Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Enough of a good thing

The Coast was wonderful. Ocean and redwood forests. A good urban boondocking spot, with free wifi. And fresh bagels nearby. But like they say, leave the party while it’s still going strong. And like they also say, push away from the table before you’re stuffed.

So I’m back inland, at the quarry between Medford and Klamath Falls. Then I’ll travel northeast through Oregon to Idaho, follow the Salmon River north to the panhandle, then east into Montana again. Or something like that.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Walking high and low

For a lot of people (including me), Trees of Mystery is nothing more than a quick stop to take a photo with Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. But after years of passing by, I was there this morning waiting for the doors to open so I could hike their trails—particularly the Redwood Canopy “trail” suspended up in the trees.

Then I rode the Skytrail aerial tram (the operator said I was the first passenger of the day) to the top of the Wilderness Trail. I was alone for that hike. Most people ride the tram back down.

The parking lot was full and the joint was jumpin’ by the time I got to the bottom. And bought a sticker for my collection.

Saturated and desaturated

It’s one of those typical days along the coast. Overcast with fog and occasional drizzle. Fog is 100% humidity. The air can’t hold any more water without it turning to rain. And, of course, decreased sunlight means desaturated colors. So much gray.

Mask up, everyone

Even Paul and Babe wear masks at Trees of Mystery, Klamath CA. Paul’s does no good, though, since he doesn’t cover his nose. But Babe has a special mask. It’s cow-moo-flage.

Monday, August 10, 2020

One morning, two shops

 It’s Monday and the automotive folks are back at work. So I was off bright and early to get some minor stuff done.

First up, tire rotation

Then down the street for a change of automatic transmission fluid

I could’ve had these things done while the power steering was being repaired, but I was suffering too much from sticker shock and had them do just the immediate and essential things.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Let me make this clear

 I spent the night and most of the day in the parking lot of the closed-for-pandemic community center in Arcata, California. There are a handful of other vehicle dwellers here, too. Some, like me, are passing through, but most are making it their home. It must be cool, because the police stopped by to calmly chat with a few of them and left without rousting anyone.

Then, a little while ago, a charitable young woman carrying a large box asked if I needed any food. 

“I’m fine, thank you. In fact, I’m in the middle of making clarified butter.”

“Oh, wow, that sounds good. Well, have a nice night.”

“That depends on how this butter turns out."

Not bad, I think.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

The early bird gets the parking space

 I was up and on the road before the sun cleared the eastern horizon. Two reasons: I wanted the morning light, and I wanted to beat the Saturday crowds.

An online recommendation sent me to the Stout Grove trail in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, at the north end of a cluster of redwood forest parks between Crescent City and Klamath (not to be confused with the village of False Klamath, or Klamath Falls OR). There was only one other vehicle there. Yes! 

Stout Grove is a short loop, with a bunch of small unofficial trails wandering among the trees, but it takes a while to walk. Proper gawking and photography requires time, man.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Sometimes lack of solitude is good

I’ve been using iOverlander lately as my main boondocking reference. It had a listing for a small parking lot right by the ocean. It’s the type of place I suspect was intended for folks exploring the tide pools. Day use, not overnighting. But there are no signs either prohibiting or allowing camping. And several people have reported staying there. Okay.

But still… The status of the place might have changed. Or the other campers might have lucked out.

I arrived a little after lunch and there was a steady flow of of visitors. Then it was just me. Ordinarily that would be great. It just made me doubtful. And nervous.

Some camping types started arriving by late afternoon—one with a small travel trailer. I have relaxed. If there’s going to be trouble with law enforcement, it won’t all fall on me. We’ll be guilty together.

Much brighter outlook


The business in Grants Pass has been wrapped up and I’m back on the road. It’s so nice after a week of being trapped. So, to the coast! It has been too long. Since March?

