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Just left my lofty perch at about 7,500' in the Coconino National Forest outside Flagstaff, Arizona where I was attending the Summer 2016 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous or the RTR as it's known by the vandwelling world. The event is typically held in January outside Quartzsite, Arizona, but there have been two (that I know of) including this current one, held in the warmer months at a high elevation where the temperatures in Arizona are MUCH more moderate. It was probably in the mid to high 70's yesterday at the RTR and it was about 120 degrees in Phoenix, Arizona, perhaps 125 miles south of Flagstaff.
The event was created by a full-time, nomadic, vandwelling fellow by the name of Bob Wells. Bob, has a very interesting background and caught my attention early on. His Web site, www.cheaprvliving.com, provided a wealth of knowledge and information that I (and likely thousands of others) found very useful. When I began my newly chosen lifestyle of living free without a permanent residence and my “tin tent” on wheels aka, “My McVansion,” much of what I learned from Bob's site helped me implement my adventure.
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I've met many people who've embraced the vandwelling and RVing lifestyle. It is a sub-culture of some of the most diverse and interesting people I've met in my 50+ adult years. I can truly say, without question, there has been only one person I've met over the years I've been happily houseless, I wouldn't care to encounter again.
Bob Wells is one of the people I've been looking forward to meeting and I finally have and I wasn't disappointed. Bob is not, in my opinion, a great, charismatic leader. He's a down to earth, solid citizen of the world and nature who has found a niche helping others to realize their dreams of freedom, a minimalist lifestyle, living comfortably very frugally and both enjoying and respecting nature and the land.
So, what is this RTR thing? It's an informal gathering of primarily vandwelling individuals, mostly single folks, but certainly there are couples, as well. The primary identifying characteristic is that most of them have, either part-time or full-time, embraced an alternative lifestyle. They have adopted and adapted a lifestyle of living within a van with typical square footage of about 50 square feet, such as my own van.
To be fair, there are those who also come tent camping, in converted school buses, smaller Class A and Class C motorhomes, the occasional converted utility trailer as well as small travel trailers and there might even be a small 5th wheel trailer in evidence. And, dare I say, there are even some “cardwellers” in the mix. The common denominator seems to be the camaraderie. It doesn't matter what you drive and live in. Egos seem to be put in the back of a drawer somewhere and everyone accepts everyone else as an equal. It's called “Community.”
There are those with plain white cargo vans . . . LOTS of plain white cargo vans. There are those with high-top converted conversion vans like mine. There are others with factory built Class B “motorhome” vans from a variety of manufacturers. It doesn't matter, everyone is proud of their vehicle, regardless of its shape, size, interior amenities, etc. And, everyone is happy to show them off. And, of course, everyone gains ideas of ways they can modify their own vans. This is, for many, a “dream factory,” if you will. “Wow! You designed and built this in yourself?” is not an uncommon statement around the grounds.
Did I mention there can be upwards of 75 to 100 “rigs” parked hodgepodge in “boondocking” mode through the, typically multi-acre site where this event is hosted by Bob Wells. Those 75 to 100 rigs equates to 100 or more people in attendance.
Who are these vandwelling (and other kinds of dwelling, as I described earlier) denizens? They range through several extremes. One man I met was down on his luck and has been unemployed for a while due to the (supposedly) improving and growing economy (if you believe the “government speak, he doesn't”). Then there are folks who have chosen to retire, some early, to this lifestyle, most giving up their fixed residences to explore the highways and byways of this great country.
There are those with multiple college degrees who may have been college professors or executives in large companies. It's not uncommon to find entrepreneurs who have spent their lives creating businesses and jobs for others and finally tired of the rat race and became 21st Century “hippie road warriors.” Some are musicians or artists. Some are IT specialists.
Many are veterans of Vietnam or other U.S. military involvements. There are retired over the road truck drivers, authors, media production specialists, electricians, plumbers, mechanics, construction people, etc. If you can name a profession, educational level, financial or social status, you'll likely find someone from just about every walk of life.
Mostly men? Hell, no! There are probably as many women, if not more, who have embraced this lifestyle. Are they helpless or clueless? Not on your life. They are smart, savvy, capable and competent. And, they didn't seem to be in competition with the men or other women. Everyone appears to accept everyone else on a equal basis.
