I just watched the van-camping couple next door leave. They came in last night, after dark, and are now gone. To them, probably early, but it is 10:00 in the morning and I have lived half a life already. They have stayed here before, in the same spot. They know the drill. These last two times I did not see their receipt for payment. As is customary at these sites, one gets a registration envelope at the welcome center, fills it in, including payment for your stay, and puts the actual envelope into a box. There is a smaller portion with details of your stay that you affix to the identification pole at your camp. This lets the caretaker know you have paid, and communicates the site availability to the rest of the folks who may be looking. During their first stay, this van couple did that. These last two nights, when they came in late and left “early”, I never saw the receipt at camp. I am making an assumption they did not pay. They also know that the caretaker historically does not come around until much later in the day.
OK, I get it, everyone is trying to save a buck where we can. I understand all you did was sleep. I assume somebody either peed outside or used the outhouse at some point. Perhaps a minimal use of the resources available. But, you did have safe place to sleep, did you not? You did have water and a toilet available, did you not? You should still pay. Do you know what that money does? Do you know why payment is important? It pays staff to keep an eye on these places so douche’ bags don’t desecrate them. It pays for trail maintenance and clean restrooms (as clean as you can get an outhouse) and toilet paper. Those dollars help insure that the camp sites will be cared for and preserved and available for future use.
Hey, look, I get that you are short on cash. But, who chose to live on the road, anyway? I have yet to read anything by anyone who did NOT choose their travel way of life and who was FORCED into being homeless and unemployed. Perhaps those folks are just quiet on the web sites and Facebook groups. However, when we intentionally choose this way of life we are taking on the obligation to help support that which supports us. Buy that forest permit or duck stamp or even a hunting license. All those funds go back to help preserve that which we are so intent on enjoying. Those dollars are headed to the folks who will make sure we are safe in our camp spots, that we actually HAVE camp choices, that we have clean water when we pay for it or a nice fire ring or picnic table. Hell, sometimes we even get free showers.
It is easy to take advantage of little, out of the way places like this camp. There is one caretaker that drives by at least once per day. We chat, which is nice, and he asks if I need anything. He collects the fee envelopes and checks out the entire place. I like knowing this person comes by. I like knowing that I have a resource, should I need it, and someone to keep an eye on my camp. I like having drinking water near, even if I have to carry it a little ways. I think camping is my biggest expense. I hate that there are now reservations systems and I hate that they all charge “convenience” fees. Convenient for who???? That’s like those phone trees that say their menu has changed in order to provide better service. Oh, shut up, your menu did NOT change and you are just stalling. Fuck off. Your fees are NOT convenient. Let’s not get started on that ONE person who reserves a spot for ONE night in a two week period. AHHH!! I hate that.
Anyway, I like the amenities, I like having someone around, I like that we even have these places. Sure, I am breaking my budget to pay for camping. But, am I? I planned for nearly a year for this lifestyle. I arranged my entire life around this choice. I read on the web sites and group pages about the women who work for months on their vans or cars or whatever they will be living in. Looks to me like planning, right? Looks to me like you are making a choice on how to live, where to live, and that you are fully aware of the financial implications of your choice. Oh, you cannot afford a camp site? Then you better know how to find BLM or Forest Service land, or the nearest Walmart, or even a rest stop that may let you sleep for a few hours. This is YOUR plan and I assume nobody forced you.
I signed up for this, as did dozens and dozens of others. I made this choice and while I really like to save money when and where I can, I also know where those dollars I do spend go and what service I, in return, receive. Shit, you think it’s bad now??? Wait until you have to line up to see Old Faithful or when there is no parking at the Grand Canyon. These places get so busy and so crowded and are in desperate need of management. Mostly because of stupid people. Oh, yes, they are special and do NOT have to stay on the trail. What boundary sign? Then their kids run all over, outside of the boundary, throwing fast food garage out the window. That boundary is there to preserve the sanctity of our natural world. Those trash cans are there to use, and if they are full, take your shit back home! These places are NOT for you to be special or get that photo or carve your initials. I have to remember that my dollars are helping keep these places and this information sacred.
Even if it hurts a little, please do your part. Pay where you have to, stay on the fucking trail like the sign says, and remind yourself this is what you signed up for. If you did not, and you are homeless and unemployed not of your own doing, please get in touch with social services wherever you are and they can direct you to resources to help you get back on your feet. Agencies are all over that can help.
For those of us who live on the road by choice, our pocketbooks may hurt now and again, but we all know the remedy for that. We can volunteer, trade services, or pick up temp work. Minimum wage is more than $0 per hour anyway.
As a follow-up – when I left the rain of camp this morning to head into town, I noticed one of the garbage containers was full. It was full of a mattress, some sort of dog bed or lounge chair, and some table parts. These things were not there yesterday or last night. There is a chance some random person off the roadway stopped in and used this dumpster as their own personal garbage service. At no cost to them, I might add. Then again, perhaps is was the van couple. There is no way to know. There is no doubt, however, that whomever it was, that person or persons did not pay their way. My camping fees did. I paid their way. Not happily, I might add.