Tag Archives: vanlife

Bighorn Campground After Dark

Standard
I took this photo of a sign at the Bighorn Campground.

I stayed one night at the Bighorn Campground in the Gila National Forest in late September 2021. As I stated in my report on the campground, it was a basic free national forest campground with a pit toilet and a few campsites each with a picnic table and a fire ring. If I had driven through during the daytime and not stayed the night, I might have even said the place was boring. However, once the sun went down, I did experience some excitement there.

I’d eaten dinner and cleaned up and gotten into my van. I’d left the sliding door on the driver’s side of my van open, hoping to stay awake long enough to do some stargazing. Darkness was descending, but the last light of day lingered. I stood in the open doorway and saw a lone, bright star (probably a planet—Venus, dare I guess?) in the sky.

I heard a rustling on my campsite, a noise larger than a mouse or a bird or a ground squirrel would have made. What the heck? I could still see the outline of the picnic table, but the fire pit had disappeared. Of course, the fire pit was where the noise seemed to be coming from.

I grabbed my Luci lantern, but it was not up for the job of illuminating outside of its immediate surroundings. I ditched Luci and grabbed a powerful flashlight I’d been given over the summer, hoping it would do the trick. I turned it on, and that sucker was bright!

I shined it around the campsite and caught movement by the picnic table. What was that? Was it a bear? No. Thankfully it was not a bear out there in the darkness just beyond my van. It was a javelina!

I shined the light around some more. No, it wasn’t a javelina. It was TWO javelinas.

I aimed the light to the far side of the fire ring. Oh no! It wasn’t two javelinas. It was THREE javelinas!

Holy shit! I exclaimed, probably loud enough for everyone in the campground to hear.

I was surprised by the first javelina. I was shocked to see the second one, and astounded to see the third. I don’t usually see large animals when I’m camping, and I’d never seen a gang on my campsite before.

Holy shit! I said loudly at least once or twice more.

Thanks for this photo by Donald Teel on Unsplash. This is not one of the javelinas I saw. I don’t even know if this is the exact type of javelina I saw. This is the only free-to-use photo of a javelina I could find.

According to the commentary “Javelina: What Are They, and Where Can You See One?” by Ross Morgan on the Santa Fe New Mexican Website,

Javelina, also known as the collared peccary because of their white collar around the neck, stand 20 to 24 inches at the shoulder and weigh 35 to 60 pounds…

Javelina prefer mesquite habitats with an abundance of prickly pear cactus but can also be found in semi-desert canyons, cliffs and watering holes near cactus. These animals are primarily herbivorous, animals whose primary food source is plant-based, and like to travel in small family groups feeding on roots, insects, fruits, bulbs, beans, worms, invertebrates and reptiles.

(If you want to learn a whole lot more about javelinas, check out the 1993 edition of Wildlife Notes dedicated to the creatures put out by New Mexico Game and Fish)

I’m not good at estimating size, but based on medium-sized dogs I’ve known, I’d say these critters weighed 30 to 40 pounds.

I kept the bright light shined on them. I couldn’t look away. I usually think animals are cute or cool, or at least I appreciate the chance to observe them. These javelinas…I thought they were just ugly, and I did not feel fortunate to have them in my campsite.

They were shaped strangely, and their wiry fur didn’t cover much of their skin. Their little eyes shone red in the beam of my flashlight. Maybe they dredged up some memory of the evil pig in the Amityville Horror, but I didn’t like them. I particularly didn’t much like being so close to them.

Burnt trash left in the fire ring by previous campers. Do you see the black bananas? (I took this photo.)

I realized they were congregating around the fire ring. They were snuffling through the trash previous campers had left there. I’d noticed before a few black bananas sitting on the top of the burnt pile of garbage. I hadn’t investigated closely enough to determine if the bananas had been burnt too or if they were in the late stage of decay that borders on rotten.

I saw one of the javelinas grab a banana in its mouth and run off from the other two toward the brush at the edge of the campsite. This action was minimally cute.

One of the two left behind walked away from the fire ring, closer to the picnic table and closer to my van. When I saw it was giving me the side eye, I worried that I might be in danger. I got fully into my van and closed the door. That was enough wildlife observation for me for one night. I hope the guy who’d ridden up on a bicycle at dusk hadn’t left food in or around his tent to attract them. I imagine having javelinas invade one’s tent would be an unpleasant experience.

According to the Arizona Game and Fish webpage Living with Javelina,

Javelina occasionally bite humans, but incidents of bites are almost always associated with people providing the javelina with food. Javelina can inflict a serious wound. Defensive javelina behavior may include charging, teeth clacking, or a barking, growling sound. Javelina may act defensively when cornered, to protect their young, or when they hear or smell a dog.

I don’t think I was actually in danger since the javelina didn’t charge but just strolled closer. However, I think getting in the van and closing the door was a safe move.

If you encounter a javelina while camping (or even in the city if you’re in Tucson or possibly some other places in the U.S. Southwest), here’s what you should do, according to the aforementioned Arizona Game and Fish webpage:

  • Scare off animals by making loud noises (bang pots, yell, stomp on the floor, etc.); throwing small rocks in their direction; or spraying with vinegar, water from a garden hose, or large squirt gun filled with diluted household ammonia (1 part ammonia, and 9 parts water). The odor of the ammonia and the nasal irritation it causes will encourage the javelina to leave. Avoid spraying ammonia in the eyes as it may cause damage even at this low concentration. Ammonia should not be used around wetlands because it is toxic to fish and amphibians.
  • If the animal is confined, open a gate, have all people leave the area, and allow it to leave on its own. If it is still there the following day, contact a wildlife control business
  • If you see javelina while walking your dog, avoid going near the javelina and quickly take your dog in a different direction.

