Tag Archives: van life

10 Ways to Stay Safe on the Road

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I try not to sit around convincing myself that the world is a dangerous and scary place, but there can be perils asphalt, aspiration, cloudswhen going from Point A to Point B. Throw in Points C and D (and Points E, F, and G) , and things can go wrong. You don’t have to be a rubber tramp to want (and need) to stay safe on the road. These tips are useful to anyone (long-distance commuters, friends on a road trip, a family driving a rental truck to a new home in a new state) who’ll be traveling more than a few miles around town.

These tips may seem second nature to seasoned long-distance drivers, but they bear repeating as lessons to newbies and good reminders for those of us who have been living on the road for a while.

#1 Don’t drink and drive, no matter how well you think you hold your liquor. (A woman of my acquaintance who declared, but I’m from Wisconsin as a justification that she could drink a lot of beer and still drive safely got no sympathy from the Colorado State Trooper who arrested her for DUI.)

Alcohol slows your reflexes and reaction time. According to an article titled “7 Ways Alcohol Can Affect Your Driving Skills

Studies show that drivers under the influence of alcohol are unable to respond to stimuli as quickly as when they are sober. Due to your impaired comprehension and coordination, your reaction time may slow down by as much as 15 to 25 percent.

Even if you don’t cause an accident, driving after drinking opens you to expenses and hassles if you get busted going through a DUI checkpoint or if you’re involved in a fender bender that wasn’t even your fault. Why risk it?

#2 If you’re falling asleep at the wheel, pull over and take a nap. Your deadlines won’t matter if you’re dead! Find a rest area or parking lot and catch some zzzzz’s.

If you simply can’t spend any time napping, roll down your window, chew gum, have a snack, and/or blast the radio and sing along. If you can spare a few minutes to pull over, stand up and stretch your legs, do some jumping jacks. If you’ve stopped at a gas station or restaurant, have some coffee or other caffeinated beverage and/or splash cold water on your face and wrists.

But for real, if you’re sleepy, get some sleep. Falling asleep at the wheel can be a bad, bad thing for you, your passengers, and other vehicles (and the people in them) near you on the road.

#3 Drive at the time of day that works best for you.

A wise woman in a Facebook group for van women I’m in likes to drive from dark to light. She gets up early, before the sun comes up, and gets on the road. She drives until mid-afternoon, then finds her boondocking spot for the night. Getting set up while the sun is still out gives her plenty of time to cook and eat dinner and relax. She goes to bed early and gets up before the sun the next morning and starts out again.

I hate, hate, hate driving at night, but I can deal with this dark to light method. I’m at my most alert in the morning, so getting an early start is good for me. Also, leaving a place I’m familiar with in the dark is easier for me than coming into a new place in the dark. Leaving a place I know in the dark means I’m not struggling quite so hard to read street signs or to decide where to turn.

Of course, if you absolutely loathe mornings, don’t try to force yourself to get up and on the road early. My friend Gee loves to drive at night because the roads aren’t so crowded. She can cover hundreds of miles before the sun comes up because night driving works with her body’s rhythms.

Aerial Photo of Buildings and Roads#4 Avoid rush hour. If I’m entering, leaving, or passing through a city, I try to get on the road at the right time to avoid the crush of people driving to or from work. If I don’t get started before rush hour, I just wait until the traffic has thinned out. I’d rather wait somewhere pleasant for a couple of hours instead of being stuck in traffic for the same amount of time.

Rush hour traffic is not just irritating. More people on the road mean more road rage, more lousy drivers, and more chance of an accident. I’d rather avoid rush hour instead of subjecting myself to the danger of powering through.

#5 Speaking of road rage…Don’t let road rage get the best of you. Sure, there are lots of bad drivers out there doing a lot of stupid thigs, but you don’t have to exacerbate the situation. Don’t try to retaliate against bad driving or teach people a lesson. Give other drivers the benefit of the doubt. Maybe some of the bad driving you see comes from new drivers or drivers new to the city you’re in. If you can’t control your anger, at least control your actions.

Don’t let other people’s road rage influence your actions. Don’t drive unsafely just because someone else is doing so.

#6 Don’t drive distracted. Distracted driving is much discussed these days. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines distracted driving as

Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system—anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.

Remember, when you’re behind the wheel, driving safely should be your top priority.

Texting and talking on a mobile phone (without hands-free technology) are two distracting tasks that get a lot of media coverage, but I wonder how many accidents each year are caused by messing with music apps or checking driving directions, the two activities that distract me the most while driving. We’ve all been distracted by something while driving—spilled coffee, a crying baby, a song  we hate on the radio, the dog wreaking havoc, a missed turn or exit, children bickering, an animated conversation with a passenger. Life happens while we’re driving, but we must learn to ignore anything that takes our attention from maneuvering our rig safely down the road.

#7 Be aware of the other vehicles on the road around you. Notice if the drivers of other vehicles on the road are driving erratically; give those drivers (who may be drunk, sleepy, or otherwise distracted) a wide berth. Stay far back from them or pass quickly and get away from them.

Slow down or move over for vehicles stopped on the shoulder, especially emergency or law enforcement vehicles.

Hearing what’s happening outside your rig can enhance your awareness. Don’t wear headphones or  blast your tunes so loudly that you drown out horns, sirens, and the early sounds of problems with your vehicle.

#8 Watch out for animals on the road. At best, hitting an animal with your rig is going to leave you shook up and with a bloody mess to clean. At worst, your rig may be totally disabled after you collide with a critter. Your best bet is to not hit an animal in the first place.

Pay attention to deer (or elk or moose) crossing signs. These signs are there because the area gets high activity of the animal pictured.

If you see a sign with a cow on it or a sign proclaiming “open range,” be prepared to find bovines hanging out on the side of or in the road. These cows may get spooked and dart out in front of your vehicle, so drive slowly and be prepared to stop. Also be aware, if you hit a cow or calf in areas of open range, the rancher is not responsible for paying to repair to your vehicle. Instead, you are responsible for paying the rancher for the dead animal.

Sometimes wild animals are not simply crossing a road, but hanging out in it. After hitting an elk in early 2013, I was told when it’s cold out, elk stand in the road because it’s warmer there.

If you do see animals in or near a road DriversEd.com advises,

don’t slam on the brakes. Keep your lane position, and sound your horn while braking in a controlled manner. Sudden panic stops are not a good idea, as they could spook the animal, causing it to suddenly dart into the path of another vehicle.

Remember, driving in a city won’t necessarily protect you from animals darting in front of your rig. Unsupervised pets may not know to avoid a street. Watch for animals whenever you’re driving.

https://i2.wp.com/images.pexels.com/photos/164524/pexels-photo-164524.jpeg?resize=373%2C247&ssl=1#9 Drive at a reasonable speed. Don’t drive so fast you can’t control your vehicle or stop quickly and safely in an emergency situation. You want to be able to stop in time if a pedestrian, bicyclist, pet, or wild animal darts out in front of you.