Yes, I passed through some of the redwood forests on the way to Crescent City, but I really needed to get to the sea. I can backtrack inland once I’ve inhaled enough salt air.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Well, that didn't last long

The Rolling Steel Tent was finished. I paid and loaded my bag into the back. WOOT! Home at last!

I turned onto the street and… The power steering stopped working and the brakes (which are boosted by the power steering pump) almost ceased to work. I limped and struggled around the block and back to the shop.

The perplexed mechanic confirmed the system that had worked minutes before didn’t work now. “We must’ve gotten a bad pump.”


So now I’m awaiting a new pump—a different brand from a different parts distributor. It should be here soon and they say they’ll have me out of here by close of business today.

At least the part crapped out immediately instead of somewhere down the road. Or off of it. Fingers crossed the new one won’t crap out at all.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

I miss home

Almost a week without the Rolling Steel Tent. It’s my home. It’s where I’m truly me. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Multi-purpose drive thru

Either lane, you can get dough

Rough spots in the road

For a lifestyle that some building dwellers warned would be fraught with peril, my nomad life has been mostly smooth going. There was the cancer thing, but that had nothing to do with living in a van. And it worked out well, considering.

Now I have a significant van repair keeping me off the road and stuck in a Motel 6. The power steering pump and steering gear have rolled their last mile. Or to put it in the mechanic’s technical terms, “They’re puking fluid.” 

This isn’t the first steering system repair. There were the pitman and idler arms. Then the tie rod ends. And the stabilizer bar, twice. The power brake booster, which runs off pressure from the power steering pump, was also replaced. With my rudimentary mechanical understanding, I’ve come to believe the steering system breakdowns are the result of rough roads. The rocks, ruts and potholes try to make the wheels steer in directions other than the one I’m pointing them. Those forces get transmitted to the various steering components, causing stress and wear that shorten their lives. Sort of like with people. Except machines don’t regenerate themselves with rest and proper diet.

While I enjoy having plumbing, climate control and free wifi, I don’t want to be here. And I don’t want to spend the money. But, fortunately, luckily, and with generous assistance from my readers, the financial hit is survivable.

The Rolling Steel Tent should be fixed by late tomorrow. Or the next day. As of lunch today there were five others in line ahead of me. Then I’m out of here, off to new vistas and adventures. However, I’ll be cutting back on the amount of driving I do on nasty roads.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Not the weekend I would’ve planned for myself

I had studied the Forest Service online maps, my Benchmark Oregon Road & Recreation Atlas, iOverlander, and Google Maps. The mountains between Grants Pass and the ocean, along the Rogue River, looked good. I hadn’t been there before. Yay, someplace new! 

I headed out shortly after sunrise, stopped in Medford for supplies, cruised into Grants Pass, turned north, took the correct exit, and saw the forest road I wanted just in time to make the turn. Pavement turned into a nicely maintained dirt road climbing into the mountains. Good.

Then things started going weird. According to the maps, the dirt road was supposed to turn back into pavement after a few miles. It didn’t. The numbers on the road markers didn’t match well with what I was seeing. Did I miss a turn? Had I followed the wrong road? I came to a junction. The road left had a number post but the ruts were overgrown. The road ahead, with an upside-down partial sign that simply said “Road,” looked pretty good but seemed to head in the wrong direction. The road to the right felt like the right one but the numbers had been removed from the post. The road I had arrived on had a number, but I couldn’t find it in the atlas. And GPS just showed nameless white squiggles. When I punched in the town I wanted, the wizards at Garmin replied with a straight pink line between my location and my goal. Thanks, but I do not fly as the crow.

Well, rather than wander more, I turned around to retrace my route back down the mountains.

That’s when the occasional moan the Rolling Steel Tent had been making for months turned onto a howl, a squeal, a message the thing that had been going slowly bad had reached full-on badness. Shit.

