Tag Archives: vanlife

My First Raccoon

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To be honest, it wasn’t the first raccoon I’d ever seen in real life, but it was the first raccoon I’d seen on the mountain.

The other raccoons I’d seen had been spotted in Texas. On several occasions, raccoons tried to break into a house animal, raccoon, whiskerswhere I was staying, and one time while sitting on the back patio of a coffee shop in a major city, I saw a lumbering raccoon bigger than the biggest cat I’d ever laid eyes on. That sucker was huge. I guess everything really is bigger in Texas!

In the first three seasons I’d worked in campgrounds on the mountain, I’d never seen a raccoon, never heard one break into the garbage cans, never received a complaint from a camper who’d been the victim of raccoon crime. I’d occasionally wondered about the lack of raccoons, but since I knew about their persistence in the acquisition of food, I certainly didn’t wish for any of these critters in the campgrounds where I stayed.

During my second summer as a camp host, I’d asked my coworker about the lack of raccoons. He’d lived in the area for nearly 20 years, so he was my main source of information about local flora and fauna. He postulated that a lack of water kept the creatures off the top of the mountain. That seemed like a logical explanation to me, but the next year was wetter with still no sign of raccoons.

The raccoon made its appearance during the last week of July of my fourth season on the mountain. It first showed up in the campground where the Mercantile is located. Sandra the camp host told me on the night it arrived, it went from campsite to campsite, scavenging. On site #1, the raccoon stole a cheeseburger off the table while the camping family sat there eating dinner. It was certainly a bold creature!

The Man had come back to work a part-time maintenance job which required no dealing with money, paperwork, or the general public. Of course, Jerico the dog had come back with him. We were all staying at the group campground together. Maybe a week after the cheeseburger incident, the raccoon made an appearance on our campsite.

We’d been to civilization that day and come back with plenty of supplies. The Man had loaded all his food into his minivan but hadn’t yet put away a 15 pound bag of dog food which was leaning on a stump outside the van.

The Man had come over to my rig but left Jerico in his van. It had grown dark while we lay in my bed talking. Suddenly from the other van we heard Jerico start barking, and he didn’t stop. There were campers on the other end of the campground, and I thought one of them had approached our camp.

When Jerico started barking, The Man jumped out of my van and went over to his to see what the commotion was about. In less than a minute, he was hollering, Honey! Honey! Bring me my headlamp!

There’d been a raccoon out there, and now it was in the tree! Jerico had treed a ‘coon from inside the minivan! What a hound!

The raccoon was still moving up the tree when I got outside, so I threw a couple of pine cones at the tree for good measure.

Don’t hurt it! The Man said, but I had no intention (or ability) to hit it. I just wanted it to find the environment of our campsite inhospitable.

It might have rabies! The Man said, which was possible, but unlikely if it was content to slowly climb a tree. I heard a terrifying story on This American Life once about a woman attacked by a rabid raccoon and that motherfucker was aggressively going after the woman, not trying to take refuge in a tree. Our raccoon was obviously trying to practice avoidance.

With the light from my Luci lamp, I could just make out the raccoon’s glowing eyes high above the ground. With The Man’s bright headlamp, we could see the raccoon splayed out on a branch ten or twelve feet up. This one was much smaller than the lumbering beast I’d seen at the coffee shop in Texas.

The Man put the dog food in his van, and we made sure there was no food left outside to entice the raccoon. We all went to bed and didn’t hear from the raccoon again.

A couple of days later in the Mercantile, I heard about the further exploits of what must have been the same critter.

Two young men were in the Mercantile early on Sunday morning. They reported they’d seen a raccoon in the campground the night before. They’d actually seen the raccoon on their very own campsite. In fact, the raccoon had stolen a bag holding the swimsuit and towel belonging to one of the guys. It had been too dark to find the bag right after it was stolen, but he’d found it that morning in the bushes. The raccoon had ripped the bag trying to get to the contents. We joked about the raccoon being sad after it discovered that the bag it had just grabbed contained the worst snack ever.

I wondered aloud why, after three and a half seasons of seeing no raccoons, this one had suddenly appeared. The other young man said the raccoon must have been pushed out of its territory, and now had to find a new home. I suspect the young man was right. Maybe a wildfire had pushed the raccoon out, or maybe it reached maturity and had to leave the territory of its birth. I spent the rest of my time on the mountain doing my best to put food away so the raccoon wouldn’t try again to make my territory its territory.