Don’t drive so far below the speed limit that other cars are piled up behind you, especially if passing is difficult or prohibited. If you’re driving in the mountains and you are slower than the other traffic, use a turn out to get off the road so the vehicles behind you can pass.

On the interstate stay in the right lane if you are going slower than other traffic. The left lane is for passing! After you’ve passed another vehicle, move back to the right.

#10 Keep your vehicle is in good working order. Breaking down on the road can be quite dangerous. First, you’ll have to maneuver your malfunctioning vehicle out of traffic and onto the side of the road. Second, your disabled rig will be stuck on the side of the road while other vehicles zoom past you until you can get your rig running or the tow truck arrives. Do your best to avoid these dangers by doing all you can to ensure your rig is running smoothly.

Gas up before you get on the road. Clean your windshield. Check the air pressure in your tires and adjust accordingly. While you’re dealing with your tires, make sure they are in good condition and be prepared for any tire disasters. Check your fluids and top off as needed. If you notice any problems, have them checked by a professional (or a knowledgeable amateur) right away.

Glance at your gauges from time to time as you’re driving. Pull off as soon as you notice a problem so you have time to get off the road before things get really bad.

Hopefully, these tips will help you stay safe while you’re on the road. Of course, this is all just advice. Blaize Sun takes no responsibility for what you chose to do or not do. You are responsible for your own self!

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/road-sky-clouds-cloudy-215/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/aerial-photo-of-buildings-and-roads-681335/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/speed-limit-25-signage-164524/.

What Do I Do Now That I Have All This Time on My Hands?

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I stay busy.

Between writing and scheduling blog posts, staying in touch with friends, reading, and creating art, I barely have time to wash the dishes, exercise, or meditate. However, in Facebook groups for vandwellers and other internet resources for people who live nomadically, I regularly encounter people asking for advice on what to do now that they aren’t working full-time, permanent jobs. Some people have never had free time before, so they’ve not learned how to entertain themselves. Others are fine as long as they’re moving from place to place and seeing new things, but if an injury or lack of money means they have to sit on public land or in the same town for a week or two, they’re bored out of their minds.

For all the nomads who are trying for the first time to figure out what to do with themselves and for folks who want to try something(s) new, I offer ten activities to fill your time now that you own your life.

#1 Explore the public library. As may have been evident from my post 10 Ways to Save Money on the Road, I’m a big fan of public libraries. Even if you don’t have a library card, you can probably hang out away from inclement weather; use a computer to surf the web; read books and magazines; view art; and attend free movies, concerts, lectures, and classes.

Some public libraries will issue library cards to nonresidents. If you can score a library card, you may be able to enjoy books, music, and movies in the privacy of your own rig.

I encountered this Little Free Library in my travels.

#2 Read! I’m also a big fan of reading. If you can’t borrow books from a public library, get books from Little Free Libraries. Find inexpensive books at thrift stores and library book sales. If you’re staying in a campground, check for a library in the clubhouse or office.

If you rather look at photos and read short articles, acquire magazines instead of books. Magazines can often be had at thrift stores and library book sales for 10 cents or a quarter each–if they’re not outright free. Maybe you have a friend in another town with a magazine subscription who will put together a care package of back issues and send them to you via general delivery.

If you don’t like to read, but you do like to listen to stories, consider audiobooks. How cozy would it be to lie in your bed and have a talented voice actor read you a bedtime (or nap time) story? If you like the classics, Open Culture offers links to over 900 free audiobooks. For more options, Book Riot offers a list of “11 Websites to Find Free Audiobooks Online.” These are all legal audio book options.

#3 Listen to podcasts. Similar to audiobooks, you can listen to podcasts while driving, cooking, folding laundry, or cleaning the rig. Some podcasts are educational; some are entertaining. You can learn all about finding free podcasts in a 2017 Wired article called “The Beginner’s Guide to Podcasts.”

If you’re wondering what podcasts I like, read my post about my favorites.

(Note: When listening to podcasts or audiobooks, use headphones or make sure your volume is low enough not to bother others. Folks who go into the wilderness to hear birdsong don’t necessarily want to hear what you consider entertainment.)

#4 Learn to do something new. If you’ve always wanted to (fill in the blank with an activity of your choice), but never had the time, your time has come. The Instructables website shares directions for almost any DIY project, craft, or van-home improvement project you can think of. You can learn a lot on YouTube too. I taught myself to macramé hemp jewelry, and The Man learned how to replace drum brakes by watching YouTube videos, so I suspect most folks could use YouTube to learn a new skill.

#5 Play a musical instrument. Whether you’re an absolute beginner or a lapsed musician, use your spare time to play an instrument. The Man carries an acoustic guitar in his mini van so he can play whenever he gets the urge. Coyote Sue often practices her flute while boondocking on public land. If space is at a premium, go for something small like a ukulele, a piccolo, a kazoo, or a harmonica. If you’re lacking space and/or money to buy something, remember, your voice makes music too.

(Note: As with podcasts and audiobooks, please make sure your musical endeavors don’t disturb others. When camping or boondocking on public land, let the sounds of nature prevail.)

I whipped up these postcards from collage fodder Coyote Sue sent me.

#6 Write Letters. Don’t think you have to be a great writer to wrtite letters to your friends and family. Trust me, your people will be so excited to get what I call “real mail,” they’ll barely care about what you write. If you’re too shy to write to the adults, write to the children. Kids always seem super excited to get mail.

If you don’t think you have enough to say to justify writing a letter, send a postcard. In tourist towns, I usually find postcards costing between 20 and 50 cents each. At thrift stores, I’ve found postcards as cheap as a nickel each. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been to the place on the postcard. People like pretty photos, even if you’ve never seen the landmark in question.

If you need a creative project, make your own postcards like I did.

#7 Keep a journal. If you don’t much like writing, make it more like a log book where you record where you stayed, what you did, weather, gas mileage, or any information you might want to remember later. If you rather draw than write, sketch the trees, the people you meet, the critters you see.

#8 Get artsy–or crafty. Find ways to get in touch with your creative side that don’t require lots of materials or tools that take up too much of your precious space. Paint watercolors the size of postcards. Make collages. Decorate the

This is how Coyote Sue has been decorating the inside of her rig. She gave me permission to use this photo.

interior of your rig. Sketch your campsite. Make jewelry. Make your own greeting cards or postcards. Sculpt with air-dry clay. Whittle.

#9 Learn how to use the camera in your smart phone. With today’s technology, you don’t need a fancy schmancy camera to take decent photographs. Most cameras let you use filters on your photos; adjust contrast, sharpness, and exposure; crop your image; and doodle right on the picture. With all these bells and whistles, you can take a decent photo and turn it into an awesome photo. Of course, if you don’t know the basics of composition, you’ll want to learn that too, courtesy of ePHOTOzine.

A good place to start learning to use your camera phone is an article by Photography Concentrate called “Smartphone Photography 101.”

