Thursday, May 16, 2019


I go in for a tracheostomy this afternoon. I don't know how long it will be until I get my computer back. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019


The hospital called to get intake information for tomorrow. Among the many questions were some from Medicare to see which benefits I might be entitled to (or what things some other program was paying for so Medicare wouldn’t need to).

“Are you checking into the hospital because of an accident?”

I couldn’t resist. “Does anyone get cancer on purpose?”

There was a pause, then she gave a forced chuckle. I guess not all hospital staff have a dark sense of humor.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

And I guess it's cyber-begging time

Medicare doesn't cover everything. Feel free to help with the shortfall by using the donation button on the right.

What should I say?

I don’t use cancer patient slogans. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up. That doesn’t mean I’m depressed. It’s just that high octane positive thinking is not my style.

I’m pragmatic, less emotional, and maybe a touch more reality-based. I try to avoid self-delusion. (Maybe I’m deluded about my pragmatic, less emotional, reality-based lack of self-delusion. Hmmmm…)

My slogan (if I were the sloganeering type) might be, “We’re going to give it our best shot and see what happens.” Or, “If I remain cautiously optimistic I’ll be all the gladder if I’m cured rather than even more crushed if I’m not.” Neither of those work well on walkathon T-shirts.

Saturday, May 11, 2019


Well folks, here’s the deal with my throat. The mass shown in the CAT scan is a stage 4 tumor on the base of my tongue. Surgery would mean removing the tongue and probably vocal cords. No one wants that, so it’s radiation and chemotherapy for me.

First they’ll do a tracheostomy—making a hole in my throat and inserting a breathing tube—so I won’t suffocate when the tumor swells from radiation treatment. That’ll be done in Tucson. It means a week in the hospital, part of it so they can train me on using and maintaining the trach tube.

A van in the boonies is a bad place to deal with cancer treatment. Even though a patch of land with a partially built house is slightly better, Lou’s place is inconvenient to medical care. So during the six weeks of daily radiation and chemo, I’ll be staying in Los Angeles with my former wife who is still my dear friend. She has cared for cancer patients before; first her mother and then her father. Also, if I need to feel like crap, I’d rather feel like crap somewhere with beaches.

So… my glorious nomadic life is on hold. It might even be over. I’ve said many times I don’t want to live in a building ever again, but, you know, it doesn’t always work out that way.

I’ve also said that if I was ever faced with something like cancer and the inability to live the way I wanted I would just go out in the desert and shoot myself. But the survival instinct insists I don’t do that. I argued with it and we came to an agreement that I would do the therapy and see how it goes, then reassess the situation later.

I’m lucky. I have supportive friends and family. I have Medicare. And I’ve had at least seven years as a free man wandering the country, experiencing amazing and beautiful places. If I had contracted cancer while still stuck in my old life, a cog in the system, I would be angry and resentful and I’d feel like my life was a waste. But I don’t. I’m at peace with life. I’m contented. If this new adventure turns for the worst (and it eventually does for all of us) so be it.

If you have a bucket list, if you've been wanting to change your life, do it. No one assessing their life wishes they had spent more time in a rut.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Wall two

A new adventure

An exclusive look at the inner Al

If you’ve been following this blog the past couple of months you know about my quest to find out what’s wrong in my throat. There were times I thought the medications were working, but the improvements were minor and brief. So yesterday they sent me to have a CAT scan. The findings:
There is a large, slightly enhancing soft tissue mass identified superior to the larynx, in the vallecula region. The mass is inseparable from the epiglottis. The mass measures 4.7 x 4.1 x 3.9 cm in size and has a slightly lobated contour. It is noted to produce significant narrowing of the airway in this region. The larynx itself is not involved. Note is made of a minimal amount of adenopathy in the upper neck bilaterally adjacent to the neuromuscular bundle. This is consistent with a neoplastic process with associated metastatic lymphadenopathy. 
The parotid, submandibular, and thyroid glands are normal in appearance.
Okay, some translations:
Vallecula: a depression just behind the root of the tongue between the folds in the throat. These depressions serve as "spit traps"; saliva is temporarily held in the valleculae to prevent initiation of the swallowing reflex. 
Epiglottis: a flap in the throat that keeps food from entering the windpipe and the lungs 
Adenopathy: a disease of the lymph nodes, in which they are abnormal in size or consistency 
Parotid and submandibular glands: salivary glands
Lymphadenopathy: swollen lymph nodes 
So Friday Lou is driving me to Tucson to see an ear-nose-throat specialist. There might be some endoscopy and a biopsy. And I might end up in the hospital for surgery. That means I’ll probably not be posting for a few days.

