I went to the 2017 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (The RTR). The RTR is a yearly gathering of nomads, mostly people who live and travel out of vehicles like Campervans, truck campers, and trailers. They gather for about two weeks each year in the desert near Quartzsite, AZ. The purpose of the Rendezvous is to make friends and to share/learn about how to live this lifestyle well.

I spent about a week there. The event is growing in size each year, and this year there were over 500 attendees. The median age was likely over 55. Most attendees are of normal retirement age and are now traveling cheaply.

I walked around quite a bit to look at the various types of rigs. I did a fun photography project I’ve called Rigs of the RTR, which includes pictures of 47 different rigs of RTR attendees. I wasn’t feeling particularly outgoing, but I did talk to quite a few people.

 

Three fascinating RTR attendees:

Of the people I spoke with, three were particularly fascinating. I came to the RTR hoping to meet and speak with Randy Vining. If you’ve seen the documentary Without Bound, you’ve seen how charming and convincing Randy can be. I’d been reading his blog for many years, back well before retiring and building my Campervan. Randy is among a very small number of people I consider my personal heroes.

I was successful in getting some time with Randy. We visited in his trailer for over an hour discussing life, people, and philosophy. It felt wonderful talking with him and I hope that becomes the starting point of a friendship.

Two other men I met and visited with also had incredibly interesting life stories. I’ll share some highlights of the lives of these three men below. They are mixed together for anonymity and mystery.

Snapshots of people living in full

  • Retired 40 years ago at age 30.
  • Unashamedly self-centered, with a contagious positivity that makes people want to be around him.
  • Has a knack for ‘getting the gold out of people’. Gave me good advice on getting people to open up / share their stories / get past small talk
  • Drummer for many different bands. One was a Jazz group that toured Europe (and when ‘they’ ran out of money, they started paying him in cocaine). Another was a punk band. Another were The Cockettes (as I understand, an all male and all gay (except for him) group that did something like male burlesque shows in the 70s in San Francisco) and more…
  • 75 years old and in wonderful health. Surfs a lot and also treads water to photography surfers. Nearly got into a fight recently while surfing, with a 19 year old who kept cutting him off. The 3rd time the 19 year old cut him off, he forearmed the guy and knocked him off his surfboard… Then he says to him “Ok, since i started it, we can go back to the beach and you can choose: fists or knives”
  • Has a ton of old travel adventure stories, many of them starting with some interesting details such as: “I was parked out next to the military base in my 1958 Porsche.. You could sleep in one of those if you recline the seat and put your feet into the trunk. And I had a girl with me. A tiny one, that way she could sleep with me in the same seat…”
  • “Well my drug of choice is LSD….”
  • Got hired and flown all over the world by Sports Illustrated to photograph Formula 1 races
  • Was a professional boxer
  • Lived in a commune for about 15 years
  • Said he was a Gigolo for a while
  • All three were in the military, though they didn’t talk about it other than brief mentions (and I didn’t ask, as their own personal stories were more interesting)
  • Lives in Mexico, right near some big surfing beach that gets huge waves. Has this really cool Toyota pickup with a camper on the bed and travels up and down the western coast fairly regularly, surfing and photographing surfers along the way (they buy the pictures, and pay him to make paintings of the pictures they really like). They know/like his work enough to email/call him and ask when he’s coming to their area again

There were more I heard that didn’t remember,  and surely many more that they didn’t yet tell me about. These are the kind of lives that happen when you don’t restrict yourself to current societal norms and expectations.