Sunday, December 17, 2017

Not deaf yet

I was reading in the Rolling Steel Tent. It was chilly and the doors and windows were closed, so it was very quiet. I became aware of a soft sound that resembled the pickity-tickety of a hard drive as its heads flicked back and forth. It was combined with a hollow ping-a-ta-plink sound. What was it? Where was it coming from?

The sound disappeared as I moved toward the front of the van and returned as I moved toward the back, but it got softer at the very rear. It got fainter as I sat more upright and louder as I scrunched down. Ah-ha! There it was, right next to my good ear. An open can of diet cola.

Carbonation bubbles were popping in the can, bouncing around. The can and the metal shelf it sat on amplified and distorted the sound.

The can had been open for a while, so it was releasing only dozens of bubbles at a time instead of billions. The soda-to-empty-can ratio determined the pitch.

Life in the Rolling Steel Tent has been a series of mysterious sounds, from flopping bungee cords, to a cracked roof rack, to a mouse, to things going on in my own body. Now, if only I could do something about the voices.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Silliness isn't necessarily silly

The big brains at FritoLay decided the world needed football shaped Tostitos. How had we ever been able to enjoy tailgating or game watching without them?

Ah, but this chip design can be more than a marketing gimmick. The shape is better than ordinary Tostitos, better than Tostitos rounds or mini rounds, even better than Tostito scoops for getting down to the bottom of a jar of Newman's Own salsa. Narrow enough, long enough, yet still fits into the bottom corner of the jar.

The van dwelling old bachelors who believe in not dirtying any dishes unnecessarily and therefore eat straight from jars when possible thank FritoLay for this wonderful invention. We will weep when football season is over, because chips shaped like basketballs or hockey pucks just won't do the trick.

Small accident

Lou had made more additions to his spot at Coyote Howls East RV Park while I was gone. He was working on this windbreak when he stumbled and punched a hole in his ankle with the Phillips bit in his cordless drill. Blood, pain, more blood. And pain and blood. And pain. Friends rushed to his aid. When I arrived a few hours later he was sitting in the shade with the bleeding stopped and the ankle bandaged.

Today he went to the clinic in Ajo to have the pros look at it. They cleaned it without the benefit of anesthetic (there are a lot of nerves in the ankle, so more pain), disinfected it, dressed it and gave him a prescription for antibiotics. Lou's gimping around with a cane and he has an ankle brace that makes things feel better.

Let this be a lesson, kids. This kind of thing doesn't happen when you remain a nomad instead of settling in somewhere. Well, things happen, just different things.


Avner Geller draws cartoons of overheard conversations. Heaven forbid van dwelling should ever get too "glampy."

Into the not-so-wild

US 50 in Nevada, the Loneliest Road in America

When Easterners come to the West for the first time they’re often blown away by its vastness. My father used to quip, "It’s nothing but miles and miles of miles and miles." Author Joel Garreau dubbed it The Empty Quarter. Population density is a fraction of either coast. In a lot of places it’s zero. Between the major metro areas, off the Interstates, it’s possible to drive for hours and see only a handful of other vehicles.

That can be intimidating. Where is everybody? Where is everything? Where are the familiar signs of civilization that help us feel comfortable, confident and secure? Where can I get a decent bagel?

Or it can be liberating. Ah, free at last from the crowds and the crap of modern America!

But the West isn’t as remote and desolate as some might fear and others might hope. For example, there is nowhere in the Lower 48 that’s more than 107 miles from a McDonald’s. That means there are people in the area to work at McDonald’s. It means there are enough customers—locals and travelers—to keep a McDonald’s in business. It means at least a little civilization. (Whether you consider McDonald's a civilized way to eat is another matter.)

So, if you want to get away from It All, you’ll need to really work at it, often on foot. Or if you never want to be too far from civilization, there’s a Big Mac just down the road.

McDonald's 27.3 miles from this spot

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Back to Buckeye

It was Thanksgiving the last time I was here and Buckeye Hills Regional Park was only partly full. I was lucky to find a spot today. Serious snowbird season has started.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A mystery

As an introvert, I don’t understand how extroverts can throw themselves into a group of strangers and start making friends. It’s even harder to understand why they would do that. Because one of the main sources of anxiety for introverts is if we make the effort to expand our social circle, if we go meet new people, we’ll end up in the orbit of someone we discover we don’t like. Someone who wants to be our friend. Someone we wish would go away and leave us alone.

What do extroverts do in that situation? Does extroversion include the innate ability to tell undesirables, “Sorry, I don’t want to be your friend?” Does the extrovert’s entourage close ranks and block the persona non grata? Is it just a vibe they give off?

