Thursday, February 21, 2013

Have I ever been caught camping?

I've never been "caught" in a way that had any bad consequence, I'll say that upfront. But people have stumbled into me. I'll try to recount all the times it's happened:

-One morning in Oceanside, CA I was having a really pleasant sleep (that end of morning sleep when you're about to wake up and borderline conscious, close enough to conscious that you can practically appreciate how awesome sleep and dreaming is while you do it) and I heard a dog barking. First I incorporated it into my dream and then I realized it was really happening. His master yelled at him, very sternly, "Livan!", "Livan! Come get cookie!" And after a few rounds of that, Livan finally trotted off.

There was probably a quick moment of "oh shit, a dog", but pretty much at the same time it was clear the guy was calling for him (so if I got mauled it would only be brief), so it was more "oh shit, I'm discovered". Obviously he must have seen me (he had to be curious what the dog was barking at), but he left me alone.  This was the first time I was caught (pseudo-caught, whatever you want to call it), and it was nice to see that the universe doesn't explode. 

-A coyote stumbled into my camp in a nature preserve area in San Diego, in the morning.  I'd frequently hear squirrels and chipmunks and stuff running around, the coyote's footsteps barely made me look. It seemed a little out of line but not majorly, it was probably just a loud squirrel. And then there was a poignant little shock when I made eye contact with a coyote.  He was more startled than I was though and quickly scurried off.  (I had read a day or so earlier about how coyotes are usually intensely afraid of humans. So I had confident mojo and he knew it.)  

-A homeless guy stumbled into me in the same nature preserve area.  (I'm homeless, but I mean, he was stereotypically homeless.. his silhouette was even stereotypically homeless looking.)  I heard loud noises on the hill leading down to where I was.  First I worried that it was a large animal, then the noises seemed clumsy and human, and then I worried it was a park ranger who'd tell me I couldn't sleep there or something, and then it turned out it was just this guy.

He was planning on cutting up these rubber wire things that were stuck in the ground near where I was sleeping, but after 20 minutes of making noise he decided he'd let me sleep and come back in the morning.  Nice guy.

-Riding my bike through California, on my way from Bakersfield to Wasco, I got a flat tire.  Typically when I bike travel I plan it out (looking at Google earth) so that I figure to be somewhere with suitable camping options when it starts to get dark. Really most anywhere is suitable, but this was farm country.  (That's the worst. Open desert is great, even small and medium cities are fine. But farm country land is all wide open and actively claimed, there's no way to feel comfortable laying down in between rows of crops.)

I walked like 4-5 miles and finally found a field that I felt OK with. In the morning a Mexican guy came by in a truck and asked something like "You sleep good there last night? jaja." Then he made sure I was planning on picking up all my stuff, and he didn't really have a problem with me.

-In the hills outside of Las Vegas, at about 2am, I heard a lunatic stumbling around. This is a spot I camped in frequently, and there was one other time I heard someone in the same area (from 100 yards or so higher than me on the hills), and he ended up just camping there like I was.  So initially I assumed this was him again and I wasn't too worried. I almost just went back to sleep and thought nothing of it.

Then I heard him talking, angrily, saying weird things about how he couldn't believe his own sister was "plotting on him" (or something like that).  He was viciously angry.  My feeling was he was on the phone, but it's also possible he was a lunatic talking to himself.  (The first possibility is actually scarier -- I don't want to be caught overhearing a phone conversation about some sort of messed up shit.)

It's a cumbersome little hike down from where he is, especially if he's not familiar with it, so it plays as if he's a decent distance away from me even though he's right there. I have my bike with me, which is a liability in the sense that I have to carry it for some distance before I make it down to the bike path, but of course then once I get to the bike path I'm home free.  If I didn't have the bike I probably would have quietly slipped away as soon as I heard him talking.  Instead I slid my shoes on and stayed alert, ready to run if he got close to me.

Eventually he seems to be looking at me. I don't know if he could tell for sure I was there (I could see him, so I guess he probably could see me), but he definitely seemed to be looking curiously in my direction. Rather than take any chances, I slung my backpack on and picked up my bike and booked it for the path (probably 100 yards or so down below where I was).  I'm sure he didn't even run after me (it had to be obvious that I'd make it to the bike path before he caught up to me, if he was even dangerous), but it was a real adrenaline rush anyways.  I left behind most of my clothes and my air mattress and sleeping bag (it was all still there when I checked for it a few days later).

All that said, if you want to stealth camp in a way that makes you really unlikely to be discovered, you can do that.  There are different philosophies on how you camp.  The more off the beaten path you are, the less likely you'll be discovered.  But then (in the unlikely double-coincidence of someone stumbling into you and so happening to be someone who wants to harm you), you have less recourse.  (You have less people around you to deter crime and possibly help you.)  So it's more likely you'll be seen, but being seen is generally less dangerous. 

Personally, I tend to err closer to civilization.  Sometimes if I'm bike touring, I'll sleep a stone's throw away from a busy road or highway (tucked behind bushes or something).  It isn't ideal, but it's at least better than being in the same general area but further away from traffic.  So it's a good fallback when nothing else is calling to me and I don't necessarily trust the area.