Photos courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-whiskers-raccoon-16605/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/zoo-bear-raccoon-saeugentier-54602/.

Living How She Really Wants to Live (an interview with Sarah Meg)

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Sarah Meg shows off the Rubber Tramp Artist Community flag she made.

I first met Sarah Meg at the 2018 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR). She came to the initial organizing meeting at the RTArt Camp and immediately made herself useful by donating materials and offering to teach classes. We met up again during the summer in the Sequoia National Forest during a Rubber Tramp Art Community gathering she hosted.

In this interview, Sarah Meg talks about downsizing, the benefits of having a minivan for a rig, and why she was drawn to a life as a nomad.

Rubber Tramp Artist: So Sarah Meg, how long have you been on the road?

Sarah Meg:   I’ve been a full-time nomad in a minivan, that I converted into a mini RV, for about a year now. Before that I was a full-time van/RV dweller, and a part-time nomad for two and a half years. I’ve been a part-time van or vehicle dweller and part-time nomad since 2001 when I got my first vehicle.

RTA: Now you’re in a minivan. Why did you decide to live and travel in a minivan instead of a full-size cargo or conversion van or some of the other things you lived in before?

SM: The van was free. [Laughter] I probably would have chosen a slightly larger van, one that I could stand up in if I had purchased it myself, but this van was free, so I figured why not try it?

When my mother died, this van was up for grabs, and so I decided to take the opportunity to try it out and make it into a tiny little home.

RTA: Does living in your mom’s minivan make you miss your mom and [feel] sad or does it make you feel close to your mom?

SM: It’s kind of cool. It’s almost like my mom’s coming along with me on my travels, and this van is the first vehicle I’ve been a full-time traveler in. Before that I was only a part-time traveler even though I was living in an RV and before that in a station wagon, and I wasn’t leaving my county where I’m from very often. I would go on trips that were about four to six months long each year where I would travel out of the area where I am from, but the majority of the year I was staying in campgrounds or in people’s driveways in the county where I’m from.

To be honest, I didn’t even know you could go full-time and not have a home base that you stayed at frequently until like a year and a half ago. As soon as I realized it was totally acceptable and normal to be completely nomadic, I did it.

RTA: So what’s the make and model of your minivan?

SM: It is a Toyota Sienna.

RTA: Is there anything in particular you like about this make and model?

SM: Supposedly, it’s the biggest minivan on the market. I don’t know if that’s true or not. All I know is I can keep one of the back seats in and up to use for sitting in and still have a bed that is 30 inches wide and six feet long.

RTA: So you have a single bed?

SM: Yeah. It’s a couple inches narrower than a regular twin bed, but it’s the same length as a regular [twin] bed.

RTA: Do you travel with everything you own in your van?

SM: Almost everything. I have a small spot in my aunt’s garage that I have a few boxes in, and I also have the middle seats that I took out of the van [which are stored there] as well.

RTA: When I met you, you had a storage compartment on top of your van and now you don’t. Why’d you get rid of it?

SM: I had way too much stuff. I was probably about 2,000 pounds over payload because I had so many things jammed everywhere in the van. I had so much stuff in the cargo topper. I realized that I didn’t need all that stuff, and that that stuff was quite literally weighing me down and making it difficult for me to get all the places I wanted to go. I drove around with that much stuff for about six months, and then I met someone who was an ultra-minimalist who also lived in the same kind of van as I do , and she encouraged me to get rid of a few things. So I got rid of about maybe 60% of what I owned, and I’ve been very, very grateful that I was willing to do that; because it’s a lot easier to travel and to live in a van if you have less things.

RTA: You felt like purging your belongings was liberating vs. feeling deprived? Would you say that?

SM: I think it was probably both. I didn’t realize that it was going to be liberating until I got rid of the stuff.  I thought it was going to make me feel deprived, I thought it was going to make me feel like I didn’t have enough, and it wasn’t until I got rid of everything and lived without those things for about a month that I realized it was much more freeing to have less.

RTA: Do you think your van is still overweight or is it where it should be?

SM:  I don’t know if my van is still overweight. I did get rid of a few more things this week so I’m assuming it’s probably under payload now. I’m hoping so because I’m not planning on getting rid of anything else.