Most of the friends I’ve made since becoming a nomad are introverted to some degree. We have interests in common, we share world views and, most importantly, we understand each other’s need for alone time. I slowly expand my circle of friends through my existing friends. If they like someone, I probably will too. It’s sort of a pre-qualifying filter that eliminates those I’d end up running from. Or wanting to punch in the face. (Introverts can become violent—or at least very cranky—when cornered.)

A friend once postulated that everyone becomes less social with age, because we just don’t want to put up with everyone’s crap anymore. Life is too short. So while old fart extroverts might not transform into authentic introverts, they could become sufficiently introvert-ish to be accepted as honorary members of the club.

Water-propelled truck, right?

Keeping down the dust on American Girl Mine Road

Monday, December 11, 2017


I swatted a fly on the dashboard. It did a triple backflip right into my wastebasket. So considerate.

Surf's up

Back during the van craze of the '70s, when I had neither a van nor money, I thought it would be so cool to cover a van with the famous Japanese painting of a tsunami. The perfect thing for a surfer van, dudes.

Well, now I have a van but not much money. But I have Photoshop. So...

Sunday, December 10, 2017

How dry I am

From time to time on nomad forums the discussions turn to mold, mildew, leaks and other moisture problems. Not to get all superior and stuff, but those aren’t problems for me. That isn’t because I’ve taken special precautions or have vigorous moisture-fighting routines. It’s just that I spend most of my time in arid places.

One reason I became a wandering van dweller was to flee the Humidity Belt. One reason I was thrilled to sell the house was the chronic mildew in the crawl space and mossy stuff growing on exterior woodwork. I needed to dry out—and not in the alcoholic sense.

I. Like. Dryness. The Rolling Steel Tent and its contents like dryness, too.

So if your nomadic plans have you traveling mostly in arid regions, and you aren’t the type to spill all over the place or drive into large bodies of water, ignore all the warnings and advice about moisture problems. But stay hydrated.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Pet sharing

Tony explores the Rolling Steel Tent

Certified organic H2O

On the right is a jug of water fresh from the store shelf. On the left is a jug I refilled a few weeks ago from Lou's charcoal-filtered tap at Coyote Howls East RV park. It has spent time in the sun and we can see something other than pairs of hydrogen atoms bonded with oxygen atoms. Some kind of greenish stuff. Algae, maybe. Or Martian urine. (Hey, weird things happen in the desert, so you never know.) Whatever it is hasn't hurt me. Yet.

Maybe I should decant it into designer bottles and sell it as extra special, all-healing, organic super water. I could sprinkle a little sand in it for authenticity. Extra minerals, dudes. Exceeds your daily requirement for quartz, basalt and feldspar. You'll live to a hundred and twenty.

Test fire

A little dusty and dented, but still working

It's that time of year when van dweller forum discussions turn to heaters, the pros and cons of various types, dangers real and imagined, and so on.

After my disappointing test of a second-hand Coleman Sport Cat heater, and after all the handwringing on the forums, I figured I'd drag my Mr. Heater Portable Buddy from under the bed and see if it still functioned—before I really needed it.

It fired right up, first try, and the Rolling Steel Tent was toasty in less than a minute. I love it when things go right.

Friday, December 8, 2017

West is best

To all the people who keep hyping winters in Florida, "Nope. Not in the near future, anyway."


I changed the bedding this morning. Doing that requires me to access one end of the bed through the back door, which lets in plenty of cool, fresh desert air. It’s a nice way to jump start the day. Whoo, brisk. It also makes the bedding seem cleaner, crisper. I like it so much I think I’ll take a nap.

Unsealed beam

Well dang. A rock chip in one of my headlights. It's not much of a problem, though. It can keep on working for a long time as long as water doesn't get in and damage the filament. The chances of that happening are very low in the desert.

I rarely drive at night anymore anyway. Not out of any discomfort about driving in the dark. I just haven't need to.

All the same, I'll pick up a new light the next time I make a supply run. It's just another van dweller maintenance item. But I'd rather deal with things like this than maintain a house.

Thursday, December 7, 2017


My friend Forrest was cleaning out his shop this summer and asked if I wanted this Coleman Sport Cat catalytic propane heater. It was missing the base, but…

Sure, I thought. My Mr. Heater Portable Buddy is kind of overkill for me because I’m seldom in really cold places. A small heater might do the trick. All I had to do was get a bottle of propane and wait for chilly weather so I could test it. The opportunity came last night.

