Monday, September 24, 2018

Back at Alabama Hills

Although Kennedy Meadows was very nice, I needed cellular service. So I came out of the mountains and headed to good old Lone Pine and Alabama Hills.

Moonrise

Sunrise

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Up into the Sierras again

I learned about Kennedy Meadows when I read Wild. It’s a rest and resupply spot on the Pacific Crest Trail. And, as I learned from studying Google Maps satellite view, the road is paved all the way there. Paved and steep. Steep enough that I needed to stop a couple of times to let the engine cool down. (Good thing I have actual gauges and that I look at them from time to time.)

The Kennedy Meadows campground isn’t much to write about or take photos of, but I discovered a dispersed camping area a little south of the campground with a short trail to the South Fork of the Kern River.

I made the trip because after a week of tolerable temperatures in Kernville it had become too hot. Ninety-something degrees. Since Kennedy Meadows is about 3,500 feet higher it would be cooler. I could handle being a little chilly at night better than roasting in the afternoon. And it was someplace new to me. New is usually good.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Another river

Kern River upstream of Kernville CA

Free camping at Chico Flat, featuring river access, outhouses, dumpsters

Friday, September 21, 2018

Hi, mister ranger

A ranger drove by today. Drove by. Didn’t stop. I like when they don’t stop. It means I’m okay. I knew there was no problem, but I still get a twinge of nervousness around authority figures because some of them let their authority go to their heads.

I grew up with a favorable opinion of rangers because of a local (Washington DC) cartoon show, Ranger Hal. He was sort of Mr. Rodgers in the forest. (Meanwhile, over on another station, Jim Henson was starting his career with his own kid show, “Sam & Friends.”) As you can see, we were easily entertained back then.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

For sure

Career Day, 1969. Part way through one of the presentations I knew for the first time ever, with utter certainty, what I wanted to do with my life.

Yes, that’s it. I could do that. I’d be good at it. I’d enjoy it. Perfect.

I never doubted my choice because in my mind there was nothing to doubt. I just did it. Thirty-seven terrific years. (Well the last two or three years weren’t that great, but that was because the industry had changed.)

I experienced the same clarity when I learned about van dwelling.

Yes, that’s it. I could do that. I’d be good at it. I’d enjoy it. Perfect.

When people considering the nomadic life express doubts, I have to fight the urge to say, “Then it’s not for you.” (Oops, I just said it.)

A lot of nomads forge ahead despite their uncertainty and anxiety, and they discover they can do it, they are good at it, and they do enjoy it.

I worry about the others, though. Particularly those who went all in, who burned their bridges and now there’s no going back. That’s why I don’t try talking anyone into this life and why I feel like I should dissuade those who aren’t at least 85% sure. If you don’t know, don’t go.

Extreme case of, “Where am I?”

I change locations a lot, so sometimes upon waking up there’s a second or two before I open my eyes when I can’t remember where I’ve camped this time.

This morning, while part of my brain was still enjoying my adventures in Dreamland, not only had I forgotten where I was camped, I’d also forgotten I was in my bed, in my van.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Temperature is personal

The laundromat attendant was wearing a T-shirt, sweater and down vest. There was a scarf-ish thing wrapped around her head. The afternoon temperature was in the low 90s outside and the mid 80s inside. No apparent air conditioning. If it weren’t for social conventions and not wanting to gross out my fellow laundry doers, I would’ve been more comfortable naked. Oh well.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Adventures in physiology

A muscle twitch showed up three days ago. It’s just above the left knee, on the inside. According to a muscle chart I found it’s the bottom end of the vastus medialis (a name my spell checker refuses to recognize). The twitches come and go. Sometimes it’s twitch-twitch-twitch-flutter-twitch-twitch. Other times it’s twitch-twitch…… twitch……….. twitch-twitch-twitch… It doesn’t hurt, it’s just one of those old-man’s-body-falling-apart things. Of course, it’s actually a neural thing. A signal is misfiring somewhere. Or a toddler got loose in the brain’s muscle control department and it keeps pounding on the vastus medialis button.

