I made my bed this morning for practical reasons. My secret campsite on a hilltop in San Diego is so secure and remote that I feel that I can leave my air mattress in place all day without it being disturbed by anyone. I see no reason to deflate the mattress in the morning only to reinflate it at night. (I use a battery-operated pump for this, but it still takes time.) Since the risk of discovery is remote, I simply leave my air mattress where it is, on the tarps I use for groundcover. I am concerned about sun damage, however. The mattress cost me only about $12 at the Evil Mega-Mart™ but I want to get the most use I can out of it, so I wrap it in blankets when I leave. Voilà—a made bed!
My bedroom is shown above. This photo is part of a full album of scenes from Camp Site Beta which I invite you to tour...
Camp Site Beta (20+ photos)
Rather idyllic, don't you think? As discussed previously on this blog, Camp Site Beta is my second gypsy camping location in San Diego. Unlike Camp Site Alpha, which lasted me only six nights, Camp Site Beta is remote and secure and I can stay there virtually indefinitely. That's right, I've found it: The perfect place to live for free for as long as I want!
Since my last dispatch from San Diego a month and half ago, I have returned to Camp Site Beta three times, for a total of about ten nights. I had expected to stay here longer, but "work" and other missions kept calling me elsewhere.
(Let's see: I drove twice across the country from Buffalo to Las Vegas, drove twice from Miami to North Carolina and once across the southern edge of the country from California to Florida. I passed through Key West and camped in a field near Wal-Mart in Florida City. I slept on a lawn near the Fort Lauderdale airport. I spent several nights in a storage unit in an undisclosed location. I spent several nights with relatives in Boston and Florida and a night with friends in New York City. Oh, and I popped over to Paris (France, not Las Vegas), spent one night on the plane and two nights in a Montmartre hostel and also scouted out some Free Sleeping locations, a la français, for possible future use. I spent two nights in the Phoenix airport plus the nights at Camp Site Beta. That should account for it most of it! This intense but painless travel is possible only due to my one-in-a-million Magic Airpass, but I couldn't have done it I was held down by a conventional home.)
"Camp Site Beta," as I define it, refers to both a vast area of undeveloped land and a specific camping location on that land. The general location is known locally as "East County"—the suburbs east of the city of San Diego. This area consists of approximately 50% developed land and 50% mountainous open space. I don't know yet who owns the undeveloped land, but I assume it is some government entity, like the BLM or the State of California (otherwise, it would already be developed). The land is so vast, going on for miles and miles, that if keep a low profile, I know I can stay forever.
Once I have identified the existence of this land, the next question is where to sleep on it. This decision is made based on operational requirements. The site has to be accessible to public transportation, with a reasonable commute time to the college library where I compute, yet it should also be remote enough that I can feel secure sleeping there night after night and caching my camping gear there when I leave town for weeks at a time.
When you're sleeping, you are, by definition, unconscious and vulnerable. I am not so cynical to think that anyone who stumbles upon me is a danger, but the best security is no chance of human contact at all. I need this campsite only for sleeping, nothing else. I go there, take care of my dreaming business, then leave. As you can see from the photos, Camp Site Beta could be seen as quite scenic, on a hillside strewn with huge boulders with a panoramic view of the valley below. It is the sort of view home buyers would pay top-dollar for, but that's not a factor in my selection of the site. All I care about is my health, safety and getting a good night's sleep.
To obtain this Nirvana, I have chosen a campsite deep inside this land, near the top of a hill that requires a strenuous 20 minute hike to reach. My nightly hike from the bus stop is about 1/2 mile and climbs about 300 feet. (It's about one-third of a Tikaboo if you speak that language.) There's a preexisting trail I follow, but it is very rough, and at a certain point I depart from the trail to a virgin location among the rocks where I have my gear. The trail is difficult enough to follow during the day, but I do it at night (with a flashlight). There is virtually no chance of anyone coming up here at night except me. The long, difficult hike not only separates me from human contact; it also gives me a rigorous daily aerobic workout, so I don't feel I have to work out at the gym. (I just go there to shower.)
