Saturday, April 21, 2018

Here to there and back

There was a dot on the map. The dot had a name. There was a line from the dot to where I was. A squiggly line that meant it went up into the mountains. A thin line that meant it was unpaved. But how bad could the road be since it led to a place with a name? And how high into the mountains? And was there anything at the dot (or along the way) worth the trip? I went to find out.

Van alternative

When four-wheel drive isn’t enough, I guess

Thursday, April 19, 2018

But where?

Back when I started on the road I didn’t know all the places for boondocking. Probably fewer than a dozen spots scattered around the West. Ones I’d learned about in self-published digital books and various online resources. The well known ones. The popular ones. The ones that are easy for newbies (like I was) to find and settle into the life.

Of course, there are thousands and thousands of places to camp on public land. I discovered more of these over the years. Many were recommended by others. The most fulfilling sites, though, were the ones I discovered on my own.

I discovered a place like this

“What’s up this road? I hope it’s passable. I hope there’s somewhere to turn around if it isn’t. But, hey, there are other tire tracks, so that’s a good sign.”

And a place like this

Sometimes the exploration is fruitless. Sometimes I get there and it’s, eh, nothing great but it’ll do. Sometimes I get spooked and turn back before I get to what I learn later from someone else was an amazing place. And sometimes I end up in a really nice spot.

It’s very much like life in general.

And a place like this

That said, yesterday I returned to one of the sites I was led to back in my first year. It has been a couple of years since I last returned because, you know, there were so many other places to discover instead. But I’m chasing weather and just need a convenient, no-fuss spot to kill a couple of days. And there’s a cafe here that makes great burritos.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

This is not what I wished for

On the much used side door


This young steer just stood there for about ten minutes, completely still, staring at the Rolling Steel Tent. Was it because it's the most wonderful thing to ever appear in his world? Or was he giving me stink eye?

Monday, April 16, 2018

Mount up, ride out

I was camped at a trailhead near Wickenburg, Arizona, when some horsemen rode by. Dozens of them. They kept coming and coming.

I called out, "How many of ya are there?"

"About a hundred-fifty."

They all had a tag hanging from their neck. "What group are you?"

"The Desert Caballeros. This is our annual ride."

"Where are ya going?"

"That way." Cowboy humor, I guess.

"Well, look pretty for the camera."

"Too late for that."

"I was talking to the horses." Rolling Steel Tent humor, I'm certain.

Battling forecasts

One online source says there is zero percent chance of rain today where I am. Another says rain will start in 32 minutes. I guess I'll know which was right in a little while.

UPDATE: It didn't rain.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Been there, done that

If someone had asked me this morning what was on my agenda, I would've replied, "Nothing."

Nothing, Arizona, is proof that if you give a place an odd name and provide room to park, people will take photos.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Life on the edge

It has been van-rocking windy the past few days. And driving a big loaf of bread in gusty wind is no fun. So I’ve been hunkered down at Lake Mead the past few days, feeling a little trapped. But the air was calmer this morning and I took it as my cue to head on down the road. (The drive up the west side of Lake Powell is very nice in morning light.)

The strong wind hadn’t gone away, though. It was just late getting out of bed. It was back on the job by the time I reached Poverty Flats (a.k.a. Snowbird Mesa) near Overton NV. I pulled off the highway and went looking for a campsite.

Did I want a spot with a grand view, on the edge of the mesa? Or did I want a spot with less wind, back from the edge of the mesa? I tried out a few locations. I chose more view over less wind because there wouldn’t be much relief farther from the edge.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

This post is trashy

I generate trash. Paper, empty packaging, tin cans… I have to do something with it so the van doesn’t end up looking like this.

Some nomads burn their rubbish, but I’m not a fan of fires. So I have to dump it somewhere. Trash cans at rest stops, gas stations, city parks and fast food joints. I know of dumpsters at campgrounds, in alleys and in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes I use waste transfer stations.

Thank you, BLM

Over the four-plus years I’ve been wandering the West I developed a mental map of dependable, convenient, legal trash disposal spots. If there isn’t one where I’m camped, I know where there’s one at my next destination or along the way there. Route planning is sometimes influenced by dumpster locations.

I had to learn to jettison my trash often rather than waiting for the wastebasket to fill. A stuffed bag seldom fits through a trash can flap. And the less trash I keep around, the less there is to attract critters. And the more room there is in the van.

Fill the van with gas, empty it of trash

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Meet the neighbor

It’s rare a critter will hold still in the time it takes me to grab my camera

I totally relate

I was watching a British detective series set in Wales. “Hinterland.” The detective was questioning a loner who lives in a trailer out in the forest.
You live in a caravan?
Suits me. Bed, roof, something to cook on.
How long?
Four years.
Lonely life?
Only if you need company.
That’s essentially my viewpoint. Bed, roof, something to cook on. But with Internet access. And travel. That suits me just fine.