UPDATE: The twitch has moved to my other leg.

I’ve written before about how my hearing is kind of poor in one ear and worse in the other, making it hard to locate the source of sounds—particularly ones happening somewhere in the van while I’m driving. A squeak developed today that had the tonal quality of the warbling ring of ‘90s phones blended with the tinkling of beer bottles rattling together. I finally figured out it was the plastic wall of my refrigerator rubbing against the styrofoam of the insulated box I have it in. Mystery solved.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Impossible!

It’s gospel fact for travelers: gasoline always costs at least forty to fifty cents more per gallon in California thanks to higher state taxes. Smart folks fill up before crossing into the Golden State. That’s what I did this morning in Nevada.

When I stopped for lunch near Sacramento I was stunned to see gas prices lower than what I paid during peak summer travel time in Oregon and Washington, and only a dime higher than what I’d just paid in Reno. This is not how the world is supposed to work.

I know prices are dropping all over the country now that peak summer travel season is over, so the half buck difference in California prices will probably return. In the meantime, I’m just glad I’m not facing four-something-a-gallon gas. At the moment.

Oh, and here’s a handy gasoline price map.

Personal limits

People have little respect for speed limits, right? They will always drive faster. Five over, ten over, whatever they think they can get away with. So when the speed limit is 80 miles per hour, on a wide, smooth highway in the middle of nowhere, with very light traffic, and no cops in sight, everyone will go a hundred or more.

But they don’t. Most of them don’t even do 80. Sure, there’s the occasional dude who’ll fly by, but most drivers are cruising along five to ten miles per hour under the limit. I thought about possible reasons for this as I drove to Reno.

I think drivers reach a speed that feels comfortable, natural. Sort of a sweet spot. “Seventy-three is fine. I’m cool.” Going faster feels like pushing it for no good reason. It harshes their mellow.

However, I noticed something as I got nearer to Reno and traffic grew heavier. Instead of most people driving lower than the speed limit, the general flow increased to about five over the limit.

I don’t think it was because they’d been used to driving 75 and now the limit was 65, because the additional traffic hadn’t been out where the limit was 80.

I think it’s because people get competitive in traffic. They get this urge to pass others, to not be the slow one, to not be the loser.

I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. It’s the affect of crowds. You know the clich├ęs. A country person freaks out in the city because everyone is pushy and aggressive. The city person gets frustrated in the country because everyone and everything m-o-o-o-v-e-s… s-o-o-o… s-l-o-o-o-o-o-o-w-l-y.

Being out in the boonies most of the past five years, away from crowds and traffic and aggression, has been good for my mental health. I have plenty of room and an open road where I can move at my own pace.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Nevada slog

I was a bus passenger the only other time I was on I-80 between Elko and Reno. There are harsher stretches of country, like US-50 across the belly of Nevada, but there’s something about Elko to Reno (or Reno to Elko) that makes it seem twice as far as it is. And unlike the bus trip, I couldn’t sleep to pass the time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Because winter will be here before you know it

There are many nomads who knit and crochet. And some of them worry about keeping their vehicles sufficiently warm. Well, here’s some inspiration.

Another repeat

I camped at Angle Lake, near Wells, Nevada on September 15, 2015. I got snowed on during the night and cut my stay short.

I camped again at Angel Lake last night. The weather was quite pleasant, considering it’s over 8,000 feet up. No snow this time.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Repeat

September 10, 2013, only a couple of weeks into my nomadic life, I camped at City of Rocks National Preserve in southern Idaho.

September 10, 2018 I camped at City of Rocks again.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Old life, new life, and stuff

You can’t take it all with you

When you decide to become a full-time nomad you’re committing to a new life, a different life. The question—and the potential source of problems, disappointments and frustrations—is how different you’re willing to let the new life be.

Do you want it to be essentially the same, just without housing costs and with greater mobility? Or do you want to take the big leap and remake your life from bottom to top, inside and out?

Does becoming a nomad seem like loss to you or like opportunity? Are you giving up so much, or gaining even more?