Now to make this relevant to the nomadic life. I’m lucky in two ways. One is that I have Medicare, so I can afford treatment. The second is that I have someone I can depend upon for whatever help I need. A round of applause for Lou.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

It’s allowed

In 1995, when I was living in an apartment on Long Beach, California, I took a drive around the country in my Honda Accord Coupe to see what there was to see. About 4,000 miles later, in Burlington, Vermont, I figured it was time for an oil change.

Up until that point there was this idea in my head, implanted by more than four decades of conventional living. Things like oil changes were supposed to be done when you were home, not while you were traveling. Because that had always been the case, and what had always been must always be, Right? But an uninfected part of my brain said, “There’s no reason you can’t have it done here. Or anywhere else. There’s no rule.”

This memory came to mind as I was having the Rolling Steel Tent’s oil changed this morning in Silver City, New Mexico. Many many oil changes since Vermont.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

It’s up

It turned out the three of us could raise several hundred pounds of wall without help. In a wind. Without injuries. Because we are studs. (That’s sort of a framing joke.) (One that’s not very good.)

Wall time

After much measuring and remeasuring, the framing for the first wall is done and it’s time to add the exterior sheathing. Everything was built on the floor and it might take something more than us three retirees to lift it into position. Are these Amish guys available this week?

Monday, May 6, 2019

Size matters

My spoon is barely small enough to fit into a Yoplait container. I knew there must have been a reason (other than taste) I usually bought other brands of yogurt.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Where is home?

When I was a kid my concept of home was as simple as the rest of my developing brain. It was where my family and my stuff was.

Then, when I was sixteen years old, the family moved 2,000 miles away. Even though I still had my family and my stuff, the new city didn’t feel like home. I didn’t fit in.

After college I moved to Southern California, and I felt much more at home. A decade later I moved to San Francisco. I lived there only four years, but thirty years and three other cities later, that’s the place I consider home, in the conventional sense.

But what about now that I’m living unconventionally? Well, you’ve probably seen the stickers: Home Is Where You Park It. That’s me. Except I’ll take that slogan a step farther. Home is even where I’m not parked. To me, home is not a building, not a spot on a map. This nomadic life is my home. I am my home. I’m always there.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Ghost town

Lake Valley, New Mexico, is another mining town that dried up when the ore did. However, a couple of people hung on there until the late 1990s.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Much happiness

A corner of the floor and insulation had been on hold until the bathroom plumbing could be hooked into the existing pipes and roughed in. John the plumber came today and got ‘er done. Now it’s time to wait for the inspector.

Meanwhile, I’m happy I don't own a house anymore. So much happiness in one place.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

More wandering

About noon yesterday I told Lou, “I’m gonna go wander around for a couple of hours.” I had no plan other than to drive and explore. I headed to Silver City and… oh… kept going on US180, north, toward, oh, some of the stuff that’s up that way. Through rolling grasslands, past cottonwood-lined creeks, up into coniferous forests. The west side of the Gila Mountains.

I turned east on highway 12 to Reserve, got some gasoline. The free Apache Creek campground was twelve miles down the highway. I called Lou to tell him I was staying the night, that I’d be back the next day.

I was at Apache Creek in April of 2014, but I didn’t stay. Rain and fear of flooding chased me away. But this time the sky was clear and the forecast was good. No problem.

In the morning I contemplated my route options. I could go back the way I came, but that would be less interesting.

I could continue clockwise around the Gila Mountains, but that would be twice as far, and I had been that way before, too.

I could do the semi-crazy thing and go northwest to Alpine AZ, then south through the highest, twistiest, slowest section of US191, then connect back to US180. I’d get to mark off another section of 191—a part I missed when I abandoned my Border-to-Border-On-191 quest last summer in order to go to a friend’s retirement party in California. Hey, I’m semi-crazy, so…

The road gets serious

I don’t know about other times of the year, but on this particular early Sunday morning at the end of April the highway was practically deserted. And beautiful. I saw a herd of elk, a flock of turkeys, and about a dozen clusters of deer. Taking that route wasn’t the crazy thing after all. What’s crazy is not having gone that way several times before. And stayed a while. I’ll be back.

Something new

I’ve started a video series about my approach to van living. There are many ways to do it and I’m not saying my way is best. I’m just presenting what works for me. That’s why the videos aren’t titled  “How Everyone Should Do It.”

Saturday, April 27, 2019


The construction holdups are over and now it’s floor insulation time.

Friday, April 26, 2019


This part of New Mexico has a nice variety of cloud formations compared to the Sonoran and Mojave deserts where I spend the winter. Yesterday we had the setting sun lighting up the underside of some rainclouds.

Sit a spell

This answers a question I didn't have

Question: How grippy is the edge of half an old roll of Scotch painters’ tape?

Answer: Enough to stay on the roof of a van from Mimbres to Silver City and back.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Taking precautions

Lou was having a frustrating day on the phone with suppliers and the bank. He donned this helmet to protect the rest of us in case his head exploded. Luckily for everyone, it was unnecessary.

