The concept of “neighbor” morphs when you’re living on wheels.
We’re learning to strike fast, connect quickly and hang on digitally. There’s no room for shyness on the road.
Back at home, in Scottsdale, community meant my mother and sister, who lived across the street in the tight-knit neighborhood called Sherwood Heights. We knew many neighbors on the block and shared beer and conversation with Vicki, an artist, and Billy, a high-school/community college teacher, celebrated the birth of two babies with the young couple next door and commiserated with the former golf pro/coach/ PGA official across the street who was having trouble with his eyesight. We visited with the federal judge and his wife who knew mom from the days when my stepfather founded and ran the law library at Arizona State University.
Throw into the mix our wonderful son, Nate, who recently finished his junior year at Arizona State University in Tempe, who we saw almost every day. And Tom’s pick-up basketball gang at the gym and poker group from work. For me, there was my Mothers Who Write group, regular stitch-and-bitch sessions with my friend Tami, and lunches with friends Jackie and Meredith to plan annual trips to Mexico. And there were journalism co-workers we’d bump into at events like Festivus for the Rest of Us party, held annually by photographer friend, Mike.
Not to mention the guy at Sacks sandwich shop, or the woman at Chipotle, both of whom knew Tom by name, or the man who cuts my hair and the familiar faces at my yarn store.
Our community was built over more than 30 years in the Valley of the Sun, but we can’t wait that long to build an on-the-road group of friends.
Out here, it’s speed-friending, fun and fast. Figure out who you share interests with quick, before you roll in different directions.
Our new friends include Fred from Washington who travels with his dog, Boomer, and generously shared maps of the West, showing us his favorite campgrounds, Michael, a photographer living in an old World War II truck camper, who is making a documentary about water, Janice and Crystal from Oregon, who shared their birding experiences at Patagonia Lake, Tim, a commuting jeweler we met at Palo Duro Canyon who is planning a recreational website, Lisa, who raises sheep and sells cheese at farmers markets, and Ann and Jeff, a nurse and paramedic from Idaho, who we’ll see in July, when we hit the harmonica festival in their tiny hometown.
Recently, we spent several days in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana with a group of people who, like us, own Roadtreks. Some of them, like us, live in them, called full-timing.
The Roadtrek brand builds crazy-good Class-B RVs, the ones that are tricked-out vans with everything you could need or want inside. They all have three little windows, real or decals, over the top of the van, and when you see one coming down the road, you must wave wildly and flash your lights. It’s like a secret handshake.
The Roadtreks come with a built-in group of online friends and company representatives, including the president, Jim Hammill, who offer advice about the rigs, as well as life on the road, or a driveway to park in on your way to the next destination.
It was a joyful gathering of like-minded wanderers, exploring the wilderness and a love of photography, where we connected with faces we’d only seen on Facebook.
I was thrilled to meet Campskunk, my new spiritual guru, whose full-timing life with his wife and their cat, Fiona, were the inspiration for us to chuck it all and drive across America. Campskunk, in his trademark tie-dyed T-shirt, was as irascible and irreverent as I expected, and he even fixed a couple of our broken cabinets. What a Trekkie.
Mike Wendland, who keeps all the Roadtrekkers together through the Facebook group, website, newsletter and podcasts, he creates, also organized the event, even while attending his wife who had ended up in the nearby hospital with pneumonia.
And several Roadtrek employees and friends showed up to talk photography and boondocking, camping without hookups, for which the Roadtreks are particularly suited.
We even had a Roadtrek parade through nearby Red Lodge that left people on the sidewalks slack-jawed and me giggling in the front seat as Tom drove.
Most of all I enjoyed the camp-chair evenings with Mary, from Oregon, who spends months in her Roadtrek and rafts the West’s wild rivers, Linda, a homeschooling mom from Idaho who hits the road with her long-haired dachshund, Pancho Villa, and Pat, a wise soul from Washington, who goes it alone in her rig, enjoying life as it comes. As the gathering broke up, we hugged and vowed to stay in contact, meeting again somewhere down the blacktop.
On the way out of town, we had lunch with another newbie couple, David and Yvonne, who recently started living full time in their Roadtrek. He’s a retired Texas firefighter and she has an online business. We shared budgeting and boondocking tips, before they headed up to Kitchner, Ontario, Roadtrek’s home base, to have some modifications made to their rig.
Now it feels like our neighborhood stretches across the West, friendly faces crisscrossing our wandering path.
If I ever do take to the open road, I will have to suppress my natural introvert tendencies. Once I get warmed up I’m loquacious, but before I know people it’s a challenge to get past small talk. As an introvert I always feel like the other person may not want to chat with a stranger!