It was the type of sound a spinning object makes in its final days. Water pump? Oil pump? Power steering pump? Air conditioning compressor? Alternator? Damn, I hope it’s not something with the transmission. The temperature looked good. The alternator was charging properly. I turned on the A/C and the noise didn’t change. Okay, given the problem a while back with the brake hydro-boost, which is powered by the power steering pump, I suspected that was the culprit. 

I pulled over and checked the power steering fluid level. The dip stick was dry. Luckily, I had some fluid left over from the leaky hydro-boot days. I filled the reservoir and… the noise quieted. Ah, okay, that’s the problem.

But the fix didn’t last long.

I made it back to the highway and bought more power steering fluid at a small gas station. A puddle had formed under the van in the time it took me to make my purchase. Sigh. I emptied the new bottle and bought another, just in case.

Things held out well enough to make it back to Grants Pass and to a mechanic. Of course, late Friday afternoon is not a good time to show up with a mechanical semi-emergency. They doubted they could fit me in on Monday, and Tuesday was iffy, but if I could leave it… Um, no, I live in the van. I’ll come back Monday.

Do I go buy a case of power steering fluid and head back out to find a camping spot, and maybe become seriously stranded? Mmmm, no. Do I try stealthing? In triple-digit heat? No. 

So here I am, at Motel 6 for a little unplanned/unwanted staycation. Woo-hoo! Indoor plumbin’ and air conditioning! Without any of that wasteful fanciness.

Best-case scenario: it’s just a leaky hose. Worst-case: it’s the pump, and they can’t get to it until midweek. Man, I wish I had one of my Mexican mechanics.

If you ever felt inclined to click the donation button, this would be a good time. And sincere thanks to those who have donated in the past.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

It’s fire season

And that means a possibility of injury and damage from red powdery stuff falling from the sky. Beware of fires and firefighting methods.

It’s not beneath me

During my lazy years (approximately 1958 to 1970) various adults warned if I didn’t get my academic shit together I would end up with some humiliatingly menial job, like ditch digger or garbage man. (I was raised among white collar people, many of whom—like my parents—were happy to escape farms and factories and to rise in social status.) While I never became the superachiever they had hoped for, I did well enough to enjoy a decent non-manual-labor career.

Yet here I am, in my retirement years, playing garbage man. 

Upon arrival at boondocking spots, and on my walks, I pick up what litter I can (which would exclude bulky items like mattresses). Because besides being hounded about academic performance, I had it drummed into me to not be a litterbug, to give a hoot and not pollute, and to clean up after my own damn self. Besides, picking up other people’s trash bestows a delicious feeling of self-righteousness. I can feel superior while doing work we ascribe to those we wrongly imagine to be our inferiors. It’s the ones who dump trash who are inferior, not the ones who clean it up for a living.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Yet again, where to?

My bit of business near Klamath Falls has been taken care of. I can stay or go. If I go, then where?

Out at the coast the daytime highs are in the low 60s. It’s overcast with very high humidity. Mmmm, no.

In just about every other direction I have the choice of hot and humid, very hot and dry, or very hot and dry with daily thunderstorms. Oh, and it’s the beginning of forest fire season.

In order to get to higher, cooler elevations, I’d have to pass through some triple-digit heat. But that could be done in the early morning.

It’s nice here, even though the afternoons are rather hot, in the 90s. I have adequate cell service. And friends. But the forest makes me feel hemmed in.

The rational decision would be to hang here for a while, but my rational side doesn’t have the majority vote. As with most elections, it’s a matter of which side can appeal to the undecided electorate.

Morning walk

X/@#x!* locals

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Change of pace

Out of the desert and into the forest. With some friends (not pictured).

Open doors, horizontal rain, and the air bidet

I was camped on the Alvord dry lake bed. Eighty-four square miles of perfectly flat sunbaked sediment. I was happy. But it started to cloud over, and by evening it looked like it could rain sometime during the night. I checked the forecast. Yup, chance of rain.

