The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (commonly called the RTR) was started in January, 2010 by traveler, author and long-time van-dweller Bob Wells who runs the Cheap RV Living.com website. Please check his site out as it is a great resource for a vast variety of issues that car, van and RV-dwelling travelers will find of interest. Some of the ideas we used when setting up our Tacoma came from his sections on solar, electrical, van conversions and philosophy.
After a month-long gig in Humboldt County, CA for all of December 2015 where it rained essentially non-stop Willow and I wanted to get down to dryer environs as soon as possible. We decided to attend the RTR from January 5-19 2016 in Quartzite, Arizona as the beginning of our latest Southwest United States adventure. We’re hoping to meet some friendly and like-minded folks and maybe attend a few seminars to learn some new skills and ideas. A couple of areas we want to focus on is to learn more about how to make the most of our solar setup and dual battery system and maybe see how others live this lifestyle and get some ideas for fine tuning and improving our system.
Throughout the two-week RTR we will be posting daily updates to this page so please feel free to stop back and take a look.
Tuesday, January 5th
The first “official” day of the RTR but there are no seminars or group activities. This is mostly a day for the early arrivals to show up, find a suitable place and setup camp and then informally meet and greet your neighbors and any dogs they might have. It is not at all as warm, sunny and dry as we had hoped and the weather is only going to get worse so we set up our camp and then batten down the hatches before the rain and wind arrives and man oh man does it. Luckily I double-staked each of the four legs of my canopy because there were gusts in the 30 knot range and 3 of the 4 legs moved about 3 inches from where they started. Once we arrive at an overnight or longer destination we take all our gear that we carry under the shell in the bed of the truck and remove it so we can take advantage of the sleeping platform in there. Putting all that gear on wet, dirty ground was not going to cut it so we use our lifetime folding table to keep that gear clean, dry and up off the ground as well as to provide a space for cooking. We woke up around midnight to wind and driving rain and worried about the canopy and the stuff we have on the table underneath it so begrudgingly got dressed and went outside to check to make sure all was well. After a few minutes of canopy and gear adjustments we called it good and went back into the shell.
Wednesday, January 6th
The rain stopped last night around 2am and by 8am the sun has broken out through the clouds hanging over the hills to our east. After a quick walk for Willow to sniff and be sniffed I start the morning coffee ceremony and check out how our gear outside fared last night. Surprisingly well as it turns out but we can tell the canopy was stressed. So one of the tasks we are going to do this morning before the initial 10am group meeting of this year’s RTR is to stake it out with guy lines from the corners instead of just stakes holding down the post feet. We have several different options of tent stakes to use and choose the most sturdy aluminum ones we have and tension the ropes with large Nite Ize Figure 9 Rope Tighteners. Looks good, we’ll see if they hold. Coffee consumed and coffee prep cleanup finished Willow and I head over to the main campfire pit for the orientation meeting.
As 1st time RTR participants we want to get a feel for the group and find out as much info as we can on what is available and what to expect. There are about 100 people present and we are pleasantly surprised to see only one child who Willow immediately makes a beeline towards although she has to stop numerous times along the way to greet the dozens of friendly and mostly quiet and well-behaved dogs at the meeting.
Bob Wells, the man himself, starts the meeting off and then proceeds to hold an interactive court setting out some general guidelines for behavior, both human and canine, as well as some of the generalizations of what to expect in the following two weeks.
Besides going over what each seminar is and when it will be he also covers what options in town are available for shopping, eating, showering and getting mail or deliveries. We are interested in more than a few seminars and look forward to learning a bunch over the coming 14 days. There is also a quick session of who has what products or services for free, barter or sale and how the two large group meals will be operated. After the meeting has broken up we head back to our site.
Soon enough the wind picks up in gusts just as strong as the night before. We can see that the little tent stakes, no matter how strong they are just not long enough to get and keep a good enough grip in the wet and rocky soil to hold the quaking canopy in place. In the space of 5 minutes two of them pull out of the ground, not bent or deformed in any way just not the right tool for this job. A friendly long-time RTR attendee just happened to be walking by right then and offered us some advice as well as the use of a few of her 12″ rebar stakes to secure the canopy. The rebar stakes have washers welded on to facilitate tying a rope to them which is a nice detail. Soon enough they are pounded into the ground and the ropes attached and tensioned and all is well in our world again.
