Saturday, October 22, 2016

Finding and facing the self

Living the nomadic life gives us a degree of freedom most of us have never had before. The fences of society are down and the gates are open. When others try to tell us how we should live, think and behave, we can give them the finger and move on.

Ah, but the big question is how do you live, think and behave when no one is telling you how, when you can't lay it off on society's pressures and restrictions? Do you like who you are when you're free to be you? Are you happy? Content?

The old saying is, no matter where you go, there you are. Well, there you are. Much of the crap of life has been stripped away, left behind. You're pretty much down to the essential you. What do you think of yourself? Of your self?

I hope it's great. Sincerely. I'd like everyone to be at peace with who they are. I'd like that to be the case even if they aren't nomads, rebels, hermits. Taking the Taoist view, you can't be happy unless you're following your own path through life to your own goals, to your own niche. And you can't know what your path is until you know yourself.

Not only is the unexamined life not worth living, it can create a pile of mistakes and despair. It can mean colliding with your self, and running from your self. It can mean no peace, no matter how deep in the boonies you hide.

I don't want to be another of those people telling you what to be. I'm just offering up something to contemplate. Or not. You're free to do whatever you want with my ideas.

A van, another van, a load of laundry, and the question man

It  was laundry day. Woo-hoo. The plus side: clean clothes, including new jeans (shorts weather is on its way out). The minus side: killing time while the machines do their wet, soapy work.

I was reclined in the Rolling Steel Tent, thinking deep thoughts (deep for me, anyway) when the owner of the Ford Transit I was parked next to popped his head in the door and started asking questions about my setup. Okay, no problem.

The thing was, he had an odd hitch in his speech that made him difficult to follow. I became uncomfortable. But then I realized, hey, he can't help it. It might make life harder for him. It might make it tough to make friends. It might even affect his ability to find employment. My discomfort was nothing in comparison. So I chilled as best I could.

The bigger issue, though, was that he'd ask questions then keep talking while I tried to answer. It was like he had all this stuff that needed to get out of his head. It was annoying, but, again, I realized he probably couldn't help it, that he probably had some misfiring circuits in his brain.

I thought our conversation was finished, but then he appeared at the back door with more questions and tangental monologue. I had to chuckle. But he soon bid me a good day, got in his van and left.

I went back to thinking my deep thoughts, including how I should be patient and non-judgmental with people whose problems are greater than mine. I thought about the lessons I learned from my encounter with the question man. I thought about how fortunate I am. I thought about how the load of laundry was probably done.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Desert life

That's the brakes, man

Shortly after I bought the van that would become the Rolling Steel Tent, I was driving down a mountain pass at about 50 miles per hour. Whenever I'd apply the brakes, the front wheels would shimmy. Violently. I thought it was an alignment problem. I went to a tires-brakes-alignment place in Rapid City, South Dakota, to have the problem diagnosed.

"Your rotors are warped," they said.

"Oh," I said.

"We can replace them or true them."

Truing is when they put the rotors on a lathe and trim them until they're flat again. It's a temporary fix. It makes the rotors slightly thinner, which isn't the best thing. It also means the rotors heat up faster. Heat is what causes warping. and since the rotors are thinner, they warp more easily. I opted for truing, though, because I wanted to save money.

Everything was fine with the brakes until the past few months. When I was in Colorado, going down a lot of steep grades, the rotors would heat up and warp a little. But after driving a while without any heavy brake use, it felt like the rotors cooled back to being flat. There was no pulsing in the brake pedal, no shimmy.

Even so, I talked to Forrest, my mechanic buddy, about replacing the rotors while I was helping to build his cabins.

"Oh, that's easy. Just order them online and I'll install them."

But I never got around to it. After all, the brakes were working fine.

Then, a week ago, as I was coming down the eastern side of Tioga Pass, with its 8% grade, the brakes started to warp very badly. Even though I was in second gear. Even though I'd apply the brakes only in short bursts. The next day, after the brakes had cooled, I could still feel a light pulsing in the pedal. Okay. It was really time to replace the rotors.

When I got the flat and decided to replace all the tires, I had them replace the rotors, too. And the brake pads. Maybe the flat was nature's way of saying, "Replace the rotors now!"

Above is one of the old rotors. Those shiny spots are bulges in the metal and shouldn't be there. Below is the new rotor peeking out from behind the wheel (a wheel wrapped in new rubber). The fine crosshatching helps break in the new pads. Then in it wears off and the rotor becomes smooth.

Almost makes me want to go out and do some hard braking

After they had everything installed, the tire shop also checked the alignment.

"Perfect," they reported.

So now I'm all set to go. And stop.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Feeling deflated

Ah, that feeling one gets when discovering a flat tire. A flat that you drove on for a while without noticing because the ground was lumpy. A flat that can't simply be patched because the sidewalls are all buggered up. The third flat in three years. Sort of a holiday tradition. I don't know which holiday. Halloween seems appropriate this time. Boo!

The puncture

The buggered sidewall

The spare in place

I suspect the hole was made by some bit of trash left in the desert by human trash.

Now, here's a challenge for GM engineers. Completely flatten a rear time on an Express or Savana, then try to get the spare out from under the van. No fair jacking up the van first, because it would dangerous to get under there with only the factory-supplied scissor jack. Oh, and you're on rocky ground. And it's about 55 degrees. (Not cold, but not pleasant.) Having fun yet?

Luckily, this flat happened just outside a city with several tire buying options. And with friends to watch me change the tire while offering their condolences. That's the proper way to do things like this.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

On the outskirts of Pahrump

The desert can look bland or even ugly most of the day, but when the sun is setting or rising, it can be beautiful.

