When you live full time in your RV, Van or Camper and travel all over the country, ‘normal’ life things like having a state to call home, a real address, and a place to receive mail and packages are left behind.
I get asked a lot how I handle these challenges, so in this blog I will cover how full time RVers and VanDwellers deal with residency and receiving mail and packages.
Note: I am not an expert on the federal or state laws pertaining to residency and docile. I am sharing MY experience and that of other full time RVers I’ve met. This blog serves as a guide to get you started, I urge you to do the research and learn the specific requirements of the state you choose to declare as your domicile state.
Residency for Full Time RVers and VanDwellers
Now that you’re a nomad, you can declare a new state as your home state. Many full time RVers and VanDwellers choose a state with no income tax to save some money at tax time.
There are seven states that currently don’t have an income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. Residents of New Hampshire and Tennessee are also exempt from normal income tax, but they do pay tax on dividends and income from investments.
Tax savings may be one motivation for choosing a home-state, but there are other considerations.
What Does Residency Mean to a Full Time RVer?
Once you claim a new state of residency you will want a driver’s license or ID card from that state (this makes it official).
Residency requirements for obtaining a driver’s license vary by state; some are very lax, like Nevada, which just requires you to pay a month’s fee at an RV park and show a receipt. While Texas requires two forms of proof of residency such as: rental or mortgage documents, utility bill, automobile registration, etc. Check the requirements for each state you are considering to learn what you will need to provide to prove residency.
If you don’t wish to change your domicile state, you can rent a PO Box or get an actual street address through a mail forwarding service like UPS Stores. I have a mail box with the UPS store in my home base town of California. It’s an actual street address; I used it to register to vote and register my vehicles. You could also use a friend or family member’s address.
Receiving Mail and Packages
Choosing to use a friend or family’s address as your domicile address could be convenient for you, but that would put the responsibility of forwarding mail on friends and loved ones. This is something to consider when selecting a solution to your full-time RV life.
I chose the UPS store for my address. As mentioned above, this gives me an actual street address (not a PO Box) and they accept mail and packages. A PO box will not accept UPS shipments.
Mail Forwarding Services
There are mail forwarding services in popular full time RVer domicile states like Nevada and South Dakota that help you get your residency. I have not experienced them myself, but have heard great things about their services. Google “Mail Forwarding Nevada” for example to find services to help you.
I am using a UPS store and have been very happy with their service. I call them, they check my mail for me, tell me what’s there and then will mail it to me for about $5. I explain below how I receive my forwarded mail on the road, below.
They will also accept UPS shipments and forward those to me as well (of course, I try to avoid that, because I’m paying shipping twice). ‘
Getting Mail & Packages While on the Road
When I’m traveling, I have my mail sent to the post office in the nearest city or town I’m visiting. Most US post offices accept what is called “General Delivery” mail. That means anyone can have their mail sent to just about any post office c/o GENERAL DELIVERY and they will hold it for pick up. You then go to that post office, show ID and retrieve your mail. Yep, it’s that easy!
I use this service a lot and have never had a problem.
Beware:not every post office accepts General Delivery mail. CALL THE POST OFFICE AHEAD OF TIME, to verify they will accept it. I recommend also calling to verify their address, what you see online isn’t always accurate.
Packages are different, Post offices willnotreceive UPS or FedEx packages. When I shop online, I plan, to know where to have the order shipped. You can have your packages shipped to most UPS stores or other mail/copy/package stores. Call ahead to ask if they will accept packages on your behalf. There is usually a fee (about $5 per box).
You can Google “UPS Store” or “Mail Services” in the city you’ll be close to and ask if they accept packages. Also, verify the address and any special addressing instructions before placing your order.
It was a cool autumn evening. The sun was lazily ambling down the western sky and the smell of wood-fires and home-cooking infused the air with familiarity and reflection. On my evening walk, I passed two children playing in a huge natural yard. I noticed how different it was from the perfectly manicured, postage-stamp size yards, I’m used to seeing and how surprised I was to see the kids out in plain sight. In the San Francisco suburbs, children don’t just play out in the open like that.
I marveled at their carefree innocence from the other side of the street. They laughed and played and hung on a good natured and patient Golden Retriever. Not a care in the world; they didn’t even notice me. I felt like I’d been transported back to simpler times.
I’d parked my RV at the little league fields, a few blocks away, earlier in the day and spent the afternoon working and writing and enjoying peace and solitude. I was amazed that not a single kid came to the field to play nor nearby residents to walk their dogs. And I realized, it’s because here, in tiny-town USA (Enterprise, Oregon) everyone has a yard. Their little league field is for actual Little League, not a community yard where people who live in giant houses with tiny yards and neighbors within arms’ reach must drive to get some exercise and fresh air.
Spending the day in the tiny northern Oregon town took me back to my own Upstate New York roots – the ones I fled when I moved to San Francisco at twenty-one, and never looked back. Roots that I’ve spent my whole adult life running away from and denying. In my race to run from my past, I ran from myself. I ran from my predisposition toward a simpler way of life: where the streets aren’t always paved and the clerks in the grocery store know their customers by name.
As I hobbled over the cracked and crooked sidewalks, through old neighborhoods with normal-sized single-story houses (not super-sized McMansions), and inhaled the crisp home-town air, I realized how much living in a metropolitan area for nearly three decades had changed me. I’d forgotten how the rest of the country lives; how pure and simple life can be.
I was surprised at how comfortable it felt. Like I’d walked into a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special and a world where kids are innocent and free and old-fashioned kindness and community rules the day. I wanted to wrap the town around me like grandma’s handmade quilt and fall asleep in its warmth.
As the afternoon turned to night, I meandered through the tiny town wanting to see and experience it all. I saw, through the lighted windows of cozy homes, quaint shops and tiny wooden churches with stained glass windows, what had been missing in my city life. Family. Community. Simplicity.