Do all the men and women consider themselves to be totally capable on every issue of their “metal magic carpets?” No! No one can know everything about everything. That's part of the charm and magic of this community. Everyone is generous with their knowledge, experience and resources. Sharing and caring are two words that come to mind. If you need help with something, the likelihood is someone is there with the knowledge, experience, resources and tools to resolve the issue forthwith.
Everyone has a story
This is what I find the most interesting aspect of this lifestyle and a gathering like the RTR. Everyone has a story. In reality, everyone has many stories. You'll walk from campsite to campsite, say 'hi' and find yourself engaged in fantastic conversations. You can't leave without learning something new with every person you encounter.
You could find a cold beer or a cup of wine in your hand. You'll get a tour of the other person's rig. You'll learn their stories. Why they are at this gathering. When they got started in this lifestyle. Why they chose this lifestyle. Invariably, the words freedom and happiness are included in the explanations. This is a group of personal freedom loving, living free, happy people. I thrive on interfacing with this kind of amazing people.
One woman, camped near me, when we met, said she had been looking forward to meeting me after someone else showed her my 2 Live Freely card I hand out. What interesting stories she had about her years of living in southeast Asia, mainly Thailand. She is the only person I've every met/known who experienced a giant tsunami and survived to tell about it. I learned the story of a retired over the road truck driver and his many careers and experiences – again, amazing. I learned of the business life of an entrepreneurial type whose life, in many ways paralleled mine.
Unfortunately, I missed the first RTR I had planned to attend in January of 2015 due to my engine failure in California. I missed the RTR I wanted to attend in January of 2016, due to commitments I made to a very dear and close friend back east. And, this time I made a special effort to get to this current (still ongoing) RTR near Flagstaff.
Unfortunately, again, timing is everything. I don't get the opportunity to spend much time with my adult son, also a nomadic type (he treks internationally). I guess like father, like son. A chip off the old block. So, I had to leave the RTR after only a few days to head to Los Angeles to meet up with my son. Thus, I only had a chance to see a number of friends I've known from the past years and a number of new folks I met while there. But, there were so many more I wish I could have enjoyed meeting and sharing time with.
I'm actually composing this article in a shady pavilion in a roadside rest area in the desert between Kingman, Arizona and Needles, California. The temperature, where I'm sitting in the shade, is 99 degrees with a pleasant, constant breeze blowing and very low humidity. I'm quite comfortable. My destination tonight is the Walmart Supercenter in Yucca Valley, California. I've stayed at that Walmart before. Tomorrow, I'll roll into LA and stay at my son's loft apartment in the Art District of West LA.
A Humbling Experience
The most humbling experiences for me at this first RTR I attended were the number of people who introduced themselves and said they knew me from this, my 2 Live Freely blog. They had been reading it for quite a while and I had inspired them in many different ways. Boy! Is that humbling to meet the people you didn't know were out there reading your writings and gaining benefit and inspiration for their own lives. It was especially nice to hear several people say they enjoyed listening to the audio versions. Thank you all. If I gained nothing else from my, all too brief stay at this RTR, you made my time there worth more than I can express.
That's exactly why I write. I'm not a great philosopher or guru, just another average human being experiencing this brief thing we call life. I simply share my thoughts and experiences and the things I've learned, mostly by trial and error. My intention is to help others, one person at a time, to avoid some of the pitfalls or painful experiences I've had. My mission statement for my life is simply . . . “to leave this campground (the world) a little better than I found it.” Thanks for your affirmation that I'm fulfilling my mission.
I, of course, would appreciate if you'd share the blog with as many people as you can. I don't care about becoming famous (or even rich). I'm not into the “guru” thing. But, the more people who are aware of it and read it, the better I feel about fulfilling my mission statement.
(Side Note: As I was composing that last paragraph, a “Dust Devil,” a tiny wind and sand tornado event, went right through this pavilion I'm sitting in and then engulfed “My McVansion, 75' away.)
