Friday, September 20, 2019

What will you see?

We got an early start, when it was still chilly

This morning we hiked Grand Wash, from bottom to top. A gradual climb through a dramatic chasm. One of my favorite places.

A guy my age was hiking from the other end. He asked, “How much farther?”

“You’re about a third of the way through.”

“Is it all like this?”

“The Narrows start just around that bend.”

“What’s at the end? A view or something?”

I wanted to reply, “You’re in the view, man. Look around.” But instead I just gave him the facts. “It ends at the highway.”

He harrumphed and said, “Then I’ll just see the Narrows and turn around.”

Sometimes we get conditioned to expect the grand vista, the holy-cow view, as if that’s the whole point of visiting national parks. I’m as guilty as anyone. But I’ve learned the joys of going down into the view, of being swallowed up in it, of being part of it, not just an observer.

Connie becomes part of the view

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Meet the kin

My sister Connie and brother-in-law Kent came down from Salt Lake City. We hiked the Hickman Bridge trail. Or part of it, until my body gave out. I’m not as recovered as I’d hoped. We’ll hike again tomorrow. On a flatter trail. Right, guys?

Resting my weary ass by the Fremont River

Afternoon stroll

Deep, narrow, rock-faced canyons are one of my favorite environments. This is Capitol Gorge in Capitol Reef National Park. An easy one for those of us recovering from cancer.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Cache and carry

I know modern nomads who carry large quantities of supplies with them. Enough to last months. Boxes, bins and bags of it, with a little space for themselves tucked in between. Or they haul a trailer of provisions. They are of the pack train school of thought.

I can’t live like that. I gotta travel light. I’m more like the old trappers who would leave caches of supplies in strategic locations. Except my caches are called markets. I let them hang onto all that stuff for me. I let the stores store my stores.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Hi from the sky

Skydiving has been on my list ever since I learned there was such a thing. Tandem skydiving put it within reach. And surviving cancer made it a priority. Time to celebrate! Time to thumb my nose at death.

The video I had to watch beforehand, and the liability waiver I had to sign in multiple places, made it clear there was a possibility of disaster. But I figured the guy I was strapped to wanted to survive unhurt just as much as I did.

I was calm as the plane climbed, as my partner gave final instructions. I was going to step out into thin air. I was going to fall at 138 miles per hour. Cool. And if I were to hit the ground at that speed? Shrug. I’ve had a good life.

Flying/falling above Arches and Canyonlands national parks provides great views of some amazing scenery. Much better than some pasture somewhere.

The door opened, I got in position and… Wow! Much more violent than anticipated. But unlike the short mayhem of bungee jumping (which I did back in 1995) there was time to adjust to the sensations and be in the moment. Very cool. Too bad the freefall wasn’t a little longer. That’s a metaphor for life. It can be more violent than expected, but adjust to it, be in the moment, and in the end, wish it was longer.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Hoodoo you love?

I made a quick return visit to Goblin Valley State Park on my way to Moab. The place was in the news a few years ago because some Boy Scout leaders pushed over one of the rock formations. I left all the goblins alone. Scout’s honor.

At the crack of

Even though it was quite chilly this morning, I wasn’t the only one who got up before dawn to be at Sunrise Point in Bryce Canyon National Park.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Hello Utah

I know better than to go to a very popular destination on a weekend when the weather is nice. I went to Zion National Park anyway, even though the signs said the parking lots were full. Because I also know a few places to park and hike and get away from the crowds, see some less seen things, meditate a little. Besides, it would be just a short visit on the way elsewhere. Didn’t want to make a big production of it.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

More desert art

I’m not a huge fan of Ugo Rodinone’s Seven Magic Mountains art installation south of Las Vegas. But I don’t loathe it, like some (many?) people. I say give art a chance. It sure beats, oh, a borax processing plant, casino billboard, or other manmade structure you’re likely to see along I-15.
Mediating between geological formations and abstract compositions, Rodinone’s Seven Magic Mountains consists of locally-sourced limestone boulders stacked vertically in groups…(yadda yadda yadda) The artwork extends Rodinone’s long-running interest in natural phenomena and their reformulation in art. Inspired by naturally occurring hoodoos and balancing rock formations, the stacks also evoke the art of meditative rock balancing…(yadda yadda yadda)
So says the plaque at the site. I prefer not to read what way-to-serious people write about art. It’s like when Frank Zappa said writing about music is like dancing about architecture. I think music and art are most meaningful and personal when it’s just experienced, without explanations.

But at the end of the tedious artspeak is a phrase that hits my nail on the head:
…offering a contemporary critique of the simulacra in nearby Las Vegas.
Yes, imitation and garishness rising out of the desert.

Whatever the artistic merit of Seven Magic Mountains, it’s certainly beloved by Instagrammers and drone videographers.

Out of LA, into a glass forest

“You know, you can only have so many campfires and grill so many hot dogs and marshmallows before you get bored.” —Elmer Long

There’s something about the desert that causes some people to amass collections of what others consider junk, then turn those collections into quirky art. Maybe it’s the space to do it in. Maybe it’s the lack of distractions. And maybe it’s something in the air. Or the blood.