It dawned on me that my big city experiences and values had isolated me from the reality of what most Americans experience daily. I pondered the contentious election, and for the first time, I understood. I understood the fear. I understood the challenges that small-town America faces and how they feel like their way of life is on the verge of falling off the cliff. I understood how they view a sensationalized version of the events in our country – and the world – through their TV screens and it terrifies them. I understood how their serene and quiet lives seem threatened. And like the crackle of a fresh log put on a dying fire, my brain awakened to a new concept of reality. And a new awareness of how relative “reality” can be.
What a gift I was given that day. My new life as a full time RVer put me in a place I’d never have experienced in my old life. My new, slower, RV Life allowed me to get out from behind the windshield and immerse myself into new places – and not just fly past at 70 miles per hour. A new town isn’t just another double almond-milk cappuccino served up by the local Starbucks barista at an anonymous interstate town, but a real, live breathing place with history and community.
I spent three days in and around Enterprise, Oregon. I talked to chatty coffee drinkers in cafes, friendly grocery store clerks and helpful mechanics. I got to meet real people, with real wants, needs and concerns. Real people, with families, friends and happy Golden Retrievers. Not nameless, faceless political ideologues or Facebook trolls. But real people.
What a wonderful life I have: one that allowed me to step away from my version of reality. Life on the road allows me to forge my own path and a new reality. My RV Life opened my eyes – and my heart – to a community, which, on the surface seemed so different from my old Bay Area community, but at the core, was very much the same.
Thank you, Enterprise, Oregon, for letting me temporarily live in your town and experience your reality.
When you picture a 29’ Class C RV, “Stealth” isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind. But in my young RV Life, I was determined to be a stealth-nomad, flowing in and out of cities, flying under the radar and living free!
I’m not quite sure where the idea came from, but for some reason, when I first starting living full time in my RV, I equated “full-time RVer” with “Outlaw”. Who knows where I got the idea -or maybe it was just an excuse to let my inner outlaw/rebel come out to play. Or maybe, since,I was dropping out of society and living on the fringe, I thought I was suddenly invisible. Whatever the reason, I was convinced that normal rules and laws no longer applied to me. I scoffed at “No Parking” signs and laughed at warnings of “No Trespassing”. Nope- I’m FREE: mere mortals’ rules don’t apply to Tilly, Capone and me!
Boy, did I get a rude awakening!
Yeah, my 29’ Class C RV and me – not so invisible. And as FIVE security guards, cops and property owners told me in my first eight weeks of my new life, laws most certainly DO apply to me! Perhaps even more so now that I was living on the fringes; and in some peoples’ eyes a dirty, freeloading, homeless vagrant. (I also thought showering didn’t apply to me anymore either! When I do something, I go All In! lol).
It was a real wake up call.
I’d read a lot about stealth camping before I started my new life and I knew a 29’ monstrosity like Tilly would never exactly be “stealthy”. Still, being the rebellious person I am, I was determined to make it work. I spent about two months pushing my luck, determined to find places to ‘stealth’ camp in cities and towns around the Bay Area. I had some success, but also had more than my share of knocks on the door in the middle of the night or early in the morning, making me mosey on down the road!
Here is what I learned about stealth camping in a Class C RV:
No Trespassing means NO trespassing – even if you THINK no one is looking! Seriously I’d be on a desolate road or a gravel parking lot that seemed like no one EVER goes to, and sure enough, I’d get a visit from a farmer in a dually pick-up telling me to go: even when I gave them my “I’m a woman alone and need a safe place to park” spiel. They were nice about it, but still kicked me out.
Street Parking – In cities where you can find street parking, warehouse districts work well. You can even turn on the generator, because no one is around on nights and weekends. And on weekdays, it’s so noisy with big rigs, no one will notice your generator running.
However, it’s not always easy to find street parking. It’s amazing how many cities make it illegal to park on streets overnight. Just because you find a warehouse or commercial district, doesn’t mean you can park there. Woodland, CA for example, just off I-5, has absolutely NO Parking on any commercial or warehouse streets in the entire city! So, you either have to keep searching, go to another city or just take your chances (like I did and got kicked out in the middle of the night).
I’ve also had good luck parking overnight on streets near medical offices, apartment complexes and parks and baseball fields. As long as they’re away from houses and there aren’t any “No Parking” signs.
I also found that community colleges can be good places to park: when school is not in session (often Sundays and vacations). Otherwise permits are enforced and I learned the hard way, campus security will knock on your door at 7 am with an actual police officer and ask you to move. But if you know for certain the campus is closed, it can be a great place to park AND get free wi-fi! I stayed at a Community College in California for two or three nights.
New housing subdivisions are also great stealth camps! I’ve spent four or five nights in areas where new houses and neighborhoods are being built. The streets are there, maybe even the foundations of houses, but they’re not occupied yet. Park there when construction crews aren’t working or get in late and leave early before they get there. I stayed in one for 2 nights in a row and was never bothered. (Do a google search for “Model Homes” and you can often find new developments)
Walmart. We all know that Walmart is RV friendly and you can often park overnight there. Unfortunately, many cities aren’t as accepting of this practice and have local ordinances making it illegal to park overnight in Walmart parking lots. So, before you go parking in any old Walmart, check ahead of time to make sure it’s ok. Here’s the resource I use: http://www.walmartlocator.com/no-park-walmarts/. I’ve also seen RVs park overnight in Walmarts on the Do Not Park list (Medford, OR, for example). If you’re in a bind, go in and ask management. You may be able to get away with it if local law enforcement is lax.
I’ve stayed at a couple of Walmarts – one was loud and a little sketchy (Rancho Cordova, CA) and the other, quite pleasant (Gardnerville, NV). While Walmart is never my first choice, it works in a pinch -and beats getting a knock on the door in the middle of the night!
I’ve also stayed near Truck Stops, off remote country roads, boat launch parking lots (I got lucky on that one, the next night they closed and locked the gate!), residential streets where the houses are behind big brick sound-walls, dead end streets, parking lots behind warehouses and local and regional park parking lots that didn’t have “No overnight parking” signs.
