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!
Thank you for sharing that Bob.
hey now bob, i’m sorry for your lost of your son,life can be cruel at times. glad you were able to survive the lost. the road has its way of lessing the load in these times. at lease you don’t have the itchy feet syndrome, like me, can’t stay put for very long. you might see me coming though your neck of the desert in a few days. fellow traveler.
Gary, it will be great to see you again! I’m still at my Ehrenberg camp. I do have itchy feet but they are the “slow burn” variety! I can be at the same spot for a couple months before I just have to move on.
Thank you for that.
Someday I will hopefully find the peace that you have found.
*Beautiful pictures my friend…these were not taken in haste by a tourist to put on their desk to help remember a brief escape…these are documents of a journey unfolding everyday. Thanks.
Thank you openspaceman! It’s waiting for you!
Great pictures! I’ve been lucky enough to visit Arches and Capitol Reef National Parks. There is enough natural beauty in Utah to keep a photographer and his or her camera busy for a lifetime.
That’s the truth Walt. The whole Colorado Plateau is just a stunning area.
If there is such thing as reincarnation, perhaps I’ll be able to see all of the places I’d like to see in this world over the next few lifetimes. 🙂
That’s how long it will take me! You’d better get started!
I thought those were all commercial pictures, had to re-read and saw they are all yours.
Stunning views and scenery, and great composition.
Thanks for sharing your story, and I hope nature continues to heal your spirit and uplift you.
Thanks John, I was actually a little concerned that people wouldn’t know they were mine so I tried to make that clear. I took every shot. Nature is our natural home so when we return it we find peace and contentment.
Bob, your photos are so stunning you could sell them to a stock photography site and make good money at it. I met a young man at the 2014 RTR who does exactly that. He told me a bit about how he does it, but I can’t remember his name. If you’re interested, I can find out more.
Thanks LaVonne, and I’ve considered it but I’ve known some pro nature photographers and they were a cut above me. But I appreciate your kind thoughts!
That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing.
Your welcome Myddy!
That is beautiful writing, Bob, and it should answer all the “why” questions.
You have a very broad range as a writer. Your “how to” postings are clear and basic enough even for me, and posting like this ought to reach any reader but on a far less basic level.
Thank you Calvin, it’s very kind of you to say that.
You moved me to tears with this post, Bob. Fear is the great cage that holds us but it sounds like you’ve figured out a way to rattle the bars. I’m listening…hopefully soon I’ll be trying your way of life on for size. Oh, and your photographs are amazing! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts so honestly. That takes guts.
Peggy, I wish I could take it, but I don’t get any of the credit. I stumbled on a way of life that works for me. And I didn’t even do it willingly, I was forced into it kicking and screaming!
Wonderful post, Bob! Life is so awesome when we find what our calling is and go for it. You’ve done that and have shared it with so many of us that are benefiting from you following your heart, even if it was kicking and screaming! I’m blessed to have found your blog and to have met you at the last RTR. I look forward to reading many more blog posts from you.
Your photos are absolutely inspiring! Love love love them!!!
PS. The link in the emailed version of your post to workamper.com didn’t work and I see that the link in your blog isn’t active – there’s no “s” in the website address.
OOps, sorry about that. I have a mental block with that address since I’ve done this before. Thanks for pointing it out.
Lois, thank you for your kind words!! It was my pleasure to meet you, and you are inspiration as well!
I don’t have my “I Be Gone” wheels yet, but this blog and those pictures damn near makes me want to leave right now and sleep in the backseat of my little Toyota…Thou Tempter, Bob!
That’s me OLdnavy!! A siren calling out to a new life!
My brother recently retired and has taken to the road and Public Lands, as you describe. He emailed your blog from Thailand, his second visit.
I’m about to be divorced (and finally free). The kids are grown.
Your words haunt me. I used to want to “have it all”.
Today, I don’t. It feels “irresponsible”…no doubt a derivative of 55 years of conditioning in this hyper-capitalistic country of ours.
You may just meet with me one day on the road. Will be consulting with my Higher Power regarding this. I can relate only too well to today’s blog entry.
John, one of these days I am going to do a blog post on Being versus Doing. I think you are feeling that right now. Society teaches us to “Do” but never even mentions “Being” so now that you are thinking about giving up Doing all your training is telling you “That’s wrong! Keep doing!”