We decided to head into town and add a set of rebar stakes to our own kit for future use. After a quick stop at a hardware store in the large tent city we walked around to get the lay of the land. It’s like a circus of tents housing all manner of small stores selling everything from food, clothes, RV gear, solar gear, LED lighting and dozens of other wares. Too much to see in a short time so we decide to head back into camp and come back another time to explore more thoroughly.
Once back at camp we swapped out our new stakes and returned the borrowed ones to their rightful owner. More RTR attendees are still arriving and driving around looking for just the right spot in an ever decreasing pool of options. We have been told that in the next two weeks there will not be any room available so we are glad we got here early and claimed a good spot. Since we are expecting more rain and wind tonight we do a final check of our gear out on the table and the stakes and guy lines securing the canopy just as the sun is going down. Then its into the shell with my girl to transfer some pictures from my phone and write a post or two for this site.
I’m wondering why I feel so tired and it is only 9pm or so and then realize my laptop is not on Arizona time and so change that and now I know. Good night. Talk to you tomorrow.
Thursday, January 7th
7:45am and, after an epic battle that lasted well into the early morning hours, my canopy is still standing upright and in one piece. Surprise and delight. Makes me want to get a portable weather station that knows windspeed now as neither the Weather Underground or AccuWeather websites had wind data that was anywhere near to accurate for those gusts last night. I found this PWS on Amazon and, for a beginner set, it probably will do what I want except tell me wind direction and rainfall totals.
My new 15″ rebar stakes barely did the job and only after pounding one back in at about 1am (sorry neighbors) and then putting heavy objects on top of both windward stakes and moving the Tacoma broadside to the wind as a windbreak for the canopy. Made for a noisy and rocking evening as the truck took the brunt of the gusts. I also roped it to the frame of the truck so that if it let loose at least it would stay tethered to me and not go bouncing and rolling out into the desert and perhaps smack into someone else’s van or RV. That did the trick though and she is still standing this morning protecting my stuff. I need to eat more of this xmas junk food faster and give out the popcorn I brought. If you would like a little bag of Cinnamon Toast or Zebra (drizzled with chocolate and caramel) flavor popcorn please feel free to pop on over to the white Tacoma and ask.
Guess I’ll head back to K & B Tools today and swap out the 15″ stakes for their 18″ versions. Now to start my morning coffee ritual. After coffee we decided that our campsite is too exposed to the wind and took a quick walk to see if we could find a place with some sort of natural windbreak. Luckily all of 100 feet away is a spot with a large creosote tree and a couple of saguaro cacti with some smaller brush below them between it and the predominant direction the wind has been gusting from. This time we also decided to stake out our canopy with double guy lines at each corner and dual stakes through the feet as well. Sorry Mother Nature…No more Mr. Nice Guys. There is also another RTR attendee set up across the little wash that separates these two spots and he has a full-size pickup truck which will act as an additional windbreak. We have our gear organized well enough that the breakdown of the first site and setup at the second only takes an hour or so and right about the time we finish the sun starts to break through the clouds and promise a respite from the weather of the last two days.
During our morning walk we find that the “free” pile has been moved closer to the main campfire area and take a look. Even though we still endeavor to take after Thoreau in Walden and Simplify our life and streamline our possessions we still have a list of items that will make our adventures more comfortable and if we can acquire them for free, all the better. The pile changes numerous times during the day as items get claimed and other items donated and so we make several trips past the pile over the course of the day. Several items catch our eye and we claim them. Score! But, now that we’ve added a few items to our kit we should probably divest ourselves of one or two items as well and so we do. It’s an extra-added bonus when we see a couple of others immediately claim what we just added to the free pile. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. After spending a bit of time around the communal campfire as we watch the wall of storm clouds roll towards us we head back to our campsite just as the first drops start to fall. It is supposed to be colder tonight but less windy so we expect we’ll sleep like logs and not have to worry about the canopy.