I read for a while after I closed the van’s door on the javelina gang. I turned off my light around 9 o’clock and promptly fell asleep. I woke at 1am to the sound of a steady rain hitting the top of my minivan. There was some lighting and I heard thunder too, in the distance. I drifted back to sleep.

At 4am I woke up in the midst of what in the Southwest is sometimes called a male rain. Raindrops were pounding on the roof of the van. Lighting flashed so close and so bright, it was as if the paparazzi were shooting photos through the curtains covering my windows. Thunder boomed loudly, so close I felt the van vibrate around me. The storm stayed on top of me for an hour.

At 5am, I gave up all hope of getting back to sleep. I dressed by the light of my Luci lamp, all the while hearing a noise vaguely like the one a propane heater makes. The rain had stopped, so I decided to go outside and investigate the sound. When I opened the door to the van, the sound intensified, and I knew exactly what it was. The sound I’d been hearing was rushing water!

I grabbed the powerful flashlight and used it to navigate to what the day before had been a bone-dry arroyo. Now it was a rushing river moving fast enough to make a big noise. It hadn’t just been raining over me but upstream as well.

I decided I was ready to go. I didn’t see any reason to sit in the dark for another two hours when I was dressed and wide awake. I grabbed the few things I had left out overnight and threw them into the van. I slid into the driver’s seat and drove off into the dark.

A note on spelling: Some sources use “javelina” as both the singular and the plural of the word. Other sources add an “s” to the end of the word to make it plural. I’m following the lead of Tucson Weekly in the editor’s note “A Matter of Style” by Jimmy Boegle who says

the Official Tucson Weekly Style is that the plural of javelina is javelinas, with an “s.”

In my own writing, I made the word “javelina” plural by adding an “s” to the end. In quoting others, I did not change the way they made the word plural.

Free Camping at Bighorn Campground Near Glenwood, New Mexico

Standard

This campground report was written after I stayed there in September 2021. Some aspects of this report may have changed since then. Please do your own research before deciding to stay at this campground.

Bighorn Campground is located in the Gila National Forest, right outside the small community of Glenwood, New Mexico. It is the closest free campground to the Catwalk National Recreation Trail. It’s very small, maybe 10 sites, and it has a pit toilet.

The campground sits right next to and somewhat below Highway 180. Trees and bushes help screen the campground from the road. Most of the sites are as far from the road as possible, but the site I chose (as far from the entrance as possible) was next to and below the road. When big trucks passed, they were loud! Thankfully, Highway 180 is not very busy, at least wasn’t on the Wednesday at the end of September when I was there.

Highway 180 is on the right (passenger side) of Silver Streak, on the other side of that mound of earth.

The sites seemed mostly flat, but are really designed for tent camping. I had to park my minivan 15 feet or so from the picnic table on the site in order to find adequate flatness for sleeping inside my rig. Other sites looked flatter, but I was interested in being as far away from other campers as possible. It wasn’t difficult to pick a spot away from others, as there was only one other person in the campground when I arrived. At dusk, a man on a bicycle arrived and set up a tent. When I left at 5:30 the next morning, I saw a couple other vehicles that had pulled in during the night.

Each campsite had a heavy, difficult to move picnic table made of metal, as well as a manufactured metal fire pit. The road through the campground was dirt covered in gravel and the sites had sparse wood mulch and gravel spread over them. There were trees in the campground (juniper and cedar, I think), and scrubby desert bushes. The grass was dry and yellow and did not grow on the actual campsites. The trees did offer some shade on the sites, but it wasn’t the shade of a pine forest.

I had to park this far away from the picnic table in order to find a flat spot. The dry, yellow grass can be seen near the trees.

I read somewhere (probably on a Free Campsites website review) that during some parts of the year water flows in a creek along the back edge of the campground. I checked out the arroyo back there when I arrived, and it was bone dry. I thought it would have been nice to have the sound of water as my backdrop, but I guess I was too late in the year.

There’s not really too much to say about this campground. Have I stayed in prettier or more interesting places? Yes. However, the price (free) was right, and it was a good, close place to spend the night after I wore myself out hiking at The Catwalk.

The pit toilet was a cute, rustic little building. There was plenty of toilet paper during my stay (but I advise you to always be prepared with your own). There was an uncomfortable number of dead flies on the interior walls of the building, but I did my best to ignore them. The door to the toilet closed and locked, and I was happy about that.

Like most free campgrounds, Bighorn has no trash receptacles. Visitors need to carry out all their trash. Please! Do not leave the burnt remains of garbage in the fire pit as previous campers at the site I chose had done. If you camp at Bighorn, please pack out everything you packed in.

Have you ever seen a cuter little pit toilet?

As you may have guessed, Bighorn is also lacking running water (for washing and/or drinking), electricity, and hookups of any kind. There’s no dump station here either. Other than the pit toilet, this campground lacks all amenities. Please come prepared.

What Bighorn campground did offer, at least to me, was excitement after dark.