RTA: What kind of things did you get rid of?

SM: Oh, so many art supplies. When my mom died, I inherited all her art supplies, and I tried to bring all of them with me when I left. Probably not the best idea. So I got rid of a lot of art supplies.

I got rid of a lot of just random things. There [were] a lot of things I really thought that I would need on the road that I never used. I probably had like six camp stoves, so now I have three, which is good because, you know, you need more than one, but you don’t need six. I had I think three shovels. You don’t need three shovels. You need one. So it was just stuff like that where I just had too many of each thing. My camping equipment, I had so many backups and then more backups for my backups, and that’s stupid.

RTA: How’d you decide which item of several similar ones to keep?

SM: I just picked the smallest one.

RTA: Oh, that’s a good plan.

RTA: Can you tell me more about your bed setup? How you got where you are today , how you decided on the size?

 

This photo of Sarah Meg’s rig shows her bed and the seat she left in that reclines.

SM :  I knew I wanted a bed that was as long as a regular bed because I like to stretch out as far as I can. I’m not very tall, but I still wanted a regular length for my bed. The width was determined by the fact that I wanted to keep one of the seats in the back. The seats in the Toyota Sienna , the back right seat, it reclines. So it would be like having a recliner in my tiny little van house. My bed width was entirely determined by whether or not I could keep the back seat. I measured it, and it was exactly 30 inches between the wall of the van and the seat that I left, so I made my bed 30 inches wide. I built it with a piece of plywood and some 4” x 4”s because I wanted to make sure it was sturdy.

Before I built that bed, I tried an Army cot, but it was too tall, so I couldn’t sit up all the way, and I was crouching on top of the bed. Even though I had a chair in there, if it was raining and someone came over to visit me, then there was nowhere that we could all sit down. Now I can fit-if I put a stool in there too—I can fit four people on a rainy day inside my tiny little van. I can have company.

RTA: Do you have a mattress or memory foam?

SM: I have a memory foam mattress from Wal-Mart from the kids’ department. It’s the one that goes on a bunk bed. The best way to explain it is if you ever went to camp, and those foam mattresses that were on the bunk beds at camp, that’s what it is.

RTA: Do you have storage under the bed?

Sm: Yes I do. I have some old drawers that were from a [plastic] drawer set. I just took them out of the framework of the drawer set, and I used them underneath the bed for storage. They have little handles, so I just pull the handle [to pull them out].

RTA: Oh, that’s clever.

RTA: Do you have a kitchen in your van?

SM: I cook outside. If it’s raining I have a small little stool I can put a small stove on top of it and cook inside the van, but normally, if it’s raining I just eat things that don’t need cooking or I go out to eat.

RTA: Is that why you have three stoves? One little one for indoor cooking and then an outdoor stove?

SM: Yeah so one looks like an actual burner from inside of a house; it’s one of those butane stoves and I love it because it will simmer. My other stoves don’t simmer very well. Then I have a small backpacking stove that I can use inside the van if it’s a cold, rainy day. Then I also got an Ohuhu stove because I thought they were so cool. I figured if I ever ran out of fuel, and I couldn’t get somewhere, at least I could build a tiny fire. So the Ohuhu stove is just a small, metal wood-burning stove that you can cook on.

RTA: So you used to live in an RV. Do you ever miss living in a big rig?

SM: I miss living in it, but I do not miss taking care of it or driving it around or paying for the repairs on it. But I do miss living in it. I miss having basically the size of a house or an apartment- it was almost as big as my apartment that I had moved out of. It was large, and it was nice having all that space, but to be honest, I didn’t use all the space, and I don’t know why I need two double beds and two twin beds if I’m only one person. It was obviously too much space, but I sometimes miss having a place where I can stand up inside and walk around inside.

I did recently build a 6’x10’ structure out of PVC pipe and shade cloth, but since the shade cloth has tiny holes in it I would get wet in there if it rained. But it is very nice to be able to stand up all the way and walk around inside something. It is great for shade and having people over to visit.

RTA: What do you think is the best part of living in a minivan?

