Monday, May 20, 2024

The pieces are coming together. And not.

I had a mystery yesterday. While driving the lovely Pacific Coast Highway, with the sun finally peeking through gaps in the cloud layer, I heard a KLANK-tink-a-tik from somewhere in the Rolling Steel Tent’s living quarters. And then a little later KLANK-a-DANK-tink-a-tik-foop. There was no place to pull off the highway to investigate. Whatever it was, it wasn’t causing an immediate problem. Things have fallen back there before. Oops, forgot to secure that.

When I arrived at my destination I discovered a AA battery on the side door threshold. What? Where did that come from? I found another battery and then a third inside the milk crate that holds my propane tank. The klanks must have been the batteries hitting the tank. What do I have above the tank that uses AA batteries? Ummmm… nothing? Had they somehow rolled off the lipped shelf after sneaking out of by lidded box of electrical stuff? Nah.

Then I realized the flashlight that attaches to the metal cabinet with a magnet uses AA batteries rather than being charged via USB. Ah-ha! The flashlight battery compartment was empty. The cover must have jarred loose when I drove over some speed bumps earlier in the day. Mystery solved!

Okay, so where is the battery cover? In the middle of my search a memory arrived in my conscious mind. OOOOOooooohh…

A couple of weeks ago, while still boondocking in the desert, I found a small rectangle of black plastic on the ground next to the van. “Looks like someone lost a battery cover.” I tossed it in the trash with other litter I had gathered at the site.


Well, now the batteries are held in place with duct tape.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

The early bird gets there easier

I was enjoying my time in Orange County and thought I would spend a couple more days there. But as I considered my plans for continuing northward, I realized a huge roadblock — figuratively and literally — loomed ahead: getting through Los Angeles. Oh. Yeah. That.

Traffic in the LA area is always terrible, with miles and miles of stop-n-go all day. Except… maybe… early Sunday morning when Los Angelinos tend to sleep late or go to church, and when surfers are in the water at first light.

So I was on the nearly deserted road at 6:18 AM. Up the 405 to the 10 to Pacific Coast Highway. Extremely light traffic flowed like a river of goodness.

My next destination was only a couple of hours away, and I had all day to get there, so I stopped at Zuma Beach, at the west end of Malibu. The last time I was here there were a couple dozen trust fund bros cruising in their Lamborghinis. When I pulled in today there were just two other vehicles (ordinary ones) in the lot.

As I mentioned the other day, it has been cloudy. It’s typical for late May and continues into June. They call it May Gray and June Gloom.

‘May Gray’ results from a combination of local climate and geography. On a typical ‘May Gray’ day, a low-pressure system generates steady southeast or northeast winds that carry a dense, moist marine layer, fueled by cold ocean temperatures, to the California coast.

As the marine layer approaches land, it slows and turns east toward the coast. This cool, moist ocean flow leads to the formation of low clouds as temperatures drop in the evening. By early morning, thick clouds have moved several miles inland. If there is enough cooling and upslope lift, light to moderate drizzle may occur. The clouds often remain through the morning and dissipate as temperatures rise in the afternoon.

I knew this before I chose this time to be here. I also knew about LA traffic. Those are indicators of how I really wanted/needed to be here. The conditions aren’t ideal but I still love watching and listening to the waves. And traffic won’t be an issue again until Silicon Valley and San Francisco — but I can skirt a lot of that mess by keeping to Highway 1.

So it’s time to mellow out, maybe take a nap to compensate for the early rising time. What a life.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Takin’ it to the streets

I hadn’t streetdocked since October of 2017 (I had to look that up). I was never able to relax, always worried about The Knock. Sleeping in vehicles is tolerated some places and illegal in others. Enforcement can be nonexistent to sporadic to draconian. Since then I’ve stuck to public land, friends’ driveways, and the occasional paid campground.

So here I am on the California coast where unless I pay high prices for a campground (and got a reservation way in advance), or get a hotel room, I’m left with streetdocking.

My friend Scott streetdocks up and down the West Coast all the time, without trouble. And he doesn’t even try to be stealthy, just selective in his choices. His positive experience is encouraging, and I figured I could give it a try again. Because I really wanted to be by the ocean again.

