Sunday, May 31, 2015

Break time

Photo by Jo Thompson


What does it take to build a door frame? A biscuit joiner, glue, a drill, screws, a lot of clamps, a square and an old door to use as a nice flat table.

But why build a frame when you can buy pre-hung doors? Because this door is only five feet tall. And because Lou wants to build it.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Please rain

I rarely wish it would rain, and coming out of the rainy period early this month, I should be glad for sunshine. And I was.

But at about noon today it started clouding over in preparation for a thunderstorm. That made the humidity soar. And the wind from the approaching front hasn't started up yet. The air is stagnant. And thick. And muggy. It's like being back in the South. One reason I hit the road was to escape weather like this.

So get this storm over with already. Blow through, cool it down, then let it dry out again. Now. Pretty please.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A little something for myself

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I bought a really nice aluminum step.

Then I ran over it at Slab City.

Then I bought a replacement.

Then I left it behind at a campground at Roosevelt Lake.

Then I went back and got it before I'd gone too far.

Then, what I haven't shared yet, I left it behind again a week ago, at Morro Strand.

By the time I realized I'd been stupid again, I was 150 miles away. Mmmmmm, no, I wasn't going to burn up $80 worth of gas (and five hours) to retrieve a $55 step. I'd get another one. Someday. In the meantime, I'd do without.

Well, since we pretty much have a woodshop set up here, and there's a stack of scrap and salvaged lumber, I figured I'd build a step this time. It wouldn't be as high tech, but it would be cheap. And no tragedy if (when) I drove off without it.

So, ta-dah! Sort of a micro deck.

It's mostly cedar, so it's lightweight. Fifteen by twenty by eight. I'll stain it and maybe add some no-slip tread tape, like my aluminum steps had. I could mount a shoe scraper/brush on the side. No, then I'd feel worse about losing it.

Simple but strong

UPDATE: trim added and everything stained

Hand work

Power tools are cool, but sometimes you just need to use tools from the days before electricity. Lou got out one of his Japanese pull saws to cut a fancy joint for the roof framing.

A compound something-or-other for where a horizontal member meets an arched truss 

Now it's on to framing the new end of the trailer. The original door will be reused. New, this time around, will be a sliding pocket screen door. No more bothersome flapping, magnetic, roll-up screen. The bugs will be so disappointed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Something within my skill set

While Lou was dealing with the geometry of the roof trusses, I cut and fitted the foil-faced styrofoam insulation. Too bad I didn't have an antistatic suit to wear. I look like I was attacked by a beanbag chair.

It's a frame-up

After much measuring, remeasuring, cutting, gluing and screwing (not that kind of screwing, you perv) squaring and truing, the framing for the side walls of Lou's trailer extension is in place. It finally looks like progress is being made, even though there's a lot more to be done.

Right now, Lou is fine tuning the arched roof trusses that I cut from plywood yesterday. By "fine tuning" I mean "fixing my erratic jigsaw cuts." And by "erratic" I mean "bad." Hey, I had warned him the job was out on the fringes of my skill set. I'm much better at holding the other end of something unwieldy, or fetching tools. But as they say, if a job is worth doing, it's worth doing over.

Friday, May 22, 2015

More rain, less work

Even though there was about a half hour of sun earlier this afternoon, the wet weather system seems to have stagnated over the region. That's a problem when you want to work with wood and power tools. Outside.

And it means a lot of time in the Rolling Steel Tent. I invent errands for myself just to break up the monotony. I went to two different supermarkets just to get three items. And I took a wandering route there.

I'm not the kind of guy who gladly dons foul weather gear (if I had any) to go play in the rain. I'm a huge fan of low humidity, and this ain't it. Everything in the van feels damp. My towel won't dry. The air is thick.

However, between showers, the aromas of wet cedar, juniper and grass are delicious. But enough is enough.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Lou is selling some stuff

Besides adding some length to his trailer, Lou is upgrading some systems. An on-demand water heater will replace his Zodi Extreme SC Hot Shower System.

He has also has a Samlex Power 1500 watt pure sine wave inverter. If you want to use a microwave or run a TV, you'll need a pure sine wave inverter rather than regular or modified sine wave inverter.