How many weeks do you have left?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Playing Goldilocks

This time of year it isn’t easy finding places that aren’t too hot in the day or too cold at night. And there’s a front moving in that’ll drop temperatures twenty to thirty degrees later in the week. So I'll need to suck it up and go with reasonable compromises. That’s why I’m at Lake Mead today. It was 90°F/32°C but a bit of a breeze made it tolerable for anglers, boaters and us campers.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Two firsts

I hung out with my former wife for my birthday. We’re still good friends. She lives in Los Angeles. We took the metro from her place near Century City to a highly rated mom & pop taco stand by the University of Southern California. That was my first time on that train.

The next day, after taking the metro to Chinatown for our traditional Sunday dim sum brunch, we took Lyft to a gallery crawl. That was my first time using a ride hailing service.

I feel so urbane.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Time and money

He said (enviously): You sure travel around a lot.

She said: All it takes is time and money. You have both, but you’re spending them on staying in one place.

Pick the priority. Travel? Or a place to call home? Or maybe a balance of the two?

I chose travel. I’d had my fill of stability. Mortgage payments or rent could buy a lot of gasoline. That’s where I decided to put my money. It has been my best investment ever.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Sign of the times

The 85th percentile

There are probably more opinions on what is or isn’t a safe speed than there are people. But our opinions (especially mine) don’t count for much. So, how are speed limits set?

Traffic engineers gather data. First they consider the road in question.
A speed study consists of a review of the function, design and actual use of the road. Is the road intended for heavy commuter traffic or light local traffic? How wide are the lanes? How wide are the shoulders? Is it straight or curvy? Are there a lot of intersections? These and many other questions about the road get answered in the study.
(Even before that, though, highway engineers will have designed the roads with certain speed and traffic criteria in mind.)

Then traffic engineers measure how much traffic there actually is and how fast it’s going.
Then the engineer conducts a traffic count to determine the actual quantity of traffic and how fast the vehicles drive. This data provides the “85th percentile speed.” That term just means the speed at which 85 percent of the cars travel. On a well-designed road with an appropriate speed limit and effective enforcement, the 85th percentile speed should be pretty close to the posted speed limit.
Ah, but is the speed 85 percent of the traffic drives sufficiently safe?
The engineer also researches the number and rate of collisions on the road and compares them to the collision rate for the overall jurisdiction. Collision rates are the number of crashes per million miles traveled.
Then the engineers make their recommendations to the higher-ups. If there are too many accidents, lower the speed limit. If there are fewer accidents than on similar roads/streets, keep the speed as it is or consider raising it. If politics doesn’t get in the way, then the posted speed limit will probably be reasonable. Or reasonable enough. There will still be collisions. There will still be fatalities. Because there are no perfect speeds or perfect drivers. Speed limits are a compromise. Driving is a gamble—one that most drivers win.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Impulse purchase

I started the day with the vague plan to wander through the mountains of eastern San Diego County, starting with Old Highway 80 (the predecessor of I-8) and then turning north through Mt. Laguna, Julian, and Warner Springs. I'd find a dispersed camping spot somewhere in the Cleveland National Forest.

But then, only about 30 miles down the road, I saw a sign for a campground. Some part of me said, "Turn in there." So I did.

Boulder Oaks Campground serves as a departure point at the southern end of the Pacific Crest Trail. There were about a dozen hikers chatting, checking their packs, filling their canteens and using the toilet before setting off on their 2,600 mile trek. I'm far less ambitious, so I found a nice campsite and settled in to just enjoy the non-desert surroundings and perfect weather. It was an excellent deal at $7.00/night with my senior pass.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Flying saucer wreckage, right?

Thermal ups and downs

I’ve left the deserts of Arizona and California to visit the Pacific Coast for a few days. That meant a sudden elevation shift as I drove west along Interstate 8.

El Centro, California, is 40 feet below sea level. It was shorts and air conditioning weather yesterday afternoon. About 93 degrees. Then 25 miles west, at Ocotillo, the highway begins to climb into the mountains: 3,000 feet in 12 miles. And the temperature rapidly drops.

It’s a basic principle we nomads learn: as you go up the temperature usually goes down, and vice versa. So we can avoid troublesome temperatures by shifting elevation, not just latitude.

On a cloudless day (like yesterday), temperature decreases approximately 5.4°F for each 1,000 foot gain in elevation. So it should’ve been in the 70s when I pulled into Coyote’s Flying Saucer Retrievals & Repairs atop the first summit. But it was in the 60s because of another factor. Hot air rising in the desert was drawing cool ocean air over the mountains.

This is where the 5.4°F per 1,000 feet rule breaks down. It’s not going to get warmer as I drop out of the mountains to the ocean because Pacific currents coming out of the north bring colder ocean temperatures which creates a layer of colder air along the coast.