Friday, January 7th
The morning seminar today is all about “workamping.” Traditionally this has been being a campsite host at a BLM or National Forest campground but these days has expanded to include seasonal warehouse jobs at Amazon.com’s three giant national distribution centers, working the sugar beet harvest in Montana or Minnesota or working for a concessionaire in a National Park. While interesting, it seemed most jobs except the campground host positions revolved around being on your feet 10 or more hours a day, required you to live in an RV and/or have a partner so that one of you would always be on site, love crowds of tourists and children or not have a dog. Any one of those would disqualify Willow and I and we don’t really need the extra income… yet. We’ll still go to the big tent at the RV show coming up next week and see what campsite host opportunities present themselves but are leaning towards continuing our travels and adventures for a year or so to see what beauty this country has on tap.
Another RTR attendee has offered to sell us a quonset hut-style tent that can attach to the rear of the Tacoma and offers me more privacy than my canopy and we accepted. It also is lighter and can pack down into a smaller space than the canopy and both weight and space are at a premium in our Tacoma home. Now we have to move all our gear out from under the canopy, take it and its stakes and guy lines down, set up the new shelter and move all our stuff into it. For me another couple of hours of manual labor. For Willow another time she can wander about and say “hi” to all the doggie friends she has met during this RTR. That would have been fine with me and she would have enjoyed that as well but then an other opportunity arose. A fellow camper walked up and offered to bring Willow on his hike right then and she knows and likes him so we decided that would be a nice change of pace for her. Not that she needs it but I handed her walking friend her leash and a poop bag just in case and off they went leaving me the time for the tent/canopy swap and getting the new system situated.
Another late arrival to the RTR stopped by to say “hi” and we got to talking. He is newly retired and new to this lifestyle as well and had just driven, essentially non-stop, for the last 5 or 6 days all the way from Florida. He is in a full-size van that he got from a church group and his plan is to visit each and every National Park in the US including, I believe, Alaska as well. What a grand endeavor. Willow and I are kind of jealous but our aversion to the crowds that are a staple of many National Parks tempers our enthusiasm for making National Parks a regular stop on our travels.
Now that the canopy is replaced and folded up we really don’t need it so I will try to sell it tomorrow at the morning meeting. I’m kinda sad as it really is a kick ass, tough canopy but size and weight beat those attributes. While moving things around in the new tent space trying to figure out what will fit where most efficiently a few people out on walks offer compliments on either the new tent’s looks or facility which is nice. Now I need to continue the fine tuning of the new system to meet our needs. My first attempt is adequate but I can see some room for improvement so will try a reconfiguration tomorrow as well.
Saturday, January 9th
Today’s seminar is one we are betting most RTR campers are most looking forward to, The Solar Seminar. Topics covered include types available and pros and cons of each of panels, connectors, batteries and charge controllers as well as addressing some questions and scenarios related to each. Willow and I have a secondary battery system and a small, portable solar array which has been meeting our needs so far but we soon find out we can do better. My secondary battery is a 3 month old or so 95 Ah AGM Die Hard Gold from Sears and I have that Painless solenoid charging it whenever the Tacoma is running. I need AGM batteries because the Tacoma does some impressive motions while getting us into and back out of some of our more remote camping spots and a lead acid battery could spill. It is also mounted in the bed under our sleeping platform and we don’t feel like breathing in any of the off-gassed hydrogen a lead acid will inevitably put out. We also know that this secondary battery system will have a learning curve and if we happen to kill the battery early any Sears store should replace it.
Our 100 watt Renogy Solar Suitcase works – we just attach it to the AGM battery and the battery gets charged but I know there are some efficiencies lost because it came with a PWM controller instead of a MPPT one. I have also gone into the controller’s settings and changed them to reflect the size of the secondary battery but there are other settings I don’t yet understand and I expect getting those right would help us get more out of the system. We have feelers out to a coupe of people who seem to be solar experts to see if they might give us a few minutes of one-on-one time to go over the controller settings and see if we can’t make some incremental improvements. When the controller dies we will replace it with a MPPT one and that supposedly will make a substantial improvement in using as much solar energy as we can capture. Also, once this single AGM battery dies we’ll replace it with two or more to increase our electrical reserves but for now, what we have works.