Up on the r-o-o-o-o-f

Back when I took the big leap and cut a 14-inch hole in the Rolling Steel Tent’s roof so I could install a vent fan, the conventional wisdom included sealing the screw holes and hood edges with the same stuff the RV industry used. Dicor self-leveling sealant. Or Dyco C-10 self-leveling sealant. I chose C-10 because someone on a forum said something bad about Dicor.


A couple of years later the ravages of UV rays had cause the C-10 to dry and crack—which was what Dicor had been accused of doing. There had been no leaks, but better safe than sorry. So I applied another coat of C-10. And repeated the process the next year.

When it was time to refresh the sealant again, a friend gave me a tube of Dicor. Oh, a comparison test. Science! Eh, same results.

A few months ago, another forum guy highly recommended 3M 4200 Marine Adhesive/Sealant. Superior UV resistance, he said. Okay.

Unlike self-leveling sealant, 3M 4200 is thick and gummy, so it’s harder to apply elegantly—especially when you’re on a ladder, stretching to the middle of the roof. But I used an old business card to spread the adhesive/sealant around and cover all the critical points. We’ll see how things are next year.


We had some weather

It was sunny in the morning then started clouding up. Then it got gloomy. Then wet. Rain. Hail. Rain. Then it cleared up. Then it rained some more. Then there was a rainbow. Yesterday’s weather was sort of a metaphor for life.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Furry beggar

Rick (or Ricky, or even Riki, since we don’t know whether it’s male or female) is one of the bolder critters on Lou’s property. I suspect Rick considers it his property since he was here first.

I had spilled some granola this morning and cleaned up most of it, but some crumbs remained in the rug. Rick caught scent of it. He’s my personal DustBuster.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

No longer a clunker

If you’ve been following the story of clunking noises from the Rolling Steel Tent’s front suspension, you might remember the replacement of the pitman and idler arms and the recent replacement of the tie rod ends. Those two fixes reduced the noise a little, but I still felt like my steering components might fly off at any moment.

I had gotten to the point where I was willing to have all the remaining front suspension parts replaced. I had money saved up. So I was ready for a worst-case situation when I went to Hilltop Service in Silver City.

The owner and two mechanics put it on the rack and started wiggling and prying in various diagnostic ways. They seemed perplexed. Then one of them shook the anti-sway bar. Rattle rattle rattle. It wasn’t supposed to make that noise. The four of us said simultaneously, “Worn bushings.”

I thought I would need to come back after the new bushings arrived. The owner asked, “Want me to replace these?”

“You mean right now?”

“Yeah.” He happened to have the needed parts.


One of the new bushings, in designer blue

I was out of there in fifteen minutes. Parts and labor, $75.00.

Best of all, NO. MORE. CLUNKING! The Rolling Steel Tent sounded like new.

I’ve really become a fan of small repair shops in small towns.

Let’s get wet

Boiled to perfect tenderness

I took a vacation from my carpenter’s assistant gig and drove down the highway to Faywood Hotsprings. It’s my third or fourth time here. There’s a particular pool I like that’s nice and deep and the perfect temperature for me—about 104°. And the water isn’t sulfur-ish. Also, there’s always hot water in the showers.

Camping is $20/night with unlimited soaking. I wanted to get in the tub under the stars, but a thunderstorm was passing through. I like my water hot, not electrically charged. The storm had moved on when I woke at 5:00, so I had a pre-dawn soak instead. Mmmmmm, wonderful.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Happiness is just down the road

The cell signal at Lou’s place is sporadic because the Verizon tower is blocked by a ridge. Sometimes I get two bars of 4G LTE, sometimes five bars of 3G, and sometimes no signal at all. And despite having a 4G signal, sometimes I still can't connect to the interwebs. Ah, the whims of the cosmos and wireless technology.

But I can get a great signal if I drive a little way down the road, even without my directional antenna and booster. That’s why I can post this.


A frequent topic among nomads is how to create more living space. (As opposed to dying space?) But the thing is, no matter how you rearrange X cubic feet of stuff within Y cubic feet of space, you still end up with the same amount of empty room, just shaped differently.

Some shapes work better than others. Better utilization of existing space is the best we can hope for unless we decrease X or increase Y. Less stuff or a larger place to contain it. Or both.

When nomads talk about living space they usually mean within their vehicle. But there’s tons of living space outside. As the saying goes, don’t live in a van, live out of one.

I think what most nomads are talking about is not feeling crowded, not being overwhelmed by the close quarters, having the luxury of our own blank space. They want to feel like they did when they lived in a building.

Building life (unless you lived in a studio apartment) conditioned us to expect different rooms for different purposes. Living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, utility room… But vehicle life is a one-room thing. One tiny multipurpose room. You sleep in the kitchen, cook in the bathroom. All the space in the vehicle—every cubic millimeter of it—is living space. Even the space consumed by stuff.

