I am up on the south Oregon coast after a two-year absence (we went to Europe last year with the van) and I was curious to see what would happen because of an earlier report of my friend and fellow boondocker Ginny Evans being harassed by the local constabulary for doing exactly the same thing we have all been doing for years – pulling in along this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway south of Gold Beach, OR and spending twelve hours at a time in a spot, taking advantage of the Oregon state law which allows people to park for that length of time along highway rights of way.
We and Ginny, as well as my friend Mick the Brit, have spent weeks doing this. It’s a beautiful stretch of beach, and I have spent so much time here curious locals come out and introduce themselves. The only time I have ever talked to a cop up here was one who was curious about my satellite dishes, and what they did. He didn’t even know about the twelve hour rule, being maybe 20 years old and early on in his law enforcement career. Some other people who also hung out here didn’t follow the 12 hour rule, but I was always scrupulous to observe it, since I wanted to avoid violating any rules, even ones not enforced.
A month or so ago Ginny had been doing this and got rousted by a cop with a completely different story – he got irritated at the mention of the 12 hour rule, saying it was only to be used for sleeping, and pointedly asked why Ginny didn’t use the local RV parks to stay in. He invited her to take any objections up with the local city council, a strong indicator that someone local was agitating to restrict our access to the beach here. Once we got up here I swung into my usual routine of setting up in a day spot and a different night spot, and hiding my satellite dishes on the beach side of our van where they weren’t visible from the road. Cops drove by. I waved. They waved back, and kept driving. Looks like business as usual.
I was drinking my morning coffee and getting ready to pack up today at a beautiful clifftop spot just south of the main beach area which was a particular favorite of mine when some local in a pickup truck pulled in, circling within six feet of my rig, and then marching right by the front of the van to go look over the edge of the cliff. This is unusual behavior, since polite folks usually space themselves out and avoid intruding on each other, so I gave him a disapproving look as he went by, and ignored him thereafter. This irritated him, so on the way back he came up to the door and indicated he wanted to talk.
I opened the door a bit, only to get a lecture about how I can’t stay here, his family donated all this land to the state for a park, and they certainly didn’t intend for people to camp here. My demeanor betrayed the fact that this failed to make much of an impression on me, and I tell him I’ve been staying here for years. This irritates Basil the young scion of the local gentry further, and he launches into a diatribe about how people are camping along the beach here when Harris Beach State Park just south of here is empty. I tell him I stayed there a couple of nights ago, and got the last spot at 3 PM. By now he’s bright red, and he unleashes further invective about how websites on the internet say it’s OK to camp here, but it’s not. I inform him that I wrote these reports, complete with GPS coordinates, and we really appreciate how friendly and welcoming the locals are. This turns him reddish-purple.
I tell the young squire that I’m observing the 12 hour rule, and I get from him an eerie echo of what Ginny heard a few weeks ago – that’s just for sleeping, not staying here and enjoying the beach (he’s lying, the state law has no such restriction). Basil turns this strange shade of fuchsia – he’s literally glowing now. He says that the fine used to be $250, but it’s now up to $650, and soon a cop will appear and write me and everyone else out here up. Then he jumps in his ten year old pickup and zooms off back to the ancestral manse to call the cops on me.
This tells me what I wanted to know. It’s obvious that some of the local landowners are maneuvering to restrict access, and will complain to the cops about individual campers. The cops go out and dutifully roust them – I worked in government long enough to know that although the mission in theory is to serve all the people, in practice those with the most access to the strings of power get their needs (or wants) served first. As the friendly waves from the cops the last couple of days show, they aren’t going to go out and harass people on their own initiative – they have more important, safety-related things to do. But they respond to complaints, if only to keep the irate landowners from continuing to pester them. These landowners comprise a small (but influential) proportion of the local populace – everybody I meet in town is friendly and glad to get my business. Oregon has a great public lands use philosophy, and 95% of the population supports it.
There’s probably a motion afoot to make a local superseding ordinance to the statewide rule, as Tillamook and communities north of here have done, and if it passes signs will go up in all the pullouts saying No Overnight Parking or No Parking 11 PM-5 AM. The local RV park owners probably smell blood too, and also don’t waste many opportunities to outlaw boondocking. They’re probably maneuvering as well. But it hasn’t been implemented, and it’s not in effect – no signs, just verbal (nota bene: not written) bravery on the part of the rousting cops and irate locals, along with a fair amount of wilful misinterpretation of existing legislation. Now of course the cops can and will write you up on a bogus ticket, and you can stay in town a few weeks so you can fight it in court, but everyone knows that’s not worth it. So they get away with it.
However, I have a strategic advantage over people like Basil the young aristocrat – he can only defend the tiny fraction of the 3000 miles of Pacific Coast Highway where his family’s money gives him influence, and I can be anywhere I want to be. Just to mess with him, I feign unconcern until he’s out of sight, and then throw the dishes in the side door and head up the coast. I can be gone in ten minutes – I love these campervans. He’ll call the cops, the cops will come out and find nobody here, and they’ll get irritated at Basil. And I bet the response time the next time he calls the cops won’t be very good. They have stuff to do, and don’t like people wasting their time.
And I head north of town about 15 miles to this great pullout I know of. It’s a Department of Transportation staging area overlooking the coast just south of Humbug Mountain. It’s not on the right-of-way, it’s a hundred yards from the noisy highway traffic. One DOT worker wandered through when I was staying here before, and told me employees have been instructed not to bother the campers when no road construction stuff was going on. I love this place. I see elk on the hill overlooking it, wondering what that human is doing with those satellite dishes. A doe and her two fawns walked through the last time we were here. And you can sit here as long as you want, no local landowners to complain about you – there are only 22,000 people in the whole county.
Although I feel slightly bad about jacking him up, it was most instructive to run into Basil, because I found out a lot more from him than I would have if he had just called the cops, whose default response is “just doing my job, sir”. I’m also having a better day than Basil is, because I know the secret – be mobile. Land-owning people who feel compelled to control their environment are constantly aggravated. I just change my location as necessary to maintain my equanimity. With a campervan, it’s easy. Basil should use some of his vast amount of money to buy one. Maybe he’ll learn to chill out.