#10 Get close to nature. If you’re on public land, put on your sturdy shoes and go for a hike or a little walk, if that’s what you’re up for. Sit still and listen to the birds sing. If you’re in a city, get closer to nature in a park or arboretum. Learn to identify the trees, flowers, and/or medicinal plants in the area you’re in. At night look up at the sky and find the constallations. Paying attention to the cycles of nature could keep a person occupied for days, weeks, months, or even years.

I got close to this nature while boondocking outside Natural Bridges National Monument.

I hope this post inspires you to try some new things and figure out what fun activities make you happy as they fill your free time. Feel free to share what you do to stay busy in the comments below.

I took all the photos in this post with the exception of the one of Coyote Sue’s rig decorating endeavors, which I used with her permission.

 

Update on the 2018 RTR

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It’s just not the same, I heard a variety of people say about the 2018 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR).

Well, no, it wasn’t the same.

This year wasn’t the same as the first RTR I attended in 2015. That year, the people who’d been attending since the early days of the gathering were complaining—or at least observing—that the RTR wasn’t like it once was.

The biggest change is always the increase in attendance. In 2015, when maybe 100 people were at the RTR, founders of the event remembered fondly when only 40 people attended and everyone sat around the fire together and shared food at community meals.

The community meals were one of my favorite parts of the RTR in 2015 and 2016, but they were left off the schedule in 2017 because the group had grown too large for anyone not experienced in cooking for crowds to prepare soup or chili for everyone. No one stepped up to the challenge, so that avenue of socializing was no longer available to me and others who used the excuse of food as a good reason to gather and mingle.

I’ve heard varying estimates of how many people attended the 2018 RTR. I’m sure Bob Wells put up a video on his You Tube channel where he names a figure. A New York Times article about this year’s Rendezvous said the BLM estimated the number to be over 3,000. Even without knowing exactly how many people attended over ten days, I can tell you, the 2018 RTR was huge!

The RTR was already huge the day before it officially started.

I was working with my friend Coyote Sue to make the RTArt Camp happen. Unfortunately, Coyote Sue was stuck 20 miles up the road with her broke down Class C, so the task of finding the space set aside for the RTArt Camp fell to me. When Coyote Sue contacted the main RTR organizer to say I’d be arriving first, she was told no space was being held for the art camp because when the organizers arrived, early birds had taken the area that was supposed to be for us. (I have no idea if those early birds were asked to move or even told they were parked in an area intended for a planned RTR activity.)

Because no space had been held for the RTArt Camp, The Man and I were tasked with finding a good spot. It was before noon on the day before the gathering began, and people were already packed in pretty close. There was no space to accommodate several rigs plus several tables anywhere near the main seminar area.

I was growing increasingly stressed. I could handle claiming a spot that had been earmarked for me, but finding and staking out a spot on my own was not an easy task. I was really worried about picking a spot Coyote Sue was going to hate. (I shouldn’t have worried. Coyote Sue is always easygoing and believes things work out the way they’re supposed to. She is a pleasure to work with, and I thoroughly enjoyed assisting her with the art camp.)

Thankfully, The Man talked to a guy who gave us the tip to immediately veer to the left after we pulled onto the music camp road. We took his suggestion and found a roomy spot in an area that wasn’t too crowded. The RTArt Camp was about a five minute walk from the main gathering area, but the necessary crossing of a quite deep wash kept some artsy folks, especially folks with disabilities, away.

Coyote Sue and I went to the seminar on the first official day of the RTR to make an announcement about the activities going on at the art camp. Literally hundreds of people were gathered to learn the basics of the RTR in particular and Quartzsite in general. Instead of letting us make our announcement first, Bob made us wait until sometime in the middle of his presentation. I hadn’t planned to stay for the seminar, but because I was there, I got to hear some of what Bob told the masses.

After asking everyone in the audience to turn off their recording devices, he said he wanted to be the only person recording and posting videos of the seminars online. Then he asked people to request permission from other folks before taking their photo or including them in videos. He pointed out that some people are in situations where it is unsafe for their image to appear online, but then said if keeping one’s image off the internet was a matter of life or death, folks in such a situation should probably leave because their safety could not be guaranteed.

Bob went on to talk a lot about how all of us there were part of a tribe and how we should be kind to each other and kind to the earth. He said he was happy to see all of us, whether we’d been on the road for 20 years or if the night before was the first time we’d slept in our car. He said we all needed each other and the most important part of the RTR was meeting people and making friends. It was an inspiring little speech, and I left feeling good, although I was happy enough to get the heck out of there after Coyote Sue and I finally make our announcement.

As in years past, the free pile was a highlight of the RTR for me. This year I was much farther from it than in years past, so I was able to check it less often. Still, I found lots of great stuff, including several bags of mostly glass beads and colorful plastic “jewels.” I took what I wanted and donated the rest to the RTArt Camp. I also got an orange t-shirt, an orange striped cloth tote bag, a bright pair of sneakers, a pair of Minnetonka moccasins (which I immediately lost, never to see again), and an easily rolled up sleeping pad from Land’s End. The Man got a really nice, large backpack (so he left his too-small Kelty backpack in the pile for someone else to enjoy), a Nalgene water bladder backpack, and a warm Carhartt jacket in pretty good condition. Jerico wasn’t left out; we got him a soft bed and a thin blanket so he can sleep comfortably and be covered but not get too hot. I didn’t find as much food as I did in years past, maybe because I was being picky about what I grabbed. (I could have acquired ten pounds of white rice, but I’d rather eat brown.) I did get a hug bag of caramel kettle corn, a can of garbanzo beans, and a jar of vegetable spice.

Privacy did turn out to be a huge concern. For one thing, even in our less densely populated area, there were lots of people. Sometimes after dark it would have been easier to squat outside to pee, but there was too much potential of being seen from the rigs all around. I wasn’t so much shy as concerned with offending people who didn’t want to accidentally see me with my pants down.

About a week into the gathering, an old guy with a drone made camp across a small wash from us. He flew his drone for hours each day. The buzz the device made was irritating, and friends camped nearby reported the man flew the drone right into or hovered over their camps several times. We assumed the drone had a camera, but we didn’t know if he was taking photos or video and if he was, if he then posted the media online.

One evening as I was cooking dinner, a young man walked into our camp with a recording device. Can I record that? he asked as he pointed his device towards the potatoes frying in the cast iron skillet.

Sure, I said, as long as you don’t record me.

I found out later that he did record me. He recorded me saying don’t record me, and put my face up on the internet saying those very words.

He apparently was recording other women too, voicing over disparaging comments about the women, then sharing those videos on the internet. My friends said he was also recording the seminars and posting them online along with his comments, despite Bob’s request that folks not record and post the seminars. When my friend contacted the RTR organizers to let them know what this guy was doing, she was told don’t let it bother you. I understand if the organizers felt there was nothing they could do to stop the guy (although I don’t know if any of the organizers sought him out to discuss his behavior), but the response of don’t let it bother you seemed to me and my friends as if the concerns weren’t being taken seriously.