Tips for successful stealth camping in a Class C RV:
Don’t attract attention to yourself: If you must park someplace where sleeping on the street would be frowned upon, do your best to stay under the radar. Walk your dog somewhere else, so they don’t see you coming in and out of your RV. Leave your lights off or put up blackout curtains. Don’t run your generator and don’t put out your slides if you have them. Parking your RV on the street is not a problem – SLEEPING in it is. So we want to give the impression no one is inside.
Explore the city or town you’re in for the best spot: Some of my best spots have been discovered by driving around. And sometimes, I just have to take a chance. Recently, in Medford Oregon, I camped near a warehouse in a gravel lot. I felt safe and slept well. I decided to stay put for a few hours in the morning and work and drink my coffee (it was a Sunday). I got a visit from the property owner telling me I couldn’t be there (even though there were no Private Property or No Trespassing signs). He was nice and explained that they’d had a lot of problems with vagrants. “in fact”, he said, “It’s not safe for you to be here.” Of course, “safe” is relative and the ‘vagrants’ could very well have been people just like me. Nevertheless, I moved on.
Use Google Maps and Google Earth. This is one of my best resources for finding areas to park. You can look for parks, forest roads, commercial centers and medical parks and get street level views. This is very helpful! You can also Google search “warehouse space for lease”. This usually gives me an address so I can find the warehouse district.
Ask people. I was once kicked out of a community college by a Police Officer who, when I asked where a better place to park might be, gave me the name of a business owned by a friend of his who wouldn’t mind me being there overnight. Of course, the conversation was completely off the record. But he was very helpful. As a woman, I find most men want to help me if I pull the “I want to feel safe” card.
All in all, my outlaw days are mostly behind me. I prefer the safety and solitude of the forest and no longer need to stay near cities and towns. But there are times it can’t be avoided and I’d rather take my chances stealth camping than spending $35-$50 to stay in an RV/Trailer park jam packed with residential mobile homes.
What are some of your questions/concerns/experiences stealth camping? I’d love to hear from you.
I’ve always been a go-with-the-flow kind of woman. I don’t sweat the small stuff. In fact, some of my best and most memorable experiences have come when my best laid plans went haywire.
I’m not quite sure where that free-spirited woman went when I had RV troubles AGAIN recently, but somewhere around day seven of being stuck in a mechanic’s garage in middle-of-nowhere California, my “go with the flow”, happy, carefree sunny disposition leaked right out of me, like the fluid from my busted transmission.
Here’s the story (Part I):
I left Oregon, where I’d enjoyed a relatively peaceful and pleasant summer, to go back to the San Francisco Bay Area to sell my car. It was the one possession I hadn’t sold. I held onto it as a safety net – a back-up plan – just in case my new life didn’t turn out. By the end of summer, I knew it was time to let it go.
It was a chore I wasn’t looking forward to. My plan was to sell it fast and get the heck out. I had no desire to spend more time than necessary in an expensive RV/Trailer park or stealth camping in the overpopulated, traffic congested, retail flooded Bay Area city.
It was another rainy day when I left Sisters, Oregon and a storm was threatening the Pacific Northwest. As I approached California, under dark and foreboding skies, I felt lucky; it seemed I’d missed the worst of the storm! “How lucky am I?” I thought!
My first stop was the Modoc National Forest off highway 97, northeast of Weed, California. It was about 3pm and I was ready to call it a day and search for a spot to camp. I reveled in the dichotomous landscape: high desert terrain and lava strewn fields on the western side of highway 97 and lush forest thick with Ponderosa Pines on the eastern side. I was in awe of nature’s contrast, and excitedly explored forest roads to find my little piece of it to call home for the night. I eventually found a wonderful spot to camp nestled among the conifers, but didn’t have a cell signal. I enjoy being unplugged occasionally; work can wait!
Late the next morning, I decided to set out in search of a new place to camp, with a cell signal – and I wanted a cappuccino! It was a cool and gloomy morning. Dark gray clouds and moisture hung heavy in the air; rain threatened but so far no more than a few drops had seeped from the heavy clouds. So, I headed to a café in Weed, scouting for a new place to camp along the way.
Little did I know I’d be driving into the eye of the storm! Holy cow! I’d driven in high winds before, in the central valley of California, but that was nothing compared to what I drove through on the way into Weed. The ten mile stretch of highway 97 outside of Weed is posted with bright orange wind socks and signs warning of gusty winds. With the storm blowing in, it was insane! Within a few miles, I was driving in heavy pelting rain and RV-rocking gusts. They blew me to the left, then to the right and then came up under me like Capone and I were going to be blown to Oz.
At times the invisible wall of wind raged at me like a locomotive, pushing so hard against my RV that even with the gas pedal all the way to the floor I was barely moving forward. I struggled to keep it on the road, cranking my steering wheel to the right and then to the left. Above me, things were whipping and snapping and cracking as the fury of wind swarmed my RV. I was afraid my air conditioner would get ripped off and leave a gaping hole in my roof. What the hell is flopping around up there? Should I keep going? Turn around? Pull over?
Pulling over didn’t make sense, I just wanted to get the hell out of it, not sit in it. I’ll admit I was freaked out. I was afraid the walls of my RV would go flying off and all my worldly possessions would scatter about the road and the desert. As I pressed on, I thought about how exposed and vulnerable I am in my RV-home. You just don’t worry about these things living in a sticks and bricks house (at least, not in California!).
I motored on, swinging, swaying and jerking all the way. Just get to town. I can do this. It will be ok. My hands gripped the wheel as if stuck with superglue. Just get to town. I thought if I could make it to town everything would be ok, that the storm would magically disappear amid stores and shops and cafes that smelled of espresso and scones. As if society, would magically make the bad weather more cordial and polite.
After a terrifying 30-minute roller coaster ride I finally made it to town. I parked on the main street near the café, got out and was instantly pelted with beating rain and wind so strong I was walking sideways. Ok, this is serious. But. Must. Get. Coffee.
With almond milk cappuccino in hand, I slant-walked back to my RV. The short walk drenched everything that my rain jacket didn’t cover. I climbed in, cranked the heat and sat in the driver’s seat, listening to the howling winds and rain beat up my poor old RV. The storm was getting worse, there was no way I was driving back to camp. I needed to find a place off the main street to park and ride it out.
