Monday, August 31, 2015

Like trains in the night

The campground for San Onofre State Park is a long strip between the cliffs and the Amtrak line. It's a rather quiet train, not rattly like a freight train. It just rumbles through, almost like it's on tires.

I've been wanting to get a long exposure shot of the train zooming by, but I don't have a schedule handy. I was out shooting night clouds when I heard it coming and whipped the camera around into place. Gotcha!

On the other side of the tracks

San Clemente State Beach

Doot-doot-doo lookin' out my back door

San Onofre State Beach

San Onofre State Beach

Put on some decent shoes, grab the camera, sun hat and walking stick, and follow the trail down the bluffs to the stony beach at San Onofre.

Yesterday, Sunday, there were lots of surfers. Today, only an old battered board.

I saw a long dark object in one of the waves. Sea lion? Shark? Nah, just a clump of kelp.

When the waves draw back from the shore, there's a clattering of rocks being bragged back down the slope. Then the next wave pushes them ashore again.

On the trail

San Onofre bluffs

Saturday, August 29, 2015

I propose a new unit of travel

The other day, when I started up the Rolling Steel Tent, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (the full 17:05 album version) started playing on the stereo, via my old iPod. I wasn't driving far, so I wondered whether I'd arrive before the song finished. I arrived just as the last couple of measures were playing. My destination had been one In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (or IAGDV) away.

Not only is the IAGDV a handy unit of measure, it's a somewhat entertaining one. If you were around in 1968, you could reminisce as you drive—unless the drugs erased part of your memory. You could drum along on the steering wheel. You could sing the organ solo. And before you knew it, you'd be at your destination. Or it would be time to hit the replay button and keep driving.

True, there are longer rock & roll songs, and cases could be made for them being units of travel. But except for part of "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" (which is way too mellow to be driving to) I don't have them on my iPod. So there. Bomp bomp ba-da-da BOMP!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Mechanic's corner

The Rolling Steel Tent has a little over 170,000 miles on it and it's mechanically sound. But the past few week the performance and gas milage have dropped off. It doesn't accelerate like it used to and I have to downshift for even moderate hills. It felt like it was running out of breath.

Running out of breath...


Essential part of the combustion process...


I knew the air filter was good because I'd had it had replaced at the last oil change. When I popped the hood and started poking around the intake system, I saw the problem.

This is part of the intake system of a 2007 Chevy Express van. Air comes in through the mail slot, to the filter inside that drum shaped thing, through the mass air flow sensor (henceforth, MAF), then down a snorkel to the throttle body (way back where it's hard to reach). The setup of other vehicles will look different, but it's the same principle: Air through the filter, into the MAF and onward to the engine.

The air filter is a cylinder, closed at one end and open at the other.  To service it, you pop off the dome on the end of the housing. Putting the filter back in can be a bit of a wrestling match. The open end squeezes over the end of the mass air flow sensor, which sticks into the end of the filter housing.

The "trained service technician" who replaced the filter last time managed to shove the MAF out of the filter housing. Because somewhere along the line, someone had removed the bolts that attach the MAF to the housing. This created a gap between the two. Air—and junk—was bypassing the filter. Not good.

Here are the air filter housing and MAF removed from the Rolling Steel Tent

Here's a view down the filter housing with the filter removed. Besides the bugs, seeds and bits of vegetable matter trapped in the MAF's screen, plain old dust and dirt had clogged the MAF's sensors.

The MAF measures the amount of incoming air so that the engine computer can tell how much gasoline the fuel injectors should supply for a proper mixture. The MAF can't do its job right when it's dirty. Symptoms of a dirty MAF include sluggish power and lower fuel milage—my symptoms.

So I blasted the inside of the MAF with MAF cleaner. Don't use carb cleaner or any other fluid. They can destroy the MAF.

With everything (except the bolts) back in place, you can see how the MAF is supposed to snug up against the housing. Until I can get the correct size bolts, the squeeze fit of the filter should hold it in place, like it had before the knucklehead got his hands on it.

So, you might want to double-check that your air filter is properly positioned. And it's a good thing to clean the MAF once in a while, like annually. After all, you'll have all that left over cleaner to use up.