If you're seriously interested in either of these items, email Lou. Not me.

Grunting and sawing and stuff

We got some things accomplished today between rain showers. One was to get the newly reconstructed deck on the trailer tongue. The trick was to lift the storage tub (loaded with 150 pounds of batteries) enough to slide the deck under it. But we're manly men (so we imagine) and were able to do it.

After we took care of some other things that aren't photogenic, Lou had me do the rough cutouts of some corbels. Pairs will be sandwiched together, then the shape will be refined on a drum sander and the edges routed.

As soon as there's a sufficiently long break in the weather we'll start framing the rear addition. Then it will look like we've actually accomplished something.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


The eastern part of Oregon is supposed to be drier. The Cascades are supposed to create a rain shadow. But that's only true when the weather comes from the west, which the current weather isn't.

The rain limits what we can accomplish on Lou's trailer renovation. It's a bad time to be cutting the end off the old trailer—particularly since Lou needs to keep living in it. So we wait, and do what we can.

Meanwhile, the cloud cover means my batteries aren't getting a really good charge. Grumble grumble.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Maybe the road isn't for you

So far, wandering the country with no anchor, no home other than the one I travel in, has been perfect for me. I wish I could have done this sooner. Like forty years ago. I’m rather introverted and independent, so this life and I are an excellent fit. 

But being a full time vagabond wasn't the first choice for some people out here. Or it once was, but now they’ve changed. They want to be part of a community, be attached to a place. Maybe they had hit the road because they didn’t fit in the “normal” world. And maybe they’re still on the road because the thought of going back to the normal world is too awful.

It’s hard rejecting the status quo without rejecting the people who come with it.

That’s why there’s an increasing number of intentional communities. Unconventional people can create their own versions of normal together. There are all kinds. Ecovillages, spiritual communities, income sharing communes, vegan societies, artist collectives… There might even be a community of hard core loners somewhere. (Oh, wait, I think I’m already a member of that one.)

The Fellowship for Intentional Community is a clearing house for information on (duh) intentional communities. If you’re longing to belong, if you need to be with like-minded souls, peruse their listings. Your new home and family might be out there. Or, who knows, perhaps you could start your own community.


A fix of my own

Besides helping Lou with his project, I took some time to do a little repair on my roof rack. One of the aluminum uprights had broken at the bend because of stress and vibration. I had held it together with a bungee cord for several months, but today I got out the power tools and did a better job of it.

A little grinding of the break, some drilling, some steel L-brackets bolted in place, and, bingo, back in business.

For comparison, here's what an unbroken one looks like

Friday, May 15, 2015

Help has arrived

I pulled into Redmond yesterday afternoon and found Lou. He has been staying on a friend's property while he remodels his trailer.

So far, he has had a new, longer, beefier frame made and has transferred the body to it. The fact he needs to still live in the trailer complicates things. He has the process planned out, though, and we'll meet after breakfast to discuss what's next and how I can help.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Half a slog

Central Oregon weather be damned, I'm making the run to join Lou in Redmond. I started at Mt. Madonna park near Gilroy, and tonight I'm in Redding.

My messed up perception wants me to think tomorrow will be shorter. After all, I covered about a third of the length of California today, and Redmond is about halfway through Oregon, which is a squatty state. Right?

Wrong. There's a bit of California yet, and Oregon, well, Oregon is deceptive.

I-5 north of Sacramento is neither exciting nor difficult. It's just boring. Mostly flat, mostly straight. My butt gets tired and my eyes start to glaze. But it's an expedient way to go.

In my younger years it was no big deal to clock a string of 500-mile days. Now? I'd really rather not. At least not without a few naps. (I think my longest straight-through drive was 800+ miles, solo, from San Diego to Logan, Utah when I was 23.)

So tomorrow I'll be on the road bright and early. Crater Lake is sort of on the way. I could detour so I could take a photo for the blog. But I've been there, and you could google a photo if you really want to see one. I still have the other half of this slog to go. Lou's a-waitin'.

Stump repurposing

Over time, the hollow core of the stump filled with dirt, and then cacti.

Tent camping again

Does a yurt count as a tent? Canvas walls and roof held up by sticks?

Whatever its classification, I'd never stayed in one. So I went to Mt. Madonna County Park, west of Gilroy, California, to see what it was all about.