Two blocks away I found a gravel parking lot, but it was posted with big bold signs, “Souvenir Shop Customers only. All others will be towed away!” So, I drove past it and down a side street. As I turned into a residential neighborhood, a gust of wind swirled around me knocking the rig sideways. CRASH!! CRACK! RIP! BOOM! What the —-??? Uh-oh, that was me!
The horrendous expensive sounding Crack came from the passenger side. I slowly inched into a curbside parking place and jumped out. As I rounded the front of my rig I immediately saw the source of all the commotion; my awning was partially unrolled, jutting out from the side of the RV. The vinyl awning hung there, suspended in mid-air, rain-soaked and flopping pathetically in the raging pacific Norwest storm of the year. The other end was completely unhinged and resting in the rushing water of the curbside gutter. Are you freaking kidding me?
Giant drops of rain barreled at me. The wind howled and slapped against me. No time to cry about it… better get to work!
As I stood in the rain, numb and dumb with frustration, staring at the mangled mess, I noticed the pull-down strap madly flapping in the wind. I had an idea! Yes! I grabbed the strap and hoisted the broken end of the heavy awning up toward the arm that had previously connected it to my RV. Yes, this will work! I wrapped the strap around the arm a few times and secured it with a knot. I stepped back to inspect my handy work; the awning hung across the side of my rig like a broken arm in a sling. That’ll work!
Feeling happy and proud that I’d (temporarily) solved my problem, I hopped back inside and drove back to the souvenir shop’s empty gravel parking lot. I dared the universe: Go ahead, tow me!
For two hours, my RV rocked and bounced in the gale-force winds. Powerful gusts pounded at the walls and rain banged on the roof, making it nearly impossible to concentrate on my work. Things cracked and whipped and snapped all around me: oh nooo what’s going to break next? I was completely stressed out and terrified that the flimsy walls of my mobile-home would disintegrate and blow away in the 50mph gusts.
Finally, after a couple hours, the winds decreased to maybe 25 or 30 mph and the rain, while still pouring, wasn’t coming down in sheets anymore. I was growing antsy; I couldn’t sit in the parking lot forever. I had to figure out what I was going to do with the crippled awning, I slipped into my rain coat and waterproof hiking boots and once again, ventured out into the storm for a closer look at the damage.
I hoisted myself up the slippery ladder and onto the roof to inspect the broken arm. Ever the optimist, I thought, “maybe I can reattach it!” Working quickly in the heavy rain and wind, it looked promising. All I had to do was hoist the awning onto the roof and drop it back into the slot at the top of the arm. Piece of cake!
I climbed back down, tied a rope (an extension cord. I couldn’t find my rope!) around the awning, flung the other end up on the roof, climbed back up and hoisted the heavy monstrosity onto the roof. But it wouldn’t go back in the slot, it was too bent. Ugh. Ok, now what?
Maybe I can secure it to the roof?!? I searched for something to tether it to that wouldn’t cause more damage. No luck.
I had no choice but to remove the whole awning by disassembling the side that was still connected. And of course, I hadn’t brought my tools with me; climb back down, gather my wrench and pliers from my pathetic tool set and climb back up the slippery wobbly ladder.
I was freezing cold and soaked to the bone. Gusts of wind swooped up and rocked the RV beneath me. With numb hands and the entire weight of the awning pressing against the in-tact arm, I wrenched at the nuts securing it to the roof. With a jolt and a pop and a snap the awning broke free, forcefully snapping back against my hand with an excruciatingly painful blow, and then crashing to the ground ten feet below. FUUUUCK! OW-OW, FUCKING OUCH!
I looked down at my hand expecting to see it dangling off my wrist. Or at the very least covered in blood. Surprisingly it was still intact, no blood and despite hurting like hell, everything seemed to move as it should- with great pain, but at least it moved. How am I going to climb down off the roof with a lame hand? Oh my god, could this day get any more fucked???
With my lame hand, I managed to get off the roof and inside my pain-in-the-ass home. I was drenched to the bone, my hand was throbbing, my awning – a deal breaker when I bought the RV – was toast. Overcome with frustration, worry and pain, I broke. As I pulled my two tiny ice cube trays from the freezer and rested my hand between them, the tears I’d been choking back broke free and streamed down my freezing, rain-soaked face.
Fear and worry overwhelmed me: What am I going to do? I’m stuck in this stupid storm. My hand is crushed. My awning is on the ground. The frame is dangling off the side of my RV. I can’t drive like this!
I gave myself some time to feel the pain; allowing the tears wash away the frustration. Then with my good hand, I wiped the tears and rain from my face, got out of my wet clothes and into warm dry ones and devised my plan. But I couldn’t do anything until I could use my hand again, so I sat for another hour icing it and listening to the storm carry on outside.
I ended up securing the flopping metal frame in place with plastic ties. Now what to do with the awning? I was tempted to leave it there, but in good consciousness, couldn’t just leave my garbage for someone else to deal with. So, when my hand was functioning again, I went back out in the rain and tried to shove my 20’ one-hundred-pound awning through my door – no go. It wouldn’t fit. Well, now I have no choice. I can’t take it with me. I dragged it into the trees and drove back to the safety of the forest, where I could try to put day’s troubles behind me.
Later, as I lay in bed looking at the cloudy sky through my back window with the emergency release handles, it hit me: I can get the awning through here!
The next morning, on my way to the Bay Area, I stopped at the gravel parking lot, hoisted the long, heavy awning to my back window and shoved it into my rig. It wasn’t easy; it was heavy! Once inside, it stretched from the back window, across my bed, through my kitchen and dining area, all the way to the driver’s seat. Oh, this is going to be fun. How the heck am I going to l live with this? I had to move it to one side to get in the fridge, to the other to get in the bathroom. I had to step over it to get to my kitchen and then again to get my seating area. I told myself all I had to do was make it to my home base in the Bay Area where there’s a Camping World. I’ll get it fixed tomorrow. I’ll just have to live with it for one night…
Or so I thought…My adventure wasn’t quite over yet. I didn’t make it to my destination in Vacaville, to my car or to Camping World.