Elmer Long grew up camping in the Mojave where he and his father discovered old trash dumps. The father spent 30 years gathering items—especially bottles—and in 2000 Elmer started turning those treasures into the Bottle Tree Ranch, on old Route 66 near Oro Grande, California.

Sadly, Elmer passed away this June. I never got to meet him. He seemed like a cool guy. But Josh of California Through My Lens got this interview.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Field trip

Ceebs and I went to The Broad (pronounced Brode) art museum in downtown Los Angeles. It’s free but you need to reserve a time slot.

We’re both big fans of Jean-Michel Basquiat. I first learned of him when I was in New York on business and had some time to kill. I went to the Whitney Museum where they happened to have a huge Basquiat exhibit. The Broad has several of his works.

Andy Warhol gave Basquiat’s career a little bump, so it was nice to see him hanging at the gallery.

And it’s always a party when Michael and Bubbles are there.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Am I going insane?

A weird idea has been forming in my head the past couple of days: intentionally go somewhere seriously cold this winter. Not for long, just a few days or something. Bundle up. Get out in the snow and icy air. Break with winter routine. I don’t have a particular place in mind. There are so many options.

I’d need to get some serious winter outerwear, though. At least a parka. And maybe get a real heater again for the Rolling Steel Tent so I don’t become cryogenically preserved in my sleep.

But maybe I’ll come to my senses at the first hint of chilly weather. I hope I do.

Monday, September 9, 2019

A nomad in the media

My friend and fellow nomad LaVonne had an opinion piece published in the Los Angeles Times today. Too bad they didn’t give her several more pages. Since LaVonne’s piece is behind a pay wall, here, with the permission of the Times, is the whole thing.
I’m 73 and I live in a van. It feels like there’s no place for me in California anymore 
I wake up early these days, when morning light outlines the blackout curtains and floods the skylight above my bed. After washing up with baby wipes and donning clean clothes, I slide open a curtain to reveal the front seats and windshield of the van that is my home, and check the back one last time to make sure everything is secure. Then I crawl into the driver’s seat and turn the key. 
As soon as possible every morning, I move from my night spot. It’s important — I don’t want to draw police attention. Living in a vehicle is against the law in San Diego and a growing number of cities, including Los Angeles. Since the San Diego law took effect in May, RVers and van dwellers like me have been on edge, constantly asking each other what they know about the rules, where they park, have they heard that anything might change? No one seems to have a sure answer. 
I’ve already received a warning in an Ocean Beach park that several other rigs also used. As I was pulling out, I looked back and saw the cop working his way down the line. I wondered where those people would go. Now that I’m in the system, a ticket may be next. I can’t risk having to pay a fine. 
The officer gave me a flier with information about “safe” parking lots where I could stay overnight — as long as I enroll for social services leading to permanent housing. I consider signing up, until I hear from someone who did. He tells me a murder was recently committed across the street from the lot where he parks. I don’t sign up. 
The government has classified me and other RV and van dwellers as homeless, but that’s not how I see myself. When I started this journey nearly six years ago, the goal was to see America. But on my Social Security check, I couldn’t afford to both travel and pay rent. I chose travel. 
I’m 73. I want to be on the road as long as my health holds out. I would travel more if I could stretch that monthly check further, which is one reason I keep coming back to San Diego. I have family here and a history, nearly 20 years as a resident of a traditional “sticks and bricks” apartment. I like knowing my way around, and the ocean breeze is cool in the summer. But each time I return, the vibe is a little less welcoming, a little more hostile. 
I speak to a disabled vet who’s around my age and lives in a rusty extended Dodge Ram with a black tarp duct-taped to the leaky roof. He is a fixture in a little park near the water. He tells me he’s been given several tickets so far. The last time, he was warned that his van will be towed away if he stays overnight again. He says he now sneaks into a nearby private lot for the night. So far no one has bothered him. I decide to follow his lead. 
This is how things are now, in more and more cities in the U.S. Homeowners see the growing influx of people living in vehicles and feel threatened. Not all of those people are respectful and clean, which colors how we are viewed, and laws get passed to keep us at bay. Otherwise law-abiding people like the disabled veteran and me are left with nowhere to go. 
I understand the frustration of homeowners. You see what you consider unsavory people in your neighborhood, and you just want them to go away. Aging vans and crumbling RVs are taking over your public spaces. You don’t care how that happens, or why they’re there in the first place. So you complain to the police and politicians, and they come up with a law that makes the way thousands of people live illegal. 
How does that solve the problem? 
Rents are skyrocketing while income stagnates, and evictions are epidemic, according to Matthew Desmond, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” More and more families, seniors and people with disabilities are moving into their vehicles. 
For many of us, vehicle habitation is not a problem — it’s a solution. 
I’ll be back on the road soon, to visit friends and camp in nature. But many city-van dwellers don’t share my affinity for travel and are afraid to leave, fearing their vehicles will break down. 
Those RVs and vans that litter your view aren’t going away, not until the people who live in them can find homes without wheels that are within their reach. 
LaVonne Ellis is a former correspondent for ABC Radio News Networks.