To read about what I encountered after the sun went down, please join me here on Friday for all the exciting details.

I took all the photos in this post.

My Recent Travels

Standard
My first camping spot at the start of my adventure. This photo was taken on the Ski Valley Road between Taos and the Taos Ski Valley.

I recently spent three weeks on the road traveling in New Mexico and Colorado.

I went from Taos to Taos Ski Valley to Tres Piedras, all in New Mexico. Then I went to Colorado, where I visited the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Crestone, and Alamosa. Back in the Land of Enchantment, I camped in the Carson National Forest near Tres Piedras for three days. Next I visited museums, thrift stores, and a friend in Santa Fe. From the capital city, I went to Moriarty, the three sites of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, the Very Large Array, the Box Recreation Area near Socorro, the Catwalk National Recreation Area, and the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. I also shopped in nine thrift stores in four towns.

Along the way, I mostly camped for free. I only paid for a campsite once, when I stayed at the Piñon Flats Campground in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Otherwise, I spent my nights boondocking at no cost.

In the next few weeks, I’ll share with you where I went, what I learned, what I saw, and where I stayed. Stay tuned for all this great new content.

I had a terrific time during my three weeks of travel. It was fun to be back on the road. However, I am glad to be at my home base, settling in for the winter. It also feels good to write blog posts again. I hope you will enjoy hearing about my adventures as much as I enjoyed living them.

Footprints in the sand at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado.

I took the photos in this post.

Going to the Bathroom in Your Van, Car, Minivan, or SUV

Standard

Content warning: urine and feces, as well as mention of excretory anatomy

Once at the RTR, I said to Coyote Sue, Folks who can’t talk about pee and poop probably shouldn’t be here. The same can be said about this blog post. If you can’t stand reading about pee and poop, this is not the blog post for you. If, however, you currently live and travel in a vehicle that does not come equipped with toilet facilities (or plan to do so in the future), this may be the blog post you’ve been looking for.

The first thing I have to tell you is that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for solving the problem of living in a rig with no bathroom. A lot of factors are going to determine what system is right for you. Some factors to consider include the following: the size of your rig, your size, your physical abilities and limitations, your squeamishness level, your budget, and your location when nature calls. In this post I will share what works for me and what other folks have told me works for them. You will have to decide for yourself what works for you. You may not come to that decision without some trial and error.

One option is a portable toilet such as the Bestgoods 20L Portable Camping Toilet Travel Potty, the Thetford 92860 Porta Potti 135, the Hike Crew Advanced Portable Outdoor Camping and Travel Toilet, and the JAXPETY 5.3 Gallon 20L Flush Porta Potti. These toilets range in price from about $50 to $110 before taxes and shipping fees. I have no personal experience with the models I just mentioned, so I’m not recommending any of them. I did a Google search for “camp potty,” and those are some of the results.

I’ve never tried a camp potty for a number of reasons. They take up quite a bit of room, and can be pricey if purchased new. (For most of the time I lived full time in my van, even $50 was a major expenditure for me.) However, the portable toilets do look more comfortable than do-it-yourself options, and if the model has a storage tank for waste, it won’t have to be emptied each time it’s used. One person I encountered in a Facebook van group shared her experiences with a portable toilet she used in her van. She loved it. When the waste tank was full, she emptied it in the ladies room at the nearest rest area. I’m not sure what she did if she didn’t encounter any rest areas when she needed to dump the toilet’s tank. Personally, I don’t know if I’m confident enough to carry a waste tank from a portable toilet into a restroom at a Wal-Mart or truck stop.

Another option are disposable human waste bags. As Sarah Laskow explains in her article “These Magic Bags Turn Pee to Goo And Make Poop Portable,”

Combining the principles of kitty litter and plastic bag-based poop-scooping…these bags rely on trade-secret combinations of gelling agents, enzymes and deodorizers to sequester human waste into a manageable package.

The gelling agents almost instantly transform urine into goo…The enzymes break down solid waste, enough that the bags can be disposed of in regular old garbage cans.

A generic term for these items is WAG (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) bag. Two companies that manufacture bags that can handle solid and liquid waste are Cleanwaste and RESTOP. There are many more companies that sell disposable urine bags. A search for “disposable urine bags” on Amazon yielded over a dozen choices.

Several years ago, I got a free sample of a disposable urine bag. (I can’t remember how I got the sample or the company it was from.) The bag was fairly easy to use, but did require squatting. The gel in the bag trapped odors, so my van didn’t smell like urine. The used bag was easy to dispose of discreetly with the rest of my trash.

However, I find the cost of these bags prohibitive. At 75 cents to $1 (or more!) per bag for the disposable urine bags and around $4 each for the bags that can handle solid waste too, I’d be spending a lot of money to use these things. If I used one of these bags for every elimination function, I could easily spend $8 a day. I’ll do the math so you don’t have to. At $8 a day, that’s $56 a week, $224 a month and whopping $2,688 a year! Even if I managed to use public restrooms to pee all day and make one solid waste deposit and only used one urine disposal bag each night, I could still spend $300 a year on these things! In my opinion, it’s better to leave the WAG bags to people who really need them like backpackers and mountain climbers.