Life change is easier for some folks because there’s nothing about their old life worth keeping. But for the rest of us, the idealized concept of hitting the road eventually collides with the reality of deciding what to keep and what to let go—of the material goods we surround ourselves with and of the stuff in our hearts and minds.

Okay, let me pull back from the internal stuff before I get too philosophical and spiritual and start babbling about attachments, enlightenment and the meaning of life. That’s your own trip to make. And it’s not what inspired me to write this post. I’ll concentrate on the material world for a moment.

So, there are people preparing for full-time nomading. And they’re sorting their stuff, dividing it into needs and wants until they don’t have too much to fit in their vehicle. I was there.

But a woman who calls herself ChezCheese has proposed a different approach.
Imagine you have nothing. Lost it all. Flood or fire or divorce or the taxman: you have only your van that was parked elsewhere and survived your own private, personal disaster. Drive around in your empty van (I mean in real time now, not in your imagination). A long drive. Go to a national park or some empty place. Sleep in it, with nothing. Maybe you feel cold, or sore, or hungry. Next morning: decide what is most important to have. Get that one thing. 
Spend another day driving, another night sleeping in your empty-except-for-that-one-first-thing van. Next morning, decide what the next most important thing to have is. Get that thing. 
And on, and again, until you realize that you have enough stuff.
Start here

In other words, start by determining your essentials, not by trying to whittle everything down to a manageable pile. Add the wants after you’ve got the needs taken care of.

Or, as George Carlin put it:

Friday, September 7, 2018

Hunch

The phone conversation with Lou was short on details. He said he would be leaving Coos Bay to do some fly fishing on the Owyhee River.

I said, “You’re heading to far eastern Oregon and I’m heading to western Idaho. Let’s meet up.”

“I’ll be downstream of the dam, ” he said. “Just drive until you see me.”

Since he wouldn’t be leaving Coos Bay for a day or two, and since it’s a couple of days driving for him, and since he’d be fishing for at least a few days, I figured I had time to call back for details. But I failed to figure there would be no cell service where he’d be camped. Oops.

I had never been to the Owyhee River and didn’t know how to access it. I saw the town of Owyhee on the map and trusted Google to get me there.

I started having my doubts when Google sent me wandering down farm roads. Go west two miles, turn north for one mile, turn west for seven miles, turn south for five miles, turn west for two miles, turn north for a half mile, turn west for a half mile, turn south for eight miles… At least it didn’t send me east.

Then I happened to see a sign with an arrow pointing left. Lake Owyhee State Park, 25 miles, campground vacancy. I didn’t know if that road would take me to Lou, but I decided to risk it. At least there was a campground in case I didn’t find him.

But I did. It was the right road to the right place. Good guess.

Unfortunately, a few minutes before I arrived, Lou had lost his footing in the river and bashed a shin on a submerged boulder. He was limping and swearing, but still had a bit of humor left.

“It seems like whenever you’re within 200 miles I hurt myself somehow.”

He kept his shin iced and the general swelling was down to just an ugly knot by morning. But Lou felt too gimpy to be wading in the river, so he decided to move on.

“You know, Lou, I’m trying to remember the last time we boondocked together rather than being at someone else’s place while working on projects, like in Redmond, Salem, Ridgway...”

“Probably outside Yuma a couple of winters ago.”

“That sounds right.”

Now the answer to that question would be, “There was that one night on the Owyhee River in September of 2018.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Beggar

I never thought I’d say this

The rising sun illuminates the western peeks

It would be an understatement to say I was never much of a morning person. I hated mornings. Probably because I loved sleeping so much. However, since becoming both an old fart and a van dweller my internal clock has shifted to where I happily wake up around 6:00 a.m. That doesn’t mean I get out of bed, though. It’s still one of my favorite places—especially when it’s 53°F/11.6°C in the van.

Summer is nearly over, the autumnal equinox is just down the road, and there’s less daylight. I haven’t noticed it that much yet in the evenings. I’m a little surprised it’s not totally dark until after 8:15 p.m. or so. But, man, lately it seems like the sun… will… never… rise. It’s even worse when, like today, I’m surrounded by mountains.

