30 May What to Do When an Ant Swarm Attacks Your Camper Van

I love campervan life. But it’s not easy. I’ve just returned from the first leg of my From Animal House to Our House paperback tour. In another week, I’ll start the second leg, into the Mid-west.

The fun part is the mobility, having your home right there behind the driver’s seat. In some ways, it’s like living in a tiny efficiency apartment: storage of stuff is a daily challenge. You’ve got to unfold your bed every night; then fold it up every morning. The place gets dirty fast. You can’t leave dirty dishes for tomorrow. And, if you want to recycle, you’ve got to be disciplined and be willing to haul around those empty, plastic bottles. I’m surprised how hard it is to find recycling drops on the road, by the way. Very few grocery stores have them. One day I walked into a Trader Joe’s with my recyling, found a guy in the back and said, “Do you guys recycle? Can you take this?” I explained that I was on the road and had nowhere to put it. He took the stuff.

Garbage, generally, is a challenge because I can’t collect much before I have to dump it. And then there’s the front seat. Oh, my. I use the front seat as a storage area and this has gotten me in trouble a number of times because the front gets so crowded, I can’t tell what is garbage and what is not. Which is why, not so long ago, I threw away my new prescription sunglasses, which had fallen into my little garbage can. Now I keep my (old) sunglasses in the driver’s door bin. Live and learn. I’ve also thrown away half a dozen apples by mistake. And a whole almond croisant. I regretted the latter more than the former.

I’m meeting a lot of people on the road. Many find my camper van to be unusual and they want to have a look. At the same time, it’s not like I can keep a low profile when I’m parked somewhere. One day I had to be at a TV station by 6:00 A.M. Right after the show, I returned to the parking lot and took a three-hour nap. By the time I woke up, the lot was full, and I was getting stares. Finally, as I was making breakfast, somebody came out and asked, “Can I help you?” I explained that I had been on their morning show and that, not to worry, I wasn’t camping out there.

Although I have a toilet — which is a huge deal on the road and has saved me more times than I can count — I have no shower. My van just isn’t big enough. So, this time, I’ve bought a membership in a health club that has branches all over the country. Still, that doesn’t guarantee I can find one of these gyms when I need one. Surprisingly few state campgrounds have showers. Recently, in desperation, I bathed in a mountain stream. I did not bathe naked, I should add, because I was just off a frequented trail. In fact, four people on horseback rode by as I was finishing and looked at me curiously. I held a bowl in one hand and a bar of soap in the other.

At first Cleo, my intrepid basset hound, did not like being in the van, not even at night. But now, at bedtime, she hops in. When it’s time to travel, however, I have to pick her up and deposit her on her bed, right behind the driver’s seat. If I could, I’d put her on the passenger seat (I know she’d like it), but I have no way to keep her safe up there. She would need a seat belt.

Being on the road makes you vulnerable in some surprising ways. One night I parked in front of a friend’s house. In the morning, when I went out to move the van, I noticed a trail of ants traipsing across the dash. Hmmm, curious. Then, I looked again and saw that the ant trail was quite long. Closer inspection — opening the doors — revealed that these tiny ants were trooping in two vast lines, marching up the front tires, through the engine compartment, then into the van on each side. Though their processions were orderly, the ants numbered in the thousands. Apparently they had mistaken my little camper for a fallen elephant and seemed intent on dismantling it bone by bone. Am I stating the obvious when I mention that there are plenty of things for little ants to eat in a camper van? My ants had found some loose dog chow, for starters.

What do you do when an ant swarm attacks your camper van? Move! So I did. Either the colony was on the march, house hunting, or I had happened to have parked right over the nest. Had I not been so panicked, I might have gotten some good photos. As it was, I was killing ants as fast as I could. Douse paper towels with rubbing alcohol, then wipe. That does the job. But the job took me two hours. Even though I was out of the ant stream, they just kept coming up from the engine. And they were all the way to the back of the van, where the dog chow was. I ended up washing the van, shooting at ants with the hose. Then I had to be on the road for my next event, ants or no ants. Later, my friend said that her neighborhood was known for its invasive ants. Thankfully, these weren’t fire ants.

For the next two days, I was smashing ants as they leaked out of my dashboard. Keep in mind that they can’t relocated the nest unless they relocate the queen. So I had no worries that I was driving the entire colony around. But imagine what might have happened had I left the van parked there for a few days. Makes me shudder! They’re gone now, I’m happy to say. But you can bet that, the next time I park, I’m going to scope the surroundings very carefully.