Most van dwellers use a 5 gallon bucket for solid waste deposits and some sort of bottle or jar for liquid waste. (Most people are going to tell you to keep solid and liquid waste separated. I’ll share my thoughts on that topic later.)

if you’re a person with a penis, you probably know how to urinate into a bottle. (If you don’t, you probably need to get advice from another person with a penis or check out this WikiHow article.) I can offer a few tips for anyone who’s going to urinate into a container. Make sure to close the camp tightly when done and don’t confuse the bottle you drink out of with the bottle you pee in. If you’re going to dispose of a bottle of urine, throw it in a trash can, not out of your vehicle’s window and on the side of the road.

Urinating into a container might be a new experience for people with female anatomy. If you already have a stand-to-pee device such as a Pstyle, GoGirl, Shewee, or Tinkle Belle, it might be helpful when peeing into a container. (If you have no idea what the aforementioned devices are or if you need some help choosing which one to buy, check out Christina Cauterucci‘s article “You Should Be Using a Stand-to-Pee Device.”) Some women I’ve talked to use a regular funnel from the kitchen or automotive department as a less expensive urination deice option. If you don’t have any sort of urination device, you’ve going to have to kneel or squat over your container. Use a container that will held plenty of liquid and will not leak. Unless you know you will always be able to empty the container immediately after you fill it, be sure it has a tight fitting lid. Make sure the container’s opening is wide enough to accommodate your urine stream.

I use this coffee container as my urine receptacle in my minivan. I found the container on top of the trash in the dumpster where I live in the winter. It was clean, with a trace of coffee dust inside.

I like to use a 37 ounce plastic coffee container as my urine receptacle. I’ve used smaller containers, and they’ve worked, but I like to have plenty of room in my receptacle in the event I have to pee several times in the night. One woman I talked to prefers to urinate into a Pringles can held up against her body. Another urinates into a large container, then uses her funnel to pour urine into empty individual serving water bottles which she finds easy to dispose of. A large yogurt, sour cream, or cottage cheese container may meet your needs. I’ve often seen round plastic canisters with wide mouths and screw on lids at Dollar Tree, or perhaps you’ll find your perfect urine receptacle in the recycling bin. Different containers and systems work for different bodies, so be willing to experiment.

Any container that’s reused to hold urine can develop an odor, especially if the urine sits in the container for hours. After dumping the liquid wasted from my container (away from camp if I’m boondocking or in the toilet if I’m in civilization), I rinse it with a bit of water and let it air dry with the lid off if possible. A bit of dish soap added to the water and swished around can help cut the odor too. If an odor does develop, add a little bleach or vinegar to the container, swish it around, and let it sit for a while.

As I said before, most vandwellers and other nomads with rigs lacking toilet facilities use 5 gallon buckets for solid waste disposal. Five gallon buckets are most popular because they are easiest and cheapest to acquire.I lucked out and was given a smaller 2 (or maybe it’s 3) gallon bucket. I like it because it takes up less space in my minivan. Depending on your physical capabilities to get up from a low sitting position, a small bucket may not be for you. Another option may be a large plastic kitty litter container with a lid that snaps on securely.

You probably don’t want to balance your butt on the naked rim of a bucket. I know I sure don’t! There are a couple of ways to remedy this uncomfortable situation.

I splurged and bought a special toilet seat/lid combo designed to fit on a bucket. (The number of gallons a bucket holds does not determine if this seat will work with your bucket. The diameter of the bucket’s opening is what determines if the seat will fit. ) The seat snaps securely onto the bucket so it doesn’t slide around when in use.The lid does not seal, so odor can still escape, but it dos snap closed so it won’t flop open when moved. The seat typically costs under $15. (My bucket came with a tightly sealing lid, which I kept. If the contents of my bucket are ever particularly stinky, I can seal in the odor with the original lid.)

My two gallon bucket with removable plastic seat and lid.

The do-it-yourself approach to making a bucket more comfortable to sit on is to fasten part of a pool noodle or similar pipe insulation sleeves around the rim of a bucket. To see how this is done, watch Eugene Valkovsky‘s video “How to Make Portable Toilet Bucket.”

Once you get your bucket outfitted for comfort, you’re ready to use it. Or are you? How will you prepare your bucket for the easiest disposal of waste? There area a few different methods.

The first thing you want to do is line your bucket with a plastic bag. You can use a disposable grocery store bag, but you want to be absolutely sure it has no holes in the bottom. Also, whether you’re using a plastic grocery store bag or a trash bag, you want the bag to be big enough to bring the open end of it over the rim of the bucket and fold it down against the outside of the bucket. This will (hopefully) keep the bag from falling down into the bucket when you make your first poop deposit. I find that the plastic seat snapping over the bucket’s opening does a good job holding the bag in place.

Some people defecate right into the plastic bag, deposit their used toilet paper in there, tie off the bag, and leave it all in the bucket until it can be thrown away. Some people take an extra step and add something absorbent (like kitty litter) to the bag before using it. The kitty litter crowd tends to add an initial layer of litter to the bottom of the bag before use. After each poop deposit, another layer of kitty litter (and possibly a sprinkle of baking soda to help control odors) is added. I’ve never tried this method, but it seems to me by the time the bag is full (or even half full) it’s going to be heavy and stinky. However, as I’ve said before folks have to decide for themselves what works best for them.

As I mentioned, many people say solid and liquid wasted must be kept separate. I don’t know if this is a difference between male and female bodies or just a unique quirk of mine, but (TMI coming right up!) I just can’t seem to produce solid waste without producing liquid waste too. I just can’t seem to poop without peeing. If I have to poop and try to pee first, well, let’s just say that doesn’t work either.

