My Scariest Nomad Experience

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My scariest nomad experience happened in a dark national forest in Arizona. Trouble is something most nomads are prepared for, but sometimes no matter what, you get into a situation you didn’t expect.

It’s just part of being on the road. Most nomads are well-versed in self-defense …with air horns, wasp spray, bear spray, tasers, bats, knives, crowbars, other weapons … the list goes on.

Heavy frying pans make a great weapon … especially when you look crazy!

In my early nomad life, I carried wasp spray and an air horn, and set out size 11 men’s work boots. And you know what? It only took a few minutes for a creeper watching me to tell me he knew I was solo. I stood up to him with a no-nonsense attitude, and thankfully he seemed more socially awkward than dangerous. (To read more of that story and more, read, Wild Women On The Road and 600 Days as a Nomad.)

Nomads are used to trouble!

Men have walked into my campsite without permission multiple times. One jerk stalked Nancy and I for 2 seasons on the LTVA. He pretended to film us and generally made a pain out of himself … because we told him to mind his own business. Last year he called the ranger with a bogus story about how I’d cut branches off the desert trees. The ranger was no help. When he pointed to old cuttings on the tree that would have had to be done with a chainsaw, I couldn’t help pointing out the ridiculousness! Where the hell would I keep chainsaw in my mini-van? We won’t be going back.

More recently, I caught a guy peering into my driver’s side door while I was inside the van at a truck stop. When I yelled “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING???” from the back of my van, he took off. In the morning we saw there were armed guards inside the store … a first for us! Things sure are getting a little weird out on the road.

Fright in the forest!

In my 5 years as a nomad, I’ve been no stranger to trouble, but the night of my scariest nomad experience was the most intense.

Nancy and I were camped in the Coconino Forest on a pitch-black night. She was about 100 yards up the hill from me and we had gone to bed in our separate vans.

The actual forest where Nancy and I were camped. She took this pic looking down the hill from her campsite, if you look closely, you can see the faintest reflection of my van taillight.

I was comfy and settled in, when some vehicles pulled into the campsite next to me. It was a bunch of about 6 guys, close enough so they could see my van, but not close enough for me to clearly see their faces.

When they got out of their vehicles, I knew it was trouble. They were drinking and rowdy, which hey, I don’t mind, but the vibes of these guys got me singing the tune from the movie Deliverance. I wasn’t close enough to hear everything, but I clearly heard the word pussy, lots of swearing, and macho carrying on.

They started a campfire, and I peeked out, watching them drinking, yelling and being generally dickish.

To this day I couldn’t tell you why, but watching their body language around the fire SCARED THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF ME.

My scariest nomad experience in the woods
Image by Dorothe from Pixabay
On my own with no help!

There was no one else camped in the area, it was just me in my mini-van, Nancy up the hill, and the drunk guys. They couldn’t see Nancy’s van, and I knew the more drinking that went on into the night, the more likely they might get it into their heads to make trouble with a lone camper. I dialed Nancy up the hill, thinking she could shine her headlights down on me. I could drive up the loop of dirt road to her, but first I’d have to drive right past the wasted hooligans. We’d be eye-to-eye on my way out.

I dialed Nancy, and she didn’t answer.

I dialed again and again, getting more anxious as the minutes went by! The guys continued carrying on … and she Didn’t. Answer. The. God. Damn. Phone. (Later we found out her ringer had been inadvertently shut off.)

I don’t get easily rattled. I’ve held off an obnoxious tweaker with a bat, stood up to aggressive panhandlers, and confronted a truck full of drunk guys that pulled into our camp to hassle us. None of those had caused the level of fear I felt now during my scariest nomad experience!

I knew I had to get the hell out of there, and I was on my own. I got into the driver’s seat, pulled my hoodie over a baseball cap to look less like a vulnerable old lady, and put the key in the ignition. 


I must have sat there for 45 minutes. I COULDN’T GET MY HAND TO TURN THE KEY. My hand was frozen on the ignition, and the vision of driving through the woods past those yahoos was playing reruns in my head. I was in full-on fight, flight, or freeze, and I kept saying to myself, “turn the key, turn the key, TURN THE FUCKING KEY!!!!!

In the midst of the terror, I finally convinced my FROZEN hand to turn the key! I drove as fast as I dared on the rutted forest road … they yelled something at me and I have no idea what they said because I was OUT OF THERE.

Of course, Nancy felt horrible and for a while I compulsively asked her to check her ringer every night. It was just one of those things.

Image by Nina Garman from Pixabay

Later I decided it was a good lesson. I now have a “danger” scale, from 1 – 10, with 10 being the way I felt that night. Nomads talk about our gut feelings as the best defense, and nothing I’ve experienced on the road has given me such a dramatic gut feeling. Now, thanks to my scariest nomad experience, I know exactly how to recognize when to Get-The-Hell-Out-Of-Dodge!

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