Friday, January 20, 2017

LaVonne practiced being a van dweller

Some people jump right into the nomadic life. LaVonne eased into it. Then she overcame obstacles and setbacks along the way.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Sunset at Imperial County

Bicycle-touring, sitar-playing bus driver in a van

My friend Atli rode a bicycle from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Joshua Tree National Park for her mental health. Along the way she realized she could save a lot of money and be able to travel more if she lived in a van.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Oh yeah, that bag law

Californians voted to ban single-use plastic shopping bags, and some cities had already passed such ordinances. That means they no longer ask, "Paper or plastic?" at the grocery checkout. Now it's, "Bag or no bag?"

I've had a fabric bag for a couple of years. I bought it in a burst of environmental responsibility. However, my concern for the planet seems to disappear whenever I head into a market, because I keep forgetting I have that bag, even though I keep it in the Rolling Steel Tent's driver door pocket.

Sad looking, but functional

Each time I face the lack of a sack I have the option of buying a new one there at the checkout. Instead, I just load my purchases back into the cart, roll it out to my "house" and load things into the fridge and cupboards. It makes a lot more sense than bagging it all for the short ride through the parking lot.

Burning Van

Unlike legendary Burning Man, Burning Van is free and has much less art and nudity. The official story of Burning Van reads:
Last year we had a big cardboard box.
We made a van.
We burnt it.
A tradition was born!
This year, someone made a small van out of wood. No doubt, it will become a bigger deal and before long they'll be torching a full scale model of an Econoline loaded with fireworks. Then there will be nudity.

For a backpacker, an old car is luxurious living

After hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Joe decided he didn't need to live in a building anymore. Now his home is a 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit diesel. Here's his story.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

For a moment I thought I had a girlfriend

The Crab Woman from the planet Ltpvëkgf^e-Gii 7 appeared this morning. She was the first female (at least I think she was female) in the Rolling Steel Tent since, well, ever. But she didn't want me in that way, or any other way. She wanted Chet. Sure, women always go for a guy in a fez. I told her Chet was in federal custody, awaiting trial for heroin smuggling, but that I didn't know which facility had him under lock and key. She gave me a disgusted look, snapped her claw, and dematerialized. Then I noticed Zorro the Wonder Dog was gone, too.

Maybe I'll remember now

Every year I've needed to relearn what days the Quartzsite dump is open. I've had no problem remembering Sunday, because that seems unusual for a government facility. And I remember Wednesday, because it's the middle of the week. But what my brain couldn't hold onto was whether it was Sunday to Wednesday or Wednesday to Sunday. As they say: take a picture, it lasts longer.

Prejudices fell away

Monday, January 16, 2017

I can be a jerk (or worse)

Kuehn Street, in Quartzsite, from the camp host turn-in for Scaddan Wash until its eastern end, is crumbling asphalt. And the speed limit is 35. At least for the part that's posted. Many of the various RVs, travel trailers, trucks, vans and whatnot on that road drive slower than 35. Some are looking for campsites off to the south (rather than pulling onto the wide, flat, smooth shoulder to do that). Some drive as if they have no idea where they are or where they want to be. Some drive as if they believe they will earn extra points in the hereafter for every mile per hour under the limit. Some drive as if disturbed by the roughness of the pavement and think it won't be as bad if they drive slowly. Some (me) drive it like mad men, like total asses.

I'm one of those asses who believes rough pavement feels smoother the faster you go. And I'm one of those double asses who has little patience for those I imagine to be timid or inattentive drivers. And I'm one of those triple asses who, knowing there's no enforcement along a stretch of road like that, will drive, oh, 50 miles per hour. And will blow past the folks who are trying my patience. But it's wrong.

So, to the four or five drivers I zoomed past this afternoon and all the times before, and especially to the guy on the scooter who stopped to give me a proper lecture I didn't want to hear, I deserve whatever things you shouted or fingers you waved. It was stupid of me.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A man in a tiny van

Scott works in Southern California and lives in a Ram ProMaster City compact van because housing costs are outrageous and because he wants to travel. He has been able to fit a surprising amount of creature comforts in 131.7 cubic feet. Sink, stove, refrigerator, bed and more. Here's his story.