Four hours after hoisting the broken piece of my RV inside, I was just sixty miles outside of Vacaville, cruising along I-5, excited about getting close to my home base and trying to decide where I’d spend the night when I looked out my rear window and saw nothing but white. Great, now what? Through my driver side mirror, I saw heavy white smoke billowing from underneath my rig. Oh my freaking god, are you kidding me right now???
I pulled over, jumped out, ran to the passenger side and squatted down too see my biggest fear realized; red fluid was spewing out into a huge puddle beneath my engine. I stood motionless, looking toward the sky, paralyzed with disbelief. Dear universe, why do you hate me?
I loved this part of northeastern Oregon! Enterprise and Joseph are just six miles apart but are quite different experiences.
I first drove into Joseph from the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway and was spilled into a small town bustling with a pleasant mix of (mostly boomer-generation) tourists and old-time residents. The idyllic scenery is the first thing you notice; with a quaint tree lined main street stretching toward the picturesque Wallowa mountains. One sign referred to the Wallowas as “The Little Alps” – and for good reason. As I drove out to Wallowa Lake on my second day, that is exactly what the small, but dramatic range reminded me of.
Joseph’s Main Street is the heart of the tiny town, speckled with restaurants “WELKoming hunters”, locals and tourists with names like: “Outlaw Restaurant”, “Old Town Cafe”, “Home Cooking Cafe” and “Stubborn Mule Saloon and Steakhouse” and a couple similarly themed hotels: “Indian Lodge” and “Bronze Antler B&B”. There’s also a “Cattle Country Quilt and Craft” store and art galleries full of rustic old-timey Cowboy and Indian inspired bronze sculptures, photographs and paintings of local scenery and western themes.
And then there’s the usual tourist fare: souvenir shops selling Enterprise, Oregon T-shirts, mugs, shot glasses and overpriced magnets and candy; an ice cream store; a gourmet chocolate shop; espresso cafes; and the obligatory small-town True-Value Ace Hardware that carries everything from souvenir t-shirts to washing machines to guns.
Our first stop was food! We’d been driving for hours; it was past lunchtime and we were both starved. We found the perfect spot, a diner brimming with locals and aptly named “Home Cooking Café”. After clearing a table for us in the full diner, the waitress handed us menus and giant plastic cups of ice-water. She seemed to know everyone by name and chatted them up as if she sees them every day, “Hey Joe, where’s Frank today? Did you get that part fixed on your car yesterday?”
As my friend Bob and I ate, discussing travel plans and the weather, the man next to us busted into our conversation and gave us his weather report. He was friendly and helpful, so I forgave his eavesdropping and crashing into our apparent, not-so-private conversation.
The walls were covered in old barn boards, adorned with burnt-in brands of local ranches, washed-out black and white photos of days-gone-by Joseph, and framed posters with funny sayings like, “Historical moment, an argument was won by the man of the house on this date….”. There was an old iron wood stove against the back wall that sat cold, even on that gloomy and rainy autumn day.
The meal was humongous – I ordered a veggie omelet and home fries and my plate came heaped high and overflowing . It literally took me 3 days to eat it all – and I don’t have a tiny appetite! (In my RV life, I’ve become “mostly-vegan” when I eat out. Unless I only want to eat salad and French fries, it’s nearly impossible to find vegan fare in most small towns).
After lunch, we walked the two blocks along Main Street to the post office to see if my general delivery mail had arrived from California. Along the way we peeked inside inviting storefronts and pined for ice cream and chocolates even with full tummies. As suspected, my mail hadn’t arrived yet (it has just left California the day before) so we headed back to the RV parking lot, behind the local grocery store, to work for a couple hours before heading out to find home for the night.
We’d arrived in Joseph with two potential locations for boondocking, just a few miles from town in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. One was off of Hurricane Creek Road, which, according to Google maps, had a couple of forest roads that appeared to be worth exploring, and the other was outside of Enterprise, on Lime Quarry Road. The question was- as always in this area – will there be cell service so we can work?
Before nightfall we headed out of town, past the tiny airport to Hurricane Creek Road. At the Joseph Grange Hall, Hurricane Creek Road turned toward the National Forest and within ¼ mile pavement turned to gravel. We passed several residences with big signs warning travelers to slow down. The forest road that Google Earth Maps showed, off to the right about two miles in was nowhere to be found (and now researching this blog, it shows a house there – that was not there a month ago!)– another Google maps mystery!
We’d passed a National Forest campground and decided to turn around and stay there for the night rather than drive to Enterprise and explore another forest road so late in the day. When I found a wide spot in the road, big enough for my RV to turn around in, we made our way back to the campground. As suspected there was no cell signal – so we had the night off of work! For $6/night, with all three spots that were big enough for my rig and Bob’s van open, we decided to call it home. It’s a small campground with about 13 sites, resting right on Hurricane Creek, which even at this time of year was flowing freely, providing a nice backdrop to the already cool and misty evening.
The next day we drove back down to the RV parking lot in town to work for a couple of hours before Bob took off for Salt Lake City to meet up with his son who flew in from Alaska. When Bob invited me to go, I debated, but in the end was looking forward to some time alone to finish exploring that part of Oregon. We’d been planning to head to Seattle to see Bob’s friend Suanne and I thought I might still head there – or maybe the Columbia River. Or Maybe Couer d’Alene, Idaho. “Who knows?” I thought, “that’s the beauty of my new life. I can go anywhere I want and I can decide tomorrow!” But I couldn’t go anywhere until my mail arrived- I still have a couple clients who pay me by check – and they are on their way!
After Bob left for Salt Lake City, I worked for a few hours and then headed toward Wallowa Lake to do some exploring. But first the post office… no mail – sigh. It was Friday. That meant I was stuck there through the weekend, which wasn’t the end of the world, but I hate feeling trapped! .