Look what followed Ceebs home

Ceebs pulled in last night after a mad dash to Portland to pick up her new custom made Aero Teardrops trailer. She’s far from becoming a nomad, but she wants to get out and see more of the country. We might meet up out there occasionally. Heck, you might cross her path.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Down the hatch

My journey into cancer and back started with a raw throat. It hurt to swallow. And it got worse.

So it was a delight when I realized this morning I can now swallow without pain. WOO!


Lou goes beyond mere function with his bathroom sink

Saturday, September 7, 2019

What is my outlook?

I don’t remember when I first considered myself a pessimist—or at least inclined toward the pessimistic end of the scale. My life experiences taught me to not get my hopes up, not to count on help, not to expect miracles. I learned a positive attitude rarely made good things happen. I learned pessimism led to fewer disappointments. And required less of a personal investment. Detachment is cheap.

My pessimism might have mellowed into pragmatism. Withhold judgment going into a situation and see what happens. Or try to have an informed opinion beforehand. What should I reasonably expect? What are the odds it will go well or go south? My pragmatism still edges closer to pessimism than optimism. Because it seems more realistic.

So I’m taken aback when people comment how I’ve had such a positive attitude during cancer treatment. I have? I thought I was being very wait-and-see. I’m pretty certain I mentioned good things only after they happened. I know I wasn’t one of those hyper-optimistic I’m-gonna-kick-cancer’s-ass cheerleader types.

Is it just that I haven’t whined much, that I just report the side effects and setbacks without drama? Is that what passes for a positive attitude these days? Do people think I’m optimistic because I haven’t dragged them down with my self-pity?

I don’t know.

But I do know I’m glad things have gone as well as they have. Because I wasn’t expecting it.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Oh well, it’s calories

My liquid diet needs more variety, so I picked up some juice drinks this morning. I’ve enjoyed them in the past, but now, with my messed up tastebuds, they taste very strange and not much like food. Sigh. Some day.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

At last!

The tracheostomy tube was removed today. However, the bandage might be a bit of overkill.

More important than getting an annoying piece of plastic out of my throat, though, the doctor was pleased with what he saw when he ran the tiny camera through my nose and into my throat. And I was fascinated.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Before and after

As I looked in the mirror it occurred to me I no longer look anything like the bearded puffy-faced guy on my passport and driver license. Hmmm.

So I went online and found confirmation that, yes, people whose faces have changed dramatically (cosmetic surgery, deforming accidents, weight loss/gain, tattoo addition/removal, etc.) would need a new passport.

That puts a crimp in my plan to pick up medications in Mexico in a couple of weeks. New photo, paperwork, fees, waiting, yadda yadda yadda. And it means a DMV visit the next time I’m in Arizona. Whee!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Why the West?

A while back I started writing a post about the reasons I choose to wander in the West rather than other parts of the country. I got bogged down. Or maybe I started with an incomplete idea. Or too many ideas. For whatever reason, I didn’t finish it.

Then, as I watched the final episode of the 1996 PBS series The West, historian T. H. Watkins said something that struck me.
The Western landscape, in all its variety and drama and sense of wide open spaces, carries and enormous emotional weight—I think with not only Americans, but with much of the world. There’s always been a place in human history that became the repository, if you will, of all the dreams, hopes and aspirations of people. Some place that was always going to be better than where they were. The West still has that characteristic.
Yes! The West is certainly the repository of many of my dreams, hopes and aspirations. It was the place I needed to go to live the next phase of my life. A life that was more contented, richer, meaningful. The West—even at its worst—has not failed to be better than where I was, where my mind was, where my soul was. It’s where I feel completely at home.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Where I was

The past year’s travels will be remembered for less wandering and more days spent in hospitals. There were also more nights in hotels. Because sometimes, when I’d had enough too-hot or too-cold weather, I indulged.

Wisdom from a friend

I first met Joe in 2017 when he lived out of a Volkswagen. Here’s the link to a video I did with him.

He recently wrote an article entitled Stop Confusing Homeless and Houseless. He starts with his personal story then explains:
Defining homelessness simply by whether or not you have a home completely misses the point. 
I was houseless, yes; I was living without a traditional housing arrangement. 
But I was doing it on purpose, because I enjoyed it. That’s the big difference. 
…Most importantly, I had a way out if I grew unhappy with the lifestyle.
Homeless, Joe explains, is a different animal.
Real homelessness is living outside because you lack the ability, resources, or social status to pay rent and live inside, even though you’d prefer it. There’s nothing fun about that at all. 
…The distinction is important because so many people are suffering, and if people start to think homelessness is some kind of fun lifestyle experiment, it draws attention away from the absolute misery that the homeless endure. 
Joe continues:
…If we really want to help homeless people, I think we should help them meet their basic needs in a secure, stable way. Let’s give them homes first without presenting additional barriers. Let’s not withhold financial aid because they suffer from addiction. Let’s not make it hard for them to find bathrooms, water, food, or a place to sleep. Let’s not stigmatize them for mental illness or substance issues.