Rubber Tramp Rendezvous 2023

It’s been a whirlwind of a week, between work opportunities and the RTR. After potential work opportunities owned me for the first part of the week, I spent the second part of the week focused on the RTR and related opportunities.

I missed a few days to work stuff, but I returned to the RTR on Tuesday for a panel about chronic illness tips. My buddy Jenn was on the panel (she’s all the way on the right) to contribute a mental health perspective as an ADHD coach. Much of the panel turned out to be about insurance, how to fight, bypass, or trick (not that they’d ever condone this) the insurance companies into actually providing the coverage we’re paying them for instead of weaseling out of it any way they can. It’s sad that so much attention had to be paid to a problem that shouldn’t exist, but that’s the world we live in now. Jenn had a few great tips, despite this not being her immediate area of expertise.

Afterward, I wandered around, exploring a bit, since I didn’t have time during the open house. All the same things from last year were there — the Homes On Wheels Alliance table, the sweepstakes sign-up and prize display, and bulletin boards to post wants, needs, and things for sale. The ever-popular “Free Pile,” which is now several tables of well-organized items, was there, too. I gave away a few things I no longer need. I don’t think I ended up taking anything for myself. I just didn’t find anything I felt I needed.

New for this year, there was a food truck or three on-site. I had a burger and fries, then had some great conversations at a table of complete strangers, yet all nomads who understand this life. There were other tents set up where you could play games, or do arts and crafts projects. There were even volunteers to do sewing for you, help you patch up some old clothes, or maybe make some curtains for your van. Last year the stage featured almost non-stop classes, but this year they were interspersed with musicians entertaining the crowd, which was nice. There were fewer classes this year, but all the important ones were still included, including Mobile Internet Solutions — that was me.

But first, I had to clean up my van — again — to shoot a van tour video with Brian from CheapRVLiving. Brian and I had met at the open house for the second year in a row. He remembered me, and after checking out my van, trailer, and motorcycle setup, he asked me to shoot a video with him. Most people are begging the most popular van life channel on YouTube to pick them, but they came to me! It blew my mind. Naturally, I said yes. There are some unique ideas in my build that I haven’t seen anywhere else, which would be great to share. Putting myself in front of CheapRVLiving’s 631,000 subscribers wouldn’t hurt my own growth, either.

Brian came to my camp Wednesday morning, and we shot the video in about an hour or so. We hit it off great, and I think that chemistry will come through in the video. He was quite clear about what he wanted, and that’s exactly what I gave him. It didn’t hurt that I’ve been doing the YouTube thing for a while myself, and am comfortable in front of a camera. Like Bob, he’s no longer “that famous guy from that huge YouTube channel.” He’s just Brian. He came for a van tour and left as a friend. We even talked about camping together down the road at some point, just for fun.

In a way, I’ve come around full circle with this video. I didn’t even know about this way of life until the YouTube algorithm started showing me CheapRVLiving videos. After Bob Wells inspired me to look into van life, I soaked up as many van tour videos on the channel as I could until I’d figured out what I wanted and how to do it. Now, I’m going to be one of those videos, which might help inspire someone else to copy some of the unique ideas in my van. Unlike writing, there is no plagiarism here. If someone else wants to do an Erector set build, or use a flatscreen TV arm for their heater, I’ll be happy they found my ideas useful.

Photo: Yellow Wolf Nieves

Thursday, it was my turn at the RTR. I spent about an hour talking about mobile internet solutions — free WiFi, cell phones and hotspots, and Starlink. It was literally a mashup of last year’s talk with some updates, plus the basic info from the Starlink talk I gave at Overland Expo. It was a good-sized crowd, with a lot of good questions, most of which I was able to answer. Like last year, I spent a good deal of time answering more questions one-on-one afterward. This went about halfway through the next presentation, featuring some of the people who were in Nomadland talking about their experiences filming the movie. I’d wanted to see the whole thing, but I’ve also met Bob, Suanne, and Swankie (who, unlike her character in the movie, is very much alive) before. I’ve pretty much gotten over being star-struck by almost anyone after meeting a few legitimately famous people in my life. (I have Travis Pastrana, of all people, to thank for helping me get over that!)

One benefit the RTR provides presenters is special reserved parking on the day they’re on stage. On any other day except the open house, I rode my motorcycle to the RTR for easier parking. But Thursday, I took my van (I left the trailer and bike in camp this time). This way, I could stay most of the day and still take care of Lister. As usual, he was a real hit with everyone he met. He also became best friends with a tree we parked near. He hasn’t seen a real tree in months. He rubbed his body all over it and was extremely cute.

I stuck around to hear another Brian, a.k.a. Adventure Van Man, give his presentation about budgeting for nomad life. Until now, my full-time job has always paid more than I need to live, so I’ve been able to put money away and buy some big upgrades, like the trailer and V-Strom. Now, that’s changed. I’ve followed Adventure Van Man on YouTube for years, met him for the first time last year, and got to meet him and Kelly this time around. He and I had talked about motorcycles last year since he was thinking about getting one. Since then, he and Kelly have both gotten Yamaha XT250s, and he’s posted a number of videos featuring them instead of the van. He’s straying a bit into my territory here! But that’s great. I genuinely enjoyed his motorcycle videos and told them so enthusiastically. Hopefully, they’ll make more.

As for the presentation, I honestly didn’t get anything out of it that I didn’t already know. He gave excellent advice. Gas is our single biggest expense. To stretch your budget, maximize your stays at free 14-day areas, then move on to the next one. Establish a general circuit that you follow throughout the year so that you always have good weather, but don’t have to drive a lot of miles at a time to get there. “When the wheels are turning, the money is burning.” His circuit involves Arizona in the winter and the Pacific Northwest in the summer, which is exactly what I plan to do in the future after heading back east this year. I’m not discouraged that I learned nothing new, though. What I got out of his presentation was that I actually know more about how to stretch my budget than I thought I did. It’s one more piece of evidence that I’m going to be fine.

After that, I went back to camp, let Lister out to play, and relaxed. I got to say hello to CheapRVLiving Brian again as he came back to shoot another video with Patti, who’s parked right next to me. Arin, who I camped with earlier this year, ended up coming over so I could install a 12-volt fuse box and outlet for her refrigerator so she wouldn’t have to run it off her power inverter anymore. It also leaves room to add more circuits later, since she wants a water pump, lights, and a few other things, so this laid some good groundwork for that. As the sun went down, I even managed to measure and cut a small sheet of plywood for her to make some dividers for a storage compartment. Her electrical stuff takes up one part, and now she can dump her shoes into the other part without hurting anything electrical.

Anyway. Back to work. It’s amazing how I can have so much work to do while “unemployed.”

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