I did a good amount of research using the various vanlife/overlanding/RVing sites. I read the reviews but were they current, had things changed, and were the reviewers’ experience just luck? I mapped out multiple options in cities along the coast. Yesterday I checked out four of them. It was sort of a Goldilocks situation but I found one that was just right. A nice part of town, a park on one side of the street, an embankment on the other, no houses, no limited parking hours and, as the report said, several other overt vehicle dwellers parked along the street. Everything from cars to motorhomes. I relaxed. I made dinner. I slept like a log.

There was another tidal basin and nature preserve just down the street, so I went for a hike this morning. Here are some photos.

Friday, May 17, 2024

The old stomping grounds

Just about any journey along the California coast will pass through or near the places I once called home. Today I’m in Orange County where I lived in Costa Mesa, Corona del Mar, Irvine and Huntington Beach. There have been many changes since I first arrived here in 1976, fresh out of college, and when I left in 1995 (with a few years in Silicon Valley and San Francisco inserted in there). Not all the changes have been for the better, but it’s still very familiar.

This is where I grew into adulthood and into something more closely resembling my authentic self. Although I haven’t lived here in 30 years I still feel like a Californian. I never felt like a North Carolinian even though I resided there eighteen years.

But “Californian” feels less a part of my identity since I adopted the wandering life eleven years ago. Now I’m mostly just a human. Or some sort of living creature. I think.

So, anyway, today I spent a couple of hours walking in the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve. (Yay! Something that hasn’t been developed!) I chuckled when the view from the parking lot included the building where I worked at my first real post-college job, with an office and a desk and a paid parking spot. The top executive’s offices faced the ocean. The best we lesser beings had was a view of a gated community/golf course, if we had a window at all. Now I get a view of that office tower and get to say, “Neener neener neener, you folks are in there working and I’m out strolling in nature.”

Thursday, May 16, 2024

A sea of opinions

Opinion 1: Not every day is a perfect beach day.

Opinion 2: Any day at the beach is perfect.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Wait, this isn’t Utah

I had it all figured out. I would spend time with a friend in Flagstaff, travel across the Navajo Nation, then turn north into Utah, explore Butler Wash and the canyons of Comb Ridge, then go northwest to Goblin Valley and more canyon hikes, then north to the Wedge and Little Grand Canyon, then onward to my sister in the northern part of the state. After that, up to Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington before crossing to Vancouver Island and finishing up the summer with a slow meander down the Pacific Coast.

But things happen. I make dubious decisions. Plans change.

It all started during the drive from Yuma to Flagstaff and the stops between. Something was off with the Rolling Steel Tent. Going uphill I’d press on the gas pedal, the engine would rev up, but the van went only a tiny bit faster or got bogged down by the incline. I’d need to have the engine howling in second gear just to keep moving forward. My amateur mechanic self was convinced the torque converted was going bad. Or something.

So during the days I was snowed in I decided I should return to Yuma and, if the torque converter was bad, have it replaced under the parts and labor warranty from the mechanic who last worked on the transmission. If I could make it back. At least the trip would be mostly downhill or flat.

I wanted to avoid I-17 because of the steep uphill grade out of Camp Verde. Besides, the last time I took I-17 it was stop-and-go for about 25 miles. So I took Lake Mary Road south to Highways 87 and 260 to Payson, then I continued south on 87 but, to avoid the grade over the north end of the Superstition Mountains I too 188 past Roosevelt Lake to Globe, then US 60 around the south end of the Superstitions, where I camped for the weekend.

The van was doing its disturbing thing during the Flagstaff-to-Payson leg of the trip, but by the tine I reached the moderate climb out of Roosevelt Lake things seem mostly okay. But when I suspect something isn’t right I keep looking for signs — and anything can be a sign. Was that it? Or was that normal? Do I even remember what normal is like?

The drive from Phoenix to Yuma seemed, well, normal. Had the Rolling Steel Tent cured itself? But that was cruising on mostly flat land at 70-75 miles per hour and the problem had been showing up in the 45-60 MPH range, with hills.

I showed up at the mechanic’s Monday morning expecting to be out of my home for a few days. But at least a hotel would keep me out of the 100° heat. Money would be an issue, especially if the mechanical problem was something unrelated to the previous work and therefore not covered by the warranty.

I spent a few hours semi-relaxing in the rather nice waiting room, then the mechanic informed me he hadn’t been able to duplicate the problem I had described, and everything seemed normal. Well………. okay then.

So, there I was in Yuma, in the hot, dry desert that I normally love, but the idea of going to Utah for more desert — even though it has red rocks and slot canyons and hoodoos and ruins and other cool stuff — just didn’t appeal to me.