The knob on the Sport Cat has curious markings. Light bulbs? Turn the knob clockwise and it moves out. Turn it counterclockwise and it moves in, which is backwards of screws and seems to have no relation to the markings. So I winged it, held the lighter to the mesh, and whoosh. Okay, it was lit.

I waited.

The specs say the output of the Sport Cat is 1,500 BTUs. For comparison, the low setting on the Portable Buddy is 4,000 BTUs. So I knew the Sport Cat wouldn’t be a blast furnace.

I held my hand over the heater. Mmmm, it seemed to be putting out heat. I moved my had closer. Yup, heat.

I waited some more.

How long would it take to warm more than the column of air directly above it when the van was (let me check) 56°F?

I waited some more.

I did some reading.

After about a half hour there was no noticeable change in the van’s interior temperature. This might explain why Forrest was willing to part with it. Hey, it was free.

I originally thought I’d pass the Sport Cat along if I met another van dweller who needed heat, but now I think it would be kind of cruel giving someone false hope.

Of course, a sample of only one unit isn't scientific. This heater might have been bad while all the others work great. Still, this one is going to the big landfill in the sky with all the other discontinued Coleman propane products.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

21st century ruins

Stone structures like this dot the desert Southwest. The people who constructed them date to the early 21st century or possibly the middle-to-late 20th century and probably had cultural—if not biological—connections to the builders of nearly identical stone rings in other parts of North America. We know from artifacts scattered at these sites that the stonework was associated with the consumption of manufactured food and alcoholic beverages. Ashes inside the masonry rings might be from cooking fires, though it is believed actual cooking had fallen out of fashion by the time of these ruins. Others believe the fires were used primarily for ceremonial and social purposes instead. A third hypothesis suggests the ashes are from roofs that once covered the structures. Some sites are littered with spent ammunition which may be from battles over territorial rights. Such battles might explain the burned roofs.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Another day, another desert

Well, it's actually the same place I was last week and several other times the past four years.

Someone messed with the stone spiral. I think they "borrowed" stones from it to make fire rings. I know the spiral isn't official art, just something someone took the time to make and others appreciated enough to leave alone. I guess I'll be doing some restoration tomorrow.

Proper spacing

My closest neighbor here at the Hi Jolly dispersed camping area is about twenty-five yards to the west. And there’s a guy tent camping about thirty yards to the east. Nice and roomy. No encroachment. Enough vegetation between us to maintain a little privacy. Excellent boondocking etiquette.

Then a couple in a 40-foot RV, towing a car, cruised through looking for a spot. They stopped with their “towd” right in front of my neighbor’s tent.

Granted, it’s a small tent, and green like the bushes, so it wasn’t as easy to see as the yellow four-person tent on the other side of the camping area. But it wasn’t invisible—if one was paying attention.

The tent guy was away, so I walked over to explain the situation to the RV driver before he could deploy his levelers and slide outs.

“This area is already taken. There’s a tent back there.”


“Next to that bush. Your car is right in front of it.”

“It’s okay, I’ll move the car.”

“He still needs to get his car in there. Besides, you’re really crowding him. Why not move about half way down to the next rig so everyone has some privacy?”

Mr. RV was far from happy, but he moved—running over a waist-high creosote bush in the process.

The other people here with large rigs are observing etiquette. Lots of space, except when they’re clustered with friends in micro-villages. So this guy’s behavior isn’t universal with big RV owners.

See, proper spacing

Maybe no one has ever explained things to him. Maybe his concept of “space” has been grossly distorted by campgrounds and RV parks so cramped your slide outs nearly touch your neighbors’ and you can hear each other pee. Or maybe he’s just too self-absorbed to see beyond his own desires. I can give slack to cluelessness, but narcissism gets my hackles up.

Who knows. Maybe he’s blogging about the self-important jerk who chased him from a perfectly good camping spot.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Local flora

Minimalism is a luxury

I was a middle-class guy with a college education and a decent income. I had a house, a car, a truck, two motorcycles, foreign vacations, original art on the walls and a newly renovated kitchen. I ate well. I slept well. I was sufficiently healthy. I had good credit. I paid all my bills. I had security, safety and very few significant worries.

And I gave it up.

Because it was one of the perks of being a middle-class guy. I had options. I could choose.

Meanwhile, there are millions of people who have none of that. They aren’t poor by choice. They aren’t minimalists. They aren’t rebelling against a consumerist culture. They want to be part of it. They dream of having disposable income. They think I’m insane.