One afternoon a woman approached the RTArt Camp table with her camera pointed at us. When Coyote Sue told her not everyone sitting there wanted to be in the photo, the woman went on a diatribe about how we were at a public event and we couldn’t expect privacy. She said at a public event, anyone could legally take our photos. She went on to say she understood our concern because someone had tried to film an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting she’d been in at the RTR, and she’d had to shut that down.

The facilitator of the women’s meeting asked that no on record the meeting (video or audio) or take photos of the folks there. Hopefully, no one disregarded her request. She also asked that if and when men approached the group, someone get up and gently explain a women-only meeting was taking place. Instead, the men who approached the group were met with shouts and jeers. They know. They know, women muttered when men approached, believing men where purposely trying to eavesdrop and infringe on our privacy. Maybe that was the case with a few of the handful of men who walked up to our group, but I think most were just clueless. It would have been kinder—and far less disruptive to our group—if, as the facilitator had requested, one woman had quietly stood up, explained to the interloper what was happening, and requested he leave.

The first women’s meeting was huge, by the way. There must have been two or three hundred women there. The facilitator reported it was the first RTR women’s meeting where everyone in attendance did not get the opportunity to speak. Instead, new women introduced themselves, then women with lots of experience introduced themselves.  After an hour of introductions, the large group broke up to give everyone a chance to mingle. I mingled by carrying Lady Nell’s chair back to her camp and then helping some women with disabilities coordinate rides. I’m not very good at mingling with strangers.

So no, the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous is not the same. It will never be what it once was. It was a backyard picnic and now [it’s a] state fair, Auntie M said about the RTR. I think the gathering can still be a good place for people to learn how to live nomadically, and—probably more importantly—meet other nomads. For folks who don’t mind crowds and the possibility of having their faces recorded and shared on the internet at every turn, the RTR can be a great place to learn and network. However, I’m pretty sure my RTR days are over.

Garbage Can

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I do reuse plastic grocery store bags for garbage, but I don’t always want a plastic bag crinkling in the van. Also, a bag holding only a few light items sometimes gets caught by the wind and the contents are dumped on the floor. Even having to pick up a few items–especially if they’re nasty–after they’ve already been disposed of once can get be really annoying. I wanted a trash can, but I didn’t have room for even a small one meant for a bathroom. Something meant for a desktop might have worked, but I didn’t find anything adequately small at any thrift shop.

The Man was eating a lot of oatmeal at the time, so he had to dispose of an empty oatmeal container every couple of weeks. Those containers were sturdy, had a lid, and wouldn’t take up too much space. I thought one would work great for my trash can needs, so I snagged the next one The Man emptied.

Of course, a plain oatmeal container wasn’t good enough for me; I had to decorate it. I grabbed my supplies: my accordion file stocked with images cut from magazines and catalogs and intented for collages, scissors, The Man’s spray adhesive, and peel & stick adhesive laminate.

Since I didn’t want to spend hours on the project, I used big images. I cut the pictures to proper size, then one by one sprayed the adhesive on the back side, then stuck the image to the oatmeal container. I didn’t measure anything, just held pictures up to the container and eyeballed things. I wasn’t very concerned with straight edges either. This project was a quick one. I just wanted to pretty-up something practical; I didn’t need perfection. (I find I need less and less perfection in my life.)

Duck Brand 1115016 Peel N' Stick Laminate Adhesive Shelf Liner, 18-Inch x 24-Feet, Clear
My final step was to cover the container with sticky-on-one-side clear peel & stick adhesive laminate. I brought this product at a fairly small Wal-Mart. I’d used clear Contact brand paper before, and found it would eventually peel off my project. Upon investigation of the products available at the Wal-Mart, I found the Contact brand clear product was labeled “repositionable” which means “non permant.” I found Duck Brand peel & stick laminate; it was labeled “permanent.” That’s what I used for this project, and I haven’t noticed any peeling.

The clear sticky paper could be skipped, but it served two purposes on my project. First, it protects the cardboard the container is made from and the paper clippings glued to the cardboard. Second, the spray adhesive left sticky residue on some of the clippings, so the clear covering keeps the residue from attracting dirt and keeps me from touching stickiness whenever I touch the container.

With about an hour’s time commitment, I used mostly items that would have otherwise gone to the dump to make something attractive and functional to enhance my van life. (The spray adhesive and protective clear film were investments; those supplies will be used for many future projects.) For pennies, I got a pretty little trash can in just the size I needed.

This photo shows the result of my garbage can project.

I took the photos of my supplies and the end result. The photo of the Duck Brand peel & stick laminate is an affiliate link from Amazon. If you click on that link, I get a small advertising fee on anything you buy from Amazon during your shopping experience.

(Guest Post) How I Picked Up Seasonal Jobs to Support My Campervan Lifestyle, and You Can Too

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Van life, while cheaper than traditional lifestyle, is still more expensive than I first thought it would be.

One very real and somewhat harsh reality that came to light early in my van journeys, is the need for cold, hard cash.

When I first set out, I had $500 saved as a cushion. I thought with the lack of a rent payment I would be able to go without a job for a couple of months. However, I was wrong.

I realized pretty quickly I needed to pick up a job to feed myself as well as to buy gas to get us back to our campsite after each day of adventure.

Finding a Job

Leverage your experience and plan carefully

My partner had some experience with the van lifestyle, and he suggested that table waiting was a valuable skill for landing short term work.

Since I had several months to prepare for life on the road, I took a job at Applebees to round out my food service experience and insure that I’d be able to find good gigs in the towns we planned to stay in.

This strategy paid off very nicely when I was hired at a swanky joint to wait tables. This job covered all my expenses while working just a few hours per week. Best of all it left my days free to play in the mountains.

My partner was also able to land a job in a restaurant as a host. Toward the end of our time in Colorado, when the seasonal work at the restaurant dried up, he picked up a short-term day job cutting down trees for fire mitigation.

Location, Location…

How easy it is to find a job depends on where you put down temporary roots. For example, it will be easier in a tourist town than in an unknown small town.

Additionally, the economy of the area should be taken into consideration. I spent time living in Estes Park, CO, and it was quite easy to find a job.

However, in Joshua Tree, California, a smaller, less traveled town, I could not find a job to save my life.

… and more about location

Before you hit the pavement to look for work, consider that it’s most convenient to work close to where you park and sleep. I mean, one major reason for this lifestyle is to avoid a nasty commute! When looking at jobs, pay close
attention to travel logistics.

But sometimes that is not possible, or that otherwise perfect job will require some daily travel. If you will be using some type of public transportation, try to get work near a bus or train stop.

Another option is to plan to camp and work in an area that’s bicycle friendly. Even if you don’t normally pack a bike in your van, a used one can be acquired easily in most areas and then sold, given away or carried along to your next destination.

To improve your options, raise your standards

If you hate working in a certain industry such as retail, fast food, ect. do not even give this type of business a second thought.

