Friday, November 22, 2019

Some days I just get weird(er)

Expanding my social media presence

Instagram? Yeah, okay, I’ll do some of that. It’s what all the cool kids are doing, right? I doubt there will be any #vanlife-worthy photos of beautiful young women atop my van, though. Maybe if I had a VW bus, a kayak and a big dog.

alan.christensen.90

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge

I’ve driven US-95 between Yuma and Quartzite (or between Quartzsite and Yuma) dozens of times, frequently not paying much attention to my surroundings. But today I stopped to take pictures because of the way the light hit that one peak.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

They paved something less than paradise and put up a parking lot

The forecast said rain, probably thunderstorms. I thought back to the last downpour I was in and decided I’d rather be on pavement if the sky was going to open up.

The dirt I was camped on wasn’t as dense and gravely as other parts of the desert. It could become too soft. There were wheel tracks where past boondockers and ATVers had driven when the ground was wet. Better safe than sorry. (I’m getting old.)

Okay, so where to? I don’t think Yuma is as tolerant as they used to be about overnighting in big box parking lots. Not knowing for certain would have me on alert all night. Can’t sleep like that. So I went to the RV lot at the Cocopah Resort. I’ve stayed there a few times before. Not scenic or quiet, but, hey, there’s a buffet.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Rotation day

Other than time taken from my life, tire rotations are free at Discount Tire and other places. And these guys actually used a torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts to spec. Oh, and they didn’t feed me bullshit about needing new tires.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Burning questions

If I were to make a list of things I’m likely to find in a fire ring, I wouldn’t include sheet music. Yet there it was.

So I wonder what the story is. Sure, it’s paper, and paper is a good fire starter, but… Was it the paper they were most willing to burn? Was it the last paper they had? Had they already burned all their books? Had they already burned all their cash? Was it a sacrifice to the music gods? Were they music haters? I invite you to make up your own stories.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

You ain't goin' nowhere

The McPhaul Bridge, just outside Yuma AZ, was built over the Gila River in 1929 and served traffic on US-95 until it was deemed inadequate in 1968. It was retired and both the highway and river were rerouted. No one wanted to spend the money to tear it down, so it sits there, barricaded at both ends, vegetable fields at one end, firing ranges at the other. Now it’s called the Bridge to Nowhere. And signs warn it’s unstable.

There’s a metaphor for life in that story. You’re born, there’s a celebration, an honorable name is given, everyone has great hopes for you, you work hard for forty years and then, “Eh, we don’t need you anymore.” The world moves on and leaves you there. And whispers that you’re unstable. And maybe infested with bees.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Well there’s your problem

I’m at Villanueva Auto Repair and Juan has yanked the brake booster from the Rolling Steel Tent. There were a number of things that had to be moved out of the way or disconnected first. Wires, hoses, cables, reservoirs, dirt... It seems one of the internal seals has worn out. Or a surface is too worn for the seal to, um, seal. Anyway, replacing the unit is less expensive than the labor to repair it.

Since the van doesn’t need to be on a lift, I can hang out in my living space instead of the waiting room. The bed is much more comfy than plastic chairs. And I have food.

Speaking of food, I’ve finally been able to add bread back to my diet. Today’s lunch was black forest ham on a toasted English muffin.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Embracing the darkness

What do we call the period between Halloween and Thanksgiving? I don’t know about you, but for me the shortening daylight hours signal the beginning of SAD season. Seasonal Affective Disorder. My symptoms are relatively mild, but they’re enough to make me really loathe this time of year.

However, a video linked to a friend’s blog got me rethinking my relationship with short days and long nights. Too much artificial light tells our mind and body it’s time to be awake.


A key factor in how human sleep is regulated is exposure to light or to darkness. Exposure to light stimulates a nerve pathway from the retina in the eye to an area in the brain called the hypothalamus. There, a special center called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) initiates signals to other parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature and other functions that play a role in making us feel sleepy or wide awake… 
…Melatonin is a natural hormone made by your body’s pineal gland. This is a pea-sized gland located just above the middle of the brain. During the day the pineal is inactive. When the sun goes down and darkness occurs, the pineal is “turned on” by the SCN and begins to actively produce melatonin, which is released into the blood. Usually, this occurs around 9 pm. As a result, melatonin levels in the blood rise sharply and you begin to feel less alert. Sleep becomes more inviting. Melatonin levels in the blood stay elevated for about 12 hours – all through the night – before the light of a new day when they fall back to low daytime levels by about 9 am. Daytime levels of melatonin are barely detectable. 
Besides adjusting the timing of the clock, bright light has another effect. It directly inhibits the release of melatonin. That is why melatonin is sometimes called the “Dracula of hormones” – it only comes out in the dark. Even if the pineal gland is switched “on” by the clock, it will not produce melatonin unless the person is in a dimly lit environment. In addition to sunlight, artificial indoor lighting can be bright enough to prevent the release of melatonin.
Interfering with natural sleep patterns can negatively affect our mental and/or physical health. This is somewhat ironic, since the most popular treatment for SAD is exposure to artificial sunlight.

