Rubber Tramp Rendezvous: Day 1

For several months I’ve meant to come back and write about my trip to New Hampshire last summer. However, that trip ended with the death of my beloved aunt, and I had to drive home the day after her funeral–a five-day trip that turned into seven, with me crying most of the way. Over the next few weeks I lost two more people I loved. So I haven’t felt feel like traveling or writing much since then. Grieving takes a lot out of you.

But on my Facebook groups about “Van Dwelling,” I saw some references to the upcoming “Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.” I know it sounds a bit sordid, but it’s actually an annual meet-up of full-time travelers who gather every year in western Arizona. A van dweller named Bob Wells, who also runs the “Cheap RV Living” website, started it 7 years ago. It was originally just for van-dwellers, but it has expanded to include nearly everyone interested in the lifestyle.

I decided to go, try out that whole “living in the Prius” thing, meet some of my internet friends for the first time, and gather a lot of information.

It was dry camping on dispersed land; absolutely no amenities, and nothing would be provided. I bought some camping supplies from Craigslist, went to Dick’s Sporting Goods and Home Depot for the rest, and considered myself ready. I had food and water, and I had my bucket, and I had my little stove and mess kit. I was all set.

As it happened, there was someone else in El Paso bound for the RTR on the same day I was. We arranged to meet up early in the morning (it’s about a 10-hour drive from here to Quartzsite), and convoy out there together. He was a young guy named Lance, and he was a pretty good travel buddy. He was a good sport about my having to stop and take a nap when I needed to, and we had similar ideas on what speed to drive, when to gas up, and when to use the bathroom. What more do you need in a traveling companion?

We got to the RTR shortly before dusk, and there I ran into a problem. I hadn’t tried toileting inside the car before, and as I’m not a Cirque du Soleil contortionist, it proved difficult. As it’s all dispersed camping, I could have just gone outdoors–if there had been any privacy. Alas, it was a catch-22: all the spots that would allow enough privacy for bathroom activities were too rocky for the Prius to get to. It only has around 4 inches of clearance. So I contorted and managed things inside the car, pulled a couple of muscles, and nearly gave up. What made matters worse was that my bed was much too short–I guess I had underestimated my height, and my extra camping equipment still in the rear of the car made it even shorter. After my third painful leg cramp, I got out of the car and rearranged the entire interior by moonlight. Moved the bed from the back to the passenger’s side (the passenger’s seat fully reclines so that it’s flat, even with the rear seat), which gave me a little extra leg room. I still woke up well before dawn and drove back into town, where I used an actual bathroom (!) and then went back to sleep in the gas station parking lot. I thought if things didn’t improve by morning, I was going to just leave for home.

However, things improved the next day! Daylight brought new hope in the form of publicly-accessible privacy tents with buckets and trash bags out at the RTR camp. My toileting woes were over, or at least lessened. (Except for the contorting, anyway; buckets are really no substitute for a real toilet.)

I drove back to camp in time to meet up with Lance for the morning seminar. It was on personal safety. First there was almost an hour of announcements, and then Bob started the seminar. It was very participation-oriented, with good ideas coming from all corners. They ranged from personal safety for outdoors situations such as bears and rattlesnakes, to personal safety for the urban van dwellers. Very good stuff, learned a lot–much of which can be summed up with “don’t make yourself look like a victim,” and “use camouflage whenever possible.” Not necessarily literal camouflage, but things like solo female van dwellers leaving a note on the door for a mythical “Larry,” saying that she’s just gone into town for supplies (for example).

After the seminar, I left my site from last night and moved my camp over next to Lance’s, closer to the communal fire pit, gathering space, and toilets.  Heated up some soup with my little folding stove, and settled in.

People were walking around, and two of them came up to me and introduced themselves: David,  who runs the “Prius Camping” group on Facebook, and Elliott-with-two-Ts, a British/American guy who lives and travels in his Ford hybrid. David lives full-time in his Prius, and offered to show me his setup. There’s a guy who really loves to talk about his Prius! I don’t blame him though; his setup really is ingenious. In addition to his bed, he has curtains, a kitchen, and even a folding bike in there! I asked Elliott if I could see his, and we wandered over to his camp. His car, the Ford C-Max, is very much like the Prius, only taller–this gives him lots more head room, and his removal of the front passenger seat gives him tons of leg and foot room as well. It also gave him enough space to travel with his dog, a convex-faced, English bull terrier who was quite sweet and built like a small, brown-and-white tank.

Next I met John, who used to live in his Prius but moved into a Class C and now tows the Prius. He still uses the Prius for short jaunts. He had just returned from one of these, a 3-week sojourn in CA, so his bed and everything was still set up. His was definitely the tidiest and most “stealthy” setup I saw the whole weekend. He even still had the cargo cover installed in the hatchback, and slept with his legs tucked invisibly underneath it!

The January timing of the RTR meant that the days were quite short, and by the time I had finished meeting people and perusing their nifty cars, it was dark. I brought my chair down to the campfire and stayed there quite late with everyone else. There’s just something about a campfire!


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