SM: Being able to go anywhere and always have your house with you. With a bigger rig, you’re not necessarily going to drive it into town to just go and get something. When I had my bigger rig, I also had a small car that I would tow behind; it was nearly 40 feet long in total. It was very hard to get anywhere in that thing so I am immensely grateful for my little van home now.  I’m also really bad at packing my bag in the morning to know what I need, so it’s really nice to have almost everything I own with me wherever I go. It makes me feel like the ultimate Girl Scout or like my friend Jan says, my van is the Mary Poppins bag, I have everything with me all the time.

RTA: [Laughter]

RTA: What do you think is the worst part of living in a minivan?

SM: I can’t stand up! I can’t stand up inside the van, and that really sucks to me. It bothers me so much. I used to not be able to walk very well and I had to use a wheelchair, and so now it’s really important to me to be able to stand up and walk now that I can. Not being able to stand up in my own home just feels very restricting. That’s one of the main reasons I built the shade structure.

RTA: Is there anything else about your life as a nomad that you want to share?

SM: I just want to say that I think the reason I was drawn to this life is because I’ve always just been obsessed with camping and I’ve been obsessed with being in nature. When I found out that you could camp every single day of your life and no one was going to give you shit for it, and in fact you could make a nice Instagram out of it, and put #vanlife and everybody was going to think you were cool, when I found out this was a lifestyle choice, this was normal, that I was not crazy for thinking that I wanted to camp every single day of my life, and that it didn’t make me homeless or a bum, then I just wanted to do it all the time.

I’m really grateful there were people out there on YouTube, on the internet, and people I met while traveling who told me, “Hey this can be done all the time.” It wasn’t just the druggies and the dropouts, it was all kinds of people who were out here on the road. Knowing that I wasn’t completely an oddball and that I was normal, at least within the van dwelling community, that gave me the courage to live how I really wanted to live and not allow society’s expectations to hold me back from being full-time as a nomad.

With Sarah Meg’s permission, this interview was edited for clarity and length. After the interview was transcribed, Sarah Meg sent me changes via email.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

 

Grateful Vandweller (An Interview with Devan Winters)

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I met Devan Winters of the XsyntrikNomad blog through Facebook, but for the life of me, I can’t remember exactly how that meeting came about. We’ve known each other for not quite two years, but now it’s difficult to remember a time when Devan wasn’t my friend.

What started as an internet friendship evolved into an in-person friendship when we found ourselves in the same metropolitan area. Over donuts we talked and laughed and comiserated. We camped together for a couple of nights right before Christmas 2017, and I was impressed by Devan’s kind and compassionate nature. It’s been a joy to see Devan spread her rubber tramp wings and fly into van life.

Devan’s a great writer too. I’ve been blessed with her contribution of two guest posts (“This Is the Story of a (Kind) Girl” and the comprehensive article “Traveling Van Cat?” about cats and van life) on this blog. Her writing ability shines through in this interview too, which was conducted via email. In it she shares her van dwelling experiences, including how she chose her rig, a recent accident that nearly resulted in her losing her van, and what it’s like to share her limited space with a cat companion.

How long have you been a full-time van dweller?

I moved into my van permanently on June 20, 2017. I ran some final errands for my adult child that morning and then drove 6 hours to southern California. I spent my first night as a Van Dweller in Del Mar, CA at a Denny’s.

How long did you want to be on the road before you got on the road?

The epiphany leading to this lifestyle happened very late in 2014. It took 2 ½ years to research, plan, and save.

What is the make and model of your rig?

I live in a 2013 Chevy Express 1500 Passenger van with a 5.3 Liter V8. (Her name is Zō)

Can you stand up in your van?

I cannot. It is one of the things I will probably change in the future if finances permit. It would be a delightful convenience, but it won’t be the end of the world if I can’t ever do it.

Why did you choose this rig out of all the available options?

So many reasons! First, I couldn’t afford a Class B. I am strangely put off by the cookie cutter uniformity of them anyway – the lines seem too perfect for my chaotic mind. 🙂 I like something with a bit of character, like the Airstream 190. However, I knew I wanted to finance and would need something newer to get a loan. I also hoped something newer would be more mechanically sound. I did a lot of research on engines, reliability, and repair trends. Once that was settled, I decided (for me) windows were a must. The end result was my Chevy Express Passenger Van!

What’s your favorite thing about living in a full-size van?

There are two sides to that question in my mind. As far as size, I can’t imagine anything smaller than full size working for me. This is the minimum space I need to be comfortable. My favorite thing though… is a feeling. When I crawl into bed at night, a sense of peace and contentment fills my soul. I feel strong, capable, and independent. And I love knowing I am not tied down to any location.