A milestone

Hmmm, maybe it's time for some Rustoleum, too

For the first time in my van dwelling life, I've run the propane tank empty. I've topped it off only three times, I think, in the three and a half years I've been wandering. A gallon here, a gallon there. The last time was during the previous Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. Obviously, I'm not a big consumer of propane. But it has been chillier this year, so I've had the heater on more. Gotta keep the old bones happy.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Serious equipment

Most of us van dwellers need to watch our money. So when we equip our vans we often repurpose things rather than buying purpose-built items. A classic example: ladder racks for solar panels. We broke folk drool with envy, then, when we see really cool stuff, like the bumper/guards/spare tire carrier/storage box/mini rack on this Ford.

It, and similar parts, are made for pickups, SUVs and vans by Aluminess. The right half swings to the right and the left half swings to the left. There's a place for a lock in the center. I think this 50/50 approach is much better than swinging it all from one side, like most spare/gas can carriers.

Some people would say something like this should be made of mighty steel rather than wimpy aluminum. Others would vote for the weight savings.

Interestingly, there's just a standard bumper on the front of this van. Maybe the owner doesn't see the need. Or maybe he/she is saving up for it.


This is the free pile at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. Attendees leave things they think others might want or need. Some of the free stuff is good and useful. Some isn't, but the ones who left it can't bring themselves to just throw it out. At least their hearts are in a good place.

It's easy to give to people I like, people I approve of, people who pass whatever worthiness tests I might have at the moment. That's almost not giving. With the free pile, I'm putting it out there for... whomever. Maybe someone stone broke and in desperate need will get it, but maybe someone who could easily afford to buy the stuff will take it, or maybe someone who'll resell it, or maybe someone I hate. That's difficult, but I believe if I'm going to give, it should be with no questions asked.

I'd rather give more and judge less. I judge too much. It makes me hard. It requires me to be suspicious. It's a burden. Maybe I could lighten my load by putting a big sack of judgment on the free pile. Sadly, there's probably someone who'd take it.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Setting sun over Airstreams (and a Casita)

Another way to do solar

I hadn't seen these before. Flexible, foldable, lightweight solar panel arrays.

Not that I'm looking for different solar panels, but I wanted details—who makes it, how much power it produces—but the owner wasn't around. So I looked for a label. And found it.

That got me to the website. And that got me looking for prices. Whoa! $605 to $699, depending upon the retailer. That's mighty spendy for 60 Watts, and no charge controller. (Their intent is that you go directly to the device you want to run. Charging batteries gets passing mention.) Meanwhile, something like a Renogy 60W briefcase style solar panel with charge controller is about $200.

PowerFilm is lighter than typical solar panels and folds to about the size of a loose leaf binder. If those are your priorities, then this might be a good thing. Not for me, though.

There are a lot of ways to do this

I strolled around the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous this morning checking out the rigs. Here are some of the more interesting ones.

A homemade pop-up camper

An early-60s conversion van

A tiny trailer, complete with solar, used by some tent campers

An AeroCell tradesman's van given a military look

Actual military equipment converted to civilian use

Homemade trailer built on the aft portion of a pickup chassis

A modern Conestoga wagon
UPDATE: Watch a tour of this trailer here (about five minutes in).


My frying pan is small and the handle weighs more than the rest of the pan. So unless I put the pan just so on my single burner camp stove, it tilts and slides. Like this morning.

Perhaps it was the forces of the universe telling me I don't need to be eating bacon. I think of it as an offering to the coyotes. They'll come for generations to lick the rocks and dirt, telling each other the legend of the day pig meat fell from the sky.

See, I'm not the only one

Spotted at RTR. The step stool industry probably counts on us inattentive klutzes to run over their products, necessitating replacements.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

RTR 2017: Morning Announcements

For those who have never been, here's just a quick taste of how the day starts at RTR. I wouldn't be so cruel as to inflict the whole thing upon you. There's a seminar afterward. The noobs usually stay and learn while the veterans, who've heard it all before, usually go visit or do something constructive, like starting lunch.

Now with 100% more YouTube

Okay, so I've collected some of my videos on my very own YouTube channel. I'll be adding more as time goes on. Something more than beaches. Stay tuned.