I'm camped a couple of hundred yards from Debra and Robert. Far enough for privacy, close enough for a short stroll. Bob and Carolyn will arrive sometime in the next couple of days.

There have been howling winds, which happened the last time Debra and I were within walking distance of each other. It might not be coincidence. But the air should calm down by tomorrow.

Feeling abandoned

A few miles before Beatty, Nevada, I saw the sign for Rhyolite. It flipped the I've-Heard-of-That-Somewhere-Before switch in my brain. Then I saw crumbling buildings on the hillside and remembered it was a ghost town. I made the turn.

"Ghost town" usually evokes something from the 1800s, something like a movie set from a western. But Rhyolite is a boom-to-bust mining town from the early 20th century. It had electricity, plumbing and other trappings of modernity. And its important buildings were made of brick, stone and concrete. Now it looks more like a war-ravaged city than a place where a lawman and a gunslinger would face off in the street at high noon.

There's a cautionary tale in many ghost towns about plans and dreams and riches, and how quickly the luck can run out. Rhyolite's lesson was set in stone.

The long way there

I've driven from Lone Pine to Death Valley and on to Pahrump NV twice before. This was the route:

Okay, been there, done that. So this time, in the name of seeing something new, I decided to take a longer route by way of Beatty NV. Like this:

Hey, what's fourteen extra minutes, more or less, when you're on an adventure?

So I'm driving along, a little past Stovepipe Wells, when I see the sign for Beatty. And Scotty's Castle.

There were also signs saying Scotty's Castle was closed. No problem, I wasn't interested in that anyway.

There's this thing that large-brained people who study human behavior call target fixation. Wikipedia describes it thusly:
Target fixation is an attentional phenomenon observed in humans in which an individual becomes so focused on an observed object (be it a target or hazard) that they inadvertently increase their risk of colliding with the object… In such cases, the observer may fixate so intently on the target that they steer in the direction of their gaze…
There's a related phenomenon I call Old Guy Not Really Paying Attention. You see, shortly after making that left toward Beatty/Scotty's Castle, there's a sign indicating a right turn toward Beatty.

It's a small sign and not currently in as good a shape as when the Google Street View car came through. But that was only part of the situation. There's also a rest area just past the junction where a group of vehicles was stopped. I fixated on them and shot right past the turn. If someone had asked me whether I'd seen the turn, I would have answered, "What turn?"

Besides, not having looked at the map in a year or two, in my mind, one passed Scotty's Castle on the way to Beatty. So on I went, la-de-da-de-da, down a road that looked like this:

About forty miles later I arrived at a closed ranger station and the locked gate/barricade to Scotty's castle. Oh. It's not just that Scotty's Castle is closed, the road past it and onward to Nevada is closed. Ah-ha. So I got out the atlas to see where I was and where I should be. Oh, I missed the turn back there.

So I turned around and drove the forty miles back to the junction. My little detour/adventure looked like this:

No  big tragedy, just some more gasoline burned and a butt that was more tired. And now I know what that part of Death Valley looks like. And Beatty. And Amagosa Valley, home of the World's Largest Firecracker.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Off again

So  long, Mount Whitney

This morning I leave Lone Pine and head off across Death Valley to meet up with friends in Nevada.

Although I was born in Washington, DC, I consider myself a Californian. I moved here after college. It's the place where I truly grew up, where I became an adult, where I became myself. The twenty years I lived here were some of the best and certainly the most important and meaningful of my life.

Sometimes I'll meet people who turn up their noses at California. "Ew, why would you want to go there?" It might be crowded and expensive, but it's my home.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


The typical egg carton is just a little long for my refrigerator. It has to go in on a slope, which isn't always possible if other things are taking up room. So as I use up eggs, I cut down the carton, like this:

Then it fits easily, like this:

Sometimes I just start off cutting the carton in half as soon as I get it. I'm happiest, though, when the store has eggs in half dozens.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Mouse in the house

The Rolling Steel Tent makes noises as its various materials and contents cool for the night. Clicks, pops, pings, sighs, moans, mumbled complaints about the state of the world... But last night there were also the rustlings and scratchings of a critter. And the smell of mouse.

I tried making louder noises myself to scare it away. But the mouse kept coming back. So I got up and turned on some lights to figure out where it was. Yup, in the trash can.

Now, I don't mind a mouse eating a few morsels of my scraps and then moving on. But this one kept scurrying into the gap between the dashboard and engine cover. I didn't want it homesteading in there. Or developing a taste for wiring.

So when it was deep in the trash can, I plopped my Benchmark Atlas for California across the opening. It was just large enough to seal it closed. Then I took the trash can outside and freed the mouse, which promptly ran under the van. No sooner had I put the trash can back in its place than the mouse was back. What, five, six seconds to make its way through an opening (probably the heater ducts) to the dashboard? (Maybe that's why it's called a dashboard.)

After I grabbed my phone to get a picture (remember back when that phrase would make no sense?) we started a game of cat and mouse. Or man and mouse. It kept dashing in and out of the trash, in and out of the dashboard. But my patience won and I finally trapped the critter again. But rather than take it outside, I put a heavy weight on top of the atlas and went back to bed. "Eat to your heart's content, mouse."

After sunup I took the weight, the atlas, the trashcan and the mouse outside. Once free, it ran for the closest cover, which was the van. Of course. So this adventure isn't over yet.

The devil was not there

As I was driving from Mono Lake to Lone Pine, I saw the sign for Devils Post Pile National Monument. Sure, why not?

And there was a nice lake along the way.