I reached that point with the restaurant industry long ago. It took some effort, but as I upped my standards for the type of work I was willing to do, I started getting better jobs.

Craig can help

Craigslist is a great place to find some temporary work. My partner used to find odd jobs on Craigslist regularly. He found jobs as a mover, a construction worker, and a maintenance man.

Sometimes, a small job on Craigslist leads to longtime work. Other times, you want to run the opposite direction. Either way, it’s often tax-free money, and a networking opportunity!

It’s not what, but who you know

Keep in mind that most business owners don’t fill positions via ads, but by networking with people they already know.

One of the absolute best ways to network for any job is to decide on the industry you want to work in and meet people who are already working there. This is not always easy to do on the road, but it can be done.

Here are a few quick and simple places to network for short or longterm jobs

  • Others you meet at the camp area. Find the folks who’re up early and heading to work and pick their brains.
  • On the trail or other outdoor activities. Strike up conversations and ask folks about how they’re supporting their travel passions.
  • Local coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Talk to the barista, bartender and waitstaff and strike up conversations with other patron.
  • Go to the types of businesses where you want to work, and meet people who already work there. For example if you want to pick up landscaping work, get to know the local nursery and plant supply. Into horses? Head to the tac shop. Willing to walk dogs? Go to local pet stores and veterinarians and introduce yourself. Comfortable with computer hardware? You get the idea.
  • Meetup.com groups related to your industry. Make friends in the industry you want work in.

Tips For Nailing The interview

in a what?

I’m not advocating for outright lying…however, it is best to avoid telling your potential employer you live in a van. If you must say something, do it after you are hired.

I personally did not tell my employer I lived in a van until I had to. This was something my boyfriend warned against, based on some bad experiences, so I listened.

If asked about your living situation, a good response is to say you are camping/staying at a friend’s place until you find a rental. If you know someone in the town, this conversation can be avoided by using their address on the application and for mail.

Clean living

Showering before your interview should be among the first things on your mind. You can find showers at local outfitters, gyms, and laundromats. At the very least the confidence boost will help with the interview.

Leave your crew behind

This one will be obvious to most of you, but… my younger self had to learn it the hard way, so I’ll share this misstep.

While it may be tempting to bring in your peeps for support, it will backfire. Even bringing your crew just to wait inside (or even within eye sight) is a bad move because it rings immature. Honestly, it is just as bad as bringing your parent along!

Dress to Impress

Always dress nicely for interviews. If you don’t have any business or business casual clothing with you, try to bum from friends or buy something from a thrift shop. I know living in a van does not always jibe with dressing to impress, primarily because storing nice clothing takes up space.

Obviously if the job requires decent clothes you’ll have to buy them anyway. If not, get something decent for interviews and then donate them once hired.

Point is, don’t have “I live in a van” written all over yourself when you show up for an interview.

Scheduling and freedom

The most important thing for most rubber tramps is finding a schedule that works with their lifestyle. Finding a place that allows for flexibility is important.

When I lived in Colorado, I found a place that would work around my climbing schedule. When you go in, feel out the management and try to work out the best possible schedule for you.

You may need to interview at more than one place, so don’t be afraid to tell a potential employer you will think about their offer. I have found businesses near National or State Parks to be more accommodating.

Get paid what you’re worth

Always try to negotiate pay, no matter what industry. It won’t always work, especially with seasonal jobs. However, playing a bit of hardball can be worth your while. Once I was hired onto a position making $3 more than they offered, just because I asked.

Of course this depends on your level of flexibility, expertise, the availability of other workers in the field you’re applying for and other factors.

Keep in mind that many employers will respect you more if you are reasonably assertive and show you can take care of yourself.Try this line: “I plan to give this job my all, and to help you be as successful as you can while I’m here. In light of that, (plus my experience, my education, my talent…) I feel I’m worth $x per hour.”

Breaking up: Leaving your short-term position

I would never suggest lying to an employer about how long you intend to stay in a position. I also feel there can be gray area here, such as with jobs that tend have a very high turnover rate, where an early exit can be easily justified and even expected.

During the interview the fast food manager is going to talk about career opportunities and long term benefits, but no one (not even that manager) is going to be surprised when you leave that job within 3 months.

Of course in any tourist town, how long you stay will resolve itself as much of the available work will be short term.

 Bridge burning

As for non-seasonal jobs where the expectation is that you stay long term, you’ll have to decide for yourself if you want to fib about your long-term intentions. Ask yourself how this will impact your future work in the particular industry.

Obviously, if you’re applying in a professional situation where your long-term reputation is at stake, consider your actions carefully. Will the stress of maintaining a lie be worth a few bucks? Did you land the interview through a relationship that will be damaged if you don’t stick around? Would it make more sense to be honest and risk not getting the gig, in hopes the employer will hire you anyway?

Pros have options

Consider my partner’s advice from the top of this article. Acquire a skill that pays well and is appropriate for short-term, seasonal, or gig work.

A girlfriend and fellow van lifer, upon arrival in any town, peppers local bulletin boards, power poles, and Craigslist with fliers for pet sitting and dog walking. She’s got a list of referrals as long as your arm and she gets repeat business whenever she visits those towns. No fibbing required.

Another friend is a computer hardware wizard. He can build you a gaming box that will blow your mind, assemble a network for a small business or repair your laptop, and his skills are applicable anywhere he lands.

Simple math for nomadic income

The formula here is to have a skill that pays well, is in reasonably high demand, plus your willingness and ability to promote yourself when you need work.

I’m not saying you should starve, or even miss out on road adventures to avoid lying to an employer here and there, but do some careful thinking and planning to set yourself up for the best possible work life while van traveling.

Share your campervan work life stories

We’d love to hear your thoughts on finding seasonal work as a campervan traveler, and we’re more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

Please drop your comments or questions below and we’ll do our best to answer.

Thanks for reading.

When she’s not writing guest posts about van life, Veronica Cavanaugh from VanSage.com is camping, backpacking, or planning her next outdoor adventure. She also enjoys watching old movies and writing poetry.

Photos from Joshua Tree National Park courtesy of the author.

Intruder

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Someone tried to get into my van.

It was a night like any other in the Forest Service campground where The Man and I live while working at the mercantile. We’d had the day off, but we’d come back from Babylon early in the afternoon. I’d been cleaning the van all evening and was exhausted. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep and more free time the next day, which we also had off from our jobs.

It was nearly dark when I left The Man in his tent and went to the van for the night. I read for a while, but soon I could barely keep my eyes open, so I turned off my Luci light and promptly fell asleep.

I woke up…or was I already awake?

I heard someone try to open either the passenger door or the side door closest to my bed. I distinctly heard the soft rattle the door handles make when they’re locked and someone tries to use them to open the door.

I’m a door locker. That’s how I grew up. My family locked the doors to the outside world when we were in the house. The Man is not a door locker. He doesn’t believe in living in fear. Sometimes we have conflict because he wants something from inside the van but can’t get in because I’ve locked the doors and he’s left his key in the tent.