I've probably broken all the rules of effective video monitization and search engine optimization. Too bad. I might even have set things up all wrong for easy viewing by you. If so, give me your feedback and I'll try to fix things.

Like they say, bookmark it, subscribe, share, yadda yadda yadda.

Here's a sample, an oldie but goodie:

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Full moon rising at RTR

Overflow parking

Before I arrived at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, I'd heard/read reports of over 300 rigs of various types, and about 500 people of even more types. I was a little skeptical of the numbers. More than twice as many as last year? Now that I'm here, those numbers were totally believable.

Wow. It's packed.

Most RTR attendees like some space between themselves and others, even when the others are good friends. There's just not space for that this year. The primary area is loaded up more like an RV park where the rigs are so close the slide-outs touch and you can hear your neighbors snore and fart. That's an exaggeration, but still...

But there's room in adjoining areas for those who value privacy and quiet over easy social access. That's where I am. I call it overflow parking. One turn-off before the main RTR entrance, two forks to the right. A straight path to the meeting area takes me about a quarter mile down into and up out of six washes. Going out to the road and back is about a half mile. Either way, I need to head back before dark. Don't want to get eaten by coyotes.

I eventually found Bob Wells, the creator of RTR. Gesturing at the roaming masses I asked, "What have you wrought?"

He shook his head, "I'm not sure."

Shameless self-promotion

Since I'm going to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, I thought it would be good to give attendees notice—for better or worse—that I was among them. And the sign would make it easier for me to find my rig among all the other white vans.

I gave the art file to the nice people at Sign Masters in Yuma and they had it done in a few hours. It's self-adhesive vinyl. I'll remove it after RTR so I can be slightly more stealthy.

Oh, and I put the sign on a slant because it's much easier than getting it perfectly straight. Intentionally crooked looks better than just a hair off.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

While it lasts

My 65th birthday is in April. I knew I would be eligible for Medicare three months before then, which would be sometime this month. But I was a little surprised when I discovered my Medicare card in my forwarded mail. So soon?

I had been playing healthcare roulette since, oh, 1999 when I went freelance. I lucked out for the most part. My health was sufficiently good, no major injuries, and my occasional out of pocket expenses were a fraction of the cost of paying insurance for eighteen years. (Funny how when you cancel a policy they don't give you back all that money you paid in but never used.) I would have been totally screwed if something major had happened, but it didn't. "I just need to hang in there until I can get Medicare."

Well, I slid safely into home, only to have Congress itching to blow up Medicare, ACA, Medicaid and everything else.

So I'm going to play a less risky version of healthcare roulette again. Sure, let Part A (while it lasts) cover the poverty-creating hospital costs. But I'm going to opt out of Part B (while it lasts) rather than have them deduct a hundred-twenty-something dollars a month from my Social Security check (while it lasts) for doctor visits, lab work and such that I probably wouldn't be using in the foreseeable future. I'll also opt out of Part D (while it lasts), because I have Part M. M for Mexico. Perfectly good medications at a fraction of the US prices.

In a few months—or even days—a lot of Americans are going to wake up to find themselves totally screwed by the people who promised to make the country great again. They might grandfather in people who already have Medicare, in which case I and millions of others could relax a little. If not, then for me it will be a return to the old no-coverage status quo. I've been there, I've done that. I can do it again. While I last.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Another day in the rear view mirror

Men doing what men do

Makin' stuff, usin' tools. Argh, feel the testosterone. I cut while Lou held down the other end of the plywood. Thanks to Kirk for providing the saber saw and the power to run it. Thanks to Scott for the photo documentation.

The Rolling Steel Tent is undergoing a small bit of renovation. Some unsightly Reflectix that had been held to the inside of the sliding door with duct tape (that was even more unsightly) is being replaced with wood.

There was disagreement over whether the plywood should be varnished or painted. The others made their case for varnish. I made my case for paint. "I like paint better. I already have some leftover from earlier projects. And it's my van. So there." Testosterone.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Blanket statement

Today offered the perfect combination of sunshine, no wind and some helping hands. That made it a good time to set up a clothesline and hang my comforter to air out.

Lou held the pole while I drove stakes. Scott provided an extra piece of rope, and the three of us got the comforter hung while keeping it out of the dirt.