Oh, and if a mechanic tells you he needs to replace your MAF instead of just cleaning it, it's because the profit on a new MAF is greater. Ask if he has actually tested the MAF.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

So, another year of wandering

I vowed to myself at the start of my second year in the Rolling Steel Tent that I'd wander less and stay put more. I did, mostly thanks to hanging with Lou in Oregon for a good chunk of the summer and bad weather elsewhere. Still, the itchy feet had to be accommodated. The map below shows all the places I spent at least a night.

The sites include boondocking, paid campgrounds, hotels/motels and crashing with friends. Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Baja California were in my original plans. Hey, there's always next year. Or the year after.

Here's the year broken into digestible chunks.

At the end of last August I was staying on BLM land near Mammoth Lakes, California, enjoying a cluster of hot springs there. My friend, Lesa, put out a distress call, so got my ass to Cottonwood, Arizona (by way of Yuma, to restock medications). After helping Lesa get her trailer roadworthy, we traveled through New Mexico, exploiting that state's annual park pass. Lesa hunkered down in Elephant Butte while I took a side trip to Marfa, Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Lou joined us in Elephant Butte and the three of us made our way across southern Arizona and on to the Quartzsite/Ehrenberg area where, in mid-October, we went our separate ways.

I spent October through January moving in a circuit between Quartzsite, Ehrenberg and Yuma, with a side trip, via Slab City, to see my friend in Los Angeles. I joined up with others for Thanksgiving, Christmas and RTR. I juggled my conflicting needs to be with people and to be alone.

February started to feel like spring, and spring means traveling to me. So I took off to Roosevelt Lake. Then I joined up with Lou and Jo in Ajo for a while. I made another run to Los Angeles at the end of February, then spent time in the Anza-Borrego Desert before reconnecting with Jo and Lou in Wickenburg, Arizona. I took another side trip to check out Bob's boondocking site north of Chino Valley, then rejoined Lou and Jo near Congress, Arizona. From there we went to Joshua Tree where we discussed future traveling plans. I was jonesing for some beach time, so I split off for Carpinteria, California. In the meantime, Jo and Lou had gone on to Lone Pine, California. I met up with them there at the end of March.

From Lone Pine, the three of us moved on to Death Valley. For several weeks, Lou had been wanting to get to Redmond, Oregon, and start work on his trailer modifications. It had been brutally cold there, but he couldn't wait any longer. Jo decided to go visit friends in New Mexico. I headed off on my own again to check out the southern tip of Nevada. Then it was back to the ocean at Newport Beach, California. I was going to lend Lou a hand, but I wasn't as motivated to plunge into the still-freezing nights in Redmond. I figured I'd make my way up the east side of the Sierras as weather allowed. I went back to Lone Pine, then on to Bishop. But up ahead was nothing but cold weather, so I retreated to the Kern River at the end of April.

I decided that if the Sierras were going to be too cold, then I'd take a coastal route north, using a combination of state parks and places I found on Airbnb. Once I got near San Jose, the cold spell had broken in Redmond, so I made the run in two days, stopping for the night at the Walmart in Redding.

By mid-June, the trailer renovation had reached a point where two sets of hands weren't necessary. Also, Jo had arrived. She could be an extra hand if needed. I was ready to travel some more, because now it was uncomfortably hot in Redmond. I had passed quickly through the northeast part of California the pervious year and wanted to spend some more time there. Also, northeastern Oregon looked interesting. And cooler. By the time I got to Joseph, Oregon, serious heat was about to set in and the only nice weather in the entire West was at the coast. So off I went, returning to Redmond after Independence Day.

Another bad heatwave hit in the middle of July, so I took a short side trip into the Cascades. By the end of July, Lou didn't need help anymore and I had finished my own projects. Time to hit the road again. I wanted to go all the way down the coast (where it was cool and relatively wildfire-free) starting in Astoria, Oregon. (Washington doesn't draw me, for some reason. I've been there before and... eh. Don't know why.)

Now, here I am at the end of Year 2, in San Diego County. I made my dash to get medications in Los Algodones and I'm about to turn north again. I have reservations at a hostel in San Francisco. After that, I don't know yet. Maybe Truckee. Maybe the Rockies for the changing of the leaves. We'll see.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mission Beach

The forecast said mid-90s for where I'm camped, near Ramona, California. Why suffer the heat when the beach is just a short drive away? Fog clearing before noon, five-to-ten mile per hour breeze, people to watch. And plentiful free parking.

