I arrived at The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous on the afternoon of January 9, and didn’t really have any idea what to expect because I hadn’t done any research on it other than finding out the dates and the location.
The RTR was being held in Quartzsite, AZ, in La Paz County, a location where thousands of snow birds and travelers gather together for the winter and for the big tent show, an RV show of epic proportions. Some think it could be called the RV boon docking capital of the world. However, the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous starts a couple of weeks before this small town is completely taken over by RV’s of every shape, size, and price-range imaginable. I arrived at the RTR in the middle of the afternoon and pulled onto the desert asphalt (or desert pavement), and asked the first person I saw about parking and the rules. I was told I could set up anywhere as long as there wasn’t some kind of marker, like a chair, already claiming the spot. So I just drove up and down the isles of white vans, trucks, cars and small campers, and eventually settled for a spot on the outside edge of the gathering, hoping it would be quieter and darker. The different sections or isles were divided by washes, which one had to drive around in order to preserve the native plants that grew there. Having nothing to set up like an awning or camp stove, I simply parked, then went to investigate the group.
A Stranger Among Friends
I found the main gathering area easily because there was a huge pile of firewood next to an enormous fire ring. A few chairs and tables were nearby, and a big tarp on the ground that was covered with stuff, which I later learned was the ‘free’ pile. Other than that there was little sign that much went on here. However, that all changed as the end of the day drew near and more new arrivals pulled in, and people came home from wherever they had been for the afternoon.
Someone started a camp fire in the main fire ring, and people started to gather around with their camp chairs, and drinks. Before long I was laughing along with this group of wonderful people, and making friends. It didn’t take long for me to feel completely at home with this group of travelers, nomads and rubber tramps.
When I returned to my vehicle that night and climbed in I was exhausted from socializing, which was something I wasn’t used to, but I also had a feeling that I would truly enjoy this experience. I did have a problem with the lack of privacy I had though, especially as Mitzi is so small and I don’t have any kind of privacy tent to put up and leave in place. There were people and vehicles everywhere, and no vegetation to create a private area. I felt as though I were on show somehow and I put up every curtain I had and slept with my earplugs in. I was not used to being around so many people except when in a campground, which were not my favorite places, and which I generally avoid as much as possible.
How We Passed the Time
Each morning much of the camp gathered together near the campfire ring for a variety of classes that were held by the RTR organizer, Bob Wells. Before these classes started there was always a community discussion where people could offer up things they had for sale, offer services for a fee or more often than not, for free (or a donation). There were hair cuts and massages available, and if you needed help with something this was the time to ask the group, and there was always someone willing to lend a hand or offer some advice. All sorts of things were discussed, and then the class would start. Over the two weeks I was there many subjects were covered, such as workcamping, solar power, how to make a toilet, favorite gadgets, camp coking, Algodones and Baja Mexico, safety, how to deal with wildlife, boondocking, photography, state residency, health care and getting mail, gold prospecting, and more.
There were many other gatherings too, such as women’s meetings, a singles group, a chili cook-off and other group cook-outs, a class on how to make dream catchers, morning walks, and even a talent show and an open house, where folks could visit each other’s homes. It was a lot of fun. When we weren’t all together at social events and meetings, or gathered around the camp fire at night, many folks just relaxed around camp reading, playing with their dogs, making repairs or building things, visiting with neighbors, or shopping the small town of Quartzsite which was only a handful of miles away. I loved digging through the free pile, where people had donated anything they no longer needed, so that someone else might make use of it. There were places to explore just outside of camp, and plenty of desert to get lost in (if one wasn’t careful..ha ha). I spent a day hiking at the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge a little south of Quartzsite, with one of my new RTR friends. There wasn’t a huge amount of places to hike nearby, but there was so much to do at the RTR, it was nice to just rest up in camp and recover from the many events.
Finding My Tribe
The RTR lasted for two weeks, and during that time I made a core group of friends but found that I generally enjoyed everyone’s company, including the numerous dogs that ran around and got along surprisingly well. In the beginning I had a hard time being around people so much of the time (I’ve camped mostly on my own, or occasionally with just one other person for the last 12+ years), and actually drove a couple of miles down the road for a few nights to sleep and have some alone time. However, I gradually got used to being around so many people and felt truly at home with this group of travelers, and despite us all coming from many different backgrounds, we were all equal in this environment. In the past I’d been made to feel that there was something wrong with me because I was different and chose a lifestyle that most of society considers unacceptable. I’d been treated with total disgust to the point that the person had brought me to tears, and I’ve even been shunned (which is actually considered to be form of torture), but in coming to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous I had met a group of people who thought like me, who understood me, and who even agreed with my choice of lifestyle. I finally felt like I was a part of something; that I fit in, that I was acceptable and even liked. My self-esteem improved considerably while I was at the RTR. When I learned that I’d been living this lifestyle for longer than almost everyone there, except perhaps Bob Wells and Randy Vining (40 Years a Nomad) and a couple of others, people even came to me with questions and were seeking advice from me, which totally stunned me. I’d gone from being ‘unacceptable’ to being a part of a group with the ability to actually help others. I could finally give back and help a little bit in he form of advice and ideas.