What’s most frustrating about living in a full-size van?

Right now it’s showering. I have a Planet Fitness membership so it usually isn’t a big issue. I decided to stay in Flagstaff, AZ to escape the heat this summer though and there is no Planet fitness here. The cheapest shower is $9 at the Aquaplex. My weed sprayer shower and wet wipes have become more important than ever!

Normally though, the biggest inconvenience for me is lack of power. Because I don’t have solar yet, I have to go to places like Starbucks to work (since my laptop holds a charge for 2 hours at best). I would also LOVE to be done buying ice for my cooler. Once I get solar, a 12-volt fridge isn’t far behind.

Do you travel with everything you own?

I do.  My entire life is in my van and I LOVE it.

I know you were recently in a bad accident and almost lost your van. What are the three most important things you learned from the experience?

#1 The value of emotional support in like-minded friends. I was on the scene of the accident for two hours. An officer suggested I contact someone to come pick me up. I sent a text to a long time friend I knew in the area. When he called me in response, I began sobbing about my “home.” He tried, but the conversation with him only made me feel worse. He couldn’t relate to my fears or provide the comfort I needed. In hindsight, I realize the incredible importance and value of my closest nomadic friends. No matter how much of a loner or introvert you may be, connections to others in the nomadic community are vital. When I talked to you Blaize, or my friends LaVonne and Patrick, it was completely different. I felt understood and supported in a way only a nomad or vandweller would be able to.

#2 Never underestimate the value of an emergency fund and a backup plan. I was not remotely prepared for what happened. You should begin creating an emergency fund now if you don’t have one. Calculate how much it would cost to re-establish your life if you lost everything. Keep in mind you may have to start over smaller, but make sure you save enough that you at least have a starting point in a worst case situation. Put a plan on paper with things like where you might stay, considerations for your pet, etc.

#3 Check your insurance coverage and Roadside Benefits. Look at medical, uninsured motorist, car rental, deductible, etc. My claims adjuster told me the state minimums in Arizona don’t always cover a serious accident, especially medical. Roadside assistance is also a must and you should check your plan for trip interruption benefits as well. I’ve just signed up with a new roadside assistance plan that includes reimbursement for out of pocket costs (in several situations, including an accident) for an interruption that happens at least 100 miles from ‘home’.

What should vandwellers know about insurance?

For auto/van insurance, what I mentioned above. Consult wih someone you trust to get honest answers on what the best coverage would be for you and your van. If you don’t know any insurance folks personally, check out the guy Bob Wells did a video with titled ‘Insurance For Nomads’. There is also someone who works with RVers and vandwellers on RVillage. Check the community forums there. As far as health insurance, your guess is as good as mine.  🙂 I’m hoping to find a remote job with health benefits. I know some working-age nomads use health sharing ministries and plans, but those aren’t for me.

A companion cat shares the van with you. How’s that working out?

It’s not without its challenges! It’s definitely more of a blessing than anything, but it does require special considerations. Like where I spend the summers!

Do you prefer to spend time in cities or on public land? Why?

Nature is healing for me, but I’m also a city girl. If I didn’t have to work and could do whatever I wanted, I would probably spend my time 50/50. This might sound strange, but when I vandwell in the city, I prefer to be alone.  When I spend time in nature, I often find it more enjoyable to camp with one or two other people.

What are three things you do to stay stealthy when you’re in cities?  

I keep my van very plain. No stickers or anything. The only thing identifiable on my van is the license plate. I even have 3 different styles and colors of windshield shades that I rotate to throw anyone off. I never stay 2 nights in the same place unless there is a situation out of my control. My windows are limo tinted, but when I press Reflectix into them you can kind of tell. I feel like that’s a pretty solid give away that I’m a vandweller, so don’t use it that way. If I’m on a street instead of a parking lot, I’ll roll Reflectix around the windows loosely and pin it at the top. I’d like to eventually make a curtain that goes around the van, using blackout material, with the option to roll it up or tie it to the side, when not in use. I’m not terribly crafty though so that idea will probably stay an idea.  lol

Is there anything else you would like to share?  