Someone who heard my announcement of the canopy for sale has stopped by our campsite to take a look at it. Five minutes later it is sold and I offer to load it in the Tacoma and drive it down to her camp spot and help her set it up. Willow and her little dog get along well and they romp around her trailer as we put up the canopy. I also offered her some stakes for the feet, those four rebar stakes for guy lines, the rope I was using for those tasks and some straps to cinch the canopy tight for storage. Large item gone and a little cash in my pocket. Thoreau would be proud, Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.
We have offered our Tacoma to ferry some items needed for the chili feast over to the cook area so I clear out some room in the bed area and go collect it at the cook’s campsite and bring it over to the volunteers who will soon be opening dozens of donated cans of chili and fixins and whipping that all up into three different types of chili – what types to be decided one all the cans and fixins are sorted. I drive away with high hopes for tonight’s dinner options and am going to eat as little as possible for the rest of the day to save room.
Willow also has come up with a bit of a limp probably from running around on all the sharp little rocks which make up the majority of the ground cover around here. As usual, she is not a fan at first but I get out her Ruffwear booties and put them on. After a few minutes of moon walking she figures out, once again, that this indignity is in her best interests and continues trotting around camp happy and comfortable as can be just in time to head over to the communal chili feast.
Because it is a nice evening there is another communal campfire. It is a little chilly but not too breezy and the turnout is good. Talk revolves around the chili dinner and then someone offered to introduce himself and say where he was from, why he lives this lifestyle etcetera and hoped that others would follow suit. Willow seemed so enamored with him (or it could have been that he was in the circle of people closet to the fire) that she found an opening, saddled over to him and laid down in front of him with her head on his shoes.
He was cool about it and stayed pretty still for extended periods of time. I took a picture but the reflection off her Ruffwear coat caused some issues. A great laugh was had at my girl’s traitorous ways and then individuals continued to give brief introductions of themselves and their inspirations for being on the road. Once everyone around the circle so inclined finished their brief introductions groups started their own conversations and things went on like that until an impromptu fire show was announced and two RTR attendees gave some quick fire blowing, eating and twirling demonstrations.
It was a bit too breezy so for safety’s sake the show was limited in what could be done. After it was over a small group came over to talk with the performers as they put away their gear and recovered from having mouthfuls of pure paraffin oil in their mouths. We learned that they actually made all their own fire props and do a more extensive act at Burning Man and other venues like this as a fun sideline in their nomadic wanderings. It got cold enough that the group trickled away a few at a time as did Willow and I but not before we’ve put a couple of questions into the tin can that will hopefully be answered for tomorrow’s Tin Can Seminar which sounds interesting.
Sunday, January 10th
It is my birthday today. I actually don’t really care but it will be an interesting and fun experience to have it in this setting. I’ll write more after the morning’s meeting which is the Tin Can Seminar.
The seminar is now finished and there were about 50 questions read aloud to the assembled crowd. This seemed to be a popular seminar as seemingly as many people were in attendance as came to the solar seminar. Our master of ceremonies is a nice, gregarious southern gentleman who reads each slip with a question on it and then tries to get the group to respond in an effective and focused manner. Of the two questions I put in the can one was answered immediately and in an almost unanimous manner and the other I apparently explained poorly and the group spent a few minutes trying to decipher what the writer had meant so…I’ll be more succinct next time. Now we are going to head into town for NFL Wildcard Weekend Football.
We actually pulled ourselves away from the Green Bay Packers versus the Washington Redskins game with about 9 minutes left to go in the 3rd inning to head back into camp for the Singles Seminar. This was a spur-of-the-moment thing in response to a question at the Tin Can Seminar so no one really knows what to expect. I decided to bring some pizzas back from Silly Al’s where we were watching football in the hopes it would jumpstart a focused group activity…eating, and it seemed to work. Some interesting talk. No ground breaking or earth-shattering insights into the female psyche but again, what were we expecting. Those of us who write a blog were offered a chance to tell the group what it was called and explain what it was about so maybe a few people will take a look at AWD and find something of interest to them…and then tell a friend. Right about 5pm the wind started to pick up and the temperature dropped and that made the decision to disband the meeting a unanimous one. Willow and I head back to our campsite and get situated in the shell for the evening.