One of my favorite stealth camping spots I found was in Wasco, CA.  Behind McDonald's (which is open all night for drive-thru, I believe) and right next to a 24-hour gas station. There's a field with those desert bush things, so between the cover of darkness and the bushes, I was well hidden. Yet at the same time I had the protection of mainstream corporate suburbia. And the area wasn't marked with no trespassing signs or anything like that, so it seemed to basically possess none of the 3 general risks (wildlife, people, legal).  I stayed in Wasco for over a week, mostly just cause I liked camping there so much.

When I stealth camp a more permanent location, I don't like to spend a big chunk of my day traveling to and from camp.  Even a little chunk adds up over time.  I'm the rare breed of vagabond who likes to be online a lot. So I tend to look for little nooks and crannies closer to civilization. But you can gravitate more towards the boonies or go deeper into parks and city forests if you want to scale down the chance of being seen.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

the risks of stealth camping

As I see it, there are 3 general categories of risk with stealth camping:  Nature, crazy people, and the law.  (Typically they're not all in play at the same time.)

Nature is mostly referring to dangerous animals, but it can also mean storms or perhaps even tree branches falling on your head.  Checking (and moving or paying for lodging if need be) should be enough to stay safe from the weather.  And common sense about where you lay down (and perhaps using a tent or some other shelter if) should keep you safe from things falling on you.

I don't want to bump into a dangerous animal.  I figure against a crazy dude or a disgruntled park ranger, I at least have a chance.  There's always hope to reason with a fellow human.  But if a bear wants to eat me, he's probably going to.

But mathematically it's unlikely.  Generally animals don't mess with humans.  Even very dangerous animals like lions (as far as I understand) choose their battles selectively, and probably don't want to mess with you even if they see you.  I don't know the odds, but doubt it's really any more significant than the chance of a gas tank exploding or your house catching on fire or something like that.  Risk surrounds us constantly, and that's important to remember. 

I'm cognizant of the risk any time I camp in a wilderness sort of environment, but I don't actually worry about it.  You can carry some sort of spray or knife if you'd like, and of course you can tend towards more urban/suburban camping sites.

Crazy people doing you harm is another possibility, but generally an overrated one.  If you told the average Joe that you sleep outside, he'd be blown away and insist it isn't safe.  He imagines crazy people coming to get you in the middle of the night.  But it turns out this doesn't actually happen.

Most people who want to do you harm aren't looking for you in the woods.  (Even if you're in an urban or suburban environment, they're still not looking in the woods.  They're roaming the streets or looking for a house to break into.)  And in the off chance someone randomly stumbles into you in the woods, he most likely doesn't want to do you harm.

It's not impossible that the planets could align where somebody hurts you, but it's not very likely. Someone can hurt you in a house too.  The house gives you a layer of defense, but the other side of the coin is it advertises that you (and your stuff) are in there.  Seems more likely to me that a bad guy will pick your lock than he'd find you in the woods. 

Sleeping outside only becomes a danger if somebody knows where you are.  If somebody saw me carrying around a laptop or some other valuable and he knew where I camped, obviously that's a danger.  Common sense:  Don't tell people where you sleep, and don't walk to where you sleep if someone is following you.

Finally, there's the law (cops, park rangers, or maybe even private property owners).  I don't recommend doing anything illegal.  The law isn't always clear or easy to access, in general I think stealth camping is legal, but even still a police officer or park ranger might wonder what you're up to if he sees you.

I'll never camp anywhere that's marked as private property (or that's clearly somebody's backyard or something), and I'll always clean up after myself wherever I do camp.  I try to be a hassle to nobody and follow all rules and common sense.  Even if a cop would disagree with what I'm doing, he doesn't suit up in the morning to find me in the woods. 

If you do get hassled by a cop, I recommend one of two extreme strategies: Be very friendly and highly cooperative (point out that you were just passing through, you made sure not to litter, etc.) --or-- refuse to talk to them entirely.  A mixed bag approach where you talk to them but give them attitude is probably your worst play. 

The US legal system is grossly inhumane.  Make no mistake about it.  Millions of innocent people are locked behind bars because they got caught with the wrong kind of vegetation in their pocket.  But use what you can to your advantage: You don't have to speak to cops.  In the case that they catch you camping somewhere, chances are they're just curious and it's probably worth a shot at being friendly.  But if you get a bad vibe or they press you for information that you don't want to give, don't engage them. Politely tell them you'd like to exercise you'd rather not answer their questions.

I don't think the risks of stealth camping are any different than the general risks of being alive.  We're always roughly as safe as the society we live in.  Sleeping outside just changes the variables.

Saturday, March 31, 2012


It amazes that so many people (like, practically all of them) buy into the idea that you need to intervene in a market in order for it to work correctly.

I guess they don't understand how markets work. But markets are just people and their behavior, so intervening with them is quite obviously just fucking with people. And fucking with people to make the world a better place seems like an absurd theory.

