the (often) meandering travels of a student anthropologist
...and after twenty years designing web sites, at forty-nine, I returned to school to pursue an undergraduate degree in Anthropology. How groups engender culture through custom and ritual, occupation of space, and by creating patterns of social interaction, fascinates me. I'm currently back from my first fieldwork for my thesis–exploring the growing culture surrounding solo female nomads in the American Southwest.
By renovating an RV, traveling out to Arizona for the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR), and joining what Bob Wells, of Cheap RV Living, has coined as 'the tribe', I'm doing what is known in Anthropology as participant research. I experience firsthand what others that take on this lifestyle, and participate in this culture, also come to know.
There are notable differences, however. For example, while this is a long journey (from one end of the country to the other and six months in duration), I am not full-time. I will return home to a sticks and bricks house when it's over. And, while I tried to renovate the rig as if I was going full-time, I did not give up a houseful of possessions, or have to make hard decisions about what I would give up to live on the road. This is not my only home, it is, instead, a second home. Ultimately, if things don't work out in some way, I could just throw up my hands, turn around, and return. While there are moments when I am fearful that something could happen to my home on wheels, as I have so much invested in it, I have a safety net that most nomads on the road do not.
Why study this? I've always thought of myself as a bit of a gypsy. My parents moved around frequently when I was growing up–when people ask me where I grew up, I just say the Gulf Coast. Over the years of my childhood I lived in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. So, for me, not only did change always came relatively easily, it was, for all intents and purposes, an addiction. As an adult I loved to start over, and whether it was a new apartment, a new job, or a new boyfriend, I was always hungering for the next change.
Then, as I've grown older, I've become more and more interested in what it is to be a woman in our culture. Both my grandmothers were strong women. One grew up poor on a Georgia 'dirt farm' and rose to become a financial officer for a bank–before women held such positions. The other immigrated from Germany just as stock markets fell and the Depression hit. A farm wife, she would work alongside the farmhands all morning and then leave only half an hour before them to prepare and put a bountiful hot meal on the table for when they came in from the fields. This was before the days of microwaves and convenience food!
How women raise families, create communities, home, hearth, and often 'hold it all together' during difficult times intrigues me. Perhaps, because I never married or had children, and have lived in relatively easy times, I have a great admiration for these women and am looking forward to learning more about the independence and adventures these women are claiming for themselves on the road. I am curious–what are they looking for? How have they been transformed? What choices have they made and what have they sacrificed to do this? How do their skills (whether young or old) serve them on the road, and finally, how do they form communities?
Historically women didn't travel alone. It was the rare woman who adventured. It was the domain of men. So who is this new breed of woman that travels the American southwest as a rubber tramp?
...are the companions on my journeys.
Freyja is a grand dame, now in her 12th or 13th year. My boyfriend, Rick, and I rescued her from the Colorado Humane shelter in Denver during a Valentine's ice storm back in the mid-2000s. Part cattle dog, part border collie, and perhaps part husky, she's always been her own dog and we believe she only agreed to live with us because we're foodies. The staff told us she wouldn't walk on a leash, but she promptly took to it and jumped in the car when we walked her out. Must have smelled the morning pancakes lingering on our clothes!
So far Freyja has been enjoying the camps–and campfires when she is allowed to attend. Food aggressive she can't be trusted around other dogs when the buffet is on.
Shillelagh (pronounced Shil-lay'-lee) is her baby 'sister'. Rescued at five weeks old the little black and white 'matching' kitten came out of the crate purring and rubbing up against Freyja's legs. Although she's skittish around people she never let Freyja push her around and some of the tussles they got in when she was still a wee one were truly terrifying.
She's not particularly happy about these adventures we're having, but has adjusted well. She's happiest at night when I've buttoned everything up and put some Otis on the IPad. That's when she comes out to play and chases her red sponge ball from one end of the rig to the other like the demented.
Rick, the occasional travel buddy and adventure partner is currently in Denver where he can be found most weekends entertaining at the Adams Mystery Playhouse. I highly recommend checking out his personal website and getting a reading...
SO, WHO IS JUNO?
Juno is a 21 ft. 1984 Mallard Class C on a Dodge Ram 1-ton truck chassis. She's powered by a 5.9L 360 V-8 and (as of this writing) has 70,796 thousand miles on her original engine.
Rick purchased her in Denver, Colorado, in October of 2016 and then drove her to North Carolina during winter storm Helena, the bitterly coldest week of the new year. I worked on renovations until October of 2017 before getting her back on the road to Arizona where I am now, starting my fieldwork.
It hasn't been smooth sailing. Renovations and keeping up a classic rig are always a challenge. Although the engine is strong and foundations of the camper solid, she is prone to vapor lock and we are still sorting out her wiring. Like any 30+ year old vehicle, she needed some tender loving care and continues to have her quirks.
Cosmetically, major renovations included replacing the carpet with vinyl plank flooring, painting, putting up smart tiles in the kitchen, replacing cushions, reupholstering, and sewing new new curtains. Mechanically, the carburetor has been replaced, the rear main seal fixed, transmission pan dropped and resealed, manifold leak corrected, and a fuel pump and fan clutch replaced. Systems repairs included a new refrigerator, water pump, converter, and fixes to electrical outlets and gray and black tanks. She's been thoroughly sealed including back corner trim and the front cab over window. While four tires were new, the inside duallies turned out to be over fifteen years old. Finally, she got a ladder and two new awnings.
Other than the vapor lock creating performance issues in the afternoon heat she's performed admirably whether at 6000 feet or 800 feet above sea level. And, although she still needs her vinyl stripes replaced and a cab paint job, she still manages to turn a head now and then.
Currently she sports a 7200 BTU Coleman Mini Mach air conditioner, Hydro Hot furnace that sips 2.9 amps an hour, a 4-burner stove and oven, 2-way fridge that runs on propane or AC power, a 25-30 gallon fresh water tank, and 15 gallon gray and black tanks, 30 pounds of on-board propane, 2 beds (if the dinette is put down), a bathroom with a super small shower, 100 watts of portable solar charging a 100Ah house battery, and 200 more watts of solar on the roof charging another 100ah battery to boost her boondocking capacity.
She's tiny but she's mighty.
Below are a diverse selection of books (and a movie) that especially influenced me during my fieldwork.
Please note: I am an Amazon affiliate, and by clicking on the links below you will be redirected to Amazon where you can read a synopsis of the book, see reviews, and purchase if you are interested. Most books have different formats including paperback, hardback, Kindle, and even audio. If you do choose to buy, a small percentage of your purchase will support my fieldwork and research!
Following are two video interviews RV Joey made when we camped together We traded interviews - hers to be published summer 2018. The second one includes a tour of Juno!