~In coming to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous I had found people like myself, and it felt wonderful to have finally found MY TRIBE ~
I’d never been this far south in Arizona before, and this was my very first winter deliberately traveling to a warmer climate for the winter. The last time I’d spent winter in a warm place was 30-years prior when I’d first come to the US, and lived in California for a year. For the winter of 2015/2016 I’d made the decision to come south after spending a horrible winter sleeping in my car in temperatures below freezing all winter, and even as low as –30 a few nights. That physical stress and some other stresses had caused me to have an outbreak of shingles, and it is something I never want to experience again. It was glorious to be hanging out in the desert with temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s during the day, and only needing one sleeping bag at night.
I fell in love with the sunsets, and each morning the first words out of my mouth were “Good Morning Sunshine,” as I felt the first rays of sunshine on my face.
We had a special treat one night; a couple of our camp members were fire entertainers, and we were treated to a show one evening.
I spent a couple of mornings walking in a Labyrinth that someone had gone to great lengths to make. There was something soothing and meditative about walking the labyrinth, while focusing on the sound of the birds in the bushes and cacti nearby.
The Final Days
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous was scheduled to end a couple of days after the big tent opened up in Quartzsite. Bob held the RTR a couple of weeks before this occasion deliberately, so that anyone who wanted to go and get a summer job lined up at tent could do so on it’s first day of opening.
I did get a job lined up, but in the end I realized I wouldn’t be able to actually do the job, so ended up cancelling it. Many other RTR folks found jobs for the summer months on that day.
As things wound down in camp the group started to make plans to clean up the area. The intention was to leave the area as spotless as possible, so that we would be allowed to return another year and also out of respect for the environment. I walked around several times and picked up any micro trash I could find, but there wasn’t much of it. For such a large gathering it had been a remarkably clean, and peaceful experience (over 100 people, maybe 120). Most people had solar panels, so the use of generators was rare, and I think most of these folks are nature lovers so have a lot of respect for the environment.
There was one special event towards the end of the rendezvous which was totally impromptu. Apparently someone had received a delivery in a huge cardboard box, and someone else decided to make use of the box. It was going to get recycled or burned anyhow, so this couple decided to turn it into a big cardboard van. The idea was to have a BURNING VAN celebration, to mark the end of the RTR.
The van was taken around camp where people had the opportunity to put there mark on it. By the time the ceremony of the Burning Van came around, the box was covered in a variety of different quotes, artwork and signatures.
You can see from all the remarks what a great time this wonderful group of people had.
The couple (I’m so sorry I forgot your name, perhaps someone will remind me; I met so many people), also made up a little song to sing before the van was burned in the fire. It’s one of those songs that sticks with you for hours or days. LOL. Almost the whole camp came out to the final ceremony (but many had left by then).
I recorded it with my little pocket camera, so that quality isn’t great, but I still have to warn you about that catchy little song….
People enjoyed this send-off so much, that it was suggested that it should become a tradition, except that next time the box will be made of wood so that it doesn’t go up in a burst of flames so quickly.
And that marked the end of the RTR. Anything left on the ‘free’ pile was donated to the local thrift store, Bob packed up his gear until another time, and the area was left open for other visitors to use, most-likely a variety of other RVers that were there for the big tent show. By now, the desert around the RTR was completely taken over with huge fifth wheels and Class A motor homes, of which many were running generators 24-hours a day, and using solar panels. It had reached the point where it was impossible to drive down the road without having to face huge swaths of dust and avoid rocks being thrown up on ones windshield, it was also impossible to take a deep breath without breathing in generator fumes, and the wildlife was long gone…a true sign that it was time for us to leave also.
I waved goodbye to my friends, but it wasn’t the end. A group of us had decided to meet up down the road, specifically at the notorious Slab City, aka The Slabs. However, there were a couple of weeks to pass before then, and a whole assortment of new roads and areas to explore…
I want to send a personal thank you out to Bob Wells for holding this gathering…without all your hard work, I may never have found my tribe. Thank you Bob, thank you very much.
Until next time…remember to Savor the Journey,
Roxy ~ A Nomad for Nature