Check-in was laughably simple. I pulled up at the kiosk and told the ranger I had a reservation for a yurt.

Without looking at a list or anything, he asked, "Number 134?"


"Okay. It's in the loop to your right. The key is under the doormat."

And that was it. No paperwork, no ID. Have a nice stay.

The online instructions said to supply your own bedding. No problem, since it's always with me anyway. There were vinyl covered mattresses on the bunks. They looked hard and chilly. So I brought in my plush foam mattress from the Rolling Steel tent. A mattress on a mattress—a Princess and the Pea moment. I slept great.

It was a short walk to the flush toilets that, unlike some places I stayed, had soap dispensers and hand dryers. It was a slightly longer walk to the showers, which were free. Though the yurt had an electric ceiling light, there were no outlets. These yurts probably date back to the pre-digital age. We're supposed to be roughing it, after all.

Tall trees and lots of shade make it a little hard for the solar panels to do their job. If I were to stay more than one day I'd need to drive to a sunny spot for a few hours. That wouldn't be a problem in the yurt's treeless country of origin.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother Hubbard

These cabinets are built into all the tables at Sunset Beach campground. They're not bear boxes, because, 1) this isn't bear country, and 2) even a newborn cub could rip these apart. I doubt they'll even keep out determined rodents. I suspect they're to hide your stuff from humans. Humans without screwdrivers. Or the ability to kick. At least the top serves as a counter. It's at a better height to use standing. By the way, someone needs to come around with the weed whacker.

Between the farm and the sea

Sunset State Beach is on a narrow strip of coast near Watsonville, California, surrounded by fields and greenhouses. And a few homes.

The campsites are separated from an ocean view by a ridge. But that ridge blocks sea winds, so that's a good thing.

When I made my reservation, I looked at the map and at a satellite view. Hmmm, there's a site near the bathroom and solar-heated showers, with some decent space between neighboring sites. It was in the first campground loop.

It was good choice. I drove through the other loops for comparison. They were more crowded, and the people there seemed to be the type that needed to spread their stuff (and they had a lot of it) all over the place. I felt encroached upon just driving through.

When I was a freelancer in San Francisco, I'd take off for the beaches whenever the weather was warm and work was slow. I tried most of them between Bolinas to the north and Monterey on the south. So right now I feel a little like I'm playing hooky from work. Bad boy.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Nostalgia trip

I lived in San Francisco in the late '80s. The Marina District. I miss it. A lot.

So I paid a visit to the old neighborhood. Amazingly, there was a parking spot on the shopping street. With free-on-Sundays meters. That's like stumbling across a fist-size nugget of gold. (I didn't take more photos, because I didn't want to look like, ug, a tourist.)

A sad moment was driving up Highway 101 and seeing Candlestick Park be demolished. I watched the SF Giants and Montana-era Niners play there from the nosebleed seats. Sigh. At least the Cow Palace is still standing.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Down on the farm

Wendell has a piece of land between Watsonville and Castroville. He calls it the Homestead. Orchard, goats, chickens, etc. He takes in campers via Airbnb. Nice guy, good host. He apologized for there not really being a level spot for the van, but I managed to get level enough for my needs.

As Wendell was showing me around, the cat strolled by with a large rodent in its mouth. Every farm needs a good mouser.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Dry is good

It was overcast when I stayed in the teepee the other night. That had me thinking about what would happen if it were to rain, given the big opening at the top and the bit of a gap between the teepee and the wood deck it sat on. I could make a dash for the Rolling Steel Tent and trust that my hosts had dealt with rain in the teepee before. A wet bed would be their problem, not mine.

There was a brief rain squall just now here at Morro Strand. The people camped on either side of me are in tents. They don't have teepee openings at the top, but there are plenty of opportunities for leaks, or at lest plenty of opportunities for worrying about leaks. Anxiety isn't restful. Meanwhile, I was perfectly dry and cozy in my van. I'm glad for that. I can grumble about the weather, but at least it isn't joining me inside.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Another day, another beach

Morro Strand State Beach, California

Just need a flying pig and we'd have Pink Floyd on the Pacific

Tent camping

The past couple of weeks, staying in pricey coastal campgrounds, has been like a vacation. My personal Spring Break. I figured I'd step up a rung and checked out the offerings at Airbnb.