I’ve said many times before I’m a huge fan of Daylight Saving Time. I think it should be the standard. But dare I say it? Here goes: I think I’ll be a little glad when we shift back to Standard Time. How about a compromise? Let’s shift just a half hour. A little more sunlight in the morning without losing too much in the evening. Or I could chase daylight southward. How long would it take to drive to Chile?

Monday, September 3, 2018

Particulates

I left Salmon after lunch and headed south on US-93. The original goal had been a free campsite a little south of Challis, but halfway there I saw the sign for Cottonwood Recreation Site. I pulled in to check it out for future reference and decided I liked it enough to stay. It’s only five bucks with the old fart discount. Almost free.

I was in the middle of some serious relaxing when I became aware how clean and fresh the air was. It’s like that out here in the sparsely populated regions.

Then, maybe a half hour later, the folks in an upwind campsite started their toy hauler-hauling diesel Super Duty and let it idle while they gathered up the kids and bid friends goodbye. My air (and the silence) was spoiled.

The air cleared up shortly after they left, un-harshing my mellow. A-a-a-a-a-h-h-h-h.

But then, somewhere else upwind, someone fired up their barbecue. First there was the stink of lighter fluid, followed by the gooey smell of caramelizing barbecue sauce and the sharp scent of carbonizing meat. I appealed to the forces of nature to shift the wind direction. No luck.

So I went into extreme meditation mode (napping) and the air eventually cleared again. A-a-a-a-a-h-h-h-h.

If things like this really bugged me I would avoid campgrounds. But they’re minor, temporary, and give me something to blog about.

Nannies taking the kids down to the river

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Buzzless

Conventional wisdom—at least the wisdom of my friend Vanholio!—says camping by water means camping with mosquitoes.
Guess what else loves water? Mosquitoes! That goes for lakes, ponds, marshes, creeks, rivers, seashore, bays, and the rest. Water equals mosquitoes.
But I’ve been lucky this year. Despite camping by various bodies of water I been bitten on only two nights. Knock on wood.

In addition, the past couple of weeks seems to have been the end of fly season. I’ve been able to have the Rolling Steel Tent’s windows and doors open without needing to constantly swat or spray. There have been occasional flies, but they were the type that flew in, took a look around, then left. They weren’t the type that insist on buzzing around my face. Thank you.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Really, I'm not fixated on vault toilets

This is the only vault toilet I’ve ever seen with a mural. Heidi Messner’s painting elevates the Lemhi Hole river access site from being just a dirt parking lot. Free camping, a place to poop and art? Excellent.

You know, artists often have their work figuratively shat upon by critics, but in this instance...

Watching the water

Friday, August 31, 2018

Still getting used to it

I’ve been using vault toilets for five years, yet it still feels odd, maybe even wrong, that there’s nothing to flush. They should have a lever you flip. It wouldn’t need to do anything except make you feel like you’ve properly completed your business. Maybe it triggers a recording of the usual flushing noise. That would let anyone waiting their turn know you’ll be out in a few seconds.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Whee, I'm a fireman!

Some BLM firefighters pulled into the campground on their way to the "Rabbit Foot" wildfire about twenty-five miles from here. This firetruck was gnarly looking so I took a photo. Jim, the firefighter next to the brand new truck, asked if I wanted my picture taken sitting inside. Of course! Because duh.

More yum

A while back I posted about  the joys of cinnamon peanut butter and suggested ginger peach jam. Then I saw this today and had to get it. Oh my!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

River of confusion

The view from my campsite

Southern Idaho is rather flat and the rest of the state is mountainous. That’s the picture in my head. Water flows downhill. That’s the science in my head.

So it messes with my mind to have this stretch of the Salmon River flowing northward. That seems uphill.

But the actual geography of Idaho is more complex than my simple mental image. (Most things in life are more complex than I think.) That’s why the Salmon starts out flowing north, then turns east, then north again, then west then north and finally south before converging with the Snake River, which is also flowing the wrong way north on its way to the Columbia River.