The drive to Wallowa Lake was scenic and I found a day use area with good 4G, a beach and a gorgeous view of the lake. I made a mental note and continued toward the State Park sprawled at the base of the Little Alps on the other end of the lake. Once there I discovered a little touristy lake-side community with cafes, restaurants, hotels and the Wallowa Lake State Park. I considered spending the $30 to stay there, but there was no cell signal. I decided I’d rather stealth camp in town. I spent some time at the day use area, took Capone for a walk on the lakeshore and relaxed a bit before driving back to the RV parking lot in town to get some work done.
I ended up parking in front of Joseph Community Center across from the Forest Service for the night. Other than a little bit of traffic and loud drunks passing by when the restaurants and bars closed, it wasn’t bad.
I woke up early and drove to the Wallowa Lake day use area and boat ramp, made coffee, turned on my generator and got to work.
Later I drove to the small neighboring town of Enterprise. A really cool, sleepy little town, with streets lined with buildings that used to house bustling businesses – now scarce with a consignment shop, a couple of restaurants and cafes and empty storefronts and offices. Unlike the relative bustle of Joseph, Enterprise felt like a ghost town. It’s wide streets, empty and plenty of room for me to park my RV. Which was convenient since I found Gypsy Café and couldn’t resist stopping in for an almond milk Cappuccino!
I also noticed ample opportunities for stealth camping around town both on the streets and near the small city park off the main drag. After hitting Safeway for a few groceries, I ended up at the little league field behind it. The parking lot was far enough away from homes, that I doubted anyone would even notice I was there. I spent the whole afternoon without seeing a single person visit the field – it was only near nightfall that a few people showed up to walk their dogs and play with their kids. I could see the curious looks as I peeked through my curtains, but I spent the night with no issue. The next morning, after coffee and a couple hours of writing, I moved on to another location to get a blog published and then back to Hurricane Creek Campground.
I spent a peaceful night in the dewy forest and headed out the next day to get my mail (it HAD to be there by now!) and hit the road to Coeur d’Alene!
As you know from my last blog that didn’t quite go as planned and I ended up staying an extra day to get some repairs done on the RV. But at last, on Wednesday I was on my way! Only I’d changed my plans: instead of Coeur d’Alene I headed to Walla Walla, Washington!
It’s 5:30 am on Forest Road 050, five thousand feet high, deep in Umatilla National Forest, Oregon. I lay wide awake, huddled between my new fluffy quilted comforter and flannel sheets listening to the rain pelt my thin RV roof for the second night in a row. For three days it’s has been nearly constant: relentless, loud and cold.
Anxiety swirls inside me as the wind swirls outside, rocking my tiny home. I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to push away my anxiety and go back to sleep. But I can’t.
I toss and turn; sleep alludes me as the nasty noisy weather steals my comfortable silence. The wind rips through my awning and I regret putting it out yesterday when the clouds finally separated, revealing slivers of blue sky and hope for sunnier days.
My RV jolts and rocks as the wind howls; turning the awning into a sail. I’ve been laying here for an hour already debating: should I get up and put it down. Noooo it’s too cold.. Bed is warm… I’ll wait and see if it gets worse. WHOOSH! WHIP! Another gust takes hold and the RV jerks. I hold my breath, maybe it’ll die down. And the whipping and rocking subsides… for a while… and then it starts all over again. Ugghhh There’s so much to move and put away if I’m to put the awning up and it’s cold and dark and wet; I’ll take my chances. I’ll wait…
I arrived in Umatilla National Forest in the Blue Mountains of northeast Oregon, seven days ago. The National Forest is “1.4 million acres of mountainous terrain and deep v-shaped valleys” (source: Forest Service website). I found a picturesque, open, and spacious campsite (with 2-3 bars of 4G!) on dead-end forest road 020 (off of highway 204, 13 miles north of Elgin). The secluded spot, overlooking a small valley, beckoned, “stay. You’ll be safe here!” And how could I refuse! Surrounded by a forest, thick with a variety of conifers; Pacific yews, Western Junipers, Spruce, Firs and Ponderosa, Western White and Lodgepole Pines. I was in awe of all their different shapes and sizes and how they decorate the forest in layers of fall colors and contrast. It was gorgeous. Ahhh I found my new temporary home!
When I arrived, the sky was heavy with rain clouds. Occasionally, they’d open, spitting showers upon Capone and me as we explored the web of forest roads on foot. But they’d just as quickly close back up and allow the sun to break through and warm me just enough… However, within a few days we were huddled inside escaping wind, biting cold temperatures and even hail and snow. And for the last few days, instead of reveling in Mother Nature’s beauty, I’ve been huddled inside, escaping her.
I love the rain— or at least I thought I loved the rain. On backpacking trips, I’ve been beside myself with excitement; huddled inside my tiny tent as storms delivering earth-rumbling thunder, sky-piercing lightening and pelting hail rumbled over me. All my life, (yes, even as an adult!), I’m always the one to run outside and skip through mud puddles during thunderstorms. My ex-husband thought I was insane the first time I experienced a (rare) thunderstorm in the Bay Area (one of the things I missed the most about growing up in NY) as I ran outside to stand in the driveway and watch as it pass overhead, giddy with excitement.
As a backpacker, I’ve reveled in ‘being One with nature” and “weathering the storms”, hell, I even blogged about how nature isn’t supposed to be easy and convenient – and how I welcome all that she is! (Read it here: Alone on the JMT – my 26 day, 256 mile hike).
And now I lament: oh how easy it is to tolerate – or even love – a challenging situation when you know there’s an end (or you can go back inside and escape it!)! A few hours huddled in a tent while a storm passes over is one thing, but days and days of gloom, air thick with cold and damp, constant noise as rain thrashes my tin-box home and the constant worry that the tenuous seams of my old RV will burst, leaking water down my walls, is a whole other matter.
I think the reality of RV life is starting to settle in… it’s not like living in a sticks and bricks house where I’d have the luxury of peeking at the storm through a window, muting the TV so I can hear the rumbling thunder, or bundling up and stepping into the driveway to watch it pass over before retreating to the comfort and safety of a home that doesn’t rock in the wind or amplify the sound of raindrops on the roof. I don’t even have a radio or TV to drown out the sound of the rain and wind attacking my RV-home. It’s just me. Alone. In a tin box. In the woods. Fifteen miles from civilization. With just a tenuous layer of particle board and sheet metal between Mother Nature and me. This is pretty real!