So I’m going to stop talking about minimalism as if it’s a superior way to live. In fact, I think I’ll stop talking about it all together. It’s insulting to those struggling to survive.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Super-ish moon

Yay for telephoto lenses

Speaking of material things to worry about

I have a Dometic CF-25 refrigerator/freezer. I know, if I were more of a minimalist I would make do without it, eating and drinking things that didn’t require refrigeration. But cold beverages and not needing to replace ice are things that really matter to me.

The fridge is my biggest consumer of electricity. Since there’s less sunlight in winter to charge my house batteries, and therefore less power to run anything other than the fridge, I tried an experiment.

Other van dwellers with setups similar to mine turn the fridge off at night. True, it’s cooler at night so a well insulated fridge should be able to hold temperature fairly well. But well enough? Let’s find out.

The temperature raised degree overnight. No problem.

When I turned the fridge back on at about 10:00AM the error light started blinking. Uh-oh. What did that mean? I turned the fridge off and on again. Still the blinking light. I disconnected and reconnected the power. Still blinking.

The manual is in a box under the bed but I didn’t feel like digging it out, so I found the manual online. It told me:

Um, okay, but what is it symptomatic of? Do I need to do something or will it get ready on its own? Is it the manufacturer’s translated-from-Swedish way of saying, “You Americans are always in a hurry. Relax, have some gravlax. These things will sort themselves out.” Or does it mean it’s time to give the fridge a Viking funeral?

I searched online for deals on replacements, just in case. Yikes, prices have gone up.

I checked the fridge again, in case it had decided it was ready. The light was still blinking.

I distracted myself with some puttering around and straightening up.

Then the error light was off and all was once again right with my world. My Dometic CF-25 just isn’t a morning person. I can live with that.

The other minimalism

I’m not a hardcore minimalist. I’ve simply come to the realization I need less stuff than I thought I did in order to be happy and contented. And I’ve learned less stuff equals fewer things to care for, to make room for, to carry from place to place. And that makes me a little more free.

But my flavor of minimalism goes beyond material goods. It’s also about mental and emotional decluttering. It’s about deciding what really matters to me.

The world is filled with people eager to tell us what matters. Yes, some of it is very important. Some of it is worth fighting and dying for. But way too much of it is trivial.

If we aren’t mindful we can get mired in things that don’t really matter to us. When we do, we give power to those trivialities. We spend more of our limited lives anxious, upset, offended, hateful… over what, really?

I’m not proposing you stop caring about things that really do matter to you. I’m suggesting you do an inventory and ranking. Are there things in the It Matters pile that don’t really serve a purpose in your life? Anything that’s counterproductive? Anything you realize you get way too worked up about?

Sure, it gets complicated when the things that matter to us conflict with the things that matter to people who matter to us. (Follow that?) Does it matter that you disagree? Does it matter that you pretend, for the sake of the relationship, that something that matters to you doesn’t matter, or that something that doesn’t matter does matter? Does the relationship matter more? (This is why I’m not good at relationships.)

Do I care whether you become more selective about what matters to you? Mmmmm, not enough that it matters.

Thursday, November 30, 2017


Gray days like this bum me out. As if having less daylight to begin with weren't enough. It's supposed to clear up in a couple of days, but then the winds come. Maybe I can read my way to a less gloomy place.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Hidden treasure

I found some money today. Not in the league with a pirate chest of doubloons or D. B. Cooper's hijack loot. But money all the same.

An insect had gnawed on me enough it warranted some Neosporin and a bandage. When I opened the Band Aid box (cardboard, not the great old tin containers) I was surprised to find a small portrait of Ulysses S Grant. A $50 bill.

Oh, yeah. I vaguely remembered stashing it and some other cash in various places in the Rolling Steel Tent before one of my visits to Mexico. I wonder what happy monetary surprises are yet to come.

There was a brief debate between myself and myself whether the money should go into my wallet or back into hiding. In the end, I folded the bill back up and hid it in another place I'll forget about for a year or more.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Banking on it

My Social Security check gets deposited the second Wednesday of each month. That means sometimes a "month" is four weeks long and sometimes it's five. This is one of those long months. November 8 to December 13. The fact November hath thirty days doesn't help much. So, I gotta watch the money a little closer. No splurging on Christmas.

I'm a big fan of changing to thirteen 28-day months with New Year's Day being its own thing. And an extra check each year.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Wrapping up another day in the desert

Well, that wasn't good for mileage

I pulled into the border parking lot at Los Algodones, strolled through the port of entry and made my way past the hawkers, vendors and beggars to my favorite taco cart. I waited while they fried up the shrimp just for me then assembled the tacos. I ate them slowly, savoring every bite. Then I retraced my steps to a pharmacy where I stocked up on my medications at ridiculously low prices. I moseyed back through the hawkers, vendors and beggars to the border. I was fifth in line. I was stuck behind slow walkers on my way back to the parking lot, but I was in no hurry. I rolled my eyes and shook my head as I approach the Rolling Steel Tent. I had left the engine running. But at least I had locked the doors.

