Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Showers near Joshua Tree National Park

"Gift shop" and "showers" don't usually end up in the same thought unless you're talking bridal or baby showers. But I'm talking good old hot water spraying at you.

There's a gift shop at the intersection of Highway 62 and Park Boulevard in the town of Joshua Tree, California. At the counter, tell the clerk you want a shower and give her four dollars. She will give you a token and a key attached to a big wooden cutout of a duck or a moon.

Go around back to the door that matches your key. (The key is for the handle, not the dead bolt. It took me a while to figure that out.) Inside is a sink, toilet, and a big wheelchair-friendly shower. There's no counter but a bunch of hooks. Bring your own towel. The token will get you seven minutes of water, which was more than enough for me, and word has it it's plenty even for those washing and rinsing long hair. When you're done, take the key back to the clerk, thank her for the excellent shower, and maybe buy a souvenir in remembrance of the experience. Mmmmm, showers.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Rolling Steel Tent is being bugged

Ah, yes, it's that time of year when annoying insects come out of wherever they spent the winter. No biting bugs where I am. Just the kind that insist on buzzing around my face, or tickling my arm hairs, or landing on the laptop screen. Tiny ones, huge ones. Go away. There's nothing to eat here. And if you want to mate, do it elsewhere, please.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Towing and Minor Repairs

Next to Interstate 8, at Ocotillo, California, is the remains of Miller Garage. It was once a classic last chance gas stop, but it had it's own last chance after the big highway went through. Another victim of modernization. So I took the exit, doubled back, and made a short video.

OMG!!! Chet!

I was walking on the beach when I heard my name. Soft. Raspy. Plaintive.

"Al........... Hey Al..."

Where was the voice coming from?

"Don't step on me, man."

I looked down and...

"Chet! Mi amigo!"

"Please, no Spanish. I've had my fill of Spanish."

"How the hell? What...? You were in custody for the, um, drug thing."

The last I'd seen Chet was at the border, over a year ago, when Feds hauled him away for trying to smuggle heroin in his fez.

"The cartel tunneled me out, but into Mexico. I told them I wanted to be on the other side of the border. They thought I was crazy, but they put me on a fishing boat and wished me luck. The captain didn't want to deal with me, so somewhere out there they told me to swim ashore, then tossed me overboard. I swam for what seemed like hours, days. I couldn't tell which direction I was going or if I was swimming in circles. I was exhausted. I grabbed onto this kelp and hoped the currents would take me to land. Where am I? The US or Mexico?"

"California, my friend."


"But the authorities will be looking for you."

"Yeah. I guess I'm a big time fugitive from justice now. Oh well."

"I was planning on going to San Felipe, but you wouldn't wanna be..."

"No. No Mexico for me. The opposite direction would be better."

"Yeah. Okay. Good to have you back, buddy."

"Good to be here."

Do egrets ever have regrets?

Friday, March 24, 2017

I don't know

About this time last year I posted that I didn't know where I wanted to go next. It's sort of a spring conundrum. Where is somewhere interesting? Where is something new? Where is someplace I know I like? Where is the weather agreeable?

I've really enjoyed my time on the California coast, but it's hard on my budget. I can't keep paying for campgrounds and I don't have a free or nearly free alternative that doesn't involve imposing upon friends or avoiding cops. I need to go elsewhere for a while.

I could head from here to the Mojave, see some of the ghost towns, then spend some time at Lake Mead before heading to southern Utah. It makes sense, but I'm not really feeling it.

Or I could go to the Cottonwood-Sedona area. Or do the Pahrump to Death Valley to Lone Pine thing. Eh.

Last night, as I thought about how I hate leaving the coast, it occurred to me, "Hey, what's the weather like in San Felipe?" Not bad, it turned out. I had a spark of excitement. I could still be by the water, but much more cheaply. The place would be crazy during Semana Santa (Holy Week), but I could be out of there by then. Yeah. Yeah! That's the thing!

San Felipe late last year

But I woke up with doubts.


So, the plan now is to go to Los Algodones, stock up on meds, and see how I feel about the San Felipe thing when it's just three hours away.

Or maybe I'll wake up with doubts about that semi-plan, too. My brain annoys me sometimes.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Watching the ocean some more

Not Ensenada

Encinitas is a coastal city in San Diego County. Ensenada is a coastal city a hundred miles south in Baja California.

Encinitas means little oaks. Ensenada means cove.

I'm in Encinitas the next couple of days, not Ensenada.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

No green flash

Dramatic cloud shapes, but no dramatic color

I heard about the green flash when I moved to California forty years ago. The existence of the phenomenon had slipped from my mind until I was watching the sunset, hoping it would turn into something exceptional. The guy standing next to me volunteered, "I saw a green flash the other day."

"Wow. I never have. And with the cloud cover on the horizon, I won't be seeing one this evening."

(I also haven't seen the grunion run.)

So, for those of you who don't know what a green flash is, or who haven't seen one, here's a video of one. Thanks, Internet.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Farther on down the road

South Carlsbad State Beach is about twenty minutes down the coast highway from Oceanside, and what a difference. A stony beach backed by bluffs rather than a sandy beach you can walk onto straight from the parking lot. Hey, variety... spice... etc.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Can I live in a ____________ ?

That question keeps coming up on various vehicle-dwelling forums (or fora, for you Latin speakers out there). People of limited means, or people who want to maximize their fuel milage, want reassurances they can live in something smaller than, well, whatever they're living in now.

My answer is that people can live in anything—tents, thatch huts, cardboard boxes, under a bush... The question is how do you want to live.