And a roller coaster.


Mission Beach, San Diego

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Calling it a day

Dos Picos County Park, Ramona, California

Got that taken care of

I headed out early for Los Algodones to get more meds. Tecate was closer, but my research had me thinking the border wait might be annoyingly long. I'd much rather be driving for four hours than standing in line for two. I was in and out of Los Algodones in five minutes. Got some lunch and cheaper Arizona gas and I was on my way back.

The surprise was the rain. An occasional drizzle. It kept it from being 110°. Instead it was about 85° and 85% humidity. Whee, I was in the jungle instead of the desert. Go figure.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Night creeping

The moon lights up some clouds

Another opportunity to straighten up the van

Since I'm going to Mexico tomorrow, it would be wise to get out my passport and have it handy. So I opened the box where I keep important documents and... the passport wasn't there.

Okay, it's somewhere else in the Rolling Steel Tent. So I started a search. Other boxes? The cabinet? The pocket of my overnight bag? (Okay, there's the photocopy of my passport, but I want the real thing.) A jacket pocket? The storage cubby on the engine cover? The backpack? The boxes inside the boxes? I got more worried as I ran out of places to look.

Pause a moment. Gather my wits (what I have of them). Start over.

I looked in the document box again. There it was. It had somehow slipped between the folds of other papers. Okay. Problem solved, anxiety level down, van neater.

At least I went through this exercise in the pleasant surrounding of the campground instead of in the border parking lot in 100+ heat.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dang, I forgot my horse

When I selected a campsite at Sweetwater Summit Regional Park online, I looked for one with room around it, away from the playground but not too far from the restroom and showers. I didn't know it was among the sites for those with horses. So I have a small corral in addition to the usual amenities. And some scattered hay, both before and after having passed through a horse. But I'll take horses over ATVs any day.

Sweetwater Summit is east of San Diego, north of Tijuana. It's a suburban park with camping. I'm guessing that a few decades ago it was way out in the boonies.

Today's temperature was at the upper end of comfortable. A breeze kept things nice. A marine layer will probably drift in during the night and not burn off until mid-morning— your typical coastal Southern California summer weather pattern. It brings back memories.

Oooo, a view of the suburbs

For educational purposes only, not for camping

Friday, August 21, 2015


This past winter, Lou and I had started the process to get Burning Man tickets. Then he calculated the rough cost of extending his trailer and decided he couldn't afford to go this year. I didn't want to go alone, so...

Now the Playa is infested with bugs. Some are stink bugs, others want to suck moisture from your skin. They're everywhere. It's an annoying mess. It's not a plague of biblical proportions, but add the insects to the usual awful heat and dust, and it looks like we lucked out.

Meanwhile, in a more pleasant part of the country, a spider or two made dinner out of my left earlobe and right hand. The lobe has swollen to about the size of a grape. The hand is puffy, too. Not as bad as the bee sting I suffered this spring, but much itchier. The insects are out to get us.


Oil prices are falling again. Now, maybe, I can allow myself to run the air conditioning while I drive. I mean, I like driving with the window open whenever the weather allows. Fresh air is better than what comes through the vents. But sometimes (like during my upcoming drive to Yuma and back) I just need to get decadent.

Mistaken for homeless

I'm in a grocery parking lot, having just stocked up on food. The side door is open and I'm online. A couple of minutes ago, a guy walked up and said, 'Hey guy, you want some snacks?"

"No thanks, I'm fine."

"It's some cookies, chips and stuff."

I figured he might be roaming the parking lot giving away promotional samples. "Uh, (shrug) okay."

He dropped a crumpled up bag of things on the floor of the Rolling Steel Tent and wished me a good day.

Oooo, Milanos

Oh! I get it now. He thought I was in need, that I must be in bad shape living out of a van and all. Well, I guess it made him feel better. Can't go criticizing good Samaritans.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Momento of more financially flush times

These markers are every mile or two along US101 (where I spent several hours driving today). They're on both sides of the highway. That means there are hundreds of them. They were originally placed by the El Camino Real Association which must have had funds burning holes in their pockets back in the 20th century. At least they saved a few bucks making the bells from cast iron instead of bronze.

