Living on the road, mostly in campgrounds across the USA means a continually changing cast of neighbors to avoid. There is an unspoken rule of leave a space between you and someone else camping, if it is possible. However sure as birds fly or pigs like mud you will regularly find someone who breaks this unwritten rule of trying to give people some space and privacy, and despite the campground being mostly empty, they will come park up next to you, as close as possible and peer nervously over into your home. I often wondered why they would do this, a huge area with so many sites, yet still these subset of campers want to be as close as humanly possible.
I came to the conclusion that quite simply, they are scared. Yes, the forests are too alien to them, they are not quite used to camping, they don’t like the dark that comes with camping, nor the isolation from the rest of the world, and just want to be next to another human for safety’s sake.
For safety’s sake, I’d rather be as far away from the herd as possible. I do not like people peering into my window as I eat, sitting staring moodily at me as I build a fire or wash my clothes. I do not generally want to talk, or at least would rather feel that talking is not needed if I do not wish to. I do not want irritating questions of where I am from and why I am there, the second I open my mouth and foreign sounds come out of it. I do not owe the world explanations, Im irredeemably anti-social most of the time, and mindless chitter chatter when I am living not vacationing, is really not something I appreciate.
Imagine if you were in your own home and someone trotted up to you in the laundry room and asked for your life history, overheard you talking to a family member and felt the right to comment on your voice, or peered over your shoulder as you cooked some potatoes in the embers of the fire telling you about the dangers of aluminum foil? I doubt you would be very happy either!
As soon as one of these campers pulled right next to us, there would be sighs and flurries of activity, we would pack things up so moving would not cause stuff to fly around the RV, unhook the water and electric, and I would grab whoever was up for a walk, and trot around the campground to scout out a space far away from others, with no one’s window right up against my own. “Well, 146 is open, no reservations until next week, and no one booked in either side…or that strip along the back, 88 onwards is empty, but not much in the way of foliage or shade, 72 over in C loop has a nice area, and is empty…” We would pick a new spot, and move away from the offender, leaving them to their dark phobias and looking for someone else to talk to.
Very occasionally they would follow us and pull right in next door again, in some farcical comedy of bad manners, I would say loudly “oh look! They followed us when we tried so hard to move away from them!”…then we would move again, shifting away from the offender, who would get the message: we were not people you wanted to camp next to.
I didn’t care about hurt feelings, I just wanted to live. Occasionally I would turn up the radio, and blast butt-rock out, let the kids make some noise, pull out some games and throw a log on the fire. It is upsetting to have to keep moving and moving and moving. Sometimes you just want to stay still. Hours would be spent pouring over reservation charts, trying to stay far away as possible from the maddening crowds. In the earlier years it would be easier, campgrounds less full, but as camping became fashionable and the pushes to get people into our national and state parks and enjoy nature, actually worked, during the summer months there was often no peace to be found at all. If the women who let her dog shit in my space, leading it away from her own, while I tried to make my supper ever reads this, I hope your tires all go flat and your garden never blooms. I apparently spoilt her entire vacation by complaining of the dog pooping on a leash, led there by her, in my spot, and asking her to drag it back to shit in her own place. Despite us paying the same amount for our spaces, our status as homeless paying campers was always less than the vacationers, who spent far less than us, and others like us, who scrape together exorbitant camping fees, for somewhere safe to live when they don’t have anywhere to live. Our unsightly ancient campers banned from certain campsites, for being too old, or having patchwork non standard window coverings, or tarps over the leaking roof.
There are three types of campers: the homeless who live in tents and campers and move from camp to camp, and place to place, wanderers, hobos and hippies. Itinerant, and untethered, we don’t move in packs, but you do see the same faces along the road, they are not just full time, they have no other choice. This is the best and most comfortable you can be without a home, there are showers, bathrooms, the scenery is pretty and it becomes a lifestyle, albeit a sometimes strenuous and deprived one. Camping and living outside permanently in the summer is one thing, in the winter it is quite another.
Then you have people who are also full time, generally retirees, they live in beautiful huge class A’ campers, at least 32 feet, and some up to 40 foot long, they have slide outs and chrome and awnings that work, these behemoths of campers are incredibly expensive, more than houses in some cases – think hundreds of thousands of dollars. Fit for a rock star, washing machines, and full kitchens, gorgeously appointed living spaces, hot running water, massive tanks for boondocking (camping off grid), civilized bathrooms and huge beds, these are people who earned the retirement they wanted and are living the dream. Some of them keep busy by camp hosting, staying in one place, others are touring the country with bumper-stickers saying “I’m spending my kid’s inheritance.” I admire them greatly, they are living life as they want to, and most of them seem to be having a blast.
Then you have the vacationers, they stay for a few days, bringing so much gear and stuff that it takes them a day to set up, as they fill their spot with all manner of interesting and useless things. They set up camp kitchens, electric powered coolers, they have hammocks and gazebos, the more redneck amongst them charmingly bring living room furniture. I’ve seen men hauling the sofa into their camping spot, a couple of lazy boys and enough dogs to make even a dog shelter worry they are overcrowded. You do not want to camp near these people, not if you are just trying to live. They scream and drink and throw cans, their dogs bark and wander in to visit, and the parties often take a dangerous turn after too much booze, with various family feuds rearing their heads, loosed by the beer-monster, only for cousin Frankie to throw sloppy punches at uncle Gerard while the women roll their eyes and make vague attempts to break it up. You wait for summer only to be confronted by the ice cream eating hordes determined to enjoy their vacation, and to be frank for the full timers, this is a drag.
Along the way you meet people you become closer to, a varied bunch of like-minded souls travelling the same road as you, a rag tag bunch made up of retirees living the life, other homeless people and their dogs and kids and buses, those who choose to try van-life in an attempt to cut costs and simplify, and occasionally some fun, friendly vacationers who drag you into conversations by lakes, while you both throw a line into the water, them for fun, you for sustenance. I miss the steady, loose, relaxed pace of life.
I miss walking to the shower through trees and fields, in rain and sun and snow, thinking that without a penny in this world I was surrounded by so much beauty and space. I miss walking by the lake, watching the geese fly in formation across grey skies. I miss the antics of the chipmunks tumbling over each other to grab fragments of breakfast that fell to the floor. I miss my walks along trails shouting “hey bear….hey bear…..coming round the corner bear,” nervously hoping that whatever wildlife on the trail that I didn’t want to meet, might hear me and stay clear, or alarmed by cougar tracks, heading back up towards light and activity as fast as I could, the terror that humans have always felt since the beginning of time, that something with big teeth and sharp claws could eat you if you were not lucky, or careful, hand on my leatherman pocket knife that would be useless against a cougar who would just laugh and eat me, and heart in my mouth.
Most of all I miss the rest of the people I belong with, that belong with me. I miss travelling the road with them, navigating daily life and the vagaries of other campers and a life lived at a different intensity. I wish I could rise up from my room, strap my boots on and walk back to the camper at a point in time I fixed in my head. There would be Billy, sober and healthy, chopping wood with the axe that the head kept flying off from until I forced him to buy a new one, despite him insisting there was plenty of wear left in it. The kids would both be there, running up to meet me with their arms windmilling in the breeze, showing me their collections of buffalo fluff they picked off trees, explaining to me seriously that it did not grow on trees, but the buffalo were scratching their vast sides against the trees, depositing it for them to find, feathers stuck behind their ears, grimy handed and grinning, and I would open my door, put on the kettle and start looking for a place to camp the next day, that did not have anybody next door, so I could play my guitar by the fireside in the cool dusk air, and feel like me and the family were the only trees in the forest.
I suppose all summers have to end.