Why, you might ask, am I using a king size comforter when I have only a twin bed? Because I already had it from my house dwelling days. (I've had it for almost 30 years.) And because I love having extra bedding bunched around me—especially around my feet.

A solar solution

A lot of RV owners, particularly those with smaller rigs, complain there isn't enough room for solar panels on their roof. Air conditioners, vents, antennas and such take up too much room. And even where there is space for a panel, the other things on the roof cast shadows, decreasing panel output.

 Hal, from Salem Oregon

My friend Hal knew some kind of rack could be built over the stuff on the roof of his travel trailer, so he turned to his friend, Don, an expert metal fabricator. Don came up with this swooping arch design.

Arches are stronger than rectangles and require fewer cuts and less welding. Strength and less work are important.

Inexpensive steel pipe was run through a bending machine, then tabs and end brackets were welded on. Very simple and effective. And cool looking. Cool is important.


I put a lot of my stuff in storage when I went to Mexico. The idea was to simplify things in case the Rolling Steel Tent were to be searched by either Mexican or US authorities. The stuff stayed in storage after I returned. "Obviously," I thought, "there's nothing in that locker I particularly need or miss."

So I emptied the locker, brought the stuff out to the desert, and sorted through the duffle bag, backpack and three bins. I was ruthless about it. The essentials now fit into the backpack and one bin. The rest will be disposed of. Humanely. Some will go into a charity drop box, some will go to the Free Pile at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

I went through my tool box, too. But all I could part with were some redundant screwdrivers and six small flashlights. I'm a sucker for flashlights. So are a lot of guys. That's why they're often sold near checkout stands in hardware and auto parts stores. Ooooo, machined aluminum! LEDs! Rubber push buttons! I want one! No, two, just in case.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Knock knock, it's the wind with your wake-up call

At five-something this morning the wind started howling and the solar panel, which was tilted up, started to rattle. Good morning. I pulled on my pants and shoes, grumbled, and went out into the pre-pre-dawn to deal with it.

Across the way, Scott was cinching down his awning. I gave him a hand.

Then I got back in the Rolling Steel Tent, fired up the laptop, and checked the forecast. Okay, twenty mile an hour wind tapering off during the day and returning to the rather calm air we've been enjoying the past couple of days. But not very warm. Looks like a good day to spend in bed.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Not the most riveting blog post

This chair not only keeps me off the ground, it also serves as a step stool when I tilt and untilt my solar panel.

I noticed today one of the bolts holding the seat to the frame was loose. As I tightened it and the other bolts I thought, "At least it's a bolt, which can be tightened. If they'd attached the seat with rivets, it might not have loosened, but the rivet might have broken. Then I'd need to replace it with a bolt anyway."

This is the type of stuff I think about now that I don't have the pressures of ordinary life clogging my mind.

Can't we get some agreement, gentlemen?

Science... data... standards... You'd think those applied to something like the state of charge of a 12 Volt deep cycle battery. Because it's not subjective, like politics, fashion or the world's best recipe for chicken fried steak.

A 100% charge is ________.

A 50% charge (which one should avoid going below) is ________.


But here's what you get when you search the interwebs. About the only thing they agree upon is that green is good and red is bad.

Maybe the exacting science is out there, somewhere, and the problem is with those making and disseminating the charts.

The last chart seems most credible to me, because it accounts for temperature. It at least offers up, "It depends," to the question of full and half charge. Serious, accurate science is big on qualifiers. Other qualifiers might be the type of battery and the length of time without a load being applied. However, that might give us charts beyond the comprehension of mere mortals.

The second chart uses the term leisure batteries. I first encountered that yesterday, on a nomad forum. What? Batteries for relaxing? Batteries for non-work purposes? Batteries for which accurate data is unimportant?

"Hey, don't sweat it, pal. They're just leisure batteries. Come here, take a load off your feet, loosen your tie, have some of the world's best chicken fried steak."

Oh, they mean batteries that power the systems in your leisure vehicle, as opposed to the battery that starts and runs the engine.

I could be wrong, but leisure battery has sort of an old midwestern feel about it, like calling a casserole a hot dish, or a water fountain a bubbler.

In the name of caution and long battery life, I'll avoid anything lower than 12.4 Volts. Even if it means I can't reheat hot dish leftovers.