20 July, 2013


Location: Blacksburg, VA
Position: N 37 16.292 W 80 24.938

Wake up! I hear something outside!”

Huh? What? Gnrff...”

It's June 17th, the morning of our first night of “dispersed camping” and just getting light outside. We drove miles up a forest service road in Dee, Oregon to get here and we aren't sure what to expect this far from civilization. There HAVE been a lot of signs around about being “bear aware”….

In the course of our travels we've discovered that there are several kinds of camping.

Campgrounds (whether private or public) usually have “RV” and “tent” sites. RV sites have a place to park an RV, a picnic table, and electrical, water, and often sewer hookups. Tent sites usually have a place to park, a picnic table, a fire grate, and a spot to pitch a tent. RV sites are understandably more expensive than tent sites, so we always take a tent site when given the choice. They usually cost between $10 and $30 a night.

We've found there to be very little privacy in most campgrounds. It can be pretty difficult getting dressed lying down in the back or sitting up in the front seat of our minivan. It's hard to stay in bed when there are kids playing around outside. The toilets can be occupied at inopportune moments.

The US Forest service adds two other types of free camping into the mix. “Dispersed camping” is defined as “camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground. Dispersed camping means there are no toilets, no picnic tables, no trash cans, no treated water, and no fire grates”.

And, finally, “primitive camping” is defined as "overnight camping where all equipment is transported in limited trips by non-motorized vehicle methods and where a motorized vehicle is not located near or part of the camping experience”.

So far, we've been staying in tent sites at forest service, state, and county campgrounds, but have been wanting to give dispersed camping a try.

I hear it again! Wake up!”

Snork. Okay, okay.”

Last night we really enjoyed our solitude. We had a nice, quiet dinner, played some cards, and went to bed early. It was quiet, there was no traffic, and we were warm for the first time in a week.

We slowly pull the curtain aside and see three deer grazing right outside Wanda. With our tinted windows, they don't know we're inside and we get a real closeup view. We stay in bed for about 30 minutes whispering, watching them wander around us, sometimes looking right at us. This dispersed camping thing isn't so bad....
Since then we've camped for free every chance we get. Most of the time this involves driving up a gravel forest service road until we find a place to pull off. Once we get Wanda as level as possible so we can get a good nights sleep, we pull out our card table, set up the galley, make dinner, do the dishes, re-stow everything, have a glass of wine, maybe play some cribbage, and then back inside Wanda to our comfy bed for the night. And the price fits right in with our budget .
We never know what we'll see – or won't see. Just outside Missoula, MT we found several huge, long-clawed grizzly bear tracks just outside the van in the morning – thank goodness we slept right through that visit!
Another time we stayed for free at a truck stop just outside Indianapolis, Indiana. Little Wanda held her own, shoehorned as she was in amongst big, manly trucks with names like “Peter Bilt”, ”Ken Worth”, and just plain “Mack”.
Dispersed and diggin' it,