To get all pseudo-philosophical, we aren’t really separate from our stuff. Our stuff is chosen by us for reasons that are within us. It’s used or not used by us, which says something about us. Our stuff enables or limits us. So make peace with it, with ourselves. Or change X and Y.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Hitting bottom

Lou’s goal is to make his new casa as insulated and airtight as practicable to minimize heating and cooling expenditures. So today we closed off the bottoms of the floor joists. First they were glued into place and nailed, next the edges will be sealed with spray foam before the insulation is dropped in.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Parallel, square and level

The floor joists are in place. Next step is insulation.

The guys who’ll be connecting the building to electricity, water and septic have come by to consult with Lou, and a neighbor has offered the loan of his backhoe. Lou is much more relaxed now.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

All present and accounted for

Electrical, water and septic have been found. Like many of life’s answers, it just took some more digging.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Holes and hangers

So far, today, a hole has been dug to locate the water and electrical line. The exact location of the sewer line is yet to be determined.

Meanwhile joist hangers have been installed.

And the supervisors make sure we don't mess up too badly.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

From past wandering

Back in December 1985 the airline People Express launched non-stop service between San Francisco (where I lived at the time) and Brussels with a special $99 fare. A group of friends decided it was too good of a deal to pass up. From Brussels we’d take the train to Paris.

The rubber doll in the photo was a running gag in my office. We called it Baby (Always pronounced in a mock adoring, drawn out Baaay-beeee.) It would get slipped into briefcases, hidden in the freezer, stuffed into the copier paper tray…

I took it with me and photographed it at various sites, trying to do something other than the usual tourist pictures.

I’ve seen Notre Dame live, up close and personal a couple of times. The fire makes me sad, as does the destruction of anything of beauty, including humans.

Today's view

Saturday, April 13, 2019

It's all my fault

Me and my meteorological optimism. I had put away most of my long-sleeved shirts, gotten out the shorts, packed away the down quilt and swapped in a lighter blanket.

So it’s no wonder Nature smacked me down when I brought my Spring-at-last attitude up from the lower desert to 6,000-foot Silver City and Mimbres. “Fool,” Nature muttered. “Take some of this gloomy, drizzly days with sub-freezing nights. Bundle up, kid.”

Of course, in order to make it uncomfortable for me, Nature had to bomb the Rockies and Midwest with more show and ice. My sincerest apologies.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Man cave

Unlike me, Lou didn’t get rid of everything when he became a nomad. He kept all his tools and shop equipment stored in Oregon. When he leased a space at Coyote Howls in Arizona he got a shed and moved some of the tools there.

All the tools are reunited now that Lou has ten acres of land—land that included an insulated forty-foot shipping container. The shop makes him a very happy man.

Medicate and wait

I don’t want to turn this into a blog about my health, but here’s the latest.

I’m in New Mexico now and will be for a while as I help Lou build his home. I went to the clinic in Silver City to see what a different medical professional had to say. I gave him the story so far, he did some peeking and poking and agreed with me it was an infection. Not a goiter. Not GERD. He said the amoxicillin I was prescribed before is a rather weak antibiotic, and prescribed ten days of clindamycin (which I should take with yogurt because it sometimes causes diarrhea) and five days of the steroid prednisone.

So now I do that and see what happens.

When I picked up the meds, the clerk had a concerned look on her face. “Do you have coverage for this.”

“No, just Medicare parts A and B.”

She paused, looking at the paperwork stapled to the envelope. “Do you want me to see if there’s a coupon?”

“Um, sure.”

Before I could ask how much it was she went to fiddle with a different computer, and I’m wondering if the clindamycin is one of those outrageously expensive drugs. Did I see something like $575 on the upside down paperwork? Well, the day before was my Social Security payday so I’m “rich” at the moment, and I won’t be burning much gas while I’m at Lou’s place, so I guess I could swing it.

She returned, looking happier, and I asked, “How much?”

“It was $19.00 before, but I got it down to $15.00.”

New Mexico is one of the poorest states, so I guess everyone is cost conscious. Hey, four bucks’ll get me a Lotaburger at Blake’s. Or five yogurts at Walmart to go with the clindamycin.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

That orange stuff in the sky again

Fame, no fortune

Marianne Edwards is the author of the Frugal Shunpiker series of boondocking guidebooks. I bought most of them back when I was a greenhorn nomad. They were very helpful then, but I haven’t thought about them for years.

Monday, my friend Michel emailed me.
Did u see Marianne Edwards commends your blog in her note announcing the Calif boondocking guide update?
Oh? Well that’s cool. I was one of four listed as “inspiring people.” The question is whether I’m inspiring them in a good way.