When he and the dog were sleeping in the van with me, I became more casual about locking the doors. Although there’s probably less of a chance of someone trying to steal something way up in our campground on the mountain, now that I’m sleeping alone, I’ve gotten back in the habit of locking my doors at night.

My first thought upon hearing the rattle of the door handle was that The Man had forgotten something in the van (his phone, his water bottle, his coat) and had come to get it. So I was surprised he didn’t say anything when he found the door locked. (He has no qualms about waking me if he wants to get into the van.) When there was no complaint in response to the locked door, I called out, Yes? or What? or something along those lines.

I took this photo of the campground restrooms. Of course, the campground looks quite different at night.

I received no answer, but I heard footsteps next to the van. When the person came around the back of the van (I thought maybe The Man, was going to ask me to hand him my keys through a back window), I called out again, but received no response. I heard the footsteps moved to the nearby pit toilet, then I heard the distinct rattle of the toilet paper roll being moved on its holder.

I never felt afraid. I thought The Man had gotten up to use the restroom, tried to get into the van and found the doors locked, then left, maybe in a snit or maybe because he was having a restroom emergency. I figured in the morning I’d find out it had been him I’d heard. I fell back to sleep right away.

I woke up again around ten minutes to five and started working on a hat I’d begun the day before. Not long after I awoke, The Man walked up to the van, and I let him in.

Di you try to get in the van last night? I asked him. He said he hadn’t.

I told him someone had tried to get in. He acted like he didn’t believe me at first, then said I’d probably just been dreaming. I’d said, I don’t think I was dreaming, and he used that as evidence that I had been dreaming. He said he’d know if someone had tried to get into his van. He said he would have flown out of bed and kicked the door open…

I chalked it up to him not taking me seriously, but while we were getting ready to head out to the post office and he asked if I really thought someone had tried to get into the van. I said yes, I really thought someone had tried to get in the van.

Then I remembered something else: there had been no flashlight. The Man never leaves his tent at night without his headlamp. The moon can be full and I’ve got plenty of light to find my way from his tent to my van, but he uses his headlamp. If The Man had tried to get into the van during the night, he would have shined his light through the uncovered side windows.

I think whoever tried to get in assumed there was no one in the van. Most people with a tent set up on a campsite would be sleeping in the tent, not in the vehicle. The intruder must have been quite surprised to hear me start talking from inside the van.

There were campers on only two other sites that night, and the camp host was sleeping elsewhere on his night off.

The Man went up to the fellow on a site on the other side of the campground. The guy tried to ignore him when The Man said good morning. The guy seemed nervous when The Man told him someone had tried to get into our vehicle the night before. The Man advised him to be careful about leaving his belongings out.

Later, when the campers on our side of the campground emerged from their tent, The Man talked to them too. The fellow on that site said, Good morning! How ya doin’? and shook The Man’s hand. The Man told him the same thing about someone trying to get into our vehicle and being careful about his belongings. That fellow said he’d heard footsteps near his tent during the night.

Who tried to get inside my van? I can’t say with certainty, but whoever it was got the message that we knew what s/he had been up to.

I stayed behind to guard camp while The Man went to the post office, but no one came around our site. I’ve been making sure to lock my doors when I go to bed at night, and The Man has stopped giving me a hard time when the locked doors keep him out of the van.

Game Changer

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When I bought my van, the carpet was already grungy, and it definitely got worse in the three years I’ve

This photo shows my van’s dirty, stained carpet. It also shows the metal plate in the floor (lower left corner).

lived in my van home. I’ve used a series of rugs on the floor to try to hide the dirt and stains, but that typically meant I had a dirty rug sitting on top of a dirty carpet. Also I regularly spill water on the floor, and the water soaks into the carpet and leaves a wet spot which I invariably step in. Yuck!

Another problem I had with my floor was the large metal plates left behind when the seats were removed. The plates are a little higher than the floor itself, and let me tell you, it hurts to bring a knee or foot down hard on them, especially on a corner or an edge. There’s no easy way to remove the plates, so I’d been living gingerly with them since 2014.

In the back of my mind, I’d been searching for a solution.

First, Coyote Sue told me about some flooring she bought at Walmart for her RV. The pieces snap together, she said, and look like wood grain. She put the flooring down right on top of her shag carpet.

Then I saw a “winter camping life hacks” clickbait article on Facebook. Most of the tips I already knew (put a plastic water bottle filled with hot water at the food of your sleeping bag before going to bed) or didn’t apply to van life, but the last tip caught my attention. It suggested bringing the brightly colored foam squares most commonly seen in children’s play areas to cover the floor of the tent. Brilliant! Not only would the foam on the floor feel cushy, it would help insulate the tent, and any melted snow puddles could be easily wiped away. I wondered if something similar would work in my van.

The next time I went to Babylon, I checked at Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, the Walmart in that town is the second worst I’ve ever been in. I couldn’t find anything like Coyote Sue had described, and the foam squares offered in the toy department, while nicely colorful, were very thin and had pop-out letters I suspected would lead to nothing but grief. I decided to try Walmart.com.

This photo shows the exercise puzzle mats I bought.

I did a search with key words I no longer remember. Several results popped up, including flooring intended for exercise spaces. That stuff seemed perfect. I chose the extra-thick, 3/4″ squares because I wanted as much padding as possible over the metal plates. I had three choices of color–black, grey, and bright blue. Part of me really wanted the cheerfulness factor of a bright blue floor, but a more practical part of me decided grey flooring would show less dirt and would probably be easier to keep looking clean.

I placed my first order ever with Walmart.com, which worked out great for me. (I know lots of people have problems with Walmart, Dollar Tree, Amazon, and other large corporations. I understand. I truly do. I try to do my shopping at thrift stores and garage sales, but sometimes I need an item now and don’t want to wait to maybe find what I’m looking for used. Giant corporations do make shopping easy, especially online.)

Walmart.com was super easy. I placed my order and paid using my debit card, but was not charged for shipping because my items were delivered to the Walmart store of my choice. I simply picked up my items during my regular weekly trip to civilization. (If I had home mail delivery, I might prefer to have items delivered to my door. However, while I’m work camping, my mail is delivered via general deliver to a post office fifteen miles away. The post office is only open weekday mornings, so picking up my mail is seldom convenient.)

On the day I picked up my flooring, I was excited to get back to camp to install it. “Install” makes it seem more diffictult than it was. I opened the package. I placed the squares on the floor and interlocked the parts meant to interlock. Done! Ok, The Man did cut out a piece of one of the squares so it would fit around the leg of my shelf, but he knew how to do it and completed the task in minutes. If one put down the flooring at the beginning of a build, furniture could go on top if it and no cutting

This photo shows my nice, new, clean flooring that only took a few minutes to install.

would be required.