Part of my motivation for living in an RV was to be closer to nature. To immerse myself in her rhythms, innate ruggedness and breathless beauty. Last spring – California’s first ‘normal’ rain year in a while- during one of my “practice” boondocking trips in the El Dorado National forest, I got to experience my first RV rain storm. I reveled and delighted at the sound of rain drops pelting the metal roof, sitting under my awning, watching the drops bounce off the drought-hardened earth and throw tiny splashes into the air. It was so new and exciting then…. Now it’s my reality.
Feeling disappointed in the weather – and myself – I conceded. The rainy season has hit Oregon and it’s time to move on. And now I just lay here wide awake impatiently waiting for daylight to crest so I can break camp and nohead down the mountain to dryer ground.
Life in an RV is different. We don’t have the comfort and security of sticks and bricks. We’re more exposed and vulnerable to the elements. It’s why I chose this life and now I’m disappointed that it’s what’s causing me stress. I hope the longer I live in my RV and the more I trust in her condition, the more comfortable I’ll be; knowing that I can literally weather the storms!
We Location Independent RV- Living Nomads have a saying: “If you don’t like your neighbors, move.” And lately my “neighbor” has been an unrelenting nuisance. So it’s time to bid adieu and find more hospitable ones.
After boondocking for six weeks in the National Forests near Medford, Klamath Falls and Sisters Oregon, I decided it was time to move on. I left a perfectly good camp in Deschutes National Forest to drive 275 miles to a new location near the tiny town of Richland in northeastern Oregon. My inner Nomad was alive and kicking! Why stay in one spot when there’s a whole country to explore? The dent in my budget from the catalytic converter, a new cabin battery and the trip to Arizona has been recouped and now I have enough in reserve to afford to travel again .
I’d been happy there; nestled among new growth Lodgepole Pines, Mountain Hemlocks and Subalpine Fir. It was far away from people and noise, yet just 5 miles from the tiny tourist town of Sisters and 28 miles from the bigger city of Bend. However, the scenery was getting passé and the surrounding roads and trails had all been walked. I was ready for a change of scenery: the open road beckoned.
When I declared it was time to move on, my traveling buddy Bob and I carefully studied the Delorme and Benchmark Atlases, consulted the Public Lands Android app, Google Earthed various National Forest and BLM roads and referred to the Verizon coverage map to carefully select a camp that would give us everything we needed to live and work. We finally found a spot that seemed perfect: 30 miles east of Baker City, near the tiny town of Richland. It looked far enough away to get the solitude we both enjoy, resting on the edge of the Powder River in the high desert – and according to the Verizon coverage map, a strong 4G signal. We’d found our next home!
On Wednesday morning, I headed east, excited to be getting further from my former home state of California, exploring new places and being on my own (even if just for a few days until Bob and our camp guest Cathleen met up with me again). Within a few hours I was at the turnoff to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and the Painted Hills. I’d been hoping to find a place on the surrounding BLM land to camp for the night but I’d been in a cell phone dead zone since the small town of Prineville about 100 miles back. I had a project due for work; I needed a cell signal and had relied on the Verizon Map. There was supposed to be cell service along Route 26!
I drove the seven miles out to the Painted Hills site without so much as a peep out of my phone alerting me that my notifications had come to life. It was getting on in the day and I was ready to stop driving. The frustration and worry settled in like a heavy mass in my gut. I didn’t want to have to turn all the back to Prineville but I had to get some work done! Damn the lying Verizon Map!
Well, I’m here, I may as well enjoy the scenery! I leashed up Capone and walked the short trail to the lookout for the best views of the red streaked hills. The sign near the parking lot explained that the layers of yellow, red and gray painted onto the sandy hills represent different geological eras. The different layers were formed when the area was an ancient river floodplain. The black soil is lignite, a vegetative matter that grew along the floodplain. The grey coloring is mudstone, siltstone, and shale. The red coloring is laterite soil that formed by floodplain deposits when the area was warm and humid. (Source: Wikipedia). I spent about an hour taking pictures, wandering around and enjoying the quiet remoteness before heading back on Route 26 in search of a cell signal and a place to spend the night.
I drove another 74 miles and ended up at Clyde Holliday State Recreation Site in Mt. Vernon, Oregon. They have first-come-first serve tent and RV sites with full hook-ups (and a few Tee-pees that have to be reserved ahead of time), a good 4G signal – and hot showers! Sold! It was about 5:00 pm on a Wednesday and there were only three sites available, which were filled by dark.
As I rolled in, I immediately noticed how clean and well landscaped it was, with willowy Cottonwood trees, plush green grass and enough shrubbery and trees that each site had some privacy. It rested between the gentle John Day River and Highway 26 (a surprisingly busy and loud highway). For $24 I got to plug in and recharge my cabin battery, refill my fresh water, dump my tanks AND take a nice long hot shower in a roomy, clean stall with plenty of hot water. Well worth the investment!
Once I was set up, Capone and I went for a leisurely walk along the river as the sun set. It had only been about five hours since I left camp in Sisters, but it already felt like I’d been on the road a long time.
The next day I left the campground around 11:00 am and traveled through lush green forests, along narrow roads hugging canyons sliced by the meandering Powder River and middle-of-no-where farmland, as I headed east on Route 26 toward Richland. I stopped along the way in John Day, parked Big Bertha just off the tiny main drag and lazily wandered the street of the quaint old-time town. I even had a surprisingly delicious almond milk cappuccino at the John Day Corner Cup Café (I sure do miss my Peet’s Coffee!).
Back on the road, I headed toward Richland. I wasn’t sure where I was going exactly, as I have a habit of “winging-it” and relying on my memory. How hard will it be to find the dirt road next to the Powder River near a tiny town?. But I began to grow weary as windy road after windy road over forest and high desert and through valleys and canyons yielded not a second of cell phone service. Most of highways 26 and 7 west of Baker City and all of Route 86 east of Baker City were virtual dead zones. How can that be? The Verizon maps… Those damn lying Verizon maps! I was starting to panic. I had a conference call with a client at 9 the next morning, I had to have a signal! The last thing I wanted to do was stealth camp in Baker City. I’d been in the forest too long to consider going back to the headache and stress of finding a place to sleep in a city!