People who’ve spent their life in populated areas are often freaked out by the darkness when they first come to remote places—partly because it’s a new experience, partly because we tend to conflate darkness and danger. “Ack! There are things out there, and I can’t see them!” But then there’s their reaction to seeing so damn many stars. Live and in person. “Oh WOW!”

I’ve written before about people who are at a loss when restrictions prohibit campfires. What will they do in the evening if they can’t stare at the flames (and dodge smoke)? Stare at the sky instead, folks. Let your eyes adjust. Let your perceptions adjust. Observe the vastness of the universe. Feel your place in it.

So tonight I’m going to take my own advice. I’ll turn off the computer, go outside, and lie on my back until overcome by wonder and melatonin.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

What color is your noise?

Back in the late ’70, when I first started making enough money to have disposable income, I went out and bought a component stereo system. It’s was the thing to do because, you know, there weren’t personal computers or 48-inch flat panel TVs yet. The proper stereo system had a receiver, pre-amplifier, amplifier, turntable, reel-to-reel tape deck, speakers and, what I thought was the coolest part, a multi-band graphic equalizer.

It was while equalizer shopping that I first encountered the term “pink noise.” I had heard of white noise, but what was pink noise? According to the sales literature, white noise is random levels of all frequencies. It’s a snowy hissing sound. Pink noise is specific levels of all frequencies and is used to calibrate audio equipment. It’s like a deeper version of white noise. Then there are also red noise and brown noise, which are even deeper.

There are studies that say listening to white/pink/red/brown noise helps us concentrate and even sleep better. Cool. But what does that have to do with living in a van?

Today I moved to a different part of Quartzite, because I was getting antsy, yet didn’t want to go far away. My new location features background sounds from I-10. Gray noise, if you will. Surprisingly, it’s sort of relaxing. Most of the time. Almost like waves on a beach. Mmmm, the beach.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Bacon, eggs, fluid and blood

I had breakfast this morning at Main Street Eatery (the cafe in front of the laundromat & showers) with former waitress and radio news personality/current nomad-author LaVonne Ellis. We discussed travel, preferred Quartzsite camping spots, wood stove ventilation, and writing.

Then I went back to Blythe to talk to highly recommended Villanueva’s Auto Repair Service about my leaking power steering fluid. It has gotten bad. I’ve had to refill the fluid reservoir twice in the past week. Juan showed me how, contrary to what I had thought, it wasn’t the hose that connects the power steering pump to the hydraulic brake booster (a system GM calls Hydraboost) that was leaking, it was the brake booster itself. He put together a reasonable price and I’ll return on Wednesday, after my Social Security check drops.

Afterward, I came upon nomad-geologist-genealogist-actor Swankie in the Albertson’s parking lot. We discussed my health, her surgeries and how to bang yourself up real good by leaning a ladder against the front of an Express van.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Meeting at the crossroad

I’ve been in Quartzsite for a while. I learned from his latest video that the man who showed me living in a van was possible and enjoyable—Bob Wells—was also currently in Quartzsite. And I had a general idea where. So on my way back from a supply run to Blythe I decided to see if I could find him.

I exited I-10 and eased up to the 4-way stop at the end of the ramp. There, to my left, was Bob in his distinctive van. Gee, finding him couldn’t have been any easier.

I followed him to his destination—in a non-stalky way. We chatted for a few minutes and, because we’re friends, he shared some inside poop on his plans. I thanked him again for the positive effect he had on my life. Then we wished each other well, he went into the store and I returned to my camp.

A different approach to stealth

When I went to the Walmart in Parker AZ I discovered I had parked next to a uniquely outfitted late-90s Cadillac Deville, with Michigan plates.

First I noticed the roof rack. Then the flexible solar panels stowed in the back. Then the charge controller neatly mounted above the arm rest. Then the refrigerator on the seat (nicely color coordinated with the leather upholstery). Other than those things, there were no signs the car was used for anything beyond cruising to the country club and back.

I wondered if it had towed a trailer, but there was no hitch. Then I wondered if it was a “towd,” but there was no extra hardware on the front. It could’ve been towed with one of those mini trailers that go under the front wheels. But if it had been towed by an RV, why the fridge and solar?

I don’t know the true story of this Cadillac. I waited about a half hour, hoping I could talk to the owner. I grew impatient and decided I liked the story I was fabricating myself. The owner knows no one would suspect that anyone lives in a clean, well maintained luxury barge. Yet there’s enough trunk space for not only supplies and clothing, but also for sleeping. Yeah, that’s it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

It’s all in my mind

It was one of those dreams again. Frustration, anxiety, anger, helplessness. I was surprised because I had been feeling quite happy in my waking life.

I suppose one could say I’m not actually happy because I have all this inner turmoil. Or you could say that letting the ugly stuff out leaves me happier. I vote for the latter, because I had some extremely nice dreams afterward.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Another way to do it

Prior to becoming full-time RVers, John and Mary packed away all their possessions. Then brought all of it with them.