The flooring I bought was manufactured by ProSource and is called “excercise puzzle mat.” It has a non-slip surface and is extra-thick (3/4″) and phthalate free. It’s made from water-resistant EVA foam. I paid around $30 for six squares, which covers 24 square feet. I used five squares to cover the portion of open space in my van, as well as the area between my two front seats. I’ll probably buy another six pack to cover the rest of the floor when I reconfigure and downsize my bed.

As soon as I got the flooring down, I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to figure out this solution. The metal plates are completey covered and padded. I can bang my knee on the floor where they are all day long with no pain. When I spill water, I can wipe it right up, and dirt tracked in is easily swept out. In about fifteen minutes, the interior of my van became infinitely more comfortable and better looking with ProSource exercise puzzle mats.

ProSource 3/4″ puzzle mats are available on the ProSource website, at Walmart.com, and on Amazon.com.

ProSource Puzzle Exercise Mat, EVA Foam Interlocking Tiles, Protective Flooring for Gym Equipment and Cushion for Workouts

I took the photos in this post, except for this last one, which is an Amazon link.

Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) 2017

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Here it is August, and I haven’t yet published a report on January’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR). Better late than never?

There were a lot of people in the RTR section of Scaddan Wash in January 2017. I never did a count of my own, but I heard reports of upwards of 600 people there. I don’t know how anyone was able to arrive at a figure. Were rigs counted? If yes, how did the counter know how many people were staying in each rig? When was the counting (of rigs or people) done? People and rigs came and went througout the entire time the RTR was underway. Folks were here today, gone tomorrow, back on Wednesday. I don’t know how an accurate count could be made with all of that coming and going.

In any case, there were a lot of people in the RTR area, way more than when I attended in 2015 or 2016.

There were also more people there this time in fancy, shiny, expensive rigs. I wondered if those people had missed the tramp part of the rendezvous or the cheap in the name of the Cheap RV Living website. Mostly, I wondered what the folks with money were getting out of a gathering where people learn how to stretch their precious few dollars in order to live a life of freedom. I guess learning how to find free public land on which to boondock is the same whether one’s living in a 90s era converted cargo van or a brand new Dodge Sprinter.

So many people arrived early, there was demand for a seminar before the Rendezvous had officially begun. I sat through the beginning of that one. It consisted mostly of folks who’d never attended the RTR asking questions, and the organizer of the event saying those questions would be answered at a seminar held later in the gathering. After a while, I got tired of hearing questions I knew the answers to not being answered, so I grabbed my chair and left.

I did attend the official Welcome to Quartzsite seminar. I don’t think I learned anything new. The seminar seating was definitely crowded that morning; I’d guess there were a couple hundred people there, but I’m not so good at estimating attendance. Again, people mostly seemed to be newcomers.

Although I didn’t attend any other seminars, I did attend the two women’s meetings. Both of those meetings were also crowded. At the first one, the facilitator offered a list of questions each woman could answer by way of introduction. During the explanation of how the introductions would work, the facilitator instructed us to limit our intros to two sentences so everyone would get to speak during the meeting’s two-hour time frame. Most women were able to limit themselves, but others went on for paragraph after paragraph. Some ramblers even seemed offended when the facilitator gently reminded them of the two sentence limit.

I wondered why the longwinded women thought they were more important than the rest of us who had complied with the two-sentence limit. Did they really think the rest of us wanted to sit and listen to them drone on and on about themselves? I, for one, did not.

When I arrived the next week for the second women’s meeting, I was shocked to see a documentary film crew setting up to record the discussion. I was astounded to find most of the women in attendance had no objection to being filmed. I said I did not want to be filmed and offered to leave rather than cause a problem, but the woman doing the filming said she’d turn off the camera and sound recording equipment whenever I spoke. Despite her offer (which I believe was made in good faith), I mostly remained silent and kept my head down throughout the meeting.

It was probably my last women’s meeting in an RTR context. The new gals tend to want to discuss things I feel like I’ve already figured out–how to go to the bathroom in the van, how to feel safe, how to keep from feeling lonely. I’m not sure what things I don’t know about that I need to talk about in a women-only group, but I know we’ll never get there if we have to talk about elimination and personal safety every year. Also, if the meetings are being recorded and I don’t want to be recorded, what am I contributing while sitting there silently with my head down?

I was primarily at the RTR to promote my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. I feel like my sucess in this endeavor was limited at best.

Coyote Sue and I shared billing at a late afternoon seminar. She was to talk about selling on Ebay while on the road, and I was to talk about being a camp host and to read from my book. We got rained out. We postponed the seminar for later in the evening. We were finally able to give our presentations to a small group before the sun went down. Everyone in attendance listened politely when I read, but I think most of the folks there wanted to hear what Coyote Sue had to say.

My main reading, the one I’d promoted throughout the RTR, was a huge disappointment. Only a handful of people attended, most of them people I already knew. Again, people were attentive, and they laughed in the right places, but since I’d been hoping for a crowd, seeing less than a dozen people in the audience made me feel a little sad.

I sold some copies of the book at the RTR, but I barely made a dent in the 100 copies I’d had printed. Perhaps I should have dreamed smaller.

Because I was trying to promote my book, I’d set up camp near the main gathering spot. I was close to the free pile and close enough to pop in at morning announcement to mention my book, hats, etc for sale.  This proximity to all the action meant my privacy was often invaded, especially, it seemed, as I was trying to cook dinner in the evening. I spent quite a bit of time feeling I had nowhere to hide. Honestly, I don’t mind answering questions (even the same question for the 10th time) but maybe don’t try to interrogate me when I’m obviously busy.

Because there were so many people at the RTR, the group meals were cancelled. The chef who’d bottomlined the soup and chilli dinners in 2015 and 2016 had to work for money in 2017 and wasn’t able to attend the RTR. The main organizer didn’t feel able to make the dinners happen successfully with so many eaters on hand, and no one with experience with feeding crowds steppd up to the challenge. I didn’t hear an official statement of why the potato bake didn’t happen, but I’m guess the couple who’d hosted it in the past didn’t feel up to the logistical nighmare of feeding the teeming masses. I was disappointed the meals were cancelled because at the previous RTR’s they’d served as my prime opportunity for social interaction. (One fellow did provide a bunch of hot dogs for a hot dog dinner early in the gathering, but I didn’t attend since I don’t eat hot dogs.)

I don’t know if there’s another Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in my future. I don’t know where I’ll be in January 2018. Also, I don’t know if I can learn anything new from the RTR. If I go to another RTR, it will be mostly to visit with friends.

If I do go to another RTR, I expect there will be a lot of people there. Folks can’t expect a free event to be promoted far and wide on the internet and not get crowded. If I attend another RTR, I’m going to park away from the main gathering areas, on the outskirts, where I can cook without an audience.

I took the photo in this post.

You can read about my experiences at past Rubber Tramp Rendezvous: the first week in 2015, the second week in 2015, some thoughts on the 2015 RTR2016, the first women’s meeting in 2015, the second women’s meeting in 2015, the free pile at the RTR, and Burning Van.

