to identify specific cloud formations that might impact travel. She also taught a jam-packed hour on weather apps for your phone.
I experienced Gong meditation for my third year with Harmonic Immersion – A Meditation and Sound Experience, by Gong Gypsy Michelle Angel of the Gong Temple.
One of the most moving presentations on the main stage was a discussion of depression and anxiety on the road, with a very personal sharing by Bob Wells and Joanne Shortell of the NomadChapter.org.
There was a panel discussion “Allies For Safety,” which covered the importance of nomads having each other’s backs, specifically addressing how men can be allies for women in the nomadic lifestyle.
I totally enjoyed the seminar “One Pot Cooking, No Junk” by Dr. Dorothy Adamiak ND and her husband Andy, and I’ll be buying their cookbook, 69 Pleasures, for healthy and easy-to-cook meals on the road. Healthy Ricotta cheese sauce? Oh yes!
There was even a talent show!
Although there are too many too list here, there were hundreds of free seminars, including solar experts, budgeting, making money on the road, internet service, workcamping, stealth camping, vehicle maintenance, pets on the road, and even aura reading. The seminars on the main stage were recorded, and will eventually be shared with the public on Bob Well’s Youtube channel
So when the naysayers start throwing the BS, which they always do, I know they just don’t get it. Before the gates to the Fairgrounds were even closed I saw complaints on Youtube and other social medial outlets — about incompetent, bossy volunteers; that the RTR was dead; and all the usual BS about Bob Wells ripping us off. How anyone can believe that is beyond me. This is the first year he and his co-founder Suanne Carlson haven’t had to take money out of their own pockets to cover costs.
It’s been said that it’s easier to criticize than to organize.
Amen to that.
Mary Ellen Telesha is a nomad and author, currently traveling around the U.S. in a simply converted Chevy Uplander mini-van. She’s also a Martha Beck Life Coach, and a Reiki Master who has written two books, Wild Women On The Road: A Women’s Guide To Nomadic Freedom In The Modern Age, and the second with a more humorous take, Top Ten Lists For Nomads: The (Mostly) Lighter Side Of Nomadic Life. For more of her journey, find her at Cosmic Gypsy Nomad Life on Facebook and Instagram.
Photos were provided by the author.
IMO the RTR died when Bob started talking about it on youtube instead of on the forum. Then abandoned the forum, leaving it broken for months. Oh, and forbade men to have a MRTR under that name at the RTR.
His feelz > realz approach works fine in small groups (or cults). It doesn’t scale well.
Thanks for sharing what you think, Frater Jason.
I didn’t realize Bob Wells said men couldn’t use the RTR name to have a men’s rendezvous. I wonder what his reasoning was.
Yes, anything shared on YouTube is going to be seen by the masses. Any free event known about by the masses is going to draw a lot of people. Not a surprise to me!
Abandoned. Forbade. Broken. Cults. Strong words with heavy emotional charges. Opinions are great, everyone has one, but as always, I’ll ask for specific examples, screenshots, references, direct experience.
I started a reply 2x, and accidentally closed the tab both times, losing the work. Yay,
Luckily I’d made a copy of an earlier version so part is preserved. I’m not going to finish writing it the third time. I’ll post that snapshot on my own blog
BTW, it’s quite possible we are just holding two different ends of the same stick. You describe your blog as more inspirational than practical, and I would say mine’s the opposite. So push us together and maybe we make one rounded vandweller. 🙂
Cheers, and I hope to share a campfire with you all someday.
Thanks for replying to Mary Ellen’s comment, Frater Jason and giving us more insight into your thoughts about the RTR.I like that my blog is a place where folks can share ideas.
Hello Frater Jason! I do appreciate the intelligent and thoughtful exchange of ideas, thank you!
You can find me as coachontheroad on the CRVL forum. I wanted to change it to cosmic gypsy nomad life but alas, once you pick a name, it’s permanent.
Mary Ellen Telesha
He didn’t “forbid” anyone from having a Men’s RTR. He specifically said it can happen if someone wants to organize it under his supervision (only fair since he gets blamed if anything bad happens related to the RTR) and they can give him a compelling reason that it’s needed. Here’s where he says that – ffwd to 45:08 in this video:
Most people are finding him and his info on YouTube, so of course he’s going to talk about it there instead of a forum where all those people don’t go. His main mission is to help as many people as he can of course, so of COURSE he’ll go where the most people will see. That just makes sense.
Thank you for writing such a well rounded perspective about this year’s RTR events, Mary Ellen.
Although the turn of events in finding the “perfect venue location”, created some challenging ripple effects, I think it offers an opportunity for growth. Sadly, HOWA wasn’t informed in enough advance time to find another location, where attendees could camp at the event venue. That was beyond their control.
As you stated, the sessions, talent and interactions at the events were superb. The Nomad life lessons are necessary for us to learn how to better maneuver our experiences on the road. Yet, being
dispersed throughout Quartzite and Parker BLM locations made it difficult for our community at large
to come together. I missed the “village” feel that we had last year (my 1st attendance). Driving the extra miles, to and from Fairgrounds, added extra stress and a financial burden for many of us.
My hope is that with all the volunteer help and new teams developing, to evaluate the recent changes, new innovative ideas will surface. As well, more donations to assist with land buying, which could provide a stable home for HOWA and the RTRs. HOWA is a new Nonprofit organization. There are always learning curves for Nonprofits. HOWA has taken on so much in their first year. I believe their leadership is working diligently to shore things up and provide something spectacular for the large community that they serve.
The W/RTR events are far from being dead. HOWA is just getting started. I believe they will figure out since ways to keep pace with the growth of the Nomad community and some of the hurdles of dealing with government agencies.
Thanks for reading, Arisana, and thanks for your comments. I will be sure Mary Ellen knows to come here and check them out.
I’m definitely encouraged that Bob and Suanne are dedicated to evolving this experience. And yes, my gas budget took a huge hit! See you down the road!
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