After mulling it over last night I decided to do my summer travels backwards, starting at the Coast. Man, I’ve been missing the ocean.

Oh, and the Rolling Steel Tent performed like a champ over the mountain range that separates the desert from the coast.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

I was spotted

I don’t try to be well known. I don’t have a big social media presence. I just write this blog and keep family and a few friends updated regarding my whereabouts using Facebook.

Yet there I was, in a Walmart parking lot, having lunch and goofing around on the computer, door open to let in the excellent weather, when a guy approached.

“Are you the Rolling Steel Tent guy?”


“I thought you might be, but I wasn’t sure until I saw your fridge. I’ve been following your blog for a while.”

In the course of the conversation he referred to some things I had written, so, yeah, he has been reading me. And he remembered me from a Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, which surprised me.

If the RTR needs to morph once again, I suggest Bob just has us gather in some Walmart parking lot. That’s where we seem to run into each other anyway. I once unexpectedly crossed paths with a nomad friend at a Walmart on the outskirts of Albuquerque.

My visitor explained that after a period of nomading had settled back into his house. But he realized he didn’t really want to be there anymore, that he couldn’t stand being in just one place. Now he’s back on the road. That happens to a lot of folks.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Attack of the styrofoam

Last night, in May for Pete’s sake, we had more frozen stuff fall from the sky. I thought it was sleet but my full-of-information friend Karin explained these snow pellets are called graupel. It’s from the German for pearl barley.

I think the weather gods knew of my plans to head to lower elevations tomorrow and wanted to treat me before I left to a form of precipitation I had never experienced before. Um, thanks?

Meanwhile, friends in Truckee thought they had seen the last of winter and removed their snow tires. Then it snowed a foot. Note to self: Even with the promise of spring (maybe summer) skiing, stay out of the Sierras for a while.

But thanks for the water!

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Walk about

I strolled around the new campsite and noticed some interesting things. Atop an old Ponderosa pine stump were the remains of a squirrel’s pinecone snack. I never would’ve imagined they peeled the husk from pine nuts. Or maybe this was just one picky squirrel.

Then I saw the remains of a campfire. Evidently the campers were the type to follow all of Smoky Bear’s guidelines for extinguishing campfires. I assume they poured water on the ashes before, as you see, covering them with dirt and rocks. They also neatly organized their leftover wood. Thoughtful campers.

On the other hand, there was evidence of thoughtless campers. I gathered up this bottle and others.

Besides the forest, there were signs I was up out of the desert. One was the ground littered with pinecones rather than cholla pods. (They crunch but don’t stab you.) The other was moss.

I’ll be here a couple more days before heading northward, back into treeless desert. But there’s more forests ahead this summer.

Friday, May 3, 2024

Relocation day

The folks I’ve been camping with had already been at the dispersed Forest Service campsite a week when I joined them. Now, a week later, their 14 days were up and they needed to move. So I followed to the new site where we have a view of Humphrey’s Peak. Not bad.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Back to actual spring

The snow is almost all gone, the carpet of pine needles is dry, and it’s warm enough to wander in the forest without a jacket. So off I went.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Now it gets messy

It warmed up enough today for most of the snow to melt. That leaves us with slush and muddy wet patches. I try walking on the snow because it’s cleaner, but the places I step — like outside the van door — just become mud sooner.

Everything is going to refreeze during the night then thaw again. Freeze thaw freeze thaw freeze thaw until it get’s warm enough to dry things up.

The good news is that the ground under the thin mud layer is hard enough to drive on. You can see tire tracks in the photo. So I should be okay to drive the short distance to the highway in case I need to leave before everything is dry.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

The previous snowfall had melted down to almost nothing but we knew a bigger storm was coming. It started sometime during Friday night and by the time I woke up Saturday morning there was a brand new coating about eight inches deep.

Although I have plenty of battery power, and I wasn’t running anything during the night, I was down to about half capacity because the battery was using power to heat itself.

That meant I needed to clear snow off the solar panels. That meant I needed to go outside. Sigh. Okay. Boots, coat, hat, gloves. Now, what do I use to clear the snow? The best I could come up with was my umbrella, still rolled up, of course. The shovel probably would have done too much scratching. It got the job done somewhat adequately even though I pulled snow down onto myself a few times.

It’s almost 10 AM and it has warmed up enough that clumps pf snow are beginning to fall off the trees, but there’s light snow falling and it might turn into heavier snow. But, hey, it’s an adventure, a story to tell.