Lessons Learned From 6 Years of Boondocking
First, a little background. This wasn’t my first time as a vandweller. Back in 1995 after a divorce devastated my finances I had no choice but to move into a van in order to survive. At first I hated it but over the first few months as I solved all the problems and adapted to it I slowly fell in love with it. I loved it so much that even after my finances recovered I continued to live in a van for the next 6 years, at which time I found a girlfriend and moved in with her in her house. Almost immediately I became aware that I hated living in houses! I hated the payments, the stuff, the maintenance, the wasted space and most of all the extra work they require (shoveling snow and mowing lawns!). I hated everything about them! I endured living in one for as long as I could but there was just no getting around it, I couldn’t live in a house and be happy. By then we had married but we realized that I couldn’t be happy living in a house and she couldn’t be happy without one, so we divorced amicably and on March 3 I hit the road for the second time.
In this post I want to try to tell you what the last 6 years have been like for me and the changes I’ve experienced and some of the lessons I’ve learned.
Nature Changed Me:
Oddly enough, even though I had lived in Alaska all my life I was just another city boy. When I was a young man I had felt a very strong connection with nature and spent a lot of time backpacking and exploring it (in my 20s I spent 6 weeks backpacking and rafting in ANWR in the Arctic). Unfortunately, when I got older I got married and had kids and all that stopped; my life was just work, eat, sleep and take care of business. There was no more time for nature no matter how much I missed it. I thank god that all that changed when I hit the road March 3, 2008. I’ve spent virtually every moment of every day since then connected to and being changed by nature. Finally, my life has become what it was meant to be.
- I found peace. All my life my heart and mind had been in constant turmoil over daily life. There was a committee in my head that constantly relived every argument and worried about every little thing. Problems at work and problems with the family were a constant source of fuel for worry and concern. There was never a moment’s pure silence in my head. But when I left all that behind and started living on public land that slowly changed. Every morning that I stepped out of my little vehicle home into a beautiful nature scene my heart grew a little more at ease and the voices in my head grew a little more silent. What was there to worry and fret about? Every day was another day in paradise!
- Fear left my life and I developed faith. I have always been a very fearful person. For most of my life I had no idea how fearful I was but when I began a spiritual program searching for change I suddenly discovered fear was everywhere in every aspect of my life. Fear was like an evil and corroding thread that was woven through the very fabric of my existence; subtly dominating my every thought and feeling. But as nature changed me and I found peace my heart started to soften and open up. Slowly, month by month and year by year fear left my life and was replaced by a confidence that all was well with me and I was going to be alright no matter what happened. The unchanging beauty and wonder of nature became my confidence. I have no idea who or what takes care of me and makes everything okay, but I know it always happens somehow.
- My heart softened and compassion and empathy crept into my life. Because I was such a fearful person, I was also a very selfish person. I don’t mean in the sense that I didn’t care about people and wanted to take things from them for myself. No, outwardly I was a pretty nice guy, but inwardly all my thoughts and actions were about myself. I may have been nice to you, but it was for the purpose of making my life better. But that changed as I found peace and quiet in my heart and mind. Because I was happy, I didn’t have to constantly worry about myself and my welfare. My welfare was settled, so now I could actually risk worrying about other people and their welfare instead of only worrying about myself. Believe me that was a first!
- Out of compassion for others I began working harder at my websites and created three new websites including the forum and this blog.
- I also created the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous with the goal in mind of creating a Tribal Community and making it easier for people to transition into this new life.
I Found A Community And Made Friends.
Over the course of the last 6 years I’ve made more and more friends who were also out in nature and I’ve found they were all changed just like I was. There is a comradery among boondockers that creates a connection and deep friendship I had never experienced before. That’s grown tremendously as the websites and RTR grew and now I have hundreds of friends I consider family all over the country.
I Discovered I Can Live On Very Little Money
Because I didn’t have any rent or utilities I found I could live on very little money. Of course that was true when I lived in a town, but I found that by boondocking for longer periods out in the backcountry I spent less money because I was so far from stores there was nowhere to spend it.
I Learned I Could Make Enough Money At a Job I Loved
One of the first new friends I made told me about working as a campground host in National Forrest campgrounds. I knew I was going to need some extra income so I decided to give it a try. I signed up for workampers.com and right away I got three job offers. I accepted and worked as a campground host in the Colorado Rockies and fell in love with it. I loved my job and did it for the next three years in the Sierra Mountains of California. In the winter I drew unemployment and made enough money to get by very well.
I’ve Endured Tragedy
In the grand scheme of things I believe there is a Higher Power who watches over and protects us if we will let him/her/it. Nearly all my life I insisted on running the show and being my own protector and in doing so I made myself and those around me extremely unhappy. But by learning to trust and relax out here in nature, I’ve tried hard to let the Great Mystery be in charge of my life. There is no doubt in my mind that saved my life.
One of my sons died during this period and a few months later I shattered my arm. That combination was devastating to me emotionally; I barely survived it. Had I not been living this way, I’m confident I would have taken my own life. The day came when carrying the burden was too hard for me and I said to the Great Mystery, “I’m done fighting for my life, no more. If I am to live you must do it.” Within the week a friend showed up in camp and I lived. I owe him my life.
So the last 6 years have been eventful. But they have been full of something I’ve never had in the previous 52 years:
In the last 6 year I’ve embraced life and lived it to the fullest. It’s been wonderful and it’s been horrible. It’s been exciting and it’s been boring. It’s been pleasant and it’s been excruciatingly painful. I’ve been comfortable and I’ve been miserable. But through it all I’ve been fully, totally alive, drinking deep from all that life has to offer—the good and the bad. It’s been something I wouldn’t trade for all the money and gold in the world!