All it takes is a trip to your local farmers' market to see that there isn't a guy running around with a gun threatening to shoot people who don't do business a certain way. And obviously it wouldn't work very well if there was this guy, because violence doesn't promote good outcomes.

And violence still doesn't promote good outcomes (nor should it be regarded as morally decent) just because you put on a blue uniform and signed some papers and had a meeting in a fancy building before you did it. Lol. All that changed is people fell for the illusion and now they let you get away with it.

Eventually they'll learn, but in the meantime those of us who haven't been sucked into the matrix can take advantage of the chaos by speculating against the radical distortions it causes.

In a free economy, speculating for profit would be fairly useless. Because prices make sense, and corrections are fluid. You'd have to know something unique and rush to act on it before anyone else finds out. It'd be rare and tedious to find an edge. But in this economy, it isn't even difficult.

You just pay attention to what the criminals are doing. "Oh, they've convinced everyone to accept pieces of green paper as if they were money. I should buy things that work as real money and sell the paper." Easy game.

It's almost as if you outsource an element of genius to the people with the guns who have figured out how to convince a critical mass of the populace that up is down and left is right. Those of us who haven't been duped can simply sit back and speculate on common sense. It'd probably be way better to be able to grow companies and invest in a free economy, but so long as this violence exists, speculating against it at least dampens the blow.

And when you do this, you help keep the madness in check. I have a lot of respect for the passion behind, i.e., the Ron Paul campaigns. But I think it's a horrible waste of money, especially compared to how much good that money could have done by speculating. The interests who benefit from these distortions aren't ultimately threatened by a politician. Even if they don't like what he's saying, it's no guarantee that he's gonna solve anything. So I'm sure they like seeing that money drawn into the political process rather than working to end the distortions economically.

Personally I'm not rich or anything. Far from it. But I feel good knowing that the little bit of assets I do have isn't at the mercy of some guy's printing press or some other inanity that can't possibly sustain itself. I'd rather be invested in the solution than in the problem.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

no rent

Rent is kind of bullshit. I mean, it's not bullshit in theory, that you might fancy someone's property and pay them for the privilege of using it. But when this property is basically just walls and a floor and a ceiling (albeit with a few nifty appliances thrown in), it's bullshit that it should cost so much to sit inside it.

And it's certainly bullshit that anyone would pay for this without even stopping to consider if it's actually worth it to them.

There might be circumstances in your life that require a conventional living arrangement. Maybe you're 97 years old or nursing a newborn baby or recovering from some sort of injury. Do what you need to do. But if you're young and healthy and don't have much baggage in your life, you probably don't need to pay for rent.

All you need is a safe place to sleep at night. To get this, you need to be warm, on a level surface, preferably have some sort of padding under you, and have relative peace and quiet. There are certain requirements. But you don't need walls around you and an official postal address associated with your location.

Whether you camp deep in the forest or roll off near the side of the road, or whether you stick to one location or travel around aimlessly, you're only limited by what you're able to discover. You can basically camp anywhere you want as long as nobody sees you. And when you realize you can actually do that (at least in my experience), the illusion that you should pay a bunch of money for rent quickly evaporates. (And then all the people who are immobile or otherwise needing a conventional residence are helped out by the deflating demand and dwindling cost.)

You might give up some perks by not having an apartment, but for me, sleeping isn't really one of them. In many ways I prefer sleeping outdoors. An air mattress and a couple blankets is plenty comfortable for me, and there's really no way to beat the open air under the stars.

I like the personal space of having an apartment, but I don't really require it to perform the basic functions of being human, so at hundreds of dollars per month it doesn't seem worth it to me. At least not routinely. I can buy a hotel room or find something short-term if I really need a place to lounge around and jerk off for a while.

Other than that, everything about the rent free lifestyle is ideal to me. It's trippy, and I guess liberating, to wake up and realize you can move literally wherever you want today. If you feel like riding your bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, you can go to San Fransisco, and stay as long as you'd like.

Is it safe? Sure. I mean, I guess. There are risks with everything. Could a mountain lion attack me while I'm camping? I guess, sure, but a gas tank could explode while I'm sleeping in a house. Altogether I don't think the risks are really any different than the general risks of being alive. The worst case scenarios are more unconventional, but that doesn't mean they're actually more likely.

Depending how much money you want to spend, you can function fairly normally. You can get a gym membership so you have a place to shower. You can get a UPS box so you have a place to get mail. You can rent a storage unit if you have "stuff" to look after, or even just a lot of clothes that you don't want to cache in the woods. I highly recommend carrying a laptop around with you, but paying for internet service is optional with wifi hotspots being just about everywhere. You should be able to live very comfortably for $100-200/month (before food), which isn't free, but it's a lot less than rent. And of course, you can range that down towards $0 if you don't mind smelling questionable, foregoing snail-mail, ditching your stuff, etc.

I definitely don't advocate this lifestyle in particular to anyone. I barely know what's best for me, let alone what's best for you. But I know for sure it's possible. And I know rent is kind of high in an economy that's kind of terrible, so I think a lot of people would be better off this way. I find it to be less grinding and way more in tune with my natural rhythms.