What I’ve found works for me (on the suggestion of a woman who shared at an RTR women’s meeting I attended) are puppy training pads. These are the pads you get when you’re house training a puppy. I buy them at WalMart for about 20 cents each (before tax). After I put a plastic bag in my bucket, I line it with a puppy pad. The pads are supposed to hold 2cups of liquid. The pad absorbs any liquid I deposit and offers a tiny bit of protection if the plastic bag has a hole in it or if it tears.

After I finish making my deposit, I drop my used toilet paper in to the bag, squeeze as mush air as possible out of the bag, and tie it off securely. I try to set up bag and puppy training pad combo (or several combos if I’m feeling particularly efficient) in advance so when nature calls, I don’t have to waste time setting up my supplies. I drop the securely tied used plastic bags back into the bucket until I can dispose of them. (I take them out before I use the toilet bucket again.)

A word of warning: Even when it’s entirely empty, a bucket that’s held feces is going to smell pretty bad. Turns out the smell of feces cannot be contained by a regular plastic bag, and the plastic bucket soaks up the scent. Airing out the bucket when you can (like when you’re boondocking) helps, as does baking soda, vinegar, and bleach (but not all together!), but the bucket will probably never be the same.

I understand that human waste can be difficult to discuss and difficult to deal with. I hope this information about the systems I and others use while van (or car, truck, minivan, or SUV) dwelling helps you decide how to deal with your own waste. For folks who have already spent time on the road in a rig without a built in restroom, how do you deal with your waste? Feel free to share your tips and suggestions in the comments.

I took the photos not credited to someone else.

Why the Rubber Tramp Artist is Driving a Minivan

Standard
A silver Toyota Sienna is parked in a parking lot.
My new minivan. I call it the Silver Streak.

I’ve always been a conversion van sort of gal. I’ve owned five conversion vans (4 Chevy G20s and 1 Dodge Ram) since 2010. When I decided to sell my truck and buy a van, I was pretty sure I’d buy another conversion van. Then I started seeing what used vans were actually available in the state of New Mexico.

On Craigslist I found newer traditional conversion vans and Sprinter vans on the used vehicle market, but those rigs were wildly out of my price range. If I’d had $10,000 or more in my pocket, one of those big van could have been mine. Since I only had around $7,000 in my pocket, none of those vans were to be mine.

My last conversion van was a 1992. Did I really want something that old again?

The vans in my price range were older. I saw vans from the 90s, 80s, and even 70s advertised on Craigslist. I was unsure how wise it would be to invest in a vehicle that was more than 20 years old. My friend Brent strongly suggested that I get somethings manufactured in the 21st century. Besides just being old, the majority of full-size vans I saw that I could afford were high mileage. I saw vans for sale with 180,000; 200,000; 250,000 miles on them. How long could something with so many miles on it last before I encountered a major problem? I was really worried about buying myself a big ol’ problem (or a bunch of smaller problems) in the form of an older van.

After looking at all of the Craigslist ads for full-size vans in New Mexico and finding nothing suitable, I started looking at ads from Arizona. There were more large vans available in the Copper State, and I thought maybe I’d have to go Arizona and stay with friends while I shopped for a van there.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic complicated everything. (What hasn’t the COVID-19 pandemic complicated?) I had received both of my vaccine shots, but none of my friends had received theirs. The last thing I wanted to do was infect anyone, especially people I care about. How could I keep everyone safe during my visit? Where would I sleep while staying with friends in order to not risk anyone’s health? Should I use public transportation to go van shopping? Would it be safe to have a friend drive me to see vehicles? How dangerous would it be for me to meet with a variety of strangers and test drive their vehicles? How would I get to Arizona anyway? My truck was sold, and there’s no Greyhound service from the town I live in. I probably didn’t want to be on a bus with strangers and their breath for 6 or 8 hours anyway.

On the second day of my ad search, I realized I was seeing a lot of New Mexico ads for minivans in my price range. I’ve always been a conversion van gal, but I started thinking maybe driving a minivan would be ok.

The biggest factor I considered when I thought about buying a minivan is that I’m no longer a full-time rubber tramp. I’m keeping my little trailer parked in the little RV park, and I’ll live in it 7 or 8 months out of the year. Because I won’t have to shove everything I own (and believe me, I am not a minimalist) into a minivan, I was able to imagine living and traveling in one for 4 or 5 months at a time.

Of course, gas mileage is the siren song of the minivan. When I interviewed The Man about why he chose to live and travel in a minivan, the main reason he gave for his decision was the minivan’s good gas mileage. After years of driving my vans and truck and getting 15 miles per gallon at best, I was ready to spend less on gas. Not only will the minivan give me good gas mileage during the 4 or 5 months when I’m traveling, I’ll save money when driving around town running errands when I’m living stationery in my travel trailer during the winters. If I want to take road trips during the spring, fall, and winter, I can do so without worrying that stops at the gas station will break my bank.

Reliability was another important minivan attribute. When The Man was in the market for a minivan, he spent hours researching the best on the market. He found the two most reliable minivans available were the Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey. I figured if I got one of those van models and maintained it properly, I could probably drive it for a long, long time.