Both seminars tomorrow are interesting, one essentially a “show-and-tell” of people’s favorite gadgets and the other on Lithium batteries as an alternative to the standard Lead Acid, Marine, Deep Cycle or AGM batteries for rig power storage. I also believe it is Open “House” day and anyone who wants to can allow others to take a look at their rigs and how they are set up. I am personally hoping to take a closer look at several specific rigs which seem to be set up really well and hopefully gain some insight into how to more successfully and comfortably live a nomadic lifestyle.
Monday, January 11th
We enjoyed the Favorite Gadgets Show-and-Tell. We try to stay up to date on the newest, most useful gadgets in the camping/backpacking/overlanding realm and indeed, many of the products that people chose to show to the group were either known to us or, in a few cases, owned and used regularly by us. We didn’t show anything because lots of our favorite gear is older, non-exciting stuff. Sometimes the newer stuff might even be better than our existing gear but we don’t make it a habit to “upgrade” if what we use now is meeting our needs. Several people brought up little LED lights for use in an RV or camper and USB recharging seemed to be a big selling point. Someone brought up a small 500 watt generator as a more portable alternative to the tried and true Honda EU2000i that we have and that seems to be a staple of many living these types of lifestyles. One idea I liked was to use one of those expanding garden hoses like this in black, fill it with water and leave it out in the sun to heat up and use the compression of the hose itself as a pressurized solar shower. It’s kind of sad that we don’t really need any of the interesting gadgets we were shown this morning but on the other hand that means we already have good stuff that meets our needs which is a good thing.
This afternoon’s talk was about Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries as an alternative to flooded, gel or AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) lead acid batteries for the “house.” In this case the “house” battery is the single or multiple batteries that serve as the power source for your rig’s accessories. The starter battery starts the rig’s engine and that’s it. The house battery essentially runs everything else that makes your mobile life as easy as possible; LED lights, heat, AC, music, cooking, etc. The more power you can store the more that you can do before having to refill that energy storage unit via, solar, wind, generator or alternator. Another plus of lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries (also called LFP battery as an acronym for lithium ferrophosphate) is that they weigh less than the other, more traditional, types of lead acid batteries. Regardless of the vehicle type, lugging less weight around means more usable horsepower (a higher power-to-weight ratio), better handling and better fuel economy. For those who travel in an RV, camper van or even a little white Tacoma better fuel economy is a huge consideration. As the famous American automotive designer, racing driver and entrepreneur Carroll Shelby once said, “Saving weight on a car is free horsepower that you never have to fix.”
The biggest negative of LFP batteries right now for me is the initial price which is substantially higher than those older battery chemistries. Since the nominal cell voltage of an LFP battery is 3.2 you need four of them in series to make a 12 volt system and that adds up to a lot. Each cell has many more Amp Hours (Ah) though so you end up with a four cell, 12V system with hundreds of Amp hours which is another plus. The three people at the meeting who are currently using LFP batteries seemed to agree that, for them, the longer life, higher Amp Hours and other technical advantages more than made up for the higher initial cost of such a system.
For now the less than 6 month old, 92Ah AGM battery we have as our house cell is meeting our needs well. The main item it needs to keep running is our ARB refrigerator and it can do that for about seven days before needing to be charged up again although we keep it as charged as we possibly can. When we are on the move our Painless solenoid keeps it charged up via the alternator and when we are stationary for more than a few days and have sunny weather our solar panels are out doing the same job. When that battery inevitably dies we will then reconsider an LFP array as an alternative to merely replacing the AGM.
Tuesday, January 12th
Today’s seminar was on cooking methods and we learned a few new methods, tips and tricks. We were most intrigued by Bob’s solar oven which sounded like it worked on a crock pot time frame but it was far too bulky for are streamlined Tacoma travels. Same with the Dutch Oven. We have one and a tripod for it but only bring it with us when we know we are going to stay in one place for an extended period of time otherwise it is too heavy and bulky for our needs. We were pleased to see someone else get up and talk about his AeroPress which is an important part of our morning coffee ritual.