Just that living this lifestyle makes me happier than I can put into words. Probably why it was so devastating for me after the accident when it looked like I might have to start all over again. The idea of having to stay in one place for a couple of years to regroup was more depressing than anything else I can think of. This lifestyle suits me and I feel blessed to be able to live it!

All photos provided by Devan Winters.

Security

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anatomy, biology, eyeNow that the store is up and full of merchandise, The Big Boss Man wants someone on site in the campground where it’s located every night. When the camp hosts are away from the campground during their weekly time off, guard duty falls to me.

To be fair, The Big Boss Man says, if you don’t mind to me whenever he asks me to do something extra, but it seems risky to me to refuse his reasonable request. Honestly, sleeping at the other campground is no big deal. The beauty of sleeping in my van is that I get to spend the night in my own bed no matter where I’m parked. Also, I’m reimbursed for the mileage I accrue driving back and forth between the campground where I live and the campground where the store is located. At 54 cents a mile, I’m not getting rich from driving, but at least it’s a little something to help me out.

I’m not sure what I would do if I woke up in the night and realized someone was robbing the store. The phone is in the store, so if burglars were in there, forget about calling 911 or my boss. I suppose I could get license plate number(s) and description(s) of vehicle(s) and person(s) involved, then climb into my drivers seat, start my van, and drive away to alert my boss. I suppose on my way out of the campground I could shout, That’s my purse! I don’t know you!

Before the campground opened, and I stayed there overnight to guard the store and the yurts, I parked in one of the paved accessible parking spaces. The gates were closed, and I had the only vehicle there, so I figured it didn’t matter if I parked in a reserved spot. Once the campground opened, I decided I better stay out of areas designated for folks with disabilities.

The first night I was on security duty after the campground opened, I drove through the area before parking in thehttps://i1.wp.com/images.pexels.com/photos/699558/pexels-photo-699558.jpeg?resize=388%2C238&ssl=1 camp host site. I knew the hosts had checked in two groups with reservations earlier that afternoon, but I saw at least five sites were occupied. The campground had gotten some walk-in campers before I arrived.

I was not on camp host duty, so I wasn’t concerned with any campers who were not checked in. The Man would patrol the campground the next morning and write permits for anyone who hadn’t been issued one by the camp hosts before they left. I hadn’t been given any permits (since I wasn’t working as a camp host), so I couldn’t have check in anyone even if I wanted to, which I didn’t.

After driving around the campground, I backed into the host site. I had a decent view of the store there, so I could see what was going on if I heard any noises in the night.

I knew I should have drawn my curtains immediately, but instead I sat in my passenger seat, pulled out my phone, and tried to catch a whiff of the store’s WiFi. I hadn’t sat there even ten minutes when I looked up and saw five people standing near my van, looking intently at me.

The youngest woman said, Hello! as soon as I looked up.

I greeted her, but I suspect I looked grim.

They would like to camp here, the young woman said, gesturing to the other people standing nearby.

Ok, I said, leaning back to speak through the open windows on the side of the van. A camp host will be around tomorrow to check them in.

Tomorrow, she echoed. Is there one site that’s not reserved?

I don’t know, I said, which was the truth.

I don’t have any paperwork, I said, which was the truth. The Man had the arrival report for the campground. I knew the camp hosts had put up a reservations card on each campsite that had been reserved for the next week. All the people had to do was walk around and read the signs to find out what sites were available that night.

The young woman continued to look at me expectantly. I’m just working security, I explained with a there’s-nothing-I-can-do shrug.

The people wandered away from my van and huddled together in the roadway, presumably discussing which campsites were available that night.

I learned my lesson that night. I no longer spend my security guard nights in the host site. I park behind the Mercantile and put up my curtains immediately. When I’m away from the host site, the campers don’t seem to consider me someone who might be able to answer their questions.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/eye-iris-anatomy-biology-8588/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/six-camping-tents-in-forest-699558/.

10 Fundamentals for Boondockers

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So you want to save money by camping in a place where you don’t have to pay? Perhaps you want to see natural beauty that might not be present in a private campground. Maybe you need a little more elbow room than you can get in a commercial RV park that’s more like an RV parking lot. For free camping in scenic locations with plenty of space between you and the next rig, you might want to try boondocking (also known as “dry camping” or “primitive camping”).