That’s why this visit to the Coast will be short. Say hi to my Los Angeles friends, stare at the ocean for a while, then head back inland in search of perfect weather. But I'll be back. More than once. Autumn is a great time to be on the West Coast.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Lou explains

(When I upload videos to YouTube, they give me a choice of three frames to use in the preview. Lou says this one makes him look like an 80 year old homeless drunk. I agree it's not a fair representation, but it's much better than the other two. I suspect YouTube's software purposely looks for the least flattering video frames. But you'll see the real Lou if you watch the video—especially his smile at the end.)

Friday, March 30, 2018

Ernie's Garage gets it done

Ernie said to come by the shop at 8:00 and he'd get my power steering pressure hoses replaced right away. That's exactly what happened. In and out in about an hour.

The people who formed these hoses must also make trumpets and tubas

"So," you might be wondering, "what did it cost to have the work done?" I supplied the hoses so all I had to pay was labor. The going rate at most shops is $90 an hour. And they might've claimed it was a two- or three-hour job. Ernie charged me $60, including new fluid. Excellent.

You can judge a mechanic by the quantity, quality and age of his posters

Thursday, March 29, 2018

My nomadic friend Dale said the following in a video:
“Everybody always says to us, ‘Be careful,’ you know, ‘Be careful out there, be careful, there’s all kinds of bad people. Be careful!’ And we really haven’t met any yet. We’ve just met nice, kind people.”
The warnings are slightly amusing, because all of us are part of someone else’s warnings to their friends and loved ones. We are part of their great, scary unknown. Decent people afraid of decent people only because they’re outside each other’s bubbles of familiarity.

Yes, there are bad people out there. There are also bad people in your home town. But they’re sort of the devils you know. It’s the devils you don’t know that cause anxiety—even though they probably aren’t any different or more numerous than your local devils.

One of my favorite sayings, which I’ll have tattooed on my arm someday soon, is:
Travel cures ignorance
What are things like in a distant place? Go and see for yourself. What are people like several states, several borders, several cultures away? Go and see for yourself. Form your opinions from personal experience and reality, not from hearsay, uninformed assumptions or not wanting to leave your comfort zone. Your mind and your life will expand.

If you insist

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

What to do when your truck dies

With a little imagination and plumbing you can turn a truck into a fountain, and a gas station/market into something more than a place to fuel up and pee. That's what the Why Not store in Why AZ did.


It started as a discussion of “slow travel.” Go to a place, stay days or weeks, immerse yourself in it, avail yourself of all it has to offer, then repeat the process at the next location.

I’m not very good at this. I zoom from point to point after brief stays. I experience a tiny bit of the place then move on, telling myself I’ll save further exploration for subsequent visits.

I read an article about whether you have wanderlust. Some of the indicators were:
You dream of other places after you've just gotten somewhere.
You're never content in one spot and that one spot is always old.
You never want to be where you are, but couldn't wait to get there before you were.
Yeah, that’s me. No matter where my body is, my mind is down the road somewhere, anywhere.

However, the discussion of slow travel swerved off course (as online discussion often do) when some people claimed traveling slowly required driving slowly, or that driving slowly was all there was to traveling slowly. That’s when my online wanderlust told me it was time to leave this discussion for some other. Somewhere. Anywhere.

Maybe that shows what’s at the root of my wanderlust. I don’t want to stay anywhere long enough to start disliking it. I don’t want to discover the negatives. I want to leave the metaphorical party while it’s still fun, before the drunken brawl starts.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Speeding or not?

How well can you judge your speed without looking at your gauges and when there are no other vehicles around? Science says probably not that well. We tend to overestimate our speed on narrow and curvy roads and underestimate it on wide and straight roads.

How well can you judge the speed of a passing vehicle when you’re stationary? Science says probably not very well. Things maintaining a constant speed seem to speed up as they get closer and slow down after they pass. Also, given the same vehicle driving past on the same section of road, but at different speeds, science says we aren’t all that good at assigning accurate rates.

So, how well can you tell how much faster than you the vehicle that just passed you was going? Probably not very well. Even if we try to ignore the environment whizzing past and just concentrate on how quickly or slowly the gap between you is widening, we’re not great guessers.

Our ability to judge other drivers’ passing speeds decreases as our own speed decreases. If you prefer driving no faster than, say, 55 but the speed limit is 70, people passing you within the speed limit may seem like they’re screaming by like maniacs.

Sure, there are speeding jerks out there. Yell at them, flip them off, hope there’s a cop ahead. It’s your right. Just use it judiciously.

How fast do I drive? I usually go with the flow of traffic. When there’s no traffic to flow with I find I ease off a little. If the road is really smooth and there’s a tailwind I might accidentally creep over the limit. Oops, I had no idea I was doing 80, because Science.