Free Camping Along the Rio Hondo

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The best free camping in the Taos, New Mexico area is tucked between the Rio Hondo and the Ski Valley Road.

Turn east at the stop light locals call “the Old Blinking Light.” Follow Highway 150 to the village of Arroyo Seco. Pass the Taos Cow on the right or stop for coffee, sandwiches, or locally made ice cream. Right past Francesca’s Clothing Boutique, follow the road as it curves to the left. Pass the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, then the road will curve to the right. After the post office, the road straightens out. When the choice becomes left, right, or off the mountain, go right. When you start seeing water flowing on the right, you’ll know you’re close.

There are three official campgrounds along the Rio Hondo: Lower Hondo, Cuchilla de Medio, and Italianos. Lower Hondo and Italianos have pit toilets, but I’m not sure about Cuchilla de Medio. When we stayed at Italianos Campground in June 2017, the inside of the toilet was filthy, and no toilet paper was provided. All of thes campgrounds are free, but offer no amenities other than pit toilets and the occassional picnic table. There are no trashcans and no water other than what’s in the river/stream/creek. The stay limit is 14 days within a 45 day period. The camping spots aren’t designated, so don’t look for numbered poles or timbers separating campsites. Just find a place to snug in a vehicle and/or a tent or a camper and leave the roadway open.

Campers who don’t need the pit toilets don’t need to limit themselves to the signed campgrounds. There are camping spots all along the water. Look for driveways going off into the trees and firerings constructed from stones by previous campers.

It’s amazing to me that I can be up in the desert, surrounded by sage and precious little shade, then drive 15 miles and find myself surrounded by tall pines and cottonwoods. Even on the hottest summer day, the Rio Hondo is icy cold. When I’m hot, I tell myself I”m going to strip down to my underwear and stretch out in the water, but in reality, I’ve only ever managed to go in ankle deep. In less than thirty seconds, my bones ache from the cold water, and the rest of me feels cool and refreshed. If I get hot again while I’m there, my feet go back in.

On Saturday afternoon in June, The Man and I were looking for a camping spot along the Rio Hondo. As we drove up toward the Ski Valley, we saw spot after spot taken both in the official campgrounds and in the boondocking areas. I was beginning to lose hope when we saw a poorly maintained dirt driveway leading down to the river. I pulled the van off the road, and we peered through the trees. No one was down there!

I slowly nosed the van down the rutted, potholed driveway. At the bottom of the driveway, we found two stone firerings and a nice, flat area to park the van. We had our own lovely, secluded waterfront campsite.

I took all these photos in this post.

 

 

Dispatch from the Woods

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The Man and I weren’t doing so well in Northern New Mexico. The invisible biting bugs were horrible, really tearing us up. The intense heat, unusual in the mountains, was making our days, but particularly our nights, difficult to bear. Living in the van together day after day was making us edgy and irritable. Something had to give.

Our lives changed with a call from my boss from the last two summers. The store that was supposed to open last season was finally(!) about to open, and he needed two more people to staff it. He wanted to hire me and The Man. We’d have a free place to set up camp for the summer, and he’d work us each 40 hours a week. Could we be there in six days? We said Yes! and hit the road to California.

I wanted to write a dispatch from the road, but we stayed in the Worst Motel 6 Ever in Barstow, CA, and the internet was down. I was too tired to find either another hotel or a coffee shop with free WiFi.

Crossing the Mojave Desert in a vehicle with no air conditioner was no joke. Part of our problem was not leaving Flagstaff until 1pm. I’d wanted to leave earlier, but it was afternoon by the time we packed up camp; drove to town; bought water, ice, and a few groceries; bought a solar shower, privacy tent, and tarp at  Wal-Mart; went through a bunch of rigmarole to find out Wal-Mart was out of Blue Rhino propane tanks and couldn’t exchange our empty one for a full one; went to a herb shop downtown so The Man could buy loose tea, and (finally!) filled up the gas tank.

It was hot when we stopped in Kingman, AZ to do the propane tank exchange. The Man and Jerico stood in the shade under one of the few parking lot trees while I went inside to pay for the new tank. The Wal-Mart employee who came out to make the switch expressed concern for Jerico’s paws on the hot asphalt.

Back on the road, we soon passed into California. At the agriculture checkpoint, there was a big digital sign like banks have announcing the time and temperature. 119 degrees! It had been a long time since I’d been in triple digit temperatures.

The Man grabbed our squirt bottle full of water (hippie air conditioning, he calls it) and sprayed me down while I drove. He also discovered that opening the windows let in air hotter than the air in the van. Over the next few hours, we did a lot of opening and closing windows trying to catch a breeze or let hot air out, trying to get comfortable. Surprise! There was no way to get comfortable in a van without air conditioning in the Mojave Desert that June day.

I stopped at the first Dairy Queen I saw and got us both Reese’s peanut butter cup Blizzards. I couldn’t drive and eat, so The Man took the wheel. The ice cream didn’t last nearly long enough, and we were back to using the squirt bottle.

Late in the afternoon, the sun moved down the horizon, and the temperature dropped to hot but bearable. Still, as much as I hated to do it, we got a motel room in Barstow. Maybe I could have gotten a little sleep in the sunbaked van had I been alone, but there was no way two adults and a dog could have been comfortable sleeping in there. Even if the van had cooled after baking in the sun all day (which it hadn’t), the body heat of three mammals in the enclosed space would have been unbearable. Even with the windows open, there wouldn’t have been enough air flow to keep us cool.

The air conditioner at the Motel 6 was not up to the challenge of the summer night. Although the air conditioner was on when we opened the door, we were not met with the chilly wonderfulness I’d been hoping for. The room was stuffy, and I had a difficult time deciding if it was cooler inside or out.

The a/c wasn’t a wall unit like in almost every other motel I’ve been in. All we had was a vent above the bathroom door and an ersatz thermostat on the wall. All we could really control were the settings “heat,” “cool,” and “fan.” If I stood in just the right spot a few feet from the bathroom door and stretched my arms over my head, I could feel a bit of cool air blowing out, but it was no match for the desert heat.

I slept poorly all night, although the warm room probably wasn’t as uncomfortable as the hot van would have been.

The Man and I were both awake by five the next morning. We each has another shower and got our things together. The morning air was cool, but we were hot again before we finally made it up the mountain.

When we finally made it to our destination, the tall green trees and the cool mountain air were a wonderful contrast to the drab heat of the desert. My memory hadn’t exaggerated how lovely my home of the last two summers is. I’m glad this place will be my home for the rest of this summer and hopefully into the fall.

If you’re reading this, it’s because the mercantile (the Forest Service doesn’t like the word “store”) has WiFi, and the employees are allowed to utilize it. That’s a definite step up from years past.

This photo I took shows the mercantile/visitor center where The Man and I work.

Special thanks to The Man for getting my computer to connect to the WiFi at the mercantile.