The bells were prone to theft, so the state decided to step in as caretakers, replacing bells whenever they went missing. Imagine a state legislature today saying, "Sure, why not. We'll allocate funds every year for something nonessential." There must have been some heavy-duty lobbying to make that happen. At least the replacements were made of concrete to save money and make them less attractive to thieves.

Furthermore, claiming US101 follows the historic El Camino Real is playing fast and loose with the facts. As this article explains:
The message implied by the presence of the mission bells -- that motorists' tires trace the same path as the missionaries' sandals -- is largely a myth imagined by regional boosters and early automotive tourists.
What? Businesses making things up to attract customers? Unheard of!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Starless star photos

Overcast + city lights + long exposures

A gloriously noisy campsite

I knew there was race weekend camping available at Laguna Seca. I'd been there before for Superbike and vintage car races. I didn't know camping was available all other times, too, until I stumbled across it while searching Monterey County Parks' site.

WOO! Thank you Internet.

And what luck! I got a site overlooking Turn 6, where they blast up the hill, full on the throttle, into the back straight.


The view from the Rolling Steel Tent. No telephoto lens necessary.

Today some Ferrari owners are having a track day. Some are showroom stock, some are tricked out, and there are a couple of vintage race cars to put the others to shame.

All the noise stopped, then a wrecker and EMT truck came by. Some rich guy must have run off course and messed up his toy. That's racin'. Now they're back at it.

Oh, and the weather is perfect, too.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Things change

Back in the days I lived in San Francisco you handed your toll for the Golden Gate Bridge to someone in a booth. And you cursed those in front of you who didn't have their toll ready to go. Now, I discovered, the process is all digital. There are several ways to do it, none of which I knew. There were no instructions except NO CASH ACCEPTED, and traffic kept rolling through. So I rolled through, too. Whether I was supposed to or not.

Well, no cops gave chase. I assumed a photo was snapped, though. I assume all vehicles are photoed in this post-9/11 world. If they know I didn't pay, what would they do? I'm an out-of-stater. A tourist. An old fart. I'm not savvy to the ways of contemporary San Francisco. I should get a break, right? I mean, the bureaucratic energy that would be spent sending me a ticket and trying to collect on it would exceed the amount of the toll. Can't make money that way.

I imagine they do let a lot of out-of-state vehicles slide by. But my natural guilty conscience and my abiding civic pride as a former citizen of The City drove me to get online and find out what the deal is. Now they have my $7.25 and I can sleep without fear of being rousted by bridge cops.

Sponge hat

My cotton canvas Eddie Bauer hat is odd. It acts like a desiccant, sucking moisture from the air, even though I keep it in a dry place. It's not just the bill that's damp. The crown is, too. Maybe the hat has sweat glands.

Mendocino coast star photo

Sometimes I know what to expect with a star photo. other times I'm pleasantly surprised. Such was the case last night. I've been wanting to do a star photo by the ocean, but it's rare to have the necessary conditions, which mostly means no fog or overcast.

The fog hadn't rolled in yet and the Milky Way was high in the sky. I set up on the edge of the bluff, hoping to get some sort of ocean image in the shot. It was really dark. Too dark, alas, for the water to show. A little moonlight wold have helped. But the Milky Way looked terrific.

Then in the middle of a 25-second exposure, a car came down the highway. What would that do to my shot? This:

Sometimes I get lucky

Farther down the coast

Back when I lived in San Francisco, rode motorcycles and drove nimble cars, Highway 1 was fun. And a spectacular view. The view is still great, but driving it in a van is not that enjoyable. But I did it anyway because I wanted to get to Westport-Union Landing state park—a strip of primitive campsites on the bluff between the highway and the ocean.

The view from the Rolling Steel Tent

Besides the spectacular location, an excellent thing about Westport-Union Landing is that it's a first-come-first-served, no-reservations campground. So if a spot is empty, it's available. There were quite a few to choose from. Also, the narrow, twisty nature of Highway 1 tends to keep the big RVs away. Yay.

And, of course, sunsets