The afternoon seminar was How to Make a Dreamcatcher which, let’s be honest, is not something Willow and I believe in. But, to each his own. I rode by with Will trotting beside me and the seminar looked like it was well attended. It was held by the mom of one of our favorite dogs at the RTR, Ivy. We were planning on doing a “Dogs of RTR” post but there were just too many to photograph and they were all so excited to see me, the Dog Whisperer (long before that dude with the TV show) that they wouldn’t stop jumping for joy so I could take a proper photo. I did end up getting a few good ones though and I’ll post them once I finish sorting through the hundreds of pictures I took during the RTR.
Wednesday, January 13th
Today’s seminar was focused on Mexico, specifically Algodones and how to get inexpensive vision and dental care and cheap prescription drugs there. There was also a bit of info on Baja at the end as well as there is a group planning on heading down there after the RTR. The medical info was intriguing and Baja is definitely something we want to do some day. The main thing stopping us at the moment though is my lack of an up-to-date passport (mine is expired). I have downloaded the official passport application form as a pdf and it is all filled out. Now I just need to print it out and send it in and…wait. Once that happens we still have other hurdles to clear as well. Willow needs a special veterinary certificate and we’d have to stop somewhere north of the border and divest ourselves of some particular items that the authorities would have a hissy fit about and throw me in a Mexican jail for possessing. We think we’ll save Baja and the rest of it for another trip. There is far too much to see and adventures to have in our own country.
More seminars. Some more interesting and informative than others. Saturday is also the first day of the Big Tent Show in town and many RTR attendees are interested in taking a look and/or going to get a job as a campsite host or with a park concessionaire. The camp hosting opportunities sound interesting and we plan on checking it out but the crowds are ab-so-lute-ly atrocious. Far too many people and far too many of them rolling in mobility scooters or pushing walkers and doing so in the same manner they drive their leviathan RVs – slow, jerky and with no apparent focus or planning aforethought. And I’m not even to the actual tent yet. Quartzite could double their municipal budget if they just started writing tickets for such heinous disregard of my shins and heels. Five minutes in and I almost want to start going all Al Capone and his baseball bat on some of these senior citizens and other just plain shitty walkers, rollers and scooter drivers. It’s all just too much and so I bail out before even getting to the tent. From what I heard later I didn’t miss much. Mostly RV and gimmicky stuff completely ill-suited for our Tacoma and off-road life and all for suggested retail price. We’ll just get what we need online and skip the crush of the crowds
We’re more looking forward to Saturday’s communal soup feast. This worked much like the earlier chili feast with people donating soup stock and other ingredients and at 4pm we all came together and had our fill. We donated some organic vegetable stock and a can of cream of mushroom soup. For my manual labor contribution I took the Tacoma to the cook’s campsite and loaded up a bunch of cooking materials and brought them over to the cooking area and then after the meal was finished and the clean-up completed I brought it all back to his campsite much like I did for the chili feast as well. Plus there were leftovers. We like leftovers.
Sunday, January 17th
Today’s seminar is the last organized activity of this year’s RTR. It is all about state residency and what that means for taxes, health insurance and how to get mail and packages when you are on the road. It seems that many states are now making it much more difficult to live a nomadic lifestyle because they demand that you have a physical address. Many RTR attendees live full-time in their vans or RV’s and states know that a UPS Store or the like is a commercial and not residential address. Some interesting ways to work around that were addressed and thankfully that doesn’t apply to us.
As far as mail goes we found out that we are doing it the expensive way which is having our UPS Store mail us stuff every so often. It’s easy but we have now found some other, far more cost-effective options and will begin to utilize those soon.
Monday and Tuesday
These are the last two days of this RTR. No official seminars are planned but a couple of spur-of-the-moment gatherings are organized. One is to watch a quick video of “The Slabs” where a group is going to head off to after the RTR ends and another was how to use Google maps and its Dropped Pins feature and your Favorites as a way to keep track of where you have been and places you want to check out. Both were interesting and we will put in an appearance at The Slabs next month.
The rest of the time we split between hanging out with those folks whose company we enjoyed
and organizing our stuff for the next leg of our adventures. When the time comes to pack it all back into the Tacoma we want be a bit more efficient with our time and space than we were last time.
Plans were made, numbers were exchanged and we expect to meet up with several groups of friends we’ve made at this year’s RTR over the next couple of months. This was worth it to us both in the info gleaned and the contacts made. We expect to attend next year as non-RTR-virgins. Our next stop will be a little south of here in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.