As I looked through minivan ads on Craigslist and Facebook, one in Albuquerque caught my attention. It was a 2005 Toyota Sienna with under 100,000 miles on it. It was being sold by the original owner. I sent the owner lots of questions throughout the day and he answered each one promptly. By the end of the day, I had an appointment to see the van the next afternoon.

My mechanically inclined friend drove me out to look at the van, crawled under the van to look for leaks, checked the fluids, rode with me while I drove the car, and took it out for a spin himself.

On the plus side, the vehicle seemed to be in good mechanical condition. There were no leaks. No “check engine” lights were on. The owner said the van had passed the emissions test the last time it had been inspected, about eight months prior and had never been in an accident.. The owner also said the minivan had never been his family’s primary vehicle. His family had always had another vehicle, so the minivan mostly sat in the garage except for the few times they drove it to Vegas on family trips. On the minus side, the van needed new tires, a new battery, and new windshield wiper blades. All things considered, I decided to buy the vehicle.

I had the van’s oil changed right away. I bought a new battery for it, new windshield wiper blades, and four new tires. The nice man who helped me at AutoZone confirmed what my friend had said: he neither saw nor smelled any evidence of leaks. He said the engine compartment looked very clean. The young man who put on new tires at Discount Tire said the can’s alignment seemed fine; the tires weren’t worn unevenly. I’ve driven the minivan over 600 miles in the weeks since I purchased it, and all seems well.

The minivan drives smoothly and quietly and practically parks itself. Its got more get up and go than any conversion van I ever drove. I am so relieved that I no longer practically need a ladder to get in and out of my vehicle. The air conditioner blows cold. The stereo sounds good.

I named it the Silver Streak.

I’ve pulled most of the seats out, and I’m getting it ready so I can sleep in it and live in it. I’m about to take it out on the road for the start of my summer travels. Hopefully it will hold up as well as I think it will. Stay tuned for more posts about getting the seats out and how I set everything up.

I took the photos in this post unless otherwise noted.

Up On the Roof

Standard

I’d seen the van around town several times before. It was difficult to miss. It was a blue Chevy G20 conversion van with black plastic covering one of the back windows. In addition to the creative window treatment, the van was absolutely loaded down with items strapped to the exterior. There were at least four spare tires attached to various points on the van. What appeared to be a microwave oven sat atop two of the spares on a platform linked to the front bumper. A yellow generator was somehow held on the roof, and ratchet tie downs kept a water tank that looked like it could hold at least 100 gallons up there too. I hoped the water container was empty because 800 pounds traveling on the roof of a G20 seemed like a disaster waiting to happen to me.

I will confess, I’ve driven overloaded vans. The inside of my last Chevy G20 was packed to the gills on several occasions, but the only thing strapped to the outside was a 5-gallon gas can. I’m sure we each think our own material possessions are of the utmost importance, but why in the world was someone driving around with four spare tires, a 100 gallon water tank, and a microwave oven (!) strapped to the outside of a van? Certainly the water tank on the roof made driving in the wind more difficult and the extra weight of all the extra things decreased gas mileage.

One day while I was working at the supermarket fuel center, the overloaded van pulled up to pump 4. The driver–a man in his 60s with a white comb over–came up to the kiosk to pay cash for his fuel. He was soft-spoken and polite.

Several minutes after the van driver paid for his fuel, I left the kiosk to do my hourly conditioning of the merchandise for sale. I heard a soft voice calling Ma’am? Ma’am? Was someone talking to me? Where was the voice coming from?

Ma’am? Ma’am? I heard again.

I looked over to the blue van. The voice seemed to be coming from that direction, but I didn’t see anyone who might have been talking to me. No one looked at me expectantly or waved to get my attention. Was I hearing things? The job had me stressed out, but if it was causing auditory hallucinations, I was in big trouble.

Ma’am? Ma’am?

I looked up. That’s where the voice was coming from. A voice from on high was calling for me.

The man with the white comb over was on the roof of his van, crouched next to the generator. He’d stretched the gasoline hose from pump 4 up to the roof where he was pumping fuel into the generator. The whole setup seemed dangerous to me.

I need another $5, the comb-over man said to me while waving a $5 bill in my direction. I guess he’d misjudged how much fuel it would take to fill all his tanks.

I’m not supposed to take money outside of the kiosk, I told him. No one in authority had explicitly told me not to accept money outside of the kiosk, but it was a policy I’d set for myself. I figured only accepting money through the drawer would help keep every transaction on the up and up.

Please? the man on the roof of his van asked. I don’t want to have to climb down.

He sounded so pitiful, and I certainly wanted to minimize his chances of falling. An extra climb down followed by an additional climb up would increase the chances of a catastrophe I neither wanted to witness nor clean up after. I reached up and took his five dollars.

As I entered the kiosk, I realized the white-haired man was going to have to hang up the nozzle before I could authorize the pump to give him his additional $5 worth of fuel. He must have gotten the attention of a kindhearted stranger who hung up the nozzle for him because when I looked at my POS (point-of-sale) system, the screen showed pump 4 was available. I authorized the pump for $5 worth of fuel and put the money in the cash drawer. Then I stood back and watched the fellow on the top of the overloaded van pump the gas into his generator. I was pretty sure no fuel center spectacle could top this one.

At least the van owner was no longer part of this parade when he showed up at the fuel center.

I took the photos in this post.

Is The RTR Dead? (Guest Post)

Standard

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.