I didn’t want to be on the playa when it got wet. The parched earth might be able to soak up the rain with no problem. Or it could turn into 84 square miles of mud. So I moved to higher, firmer, ground by the entrance, just in case.

It was still warm, so I left the back door open. “Just until I start to doze off,” I told myself. But I fell asleep without closing it. I woke a few hours later. Doh. I closed the door. Fortunately, it hadn’t rained. And it didn’t rain the rest of the night. So I returned to the lake bed in the morning.

It clouded up again by early afternoon, and I could see rain falling in the distance. About three seconds after I decided it was time to go, a dust storm blew through. Not haboob proportions, but enough to solidify my decision to leave.

I knew of a free campground with a hot spring and showers, to the west, just inside Nevada. No mud problem there, and I could de-dust-ify myself.

I found a good site off to the side and set up camp. Then I went to avail myself of the vault toilet.

Vault toilets have a vent stack designed to draw away the, um, aromas. But if the wind is strong enough, it blows into the stack, down into the vault and up your butt. I was surprised when that happened, but it was curiously refreshing.

Just as I was being air dried by nature, there was the splat-a-pat of fat raindrops on the window. Then it was like the assault of a firehose. Uh-oh! I had left the side door open on the Rolling Steel Tent! I pulled myself together and ran.

Luckily, the rain was nearly horizontal and the side door was leeward. The van interior remained dry, but I was soaked. I wouldn’t be needing that shower.

Monday, July 27, 2020


They ask, “How can you live in a van?”

I reply, “I have enough room.”

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Social distancing to the max

Alvord Dry Lake, Oregon

Somewhere between a celebrated failure and an utter disaster


I had made a commitment to meet up with a friend in western Oregon. I was in Idaho Falls. After considering my options, I decided to just blast across southern Idaho on the Interstate instead of taking a slower, longer, more scenic route.


I would be passing Twin Falls. Hmmm, besides once having been the hometown of a college friend, it’s where Evel Knievel attempted and failed to jump Snake River Canyon. I looked it up. There’s not much left except a small monument and the deteriorating remains of the dirt ramp. Why not go? It would make a fun blog entry.

What I hadn’t learned was access to the site is through Shoshone Falls Park. It was Saturday and traffic to the park was backed up. And there was a five dollar entry fee. Screw that. It didn’t want to see the jump site that much.


I had been in this part of Idaho my first month as a nomad. Back then I had stopped to photograph myself next to the sign for the town of Bliss. I was very happy to be starting my new life. It would be appropriate to recreate that picture—especially since I can’t find it now. Lost bliss. I exited the Interstate and… the sign was gone. Well damn.


I had read a blog about boondocking at the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. It would be an interesting place to spend the afternoon and night.

In Bliss I punched the MNSRBoPNCA into Google Maps and headed off through farm and grazing land. A somewhat boring drive suddenly got my attention when Maps told me to turn onto a road that wasn’t there. And since I didn’t/couldn’t turn, it told me to take the next road, which also wasn’t there. And then it wanted to send me down a “road” that was only someone’s driveway. The Maps voice seemed a bit disgusted with my inability to follow simple instructions, then plotted a new route, which took me almost to Nevada and then nearly to Oregon. I saw much more of southwestern Idaho than I had ever planned. Or desired.


So there I am, cruising through more farm and grazing land, when I crest a hill and see… What the… Is that? It was.

Wilma and Fred are about a foot tall

It impresses me when someone has a fun idea and goes to the time and trouble of turning it into reality. And I love it when stuff like this is in unexpected places. A roadside shrine on a highway used only by a couple hundred locals and those unfortunate souls misdirected by Google? Sure, why not?


About the time I figured I must be in Nevada, there was an Idaho historic marker. All I could read as I passed was the title: An Utter Disaster. Was that a warning? Or had I driven into the future and the marker was actually about my day’s wanderings?


I finally made it to Swan Dam, in the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (hell of an unwieldy name), and despite it being Saturday, I was able to snag a campsite.