Morning mist on the water

Oh well. I’ll just stay camped by the Salmon the next few days, watching it flow in the “wrong” direction until my brain realigns with reality.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Where was I?

120 campsites in 356 days

This was going to be a year I wandered less and stayed put longer. It doesn’t look like it, but I succeeded. More places but fewer miles. I doubled back and tripled back less. Yet I managed to not feel fenced in.

With all the wandering I’ve done the past five years, with all the places I’ve seen, I still haven’t found that mythical Perfect Place I’d want to stay the rest of my life. No loss.

Happy vanniversary

Five years ago today the Rolling Steel Tent and I hit the road. I was glad to be on my way. I was excited. I was fearless. I was free.

First evening as a van dweller

It started with a vague idea of spending my retirement traveling in an RV or something. Except I didn’t want an RV. Too big, too limiting. Then I discovered Cheap RV Living and knew immediately a van was the answer. There have been few times in life I’ve been so certain what I wanted, that I could make it happen, and that I’d be happy.

I was right.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Only you can prevent forest fires

This notice means you must light your farts only within the safety of this concrete-and-steel enclosure

Luck favors the prepared mind

And sometimes study, planning, experience and instinct can save you from those moments of having your head up your ass.

Yesterday I decided I wanted to go to Salmon, Idaho. Again. I didn’t stop when I rolled through there a few years ago. It deserved better than that. And my friend, Judy, had given high marks to a certain camping spot by the river. Salmon would be a bit much to drive all in one day from where I was. I could stop a place or two along the way.

I got out my atlases, fired up Google Maps and consulted FreeCampsites.net. Because free is better. Having a strong cell signal would also be nice. I discovered some promising spots north and south of Dillon, Montana, along the Big Hole and Beaverhead Rivers. I would enter the coordinates of the first location in my GPS in the morning.

But I didn’t. Because it was late and I was tired.

On the road, I remembered I hadn’t entered the coordinates, but I would enter them when I stopped for gas and a shower at a truck stop in Butte.

But I didn’t. I think the shower had washed the thought out of my head.

A few minutes south of Butte there was a rest stop. Just after I had passed the off ramp to it I thought, I could’ve pulled in there to enter the coordinates. I should do that soon so I don’t end up backtracking.

I drove on. There was a river off to the right, and a frontage road, and spots very much like what I’d seen in satellite views. My instincts told me I was getting close. “I really should pull off at the next exit, check the map and enter the coordinates.” So I did.

Well, it turned out to be the exact exit I needed. Go five miles down that road and turn left for a quarter mile. Bingo. Free campsite, on the river, plenty of space, far enough from highway noise, and with three bars of 4G. It couldn’t have worked better if I’d planned it.

Not my photo because it’s drizzly today

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Quickie

First there were a few fat drops as if in warning. “Okay, humans, if you have windows or doors open, or non-waterproof things sitting out, or if you’re outside yourself, you have five… four… three… two…”

Then it came down hard for about five minutes, ending with a single roll of thunder. “That’s all for now, folks.”

The region needs rain. For agriculture, for drinking and washing, for relief from wildfires. I don’t begrudge it. Please, just don’t turn to snow until after I’ve gone.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Plan modification

I thought I was going to spend just one day at this free campground on the Yellowstone River. Now I might stay for the rest of the weekend, or until my food runs out, whichever comes first.

Friday, August 24, 2018

This porridge is too hot, this porridge is too cold

Labor Day weekend is coming, the unofficial end of summer and the official start of year six of my nomadic life. The map of my wandering territory reshapes itself again. I shift gears from only fleeing heat to also avoiding cold. The nights are dipping toward freezing in some of the upper latitudes and higher elevations, yet it’s still too hot in much of the West. So I keep cross-referencing Google Maps and long-range weather forecasts.

Speaking of weather, a brief thunderstorm blew through here today. I’ve been trying to remember the last time I experienced one. About a year ago? In Colorado? I think so. Flash boom!