Maintaining Mental Health While Living Nomadically (Part 2)

Standard
Photo by Toms Rīts on Unsplash

As I mentioned in Part 1 of my series Maintaining Mental Health While Living Nomadically, life on the road can be challenging. From rig breakdowns to loneliness, from inclement weather to lack of funds, a nomadic lifestyle can be difficult. Dealing with mental health issues can be one of the challenges of life on the road, especially without the infrastructure that may have helped keep issues in check in the past.

Last week I covered some of the physical steps you can take to help maintain good mental health (or improve your mental health if it’s not so good at the moment). From getting enough sleep and eating healthy foods to exercising in sunlight, I outlined steps you can take to keep your body and mind doing well. Today I’ll go a little deeper and share ideas for advanced activities aimed at maintaining and enhancing mental health.

#1 Have a support system in place. While you’re doing ok, set things up in advance of a crisis. Stock your pantry with healthy foods so you don’t have to think too hard about eating if times get tough. Have spare cooking fuel available too. Make sure you always have plenty of drinking water on hand. Have sleep aids (over-the-counter options like Benadryl, Aleve PM, and Unisom SleepTabs and natural remedies like melatonin, valerian root, and magnesium) available for short-term use if sleeping becomes a problem. Make a list of people you can contact for support if you are feeling down. Maybe you want to write out your mental health plan to refer to if you get too anxious or depressed to remember how to nurture yourself.

#2 Deal with stress. According to National Institute of Mental Health article “5 Things You Should Know About Stress,”

Stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand. Any type of challenge… can be stressful.

Over time, continued strain on your body from stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, including mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.

Don’t let stress build up. Deal with problems as they come. Don’t let bills, mechanical problems, health issues, and relationship challenges pile up until you have so much on your plate you think your head will explode. Believe me, I understand that hiding under the covers feels simpler than dealing with the problems of life, but most of these problems will not go away on their own. Dealing with each problem as it arises will be easier than dealing with multiple problems that have each reached a crisis point.

For more suggestions on dealing with stress in your life (and the anxiety it often brings), see Mary Elizabeth Dean‘s article “How To Reduce Stress And Anxiety In 10 Steps” on the BetterHelp website.

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

#3 Meditate. The Psychology Today article “Meditation and Mental Health” by Samoon Ahmad M.D. states,

There are physical benefits [of meditation] that appear to be backed up by clinical evidence. According to these studies, meditation can help individuals sleep better, cope with some symptoms associated with mental disorders like depression and anxiety, reduce some of the psychological difficulties associated with chronic pain, and even improve some cognitive and behavioral functions.

Want to reap the benefits of meditation, but you’re not sure where to begin? Read “Meditation 101: Techniques, Benefits, and a Beginner’s How-to” for explanations of different meditation techniques and instructions for a simple meditation for beginners.

#4 Live in the present. Whether or not you decide to meditate, you can practice living in the moment. The Just Mind article “Minimize Anxiety & Depression by Living in the Now” references author Eckhart Tolle and his idea

Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

that learning to exist in the now frees us from pain while connecting us to the infinite calm of our essential being. [Tolle] attributes human suffering — depression, anxiety, guilt, worry, fear, and more— to our tendency to live in our minds instead of in the present…

Luckily, there is an escape from the pain caused by the mind’s continual creation of and rumination on psychological time. If we embrace the present moment, we unchain ourselves from this suffering and are free to enjoy the peace of true existence — the joy of the now…

Tolle teaches that the easiest way to start living in the now is by noticing the sensations in our bodies and by paying attention the world around us as it unfolds…

#5 Be grateful and track your gratitude. According to the Positive Psychology article “The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How It Affects Anxiety & Grief” by Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury, BA,

[p]sychologists have defined gratitude as a positive emotional response that we perceive on giving or receiving a benefit from someone.

(Emmons & McCullough, 2004)

Another article on the Positive Psychology website (this one by Courtney E. Ackerman, MSc.) lists 28 benefits of gratitude including a strong positive impact on psychological well-being, self-esteem, and depression; enhanced optimism; improved sleep; and reduced blood pressure.

The Mental Health First Aid article “Being Grateful Can Improve Your Mental Health” by Rubina Kapil explains that

Research has also shown that “by consciously practicing gratitude, we can train the brain to attend selectively to positive emotions and thoughts, thus reducing anxiety and feelings of apprehension.” The simple act of reminding yourself of the positive things in your life can invoke feelings of thankfulness and optimism that make managing stress, depression or anxiety easier.

The article then lists several exercises for practicing gratitude including the following:

Try to appreciate everything.

Find gratitude in your challenges.

Keep a gratitude journal.

If you need some suggestions for starting or maintaining a gratitude journal, Courtney E. Ackerman’s article “Gratitude Journal: 67 Templates, Ideas, and Apps for Your Diary” offers lots of information and guidance.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

#6 Practice Positivity. The WebMD article “What Is Positive Thinking?” answers the question this way:

[p]ositive thinking, or an optimistic attitude, is the practice of focusing on the good in any given situation….

That doesn’t mean you ignore reality or make light of problems. It simply means you approach the good and the bad in life with the expectation that things will go well.

The article says positive thinking can lead to “better mood, better coping skills, [and] less depression.” More importantly, positive thinking is a skill that can be learned! Check out the article to find out how to nix the negative and put positivity in action.