The van engine is rather quiet, and my hearing isn't that great, so if my mind is on other things (like making sure I have my passport) and my automatic pattern of stop, put it in park, turn it off and remove the key it gets sidetracked.

It's not the first time this has happened and it probably won't be the last. That's why I have a spare key hidden under the van.

For those who worry about the wisdom of leaving your vehicle parked at the border, no bad guys came along, discovered my running van, smashed a window and drove away in it.

Friday, November 24, 2017


I stepped out into the desert night a little before midnight. The sky was not simply cloudless, it was flawless, as if the atmosphere had ceased to exist. The blackness was like a freshly waxed and buffed grand piano. The stars were extra sharp, digitally enhanced. Only the brightest ones were visible, though. The glow from Yuma overpowered the background of trillions of fainter stars—even the Milky Way—leaving Gemini, Orion and Taurus standing out like a simplified diagram of the constellations. Betelgeuse winked a red-eyed, "Good evening."

I turned and looked east, north, west, straight up. The sky. Was. Massive. Well, of course it is, but the universe looks even bigger, emptier, more distant, when only a fraction of the stars can be seen. A night sky without any interfering ground light looks......busy. Closer. More intimate. Amazing in a different way.

I'm going to go out and look some more.

Pushing my (bad) luck

I ran over my first step stool like this at Slab City. I drove away from Morro Strand State Park without the replacement I'd bought. Then I made a nice wooden version, which I ran over near Sedona. I made a quick and dirty replacement that I backed over in Colorado. Only one leg was messed up, so I repaired it, but it was an ugly thing.

Since I was passing through Quartzsite again, where I bought the other two fancy aluminum steps (K&B Tools in one of the tents on Kuehn Street), I figured I'd give it another try. It has been a little over three hours and I haven't harmed it yet.

People are sick

So, it’s flu season. Get your vaccinations, blah blah blah, read this for all the details you could ever want.

As for me? I’ll be fine. Probably.

Back when I worked in an office I used to get the flu once or twice a year.

When I worked at home flu would get me every couple of years.

Now that I’m a nomad, I’ve caught the flu once in four years.

There's a pattern there.

Being in close proximity with people who are around other people who are around still more people increases one’s chances of catching whatever is going around. Being an introverted nomad out in the boonies radically decreases one’s chances of exposure to viruses.

So if you’ve been around someone who has been around someone who was sick, stay away from me.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

This is bugging me

The weather is still warm enough here in southern Arizona that I can have doors and windows open for a couple of hours after dark. The trouble, of course, is that lights in the van attract moths and other nocturnal flying insects.

It would be one thing if they just flew around the lights, but they also land on me and crawl around. It’s annoying. It tickles. And there’s a type of moth that likes to flutter along the inside of my upper arm. Always the right arm. Sometimes one will land on the inside of my eyeglasses. And tonight a tiny mantis landed on the keyboard.

Stop! It! Or I’ll get out the Raid and you’ll all be sorry.

You say goodbye, I say hello

My friend Linda commented on a post about moving down the road:
Do you think if we run fast enough we can run away from ourselves?
I replied:
Maybe I’m trying to catch up with myself.
When the idea of becoming a nomad started growing in me, I was living in Charlotte, North Carolina and not enjoying it. The South wasn’t right for me. And home ownership was becoming totally wrong for me. I wasn’t living the life I wanted. I wasn’t being me.

My true self was out there somewhere. It had packed its bindle and waved a one-finger goodbye years before, when I wasn’t paying attention.

So I declared retirement, sold that prison masquerading as The American Dream, and took off.

My true self was sitting by the side of a blue highway, waiting for me. He opened the side door of the Rolling Steel Tent and jumped in before I could come to a complete stop.

“What took you so long?” he asked. “Let’s go.”

Campground people

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Over the river and through the desert

As I drove north from Why AZ on Highway 85, there was a lot of traffic heading south, to the border. So much for going to Grandmother's house for Thanksgiving—unless she lives in Mexico. Or maybe a lot of grannies were tired of cooking for the whole clan and decided to spend it on the beach instead.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tomorrow I head elsewhere

Though I've enjoyed Lou's company (and acting skills) and having flush toilets and 25¢ hot showers, I have the ache to move on. Somewhere.


There's a miniature golf corse of sorts at Coyote Howls RV Park where people with nothing better to do can go torture themselves.