I had a knot in my stomach and I was growing impatient as I navigated the narrow windy Route 86. I’d been driving two days and was feeling done. I just wanted to find a quiet place to camp, but there weren’t any BLM roads in sight —-CRUUUNCH!What the —-??? Before I knew what hit me (literally), my driver side mirror disappeared into thin hair. What the hell??? It took a few minutes to realize the truck going the opposite direction grazed my mirror, smashing it to pieces.
The road was narrow with a sharp drop-off to the river on my right so I couldn’t pull over to see if the truck was stopping. Out of habit, I kept looking at the void where my mirror had been, to see if he was stopping or turning around. But the black shell stared blankly back at me. I can’t drive like this! I can’t see behind me! I kept driving until I found a place, about a half mile down the road to pull over. Even pulling off to the right without my driver side mirror was unnerving. Shit what am I going to do?
Now the weariness and frustration that had been simmering in me all day about the cell signal and lack of camping options boiled to the surface. Ok. Calm down. It’s going to be OK. I’ll get through this… Thinking quickly, I grabbed my hand mirror out of the bathroom, stuck it out the window toward my missing mirror and voila! I could see behind me. Ok it’s not great, but it’ll work! And using my bright pink hand-held mirror, I pulled back onto the road, feeling relieved that at least I had a short-term solution to this problem. I was just about 10 miles from Richland and the camp Bob and I had scouted. I found my optimism again and thought, “Ok, I’m almost there – and there will be a cell signal and a nice place right on the river to camp! I’m going to be OK.”
The road to Richland meandered along the Powder River and as I cautiously maneuvered my handicapped rig along the narrow roads, I searched for my turnoff, with one eye on my phone for a cell signal. No roads. No signal. Ugghhh.
I drove through the itty bitty town of Richland which was surrounded on the east and the west by sprawling farms and old houses clumped together in tiny neighborhoods. Where’s the BLM land? And the remote spots to camp? I remembered the turnoff being right in town – but there’s no BLM here… At least I have cell service!
I drove through the tiny town in a blink of my eye and immediately lost the cell signal again. NOOOOO…. My stubbornness wouldn’t allow me to turn around…
Fifteen miles later, atop a hill I found a 4G signal and a road that appeared to lead into BLM land. But it wasn’t the road on the River that Bob and I had scouted. Ok, enough is enough. I need to figure out where I’m supposed to be going. Bob had emailed me the GPS coordinates, which were in my Outlook inbox, on my laptop. I parked and pulled out my laptop. Crap! I’d overshot the turnoff by 25 miles! Grrrr.
Now I had a dilemma: do I explore the dirt road in front of me with a sign reading, “Campground 11 miles” and gamble that: a) the 4G signal lasts, b) the road will be passable for my monstrous rig and/or c) that there might be a place to pull off and camp for the night? Or do I turn around and just go to the spot I was aiming for? I was feeling vulnerable to getting stuck or not being able to turn around in a tight spot without my driver side mirror. I am prone to getting into hairy situations and needing all my faculties for getting out of them. Not having that mirror put me at risk of getting into something I couldn’t get out of – or worse. I decided to turn around. I needed to go back to Baker City the next day to get my mirror fixed anyway.
About 40 minutes later, with the help of Google navigation and a wavering 3G signal, I pulled into the location Bob and I had scouted. I’d remembered driving right past it and wondering where it led on my way to Richland… If only I could learn to slow down and refer to maps! But Nooooo, that would make life far too dull – I must do everything the hard way!!!
The spot that looked so perfect on Google Earth, turned out to be not-so-great in real life. What I failed to notice was that it’s a cattle wrangling/staging area and Google Earth didn’t show that it’s littered with dried up cow patties. There are giant mounds of sand and rock and it rests directly below Route 86 on a river I could hear, but not see through the thick brush. PLUS it had a weak 3G signal that lasted barely long enough to get me there. By the time I set up it was gone; I was in a dead zone. Oh well, I’ll just have to get out of here early and drive the 31 miles back to Baker City (on narrow windy roads) to make my 9 am conference call and shop for a new mirror!
Oh well, what am I going to do? At least it’s not a town! I found a level place to park, pulled out my step, laid my carpet and unfolded my camp chair: I was happy to be home. I heated leftovers for dinner and ate outside, listening to the river I couldn’t see and ignoring the cow patties in favor of the barren high-desert hills. As darkness swiped the day, the traffic on the curvy road above, already light, became almost non-existent and I was left alone in a silent and magical world…
It didn’t take long for the stress of the day to melt away. The thing is, not every day of RV Life is peaches and cream…
Sometimes you forget you’re driving a 29’ monstrosity, drive too fast on narrow windy roads, and cross the yellow line, causing your mirror to get wiped out by a passing truck.
Sometimes you overshoot your destination and have to backtrack 25 miles when you’re already tired and cranky.
Sometimes the Verizon coverage map lies and you have no cell service when you need it to work.
Sometimes all the maps and apps and technology in the world can’t paint the whole picture.
And sometimes you leave a perfectly good camp and drive 300 miles, only to end up in a field of cow shit.
But when all the challenges and long days of driving are behind you and you’ve done all you can do for one day, you park your rig, set up camp and call it home for the night. And as the crickets’ chorus and the babbling creek play you a private melody, fresh desert sage wafts away the smell of cattle as the cool air settles, the cow paddies disappear into the earth with the fading daylight and a gentle breeze brushes against your road-worn skin, you realize there is no place you’d rather be.
Living and working in an RV isn’t easy. Your rig will break, your maps will mislead you, your technology will fail and your best laid plans will go awry. It’s all part of the experience. But if you can roll with the punches, think on your feet and stay open to the possibilities, you’ll find that you end up in some of the most amazing places…. And exactly where you are meant to be.