Sure, us fulltimers have it easy – 50 weeks out of the year, we have practically the whole place to ourselves. However, there are a few times when it’s best to get out of town, lay low, or otherwise make yourself scarce. These times are the big summer holiday weekends – Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day – or Amateur Hour, as us fulltimers like to call them. Everybody and his brother is going to be out there trying to camp, and it’s best to make arrangements so you don’t get stuck in the traffic jam of outdoors living these holidays create.
It’s best to forget about campgrounds – they’ll be booked solid months in advance if they take reservations, and ugly scenes if they don’t. Even Forest Service campgrounds without hookups where you stayed as the only occupant a month before or after will be crowded with people. People who walk through your campsite, play amplified music 18 hours a day loud enough to hear a hundred yards away, and who don’t know how to build or bank a campfire so that they don’t smoke out the entire neighborhood.
It takes a while to pick up on campground etiquette – how to know what’s likely to bother your neighbors, and to refrain from doing it. The once-or-twice-a-year campers don’t have the experience necessary to know how to behave, and they sure can’t learn it from each other. City people on an outing have an entirely different sense of personal space than more experienced campers do, and tend to unintentionally crowd and otherwise infringe upon those used to a more spread-out living arrangement. If you’re going to try to ride out a holiday weekend in a campground, take your tolerance pills. And stock up on earplugs.
This is where boondocking capability becomes worth its weight in gold. If you don’t need hookups, you don’t have to compete with folks who do. It’s better to look for some dispersed camping arrangement, not a campground per se. The amateur campers like regimentation – assigned campsites with little numbers on posts. Check out dispersed camping in national forests or similar arrangements if you want to avoid the crowds – although it’s no guarantee you’ll be alone.
Keep an eye on how far away major metropolitan areas are to gauge the likelihood that you’ll be getting spillover from the urban areas nearby. Last Labor Day I made the mistake of stopping only 75 miles outside the Seattle metro area, in Mount Rainier National Forest at a strange forest airstrip called Ranger Creek. Four days before the weekend started, we were alone. As the holiday approached, people started showing up – pushy people who wanted to camp right next to us because we had gotten the best spot. I discouraged them by telling them about the (fictional) nightmares I had and cautioning them not to make noise at night because of my (nonexistent) flashbacks, but it was touch and go, and all the aggravation really spoiled the weekend for us.
The same thing happened a couple of years ago at Mineral Creek, way up in the San Juan Mountains near Silverton, CO. There we were, all alone, and as Memorial Day approached the once-a-year campers started rolling in. Dispersed camping is a two-edged sword – you have the freedom to camp wherever you want, but so do the other folks, even if it’s 25 feet from you. Again, we had the best spot, right on the creek, and we had to keep answering in the negative when people asked us if we were leaving. Two of them actually asked me if I’d like to move. I was not polite.
I have had better luck either picking less desirable spots, or picking places like long stretches of beach where there’s no one spot people are all crowding toward. This year we spent the 4th of July at the end of a tiny road off the Beartooth Highway, basically a parking lot. However, it was designated as dispersed camping by the Forest Service, and we were the only people who spent the night there. This Labor Day weekend, I was in the least populated area of the Oregon coast in a tiny pullout barely big enough for our rig – that tends to discourage others from crowding in on us. Here you have to move every twelve hours anyway, so we shop around to uncrowded day and night spots as we shuffle up and down the coastal highway, instead of setting up more permanently and trying to defend our territory. So far, so good.
I’m not as grumpy as I sound, honestly – I really feel sorry for those poor sods who have to live in one place all year and work or go to school, because I don’t. I am free. Let them have their few moments of enjoyment – the time clock and school bell are waiting for them when the weekend’s over, and I’ll be all alone again with nature’s bounty and the solitude necessary to enjoy it fully. I’ll settle for having the whole place to myself 95% of the time, and not complain (too much) about Amateur Hour.