One of the nicest amenities of my remote site is that I can sleep as long as I like in the morning. I don't feel that I have to break camp before dawn as I would at a more urban location. I can also leave my air mattress in place, which I would never do elsewhere. When I cache my equipment here, I know I can leave it for weeks and it won't be disturbed.
Aren't I afraid to be out there in the wilderness at night all alone. I often think about that as I am hiking up at around 10 pm. All around me are ghostly rock formations and shadowy bushes that anything could be lurking behind. I think to myself, "Wow, twenty years ago I might have been really nervous about this!" What has happened in the past twenty years is that I've spent a lot of time in the desert, so I know everything out here.
Aren't there ticks, spiders, scorpions, snakes and other sharp and poisonous things? Aren't there creatures that would have me for dinner? Not really. Surprisingly, there is not a lot of dangerous things in the desert. Anything that would hurt you, like rattlesnakes, would much rather get away from you if given the chance. In all my years in the desert, I have seen live rattlesnakes only twice. (Once was a little one near Area 51 and another was a big fat one near the HOLLYWOOD sign in Los Angeles.) Snakes want to get away from you, recognizing you as a big warm creature that could crush them. They don't crawl into your sleeping bag! My evasion strategy is to always see where I am putting my hands and feet before I do it.
There are coyotes passing through the area, no doubt feasting on the domestic cat population, but I'm bigger than them and they know it, so there's no issue there. (Coyotes can make a horrible racket though—with all their howling—and I sometimes have to tell them to tone down the party.) There are no mosquitoes here, since there is no standing water from them to breed in, and I haven't encountered any other biting or stinging insects. Nonetheless, I carefully inspect my camping equipment every night for invaders. The worst I have seen so far is snails.
SOMEBODY has been chewing on the edge of one of my tarps when they are rolled up and cached among the rocks. I don't know who it is or what kind of nutritional value they could be getting out of it, but I'm willing to let it go as long as it stops.
There is plenty of evidence of human visitation here, but it is relatively rare. As you can see in the photos, graffiti artists find the big rocks irresistible, but they seem to come here only during the day. The relative lack of trash (apart from paint cans) means they don't come here to party, just to make their mark. I am unlikely to cross paths with them because I'm here only at night and shortly after dawn. The worst they could do is mess with my camping equipment. However, it is worthless to them, and given the long hike back to the road, they are unlikely to steal it. If they did I could reconstruct it quickly.
Serial killers? I haven't encountered any so far. Frankly, this area would be slim pickings for them compared to, say, a good sorority house at Partyville College. I've never encountered ANY humans at Camp Site Beta (only seen the tents of some other Free Sleepers who live close to the road). Things might change in the summer, but for now, hundreds of acres of land are all mine.
I could die of a heart attack and no one would find my body for months, but that's true of a lot of places. I have left my GPS coordinates with a family member should corpse retrieval be required, but by all measures I'm healthy and not planning on sudden death.
The only real danger—a significant one—is falling and seriously hurting myself on the steep trail. I'm counting on my BlackBerry™ to get me out of that one: I'll dial 911 if I am truly disabled. If I'm knocked unconscious? Oh, well, I guess I'm a gonner, but you gotta die somehow. Once you have eliminated all reasonable risks, you can't live in fear of the rare and exotic ones.
Probably my greatest enemy at Camp Site Beta is the weather. Arguably, San Diego has the best weather in the country, but it does have it. There can be periods of rain and wind when camping is a challenge. Every day I look at the weather report and decide whether camping is feasible that night. If it looks uncomfortable, I might pursue an alternate plan. Lately, that plan has simply been to flee town for better weather elsewhere, since I have the ability, but if I didn't have that option I might rent a car or spend a night or two at a hostel.
I wouldn't say that I "live" at Camp Site Beta. I merely sleep there when my missions don't take me elsewhere. My stay there doesn't usually extend more than a half-hour on either side of the sleep function. As soon as I'm awake and mobilized, I'm heading down the hill to the bus stop. I buy my $5 daily transit pass on the bus, then I might go to the health club for a shower or go directly to the college library to start writing. Since I always have projects I'm working on, I have little time for anything else.