Embracing nomadism: a homey rhythm

  • Our second campsite at Goose Island Campground outside Arches National Monument.

There is an odd rhythm to nomadism, a dance, a feeling of slight disorientation as you get to know and embrace each new spot you call home, even if only for a few days.

Now, in year four of our journey in The Epic Van, we seem to have gotten better at it, reaching a comfort level we didn’t have in the beginning, when each new place felt wildly exciting, exotic and fascinating, but a little foreign.

Of course, what’s inside The Epic Van is always familiar, same bed, same bathroom, same kitchen, same clothes, books, same shoes tucked under the bed. So, wherever we are, we have our home. It’s only what’s outside the window that changes.

This year, it feels different, less stressful, more like we’ve settled into this nomadic rhythm, more immediately comfortable in each new setting.

I sometimes wonder if I’m really becoming more adaptable, if it’s a muscle that gets stronger with exercise, and if it would flex itself in other situations, like when we eventually decide to live in a sticks and bricks place again. Would I be better able to adapt and feel at home than before?

I think so.

Part of it is a familiarity with the van, with the things needed to keep it stoked with fuel, stocked with groceries, its contents stowed, its waste tanks empty and its water tanks full. Part is keeping ourselves comfortable, showered, fed, hiked-out and rested. Part is a lack of anxiety about new places, a confidence that we’ll easily find our way.

Usually, we gravitate to places off the beaten path, down the less-traveled byway, more likely to be less-populated. That means open campsites or other places to park for the night, empty trails, no crowds. Easy peasy.

But we also want to see the popular spots, which this year meant heading to national parks like Everglades, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.

Although we have a rough outline of our plans, we rarely know exactly what day we’ll hit which spot, preferring to linger a few extra days when we find a place we love. It makes reservations a dicey issue.

When we headed to Everglades National Park, we made reservations, because there weren’t any nearby options if sites were full. Turned out, it wasn’t necessary, be we liked not having to worry.

At an overcrowded spot like Arches, things are more complicated. All campsites are reservation only, which I find annoying. They’re booked six months in advance, boxing out wanderers like us. It seems the park system could hold just 10 percent on a first-come-first-served basis to allow for spontaneous free spirits, but they don’t. There are Bureau of Land Management camps outside the park that are first-come, first-served, but they fill early in the day, some by 8 a.m.

We have developed a loose plan of attack for these kinds of place: plan to arrive on a weekday rather than more-crowded weekend and never on a holiday weekend, lay up nearby the night before, get up early and try to arrive at a campground around 8 a.m. as those departing are packing up and heading out.

For Arches, we drove within striking distance the night before, sleeping near the library in Blanding, Utah, about two hours away. We woke up early, skipped our morning coffee routine, and headed for the BLM’s Goose Island Campground nearest the park.

We arrived about 8:30 a.m., believing we would be out of luck, but there was one, lovely spot left, just for us. We grabbed it. It turned out to be a beautiful campground on the Colorado River under a soaring rock wall painted with desert varnish, better, I think, than the reserved sites inside the park. It also was less expensive, only $7.50 a night with my senior pass, compared with $15 a night inside the park.

We took a quick nap to recharge, hit the visitors center to get oriented, read the brochures and park newsletters and planned our next few days of hiking. We located bathrooms, trash bins, waste dumps (in nearby Moab), met the camp host (John, with a big white beard), walked the bike path along the river, set up our chairs and camp tables and had a beer. In just a few hours, the place felt like home. After a leisurely dinner and good night’s sleep, we hit the trails.

If we’re camping near a town, we also drive the downtown and check out local eateries, yarn stores, book stores or art galleries. In Moab, we found the local burger/ice cream joint, Milt’s Stop n’ Eat, with a long line and great food.

We liked Arches so much that, a few days later, when other campers were heading out, we snagged a spot closer to the river and stayed a few extra days.

This rhythm, avoiding crowds when possible, striking mid-week and early in crowded spots, lingering when we are enamored, and quickly settling in makes the nomadic life feel pretty homey.

Still, there can always be a wrinkle. This time it was one of Tom’s prescriptions. He thought there would be a Walgreen’s in Moab or Green River. Not.

So after leaving Arches, we had to double back to Colorado to pick up the medicine. But we made it a good thing by visiting Colorado National Monument, a spot our friends Jim and Marilyn Johnson had recommended. It had been on our list for a later time, so we seized the opportunity and camped on a mountainside with a view of city lights.

And, the next day, as we drove back toward Bryce, we stopped at Green River, Utah, famous for its melons, and got the Vetere melon-seller’s favorite, Israeli. The sweet taste of serendipity.

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