“Why I Became a Rubber Tramp”: Episode 6 of The Rocky Mountain Rubber Tramp

Kurt Buss
7 min readOct 31, 2020
Overlooking the forest from my Shtudiop window.

“Finally, I’m able to sit down and get back into writing, beginning with this journal. I’m writing, for the first time, from the studio desk in my snug little shed. It will also serve as a shop, so therefore will be referred to as “The Shtudiop”. I’m on a bare desktop of beetle-kill pine boards layered with several coats of water-based, clear Polycrylic finish. I cut in a 2’x2’ window over the desk the other day, and I might install the matching window on the other side today, as well as some gable vents and a few more coats of finish on this desk. Oh, the joy. It will be great!”

-Journal entry: Friday; August 10, 2018; 11:47 am. In my Shtudiop.

After screwing up my lower lumbar it was nice to get back to normal — whatever that may be. For me, getting back meant doing what I had in mind when I decided it was time to sell everything but my soul and go on the road — as a rubber tramp. That realization occurred over a few years’ time before it became crystal clear. I think most things just work that way.

Let me explain first, if I may, what a rubber tramp means to me, because I’m still not completely certain. As with most things important to me that I can recall without difficulty, I came across this information from a movie or book. In this case, it was both. The book/movie is “Into the Wild”, with the original tale written by John Krakauer, one of my favorite living writers. Not giving away the story, I’ll just say “Rubber Tramp” is distinguished from “Leather Tramp” for reasons worth reading the book or watching the movie — preferably both.

Suffice it to say rubber tramps roll on rubber (tires) and leathers are on foot (hopefully with shoes). As with everything, there are variations. With rubber tramps, you might drive an all-in-one Recreational Vehicle (RV) that can be anything from a big van to a small semi in size and luxury. They are the King Coaches of the rubber tramper byways, but definitely not for the starter set, such as myself. I chose the other option, binary world that it is, and decided to get a camper-trailer. I wanted to have separation between my vehicle and my home, so I wouldn’t have to pilot my house around strange towns to get groceries. People drive rude sometimes. Big vehicles brake slowly. Accidents occur. Not good. Not even close to good, so I try to avoid that, by reducing the opportunity. And stay small. Quick.

A 19' Holiday Rambler Free Spirit model built in 1978, named after the Chiricahua Apache chief, Cochise.

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs my reasons for living the way I do, which is the same way many people seem to do in my recently-discovered, mobile neighborhoods — and not just at my age. I really don’t care why that is. I’m more concerned with how to do it. And, surely, why not? It can help you change your mental state of being. If that’s what you want. I did.

What I really wanted to do was live the life I’d talked and dreamed about for decades. I just had to get comfortable with living a different way than what might be considered “normal”, although that’s ever-changing. And, I had to be comfortable trying new things, at a not-so-new age. A lot of people do that when they hit their mid-50s, and they stop simply tossing the AARP mail but give it a look. Again, why not? We’ve earned it.

I wanted to live in the wilderness of nature, having had my fill of the craziness of urbania. Or, as Edward Abbey describes it in his wonderful book Desert Solitaire (1968): “That miscegenated mésalliance of human and rodent called the rat race (Rattus Urbanus)”. Too many people, not enough love there. Traffic sucks. Drivers can be rude. Makes life less fun. Then, there are the tweakers trying to steal all your shyte. Freakin tweakers. Buh -bye!

I thought of other things, such as what I wanted to do now that I was living in the Red Feather/Crystal Lake non-metropolitan area. I envisioned fish. Troutses (sic). Big ones: Browns, Rainbows, Brookies, Golden (Palomino), and the “elusive” Greenback Cutthroat — Colorado’s state fish and solitary native trout. The headwaters for the North Fork of the Cache la Poudre River were nearby (our only river designated Wild and Scenic by federal standards), and that clear, meandering creek had thick flanks of willow brush where the moose liked to bed, leaving fresh sign if you arrive too early — which could be anytime. Damn moose. An adult bull was often seen in the area. My son and I called him Bullwinkle. What else?

My son CJ with a nice brown.

