September 24 – 26, 2018.
When we left off in our last post (about a month ago – so sorry I am catching up) we had just wrapped up a week of traveling and visiting friends and family – and were on our way to our ultimate destination, a van meet up, in Liberty Center, Ohio…
The skies were gloomy as we navigated down rural roads in northwest Ohio on our way to the gathering. We passed an old mill, trees, a few houses, and farms. After rounding our last turn we saw a large cornfield and then a portable marquee sign advertising the movies Jurassic World & Antman. “Turn around,” I told Greg, “we just passed it.” We turned at the sign and drove up to the ticket booth in the middle of nowhere with our admission already in hand. We had arrived at the Field of Dreams Drive-in theater and the GVN camp-in meet up.
We have only been to one other van meet up before, the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, a couple of years ago in Arizona. Reportedly there were over 7000 attendees at that event. The GVN meet up was much much much smaller – about 30 vans. It was the brainchild of Marty, group leader and sole admin for a women’s van Facebook group. We are going to call this group GVN because honestly I am not supposed to advertise the group. It is a somewhat of a secret and a tab bit exclusive. Not that the group is all elitist or anything like that – I mean who ever heard of an elitist who lived in a van (I jest because oddly enough, they are out there)? It is just that it is Marty’s group and she wants a small (no more than 300 members) intimate space for women vanners where everyone can get to know one another and everyone contributes. There is actually a requirement to contribute a post (not a comment) once every 6 months in order to be considered active and stay in the group.
After showing our tickets to the greeting party we were directed to our designated area, the T-zone. T stands for testosterone and because I brought some with me (Greg) we had to be segregated. Honestly, I felt a bit off put by this rule – although I understand the desire for some women to be T-less and to have a women-only gathering, it leaves out women like me who have partnered up with some T and can’t really leave him behind.
I knew about the T-zone ahead of time and imagined that it might actually be quite fun. I figured that we would be well away from the other campers in a secluded area. I thought it’d be a chance to get to know some other women who travel with their men. I decided that it would be the happening spot – that there would be music and that we’d all circle our vans around a communal campfire and that all the other women would gravitate over to our side in exile despite pitying us our burden of traveling with T.
Oddly enough it wasn’t like that. The T-zone was actually in the thick of things and every other camper had to pass by our vans to get to the central meeting place. The men (the 3 of them) were good, though, and mostly stayed in their rigs out of the way of the women.
Ok – here is something you should know about me, I am terribly shy, introverted, and have social anxiety. I like having Greg around because he is friendly, congenial, and is generally not afraid to strike up a conversation with anyone. So it was hard for me that he couldn’t be my social sidekick, but it was really nice that we were close enough to the central meeting area that I could keep an eye on things, join in when I was up for it, and retreat to the van when I wasn’t.
It may seem odd for someone who has social anxiety to want to drive to the middle of nowhere Ohio to meet a bunch of people she doesn’t know. But despite the anxiety part, I like to meeting other travelers and having a social circle of people with shared interest.
Back in the boating world, it was a little bit easier, you sail up into an anchorage, drop the hook off some remote island, and it is likely that everyone around you is enjoying a similar lifestyle. Not so in the driving around camping world. Campgrounds are mostly full of weekenders. So where else does one go to find kindred spirits in the modern world? The internet, of course. I started reading online forums and eventually joined some van life Facebook groups.
If you have ever been a part of an online group of people who have never met face to face, you know how contentious these groups can be. I think anyone who has shared on any type of social media knows how incredibly easy it is for people (even those you know in real life – friends and family) to be mean, hateful, and condescending. This is why one of my favorite FB groups has always been Women Who Sail. It isn’t that women can’t be mean, hateful, or condescending – they certainly can, but overall in my experience, they do tend to be kinder, more open, a lot more helpful, and more self-regulating. So when I got the inkling that there might be a van equivalent of WWS I went looking and found GVN.
I would guess that most of the GVN women are going it alone. A lot of them are just getting started living full or part-time in their vans and despite having an online community to share with, I know they were super excited to meet other crazy van dwelling women like themselves in real life and expand their community of like-minded souls.
The gloomy skies didn’t let up until we left (a day early and then the gloom followed us all the way back to Atlanta) which put a damper on the many planned activities, but there was still pizza night, free movies on the big screen with free popcorn, van tours, prizes, and much chatting and laughs at the central meeting area. I met a few really nice women and had the chance to invite many into the van and show them around (because I love showing the van off) but time didn’t really allow for any real bonding experiences for me.
Still shortly after we returned from the meet-up at least a dozen new Facebook friend requests from women who were at the gathering rolled in. It is interesting to get to know people in this way – to see what they are interested in, to see what they post. I am trying to be less shy online, post more, and share more of myself. The virtual world is not a bad way to meet people when you are roaming around the vastness of the real world.
* Click on pics to enlarge and open in a slideshow.