#7 Laugh. In the Psych2Go website article “5 Mental Health Benefits of Laughter,” author María Emilia Guzmán explains that when we laugh, our bodies release hormones that enhance good feelings and balance moods, while working against hormones related to stress.

When we laugh, our bodies produces endorphins, which are considered to be the “happiness hormone”. We also release the hormones dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that are in charge of our motivation and balance our mood.  All of these substances fight several mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety

…laughter also combats hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. These hormones are released as a response to stress, increasing our heart rate and causing general discomfort.

If you’re feeling low, listen to a funny podcast, read a funny book or article, or watch a funny movie. If you’re laughing, you might just feel better soon.

Photo by Alec Favale on Unsplash

#8 Interact with animals. The HelpGuide article “The Mood-Boosting Power of Pets” says that studies have found the following benefits of spending time with animals:

Pet owners [sic] are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets…

Playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax…

One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that pets fulfill the basic human need for touch…Stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe you when you’re stressed or anxious. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and most dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and ease depression.

If you don’t live with an animal friend full-time, consider pet sitting, volunteering at an animal rescue, or spending time with a friend or family member’s pet.

Photo by Tegan Mierle on Unsplash

#9 Maintain contacts with humans, too. In the Medical News Today article “What Are the Health Benefits of Being Social?” author Maria Cohut, Ph.D. quotes psychologist Susan Pinker who says,

[f]ace-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like a vaccine, they protect you now, in the present, and well into the future, so simply […] shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust, and it lowers your cortisol levels, so it lowers your stress.

The article continues quoting Pinker who says that, as a result of social interaction

dopamine is [also] generated, which gives us a little high and it kills pain, it’s like a naturally produced morphine.

Photo by Balkan Campers on Unsplash

How’s a nomad to stay connected to other people? Attend gatherings like the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and the ones listed by Vacay Vans for 2020. Read my blog post “How to Avoid Loneliness on the Road” to learn more about Meetup groups, the Wandering Individual Network (WIN), Loners on Wheels, and a dating site for RVers. Some groups, like RVing Women and Sisters on the Fly, allow gals to hit the road together. Other RV groups like Xscapers and Escapees accept people of all genders and relationship statuses.

#10 Volunteer. When you volunteer, you not only get to interact with other living beings. According to the Able To website, there are 6 more mental health benefits of volunteering. Some of those benefits include reducing stress by “tak[ing] our mind[s] off our worries and putting our attention on someone or something else,” combating depression by “keep[ing] the mind distracted from a destructive habit like negative thinking or being overly critical,” and making us happy because “feel good [sic] hormones and brain activity spike during volunteer activities.”

#11 Engage in a hobby. The CBHS Health Fund website offers the article “Here’s How Finding a Hobby Will Improve Your Mental Health.” Some information gleaned from the article:

Western Australian adults…who dedicated 100+ hours a year to their [hobbies] reported significantly better mental health than those with 0-99 hours dedicated…

658 young adults took part in a daily diary study, recording how much of their time was spent on creative exercises, and how often they felt positive moods (joy, alertness, interest) and negative moods (anger, fear, contempt, nervousness, anxiety)… More time spent with creative activity produced higher levels of positive affect.

Even if you live in a very small space, you could take up photography, writing, painting on small surfaces, knitting or crocheting with limited colors of yarn, making jewelry, or bird watching.

#12 Ask for help. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help if you need it. Talk to a trusted friend or family member. If you are in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, call the free, confidential 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. (You can also chat with a trained crisis worker if you go to the Lifeline’s website.)

Photo by Dustin Belt on Unsplash

If you don’t know how to do something related to life on the road, go to the Cheap RV Living forums, read old posts, ask questions, and seek advice. There are also lots of Facebook groups for vandwellers, RVers, and nomads, but with Facebook comes trolls. I don’t recommend Facebook for anyone in a fragile state of mind.

#13 Use technology to your advantage and try online therapy and mental health apps. According to Talkspace,

[o]nline therapy lets you connect with a licensed therapist from the privacy of your device — at a significantly lower cost than traditional, in-person therapy.

Because online therapy and mental health apps don’t require you to go into an office to see a therapist, you can connect to a counselor from anywhere you have internet access. Sounds like a perfect arrangement for nomads who may not stay in one place for long.

Photo by Rob Hampson on Unsplash

Interested in online therapy and/or mental health apps but have no idea where to begin? Verywell Mind offers a list (complete with in-depth reviews) of “The 9 Best Online Therapy Programs of 2020” compiled by Amy Morin, LCSW. The Psycom article “Top 25 Mental Health Apps: An Effective Alternative for When You Can’t Afford Therapy?” by Jessica Truschel highlights mental health apps available to smartphone uses dealing with issues ranging from addiction to anxiety, depression to eating disorders. There are apps to help with general mental health, as well those intended for specific issues. Many of the apps are free, but some do come at a monetary cost.

I hope among these thirteen additional suggestions you find some ways to improve and/or maintain your mental health. Not all of these suggestions will work for everyone, so plan for some trial and error while you try out different activities.

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Please remember, Blaize Sun is not responsible for your health and well being. Only you are responsible for you. Please seek the help you need. If you need to speak to a mental health professional, someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) may be able to help you find resources in the area you are in.

If you found this post helpful, I’d love your support! Hit the donate button in the toolbar to the right or go to Patreon to become my patron.