The Educational/Instructive Facet of the RTR
I especially enjoyed the idea of the informal, interactive educational and instructive sessions of the RTR. I am a constant student. I learn something from everyone I meet and from everyone's experiences and event. Basically, Bob Wells gathered everyone who chose to participate and opened the “floor” for suggested topics that everyone was interested in gaining any new knowledge and insights about. A list of topics was compiled and a topic was scheduled for each day of the event at noon.
The group, again, anyone choosing to participate, brought their chairs and gathered in the shadiest open area in the disbursed camping area. It started with announcements and everyone could contribute. Then he asked if there were any specific needs anyone had. Individuals would express whatever it might be. Perhaps, it was a bit of carpentry, installing a new “gadget” in their rig, location of a laundromat in town, etc. Then those who could assist would volunteer their services. Once again, the beauty and dynamics of this kind of community.
Then Bob would allow anyone who had products or services to sell to make this information known. I saw a van change hands, I saw people helping people with computer services. Again, another dynamic of this kind of community.
There was a “Freebie” giveaway tarp located in this central area where you could place useful items others might use that you simply wanted to give away or where you might find something you could use and could take for free. There was always a nice array of “stuff” on the tarp. I had a pair of computer speakers, tiny, but decent sounding. Another vandweller back east gave them to me when he no longer needed them. I used them for a while and had upgraded, so this was my opportunity to “share the wealth.” I noticed a little later, they were gone. I hope whoever retrieved them from the tarp will gain some good use from them. Once again, the sharing and generous attitude of this community.
And, finally, the actual topical session of the day. Bob Wells handled the first two days himself. One topic was on solar power, batteries, boondocking power and power management. These are important topics to most vandwellers (etc.) in this community and certainly to me. There was a lot I already knew, but I did not walk away without enhancing my personal knowledge bank. I was even able to contribute a few ideas to help others. As I said, this is basically, an interactive session.
The next day (Friday, the day I, sadly, had to leave) Bob led the group in a session on boondocking, or, for the uninitiated, camping in, typically, disbursed camping areas (sometimes in urban settings) where there is no access to power, water or waste/trash dumping. Again, I've had a reasonable amount of experience, but I walked away with way more than enough new knowledge to make the session more than worth staying around before I had to leave for my trek to Los Angeles.
Bob indicated there would be sessions that were definitely not in his wheelhouse, so he would not be comfortable leading them and someone else better equipped and knowledgeable on the topic would need to step up to lead those sessions. I won't be there for those sessions, but knowing the group, just from my brief stay, I have no doubt there will be folks who will fill the bill and, again, everyone will learn and gain.
One of the many hats I've worn during my diverse career was meeting planning and execution. Many of the clients I worked with were professional associations and consulting organizations. I've worked meetings from less than 100 to hundreds and even thousands of participants and exhibitors. Sometimes there were well in excess of 100 speakers participating. I've worked them in major convention centers and 5 star Hyatt Regencies, Marriotts, Ritz Carltons, etc. They were challenging, stressful, yet, pulling off things that sometimes seemed insurmountable provided great fulfillment.
My most enjoyable experience was the 12 years I ran a retreat for veteran (read that as “senior”) professional (fee-paid – sometimes very large fees) speakers. It was run as a retreat. I took it over after the originator had run it for 14 years and wanted to step down. We capped our attendance at 60 people (though we occasionally had a few over the cap). It was run on an interactive, informal basis, much like the RTR sessions. Everyone enjoyed the fellowship, schmoozing, camaraderie and gaining new ideas, information and insights, just as they did at the RTR. I turned the reins over to that retreat three years ago. I felt right at home with the RTR event.
I've been trying to think of some kind of new retreat I can organize on one or more topics participants can gain from and have a great time at the same time. If you have any thoughts, feel free to run them past me. They should not in any way, compete with Bob's RTR. But, I'm open to ideas.
That's all, folks. That's my wrap up on one of the best experiences I've had in this lifestyle since I chose to become a happily homeless, nomadic, vandwelling vagabond at the end of 2008.
Thanks for your friendship, support and for being part of my fantastic lifestyle. And for those of you who aren't part of it, maybe this will give you a bit more insight into another option/alternative for your future.
Live free and be happy, EH (By the way, it's now 103 degrees where I'm sitting and I just got clobbered by another Dust Devil – ain't it great?)