The beaver dams created some beautiful reflective ponds where feisty little brookies would attack the right dry fly. You gotta match the hatch with whatever bugs are popping, but there are always a few stand-by fly patterns that get slurped or slammed by those crazy little speckled trout, kicking and flailing until you release them, then shooting off like a bullet. Bigger fish play longer, run more, and don’t go into crazy mode right away. They’re more fun to catch, but bigger fish are in bigger water, and that would be Crystal Lake (technically Panhandle Reservoir, because it’s filled by Panhandle Creek). Most locals just call it the Big Lake, to distinguish it from the several smaller bodies of captured creek water nearby. My son and I would take our 10’ fishing kayaks out on non-windy days and drop jigs with spinning rods or pull streamers on fly rods, trying to get the monster fish below. We’ll keep trying. I’ll let you know how it goes. So far, not so good…

What was equally enjoyable to creek and lake fishing was just bombing out an elk hair caddis or parachute Adams from the banks of the smaller ponds that had calmer water and more moose. Maybe tie a midge, nymph or San Juan Worm on as a dropper. And, yes, watch out for moose. When I returned to one such pond after running into the Village for more supplies, my son CJ, who was the only one there, motioned at the water’s edge and mouthed not to let the dog out. I parked and got out quietly. A large, bull moose was casually eating away at the water vegetation, grass and willow branches on the other side of the inlet cove. He was cool. Big. Bigger than Bullwinkle. Nice moose…

This bull moose stepped out of the bush and casually ate grass while CJ and I fished nearby in Crystal Lakes, just south of the Wyoming border in the Colorado Rockies.

Fishing isn’t really taxing, but it’s nice to relax afterward nonetheless. In French, it would be après-fish. Being in the forest, high above people and listening to the wind blow its chorus through the canopy of tall trees, smelling evergreen and feeling ever young, a sensation of calmness washes over you that you don’t recognize at first, but then comes back like an old friend from the days before digital. I like that.

Life in a camper is best enhanced with outdoor activities, right out the door. Looking through the thinned timber into a primordial forest and imagining what lies in there, or walks, stalks, leaps or rushes within that jungle can be a bit intimidating. So, don’t go there! Not alone with a dog, anyway.

There are always home chores, no matter where and how you live. The simpler you live, the simpler the chores. As a human, I require food, water and shelter — aside from air, and up here it’s a bit thin. As a rubber tramp, I additionally need a place to empty my septic tanks — and I really like 30 amps of 120V AC electricity running through the appropriate gauge wire, properly insulated. I also look at the trees and brush around my camp pad and imagine I’m Edward Scissorhands and should turn it all into art, and create a beautiful, defensible space against the intruders of the mountain wilds — fire and beast. No thieving tweakers here. (Well, there was, but he got busted in Fort Collins).

It’s hard to be calm in a storm. Yoga didn’t work for me among the pit bulls and felons at my old digs, but up here I hear my daughter’s words saying, “Hey! Hey Pops! Can you hear me? Do yoga, okay? Yoga! Start easy. It’s stretching and breathing. It’ll be good for your back. Yoga!”

She’d always given me good advice in the past, about how to dress and what to eat and that I should climb a 14er (mountain). I climbed one (an easy one) with her and my son and his girlfriend. They had fun. I did too. Except when I thought I was going to die on the side of a stony mountain in front of a bunch of young happy people and their dogs. Didn’t happen, though. I won. Thank you, daughta! You taught me to conquer my fears, and you didn’t leave me when everyone else needed to keep moving to fight off cramps and beat the impending storm to the summit. Much appreciated.

Conquering fears. That’s not something I used to think about — when I was young(er), and fearless. Now, I find the need for it, on occasion. I would imagine we all do, somehow. We should. We should conquer them. Every time they appear, mostly in our minds. For me, I’m becoming more comfortable in the wild. Never fearless, though. Just trying to find the courage. I like Mark Twain. He said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” I believe that he’s right.

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Kurt Buss

I’ve been writing for publication since it was done on typewriters, oh so long ago. I try to bridge the gap between the then and now of being a Baby Boomer.