Here is the thing, there is not an option to “be at peace” or “Be Happy” with a doing based life, they are irrelevant. You are just going to decide what you want for yourself. I’ve decided I want to be happy and I won’t settle for anything else.
Beautiful photographs! This life can change a person in the most positive of ways. Feeling truly alive and close to creation. Wonderful! I have forwarded this to everyone I know!
Sameer! Where are you now? We miss you!
Thanks Sameer! Hey, how is your hearing? I hope it has changed your life!!
So that’s how to get rid of my fear! I sure do need to do that.
Linda, it worked for me!
You nailed it!!
Everything you wrote about has pretty much been my experience. About the only thing I’ve found difficult is finding a girlfriend that understands and can handle it. But, I really think the world is a better place if we all try to follow our hearts as much as possible without hurting anyone else. So there you have it
CAE, I wish I could offer you advice on finding a girlfriend but I’ve done everything wrong so I’m no one to listen to. The only thing I can say is when I finally gave up all hope and reconciled to being alone, then she showed up!
Thanks so much CAE.
Beautiful pics and an outstanding story Bob!
Hello Bob, I believe that is the best post you have ever published. The photos are quite impressive! The honedty and open way you wrote of your last 6 years is very inspirational! Thanks, Sadie n Bill
Thanks Bill, I am very blessed by your kind words!
Wuhooooo Bob, you did it again, beautifully written and shared from your heart. Are you sure you didn’t work for National Geographic in a past life – those photos were professional and outstanding!!! You have been a blessing in my life and send you a big hug from us and woof woof from Biscotti.
Thanks Gretchen! I truly appreciate your kind words!
Thanks Bob! Great story and beautiful pictures
Thank you Scott!
Hi Bob…. I want to thank you! I love your site and this post was just what I needed to hear! I am a RV dummy but learning:)) I have given myself a time limit to get on the road for almost the same reasons you did and just plain tired of the rat race and I am so excited! I do have fear but at the same time I know I will conquer it, I have never been a girly girl:) and love the outdoor life. I have raised my children, putting them first always, but now it is my time to find the peace that I seek and HE has found a way for me to do this. Thank you so much for those wonderful pictures and heartfelt words…good luck on your journey!
Reba, what a wonderful attitude and spirit you have!! I think you are in for the best times of your life!!!!
Just to warn you, I have friends that their children have tried to guilt or fear them out of following their heart. I always encourage them to follow their dreams. like you said, you gave them everything and now it’s your time. You’ll always love them and be thier for them, but now is your time to be happy!
I don’t know where to start or where to finish with this post. I will follow up when I have had more time to digest all that I have been discovering in your blog this morning. The main thing that I get so far is that I HAVE TO MAKE THE SWITCH TO LIVE THIS LIFE!
I have trepidation from a few of the fears that you listed but I will handle them eventually. I am a photographer who makes a living mostly from people portraits like corporate headshots and dance studio photo sessions, but the ideal “job” for me would be to make a decent living shooting and selling “pretty pictures” from the places in which I would be living in my travel trailer in. My financial goals are not lofty, just what it takes to be a tad more than comfortable and reasonably secure.
I have to do this, so I will be exploring your blog/website in more depth to gain the courage and knowledge to make the leap. For the moment, I am almost breathless with the thought of doing so….more later.
Robert, fear is very normal ad natural but it sounds like yo ae well on top of it, I’m sure you are going to reach your dreams and live the life you want!
Nature photography should be a breeze for you after what you’ve been doing, although the market is pretty crowded, quality always sells.
I wish you the very best!!
Wonderful story and mind blowing beautiful photographs. I have a group of young friends who travel all over the country on the freights. They share a lot of your philosophy. I thank you for sharing your story, wisdom, and downright Best advice about survival. Keep it going! Good health and a long happy life to you sir.
Gene, thank you very much for your very kind words! I appreciate them!
I am really touched by you sharing your journey toward wholeness. I boondocked for seven years, twenty years ago, and I miss it in ways that words that cannot describe – yet you have described so well. I am focusing everyday to get back to that living that I miss. Thank you.
Shannon, thank you for your kind and encouraging words! I love to hear I may be helping people.