Hmmmm, spare bedroom in a suburban home? Nah.

A converted detached garage? Maybe, but a bit too cute.

A deconstructivist potting shed? Could be.

Let's see...

Wait, what? A teepee? Absolutely!

No heat, no electricity, shared bath, chickens, horses, dogs, cat, bit of an ocean view... No buffalo robes, but I was snug and happy.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Local flora


I got off the phone with a guy from the Social Security Administration a few minutes ago. I'm all signed up for my retirement benefits. Woo-hoo, I'm officially old.

It was a painless process. The guy even called at the appointed time. Who says government can't do anything right. I'd still be waiting if I were dealing with a plumber, cable installer or doctor.

The first check should be deposited next Wednesday. If I could've held off for three more years I'd be getting about twenty percent more a month. But I can earn up to $15,000 a year without having my benefits cut. And at 65 I can get SSI as well. So I should be fine, unless misanthropic conservatives manage to mess with Social Security.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Another report from the "houseless"

The author of "I Secretly Lived in My Office for 500 Days" had been working two jobs just trying to pay for his Los Angeles apartment. Then he changed everything. And was happier.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Who says the stairway to Heaven goes up?

El Capitan State Beach, California


These birds are all over the campground. Thanks to Google, I learned they're Coastal California Western Scrub Jays. They fist caught my attention when one landed outside the Rolling Steel Tent with a tortilla chip in its mouth. It dropped the chip, pecked at it until it broke into smaller pieces, and then, instead of eating them, it hid them in various spots among the tufts of grass or cracks in the ground.

Life at a campground makes them rather bold. Every now and then one would hop up into the van as if asking, "Got anything here for me? No? See ya." After many attempts, I finally got a photo. This nature photography thing takes patience and luck. And a few tortilla chips.

I wish I'd gotten a shot of the one that flew in the driver window and out the side door

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Feeling the chill?

Let's say it's warm and you're wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Or less. Then the sun goes down and it cools off. A lot. Which are you inclined to cover first: your arms or your legs? Which tends to feel cold first?

I ask because I was observing this at the beach. About 75% went for jackets or sweatshirts first. The rest went for long pants. One guy chose pants but was shirtless. I'm a pants guy. Perhaps because I'm not much of a shorts guy to begin with.

Furthermore, in the morning, when people were crawling out into the damp, chilly coastal morning, they were covered in several layers. Me? I just wore a shirt and pants. I think it's because I live outdoors full time while most of my fellow beach campers were just on weekend outings. They hadn't acclimated. Wimps.

I woke up in a fog

Cachuma Lake, California

Friday, May 1, 2015

Other deities

An offering to or from the god of citrus

Temple of the beach god

Tesla home batteries in your rolling home?

Ooooo, pretty

Yesterday Tesla announced its batteries for home and business applications. If they weren't insanely expensive, would they make sense for the Rolling Steel Tent?

Right now I have two 12-volt 104 amp-hour absorbed glass mat batteries. They cost about $300 each. Together they take up a 13" by 13" by 9" chunk of space in a cabinet. They weigh 66 pounds a piece.

Ooooo, functional

So far, they meet my power needs, running a refrigerator, some lights, and charging my electronics. Oh, and my hair clippers about once a month. Really, that's enough for the way I live now.

The Tesla batteries for homes put out 7 and 10 kilowatt-hours. Since I'm not an electricity wiz and can't convert kilowatt-hours to amp-hours in my head, I had to look it up. So, my batteries are putting out something in the neighborhood of 2 kilowatt-hours. Would I need five times as much power? No. But I know some van and RV dwellers who would. They'd like to run an air conditioner and a freezer and a big audio system and huge TV and a water heater and...

But where would a van dweller put a 4' x 3' x 6" battery? Hmmmm, maybe on the roof, beneath the solar panels? (Are they waterproof?) Ah, but how much of those solar panels would you need to keep a 10 kWh battery charged? A lot.

I don't think the Tesla batteries make sense for van dwellers yet. Perhaps there will be smaller, lower power—and cheaper—versions down the road. I can wait.