This morning I met a woman living out of the Toyota Matrix pictured above. It's not spacious, it's not fancy, it doesn't even have a toilet. But it works for her. A couple of years ago I posted about a woman spending months at a time traveling with her dog in a Suzuki SX4. (below) Does she look like she's suffering?

And a couple of weeks ago I posted about the guy boondocking in a Metro (and now in a Tracker).

I'm in a cargo van. Standard length, standard roof height. No kitchen, no shower. But I have a fridge, a stove, a heater, electricity, a fan and a very comfortable bed I can stretch out on. Because that's how I want to live. That's what I need. I see other vehicles and wonder if I could downsize to, say, a minivan. I'm certain I could do it somehow, but would I be happy? I keep downsizing bit by bit. By the time the Rolling Steel Tent coughs its last (if I don't beat it there) would I need so little that I, too, could live in a Matrix? We'll see.

Friday, March 17, 2017

From the ocean to the desert

Ortega Highway runs from San Juan Capistrano over the mountains to Lake Elsinore (or vice versa, depending upon one's view of the world). It's narrow and twisty with no stop signs for about 25 miles, which makes it a favorite of motorcyclists and sports car drivers, who often take it at illegal speeds. I was one of them back in the late '70s and early '80s.

While it might be fun for the racer boys (when they're not crashing) it's not a great road for wallowing, top-heavy vans. But if you want to get to the Anza-Borrego Desert from southern Orange County, it's the shortest way.

Luckily, I didn't have to deal with speeding testosterone today. There were a lot of ordinary drivers going ordinary speeds. I fell in at the end of the line and relaxed.

I passed several places where this winter's heavy storms had caused slides onto the road. Maybe that was one reason my fellow drivers were mellow. One does not want to zoom around a blind curve and discover a fresh slide.

Old concrete "teepee" motel rooms in Rincon, California

Whenever one is in the mountains of San Diego County, it's a nearly compulsory tradition to get apple pie in Julian.

Pie opinions vary, sometimes heatedly. So someone will insist I went to the wrong pie shop. Nonetheless, mine was an excellent example of apple pie.

For me, the issue isn't one Julian pie versus another Julian pie. It's Julian pie versus Pie Town, New Mexico, pie. Because if you're going to name your town after pie, and put it out in the middle of nowhere, that had better be some damned fine pie to make the drive worth it. Places like the Julian Pie Company move a lot of pies through their two locations (though not nearly as many as, say, Marie Calendar's). Their pie making operation is almost like a factory. Their pies are consistent. Meanwhile, Pie Town is a much smaller market. They can't sell hundreds of pies just during lunch. So their pies have a distinctly hand made quality. Does that make them better? Mmmmmm, usually. Sometimes the bottom crust might be undercooked, though. Or the filling might be kind of runny. Or there might be less fruit than you expect. But the same could be said of any grandmother's pie. My mother made fabulous pies. Most of the time.

After pie, I continued on to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Super bloom time! Except it dawned on me shortly after arriving. Blooming means pollen. Super blooming means super pollen. And angry sinuses. It's also crowded, with more weekenders on the way. So I'm going to leave in the morning. Maybe I'll have more pie.

Wait for it

A trail down to the beach in San Clemente passes under the railroad tracks that run along much of the California coast. The pedestrian tunnel frames the beach and ocean, focusing your attention. Until something else happens.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

They're like me

Each morning, as soon as the gate opens at Doheny Beach State Park (and at other state parks), folks who live in RVs and other vehicles flash their annual pass and file into the day use parking lots. Some choose the large lot by the entrance. Others choose the lot right on the beach. Some have claimed "their spot." They spend all day and then, just before the gate closes, they leave for whatever overnighting spots they've managed to find. That's no simple trick in wealthy coastal communities. They must commute to less hoity-toity cities. Here's an article about this. 

The main difference between these people and me is that they're committed to this area and I'm just passing through. They live here. I visit. So while they're considered homeless and a problem by small-minded building dwellers, I can pass as a tourist. Oh, and I pay for the campground so I can stay at night. But if I had a sure-thing, no-harassment, stealth camping spot somewhere, I would absolutely do this.

Tiny house of a different flavor

Nearly every tiny house I've seen is some variation on the classic cottage. A lot of people like that sort of thing. It's familiar, cute and creates less pushback from the big house majority.

But I'm more of a modernist. So is Jeff Wilson, Professor and Dean at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas. He's a guy who believes in hands-on research. He lived a full year in a 33 square foot dumpster in order to learn—and experience—how much space someone needs to live comfortably. To give you a sense how small 33 square feet is, the Rolling Steel Tent is 60 square feet. He turned what he learned into a sleek, sexy, airy, incredibly functional dwelling. My kind of place—if I ever wanted to live in a building again.

The bed rolls out from under the kitchen

The stairs roll out for storage

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Final night here

Unless I'm with friends, I seldom stay in one spot more than a couple of days. The California coast is an exception. It's like home to me.

This is my third night at the Oceanside harbor. Tomorrow I move to Doheny State Beach for three days. Then to San Clemente State Beach for one day (because that's all that was available). After a weekend dash to the Anza-Borrego superbloom, I'll do a couple of days at South Carlsbad State Beach (again, because that's all that was available). I might return to Oceanside or head to someplace in Ventura or Santa Barbara counties. Or farther. It depends on what's available.

Hey, all you weekenders and full time RVers! Go to the desert. See the flowers! Go to Disneyland, Universal Studios, Legoland. Drive up to San Francisco and wine country. Free up a campsite for me, please.

As the world terns

I had several ideas for blog post topics, but gazing at the ocean made me forget them. Next time I'll write them down. Or I'll just post more videos of the beach.