If you’ve never been boondocking before, it might seem complicated. Where can you camp legally and safely? How can you find the good spots? Should you stay in a town or venture into the wilderness? Have no fear! In this article, I’ll cover ten fundamentals of boondocking so you can make decisions about where to go. I’ll also give you suggestions that will help you have a great time once you get where you’re going.

#1 Before you head out, determine how long you want your boondocking experience to last. An overnight stop on the way to somewhere else will be different from a relaxing two-week stay in nature.

#2 For an overnight stay, decide on the town where you want to take a break and look into what businesses in the area allow overnight parking. Businesses to check into include Wal-Mart; truck stops (Flying J, Pilot, Love’s, TravelCenters of America, Petro, and Bosselman, plus independently owned truck stops); Bass Pro Shop; and Cracker Barrel. Always call a business ahead of time and ask if overnight parking is allowed. If you’re going to be told no, it’s better to know ahead of time than to wake up to a knock on your rig at 2am.

If you can’t find a business that will allow you to park overnight, check for free camping in town or county parks. I’ve camped for free at the county fairgrounds in Blue Earth, Minnesota and the town park in Vermillion, South Dakota.

If all else fails, look online or in your atlas (you are traveling with a paper atlas, right?) for highway or interstate rest areas. Some states have limits on how long folks are allowed to stay in rest areas (when I was traveling in California in 2012, it was eight hours), and there may be signs saying “No Camping” (which I interpret as “don’t pitch a tent”) but as their name states, rest areas are there so drivers can rest and avoid accidents from falling asleep at the wheel. (The Interstate Rest Areas website has a complete state-by-state breakdown of overnight parking rules.)

There are also apps available so you can find out on your phone what rests stops will fill your needs. The free USA Rest Stops app helps find rest stops on interstates as well as U.S. and state highways.

#3 If you’re staying in a business parking lot or at a rest area, know parking lot etiquette. Keep bodily fluids out of the parking lot. Keep your pet(s) under control and clean up after them. Dispose of trash properly. No yelling or honking in the middle of the night.

Most National Forests offer plenty of places for boondocking.

#4 For longer stays, do plenty of research before you set out. Read blog posts written by other boondockers. There’s lots of public land in the United States where people can camp for free. Look for Bureau of Land Management areas, Bureau of Reclamation land, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, and Corps of Engineering land where boondocking is allowed.

Gazetteers show public land and the roads that will take you to remote, secluded locations. Benchmark Atlases show elevation, and DeLorme Atlas & Gazateers are also highly respected. 

#5 For both overnight and extended stays, the Free Campsites website is your best friend. This website allows you to search for free and cheap campsites by typing a location into a search bar. Once you have a list of camping areas near your destination, you can look at the details for each area. Folks who have actually camped in the area can leave reviews and photographs. Once you pick a spot, you can click on a “get directions” link which will take you directly to Google Maps to help you navigate to your destination. I’ve camped in free campgrounds across the United States that were found through Free Campsites; I can’t say enough good things about the website

#6 If you’re boondocking on public land, be prepared to have no amenities. Boondockers must be ready to provide their own electricity from solar panels or generators or to do without. Boondockers must carry in their own water for drinking and washing. Most boondocking areas offer no showers, no toilets (pit, flush, or otherwise), no dump stations, and no trashcans. Before you set out, prepare to take care of all your needs while on public land.

I left nothing but footprings.

#7 Practice “leave no trace” camping while on public land. Camp where others have camped before you, not on pristine land. Pick up your microtrash, and don’t leave trash in your fire ring. If you pack it in, be prepared to pack it out. Leave nothing but footprints.

#8 Research fire bans and fire permits while you’re still in civilization. If you plan to have a campfire, find out if it’s legal to do so before you get out of internet range. If you need a fire permit, get one before you go out into the wilderness. A ranger might not be sympathetic to ignorance of a fire ban or need for a fire permit while writing you a ticket for your illegal campfire.

#9 Don’t park too close to other boondockers. Give everyone plenty of elbow room, especially if you have pets or a generator you’re going to be running a lot. People go out into the wilderness for quiet and solitude, not to be under the armpit of another boondocker. If you’re scared to be out in nature alone, park where you can see other people without being right up on them.

#10 If you’re out in nature for an extended period of time, don’t forget to have fun. Watch a sunset. Take a walk. Relax and enjoy your free camping experience.

I took this photo while boondocking on public land.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

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.